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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13071

Mr SULLIVAN (3:53 PM) —I am sure the members opposite will be very interested in the answer to my question to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister update the House on the achievements of the first two years of the Rudd government and the challenges that lie ahead for Australia?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question, which goes to what working families across Australia have been fundamentally concerned about these last two years and that is the state of the economy and its ability to withstand the worst global crisis that we have seen in 75 years. What the government has been doing in that period of time is acting to build a better future for all Australians notwithstanding this crisis—acting through the agency of economic policy, infrastructure policy, skills policy, education policy, health policy, housing policy, pensions policy, Indigenous policy and right across the spectrum of what the government has been engaged in over these last two years.

Those opposite have disengaged from the economic policy debate because they know that they have not prevailed in it. As the Treasurer said in question time earlier today, it is because they know they made a fundamentally wrong play in opposing the government’s stimulus strategy in February of this year.

What we are wrestling with is the worst global crisis in three quarters of a century. What did we have to do? We had to actually step up to the plate and make a difference. How did we make a difference? First of all we provided, for the first time in this country’s history, a guarantee for the 15 million bank deposits held by working Australians everywhere in order to underpin security and confidence in our financial system. The second thing we had to do was to engage in the support of the economy through cash payments to pensioners, carers and low-income families to keep the wheels of the economy turning. Thirdly, we invested in a medium- to long-term infrastructure strategy in order to provide continued activity now, supporting jobs, apprenticeships and small businesses today while investing in the infrastructure we need for tomorrow.

As a result, I believe that those opposite and I would think those on the government benches should be proud of the fact that we are out there engaged right now in the biggest school modernisation program in Australia’s history. Each and every member—at least on the government benches—is welcoming that investment. Those on the government benches welcome the trebling of the first homeowners boost, they welcome the increase of the special investment allowance for small business from 30 per cent into 50 per cent, they welcome the investments that have occurred in social housing—20,000 units of social housing—and they welcome also a commitment to the repair of up to 50,000 units of social housing which need fundamental repairs.

These are the things in which we have been engaged to make a difference for the economy today. What is our report card, for those opposite, if they are interested in the economic debate? First and foremost, this economy, unlike the other major advanced economies, has so far not gone into recession. Secondly, of the major advanced economies we have registered the second-lowest unemployment. Thirdly, we have done so on the basis of the lowest debt and the lowest deficit of the major advanced economies. Finally, across the 33 members of the OECD, the advanced economies worldwide, ours was the only economy to register positive growth in the year to July this year. This is the report card of what the government has been doing for working families. I would have thought that those opposite would regard this as a reasonable achievement given the challenges we have faced on the back of the global crisis.

The other thing we have been seeking to do is to build the economy for the future—to engage in a productivity revolution; an infrastructure investment program, which is led by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government; a skills revolution, which is being presided over by the Minister for Education; and a micro-economic reform agenda through the Minister of Finance and Deregulation and the Minister for Small Business and Competition Policy. It is all about how we create a seamless national market. What is the objective? The objective is to boost long-term productivity growth so that we create the capacity in the economy in the future to deal with the pressures of recovery when they come.

Globally what we have been seeking to do is to make sure Australia’s economic voice is heard. For the first time in the country’s history, what we have actually managed to land is a place for Australia at the top economic table around the world. I would think this is a good achievement for Australia, whichever government happens to occupy the treasury bench in the future. It is a sound an enduring reform for the future.

In the process of dealing with these challenges for the economy, we have also been mindful of the fundamental need to build a fairer Australia as well and that is why I would commend the Minister for Education, the Deputy Prime Minister, for her work in bringing about the death of Work Choices as a piece of legislation in this country and instead creating Fair Work Australia to make sure we can provide proper protection for people’s penalty rates, their overtime and from unfair dismissal. These are the things which actually make for a decent society, for a fair Australia underpinned by fair and reasonable industrial relations laws.

Also we have delivered some $46 billion worth of tax cuts for working Australians. Working families are also benefiting from the increased assistance we are providing to child care, from the introduction of the education tax refund and from our commitment now to introduce paid parental leave for the future. On top of that, we have dealt with the troubles and challenges of times past—delivering, as we should have, apologies to the First Australians and the forgotten Australians—and engaged in the processes of repair and building for the future.

This is part and parcel of building a fairer Australia for the future. In preparing for that future, a cornerstone of what we seek to do is to build the education revolution. Again, I commend the Deputy Prime Minister for her work there: the extraordinary investment which is now being undertaken in early childhood education, with our objective of bringing in universal preschool by 2013; a $2 billion investment on the way in computers in school, with some 790,000 computers planned to be landed in schools. On top of that, there is investment in quality teaching, investment in school transparency and investment in extra university places, with a plan to bring about 50,000 more students at our universities, many—most, in fact—from the most disadvantaged areas of Australia. We are investing on a large scale in our universities and TAFE colleges across the country.

We have been debating health reform here in recent days, but I simply say to those opposite: we have increased the overall investment in the Australian Health Care Agreement by some 50 per cent to bring it up to some $64 billion, to provide for 212 additional GP training places, to provide for the rollout of GP superclinics across the country and to provide, on top of that, $419 million for a teen dental program.

When it comes to fairness for Australians, fairness for all working Australians, we have brought about the single greatest reform to the single age pension which we have seen in 100 years.

This is the business of creating a fairer Australia for the future. The government, as we approach this season which involves many important international conferences, must now deal with the challenge which we were elected to deal with two years ago, and that is climate change. The fact that we have now brought about—

Mr Tuckey —Five per cent!

Mr RUDD —the introduction of the renewable energy target through legislation, the fact that we now have the support of the party represented by the member for O’Connor—the support of those opposite—for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the fact that we have now ratified Kyoto and the fact that we are now active around the global table mean that this government, when it comes to dealing with the challenges of climate change, has not only runs on the board; it has a plan for the future as well.

So, whether it is dealing with the strength of our economy against the challenges of the global recession, whether it is building a fairer Australia through the building blocks of pension reform, housing, education, health and dealing with the challenges of Indigenous Australia, or planning properly for the future and climate change—not just pushing it away but getting on with the business of long-term reform and, with other countries around the world, putting together the building blocks for a proper global agreement—this is the proper business of a national reformist government of the type that we have now. This government is proud of the record of its achievement so far. There is much work still be done. We intend to get on with the job.

Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.