Monday, 22 July 2019
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) recognises that the fundamentals of our economy are strong thanks to the economic management of the Government; and
(2) commends the Government for its plan to continue to grow the economy through:
(a) delivering on a $100 billion infrastructure plan;
(b) pursuing free trade deals, with the European Union and through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership;
(c) creating 1 million more jobs over the next five years;
(d) maintaining budget surpluses and paying down debt; and
(e) locking in record funding for schools and hospitals.
The fundamentals of our economy are strong thanks to the management of the Morrison government. At the 2019 election, the Australian people made it clear they wanted to back our plan to deliver economic prosperity for Australia's future. As part of our economic plan, we promised the Australian people tax cuts, and on 4 July we delivered on this promise. This tax package not only ensures immediate tax relief for 10 million low- and middle-income earners who are now receiving up to $1,080 for the 2018-19 financial year; it also delivers confidence to 94 per cent of Australians that they'll only be taxed at 30 cents in the dollar from 2024-25. Our government is not only concerned with the present but with the confidence that Australians can have so they can plan for the future. This tax relief will improve the tax system and reward hardworking Australians. In Berowra, 70,492 taxpayers will benefit from tax relief this year, with 24,694 receiving the full tax offset of $1,080.
By contrast, those opposite had a plan for $387 billion of taxes on the Australian economy. Taxes on retirees, taxes on housing, taxes on super, taxes on small business, taxes on energy—Labor's never seen a tax hike they didn't like. Australians listened closely to the Labor Party and, in particular, the member for McMahon, who said, 'If you don't like Labor's tax policy, don't vote for it.' Indeed, Australians voted against Labor in near record numbers, with Labor's primary vote dropping to its lowest level since the Great Depression. Labor continues to support higher taxes. It failed to support the government's tax cuts properly. Despite the Leader of the Opposition's listening tour, Labor remains deaf to the needs of Australians.
I commend the government for its ongoing plan to grow the economy and create jobs. The economy is not just about numbers on spreadsheets; it's about the lives of the people we are here to represent. One of the indicators of good economic management is a low unemployment rate. Unemployment is at the lowest level in almost seven years, at 5.2 per cent—in Berowra, it's as low as 3.7 per cent—and 1.4 million new jobs have been created since we were first elected to government in 2013. We are committed to creating an additional 1.25 million jobs over the next five years, with 40,000 new jobs created just last month. Under our government, the level of welfare dependency is at its lowest level in 30 years.
One of the ways we're keeping unemployment low is by backing small business. Small business is absolutely key to creating jobs in our communities. In the Berowra electorate, we have over 15,000 small businesses that provide thousands of jobs to people in our community. From budget night, the instant asset write-off was increased and expanded from $25,000 to $30,000. The instant asset write-off was also expanded to businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million. This will cover an extra 22,000 businesses across Australia, employing 1.7 million Australians. Already more than 350,000 businesses—businesses like CoHo or Harvest Coffee in my electorate—have taken up the instant asset write-off.
The government continues to deliver on its record $100 billion infrastructure plan. Families in Berowra are benefitting directly from this investment. If we want a strong economy, we must ensure Australians are spending less time stuck in traffic and less time waiting for public transport. In my community, some key initiatives will give people back more productivity in their day. More time for work and more time for family is more fulfilling than more time for traffic. New Line Road is a massive headache for families in our area, and on budget night the government announced that $10 billion is being invested for the thorough planning of New Line Road to get it shovel-ready for state government investment. It's because of our strong economic management that our government is the first to inject government funds into New Line Road.
NorthConnex is one of the biggest infrastructure projects currently undertaken in New South Wales. Pennant Hills Road, as you know, Deputy Speaker, is one of the worst roads in Australia. The road carries around 80,000 vehicles per day, including more than 10,000 trucks. This project will deliver twin nine-kilometre tunnels that will enable motorists to drive from Newcastle to Melbourne without a single set of traffic lights. This project will take 5,000 trucks off Pennant Hills Road every single day. It will return the road to our community, improving transport times, reducing commuter travel and improving the overall safety of our roads. This project has also created 8,700 jobs and is a $412 million investment from the federal government.
Our government's good economic plans have enabled us to lock in funding for hospitals and schools. There is $1 billion in federal government funding going into Berowra's schools—government, Catholic and independent—over the next decade. The good fiscal policy doesn't stop there. We're delivering budget surpluses. We're back in the black and back on track, as the Treasurer likes to say. I'm proud to be part of a government delivering for our country.
This week around 1,088 people woke up in the Illawarra, where I come from, without a home. They're no closer to getting a home this week than they were last week. They're homeless, and they're part of the hundreds of thousands of people in the same situation right around the country who are suffering. Not only are they locked out of the homebuyer market; they are locked out of the home rental market. In fact, if they picked up the newspaper on the weekend and looked for a place to rent, and that person was on income support, there would not have been one house available for them to rent. There is no hope now and no hope in the near future of any relief.
There are over 9,692 people in the Illawarra who are looking for a job. Over 80 per cent of those are long-term unemployed. They currently receive around $278 a week. I dare anybody in this place to say that they could survive on $278 a week. You couldn't pay your rent, let alone your electricity bills, let alone put food on the table on $278 a week. So, whilst the member for Berowra, who I think is an honourable person, comes to this place with a motion talking about how wonderful the economic management of this government is and how strong the fundamentals of the economy are, if you're one of those 9,692 people looking for a job, you're not seeing any of the strength. If you're one of those 1,088 people who are sleeping rough tonight, you're not seeing a lot of joy in the local economy or the national figures.
I noted with interest that the member's motion celebrated the fact that they're planning on creating 1.25 million more jobs over the next five years. It's unfortunate that when these motions are put on the Notice Paper it's often several weeks before they are debated, because a couple of days ago we received the latest figures on job creation. Deputy Speaker, you will have picked up, as I did, that over the last month a paltry 500 new jobs were created. So, if the last month is typical, it is going to take 208 years for the government to reach their 1.25 million jobs target, which many are suggesting is a low-ball target anyway. So, far from the economy being strong, it is in a very parlous state indeed.
It is not just Labor who is saying this; it is analysts. In fact, look at what the Reserve Bank is doing. Interest rates are at one per cent, with a further interest rate cut factored in by the market. Interest rates are at record lows. In fact, they are lower now than they were in the global financial crisis, when representatives from the coalition were saying they were at crisis rates. So, far from the economy being strong, it's very weak, and this government has no plans to do anything about it.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17 : 34 to 17 : 57
I support this motion put forward by my good friend and colleague the member for Berowra.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17:58 to 18:23
I congratulate the member for Berowra on putting forward such a motion. Of course, the coalition government is absolutely committed to delivering what it said it would deliver during the last election campaign. That includes our $100 billion infrastructure plan over the next 10 years. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker McVeigh, being a regional member, this infrastructure plan is critical for our connective infrastructure, for growth, particularly in the regions, and for ensuring increases in productivity. And, of course, those increases in productivity make us much more competitive when we look at world trade.
As the member for Berowra has stated, we are pursuing free trade deals with the EU and through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The RCEP agreement is worth trillions and trillions of dollars in terms of the arrangements we can make with those nations.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 18:24 to 18:30
As I was saying, not only will our $100 billion investment in infrastructure help drive regional productivity; it will allow our producers to be more competitive, particularly in terms of trade deals and arrangements overseas. What we in this place all know is that trade means jobs for Australia, and more trade means more jobs. We have already been successful in terms of those trade arrangements through agreements with China, South Korea and other countries. That has helped lift productivity and jobs in regional areas—in particular, in the agricultural sector. Agriculture is now worth over $60 billion, and the coalition government has a plan to drive that to $100 billion in the future. But that can't be done without the correct infrastructure—in particular, water and transport infrastructure.
Regardless of what we talk about in this place at a national level, all stories are local. For the people of my electorate of Hinkler, where we have any number of challenges, we are driving commercial operations to be more successful, to have better operations and to have more jobs to help drive our regional economy. We are doing that with record infrastructure investments. The Hinkler regional deal, which was announced last year, is a commitment of $173 million from the federal government across a range of projects—from connecting roads and infrastructure, to port studies and all the way through to a multi-purpose conveyor at the Bundaberg port, which will be constructed with a 100 per cent grant from the federal government. But that assumes that the Queensland Labor government will decide to get on board. They have been dragging their heels to date. They continue to refuse to sign documents—
An opposition member interjecting—
We hear interjections from those opposite about dams. We have had billions of dollars on the table for dams and, quite simply, the Queensland Labor government have not picked them up—not a single one. In fact, their current proposal is to reduce the capacity of the Paradise Dam, not repair it. They want to drop the dam level by 10 metres or 15 metres. That will result in a reliability level of 60 per cent for irrigators. That does not help us with our trade and export plans.
We have opportunities here, but we know that the true Premier of Queensland, Jackie Trad, is not on board. We need her to step up and help the people of regional communities. We cannot continue to sit around and have the federal government commit such large amounts of money and the state refuse to build them. We need them to get on board. We need them to build the roads. We need them to accept the money to build that connective infrastructure, particularly in our port. They continue to play games. They play games with the people of my electorate. These are individuals who are desperate for work. And yet we find that Queensland Labor, once again, are getting in the way of progress. They have no interest in our people—none.
Everyone on the opposite side knows the Constitution and what it sets aside for individual states and their responsibilities. We cannot make them build a road, but we need them to do it. We have put up our contribution—80 per cent for those connecting roads. In fact, we have a safety intersection on the Bruce Highway at Buxton. We have put forward $10 million. This is a substantial infrastructure investment, but the state refuses to play ball. We cannot continue to argue with ourselves when we are funding so much important infrastructure to drive jobs, to drive regional economies, and have the Queensland Labor government continue to get in the way.
What an absolute farce this motion is! Who, other than this government, thinks our economy is going well? Which economist can they point to who would actually agree with this motion? This government has cherrypicked these statistics as though they have something to brag about. The RBA said in its minutes released last week that GDP growth had been well below trend over the year to the March quarter. They also said growth in both household disposable income and wages had remained low.
Australians know that the economy is weakening, because they feel it. They live it every day. They are worried about their job security and worried about making ends meet and putting food on the table. They actually experience the reality that a steady, decent income sufficient to pay a mortgage and raise a family is increasingly hard to achieve. They know what every well-paid economist knows: we have a floundering economy that cannot withstand another six years of inaction by this Liberal government. Where is this economic management and strong economy that the member for Berowra speaks of? I don't see it in the economic growth figures, which show that our economy is growing at its slowest rate since the GFC. I don't see it in the cost of living, which continues to rise above what families in this country can afford. I certainly don't see it in the wage stagnation that working families are experiencing around Australia across all industries. This government cannot manage the economy and can't be trusted to deliver the services that Australians rely on.
The youth unemployment rate in this country is 12 per cent—double the national average. Ask a 22-year-old who hasn't been able to find a job since leaving high school how the economy's going for him or her. Ask his or her parents who are in insecure work, who can't plan financially because they don't know what shifts they'll get next week, let alone whether they'll have work the next day, and who can't afford to pay their bills because wages haven't risen in years. Is this a strong economy? Is this the best that working Australians can ask for? Is this truly the economy that the Prime Minister and the coalition promised they would deliver during the election? These are not the indicators of a strong economy. This is blatant economic mismanagement by a government that is failing the Australian people.
The government flaunt their record on job creation. The unemployment rate in this country is 5.2 per cent. The RBA says that it should be around 4.5 per cent, and some studies show it should be even lower. What does this government say to that? 'Job done; well done; move on'. Well, I disagree. Our economy can and should be employing more people. Our growth figures show quite plainly that consumption is a real issue in this country, that people cannot and are not spending their money outside of buying the bare essentials. To boost consumption and our economy, we should be employing more Australians. The RBA have said that if we continue to reduce unemployment and underemployment we will likely see an increase in wages and an increase in household incomes. Reducing unemployment should be a key target for this government.
When this government boasts about the unemployment rate, what it is saying to young people in rural and regional Australia, where youth unemployment rate sit around the 15-20 per cent mark, is that the government has no role in job creation for them. Again, I couldn't disagree more. We are experiencing skills shortages in Australia and are forecast to continue to experience skill shortages into the future. This is in part due to Australia's high youth unemployment rate, leaving them unable to gain experience or receive training as part of work. As our population continues to age and skilled workers retire, the inability to receive training early in one's working life continues to impact on the individual. This results in constrained incomes for the remainder of their working life as well as impacting on the economy in the form of skills shortages. We must recognise that we need to invest in employing more Australians, particularly young people. I believe they deserve to be able to find employment, to be able to work in a decent, fairly-paid job and to gain the experience and dignity that work brings.
We need change. We can't continue to accept unemployment figures as they are. The RBA has been clear about that. We need a government that takes decisive action and that makes decent policy to address unemployment to get Australians into decent jobs. I urge the government to take a good, hard look at themselves and to act with decency. You may be fooling yourselves into believing the economy is strong but you certainly aren't fooling the Australian public.
I'd like to congratulate the member for Berowra, my good friend, and the author of 'Leeser economics: the wisdom and insight around strength and growth and opportunity'. I need to make it clear that I am not taking ownership of that title. That is of course up to the member of Dawson, but he has inspired me. More critically, this motion speaks to the government's ambition and exactly what this government wants to achieve.
Throughout earlier debates today, we have heard other members, particularly the member for Fremantle, rant and rave about the narrowness of the government's agenda—only focused on tax. Don't get me wrong: tax is part of the government's agenda. But we see in this motion, in particular, a substantive component of every part of the full suite of the government's agenda in focusing on investment in infrastructure to build Australia's future; knowing we can pursue the opportunities of greater free trade with our neighbours and across the world; and the opportunity to build on the earlier success of a million new jobs over the previous five years to 1.25 million for the next five years. And of course there is that critical test, which the opposition has never met, of a budget surplus, one where the economy grows strongly but we also maintain prudent management of our books so that we can pay down the legacy of their debt and deficit and the fixed expenditure that they legislated without any care or concern for future generations—a discarding of concern for Australians and their future. And of course we're doing this all. And it must bite so hard that we were able, at the end of the last government, to have delivered—but also that we will be able to continue to deliver, at the end of this one—record funding for schools and hospitals. They talk it; we deliver it—that is the critical difference.
We have had the member for Cooper up here, waxing lyrical about her various concerns and saying, 'Where are these economists that are saying the Australian economy is growing strongly?'—which is filled very easily with answers like that from the Reserve Bank Governor, Dr Philip Lowe. We also have people like Chris Richardson, from Access Economics, saying the same thing.
Don't misunderstand: economies go through challenging times; economies face external threats; they do. It would be nice to be in a position where we could pull more fiscal stimulus levers, but I recall that they were all blown in one hit by the previous Labor government. We have other levers we can pull: monetary policy and interest rates. And we have the opportunities of structural reform. There are plenty of measures that we can take. But we need to be adaptive and responsive and understand the critical challenges that we face. Yes, we do need to be agile and innovative, but the benefits of being agile and innovative can only be secured if you run a strong budget position. And the legacy of the member for Oxley and his colleagues on the other side of this chamber is that they have shown scant regard or concern for doing so.
But what is the benefit to Australians from this record investment? Most members will be able to say quite clearly what they think the benefits are in their electorates. So why don't we talk about some of the benefits in the wonderful Goldstein electorate, where, by delivering $100 million of infrastructure investment, we were able to do things like upgrade parking at local stations like Hampton, Brighton Beach, Sandringham and Elsternwick, to ease people's daily commutes.
People don't have a massive expectation of what government can achieve, because they know that, ultimately, the people most responsible for the success in their lives are themselves. But where there are unnecessary bugbears, and government can come in to remove problems and challenges from their lives—particularly from things as simple as their daily commute—they hope government will do that, and that, when local representatives stand up and speak on behalf of their communities, they will hear and act. And that's what we've done. That's what we were able to deliver. That's what we were able to secure.
Ms Kearney interjecting—
No, they're already funded—those sorts of major investments in infrastructure and local communities—because we run a budget surplus. We've taken prudent responsibility for the future of the country. We understand that we have to have a balanced portfolio to make sure we put ourselves in the strongest and best position to continue to grow the economy. And that's the spirit of this motion. That's the spirit in which the member for Berowra moved it. And that's the spirit that this government is going forward with.
I wholeheartedly accept that the opposition finds this challenging. It's a foreign world to them—prudence, responsibility, investment, opportunity. It must be something they only dream about.
'Dreams'! Talk about nightmares—that's what we just heard in that contribution from the member for Goldstein, who, unfortunately, as we know, with my colleague the member for Berowra, is languishing on the backbench, not promoted. While all those other people are rushing up to the front of the table, they're languishing behind. As a consolation prize, they were given the notes by the Treasurer, saying: 'Come on. We're feeling the pressure. In you go. Read out what we've prepared for you.'
We know that this is a new parliament, but it's the same old government dragging the economy down. We might have new slogans, new excuses and new faces on that side of the chamber, but what we've heard today is this parallel universe, this alternative universe—that somehow we are supposed to believe that the government should be congratulated for a supposedly strong economy. The numbers tell a completely different story. And it's not just the numbers; it's the businesses and the residents in my community and hundreds of communities right around Australia who are feeling the pinch of a struggling economy, thanks to this government.
The motion even goes so far as to say the government should be thanked for the economic management and its plan to grow the economy. Let's look at the facts. The Australian economy has slowed to its weakest level since the tail end of the global financial crisis. Growth is just 0.4 per cent for the March quarter and 1.8 per cent for the year. Australia is still in a GDP per capita recession, with the measure having fallen for the last three quarters. For the first time since the 1982 recession, the national economy has gone from being the eighth fastest growing economy in the OECD in 2013 to the 20th now. Wages are growing at eight times slower than profits. Productivity has fallen for four consecutive quarters. Household spending is weak, and living standards are growing slower under the Liberals than under the previous Labor government. These are not the signs of a strong economy.
Let's look at the leading business surveys. The NAB declared that the retail sector was 'clearly in recession'. Senior analyst Tom Youl said:
Households will see little benefit over the next 12 months as both wages and household consumption are expected to experience modest gains.
The recently approved income tax as well as lower interest rates will offer some relief to incomes but financial policies are unlikely to provide meaningful economic growth.
The government must offer a well-thought-out and constructed plan to turn around one of the weakest economies this generation has ever encountered. We know what the economy looks like now. The signs are not great. We are now in our third consecutive quarter of per capita recession, the longest period since the early 1980s downturn. With the absence of wages growth, with cuts to penalty rates and with rising household expenses such as electricity and child care, more needs to be done to complement interest rate cuts to put more back into people's pockets.
But what really gets up my nose, and what really shocked me in the last week, is how out of touch this government is. In this motion, the government wants to be congratulated; with all that negative economic data, it is out of touch. That little nobody Senator Anne Ruston—someone I'd never heard of; I had to google who it was; she just fell into the cabinet because there was no-one else—had the audacity to go out in the community and say pensioners are getting a generous handout from this government. You can hear the silence from the opposite side. No-one is defending the nobody Senator Anne Ruston—whoever she is. I've never heard of this person! She's lecturing everyone that the pension is somehow too good to be true: 'It's a generous amount of money that Australian taxpayers make available to our older Australians.' I bet that if you go to Mackay, and to the leafy suburbs that the member for Berowra represents, and say to pensioners, 'You've got too much money; you've got a generous handout'—who phrases terms like this? It is the minister responsible for administering those social payments.
I've heard no contrition from the government whatsoever. They are lecturing everyone about responsibility and about tightening their belts. But what they say to pensioners is a big slap across the mouth from the minister responsible. I'm sure she'll be changed through that ministerial portfolio like the rest of them. To condemn senior citizens like this is disgusting. It's a sick joke, and I think the minister should go out and apologise. If that's how this government thinks they can treat pensioners—the member for Moreton, the member for Cooper and the member for Lyons, on this side of the House, will stand up for pensioners in the community. Forget the fact that it was the opposite side of the chamber that tried to cut the pension. Unfortunately, I don't have time to deal with the issue of deeming rates. This government was dragged kicking and screaming, by pensioners and by the Labor leader Anthony Albanese, to deliver a fair go for pensioners. (Time expired)