Wednesday, 8 August 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House how strong and disciplined economic management at the national level contributes to the management of Australian household budgets?
I thank the member for Greenway for her question about the impact of strong economic management on the daily lives of Australians. In reply to that question: the most important thing about economic management is the human dividend it produces. Those who sit opposite who seek to look only at the politics of the situations should be reminded that the greatest thing this government has achieved over the last 11½ years is to have driven the unemployment rate down to a 33-year low. A low unemployment rate means that more and more Australian families are in work. A low unemployment rate means that the dignity of work is within the reach and enjoyment of many more Australians than used to be the case under the Labor government. We have seen, in the last 11½ years, 2.1 million new jobs generated. We have seen 365,000 new jobs generated since the government’s recent industrial relations reforms.
We have also, as I indicated in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, seen housing interest rates, even after today’s rise, at lower levels than they were at any time under the former Labor government. We have seen an increase of 20.8 per cent in real terms in wages compared with a reduction of 1.7 per cent in real terms during the 13 years of the Hawke and Keating governments. So strong has been the government’s performance in the area of economic management that the Leader of the Opposition is now trying to make a virtue out of the fact that his economic policy is very close to the economic policy of the coalition. Rather, he has tried to make a virtue out of the claim that his economic policy is similar to ours. In his news conference this morning the Leader of the Opposition said to the Australian people, ‘There is no difference between the government and the opposition when it comes to economic policy.’ That is his claim.
If we are so bad in managing the economy, why does the Leader of the Opposition run around Australia saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there is no difference between me and the Prime Minister when it comes to economic management’? That is the claim that I would like to analyse for a moment for the benefit of the House. To start with, it is a palpably false claim because, over the last nine years—and the Leader of the Opposition came into this parliament at the 1998 election, just under nine years ago—he has joined every effort of the opposition to frustrate this government in its efforts to get the Australian economy in the shape that it is today. So impressed is he by that shape that he pretends to the Australian community that he really has no difference with the Australian people on economic policy.
If he has no difference, why did he, in virtually his first act as a member of this parliament, vote against taxation reform? Why did he vote against industrial relations reform? Why did he vote against tax cuts two budgets ago? Why did he vote to stop the budget being put further back into surplus? Why did he vote against the privatisation of Telstra? Why did he vote against all of the economic reforms of this government which have made a contribution to the very strong economy with which he now seeks to identify himself? The truth is that the Leader of the Opposition claims to be a fiscal conservative, yet his behaviour in the last nine years has been the exact opposite.
I search in vain to find the real economic principles of the Leader of the Opposition. What do I find? I find four things. Firstly, I find a false claim of fiscal conservatism, disproved by his voting record in this place. Secondly, I find a commitment to reregulate the Australian labour market, which will have the effect, if implemented, of reducing the high levels of employment we now have and putting upward pressure on inflation. Thirdly, I find that he will hand spending policy over to the states by removing the restrictions on state profligacy in specific purpose payments. And, finally, I find that he has a policy of not having a tax policy for the next election.
In conclusion, I say to the member for Greenway, strong economic management returns an enormous human dividend to the Australian people. I have enumerated some of that dividend. The alternative being offered by the Leader of the Opposition represents not only an empty cupboard but a very serious threat to the maintenance of that economic prosperity years into the future.