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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 53

Senator ABETZ (4:03 PM) —The Australian people are right to expect the Prime Minister to deal with the economic circumstances we face in a statesmanlike and businesslike manner rather than engage in pseudo-intellectual babble as a veneer to cover for the fact that Labor has no real idea and no experience in how to handle our current situation. Labor is lurching from one stunt to the next with no plan for the future. Remember just 12 months ago Labor was condemning us for overheating the economy: inflation was out of control and we were overheating the economy. Indeed, we had been given 16 warnings, allegedly, by the Reserve Bank on this very issue. Today, 12 months later, is there any talk about the economy being overheated? Absolutely not. These economic incompetents opposite are now desperately trying to restimulate the economy. Having so turned down the economy, now they have to restimulate it. Their attack on us on that occasion failed and, can I tell you, circumstances will show that Mr Rudd’s latest attempt will also fail.

The Australian people are right to feel deceived. The Australian people are right to feel let down. At the last election, courtesy of hundreds of thousands of dollars of schmick advertising gimmickry, Mr Rudd convinced Australians that he was an economic conservative—always has been, always will be. He believed in balanced budgets with no caveat about ‘over the economic cycle’. It was balanced budgets, full stop. And he said he believed in tax cuts: he was an economic conservative.

Those of us who read his first speech when he attacked that great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies and his quite bizarre speech on the GST knew he was not, had not been, nor would ever be, an economic conservative. We also knew that he did not understand economics. Indeed, his repudiation of the Hawke-Keating era and embracing of the Whitlam era shows his true colours and reaffirms his incapacity to grasp the economic imperatives from which social benefits can be derived.

Recently, Mr Rudd, assisted by anonymous others—and I do not blame them for wanting to remain anonymous—scribbled an avalanche of words about the global financial crisis, which is loosely called an ‘essay’. Its thesis, premise and content are undergraduate at best. His false construct of what he imagines neoliberalism to be does not hide his yearning for the old divisive class warfare mentality. His treatise, full as it is of false constructs and frenzied rewriting of history that would make even Stalin blush, and its breathtaking disregard for the actual facts provides no solutions, no remedies, no answers, just vitriol. In these times the Australian people do not want a Prime Minister engaging in petulant and frenzied scribbling as to how everything is somebody else’s fault. Instead of wasting his time confirming what an intellectual lightweight he is, the Prime Minister should have been developing policies that will boost productivity and position Australia for the future to take full advantage of the recovery which will surely come.

No amount of words—not even 7,700 of them—no amount of pseudointellectual babble will hide the fact that Mr Rudd’s response to date has been knee-jerk and reactive, with the short term in mind. The hard earned budget surplus has been splashed out like a quick sugar fix with nothing to show other than depleted coffers.

Mr Rudd’s scribbles use the word ‘crisis’ six times in just one sentence but provide not a single answer. He falsely states that neoliberalism is the cause of the current crisis and of course that the Liberal Party is the embodiment of that philosophy and all that is evil and wrong with the world. Yet only a year ago Mr Rudd was telling us and the Australian people that he was an economic conservative—not a neoliberal—just like Mr Howard and the Liberals. So, clearly, whatever neoliberalism is in Mr Rudd’s imagination, it is not the policy of the previous government—a policy which he adopted and said was his approach to economic management.

So whilst Mr Rudd was busily condemning the former government for what is no longer its economically conservative position—it is instead some imaginary neoliberalism—of too much financial deregulation, his deputy was overseas in Davos crowing about the sound regulatory framework introduced by—guess who?—those nasty neoliberals, those nasty economic conservatives Messrs Howard and Costello. Labor talk with a forked tongue on these issues. For cheap domestic political purposes Mr Rudd is willing to condemn us for not having enough bank regulation, but he then sends his deputy overseas to talk up the Australian financial framework as not only being good but being world leading. The Labor Party have to make up their minds as to how they want to attack us. First it was a matter of us letting the genie out of the bottle with inflation because we overheated the economy. Now the economy is collapsing and they have to reheat the economy. They are attacking us for deregulating too much, but then they say that it is something that the world should be following. So instead of this sort of divisiveness and the falsehoods that Mr Rudd is peddling in this essay, he should be listening to his deputy.

All the while, as this squabble goes on within the Labor Party and as this silly article is being digested, thousands of Australian jobs are being lost. And with jobs being lost, what is Mr Rudd saying? To the businesses of Australia he is saying, ‘Don’t sack anybody. You have a duty to keep people employed.’ Hello, what is he doing at the Australian Taxation Office, where 143 people have just lost their contracts? The efficiency dividend means that people are being put off in every Public Service department. So what he says is, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ Of course we need wage restraint, but not for his chief of staff! This is the sort of economic mishmash that this country has to put up with under the leadership—if I can loosely call it that—of Mr Rudd.

I just ask one question: can somebody remind me how a certain family made its huge wealth? It was off the back of job seekers in a deregulated labour market. If I recall, that might be a certain family. If they do it, it is wonderful and it is all part of the social democratic ethos, but if other people do it, it is evil greed and it is to be condemned.

Mr Rudd’s attacks in his essay have been all over the shop. I must say that it does not make much sense. It does not flow. What he seeks to suggest is that, somehow, keeping budgets in surplus was bad and that wave after wave of tax reductions was bad. But then I remind myself of what Labor’s policies were at the last election. Who introduced billions of dollars worth of tax cuts? It was none other than Mr Rudd. Who promised that he would ensure that the budget would always be balanced? There was no caveat about the economic cycle. It must have been that neoliberal Mr Rudd.

The man, at very best, is confused. This is a man who one day will tell you that he is an economic conservative and then a social democrat. In between those—somewhat and somewhere—he was also, I think, a Christian socialist. Each day he has got a different label, depending on the audience and what suits him. The simple fact is that the people of Australia do not want the Prime Minister to engage in these pseudointellectual exercises that highlight the fact that he is a lightweight in this area. They want him to sit down and manage the economy and ensure that Australian jobs are protected so that, ultimately, after all of these debt problems—private debt that is being replaced by public debt—we have an economy where the private sector can lead the recovery. That is what this country needs and that is the sort of leadership that Australia desperately needs Mr Rudd to provide.