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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 6678


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongAssistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation) (15:56): I entered this place being an optimist and I am always optimistic that Mr Hockey will say something of substance. I will not give up, even though we did not hear anything in the last 15 minutes to sustain my optimism. In fact, when I was looking at some of the great Joe Hockey comments in politics, I realised that he added to the list last night at the CEDA dinner. Mr Hockey was the guest star speaker at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. In a question-and-answer session, with Mr Hockey perhaps after dinner in a moment of veritas, or truth, he was asked about his greatest regret in politics: 'Mr Hockey, what's your greatest regret in politics?' There were 200 people there to hear it, 200 witnesses. When he was pressed for an honest answer, Mr Hockey hesitated—and obviously I cannot do his avuncular, hail-fellow-well-met style—and said, 'Not pushing John Howard harder to go.' There is the Liberal Party: no consistency. They pretend to be one thing and yet they do another thing.

The people listening to parliament may or may not be aware of what the process of a matter of public importance is. It is an opportunity for the opposition to debate a matter of the day, a topic of the day. The topic which the opposition were raising and which they said they wanted to debate was consistency in financial management, so I thought I would prepare and speak to the topic, as opposed to perhaps doing the more ad hominem personal attacks beloved of some in the opposition, the low-rent behaviour which we saw yesterday from the Leader of the Opposition when we had the visiting Prime Minister of New Zealand—the first time ever that we have had the Prime Minister of New Zealand on the floor of parliament. We saw that our Prime Minister spoke appropriately. She did not try and score any points off the opposition, because sometimes in politics the moment is greater than the individuals. We had the Prime Minister of New Zealand here in part to recognise the work we have done after their terrible tragedies in Christchurch. Our Prime Minister understands, as does the government, that sometimes you have to suspend the verbal hostilities and the jousting and say, 'The whole nation is on display.' So she spoke, presented the case for Australia and recognised New Zealand's fundamental importance to Australia. But then the Leader of the Opposition came to his feet. We in the government did not think he would, but we sort of half expected that he would not fail to disappoint, and he in fact did disappoint us when he started having a crack at the government in front of the visiting Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Some people in politics say that it should always be winner take all; it does not matter what you do, whatever it takes, you just have to win the argument at all costs. But the government is not informed by that sort of low-rent politics. We think that we have to encourage Australians to not be afraid of the future—and this is one of the big things, when we look at consistency in this political debate at the moment, that the opposition are not interested in. They want to scare the Australian public. They are not interested in consistent economic debate. So I would like to present for the benefit of the House and, indeed, those who listen to parliament some propositions about what the Gillard government is actually doing in terms of consistent economic management. Let me start off with the fundamentals, the economy—a topic the opposition do not always come to in question time. What has happened since the global financial crisis is that we have seen a very big hit from 2008 on on Commonwealth revenues. In other words, the Australian economy felt the effects of the global financial crisis. Obviously from Ireland to Greece to Portugal to Europe and North America we have seen terrible effects where there has been a massive downturn in economic activity. We saw the collapse of Lehman Bros, the big bank in New York, on Wall Street. That has had repercussions throughout the Western world. Australia was not immune. Corporate profits were terribly hit in 2008 and 2009 and indeed we still feel some of the after-effects now. That is one of the challenges this government has had to contend with, the largest economic dislocation since the Great Depression.

This government stared the issues in the face. We said, 'Okay, on the best economic advice we have got we need to stimulate the economy, we have got to guarantee the security of the banks, we have got to make sure that people have some money to spend to help stimulate the retail economy, we have got to make sure people are in work.' That is why we have done the greatest expenditure on the school system, on the primary schools of Australia, that we have ever seen. Through the stimulus package combining with our education agenda, what we have seen this government do and continue to do as new facilities open up is for the first time in 40 or 50 years we are seeing resources being built in the schools of Australia which are as good as the homes that Australians live in. What an important message about the priority of education, the fundamental uplift in quality of education, sent by our Prime Minister when she was education minister to say that we know we have got to keep people in work, we know there are thousands of tradespeople all around Australia who are affected by the downturn, the global financial crisis to which I was referring. What our Prime Minister did was say, 'Enough is enough. We have to make decisions,' as did the whole of the government. We have seen now something like 9,000 projects started and many completed and many to be completed in the near future. What we have also seen is a message sent to the children of Australia from their parents, the taxpayers, and the government of Australia that we think education is important. We want children to be educated in facilities which are as good as the homes they live in, sending an important message about education.

When I talk about how we have coped with the financial crisis and the consistent economic management of the Labor government, we have to recognise what we have done to get our finances back into shape. It is a little-known story that the reduction in Commonwealth tax revenue had a massive impact. Imagine if you are a business in Australia and instead of having 100 per cent of the revenue you had for any number of years it is down to 83 per cent of the revenue but you still have to carry on 100 per cent of the functions and more. That is what we have been doing. Yet we have seen the fastest turnaround on record in terms of getting the budget heading towards being back in the black. The opposition conveniently like to state when they trail their usual rhetoric against the government that in fact the global financial crisis was just a hiccup. Let us not forget what the Leader of the Opposition said on 12 March 2009. He said, 'We are against the government's stimulus package.' Let us not forget that the opposition opposed the stimulus package consistently and now they are trying to resist us getting the budget back into the black.

It is not just getting the budget back into the black which is important. We understand that having a surplus in the budget is important to withstand future ups and downs of economic life on this globe of ours. Australia is an island geographically but we are not disconnected from what happens in the rest of the world. That is why we have been working so hard to reduce our debt. Let us put this debt debate in context. The opposition like to say, 'We are low-taxing and the government is high-taxing.' But the numbers actually contradict that myth. The opposition when they were in power had the mining boom mark 1 and an increase in financial surpluses and they just spent the money.

We have had the privilege of coming to office but at a time when revenues are down. We have had to continue the functions of government and we have had to borrow money to carry out the functions of gover­nment, and to carry out the reconstruction work after the natural disasters. It has not just been the global financial crisis; we have seen cyclones and floods, we have seen the bushfires in Western Australia. We have seen a massive set last summer of terrible climatic events. Billions of dollars of infrastructure have been wrecked and lost. So what we have to do is make hard decisions to find the money to help Queenslanders get back on their feet and other people who are flood affected get back on their feet by making sure the roads get repaired, the bridges get repaired, the railways get repaired, making sure that people have the opportunity to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

So we have consistently managed through an extreme set of economic circumstances, and at the same time we have got the mining boom. You have got a trifecta of events. You had the global financial crisis, you had the terrible climatic events and then we have also seen the mining boom mark 2, which has been a great outcome for people working in the mining sector and the construction sector related to mining and for people providing services to mining. But the whole Australian economy is not receiving the benefits in the same way. We have certainly seen massive capital expansion in the mining sector. We are seeing good rates of pay and we are seeing that jobs in the mining sector are going very well, but at the same time our dollar has gone up—we have a very high Australian dollar. So the mining boom is having good and negative effects. The rest of the world is interested in our currency, especially as America is depressed in terms of the value of its dollar. So we have sections of the Australian economy that trade with the rest of the world—be it inbound tourism, domestic tourism, parts of retail, regional parts of Australia—who are doing it a lot harder than other parts of Australia. This government is determined that we spread the benefits of the mining boom to all.

The opposition like to have a bet each way on this issue. On the one hand they do not like our Commonwealth mineral resource rent tax but they like it when the West Australian Premier increases tax on mining. I think this smacks of double standards. Why is it that a Liberal tax is a good tax but a Labor tax is a bad tax? I can tell you why: because there is a lack of intellectual consistency.

Mr Christensen: The state owns the minerals.

Mr SHORTEN: The member for Dawson says the state owns the minerals. Do you know who I think owns the minerals? The Australian people—West Australians, Queenslanders, Australians. I respect the fact that the member for Dawson has been elected but he is a new member in this place and what he should understand is that a lot of Australians do not actually think that these resources belong to just one company or several companies. Companies operate under a licence and, when you use finite resources, they are gone. What is left after that? I admire Australian mining companies. I have dealt with many of them. I admire multinational mining companies, maybe not as much as the member for Dawson but I accept they are very important in the Australian economy. What I also know is that when they move on they move on. I have worked as a union rep in Townsville and when the company moves on there is not a lot of love left after they have gone. We on this side know that a mining boom does not last forever. In an uneven economy we want to spread the prosperity of the mining boom. So, what are we going to do? We are going to decrease company tax for all 2½ million businesses in Australia, and not just look after the mining sector.

We want to make sure that superannuation goes up from nine to 12 per cent, because we think it is important that when people retire after working for 40 years they have enough money to retire on.

Wyatt Roy interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: I know that that is not a big issue for the member for Longman. He will have a distinguished career in life, I have no doubt. But what I do know is that if you are baby boomer, born at some time between 1945 and 1965, you may work for 30 or 40 years but chances are you will not have had the chance in many cases to save enough money to retire. Whilst we do have the safety net of the age pension, which this government has increased—

Wyatt Roy interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: I know the age pension does not worry the member for Longman, but it worries a lot of other people in his electorate.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The member for Longman is obviously not in his seat.

Mr SHORTEN: We want to make sure that our people have adequate retirement incomes. This is a very important issue. We want to use the mining tax to replace forgone Commonwealth revenue as we provide the opportunity for Australians to have money put aside in superannuation savings, which are taxed at a lower rate than they otherwise would be.

Let me also tell you why I think we are consistent and those opposite are not. Any member of parliament elected before 2004 gets what they call a defined benefit scheme. Very nice. I wasn't elected then, but very nice for those who have got it.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: Indeed, there would be several opposite who can sympathise with this point. But if you were elected after 2004 you get 15 per cent super, which is a very generous deal. What I do not like is that those opposite would vote for Australians at large to get only nine per cent. My view is that if it is good enough for us it is good enough for the people. If it is good enough for members of parliament, we need to lift super. All point-scoring aside, I know that there would be plenty on the opposition side who would think that there is a case there.

Let me be clear: we are consistent. We have invested in education.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: I know that when people are embarrassed they sometimes laugh to hide their embarrassment. I think we have just seen a little bit of a laboratory experiment from those opposite.

We are seeking to consistently manage this economy. Another problem that we are consistent on is that we know climate change is real. We heard the Prime Minister of New Zealand say that he thinks climate change is real. We have had all the scientists from around Australia come to visit Canberra and they think climate change is real. The problem is that those opposite are run by a gentleman, Mr Abbott, the member for Warringah, who has the intellectual curiosity of an Inquisition monk. He is not greatly interested in the science. Although, at different times the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, has said that a carbon tax is a good idea and at other times he has supported an emissions trading scheme. Certainly, when he realised that he might have a third of the caucus to back him to knock of Malcolm Turnbull, he was then prepared to go very hardline right wing—very hardline and very right wing.

Then we had the shadow Treasurer, who entertained us so jovially before. He said that what you think about climate change is a matter of conscience. I love that.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Honourable members will not interject from outside their seat.

Mr SHORTEN: I appreciate the attention of the House to this matter. We are consistent, the coalition are not. We are determined to manage this economy for the long term and not the short term. We are focused on the best interests of Australians, not tomorrow's headlines in the newspapers.