Wednesday, 4 March 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Rankin proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The government's long-standing failures on the economy.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
Today we got the national accounts, which were a report card on those opposite in the last three months of last year in the economy. What they showed was that economic growth in the last quarter of last year was slower than the quarter before. Economic growth had slowed. It showed that growth was once again well below average and well below trend. It also showed that growth is a full percentage point lower than it was before the Prime Minister and the Treasurer took up their roles.
When you look at those numbers, you see the slowing in growth; there's the private economy which didn't grow at all in the quarter; consumption growth at its slowest pace since the GFC; total private business investment going backwards for the third consecutive quarter; wages growth was really weak and it slowed even further in the December quarter.
I'm glad we were able to ask the Treasurer about this in question time today, because when we asked him about all of these things, all of this weakness across the board, the good news is that we were wrong. There was one indicator that the Treasurer was able to point to. He said that ownership transfer costs are going really well. Wages are weak; growth is slowing; business investment is horrible; household debt is horrible; the budget is blowing out; debts are more than double; but the good news is that ownership transfer costs are going great guns.
For those of you in the House who had to google ownership transfer costs—including me—you will discover that ownership transfer costs are actually lawyers' fees. The bad news is that the economy's growing slower; the bad news is that wages can't keep up with the cost of living; the bad news is that household debt has gone through the roof and public debt has more than doubled; the bad news is that we have a productivity problem and an investment problem; but the good news is that the lawyers are getting paid more fees than they were in the quarter before. The quarterly growth in legal fees is going great guns. Well done to the Treasurer of Australia—that is terrific!
The truth is that these numbers today absolutely torpedo the farcical argument from the Treasurer and the Prime Minister that the economy was going well before the coronavirus hit. As ANZ has just said, as the NAB has just said, that these numbers today show that the economy was weak before the virus hit. Unsurprisingly, despite all of this weakness throughout the economy, the Treasurer gets up and gives a statement earlier today and he expects a big pat on the back. He gives himself a big pat on the back for these numbers which are out today. That isn't terribly surprising. The Treasurer is the kind of guy whose team can get dusted by 100 points and he will declare himself best on ground. Every single workplace in Australia has someone like that, and unfortunately the Treasurer of Australia is the one in our workplace. He's always very keen and very pleased with his own performance. What his spin and his grin always tries to obscure, but never fully can, is that there has been weakness in the economy for some time. All of us represent communities and are in touch with our communities, and we understand that people feel, with some justification, that no matter how hard they work, they just can't keep up with the rising costs of child care or electricity or health. They're finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.
The data bears this out as well. It's true that every single quarter under this Prime Minister and this Treasurer has shown annual growth below trend, below average, in the economy. They are yet to have an outcome in any quarterly number in their roles that shows at least average growth in the economy, let alone better than that. That speaks volumes about a long period of significant economic mismanagement and underperformance on their watch. We gave the Treasurer two opportunities today to stick by the thing that he has said hundreds if not thousands of times: 'Back in the black, back on track.' We asked the Treasurer twice to do that today, and he was unwilling or unable to do that. It's almost like they've forgotten those mugs that they were flogging off for $35 plus $4 postage. Everyone who bought one of those mugs should get their money back. We weren't the ones who printed the mugs. We weren't the ones that made that commitment for them. That's their commitment. If they fall short of that commitment, it will be on them. When we asked them about 'back in the black' in particular, they say, 'No, we said something else.' But the mugs didn't say 'back in beige', did they? They said that the budget was back in the black.
It is true that we are entering a difficult period in the economy, and I think all of us have acknowledged that the challenges associated with the coronavirus and the government's response to that serious and significant challenge means that our economy will be impacted. We've been up-front about that all along. Given we've been up-front about that, the onus is on the government to now admit, given the numbers that came out today, that we enter a difficult period from a position of relative economic weakness, not strength. Growth is slowing, unemployment is rising, and debt's more than doubled in the budget—most of the debt in there is actually Liberal debt.
So those opposite are about to get tested. They are about to be tested by a significant event in the economy. There will be an impact, and we've said that—the leader's said that and we've all said that at different times. It remains to be seen whether they are up to it. But what we already know is that, in their third term now and in their seventh year, they have failed all of the tests that they have set for themselves. They said at election time, 'We promised to make the economy even stronger.' Instead, it got even weaker. They said they'd have a surplus in the first year and every year after that. They're none for six, and we don't know whether they will be none for seven. They said they'd pay down debt, and instead debt has more than doubled and they've abandoned their commitment to pay it off, even over the next 10 years. So, on all these measures that they asked us to judge them on—they said judge us only on this; there's very little else that they asked to be judged on—they have failed the test that they set themselves. They are failing those tests they set for themselves, and they're about to be tested again.
This coronavirus is the kind of test that the Treasurer won't be able to grin and spin his way out of. He will not be able to network his way out of this. The economy doesn't grow on self-congratulation, unfortunately. All these things that the Treasurer is a gold medallist at will not help Australia and Australian workers, businesses and communities through a very difficult period.
Given that there have been three consecutive decades now of continuous economic growth, the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister today, 'Will this three-decade run of unbroken economic growth survive Scott Morrison's Prime Ministership?' and the Prime Minister was unable to say that it will. I think that speaks to a deeper truth. When this side of the House was tested during the darkest days of the global financial crisis—we were over there, then—we passed with flying colours. I don't know about the rest of the colleagues, but I am tremendously proud of what Australia was able to achieve—Australian businesses, Australian workers, Australian communities—when we banded together, working with each other, under the leadership of Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan and the whole cabinet and the whole Labor Party. We are tremendously proud of what we achieved during the global financial crisis.
Those opposite can pretend all they like that that wasn't a golden period in economic policy success for this country. The rest of the world recognises that what Australia was able to achieve during that period was something special, and it is something that every Australian business and every Australian worker should be very proud of. Every time that they seek to diminish that achievement they seek to diminish the achievements of workers and communities and businesses, who stuck together in a very difficult period and did the right thing by each other and, in doing that, did the right thing by the economy and the country more broadly. They can do all they want to diminish that. They're about to be tested. It will be not as big a test as the GFC, most likely, but they are about to be tested. It remains to be seen whether that three-decade run of unbroken economic growth will continue under those opposite. As the Leader of the Opposition mentioned in his question, that 30-year period of unbroken economic growth originated under Labor and it was saved by Labor when it was at maximum risk. They are now the custodians of that 30-year period of unbroken economic growth. It remains to be seen whether they'll be up to the test.
Whether it's what we saw in the national accounts today, what we've seen in the economic data since the election or what we've seen over three terms and seven years of negligent inaction and incompetence on the economy, the Australian people can have very little confidence that those opposite are up to the task and up to the test that's about to be set for them.
When I saw this matter of public importance from the member for Rankin, I thought he couldn't be serious. But, then again, they're not serious people. They are in fact quite irresponsible, talking down the economy at a time when Australians need us to talk it up, to talk about the facts, to talk about the fact that Australia has entered its 29th consecutive year of annual economic growth and continues to show resilience.
This morning, the Treasurer released the December quarter national accounts. Australia recorded its third consecutive current account surplus in the December quarter 2019, the longest consecutive period of current account surpluses since the 1970s. Given I was born in 1981, that is a long period of time for sure. Let me go through some of the facts. Let me go through some of the facts that are really inconvenient to those members opposite, particularly the member for Rankin.
Today's data shows that our economy was accelerating at the end of last year, growing 0.5 per cent in the quarter. Through the year, growth picked up from 1.8 per cent to 2.2 per cent. We're growing faster than the OECD average and faster than any G7 economy except for the United States. But jobs are important, and this is a government that is committed to jobs for Australians. In compensation of employees, the nation's wages rose 5.1 per cent over the year, one of the strongest results in 7½ years and above the decade average. The average compensation per employee grew three per cent, the strongest result in over five years and, again, above the decade average. In 2019—
Opposition members interjecting—
See? Those opposite don't want to hear about the focus that we have on jobs. In 2019, 260,000 jobs were created. More than half of those jobs were full time and more than half were taken up by females. Our jobs growth in 2019 was almost double the OECD average and faster than any G7 economy, including the US. In 2019, average unemployment was 5.2 per cent. That is the lowest calendar year average since 2011. The participation rate hit a new record high of 66.2 per cent in August 2019. The female participation rate continued to reach new record highs.
I hear members opposite ask about the gender pay gap.
A government member: They once cared about that.
They did. It reached a new record low of 13.9 per cent. Thank you to those members asking that question about the record low, because we're going to do more. We are on track and we are meeting record lows. Cost-of-living pressure is something that we're concerned about on this side of the House, unlike those opposite, and that also eased in 2019. Over the year to 19 December electricity prices fell 3.5 per cent, the largest annual fall in 4½ years.
We have the budget and the economy in a position of strength, and that is very important. Our plan for a stronger economy is about building resilience in the economy. It's about rewarding aspiration. It's about lowering taxes so you can keep more of what you earn. It's about reducing the cost of doing business, whether it be energy, deregulation, finance or getting paid on time. It's about equipping Australians with the skills that they need that Australian businesses also need. It's about expanding trade to access more markets and create more jobs. It's about building the infrastructure we need for our economy to grow. It's about keeping our budget strong to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on but also to make sure that we're prepared to deal with the challenges they face—those real challenges that are now of concern to Australians.
Australians have faced bushfire crisis, while others are continuing to battle the drought, and we recognise and are very thankful for the rain that we're seeing in some of those drought affected areas. Australians are facing the threat of coronavirus and, because of the strong economic and fiscal management of this government, we are better prepared than those opposite will ever give us credit for. The irresponsibility of those opposite to talk down the economy, to put fear into the minds of Australian families and workers is shameful on them.
The Prime Minister has outlined our commitment to doing whatever it takes to help families, businesses, towns and communities respond to the coronavirus. The Prime Minister said on Tuesday:
What we need to do is ensure that with the fiscal response that we will provide … that it is very targeted, that it's very measured and it's very scalable.
On Monday he said:
We will be focusing on ensuring that we keep Australians in jobs, we keep businesses in business, and we keep investment flowing during what will be a very challenging time for the Australian economy.
It's about jobs, it's about cash flow and it's about investment.
This isn't the GFC; this is a health crisis with very significant economic implications. When those health issues are addressed, this government wants to make sure that we bounce back, and our plan is about ensuring that Australian businesses and jobs and the economy bounces back as strongly as it can. The interim economic assessment from the OECD has already revised Australia's growth in line with revisions to global growth and growth across the G20. The OECD is forecasting that the Australian economy will grow faster than the economies in the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom in 2021.
Responsible budget management allows us to deliver the first balanced budget in 11 years and it has given us the ability to respond to the crisis that is facing Australians today, to stand with them, to make sure that they have a government that is focused on their needs—not talking the economy down, not instilling fears in the minds of families and workers in this country but a government that's taking responsible decisions now to make sure that we deal with the issues that are important to them.
In addition to dealing with the coronavirus, when we compare reckless approaches to our economy, we can also look at Labor's reckless approach to our economy in relation to their 2050 emissions targets. They have not learnt at all from the mistake at last year's election. Their target is without a plan. It's like saying you want to go somewhere but you don't know how to driver the car or you don't know how to put petrol in it—probably not the best example to use in relation to this debate. However, it's perhaps like getting in an electric car and going for a long drive, knowing there is nowhere to charge that up along the way. But it is completely irresponsible for those opposite to set a target for 2050 when they can't even agree between themselves on what their 2030 target is and how much that will cost. It is completely irresponsible of those opposite to set a target without being honest with the Australian people about how they'll get there.
But we're at it again because all of the signs point to their secret carbon tax. There they were with a CSIRO report, supporting their target without a plan. The CSIRO report they were holding up modelled a $273 carbon price to get to zero net emissions by 2050. Now, you don't hear them talking about their secret plan for a carbon price of $273. The Leader of the Opposition failed seven times to rule out a carbon tax. The members for Hindmarsh, Corio, Hunter and Grayndler all last week failed to rule out a carbon tax. I challenge those opposite, those speaking after me: stand up; rule out the carbon tax; be honest with the Australian people on what your real road map is to achieve net zero by 2050.
This government will reduce emissions by investing and supporting technology, not by taxation. We know that the only solution those opposite have when presented with a problem, whether it be about reducing emissions or dealing with natural disasters, is tax, tax and tax. There is no better evidence that Labor and those members opposite, and in particular the member for Rankin, cannot be trusted. They cannot be trusted with managing the economy, particularly at times when the Australian people need us the most.
The thing that the people of Australia have learnt about this Prime Minister is this: if you can't trust him to tell the truth about the little things then how on earth are you going to trust him to tell the truth about the things that really matter? Time and time and time again this guy has failed that test. Now, I am not critical about the fact that last year the Prime Minister took a holiday. I'm not critical about that. But why did he have to lie about it? Why couldn't he tell the truth about where he was? Why couldn't he tell the truth?
I withdraw. Why couldn't he tell the truth about where he was? Why did he have to dissemble? Why did he have to mislead people? Why couldn't he tell the truth? I make no criticism about the fact that the Prime Minister might like to invite friends to the White House for a special dinner. I make no criticism about that. But why on earth could he not tell the truth? He was asked time and time and time again: did he do it? But he couldn't tell the truth. He couldn't tell the truth. We're seeing it again with the sports rorts affair. He's been asked time and again: what was his office's involvement in the sports rorts affair? If you can't tell the truth about the small things, how on earth are the people of Australia going to trust you about making the big calls on the things that really matter? He promised us a surplus. He told us we were 'back in black', and now we know that he won't meet that promise.
We have learnt that this Prime Minister likes to make big promises and likes to talk a lot about plans. The previous speaker had a lot to say about plans. They're very good at talking about plans, but they're hopeless—absolutely hopeless—at delivering on them. They had a plan for a surplus that turned into a marketing plan for coffee cups and T-shirts. They won't meet it, and they know it. They had a plan to look after the bushfire communities of the South Coast of New South Wales. The Prime Minister missed the first chance, stood in this place and said: 'We've got a plan to look after them. We're going to look after the recovery. We're going to look after the clean-up of the devastation. We're going to look after the businesses that have been affected.' But now we know that less than 10 per cent of the notional fund that's been set aside has been spent. We have heard time and time again about their plans for energy. Well, they've had plenty of energy plans. They've had 19 of them! Unfortunately, power prices are still going up and so are emissions. So, when these people talk about plans, you know one thing: they will never meet them.
Now the Treasurer and the Prime Minister are trying to tell us that we've never had it so good and that the economy is going great guns. The test for the strength of this economy is not what this Treasurer or this Prime Minister is saying about it; it's what business is actually doing. It has never been easier for a business to invest. It's never been cheaper for a business to get access to capital. Interest rates have never been lower. Wages—tragically—are very, very low as well. Wage growth is as flat as it's ever been. Interest rates, inflation—all low. It's never been easier for businesses to invest. But what's happening with business investment? It's down 1.4 per cent over the year and 20 per cent since they got into government. Don't listen to what that mob is saying about the economy; look at what business are doing. If business had any confidence whatsoever in that mob's ability to manage the economy, they'd be investing. It's never been easier to invest, there's never been a better time to invest—but they have no confidence that that mob is going to manage the economy in the interests of business. And they know that, if they cannot trust the government on the little things, they certainly cannot trust them on the big calls.
Now, tragically, we've got some big calls to make, and we are calling on the government to act and to act now. We cannot wait, because, every week that they delay, the economy goes backwards. The Australian people need a message from this government. They need a plan from this government, they need it to be implemented, but they're certainly not getting it. The people of my community are demanding some action, and business is demanding some action, and all they're getting from this Treasurer and this Prime Minister is coffee cups and marketing plans. Frankly, the people of Australia deserve much more than that.
Deputy Speaker, imagine someone who calls themselves an economic conservative, someone who comes to government on the basis that they've promised they'll be prudent, responsible and keep the budget in balance. And then imagine that the first chance they get, rather than delivering on their plan of being prudent and responsible, they tear it up and embrace the opportunity to spend, spend, spend and take no responsibility. Let's imagine somebody like that. You'd have to say they're either a hypocrite or a fraud, or both.
But then sometimes they go even further and they invent their own economic concepts in the process. You may have heard, Deputy Speaker, of the broken window fallacy. Well, there are Labor Party members who believe in the 'burning down the house fallacy', because what they did when they were previously in government, when they came to government on the basis that they were economic conservatives, was go down a pathway of spending recklessly, tearing down school halls and rebuilding school halls to generate economic activity. They literally invested in burning down the houses of Australians as a pathway to show that they were, allegedly, economically conservative.
I think the member for Goldstein should withdraw those comments. People did lose their lives. That was tragic, and you should not be making political points about it in the way you are. It's disgraceful.
The member for Goldstein can take his seat. The member for Goldstein, I'm listening very closely to what you say, and any direct comments to the opposition are unparliamentary. If you make comments relating to a program that caused an event, that may pass the test. But what you're saying is very, very close to being unparliamentary. Continue.
So we'll go through and highlight the absurdity of many of the claims that are made by opposition members in this chamber and the programs that they sought to implement. Some members have talked about the tragic human consequences—I couldn't agree more—that occurred on the basis of reckless, reckless policy. For members opposite to come into this chamber and lecture members of the government, who have delivered year-on-year economic growth, sustained economic growth, and, against the backdrop of the drought and the fires, have continued to deliver strong economic growth, is outrageous. The reality is that in the last quarter of last year, despite the headwinds of the droughts and the fires, we have been able to continue to deliver.
Let's not pretend otherwise. We are facing very difficult economic circumstances. As the assistant minister said at the dispatch box before, we know that a health crisis is turning into a significant economic challenge for the Australian people. It is because we are exposed as an economy to many of the countries that are directly affected by the coronavirus. It is going to affect our supply chains. We face the very real challenge where many businesses have willing customers but not the stock, where service based businesses want to sell but are reliant on things like tourism and struggle to be able to get customers. These are the challenges that we're responding to.
The question for us is: what choice was before the Australian people at the last election? They made a choice about the type of prudent and responsible government they wanted, one that could come into this chamber and pass a budget which cut taxes and empowered Australians to continue to support the economy, for small businesses who invest to be able to build the future of this country. Or the alternative, of $387 billion worth of new taxes that was proposed by the opposition. They made a choice because they knew what drove the fundamentals of the Australian economy and put us in the position to respond to exactly these types of crises, to make sure that we're in the position so that we can respond in a targeted way to keep jobs and businesses open to grow this nation— (Time expired)
I'm happy to talk about the MPI on the government's longstanding failures on the economy. I thank my good friend the member for Rankin for bringing this into the chamber. I thought I'd start with a quote from the great economic genius from the Liberal Party, shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, in 2013. This is back when interest rates were 2.5 per cent. I'm an English teacher, not a maths teacher, but I reckon that that was higher than 0.5 per cent. That is my understanding. This is what he said when asked by Leigh Sales about the Reserve Bank cutting rates:
If anyone thinks that the Reserve Bank acted today because the economy is doing really well, and Labor's doing a terrific job running the economy, they'd be deluding themselves.
Well, what do we see? What did we see the Reserve Bank do yesterday? They cut interest rates by 2.5 per cent, down to a new record, record, record, record low of 0.5 per cent. Half a per cent! Capital hasn't been this low since the Sumerians first set up a bank lending service. Capital could not be lower.
Why do we see the Reserve Bank doing this? Well, Joe Hockey is like a stopped clock; he eventually gets something right. It's because there's something wrong with this economy. I know that there are headwinds. We know that the coronavirus is going to cause significant challenges for our economy. I know that because I talk to the businesses in my electorate. I'm sure the member for Rankin does that. Every good member talks to retailers. But there were problems in this economy long before anyone had heard of the coronavirus. We know that. When I had my meetings with community leaders, particularly those who work in the education sector or the migration sector, and even just walking around the shops, I knew that retail was in trouble. I know that families are saying they are doing it tough. Families are talking about child-care costs, saying that wages aren't keeping up and jobs are insecure. We see all those other indicators. I'm not talking down the economy, I'm just stating the facts. Business investment is going backwards. The member for Ryan is laughing about it. Business investment is going backwards. Go and talk to the people in your electorates.
Mr Simmonds interjecting—
We've seen three consecutive quarters, nine months, where business investment has gone backwards. Labour productivity is pretty much the No. 1 indicator for whether the engine of the economy is ticking over right. If you get a sound in the motor, where productivity isn't working, you know that there's something fundamentally wrong. We've seen it declining for a long time. Net debt has more than doubled, gross debt has risen to over half a trillion dollars and doubled under the Liberal and National parties. Let's not forget that. This is an economy of their making, as we settled into the seven wasted years now of a coalition government.
I know the 'black summer' was difficult for Australians. We know that the coronavirus will add additional challenges for tourism in Queensland—or tourism all around Australia, I should say—and on the number of international education students coming here, who are such a boost for my electorate in particular. All of these challenges mean that we need a government to step up, and what do we have? The person who drives this—I've seen treasurers up close. I worked with Wayne Swan. I've seen what he's like as a human being. I understand why internationally recognised people say that Wayne Swan was cometh the hour, cometh the man. Cometh the hour, cometh the man! He stepped up and was able to work with the opposition at the time. I will stress that: the opposition leader at the time did work with the government for a while, in terms of recognising the dire straits.
But what do we have? We have a guy who's focused on himself, happy to trot out Liberal Party merchandising—'back in black' mugs. Perhaps he should be working on 'lady in red' or something like that, because we've got these big challenges coming! They've failed all the tests that they've set themselves. We've got a Treasurer who stands up at that despatch box and attacks the Hindu community, going for a cheap laugh—
So we have a Treasurer who's not up to it. He stands at the despatch box and goes for the cheap laugh. He seems to be focused on, obsessed with, the member for Rankin rather than doing his day job. He needs to change. We need a better Treasurer.
What an embarrassing performance from the member for Moreton. We shouldn't expect too much more, but it's disappointing nevertheless. When you have to hold up Wayne Swan and his panic and his cheques to dead people as what we should be doing, you know that Labor have really lost the plot. It was a perfect example of the difference between the Labor members opposite and this government. On that side of the chamber, they're so busy talking down the economy. They can't accept the facts and they're so busy pointing back to their spiritual hero, Wayne Swan. 'Oh, the glory days!' they think. They're so desperate to go back to those glory days, but the fact of the matter is that this nation is dealing with some serious challenges.
I talk to the families in my electorate of Ryan, and they say to me: 'With the serious challenges that this economy is dealing with, that this nation is dealing with—bushfire recovery, coronavirus—thank goodness the coalition government are the ones that won at the last election. Thank goodness that they're busy dealing with the issues that matter to us and our families rather than Labor, who are pining over their political games in this place, who are so busy calling divisions that they can't even think up questions about the major issues that are facing our nation, like coronavirus. Thank goodness that the Australian people aren't saddled with $387 billion worth of new taxes as we go into these important issues that we have to deal with as an economy.' It is just incredible.
We know the Australian people are resilient. They are incredible people. They bond together and they help those who are doing it tough. We are about supporting them as a resilient nation. And we can do that because we have a budget which is back in balance. We have tax cuts for 10 million Australians, despite Labor trying to stand in the way of that. So we've got more people with more money in their pockets based on their spending priorities, not Labor's spending priorities. What we don't have is $387 billion worth of taxes. That's how we deal with the bushfire response. That's how we deal with the coronavirus response. That's how we deal with the drought response. They acknowledge these things, but Labor members will only acknowledge it through gritted teeth. They'd like you to think that these things are just small issues. 'Don't worry about those. The more important issues are invites to the White House and email trails over here.'
But the important things to the people of Brisbane, to the people of Ryan, to the Australian people, are making sure that this nation recovers from the bushfires and the drought crisis, and making sure that they get through the coronavirus with a resilient economy. When it comes to doing exactly that, what's important is the facts about our economy—facts that Labor do not or won't acknowledge. Australia has entered its 29th consecutive year of annual economic growth. The IMF is forecasting Australia to grow faster than the US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and the UK. This means that, as far as you can be prepared for something like the coronavirus, Australia is in a better position than those other comparable nations.
We have brought the budget back to balance for the first time in 11 years. We have maintained our triple A credit rating. We are one of only 10 developed countries to maintain our triple A credit rating. Employment growth is more than three times what we inherited from Labor. Under this government 1.5 million jobs have been created. It used to be that the Labor Party was the party of jobs. No more—they have well and truly given up that mantle. They have given it up willingly, because they are too interested in pandering and responding to Twitter than they are in looking after the workers of Australia. We take a completely different view. We believe that we are here to support the Australian people by getting them into a job. We have done that to the tune of more than 1.5 million jobs created. Earlier this month the RBA Governor himself said that Australia's economic fundamentals remain strong and provide a solid foundation for us to be optimistic about the future. (Time expired)
We've seen low wages growth; people aren't getting a pay rise; there is low business investment; businesses are crying out for this government to support them. People aren't spending at our shops, restaurants and cafes, and now we've got an interest rate cut to emergency levels. This was all happening long before bushfires and coronavirus. Businesses and communities are being hit hard because this government won't act. Labor's been crying out for stimulus. We've been warning you that you can't rely on monetary policy alone—warnings that you've ignored. In fact, today all we've had is some bad theatre efforts from the member for Ryan and a lot of 'you've never had it so good' from the rest of the chamber.
People are suffering because of this government's approach to managing the economy, because there's no growth, because they've failed as economic managers. They're looking to other sources to try and prop up their surplus. But it's not a surplus any more, is it? I'm a bit unsure: is it still 'back in the black' or is it 'balanced'? I'm not sure what we're up to today. It's not a surplus.
But who do Liberal governments always target when they're looking for more money? They target the most vulnerable. So we have a $1.6 billion underspend in the NDIS—money that should be supporting people with disability, which instead is sitting there to make their budget look better than it is.
Lest you think this is just some kind of Labor attack, let me share who's raised concerns about this government's approach. It's none other than the New South Wales Liberal minister Gareth Ward, who, together with his Victorian minister, wrote to the government to express his concern at their approach. He said, 'I want to make sure that money doesn't sit in a bank account offsetting the Commonwealth's budget, which is what it's doing.' He said, 'I want to see it improving the lives of people, and that's what it's not doing.' Last weekend, in between our weeks here, I went home to my electorate and held a mobile office in the suburb of Greensborough. The number one issue that people raised with me was the struggles they are having with the NDIS. Parents talked to me on behalf of their children whose plans aren't working, who aren't getting what they need. Parents are worried that when they die their children won't be okay. What an indictment of this government's economic approach, that they would rather prop up their ailing budget with an underspend on the NDIS, that they would put those families through that worry rather than spend the money when it's needed.
Of course, we're not just seeing this approach of targeting vulnerable people when it comes to the NDIS; we also saw it through robodebt—the stress and the hoops they made people jump through, which we now know were illegal. We see it in the way they are reducing and outsourcing staff at vital services such as Centrelink. I can't tell you how many older people have walked into my office or have walked up to me and said how they've been stuck on the phone for ages and how they do don't know how to get through the Centrelink blocks and that all that happens is they're told to go and sort it out online—and I'm sure many of the members on this side share my experience.
The government's ripped $3 billion out of the trades and training sector. In Jagajaga, that means that apprenticeships have dropped by 17 per cent. The conversations I have with people around that are with mums and dads who are worried about their children's future. They worry that their children aren't going to be supported to get the skills they need, that they face a future of uncertain and unstable jobs and that, despite what we heard from the Assistant Treasurer in question time today, their children will be renting into their thirties. Those are the economic conditions that people are facing today—uncertain jobs, low wages, low wage growth, and struggling to get into their own homes. They are the economic conditions that this government is presiding over.
But of course we do know that there is one area where the government are not afraid to splash the cash—and that's when it comes to their own re-election. We know that there is not a grants program that they are not prepared to rort. There is not a spending in that that they are willing to let go. They can underspend by $1.6 billion in the NDIS but, when it comes to grants programs, they are happy to shovel that money out the door—and they are certainly not shovelling it to Labor electorates. They are being very clear about where that money is going: it's going to support their re-election. What a disgrace! The Greensborough Hockey Club in any electorate had an application for $500,000. They were rated 89 out of 100, and they were denied. You are a disgrace!
How the opposition can have the audacity to make the claim that the government is failing in economic management is beyond me. The Morrison-McCormack government is fostering a strong economy by building resilience and rewarding aspiration. Australia has just entered its 29th consecutive year of uninterrupted economic growth, which is an outstanding achievement that even those opposite must appreciate. This was achieved in the face of ongoing international trade tensions, numerous natural disasters and the persistent drought in regional communities such as Mallee. The leadership shown by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Treasurer and Minister for Finance has allowed this government to deliver the first balanced budget in 11 years, in spite of the disastrous mismanagement that was left to us by the Labor Party. Australia has also recorded its third consecutive current account surplus in the 2019 December quarter, the longest consecutive period since the 1970s.
The fact is that this government is lowering taxes, supporting business and industry, creating jobs and helping people get into those jobs, investing in infrastructure and creating educational opportunities for our young people, all while maintaining a responsibly managed budget. The national accounts today show that the Australian economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the December quarter and 2.2 per cent through the year. The International Monetary Fund is also forecasting that the Australian economy will grow faster than the economies of the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, both in 2020 and 2021.In December last year, unemployment fell to 5.1 per cent. The last three months of jobs data have beaten median market expectations, with around 80,000 jobs created. On average, over the past 12 months, a record 74.5 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 64 had a job. Since coming to office, this coalition government has created over 1.5 million jobs.
I'm also very encouraged by the government's $585 million investment in the Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package to help train highly skilled and qualified workers, particularly in regional areas such as Mallee, to meet the needs of businesses. This package increases the number of apprentices by up to 80,000 over the next five years. This package helps towns in my electorate, such as Charlton, fill their workforce needs and support local businesses.
The number of owner-occupier loan commitments to first home buyers increased by 6.2 per cent in December to 21.3 per cent higher through the year. First home buyers now make up 34.9 per cent of total owner-occupier loans, well above the 10-year average. The Australian economy has fostered a strong housing market in my electorate of Mallee. Of almost 60,000 occupied private dwellings in my electorate of Mallee, 42 per cent are owned outright and 30 per cent are owned with a mortgage. These statistics from June 2019 demonstrate that the favourable conditions of Australia's economy are encouraging people to buy their own home and that housing prices in my electorate are affordable, with the average mortgage around $1,000 a month.
Opportunities for investment that will strengthen our economy are numerous and varied. That's why the government has developed its $100 billion 10-year infrastructure pipeline. It's also why the government is making investments in new technologies that will be essential for lowering our emissions, such as solar, wind and hydrogen. My electorate of Mallee has enormous potential to generate power through solar technology, and investments in new developments are occurring rapidly in the region. For example, Kerang is home to Victoria's first large-scale farm and battery storage. Developments like these are taking place around the country because investors have faith in the coalition government's economic management credentials.
At this stage, we know that the economic impact of the coronavirus is highly uncertain and difficult to quantify. But unexpected shocks like this are exactly why the coalition government is committed to sensible economic management. Through the leadership of the coalition government, Australia is ready to deal with the challenges presented by the coronavirus from a position of strength. Evidence of the coalition's strong economic position is expressed in the following realities: we have passed over $300 billion in tax cuts, created more than 1½ million new jobs— (Time expired)
I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here, because we've heard a lot about how this government don't have a plan. I think that's a little bit unfair, because I think they do have a plan. They've got a plan for handing out taxpayer money for political purposes. They've even got spreadsheets—colour coded spreadsheets. That's a plan! They've got a plan for fundraising. They've got a plan for marketing. I still can't get over the fact that one of their mugs was $35, although I did see some toilet paper advertised on Gumtree for $35 as well!
Now, they had a plan for a surplus, but they've kind of let that one go. I mean, they have plans. They have political plans. They have pork-barrelling plans. They have dinner plans. What they don't have is an economic plan. That's what they don't have. They have no plan for the economy. After seven years of this government, they're still standing up and talking about Labor. After seven years of this government the economy is floundering. What do they want to do? They want to blame the coronavirus. The Prime Minister said that the coronavirus is a health crisis with economic implications, but he was at great pains to say there is no problem structurally with the stability of the economy or things of that nature. Well, I'm going to use a quip that I'm quite familiar with: denial is not a river in Egypt!
Honourable members interjecting—
As the previous speakers have noted, it's at an all-time low of 0.5 per cent. It's the fourth interest rate cut. I note that the member for Goldstein is interjecting. He would know this because he's the deputy chair of the Economics Committee and presides over these issues. He would know it's the fourth interest rate cut, right? It's another interest rate cut that is not going to stimulate the economy, because if the last three rates didn't stimulate the economy, this one's not going to stimulate it either. People are going to put the money they save from their interest rate cuts right back into their mortgage because people are suffering mortgage stress, because people have high household debts, because wages haven't gone up and because people don't have the funds for discretionary spending.
The RBA has instigated this monetary policy and used its monetary levers by reducing the interest rate, but for some time now the RBA and businesses have been asking the government and we've been calling on the government to instigate some of those fiscal levers, to stimulate the economy, to take responsibility for stimulating the economy instead of putting all the heavy lifting onto the RBA. We have stagnant wages, as I mentioned earlier. People are in insecure work. They have no security and no surety of work. There is underemployment and low household spending coupled with high household debt. Australia needs a fiscal policy that will restore confidence to get people spending. I go back to the word 'confidence' and to the use of fiscal policy to restore confidence. Here's something about consumer behaviour: people won't spend money on discretionary goods and services if they have to pay bills, if they don't know where their next pay packet is coming from or how much is going to be in their next pay packet, or if the price of their house has reduced but their mortgage is still high. People in those situations aren't going to go out and spend money in retail. People aren't going to stimulate the economy if all of those other conditions are as they are now. It is a fundamental principle of understanding consumer behaviour. At the same time, we have business investment going backwards, labour productivity denied, net debt has doubled and gross debt has more than doubled. What more evidence do you need of the economic incompetence demonstrated by this government over the last seven years.
The member for Jagajaga spoke about her electorate. I'll talk about my electorate of Cowan. I'll talk about the schools. I'll talk about the food banks. I'll talk about the shops closing down in the suburban shopping centres. I'll talk about the NDIS and the people presenting at my office every day with issues about the NDIS. I'll talk about the lack of training availability. All of these are because this government continues to fail the Australian people through having no plan. (Time expired)
I regret the amount of time I spent preparing for this MPI. Being the final speaker, I thought there would have been a cogent economic argument mounted by those opposite that I'd have to be ready to spend five minutes rebutting. Unfortunately, I haven't got a lot to draw on. When I saw the member for Rankin stand up, I felt for him. His heart really just wasn't in it. He was thrown one of the great hospital passes by Labor's leadership when they decided this morning that they would send him out to debate the question, 'The government's longstanding failures on the economy'. I suspect they were hoping that, when the national accounts were released a little later on, the economy hadn't grown as strongly as in fact those accounts released by the RBA showed: 0.5 per cent for the quarter, an increase of 2.2 per cent year on year.
Disappointingly for the Labor Party, but not for the rest of the people of Australia, the economy is growing strongly. An increase of 0.5 per cent in the December quarter exceeded the expectations of the markets, and, whilst we will never be complacent or relaxed in the economic settings and policy levers that we're responsible for as the elected government of this country, I think that it is an excellent endorsement of the policy decisions of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the cabinet to get a result like that. Of course the member for Rankin had to come in here—I suppose if you haven't got something nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all—I'd describe his contribution as gentle. It was a very gentle contribution—
It was a wet-lettuce-leaf contribution from the member for Rankin. He did make one observation which interested me when he was talking about the economic management and record of Kevin Rudd and the previous Labor government. I've read the Labor Party's review into why they lost the recent election. There are lots of suggestions in it, but one of them wasn't to promote the economic legacy of the Rudd-Gillard era. That did not come up in Labor's election review. So the fact they want to talk about and promote that period of time is heartening to those of us that want to stay in government for a long, long time into the future but is perhaps not in the best interests of a robust democracy in this country if you're not interested in moving on from the debacle of those six years.
Then we had the member for Whitlam, who talked about the Prime Minister's holiday. And we had the member for Morton, who went one further than talking about Kevin Rudd. He complained about low interest rates, which reminded me of the 2004 federal election and the Mark Latham election when we had that great prosecution argument in our campaign about just how high interest rates will be under Labor. We compared Mark Latham to Paul Keating and to Bob Hawke and to Gough Whitlam. The member for Morton seems to think it's a good idea to perpetuate this truism of Australian politics: that interest rates will always be high under a Labor government, and, if you've got a mortgage or you've got an aspiration to buy a home, do not vote Labor because they actually believe in high interest rates. And that was just portrayed in the contribution by the member for Morton.
The fundamentals of our economy are in a very, very strong position. We are lucky that we have done the hard work over the last seven years since we inherited that awful economic legacy from the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era. We've got record trade statistics now. We've had a current account surplus for the longest period of time since the 1970s. We're investing $100 billion in infrastructure over the next 10 years. In my home state of South Australia, we have our investments in defence industry—an increase in expenditure in the budget to two per cent of GDP on defence. Of course, in the Labor era they let that go to rack and ruin.
We've reduced taxes and we're putting more money back in the pockets of the Australian people, because we know that they're much better at spending their money than governments are, no matter who's in power. We are giving Australians opportunity. We are setting the policy metrics in our economy so that people that work hard and take a risk will be rewarded for that. The statistics are there very clearly for all to see, and the fact that Labor have put this motion forward today, on the basis that they were hoping that our economic indicators would be worse than what ultimately occurred when they were released by the ABS this afternoon, is absolutely shameful. While you wish and hope for poor economic statistics, we will keep focusing on creating wealth in this country, growing jobs and giving a future to all of those businesspeople and families out there that we're very proud to represent.