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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 1446

Senator McEWEN (South AustraliaGovernment Whip in the Senate) (17:27): I am very pleased to be able to contribute to the debate this afternoon about the Gillard Labor government's economic policies. Unlike Mr Abbott, Labor members of parliament do not find economics boring, and no-one has a better economics story to tell than the Labor government.

The opposition's economic story is one of contradicting and arguing with each other about the detail but, collectively, they are committed to condemning Australia to a $70 billion black hole of debt. When it comes to economic and fiscal management, the Labor government are about hard work, not about headlines. We are about actively working to transform our economy, not talking it down as Senator Cormann has been doing for the last 20 minutes.

I am very proud of the Labor government's economic achievements and our fiscal strategies that are going to set the nation up for the future. I am also proud that we do things in the Labor way. We believe in fairness, we believe in looking after those who need it most and we believe in giving people opportunities. We are not afraid of making the hard decisions to ensure that those Labor goals are met.

I do not need to remind people, but I will, about the action that the Labor government took during the global financial crisis. One of the greatest achievements of the Labor government was to act quickly and decisively to save the country from global recession. In a time when advanced economies around the world suffered the largest global recession in 70 years, the Australian economy performed remarkably well, and that was not luck or coincidence. The strong performance can be put down to the early and strong action taken by Labor. We injected short-term cash stimulus as well as medium- and long-term infrastructure investment and spending to keep the Australian economy in strong shape. Every time I go to a Building the Education Revolution program opening in schools around my state, I get positive responses from the school communities—the parents, teachers and children; and the builders, designers and tradies who worked on those buildings. They come up and thank us for the $16.2 billion investment that Labor made into our nation's schools. Those 24,000 projects in 9,000 schools have set us up for the future. I defy anyone in the opposition to go to a school like Parafield Primary School in South Australia, which received an investment of $3.2 million, and say to them: 'We don't think you should have had that money. We wouldn't have given it to you. We voted against it.' They will not do that because they are gutless, but we make sure that the communities know that they got it from the Labor government.

Many countries across the world felt the full effect of the global financial crisis and today are still recovering from it. Here in Australia, the government ensured that Australians were protected from the global financial crisis. As I said, the opposition opposed the second economic stimulus package. They quite happily would have let small businesses collapse and stood by as Australians lost their jobs and houses, as happened in the United States and elsewhere. But we on this side of the chamber had the foresight and the competence to act quickly and decisively. We unequivocally guided Australia through the worst impact of the GFC.

So the government has a great track record of economic management. We also have sound policies in place to ensure that that record continues. Our policies are based on Labor principles. We start from the basis of fairness and ensuring that all Australians are able to seize the opportunities that a strong economy provides. For example, the Gillard government has committed to spread the benefits of the mining boom across the nation through the introduction of the minerals resource rent tax, which will return a fairer share of the nation's wealth back to ordinary working Australians. We on this side understand that small businesses and households are doing it tough. It is unfair when you have a mining resources boom in Australia that just a small handful of companies are profiting from the nation's resources. We are committed to ensuring that Australian people receive a better return on the profits made from extracting our resources and to ensuring that the resource sector remains sustainable into the future. As has often been said in this chamber, these resources can only be extracted once—and it is important that the Australian community as a whole gets a fair return for them and that we responsibly put that money towards building a better nation for everybody.

The government has been working with the resources industry to deliver a profits based tax that works better for the industry and delivers improved returns for the community. We want to make sure all Australians get the benefit of that, not just the Gina Rineharts, the Andrew Forrests and the Clive Palmers of the world. We will deliver the benefits of the minerals resource rent tax to everyday Australians, to all Australians, through increases in superannuation for working Australians and tax breaks for small businesses. We will cut the tax rate for all businesses and we will invest nationally in infrastructure, including in the mining states. We will boost the superannuation savings of 8.4 million of our lowest paid workers, meaning that our overall superannuation reforms will see a 30-year-old worker today on average earnings retire with an extra $100,000 of savings. By increasing the superannuation guarantee, we will build up the pool of national savings and further strengthen the economy. We know that there are plenty of senators on the other side who do not agree with that initiative—who do not want Australians to have improved superannuation savings and do not want Australians to share in the benefits of the mining boom.

Another benefit of the MRRT for the economy and for Australians is the tax cuts that will apply to the 2.7 million small businesses across the nation. We know small businesses are looking forward to that, just as they looked forward to the tax breaks that were provided as part of the economic stimulus plan. We will introduce instant asset write-offs, where small businesses can immediately write off each and every asset worth up to $6½ thousand, and a tax rate cut for all companies to 29 per cent on 1 July 2013.

I should point out that the opposition have already said that they will repeal the MRRT if they win government. That means they must either repeal those tax cuts for small businesses and companies and repeal the superannuation increases or find the money from somewhere else. Of course, that creates a big problem for them: where would they find that money? We have asked time and time again: which government services, which government programs, which pensions and which benefits are they going to cut to be able to repeal the MRRT? So far, all we get is infighting within the Liberal Party. The only thing they agree on is that they have dug themselves a very deep economic black hole—a crater, I think it would be fair to say.

There will be a business tax cut for all Australian businesses, including those that are not in the mining boom fast lane. The impact of that will be to ensure that we keep our unemployment rate low. One of the things that we are very proud of in the Labor government is that we have a low unemployment rate in Australia, when other comparable nations do not. In the term of this government the unemployment rate has been five per cent on average and I understand it is currently 5.2 per cent. That is a spectacularly good effort in a difficult global financial circumstance and we are very proud of that. We will work very hard to ensure the low unemployment rate continues because we know the best way to ensure that all Australians benefit from the fortune we have in this country is by getting them into employment. That is the best way to eliminate disadvantage and to ensure people are set up for the future. The government have taken a range of initiatives to ensure that the wealth is distributed more evenly throughout our country so that we can create opportunities for everybody. As well, the government believe strongly in altering the private health insurance rebate so that it is means tested to make it fair for all Australians. It is not fair that Australians on low and middle incomes are subsidising private health insurance for people who, like me, are on high incomes. It is not fair that taxpayers on a very low income, who may not be able to afford private health insurance, should be subsiding the private health insurance of wealthier Australians. Our plan is to retain the rebate in full for low- and middle-income families—nine out of 10 Australians will not be affected at all—and we will means test the top 10 per cent of income earners, people like us in here.

This initiative will see unprecedented levels of savings—estimated to be $2.4 billion over three years and $100 billion over the next 40 years. Where will that money go? It will go to funding hospitals, schools and pensions. The community will benefit enormously from the appropriation of those tax dollars back into services that Australians need. Of course, the opposition oppose this very beneficial initiative. They are going to repeal it as well, if they get into government. Where will they make up the money from that loss? Where will they find that $2.4 billion over the next three years?

The federal Labor government are also working very hard to ensure that we retain jobs across a broad section of the Australian economy. One of the things we are very proud of—and I, being a South Australian, am particularly proud of—is our support for the automotive industry. The opposition want to kill the automotive industry in Australia with their proposed cuts of $1.5 billion to 2015 in future industry support. Thereafter, they would rescind all funding to the automotive industry. You would have to say that there seems to be very little appetite in the ranks of the opposition for supporting the manufacturing sector at all. Labor want to support it and help it adapt and survive. That is what we want to do for workers in manufacturing and particularly in the automotive industry. We want to retain that vital innovative industry in Australia because we know it has fantastic offshoots through other companies that provide research and technology to help us deliver the best possible automotive investment.

The Labor Party are about looking after jobs in manufacturing whereas, of course, the opposition are not interested in looking after jobs. They are more interested in bringing back Work Choices. They cannot help themselves. Their solution to everything to do with jobs is to bring back Work Choices. People should be very afraid should that ever happen. The opposition want to pull the plug on 46,000 Australian jobs directly involved in the automotive industry and on another 200,000 jobs nationwide which rely on that industry. Of course, that will not just get rid of those jobs; it will put an end to the research and development companies and other infrastructure that goes to support the automotive industry and other manufacturing industries.

The government are also ensuring that we are setting up the nation for a bright and strong economic future by investing very heavily in skills and education. We want to ensure we have the skilled workers our country needs into the future. Since coming to government we have created some 750,000 new jobs, including in mining, retail, health and skilled trades. Importantly, we now have more than 460,000 Australians involved in traineeships or apprenticeships, and they are getting real training for great jobs in the future—that could be in construction, automotive, furnishing or tourism trades in particular. Over one-quarter of a million of those jobs were added in 2010 and we know that another half a million jobs will be added over the next two years. We are always doing what is needed to keep people in jobs rather than having people out of work and putting families under pressure.

The Labor government are also ensuring much bigger investment in higher education. Today Senator Evans announced that our decision to uncap the number of university places and increase funding to universities means there will be an estimated 545,000 student places this year, an increase of five per cent on last year's record number. We are also very proud to get more of our young people into tertiary education, which of course sets them up for great jobs in the future.

We are about creating new incentives and opportunities for work, and we about supporting people when they are in work. Of course, we are very proud as well of our Paid Parental Leave scheme, which will help more Australians in the workforce. Eighty thousand Australian families have already received payments under our scheme. We can be absolutely certain that not one Australian will ever receive anything from the opposition's paid parental leave scheme because it will never happen. The Leader of the Opposition does not really support it. He has commented that it would be 'over his dead body'. Regardless of his position, we know the opposition are internally riven about the tax that would have to be levied on all companies to bring into being their paid parental leave scheme. This 'Rolls Royce scheme', as it was called by the Leader of the Opposition, used to grab a few headlines but, of course, it will never actually be implemented. Labor's Paid Parental Leave scheme is in place, is being used, is welcome by families, is funded and is supportable.

Other Labor initiatives that we are proud of, which are assisting us to set up the economy for the future, include the National Broadband Network, which will give us the infrastructure for the future. This is a welcome initiative about which people talk to me whenever I am out and about. Rural and regional areas in particular cannot wait for it to be rolled out. Of course, the opposition will unravel the NBN. That is their plan: unravel it and make sure that Australians are stuck with the substandard and costly internet services that they currently have. Again, the opposition is riven about what to do about the National Broadband Network.

Just to ensure that we are getting the message about the coalition's position on things that are important to Australians, I think it is worth reiterating their position on some of the key economic policies that Labor has implemented or intends to implement. It is pretty easy to go through the list and to preface everything with 'no' because that is pretty much all that the Liberals say about initiatives that will set Australia up for the future: 'no'.

So, they say no to the mining tax, no to 12 per cent superannuation for workers, no to tackling global warming by pricing carbon, no to investing in the NBN, no to health reform, no to a fairer industrial relations system, no to the global financial crisis stimulus that saved 200,000 jobs and put money into every school in Australia, no to banning the exit fees on home mortgages by banks and no to the flood packages that are rebuilding Queensland and Victoria.

I have attempted to outline Labor's plans for the economy, what we have done and what we are going to do. I think that the plans the Liberals have for the economy consist pretty much of saying no. Thank you.