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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4146

Senator POLLEY (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Sherry. Can the Assistant Treasurer confirm that the last 12 months have taken their toll on working families in Australia? With the worst global recession in the last 75 years impacting across the world economy, what action is being taken to protect working families from the impact of mortgage stress? Can the Assistant Treasurer advise the Senate of any new information which will assist those Australians currently paying off a mortgage? In particular, is there any further information on how those Australians can expect to be treated by their lenders? Given that Australia is not immune from the effects of the global economy, what will the tangible impact of these initiatives be for Australian families during this time of economic instability?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —Thank you, Senator Polley. The question is very good—not quite as good as the question I got from Senator Coonan, but nevertheless I have a response for you, Senator Polley, and I thank you for your interest in this very important issue. As I have noted a number of times in the Senate chamber, although unfortunately some members in the Liberal opposition do not yet seem to comprehend or understand the impact of the world financial and economic crisis, the Australian economy is not immune from the deep and widespread recession we have seen—the worst recession since the Great Depression. That is why the Rudd government has taken early and decisive measures—and I have mentioned some of these on occasion in the Senate—to cushion the Australian economy, to protect the Australian economy and to support jobs.

Indeed, I indicated earlier in the week that the latest Treasury estimates are that some 200,000 jobs have been protected in Australia as a consequence of the decisive actions of the Rudd Labor government—200,000 jobs that would otherwise have disappeared in the face of this global recession. Importantly, another decisive action that the Treasurer, Mr Swan, took was to over the weekend announce that all 144 retail banks, building societies and credit unions with a focus in the mortgage market have signed up to the government’s principles to assist borrowers who are experiencing financial difficulty as a result of the global depression. These principles will ensure that families finding it tough to pay off their mortgage in the face of the global recession will be treated more fairly by their bank, building society or credit union. There are a number of options available to borrowers in distress, including postponement for up to 12 months of the dates on which payments are due under a mortgage contract. (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Assistant Treasurer confirm that the government is working hard with industry to protect Australian families from the impacts of the global recession? Are there any alternative views to tackling the impact on Australian families? Whilst it is clear that the global economy remains a serious concern and the impacts of the crisis are being cushioned by the action of the Rudd government, we are clearly not out of the woods yet. How do the Rudd government’s plans to protect Australians compare with the reckless policy alternative of ‘wait and see’?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —There was a comment from the Liberal-National Party during that very good supplementary question that this was waffle. It is not waffle to outline measures taken under the leadership of a very fine Treasurer, Mr Swan, and to outline initiatives to protect Australians who are being affected by the global economic crisis. It is very important that the leadership and the decisive action as illustrated by the Treasurer, Mr Swan, in a range of areas should be indicated to the Australian community. As I was saying, to assist borrowers in distress—and I would have thought that the Liberal-National Party would be interested in this—the options include a postponement of up to 12 months, an extension of the period of the contract, a reduction in the amount of each payment due under the contract, interest-only breaks on loan repayments and fee waivers. (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the Assistant Treasurer elaborate on the need for a solid policy position on tackling the economic impact of the global recession on Australia? Why is it important to address this issue from a place of decisiveness and action rather than to apply a negative, do-nothing attitude? Can the Assistant Treasurer point to any other examples of where the negative, do-nothing attitude has been applied, and has it worked in protecting jobs?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —I have just run through the government’s practical measures assisting Australians who are in mortgage distress, but unfortunately the Liberal-National Party opposite have no positive policy ideas in this area. They have not outlined anything. Their approach has been throughout this financial and economic crisis to sit back, sit on their hands and do nothing. They believe that the full impact of the world’s financial and economic crisis should be allowed to crash down on the Australian economy without any of the decisive actions needed to cushion the Australian economy. It is even worse: even in areas where they have some policy, they are badly split. There is a split on climate change. They have deferred the legislation because they cannot agree. The only thing they can agree on is to defer the legislation. They are split on alcopops; they have done a backflip. They are now supporting the alcopops tax, but at the same time four or five of them have crossed the floor in the House of Representatives. They have nothing to offer. (Time expired)