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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6569

Ms JACKSON (2:41 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Will the Treasurer outline to the House how developments in the Senate today on renewable energy legislation will impact on jobs and investment in the Australian economy?

Mr SWAN (Treasurer) —I thank the member for Hasluck for her question. In the middle of a global recession, one of the most important policy objectives any government can have is to deliver the maximum amount of certainty through clear-cut decisions that support jobs and that support business. That is why the government moved so quickly and decisively last year and again this year to put in place the bank guarantee and to put in place the stimulus—phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3. They have all been put in place to support business and to support employment in the face of this very savage global recession.

We have been opposed in those measures every step of the way by those opposite. They have now taken this negative approach to a new level, with the delay in the legislation for the renewable energy target, which is in the Senate today. Katie Lahey from the Business Council of Australia made a point some time ago which I think goes to the very core of how bloody-minded and how irresponsible the opposition are when it comes to the basic economic facts that we are facing and what must be done to support our people. This is what Katie Lahey had to say:

To drag on the debate whilst we have got this global financial crisis is just one more complexity that business has got to factor into its planning cycle, and for some businesses it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The point here is that this is very damaging for confidence in a very important sector—the renewable energy sector. We do know, for example, that the Climate Institute has projected that there are $31 billion worth of clean energy projects underway or planned in response to the government’s legislation. These projects do represent jobs, and you would have thought that those opposite could have supported such a positive measure. But yet again they have voted against assistance to households, to businesses and to community groups. They do not care about the flow-on impact, for example, in terms of solar credit. Why have they got to this completely irresponsible position? Because they are so divided—so divided between the sceptics and the others who may be able to recognise the importance of climate change—that they cannot take a decision. So it is the disunity of the coalition that is producing the delay and impacting on confidence. They cannot unify when the national interest demands it.

It is a shame, because we have seen some more employment data today which indicates that stimulus is having a substantial impact on our economy. The retail employment figures, out today, are holding up much better than they are anywhere else in the world. Despite a very small decline in retail employment in recent months, today’s figures show that there are 15,250 more Australians employed in the retail sector now than in November last year—a very, very good result in the circumstances.

Let’s just compare that to what is happening elsewhere in the world. In the US there are 308,000 fewer retail jobs than there were last November.

Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In light of the fact that in 45 minutes there have been three opposition questions, I want to refer you to House of Representatives Practice, the fourth edition, page 540, as it deals more comprehensively with tedious repetition.

The SPEAKER —The member for O’Connor will—

Mr Tuckey —I think I have a right to read this to you, Sir.

The SPEAKER —No. The member for O’Connor, now having stated his point of order, will resume his seat. As I have indicated to him before, those standing orders do not relate to questions and answers.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! Well, it might save time if I listen.

Mr Tuckey —In discussing the very point you have made, Sir, the final sentence says:

It is considered nevertheless that the Chair has sufficient authority to deal with irrelevance or tedious repetition in answers.

In other words, ‘sit them down’ has been the practice of the past.

The SPEAKER —To assist the member for O’Connor by treating it as a point of order, I can indicate to him that there was no point of order. I can say to him, in the general sense, that, if he has concerns about the conduct of question time, I invite him to take that up with the Procedure Committee. But I indicate to him that, if matters about question time that are of concern are only to be dealt with by precedent and practice, I think we really have a problem about getting change in question time, because that would only be sustained by the person in the chair on the basis of the practice that they would like to put in place. As he is aware, early on in this parliament I sought the cooperation of the Procedure Committee in taking the inquiry about question time from the last parliament and moving it to a conclusion. They, as is their right, decided that they had other priorities. I simply say on the issues that he has raised that, whilst of course an individual occupant of the chair could make rulings and deal with these things, if they are to be done in a sustainable way for the future operation of this chamber, those issues are best addressed by changes to the standing orders.

Mr SWAN —I was making the point that there are 15,250 more Australians employed in the retail sector now than in November last year. Everyone on this side of the House thinks that is a pretty good outcome and that it is worth talking about—unlike those opposite, who do not have any real concern about the need to support employment in the Australian economy. I was comparing that outcome to the outcome in other advanced economies. In the US there are 308,000 fewer retail jobs than there were last November; in Canada, 37,000 fewer; in the UK, 32,000 fewer; and in New Zealand, 31,000 fewer. What that tells us is that we are doing very well compared to the rest of the world.

When we look at the construction sector, we see that an additional 10,000 construction jobs have been added in the three months from February this year. Look at the comparable figures in terms of other countries. The US construction sector has shed 290,000 jobs during that period. Canada has shed 30,000 construction jobs during that period.

What these figures give us is further evidence that our stimulus efforts are helping to support employment, and that is why the behaviour of the coalition in this House and the behaviour of the coalition in the upper house is so reprehensible and irresponsible—because there has been an impact on confidence and there has been an impact on demand. It is supporting employment, and those outcomes are opposed every step of the way by those opposite.