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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 419

Mr DUTTON (4:09 PM) —I would say that that is the worst performance by a Treasurer in well over 12 years. Today Australian people listening to the debate going on in this chamber and people who have been listening to this Treasurer over the last several months really must cringe. The Australian people, small business, and big business at the moment, have been sapped of their confidence. This is an arrangement that cannot continue. This bloke is completely and utterly out of his depth. Businesses out there at the moment really are concerned about whether to put on extra staff and they are concerned about whether they will make extra investment. That is all because the economic circumstances in this country have changed very quickly. If the confidence goes from the marketplace in this country, unemployment will go up and we will see a fall in investment—and that will be bad for the long-term economic situation facing our country.

The reality is that, when the coalition came into government in 1996, it inherited a debt from the Labor Party of close to $100 billion. It was off the back of Australian families paying 17 per cent for interest rates on their homes—it was over 20 per cent for people who were in small business or who owned farms. All Australians know that, over the last 12 years, our economy was transformed into one of the best in the world. All of that is in the process of being undone. All of that will be undone by a bloke who is completely out of his depth and is fast becoming the laughing-stock of financial markets right around the world.

What has happened so far over the last couple of months is that, because this bloke, this Treasurer, is out of his depth, he is going about a process of rewriting history. He is out there telling people that he inherited a poor-performing economy. He is out there rewriting figures. He is out there fabricating stories about the way in which the member for Wentworth has presented the difficulties in relation to inflation. This bloke thinks, as he did during the election campaign, that if he repeats a line long enough and often enough it will become a truth. The reality, of course, is quite the opposite, because the Australian people know that this is a Treasurer who, in the history of Australia, is the most unqualified person to be running a $1.1 trillion economy and he is thoroughly demonstrating that fact.

This is a bloke who has never run a business. He has never employed staff. Outside of running some hack organisation in Queensland, he has not had any experience in economic management. I say to Australian families and small businesses right now: watch this space very closely, because this is a concerning time in this country’s history. The reality is that most people are worried. Most people are worried about a return to 17 per cent interest rates. If we have a wages blowout in this country, they are worried about a return to high interest rates under a Labor government. They are concerned about returning to high unemployment. High unemployment, of course, was the other hallmark of the former Labor government and it is fast becoming a concern for this country. Good employment figures were released today, but really what will happen is that, if the inflation difficulty is not reined in by this government, if it does not face up to the economic realities, those difficulties will be delivered to the Australian people.

For the record and for all Australian people, the reality is that, when Labor came into government on 24 November, the Australian economy had been run well for the last dozen years. Madam Deputy Speaker, we have heard from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer about how they will rein in this inflation difficulty they talk of. They talk about a five-point plan. Do you know that one of the points of that plan is to address the issue of home loan affordability? They want to create a greater environment for people to be able to buy a house. That is all admirable. However, what they have tried to do in rewriting history over the last few months, particularly the history of inflation, is to say that, through the five-point plan and their policy on home loan affordability, they will reduce the pressure on inflation.

Do you know what that plan promised? That plan promised to deliver to national savings about $3 billion to $4 billion over the estimates, over a four-year period. This is a $1.1 trillion economy. The Treasurer of this nation is asking economists to believe that adding between $3 billion and $4 billion to national savings—adding to national savings is a good thing; nobody questions that—over a four-year period in a $1.1 trillion economy, where the government itself spends $1 billion a day, will put some downward pressure on inflation.

That shows the shallowness of this bloke. It shows the deception and the fraud that he is engaging in at the moment, and it is again a demonstration of the old-style union politics. He is out there with these shallow, weak arguments, and he is not convincing anybody at the moment. He has no economic credibility whatsoever. He has no capacity to carry an economic argument, and he has no ability whatsoever to convince financial markets that he is on top of his brief any time soon. This bloke was spooked from day one, when the banks stared him down, when they increased their interest rates beyond what they should have, beyond what the expectation from Australian families was. His performance in question time this week has been nothing short of embarrassing. It has been embarrassing not just for him but for the people behind him—you see them laughing behind him during question time. You see the gallery laughing when this bloke gets up to answer a question.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—The member will refer to the minister by his appropriate title.

Mr DUTTON —Well, this bloke, the member for Lilley.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —No. The member will refer to the Treasurer by his appropriate title.

Mr DUTTON —Well, the Treasurer is a bloke who is out of his depth. The Treasurer is a bloke who is the laughing-stock at the moment of economists, of the press gallery, of his colleagues and ultimately of the Australian people. The difficulty and the most important point to make out of all of this—which I opened with—is that this is undermining confidence. This really is undermining confidence in the Australian economy. Talking it down, talking about the inflation genie getting out of the bottle—that is all very difficult.

The other aspect of the Labor Party plan at the moment is to slash government spending. The point I made before was that this government spends about $1 billion a day. This is a big, international economy, a $1.1 trillion economy, with a Treasurer who does not have the capacity to manage it. The other day there was an announcement from the Minister for Finance and Deregulation talking about some spending cuts of just over $600 million, which to the average Australian—to all of us—is an enormous amount of money. But the way in which the Labor Party couched this spending cut was that it was going to be part of bringing down pressure on inflation. It is not going to have any impact on reducing inflationary pressures in this country. That is why people from the Reserve Bank governor down are laughing at the contribution of this Treasurer at the moment. To suggest that, in a $1,100 billion per annum economy, this is going to bring down inflation—that it will put a downward pressure on inflation—really just goes to the laughing-stock demonstration that this guy is putting forward.

When the Labor Party talks about government spending under the Howard government, it is talking about spending in areas like family tax benefit, to help families. It is talking about areas like child care, where there was increased expenditure under the Howard government. It is talking about tax cuts. It is talking about all of these issues. There is no proposal on the table at the moment that I am aware of to trim billions of dollars from those measures. It is really quite amazing when you look at how shallow this argument is. Nothing has been more startling than the revelation by this Treasurer—to underscore his economic inability—when he said that the $31 billion of tax cuts were okay this year because they were a Labor Party election promise and they would not add to inflationary pressures, but tax cuts in the out years would not be allowed because they would be inflationary. That is how shallow and inept this Treasurer is. The Australian people at the moment are laughing at this bloke. (Time expired)