Thursday, 25 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
For everyone in this chamber, it's probably an opportune time to reflect on the last 12 months. We're effectively 12 months on from one of the great health challenges the world has faced, and there's certainly light at the end of the tunnel this week. Honesty, truth and trust: I'm glad those three concepts were raised by an opposition speaker. They are fair benchmarks to be applied to a government. If you walk the streets of Australia at the moment, you definitely get the sense that this is inherently a population of Australians who are very, very happy with the direction of both their federal and their state governments.
Let's acknowledge that, during this COVID period, it's a tough ask to be chipping away at an incumbent government, regardless of which side of politics you're on. I know, Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, you will have experienced that yourself, and, in WA, we're seeing exactly the same thing. It's not an easy game being in opposition. It's easy enough to make a series of talking points about why you don't like the government, but they always seem a little hollow when you leave this green chamber and you notice that those are not the topics people are actually talking about around the water bubbler or the barbecue. What they are talking about at the moment is the nation staying the course and the government being strong enough to ensure that that happens. They want to know that there is sensible tax reform, investment in skills and these elements of direct and local intervention where there are problems. As long as they sense that that's happening, they're going to be pretty happy with how things are going. If you look at basic polls and you see that only 12 per cent of voters actually are undecided about who is leading the country, that's a very impressively low number, because they know who is running the country and they're happy with how it's being done.
They're happy for a few reasons. One is that, as a developed country, we're like a cyclist in a Tour de France peloton and we sit somewhere near the front of that peloton. I can see a recent convert to cycling on the other side, and a not impressive first performance either, I have to say. You'd appreciate that staying at the front of the peloton is always the place to be, not hanging off the back. Australia recognises, as one of just nine countries with a AAA credit rating, it has a reputation to defend. We have 27 years of economic growth. That has come to an end with COVID, but we're bouncing back, with 3.3 per cent growth in the last quarter. We are seeing eye-watering numbers, with 784,000 new jobs created since COVID. These figures are the envy of the world.
You don't ascribe all of that to the government. You ascribe it to the conditions created within the economy, the hard work of employers and the willingness of employees to work cooperatively together. It's a bit of everything, isn't it? It's not about singling out one or the other or identifying who you hate or starting internecine fights. Today is a time to recognise that we are definitely, still with challenges, absolutely on track. You just get that gut feeling that, when each and every one of us go back to our communities, they want a reliable set of hands and to keep staying the course. We can choose not to stay the course; there are easy options there. We can take easy choices, but that hasn't been done, because this government that reduced government spending growth at four per cent per annum, brought it back, responsibly, to 1.3.
Why is that important? Because we were ready for COVID when the great drain came on our fiscal state. And, while we may well have deepened the deficit and deepened debt, in comparison with other countries, we've done exceptionally well. They're right to point out on the other side that that takes us to 35 per cent debt to GDP, but that is utterly manageable in a strong and well-managed commodity economy like Australia's, particularly in this low-interest-rate environment. That makes it important to make sure that we actually do have these local community infrastructure investments in really big projects and that, if someone has some skills, then they're nudged into these great work opportunities in the middle of COVID, not in six or 12 months time.
We learnt a lot about how to manage crises. I learnt it two decades ago, back in the era of Y2K. We didn't learn as much as we could have about the GFC, and 10 years on we have this crisis. What we know about this crisis is that there's nothing more important than keeping people in jobs. One million businesses will attest to the benefits of JobKeeper. And 3.1 million workers will attest to the fact that they saw money coming in directly to their employer from this federal government. The JobMaker scheme targeted the demographics that were most at risk of losing their job. Without for a moment wanting to generalise, women—often in hospitality, tourism and major events—under the age of 35 were annihilated by COVID, and this government was right to have a job-making hiring credit in there.
I've had a few tussles with Treasury. My big policies personally have been the deposit assistance scheme and a JobMaker employment incentive. Both those things are a reality, and this nation says thank you to a government that delivered on them and delivered on them on time, and has maintained a stronger economy that is the envy of the rest of the world.