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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1279

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (10:37 PM) —Today Australians received some sobering news about the real economy. There was some sobering news on the jobs front. That news was that our unemployment rate had increased during the month of January from 4.5 per cent to 4.8 per cent. I am acutely aware that there would be many nations around the world that would look at that unemployment rate with a sense of envy—take, for example, the US, which is struggling with an unemployment rate of 7.6 per cent. But what we know is that the US reached its unemployment rate over a 12-month period coming off comparable figures to the figures Australia has now.

Our unemployment rate has risen slightly. Now, you can do things when confronted with that. You can do what the opposition is urging—you can wait and see, you can deny the problem and you can make a series of inconsistent statements, as we have seen tonight—or you can take action to make a difference. This government is committed to taking action to make a difference. I saw a press release today from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition responding to today’s unemployment figures. I thought that maybe there was a glimmer of light—maybe for the first time the opposition had got the nature of the problem—because she said:

The most important policy objective in 2009 must therefore be to create Australian jobs.

I do not agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition much, but I agree with that statement. But, unfortunately, despite the shadow Treasurer making that statement, the actions of the Liberal Party in this place are to act against jobs. What the Liberal Party have done in voting against the government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan is to vote to make unemployment worse. It is as simple as that—absolutely as simple as that. Now, the Treasury predicts that the government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan will add half a per cent to GDP this financial year and three-quarters of a per cent to GDP next financial year. The figures given with the Nation Building and Jobs Plan make it clear that, even with this stimulus package, the force of the global financial crisis and global recession is such that it will drive up unemployment in our economy, with the estimate from Treasury that unemployment will rise 5½ per cent in June this year and seven per cent in June 2010.

Confronted with those figures, the opposition seek to deny a simple logic. Treasury tells us that this stimulus package will add to growth and gives us what the unemployment rate will be even when the economy has grown like that. The opposition say, ‘Do less.’ Some days they say, ‘Do nothing.’ Well, if you accept any of those propositions—do nothing, wait and see, or do less—then you are inevitably accepting a proposition that growth will be lower. If you accept that proposition, you are accepting a proposition that unemployment will be higher. It is simple; it is an equation; it is obvious. In every strategy that the Liberal Party have advocated in this parliament, they have advocated for higher unemployment, and that is what they are doing with their votes today: they are voting against jobs for Australians. The Leader of the Opposition comes in with invitations to look into the eyes of children, but I think he needs to walk out of this parliament and look into a child’s eyes and say, ‘I am committed to a strategy that makes it less likely that your father and your mother will have a job,’ because the inescapable logic of the Liberal Party’s position is exactly that.

Let us understand another simple proposition in this debate. We just heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition try to suggest that democracy is somehow at risk here. It was a very odd contribution. Let us go back to the facts: last Wednesday in this parliament the Leader of the Opposition stood at that dispatch box and said to the parliament, ‘The Liberal Party will vote against this package in the House of Representatives and the Senate.’ How can he be heard to say today that they were interested in negotiations? They had determined their view; their view was clear. They were going to vote against this package in the House of Representatives and the Senate—no discussions, no negotiations. If you had wanted to do something consistent with that, you would have said in this House that you were going to vote for the package or that you were going to oppose the package but that you were doing so with a view to having discussions with the government in the Senate.

That was open to the opposition to do. They could have voted for the package in this House, and in the Senate they could have moved amendments. That was open to the opposition to do. But they did not go down any of those negotiating paths. No, they set their face towards a path that has brought them to the position that they are in today. They said, ‘We will vote against it.’ Well, they have voted against it, and in voting against it they have denied the Australian people a package which supports jobs. That is their position. So let us not have any of this cant: ‘Sit down with the Leader of the Opposition,’ and, ‘Why haven’t you negotiated?’ The opposition shut up shop. They did not want to be negotiated with. They wanted to vote against this package and they have.

Then the opposition today have been saying that somehow the government does not work with people. Well, I think they might want to pick up the phone and ask Senator Brown, ‘Did the government work with you in the last week?’ He would say, ‘Yes.’ They might want to pick up the phone and ask Senator Fielding, ‘Has the government worked with you in the last week?’ He would say, ‘Yes.’ If the Liberal Party had wanted to be in that position, they could have been. They chose an alternative. They chose to do what they have done in this parliament and vote against jobs—knowingly and in a determined way. No-one has bullied them into it. They had a party meeting. They sat in that party meeting. Some of them apparently dissented, but the vast majority said, ‘Let’s vote against jobs in the House of Representatives and the Senate.’ That is what they have done.

There is no escape from this political responsibility. There is no hiding place from this political responsibility. Each and every member of the Liberal Party must return to their electorate and say, ‘I voted against jobs in this parliament.’ And when they go back to their electorate they must also say, ‘In voting against jobs in this parliament, I voted against improvements in each and every school in my electorate.’ The Leader of the Opposition has somehow cast aspersion on whether or not this is a valuable investment. The Leader of the Opposition likes to come to the dispatch box and quote economists as if he knows something about it, as if the skill set of a merchant banker and knowing something about the real economy are the same thing. I do not see how he has come to that conclusion, but let us put that to one side. We unashamedly say, as do economists around the world, that the 21st century is about human capital. It is about knowledge. It is about capacity. It is about skill. It is about innovation. Where does that start? It starts in our kindergartens and our schools by giving our kids a world-class education, and we cannot do that when they are in the kinds of facilities that I sat in as a child—or something worse. We unashamedly say, ‘If we need to stimulate our economy, a great thing to come out of that stimulus is to make sure every school in this country is modernised.’ It is an effective investment for the nation’s future and an effective investment for creating jobs, because the one thing you know about schools is that they are everywhere, in every corner of the nation. Every community has a school, particularly a primary school. Even in the smallest of places there are primary schools, so if you are going to spread economic activity around the nation, there is no better way to do it than to invest in primary schools. Those who actually care about primary schools are making this point very clearly.

As I conclude, I would like to take the parliament to the statements today of the Australian Primary Principals Association. Some of the members here, when they get back home, might want to ring up some of their principals on the weekend to see what they think about what those members have done in this parliament. The Australian Primary Principals Association today said, ‘For decades, primary schools have been waiting for an investment of this size.’ Australia’s primary schools will suffer if the Senate does not vote for this package. Voting for this package ‘will help to ensure that all primary students are educated in quality facilities’. They further said:

Primary school principals are already working with their communities to identify what was needed in their schools …

With a building industry already slowing down, now is the right time to start all the work that has waited so long …

The education package provides much needed support for our building industry but more importantly it is a long term investment for Australia’s young children.

The primary school principals of this nation are right.

I conclude by alerting the parliament to an event that is happening next week on 19 February in Melbourne. The Leader of the Opposition will be addressing a community jobs forum in the electorate of Deakin, and all I can assume, from the performance of the Liberal Party today, is that he will go to that forum and he will say: ‘I believe in nothing. I stand for nothing. I ask you to support me because I want to do nothing and, in particular, I do not want to do anything in view of the global financial crisis to support the jobs of any of you in this room.’ That is the only honest message the Leader of the Opposition could go with.

But there is one possibility for the Liberal Party: that they actually say to themselves that they are on a foolish course, that they change their votes, that they vote for this package—hopefully here tonight in the House but also in the Senate—or perhaps that some of them vote for it. There must be some members of the Liberal Party who want to see Australians in work and want to see better schools. We are waiting to hear from them.