Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, is it not the case that the latest official ABS figures show that productivity growth averaged 3.3 per cent per annum in the five years from 1993-94, falling to 2.1 per cent in the five years from—
Government members interjecting—
Prime Minister, is it not the case that the latest official ABS figures show that productivity growth averaged 3.3 per cent per annum in the five years from 1993-94, falling to 2.1 per cent in the five years from 1998-99, and that so far, in the most recent cycle, growth has slumped to an average of just one per cent per annum in the three years since 2003-04? Prime Minister, don’t these statistics prove that there has been a long-term structural decline in Australia’s productivity growth?
What figures and comments on productivity in recent days demonstrate is that the Leader of the Opposition has had a John Kerin moment on the issue of productivity. The best way I can deal with the opposition and the issue of productivity is to quote him in that now daily more famous AM interview when he said:
… look at the budget papers, the productivity growth numbers reflected in that are dismal indeed for the overall trajectory of the Australian economy.
That was the unadvised, the ill-informed, the misunderstanding Leader of the Opposition on productivity, but his leaked adviser’s paper had this to say:
Even so, we should expect that, as the rate of GDP growth picks up, quarterly productivity statistics will be strong in the next year or so.
It goes on to say:
Given growth in employment and hours, this implies accelerating productivity growth in the non-farm sector. If export volumes and output growth continue to improve, it is likely that we will see a noticeable pick-up in productivity over the years to come abstracting from the impacts of the drought.
On this occasion, the Leader of the Opposition cannot blame his staff. I know he blames his staff for other things but on this occasion his staff at least were pointing out the facts, although it has to be said, from the briefing paper that has come into the hands of the media, that having isolated the true facts his staff did advise him to keep on deceiving the Australian public on the subject.
I can say in reply to the member for Deakin that, yes, I am aware of claims having been made by the member for Griffith from the moment he became the Leader of the Opposition about social equity and productivity in this country. Within days of becoming Leader of the Opposition the gentleman who sits opposite me in this place began assailing this government on the grounds of its lack of social compassion and social equity. He made numerous speeches and gave numerous interviews extolling his theories about ‘Howard’s Brutopia’ and the failure of this government to deliver a fair go to the Australian people. I can best summarise what the Leader of the Opposition has been on about in relation to social equity over the last six months by quoting from a speech he made in the House of Representatives on 5 December, a few days after he became Leader of the Opposition, when he said:
Right now this country is engaged in a battle of ideas for Australia’s future. On the one side of this battle—
referring obviously to the government parties—
we have a vision for Australia’s future which says that, when it comes to economic prosperity, you cannot have economic prosperity and social justice—that these are incompatible.
That has been his argument ever since he became Leader of the Opposition. He said that, yes, the country is prosperous but the government has not delivered social justice and social equity, that it philosophically regards those two things as incompatible. That could not be further from the truth. Not only has this government delivered the greatest fairness in the workplace any nation can have—that is, we have a 33-year low in unemployment—not only have we seen massive increases in real wages, not only have we seen a significant reduction in industrial relations disputes, so that the take-home pay of Australians is not diminished by absurd union-introduced strikes, but last week we had some ABS statistics which delivered the most comprehensive evidence yet of just how fair Australia has become under this government.
The ABS figures released last week show that only the top 40 per cent of households pay net tax after cash and in-kind benefits are taken into account. Can I say again for the benefit of the Leader of the Opposition, who accuses us of social injustice, who accuses us of not worrying about the battlers and who says that we have thrown the fair go out the back door, that the independent statistician shows that only the top 40 per cent of households pay net tax after cash and in-kind benefits are taken into account. The ABS reports the following:
Low income households receive more social benefits in cash and social transfers in kind and pay less taxes than high income households.
This is hardly the society of a government that regards economic prosperity and social justice as incompatible. This is in fact the outcome, the human dividend, of a government that set out from the moment it was elected in 1996 to make sure that the growing prosperity of this nation was fairly shared amongst all of its people. That is what has happened. I acknowledge that there remain in our community people who are not sharing to the full—all societies have that no matter how prosperous they are. But this proposition that we have been a rich man’s government is totally false. We have been a government for all of the Australian people. We have been a government that have deliberately redistributed income in favour of the less well off in the Australian community. The ABS concludes:
The net effect of benefits and taxes is to increase the average income of households in the lower income groups, and decrease the average income of households in the higher income groups.
Once again, that is not the action of a government that regards prosperity and social justice as being incompatible. The other limb of the opposition leader’s attack on us has been his now absolutely discredited claims about productivity. The Leader of the Opposition has had two mantras in the last six months: there is no social justice under the Howard government—that is the social mantra—and we may be doing well in a superficial way but productivity is falling and therefore the economy is being poorly run, which is the economic mantra.
The truth is that the Leader of the Opposition has been caught out by his own advisers. He deceived the Australian people on AM last week. If he did not deceive the Australian people on AM last week when he could not answer a simple question about productivity, he demonstrated a total misunderstanding of basic economic concepts. The truth is that productivity is on the rise in Australia. There was a temporary lull in productivity because of the lag in output, particularly in the mining sector, in line with the fall in unemployment and also the impact of the drought. I would like to remind the Leader of the Opposition that one of the first questions he asked me on 7 December 2006, after the release of the September quarter 2006 national accounts, was this:
… is it not implausible to blame the drought, as you did yesterday, for the government’s failure to come anywhere near its growth target?
That was the question he asked, and he was telling the House that it was implausible to blame the drought. Yet in the very perceptive leaked memo, under the heading ‘Some of the slowdown in productivity has been cyclical’, the following statement is contained: ‘The drought and the significant cuts to agricultural production are another temporary factor impacting on productivity growth.’ So this man has been caught out deceiving the Australian people both on social justice and on productivity. The two arms of his attack on the government over the last six months have been completely cut off by the statistics of the ABS and out of the mouths of his own advisers.