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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2261

Queensland Economy

Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:22): My question is to Senator Wong, the Minister representing the Treasurer. Is she in agreement—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Just wait a minute, Senator Brown. There is comment going on on both sides. It is not fair to you; it is not fair to me. Senator Bob Brown has the call.

Senator BOB BROWN: Is the minister in agreement with the findings of the Australia Institute released in Brisbane today which, amongst other things, are:

Manufacturing in Queensland has declined 6.5 per cent over the past year and the number of international tourists … has fallen 6 per cent … (during) the mining boom … While some mining jobs are well paid, the reality for the 99 per cent of Queenslanders who don't work in mining is higher housing costs, higher mortgage interest rates and fewer jobs in tourism, manufacturing and agriculture.

Does the government agree that the estimate of 20,000 jobs ripped out the rest of the economy by the mining boom in Queensland is likely to be an underestimate?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:23): Probably the way I would approach that is to say this. There is no doubt there is a significant structural change occurring in the Australian economy, and that is a consequence of a number of things. The first is obviously the global economic shift that we are seeing, where there is a shift in economic power from West to East. Then we also are seeing elevated terms of trade for Australia which, as a consequence, has led to very substantial investment and very substantial growth in investment in the resources sector. We are also seeing historically high levels of the dollar. Those, amongst other factors, are driving some significant shifts in the Australian economy.

There are also substantial opportunities, and the government is very conscious of the importance of putting in place the policy settings which enable Australians both to manage change but also to grasp those opportunities. In terms of the sorts of the policy settings which are important, you will have seen—through you, Mr President, to the senator—the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday of additional investment in skills. That investment coupled with the existing announced funding will see about $9 million, from recollection, over five years invested in the vocational training sector. That is a reflection of both the demand that the economy will generate in terms of the additional need for skilled workers but also the importance of ensuring more Australians have the skills employers need, enabling more Australians to manage the sorts of changes that we are seeing.

We are very conscious of the pressures some sectors are facing and, of course, that other sectors are doing very well. The other substantial policy setting the government has brought forward that has now been endorsed by the Senate, with the senator's support and that of his party, is the minerals tax, which is about spreading the benefits of the boom. (Time expired)

Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:25): Mr President, I have a supplementary question following on from that answer. Isn't it true that the $9 million to be spent on reskilling people pales into insignificance with the hundreds of millions which will be taken from the minerals tax for infrastructure for the coal industry which, amongst other things, aims to increase the number of mega coal ships going out via the Barrier Reef from 1,500 to 10,000 in the coming decade, with a consequent threat to the 68,000 jobs dependent on the Great Barrier Reef?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:26): The first point I would make about the infrastructure proposition which the senator makes is that this government has made very substantial investments in infrastructure, not just those which are funded through the MRRT where there is, as the senator rightly points out, a focus on those fast-growing regions which need infrastructure, but through the Nation Building Program, which has made substantial investments in infrastructure.

I would also take issue with the suggestion that the skills funding pales into insignificance. I can say to the senator, through you, Mr President, that the government's investment in skills across the board, whether it is vocational training, whether it is the university sector and schools, has been a very big increase in funding for skills broadly across the economy. In fact— (Time expired)

Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:27): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. I ask the minister again, but in this way: isn't it true that the amount being spent on reskilling Queenslanders pales into insignificance with the amount being earmarked to facilitate the coal industry in infrastructure? And was the taxi driver who complained to me in Mackay a fortnight ago about roads being ripped up by mining trucks, at the expense of ordinary vehicles and public transport, wrong?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:28): I understand the view that the taxi driver has put. I would make this point. We are seeing an economy that is continuing—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Wong, continue.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Mr President. I would suggest that the comment might reflect the proposition I put in my first answer, which is that there are very different experiences for different parts of the economy, different people employed in different sectors and different individuals as a result of the sorts of changes we are seeing. The job of government is to try and get the right policy settings to maximise opportunity, to spread the benefits of the boom and to make investments that enable Australians to best take those opportunities. I would again say to the senator that we have made very substantial investments in skills across the board—unprecedented invest¬≠ments, if you look historically. (Time expired)