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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 425

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (12:29 PM) —I rise to speak on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and related bills. When we first took this prudent and, to be honest, courageous decision, as the fourth estate would agree—and that is a euphemism for their believing that we might be doing wrong to oppose this package—it was very interesting to hear the reports everywhere about how foolish that is and to hear people saying, ‘Don’t you understand the views of the public?’ It is interesting to see in a Herald Sun survey that, as we speak, 10,384 votes have been registered. That is a substantial sample and, surprise, surprise, 54 per cent of those people believe that this package is irresponsible. I have complete faith in the Australian people. They are not foolish. They can see through this. Pink batts, boom gates, school halls—goodness gracious me! Is this what we have descended to in this place? This is a government that in the 1930s would not have built the Sydney Harbour Bridge; instead, it would have loaded us up with millions of cans of spam. It would not have built the Snowy Mountains scheme; instead, we would have had thousands of acres of vinyl curtains.

This is a crazy, tokenistic and ridiculous appropriation of the nation’s funds for causes that are completely unrelated to the purpose they are to achieve, which is the delivery of job security. Now we have to go through these bills with the gun-to-our-heads approach of Mr Rudd. Mr Rudd said that this is like a form of economic open-heart surgery, but he has the clock on us. If we don’t do it in time he is just going to say, ‘Sew them up; that’ll do,’ regardless. There is a sense of complete arrogance in this approach. But you cannot gyp people, because they know exactly what is going on. You are spending their money.

All we can judge this package by is the last one, and the last one was a complete and utter flop. There was $10.4 billion and the promise of 75,000 jobs. Where are your 75,000 jobs? Then the government got people from the Australian Retailers Association to stand up and say, ‘It was great.’ Well, of course! That organisation is representative of the biggest owners of gaming machines and hotels in Australia, so of course they would be happy with it. They are looking forward to the government delivering some more largesse in their direction.

But is this package going to help working families? At the moment we are being overloaded with emails from people who are scratching their heads and wondering what on earth is going on. This email from Mr Tony Watts is typical—and I have rung him to confirm that I can read it out. He says, ‘Once again the ALP has seen fit to support working families earning up to $100,000 per annum whilst ignoring the plight of carers and pensioners in this latest economic bailout.’ On the justice issue, people are being left behind. People are looking through the package and they are all coming up with the same conclusion: those who are in a position of comfort get a tokenistic payment and those who need it have been left out. This is supposed to stimulate the manufacturing economy in Australia. It is not going to stimulate the manufacturing economy in Australia; it is going to stimulate the manufacturing economy in China, South Korea or somewhere else. All it is going to stimulate is the bottom line of certain retailers.

I am an accountant, and my experience in owning an accountancy practice for 10 years and before that in banking is of two expressions. One is the expression of the person who has got the loan—their sense of joy. They have got this loan; they have got their hands on this money. That is in no way matched by the sense of concern and the grimace when they are trying to pay it back, when they are faced with the reality of having to pay the money back. As this government goes forward to launch Australia into a possible $200 billion debt, I say to them: you have not fooled the Australian people. They know what this will do and the pressure it will put on interest rates. For every person who has a million-dollar facility, because of the absolute and overwhelming participation of the Australian Labor government, every one per cent increase will cost them $10,000. So a $500,000 house facility will cost people $5,000 a year for every one per cent that interest rates are pushed up because of this overwhelming engagement in the marketplace. For the sake of $950, people will be paying $5,000 per year for their $500,000 facility for as long as this debt remains. And if you force it up by two per cent that amount will be $10,000.

People are not foolish. They know this will come home to bite them; they can see that. We have to be more prudent. There is obviously scope for a stimulus package, but it must be one that can be seen to return something to the Australian people. It must be one in which we can see in its construction an income stream—an income stream from owning it and the capacity in the future to recoup some of the debt and to refloat the economy if we need to sell the asset. But the government is just launching us, full scale, into this quantum of debt without any form of idea of how we are to get out of it. This is a bad situation. People are aware of it. They look around the world and can see the problems that the United States currently has. The United States is trying to raise money by bonds, with a US$1½ trillion stimulus package. The world is asking the logical question—unfortunately, for all of us—who are we lending the money to? Do they have the capacity to repay us? I have to say to President Obama that it is not his fault. The problems started before he came to office. But we are on that path now, and the only thing that the conservative side of this chamber must do is say: ‘Stop! We do not want to get ourselves into that position.’ That position is down the track, but when we arrive there we will not be able to reverse the situation, so we must be prudent now.

I do not know whether the government will have the numbers in this chamber or not, but the Australian people are awake to them. It is not that they are against a stimulus package; they are against this stimulus package because it is so tokenistic, parochial and ridiculous. This whole idea that we have got to get it through defies belief. Why do we have to get it through? Are there parked behind a shed somewhere mountains of boom gates to be delivered to a railway crossing near you, immediately? Are there hiding in the bushes, down there behind the oval, armies of green people armed with pink batts, ready to ascend into the ceilings and insulate the nation? Would it actually matter if we were to take our time and do things prudently? No, it would not.

Why do you have this gun-to-our-heads approach? It is Australian taxpayers’ money and you are insisting that they not only spend that money but go further into debt. This brings to mind the dodgy aluminium siding salesman who goes from house to house saying: ‘You’ve gotta sign up. It’s gotta happen now.’ I can tell you, from the point of view of an accountant, when the pressure salesman turns up, the product is dodgy and the only thing you should say to them is, ‘Go away.’ If what you are offering is so self-evidently beneficial to the Australian people, leave the details of your program with us and it will scream from the paper that it should be endorsed. I do not doubt for one moment that, if the product were fiscally responsible, it would be endorsed. But this is not simply about a stimulus package; it is about the issue of your stimulus package and what it represents.

Let us look at the position that we will eventually be in if we implement this package. If we end up hocking our nation’s credit card with $200 billion worth of debt, for every per cent of interest that is $2 billion. Let us say that over the cycle of this debt we will be looking at around six or seven per cent interest per year. That is around $14 billion in interest a year. Those numbers just roll off the tongue, but what are those numbers? Those numbers could represent cancer treatment that could be provided on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Those numbers could extend hospitals. Those numbers could fix the rail system in Victoria. Those numbers could provide dams so we can secure our water supply. They could seal roads. They could build an inland rail system that would deliver a corridor of economic activity in Australia. This money would just disappear, year after year.

As an accountant, one of the things that frustrated me was that hardworking families were only just able to meet their mortgage interest payments year after year and could never get ahead because they were hocked up to their eyeballs with debt. They basically sell their families and those who come after them into a form of financial servitude. That is the reason that we must stand against this package. I am not going to sell the Australian people who come after me into a form of financial servitude because of the improvidence of trying to buy our way out of the global recession with ceiling insulation and boom gates. This is something that resonates. I am receiving email after email saying: ‘What is this thing about pink batts? What are pink batts going to do to our global economy? Who devised this? What font of knowledge came up with this work of financial wisdom?’ The reason people are sceptical is that they found out about the first package. It had no modelling; it was just plucked out of the air—‘Bang. Here, spend $10.4 billion’—and half the surplus was gone. The government came up with promises and was able to deliver on none of them. That is the form and track work of the Labor Party economic horse, and it is dodgy.

This is going to be an incredibly important debate for the Australian people because it is not just about this moment; it is about from this time forward. The debate will go on for a period of time, but the debt, if it descends on us, will remain on us for goodness knows how long.

When are the Labor Party going to present information showing the efficacy of this proposal? When are they going to tell us exactly what they hope to achieve? When will we see specific details of the purpose and desired outcome of this proposal? Where does the arrogance of proposing one of the biggest packages that has ever been brought forward, without any time allowed for its consideration, come from? We had this ridiculous vigil last night in the House of Representatives till five o’clock in the morning because you insisted on being so barbarically arrogant that your leader did not even turn up to his own vote. This is really starting to show the people of Australia exactly who is running this country. If we had efficacy along with the arrogance, at least we would have something excusable, but we have arrogance and these ridiculous ideas all tied up together.

We now have people, quite rightly, going through the details of this package and realising that they have been left out. They are beginning to understand. People thought that every farmer would get $950. They will not. In fact, in the whole $41,534,000,000 package $20 million has been put aside for farmers—that is it. Of course, not every farmer will receive a payment. You have to already be deemed as being in exceptional circumstances and basically in financial trouble to receive it. And I will tell you what people in financial trouble also have: they have debt. What your package does is put the price of their debt up. What are you delivering to them? Ten thousand dollars per million per percentage point. They are not foolish; they will understand, when the interest bill turns up, where it came from. It came from the Australian Labor Party.

Then we have the state governments, which have been building up debts that Steve Hooker, the pole vaulter, could not traverse. These state Labor governments are salivating because they are going to get bailed out by the federal government. They are losing the capacity to go any further. The debts that the states now have behind them are almost insurmountable, so now we are going to have major state debts compounded with a debt-laden federal government, which in the past could always sit behind them and say: ‘No matter how much you get this wrong, state Labor governments, at least we have a parachute. Although we don’t want to use it, we have the capacity to bail you out if it all goes to clay.’

But now we are going to lose the capacity, the ability, to bail them out. We will have a compounding effect of debt upon debt with no income stream, putting immense pressures on the productive capacity of this nation to finance it. By going to the people who will have the providence to go to the markets to borrow the money to produce a form that adds to our economy, we are also going to those people who in the future will have to bail the nation out of the problem and saying, ‘We’re going to make it impossible for you, because we’re going to be in the marketplace bidding against you for the money.’ This is the reality. It is going to be a very hard debate. We have to take the Australian people on this journey to clearly spell out piece by piece why this is not any sort of statement of belligerence, obstinacy or arrogance but a deeply felt concern about where this will all end up if we get it so entirely wrong—and the track work of the Labor Party so far is that they are getting it terribly wrong.

I am deeply heartened that, no matter what poll I looked at this morning, the Australian people are waking up to the situation. They understand. The lady I spoke to last night and the calls I took all had the same message: ‘What on earth are they up to down there? Where has this manifestation of manic borrowing come from?’ At the end of the day, in the global economy we are in the same economic plane as the United States of America and China, but we are not in the cockpit; we are down the back of the plane. Where the front of the plane goes, we will go regardless. In this nation we have to be fully aware of where we are economically and have a good understanding of where we are going. Our idea is to protect our people. Australia does not have the capacity to reboot the global economy. I wish we did, but we do not. Our primary responsibility is to our people and to the realisation that we are only about 1½ per cent of world GDP.

In the past we were protected because we were provident and prudent and had money put aside, but the Labor government have started down a path and this is how the path will go: the first thing they do is spend the money you have. They have done that—it has gone. Then they spend the money you do not have—that is, they borrow it. They are flat out into that, they are $200 billion into that, and they have not been here two years. Then they try to drive whatever mechanism possible—interest rates, for example—as low as it can go but are confounded by the fact that at the same time their debts are forcing interest rates up. Then they do the big one: they print money. Around the world at this point in time are certain economies at various positions. Believe you me, you do not want to get to position 4, because then it is game, set and match. That is Zimbabwe. How do we stop ourselves getting to that position? It is by having the honesty—and losing the arrogance—to make sure that we do not get ourselves on that path. It is by being prudent at the start to save ourselves the pain of the end. This is why people are asking the National Party and the Liberal Party—I do not know about the crossbenchers—the question. It is not what is popular now; it is what is prudent in the long term.

Any person going to the pub and seeing some person who is half-cut and buying everybody beers would of course grab a beer off them, but you do not respect them. You think they are foolish. You think their whole process is obviously flawed. The Labor Party’s position is that, because people are accepting these beers off them at the bar on a Friday night, we all think they are wonderful. No, we think they are half insane. We the conservative side, the fiscally responsible side, have the capacity to try to bring some sense and balance back into this situation. Those people who have a long-term vision of where this nation is going, those people who are honest and prudent, will understand this statement. It is not about us now; it is about where our nation goes and the debt we leave behind for others to pay. The most selfish thing you can do is leave your debt behind, and that is what the government is doing. (Time expired)