Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I say to the shadow Treasurer: what won't grow the economy is Labor's higher taxes, which are still policies of the opposition—notwithstanding the very public fight that he is having with the member for Hindmarsh. The member for Hindmarsh is obviously doing the bidding of the Leader of the Opposition, saying, quite rightly, I think: 'We got it wrong. Our $387 billion of higher taxes that were rejected by the Australian people'—$387 billion of higher taxes which would be lead in the saddlebags of the economy—'must change.' On the other hand, we have the shadow Treasurer's mentor, the shadow Treasurer's former boss, Chairman Swanny, the President of the Labor Party, saying, 'Oh, no, we stick with all the policies.' Presumably they stick with those $387 billion of higher taxes. I say to the shadow Treasurer: turn to your mate the member for Hindmarsh and work out the story before you come to this dispatch box and start speaking down the economy.
As Paul Keating quite rightly said after the election, Labor failed to understand the middle-class economy. Labor failed to understand that those $387 billion of higher taxes were absolutely no recipe for an improved economy, no recipe for improving GDP and certainly no recipe to continue the great work of this government. The signature achievement of this government has been jobs growth: 1.4 million Australians have a job today that they didn't have when this government came into office. In fact, when we were first elected, jobs growth was at 0.7 per cent. Now it's at 2.6 per cent. That doesn't happen by accident. As a government, we say the credit, of course, goes to those hardworking men and women and entrepreneurial individuals who have created those jobs, but no doubt this government and the policies that we've put forward have created an environment that encourages that investment and backs in those hardworking Australians.
To get back to the shadow Treasurer: he looked very, very disappointed the other day when the final figures came through for the June quarter. It's always sad to see politicians and members of the opposition wishing for bad news for the Australian economy. I understand it must be difficult in opposition—on one hand you want ammunition to use against the government—but I think there's something quite despicable about wishing, hoping and seeming quite excited for the prospect of bad economic news. Well, that bad economic news didn't come. Sure, the economy grew at 0.5 per cent for the quarter—1.9 per cent year on year, or 1.4 per cent. We know that there are challenging times in the global economy, but fortunately the Australian economy—an open, export-oriented economy—is able to grasp opportunities, and we are very confident for the future of the economy. Indeed, when you look at confidence, confidence from a consumer perspective is being supported by $15 billion of income tax refunds, which have hit people's bank accounts, in addition to two successive rate reductions, which are also going to support that confidence.
So, of course, as a government we say there's always more work to do. There's absolutely hard work to do. What we know is that the prescription to improve an economy is not to put lead in the saddlebags, which presumably the shadow Treasurer believes is the policy that's required. The shadow Treasurer has sent Chairman Swanny out to argue the case for not changing the policies. The member for Hindmarsh has come out publicly to absolutely repudiate the shadow Treasurer, and I have some sympathy for the member for Hindmarsh. Of course he's right. Of course the policies that the Labor Party took to the election were wrong. They were policies that were repudiated by the Australian people.
The question here for the shadow Treasurer in putting forward this MPI today—he looked a bit forlorn; he certainly didn't have the energy and the cockiness we're used to from the shadow Treasurer—is that he needs to have that discussion and explain to this House and to the Australian public why everything they took to the Australian people was perfect: 'Our policies were perfect.' He needs to explain why their policies—their $387 billion of higher taxes—shouldn't change and should continue. But I think he's going to struggle making that argument.
One of the great achievements of this government has been infrastructure, and there's no doubt about the infrastructure spend of over $100 billion, which is rolling out as soon as possible. There are a number of projects, including a range of projects in my home state. One that was re-announced just last week is for an extra $380-odd million to, in conjunction with the state government of Victoria, do more work on the Monash Freeway. That is in addition to the $5 billion commitment for airport rail, in addition to the Urban Congestion Fund and in addition to the Victorian congestion fund. We are absolutely investing in the productive capacity of the economy through better infrastructure. These things aren't new. This was outlined in our budget. We have a plan. We work towards a plan, and that plan is delivering dividends for this country—unlike the Labor Party and unlike the shadow Treasurer's mentor, 'Chairman Swanny', who promised surplus after surplus. I suspect it was the shadow Treasurer who wrote those immortal words that Wayne Swann delivered: 'The four years of surpluses I announce tonight …' How many of those surpluses were delivered? None. That is because the Labor Party are incapable—absolutely incapable—of managing an economy or managing a budget.
Unlike the Labor Party, when we make promises, we keep them. Unlike the Labor Party, we will get back into surplus. We will take the economy back to surplus, and that absolutely sends a strong message to Australians that you can have confidence in the government, you can have confidence in the political environment and you can have confidence in our economy to invest, to grow and to create the jobs that are necessary. Unemployment has fallen to 5.2 per cent—much lower than it was when we inherited government. Welfare dependency is down. We have a lot of debates in this chamber about welfare dependency, but one hallmark of this government has been creating jobs, enabling people to have those opportunities and then ensuring that they make the most of them. And Australians have—with an unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent.
Of course, there's more to be done. And we will do it. I spoke earlier about our economy being an open, outward-facing economy. Now, 75 per cent of our trade is represented by trade with jurisdictions that we have free trade agreements with. I absolutely commend all of the former ministers, including the current trade minister, for working day in, day out to conclude free trade agreements with 1¾ billion people to make sure that Australian businesses—Australian small, medium and large businesses alike—can take those opportunities. That has been one of the things that have ensured we're able to withstand global economic tensions that, no doubt, are going to cause global trade volumes, potentially, to drop. Those free trade agreements will certainly give—and have given—Australian exporters a competitive advantage compared to those jurisdictions that don't have them.
These free trade agreements don't happen by accident. The Labor Party can't conclude free trade agreements, because the Labor Party often have the union movement holding them back. I remember, in the Howard years, the unions campaigning against the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement. I remember being a member in this House and having unions handing out material in my electorate—quite xenophobic material—against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement and the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement. So, sadly, the Labor Party are held back, because you can't bite the hand that feeds you, and we know that that relationship with the union movement is quite toxic.
We in this government think that there are reasons to be very bullish about the prospects for the Australian economy, and we won't join the Labor Party in trying to scare Australians. We won't be drawn by the Labor Party in trying to talk down the economy, because we know the fundamentals are strong and we know that the most prosperous days for our country are ahead.