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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4180


Senator O’BRIEN (4:04 PM) —I thought the National Party would be the last party to come in here about the need to spend and invest to save an asset. The asset that Labor is prepared to invest in and spend on is the Australian people. A farmer with dying sheep because of a lack of fodder in a drought borrows money to feed them. It might be that they are imposing debt on those who come behind, but Senator Williams would tell me—


Senator Williams —They don’t pay four times the price for their fodder.


Senator O’BRIEN —Let me say this: Senator Williams would be the first to defend those farmers who have borrowed against the equity of their property to keep their heads above water. The Australian government is borrowing money at the moment because we are in an income drought caused by the global financial crisis. A $210 billion fall in income—that is the sort of income drought that this government is facing. This government is prepared to invest in the Australian people to make sure that hundreds of thousands of people do not end up on the unemployment scrapheap, that families are able to pay their mortgages, that families are able to keep food on the table, that people are kept in jobs and that there is investment in our schools, which apparently Senator Williams does not support.


Senator Williams —Four times the investment?


Senator O’BRIEN —At least he is being honest in here, saying he does not support the investment in Australia’s schools. But, for the photo opportunities, his colleagues are going to school after school where projects are opening because of these investments. They voted against the measures in this place and the other place, but they want to be associated with them when they are being given effect out there in the community, because they know that the Australian community support them.

I said that this government faces lost income of $210 billion. This is unprecedented. If we were to do what those opposite suggest and not borrow, then what would we do? Would we cut our defence budget? Would we cut our education budget? Would we cut our health budget? Would we do all of those things? Is that what those opposite are really suggesting? Are they suggesting that we should stop the services to the country? Are they suggesting that we should stop those incomes? We would have to put a lot of people out of work. We could stop those incomes going out to those communities that Senator Williams represents. Would those people stop spending at the businesses that support those communities? Would those businesses then close? Well, of course they would! But those opposite do not give a toss about the outcome of such a very callous approach to the Australian economy.

Frankly, when Senator Williams stood up and said, ‘It is with pleasure that I rise to speak about the debt Australia is experiencing,’ I thought, ‘That says it all.’ This is political opportunism by those opposite. They see this as an opportunity to talk about the debt but not about the reasons why it has to be incurred and not about the impact on Australians if we do not incur it. That is the dishonesty of the position of those opposite. They want to tell the Australians, ‘Oh yes, you’re experiencing some debt, and this is profligate; this is terrible.’ They are not prepared to say that the cost of not going into debt would be thousands upon thousands of people being out of work, people losing their houses and businesses closing down right across the country, particularly in regional Australia.

There has been some talk about the impact of the stimulus measures. We have seen the figures on retail spending around the country and there are all sorts of apocryphal tales about money going into poker machines. I am sure some people spent the money that way—I am sure some people will always spend money that way—but the facts show that all comparable economies experienced a fall in retail spending late last year and early this year, while Australia saw an increase. There are hundreds and thousands of shop assistants who depend on retail spending for their jobs. Those opposite are content to see them out of work. Those opposite are content for people in the retail sector to lose their jobs, because it suits their political argument. What they would like to say is: ‘Let’s forget about what is happening around the world. Let’s forget about the millions of people who’ve lost their jobs because of the global financial crisis. It’s all Labor’s fault.’


Senator Bernardi —It is!


Senator O’BRIEN —They do it all the time! That is their mantra. Senator Williams says it again: ‘It is all Labor’s fault.’


Senator Williams —It was someone behind me!


Senator O’BRIEN —According to those opposite, there is no global financial crisis. Let us be frank: they live in their own thought bubble. All they are thinking about is the interests of the coalition and how they can position themselves for the next election—nothing to do with the good of the people they purport to represent, nothing to do with the farmers who, frankly, are getting the benefit of the investment allowances. People out there are spending and they are prepared to borrow because they can see this will end. They can see the advantages that are going to come. And who is benefiting from that? Of course, there are all the dealers in rural Australia and all the people they employ. They are getting the benefit as well. There are more people staying in jobs because of this stimulus. And then, for heaven’s sake, we are spending on schools—which, of course, Senator Williams says he does not support.


Senator Williams —You are wasting the support!


Senator O’BRIEN —Frankly, millions of dollars of spending on schools is needed because Senator Williams’s side of politics, when in government, refused to do it. Millions and millions of dollars need to be spent in these areas. We will come back to your proposition about waste, Senator Williams. We have heard a lot of things being said in here and we have heard allegations that certain prices have been quoted that are somehow better than the quotes that have been accepted. Well, watch this space, because I can say that there is going to be an awful lot of egg on Senator Williams’s face when all the facts come out.

In terms of the proposition that Australia has unmanageable debt, we have a deficit of just 4.9 per cent of GDP, the lowest among the economies we are being compared to. The United States is at 13.6 per cent of GDP, Japan is at 9.9 per cent and the UK is at 9.8 per cent. If we are doing a bad thing then the rest of the world is about to go under, according to Senator Williams. We are talking about a government in this country which has a clear fiscal strategy to return the budget to surplus once the economy begins to recover. It allows for revenues to recover naturally. One of the main problems, as I said earlier, is that we face lost income of $210 billion. As the revenues recover, the ability of the economy to return to surplus is great. If we hold spending growth at two per cent per year until the budget returns to surplus, we will do it even quicker.


Senator Williams —We will never see it while you are there!


Senator Bernardi —You like the sound of your own rhetoric!


Senator O’BRIEN —Let us forget about the doomsayers over there, because all they are about is a political argument which is seeking to position them for the next election. As I said, they have no regard for the mothers and fathers of Australia, the kids, their schools, the businesses right across the country and regional economies—none of that. They would be very content if we were prepared to do what they espouse, which is to sit on our hands and do nothing. Let us admit it: Treasury’s forecast is that, if we did not spend the stimulus package, the equivalent of two MCGs full of people—or even more—would be unemployed. In effect, two MCGs full of people would be added to the unemployment queue. That is what they want, and the reason they want it is so they can go to the next election claiming that unemployment has gone up and say that it is all Labor’s fault.

Senator Williams wants us to put blinkers on. I have got horses. They wear blinkers, but they are not as big as the ones that Senator Williams wants us to wear. He wants us to put a blindfold on. He wants us to say, ‘There is nothing happening outside Australian shores, there is no reason for income to have fallen and there is no reason for people to be concerned about the money that they are spending.’ All we need to do is blame it on Labor—that is the proposition that lies behind this ridiculous matter of public importance. The fact of the matter is that the coalition should be ashamed—and, every time they turn up to a photo opportunity, we will remind them.