House debates

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Matters of Public Importance


3:31 pm

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade and Competitiveness) Share this | Hansard source

I have now heard it all and I have been in this parliament for 15 years. For the Leader of the Opposition to complain that there has been too much venom in this parliament, while the coalition spits venom across the table on a daily basis, is the height of hypocrisy. This is a man who said he wanted a kinder, gentler parliament and then set about systematically to try to destroy the reputation of this parliament. He tried to destroy the reputation of this parliament to create a sense of chaos every day in an economy and in a society that has actually been going pretty well.

The objective evidence of that is actually provided by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which only a few weeks ago completed its analysis and released it publicly. On a range of 11 different indicators—not only economic indicators but also quality of life indicators, such as longevity and sense of community—where do you reckon Australia came? No. 1 in the world; Australia is the best country in the world. But you would not have known it from this coalition after the last 2½ years, because they have spent every day in this parliament spitting venom and trying to trash talk the economy in the hope that, although it would cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Australian jobs, it might advance their own pathetic, personal ambitions. That is what has happened in this parliament. The interests of the coalition and their ambitions to climb up the ladder have stood and ranked above those of the everyday Australians who we are here to represent.

This is a matter of public importance debate about the strength of the economy. Now let us go to the strength of the Australian economy. The OECD projects that in the coming two years we will grow faster than any major, advanced country on earth. When we came to government, the Reserve Bank cash rate was 6¾ per cent; it is now 2¾ per cent. That is such a large reduction in interest rates that it is saving an average household with a mortgage of $300,000 at least $5,000 a year. That is unambiguously good news for mortgage holders and also for small businesses. Why have interest rates been able to fall? Because inflation is contained. The Reserve Bank is an inflation-targeting reserve bank and it has been comfortable with the inflation rate under this government. Compare that with the inflation rate and the interest rate performance of the previous coalition government, of which the Leader of the Opposition was a cabinet minister: after the 2004 election, when John Howard promised to keep interest rates at record lows, they went up 10 times because inflation went up. The Reserve Bank's arm was forced because the previous coalition refused to invest in skills, refused to invest in the education of our young people and refused to invest in infrastructure.

All of those investments are now taking place under the Gillard Labor government. We have eased those capacity constraints and as a consequence of that we have had very strong growth compared with all major advanced countries at a time when 28 million jobs were lost around the world because of a global financial crisis—a debate through which the Leader of the Opposition slept—which senior members of the coalition now claim did not exist: 'It was a little blip in the Northern Hemisphere.' Through that period, when 28 million jobs were lost through a so-called 'blip' in the Northern Hemisphere, 961,000 jobs had been created in Australia because the Labor government puts jobs first. That is in our DNA. We were created as a political party to advance the interests of the working men and women of Australia, and we stood up for the working men and women of Australia during the global financial crisis, which became the deepest global recession since the Great Depression.

The truth is the former opposition leader at least provided some support for our stimulus package, but the present opposition leader has senior frontbenchers, such as the Manager of Opposition Business, saying, 'A coalition government would never have gone into deficit.' Confronted with a write-down, a reduction, in expected revenues of $180 billion, the prescription of the Leader of the Opposition's team would be to match it with cuts of $180 billion. That would deliver in Australia, over that time, a deep and prolonged recession. But that was not just a mistaken quote from the Manager of Opposition Business. The shadow Attorney-General said the same thing. That it should never have gone into debt.

What did the Leader of the Opposition say? He said, 'I cannot see what was wrong with the New Zealand response to the global financial crisis.' Well, I can tell you what was wrong with it—a recession lasting more than a year. But the opposition do not mind recessions because they focus the attention, as far as the coalition is concerned, of the workers on their jobs so that they are good compliant workers because they are fearful every day of losing their jobs and worry if they can ever get one during a recession and its aftermath.

The indicators of a strong economy are the AAA rating of the Australian economy not by one or two but all three international ratings agencies. That is a gold standard assessment, yet we have the coalition every day in the parliament saying the economy is a disaster and a mess. Their policy prescriptions are a worry if the diagnosis from the coalition is that the economy is in an emergency situation and a mess, notwithstanding that we have inflation contained, interest rates down, a AAA rating and growth stronger than every major advanced country. They say that is an emergency.

When that is the prescription and the diagnosis, what is their policy? We know what their policy is. Their policy is to cut to the bone. They believe that we should never have had debt in this country. They think that, if they get into government, the objective is to race for a surplus. How do you race for a surplus? By cutting jobs and services. We know already that they have promised to cut 20,000 jobs in this country. They have also said that they will cut services. They will cut Medicare Locals and they will cut GP superclinics. They will cut the services on which the Australian people rely. We know some of that, but we do not know all of it. The reason we do not know all is that the mechanism that they have already announced is a commission of audit, otherwise described by the Treasurer as a commission of cuts.

There is form for this. We can check the form guide. Not only has Campbell Newman in Queensland used this device to conceal from the Queensland people the extent of the savagery of the cuts from which the people of Queensland are still reeling but the previous Howard government did the same thing. After the 1996 election, instead of laying out what they were going to do if they were elected, they had a commission of audit. What did they do? They cut training. They cut the vital services that were so important—TAFE funding—and we are only just recovering from those savage cuts. They lacked the courage to tell the Australian people and now what is the Leader of the Opposition—the big he-man who says, 'Look at me'—doing? He is hiding behind the commission of cuts. If he is elected, he is going to use exactly the same device as Campbell Newman. Campbell Newman's cuts are but the curtain-raiser to the cuts that the Leader of the Opposition would implement. Why? Because the shadow Treasurer has said that we are in an emergency. He has said economic growth is flatlining at trend. This is a new concept. This is the level of economic literacy. No wonder the Leader of the Opposition has been described as economically innumerate and illiterate.

A government member: Who said that?

It was actually Professor John Hewson and Peter Costello. They would know a thing about it because they have been in shadow cabinet with the guy. He was employed by Professor John Hewson. He knows the form of the Leader of the Opposition very well. I will tell you who knows it even better and that is former Treasurer Peter Costello. They described the Leader of the Opposition as economically illiterate and innumerate. But his diagnosis is that the economy is in an emergency situation. Why? Because of flatlining at trend. You cannot believe the economic incompetence of these people in the coalition. So they say, 'We need a commission of audit.' But we have been able to ascertain a few of the decisions that they have made.

We have coalition members of parliament writing to our minister for families saying: 'Some of our families are missing out on the schoolkids bonus. What are you going to do about it?' For goodness sake, write to the Leader of the Opposition and ask him what he is going to do about it. He has a sense of equity. There will not only be a few who miss out on the schoolkids bonus. He is going to be fair. Everyone misses out on the bonus because it is going to be axed. That is $15,000 for two kids over the lifetime at school of those kids. That is $15,000 ripped out of families trying to send kids to school and getting a bit of support from us to do so.

Wait, there is more! We have had a debate about superannuation in this parliament for about 20 years. The defining feature of superannuation is that Labor introduced compulsory superannuation to extend it to the men and women of Australia for universal retirement income. The defining feature of this coalition is they have opposed every single increase in superannuation that has been implemented by a Labor government. The shadow Treasurer went public and said, 'We support the legislation to increase superannuation from nine to 12 per cent.' That is blatantly untrue. They came in here and voted against it. Worse than that, not only did they oppose abolishing the superannuation contributions tax for people on low incomes, part-timers, students—mostly women—but they have promised to reimpose it. We have here in the parliament a speech by the Leader of the Opposition saying: Look at us. We are the party of lower taxes.' The party that has a policy to increase taxes is the Liberal Party. It has promised to reimpose a 15 per cent contributions tax on 3.6 million low-income, vulnerable Australians—casuals, part-timers, mostly women—and it says it is the low-tax party!

What else are they doing on the tax front? They actually opposed the reduction in the company income tax from 30 per cent to 29 per cent, which ended up, because we could not get it through, funding the schoolkids bonus, which they are going to axe if they get elected. What else are they doing? There is that great big new tax on everything you buy, their paid parental leave. Their gold-plated paid parental leave: a 1½ per cent increase in the company tax rate and the Leader of the Opposition said: 'Coles, Woolies, the banks and the petrol companies will absorb that. They won't pass that on. They're the good guys; they won't do that.' Of course they will. In fact, the banking industry is complaining because they are saying they will pass it on, so everyone will pay for this gold-plated paid parental leave scheme with increased taxation. And the Leader of the Opposition said, on climate change, 'We'll get rid of the carbon price and we'll put in this kind of like costless direct action plan.' Costless? At $1,300 per household! That is an increase in taxes. No wonder they call him economically illiterate. That is an increase in taxes.

The truth is it is not just a philosophical divide between Labor and the coalition; it is a chasm. You have Labor, which has presided over a resilient economy, which has reached out to people, making sure that no-one is left behind—a middle of the road party—and you have an opposition leader, who has dragged the Liberal Party to the hard Right, a party which has promised, with great zeal, that if it got elected it would scrap the national school improvement plan because it does not believe that every young Australian deserves a great education. From our hearts, that is what we believe in, that is what we have fought for. And the coalition is saying to state premiers, 'Don't do that, because our ambitious, our plans are more important than theirs.' It is a complete disgrace.


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