Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 44

Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (5:08 PM) —This year, nothing will be more important for this economy, for the Australian people and for this parliament than jobs. The three top issues are jobs, jobs and jobs. Every sinew of government policy, every aspect of economic policy must be directed at jobs, and we have to do so in a manner that is effective, that is efficient and that has the biggest economic bang—the biggest bang in terms of jobs—for the taxpayers’ buck. So it is an insult to this parliament and to the Australian people to have the Prime Minister present the opposition with a $42 billion spending package that takes the budget for this very year from a $22 billion surplus into a $22 billion deficit in nine months. This program of so much spending, of such great scale, moment and importance was presented to us at 12 o’clock with a briefing where basic questions could not be answered by some of the officials present. Those officials said, ‘We will get back to you’—and that is good; I have no doubt that they will. Then when we come into this House a few hours later, we are told that we are being irresponsible in not immediately signing up to this program. It is a matter of take it or leave it as far as the Prime Minister is concerned; there is no way but his way. That arrogance insults this parliament and insults the Australian people, because it does not take seriously the challenges that we face or the billions of dollars of their taxes that are being spent.

Mark my words: we are talking here of building up debt that will make Paul Keating’s $96 billion look modest. We are talking about long, long years of bigger and bigger deficits and we are talking about huge levels of government borrowing. These are vital issues, so you would think that a government that was serious about jobs, that was serious about the economy, would sit down with the opposition and talk about this some time in advance. Instead we are told by the Minister for Housing that the bills have to be passed by Thursday night. There is no time for proper debate, no time for proper scrutiny and no answers—just ultimatums. It is an insult. They then have the gall to stand up and say that the opposition, in failing to immediately subscribe to a document we did not have the time to read let alone fully interrogate and investigate, is irresponsible. The opposition would be irresponsible if it were to sign off on this $42 billion of spending and other measures without having had the opportunity to consider it carefully. The Australian people expect us on this side of politics, who did the hard work over 11½ years to build up the surplus and pay off debt, to ensure that the stimulus measures we undertake are as effective and are the best use of taxpayers’ funds as we can make them.

The great fallacy, the single biggest fallacy, in the Prime Minister’s speech that I referred to earlier was the statement that there is no alternative to his plan. There are myriad alternatives. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom. There are many different ways you can structure an economic stimulus. Governments around the world are tackling these challenges in very different ways. A wise government, a government that takes its responsibilities seriously, examines all those different measures. We have heard about the subsidies for insulation, and there is no doubt that insulating is a very effective investment to improve energy efficiency. Solar hot water is also a very effective investment to improve energy efficiency. With respect to solar hot water, the government is doing no more than increasing the grant that we put in place when we were in government. In my speech just before Australia Day I dwelt on energy efficiency and insulation. It is not as though the government discovered any of these issues; they are very well understood and they can be of great value. But is this plan being delivered efficiently? Is it going to get the jobs that we need? For some time the building industry has argued for, and we have supported, a doubling of the depreciation for building investments that have the effect of increasing energy and water efficiency.

Only today I was down at an office building in Kingston that is a five-star green building. It has a range of technologies, including efficient lighting and efficient use of water, which will make it a very efficient building, a very green building. Most of the measures in that building can be installed in old buildings. Of course, the vast bulk of our building stock is not new, so there is a great opportunity to refit older buildings. We have proposed that there be a doubling of depreciation, an acceleration of depreciation, to provide a real incentive for that. All of the builders, the owners of the project, the engineers and the consultants were saying to me today, ‘I hope Mr Rudd picks that idea up in his statement. That would be really great. That would really drive employment in the building industry. That would be terrific.’ They were very keen on it. It has not had a place here. Why? Because there is no alternative. Any idea proposed by the opposition is immediately suspect and rejected. In fact, in a rather bitter tone, a business acquaintance of mine in Sydney said, ‘You guys have got to stop making good suggestions.’ I said, ‘Why is that?’ He said, ‘You make good suggestions and then the government cannot adopt them and they go and do something crazy.’ So it is a challenge working with this government that is so vain, so obsessed, that it alone has the answer to everything. We heard the Treasurer say, ‘We are quite happy to have a conversation with the opposition about this.’ What a joke! There is no less consultative government in the world than this one.

Our focus is on ensuring that the stimulus is effective. We agree that there needs to be economic stimulus—that is not in question. The next question is: what is the most effective way to deliver it? Can we deliver an equivalent amount of economic stimulus for less than $42 billion? Obviously, if we can, we should do so. Can we create 90,000 jobs for less than $233,000 a year? One would hope so. Again, that is a very legitimate question. Those are the issues we have to tackle. We have talked about investing in schools. We are all in favour of investing in schools. Everybody is in favour of investing in schools, except for the government, because they terminated our Investing in Our Schools Program. Federal governments have been investing in schools for a very long time. We are very committed to it. But the question is: is this the most effective way to do it? Should, perhaps, a smaller amount of money be allocated to investing in schools and a larger amount of money be allocated to accelerated depreciation or other measures that will promote activity in the construction business and in the building industry right across the board? These are the legitimate questions that we have had to turn to.

We are not going to get into some sort of race to the bottom of the Treasury’s resources with the government and just argue that we can do better, that we can do $52 billion or $62 billion. This is a government that, having now decided that they are no longer economic conservatives, having now decided that they are not worried about running a deficit, will run any deficit. It is the lack of proportion, the lack of any sense of fiscal responsibility that is most troubling to so many Australians. The cash splash in December was very unnerving for many Australians, including those Australians who received it. It was a large amount of money to be handed out at a difficult time, with our Prime Minister going on television and saying, ‘Spend, spend, spend,’ which was completely contrary to what so many families knew was the most prudent thing for them to do, which was to save it or use it to pay down debt. So therein lies the conundrum.

The Prime Minister has dismissed Milton Friedman and John Taylor as extremists. Anybody that does not agree with him is an extremist, apparently. He is the only nonextremist around at the moment. But the fact is that every commentator at the moment is raising concerns about the effectiveness of the $10.4 billion cash splash. There are real concerns about it. They have been raised by economic writers. They have been raised by retailers. Gerry Harvey was very explicit and very pungent in his criticism of it. So there is a real issue there. We will not know for sure until the numbers come in. The Prime Minister has pointed to an increase in turnover at Westfield over Christmas. There are a lot of other factors. The Prime Minister thinks the world—not the world, the universe—revolves around him, but there are a lot of other factors. Petrol prices are down, interest rates are down and many families have more disposable income notwithstanding the challenges of the looming global recession. There are many factors that can impact on retail sales, and the real question is: what has happened to that cash splash? There is a real doubt about it. We have to ask ourselves: what does it say about the government’s belief in its effectiveness if, within less than two months of the December cash splash being paid, it is now undertaking another series of one-off payments of a larger amount?

As for the principal objective of all of this, which is jobs, we have to again ask ourselves whether the government is genuine in its commitment. On 11 November the Prime Minister said that the first stimulus package would create 75,000 jobs. He said ‘create’, not ‘support’, not ‘help’, not ‘accompany’. He said ‘create’. Where are they? Now they are saying that it will support 75,000 jobs, whatever that means. Just a week ago we had the government claiming that the Ruddbank would create 50,000 jobs. Nobody, literally nobody, has endorsed that or agreed with that. But now we are told that it may support up to 50,000 jobs. Again, what does that mean? It is the slipperiness of his language. We understand what creating a job means. The coalition had a lot of experience in that. When we were in government employment rose by 2.2 million. More than two million jobs were created. They were not supported, they were not accompanied—they were created. They were jobs that were not there before. That is what happens when you create a job: you do not have a job; you get a job. That is what creating a job means.

Again with this package we are told it will create up to 90,000 jobs. What does that mean? Where is the modelling on that? How can the taxpayers know? How can an anxious community know whether this money is being well spent? And, again, what does it say about the attitude of the government that it is so dismissive of the other half of the parliament? As the Treasurer said, he was not interested in what I said and, more pithily again, he said that the opposition was irrelevant. It just goes to show what their attitude is and how little concern they have for genuine consultation.

These issues are too important to be just used as part of a partisan political campaign by the Prime Minister. This is his absurd attempt to portray the Liberal Party as being opposed to regulation. The finance minister is called the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. In 2007 the Prime Minister, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, was campaigning on a deregulation platform. So he says that the Liberal Party has done terrible damage to the economy by deregulating and yet he has his Deputy Prime Minister in Davos saying that our financial and prudential regulations are better than world class. These are important challenges. These are important jobs. We must work together to preserve them. (Time expired)