Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Matters of Public Importance

Economy

4:43 pm

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Inclusion) Share this | Hansard source

Thank heavens for that! I am astonished to think that that is the calibre of Senator Joyce’s contribution to the debate. What we really need to remind those in the gallery, and it is lovely to see you all here, and also those listening to the debate today is that the foundations of Australia’s modern economy were actually based on critical decisions made by the Hawke and Keating governments. If we think about this for a minute, we might start first of all by considering the financial deregulation that they were the stewards of. They allowed overseas banks into the country. There was the deregulation of interest rates, which has meant competitive mortgages; compulsory superannuation, something that we have heard quite a lot about and we know that people are relying so much upon these days; and, of course, the floating of the dollar. They are four basic principles and foundations of the modern economy that were resisted by the opposition for a long time. They were driven through during the Hawke and Keating years and they created the foundation of our modern economy and delivered the stability that we enjoy in this country. None of them were supported by the opposition at that time.

We had the inaction and impotence of the Fraser government, with Mr Howard as the Treasurer at the time—something that Peter Costello has admitted only recently. We have had 16 years of economic prosperity, mainly on the back of the mining boom. And what is the legacy of that? What is the Howard government’s legacy of that? It ignored nation building—absolutely—and it developed to a fine art the issue of the blame game by shifting the blame between the Commonwealth and the states; it completely ignored infrastructure development in health, hospitals and schools; and crumbling infrastructure was ignored by the previous government in the areas of water, roads, housing, rail and community infrastructure and facilities across the country.

That is the legacy of the Howard government—a total underinvestment in critical infrastructure in this country. Their claim to fame is of course the Future Fund, which is like sovereign funds that exist across the world. There is nothing creative and nothing new there; it is a pension fund. We built on that fund by creating our own funds for health, hospitals, education and social infrastructure. It is a nation-building agenda that we need for this time.

It is ironic that we are in here having such a feigned, fake, phoney debate on responsible economic management in Anti-Poverty Week when we see what the real legacy is of the previous government: 10 interest rate rises in a row, inflation at a 16-year high when Labor came to government, unprecedented mortgage stress and record mortgagee-in-possession sales across the country that are the shame of the nation. Then we get to the issue of Work Choices, which stripped workers’ entitlements and conditions. That is the legacy of the previous government. It was a government that screwed welfare and community services organisations in service agreements and funding with no accommodation for indexation, or wages, or salaries or regulatory requirements—the burdens that have been overlaid upon them for such a long period of time that they were almost driven out of the market. What we had was a market driven ideology that argued that the market would be the determiner at any cost in a drive to the bottom. We have seen massive shifts from public to private debt, including clawing back overpayments from a clumsy system of family tax benefits. We were all here witnessing the evidence that came to us about private debt collectors being sent, garnisheeing of payments, encouragement of low-document loans and increasing consumer credit—all in the sense of shifting the responsibility of debt from the government to individuals. It is a horrific legacy of so-called fine economic management.

When we look at what is happening across the world and we look at the issue of short selling and speculation on the stock market, we have another gap—another gaffe—by the previous government in the Corporations Act 2001, which we are now having to fill at such short notice. So thank God we have a $10.4 billion plan to stimulate the economy. (Time expired)

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