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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31152


Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) (3:46 PM) —While I was listening to the member for Hotham talking about corporate collapses, I made a mental list of some of the corporate collapses that occurred when Labor was on watch. The first one I thought about was the Adelaide Steamship Company, which was Australia's largest industrial group. I think we all remember Mr Alan Bond, with the ninth largest corporation in Australia. What about Bond Brewing, which represented half the brewing industry in Australia? Then there was Bond Media, which at that time owned the largest television network in the land. Not only did Channel 9 collapse, but Channel 7 collapsed as well. We all remember that guy called Christopher Skase who managed to get out of the country when the Labor Party was on watch. Just to complete the equation, Channel 10 went under as well. Channels 9, 7 and 10 went under at the same time.

Remember Budget, Australia's largest car rental company? That went under when the Labor Party was in government. Not only were the TV stations done, but John Fairfax, Australia's second largest newspaper group, went under when the Labor Party was on watch. Then we move into the area of financial services organisations. Where do I start? We had Pyramid and Tricontinental. We remember Beneficial Finance in South Australia, which was part of the Bank South Australia Group. We had the Farrow group which went into liquidation. These were not just little liquidations or little collapses, these were damn big collapses, and they went right to the heart and soul of commerce in Australia.

The one celebrated failure which the Labor Party tends to ignore in the circumstances of the Ansett collapse—the one it seems to forget about—is Compass. That involved 1,000 employees, and not for one single second did the Labor Party ever contemplate going in to help the workers at Compass. As we had the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business say in this House, the Labor Party said that it was going to be uncooperative in government with any attempt to try to resuscitate Compass Airlines. I note that the member for McPherson is in the chamber. When Compass went under, I recall that there were regular routes to Coolangatta and, of course, they stopped overnight. There was no attempt to try and rebuild the transportation networks for the large number of travellers who lost their tickets. When it was in government, the Labor Party was uncooperative.

We had collapses when the Labor Party was in office, not just of medium sized or small players but of the largest players. Under the Labor Party, we not only had the collapse of the largest players in the case of the television industry; we had the complete collapse of the industry. The former minister for communications is at the table. He should apologise to Australian TV viewers for the fact that he was part of a government that oversaw the collapse of an entire media industry.

At that point, others like Elders and Fosters came into play. It could be related to the fact that not one person on the Labor Party frontbench has any experience in running a business. Could it have anything to do with the fact that the leadership of the Labor Party is born out of the union movement and has never been involved in the running of any business? In fact, correct me if I am wrong— and I stand to be corrected—I do not think the leadership of the Labor Party has ever worked in business. If that is the case, how is it that these people are being potentially given the opportunity to run the largest business in the country, the government of Australia?

We had the shadow treasurer in here a few minutes ago talk about the Australian economy. Even if people do not believe me—and I find that a little hard to believe from time to time—I ask the people who are listening to this debate to believe what international commentators are saying about the Australian economy. The 18 August issue of the Economist says:

In the nine years up to the middle of 2000, Australia enjoyed remarkable economic growth, averaging more than 4% a year. Unemployment fell, productivity growth increased and inflation was low.

I have just blown out of the water the member for Hotham's entire speech, in which he said that unemployment is out of control, growth is falling, the sky is coming in and companies are collapsing. This is not Joe Hockey saying it; it is in fact the Economist. It says:

The economy slowed sharply in the fourth quarter of 2000, under the weight of higher world energy prices—

and we all remember how petrol pump prices surged—

and a slowing American economy.

It says here:

Tax cuts should help to support demand, and low inflation ... The OECD—

the organisation of the major economic countries—

lauds tax reforms that began to take effect last year, to broaden the indirect tax base and to reduce high effective marginal rates of income tax. The Paris-based economists also like the look of recent labour-market reforms.

I will table that. It is not me saying it—it is the Economist and the world's leading economists.

There is a simple truth about running any business: in order to succeed, you need to make a profit. That was lost during the period when everyone was investing in technology stocks. I well remember discussing with some institutional investors the strategy behind their investment. On one occasion, I clearly remember this international investor saying, `You know what? I would never put a dime into a tech company that is making a profit. If it is making a profit, I'm not putting any money in.' It comes back to basic principles. For companies to grow, succeed and employ more people, they have to be profitable. If they are profitable, they generate wealth, not just for their shareholders but also for their employees.

Under any circumstances, the best thing a government can do to help to keep companies profitable, generate jobs and generate wealth is to run the economy well. If there is anything that can be said about the Howard government it is this: it has done an outstanding job with the Australian economy. When seven out of our top 10 trading partners in Asia were in recession or depression, we had the fastest economic growth in the developed world. We defied all expectations. The world's leading commentators described us as the `miracle economy'. Now, when the world's leading economies are facing very difficult days—are, in the words of many commentators, heading towards recession— Australia still has the fastest economic growth in the developed world.

The reason why is that this side of the House had the courage to stand on principle. This side of the House determined that the best way that you can keep Australia strong and vibrant, create jobs, create wealth, and deliver certainty and security to Australian families, was to deliver a strong economy based on tough but fair reform. We had the courage to do what no government had the courage to do for a generation: we undertook the reform of the taxation system.

Even when our major export destinations are in financial difficulties, we are exporting our socks off in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and services. And we are doing it because we removed $2½ billion a year off Australian export costs by abolishing the wholesale sales tax—the abolishment of which was opposed lock, stock and barrel by the Labor Party. At the same time, Australia undertook industrial relations reform which ensured that we had the lowest level of industrial disputation since 1913. And that was opposed lock, stock and barrel by the Labor Party. On each occasion we have tried to do the hard yards, the Labor Party has opposed us. But the benefit of what we have done is flowing through.

Whilst we may face a turbulent sea ahead of our boat, one thing is sure: if we were ever going to build a ship that could withstand turbulent seas, the coalition government has built it. At this point of time, you need a captain who is prepared to fight the elements to deliver security for the people of the ship. If you are going to have clear direction and a captain of the ship with courage, then that captain has to know where they are going. That captain cannot turn the wheel at every change in the weather. The captain has to know where the destination is and how to get there, have confidence in their crew and in their ship, and have the capacity to be able to deliver when tough questions are asked.

If we needed any evidence of the difference between the two potential captains of the good ship Australia, we got it in question time today. It may be a bad weather storm that has hit us; in fact it is a terrible storm that has hit us with the tragic events in the United States. We are not celebrating that; we are just determined to get through the storm intact. At a time when everyone is calling, quite appropriately, for all hands on deck, for courage, for determination, for wisdom, for a belief in the destiny of the ship, John Howard on this side of the House is delivering that leadership. The Leader of the Opposition does not know where to go. We saw it illustrated with the Tampa. Yesterday we had the absurd example of the Leader of the Opposition saying that the polls were bad for him because last week he stood on principle regarding the Tampa. He has changed his position, so does that mean his current position is unprincipled? Extraordinary! Today he got up and made the most extraordinary comment about bipartisanship: `We are not bipartisan but we are going to support the bill.'

These are tough times; these are difficult times. These are times when Australia needs strong leadership. There is only one person providing strong leadership. The Leader of the Opposition is in a position of leadership and he is cowering. The Prime Minister is in a position of leadership and he is growing. Australia is a stronger and better state; Australia is a stronger and better ship because of the leadership that is being provided by the coalition at the moment. (Time expired)