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Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Page: 9220

Ms GEORGE (4:22 PM) —Listening to the debate this afternoon on the matter of public importance, you have to ask the question: where have members of the opposition been for the last three weeks as the greatest financial challenge facing every country in the world has intensified?

Mr Hockey —Where have you been for the last six years?

Ms GEORGE —You can keep asking your questions, but none of those questions alter the fundamental reality that this is a very uncertain and challenging time—the most uncertain and worrying time since the Great Depression. You do not have to convince the average Australian of that fact, because they see it graphically portrayed in their lounge rooms every time they turn the television on and see another bank collapsing or being bailed out and stock markets around the world suffering huge losses. So they do not have to be convinced that this is a very dangerous situation facing the world. Obviously we are not immune from these global developments but, as we have said all along, we are in a much better position, from a variety of actions undertaken by previous governments, to weather this storm than is the case for many other countries. As the Assistant Treasurer outlined in the MPI debate today, we have moved quickly to put in place a range of measures to ensure that our banking and financial institutions remain globally competitive.

But the danger for the community is the fact that fear and a lack of consumer confidence are on the increase. For example, in my region of the Illawarra, the most recent IRIS Research study does point to a slight rebound in consumer sentiment, but it has this to say:

Consumer confidence in the Illawarra improved slightly during the September quarter after the record low of 74 pts in June.

The Consumer Sentiment Index rebounded to 76 pts, up 2 pts since the June quarter.

This was in line with the Australia wide trend.

It is expected however that consumer sentiment will deteriorate in the coming months as a result of the global financial crisis, despite the large October interest rate cut.

So it was in that situation that yesterday we delivered our $10.4 billion economic security package, which is aimed at supporting households, aimed at helping those in greatest need and aimed at boosting economic activity. The opposition cannot have two bob each way on the package. It cannot, on the one hand, pretend that it is offering bipartisan support and then, on every occasion, continue to ask questions that put in doubt that commitment. As the Prime Minister said today in question time, the opposition is walking both sides of the street, or, in my opinion, having two bob each way. It is not as if this crisis has suddenly been discovered. We took prudent action in the budget to ensure that we maintained a strong surplus precisely so that we had a buffer in the event of an economic slowdown. The sensible and responsible thing to now do in light of that slowdown is to use that surplus to provide a fiscal stimulus in a responsible but compassionate manner. As the Assistant Treasurer described in his contribution, it is all about getting in front of the game, and that is precisely what we are doing.

For my electorate the package has many elements, and I want to draw attention to some of the benefits: 17,000 of my constituents on an age pension will get the down payment; nearly 6½ thousand DSP recipients will, for the first time, receive a lump sum payment; 1,420 constituents who receive the carer payment will benefit, receiving $1,000 for each eligible person being cared for; and our deserving veteran pensioners and widow community are rightly recognised in this package. Unlike the Leader of the Opposition’s plea for a $30-a-week increase just for some pensioners—single age pensioners—leaving out the two million others, we have looked after everyone in our package and in fact delivered more than he was calling on for one small group. I am pleased, in light of the severe downgrading in the stock market, that eligible self-funded retirees will also be included, as will 11,800 families on family tax benefit A in my electorate. So, all in all, you can see that our approach in this unprecedented global situation has been to plan ahead, to examine unfolding events, to act early and decisively, and to act responsibly, ensuring an element of compassion in the distribution of the surplus funds. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Order! The discussion is now concluded.