Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Matters of Public Importance

Economy

4:49 pm

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Senator, if you are going to interject I urge you to wait until you have something witty or incisive to say. We have an opposition that believes that the people of Australia have a lot of explaining to do—how is it that the people insisted that the opposition end up where they are if they did such a fine job? But of course there is a second element to this too: the emotional element from the opposition. They would like a pat on the head, wouldn’t they, the precious little petals. They have come in here looking for a compliment but unfortunately they are not going to find one.

Senator Abetz’s motion completely fails to understand that in fact what has transpired over the last 10 years is that the opposition—the coalition—have played their historic role. They have governed Australia at a time of enormous and unprecedented economic prosperity and they have squandered the moment. Over 10 years, what great structural changes were there that we could point to and say, ‘These are the great structural reforms in the Australian economy that were achieved during the Howard years’?

When we apply that test to the Labor Party and its period in office we can point to the Hawke-Keating period, we can point to opening up the economy, we can talk about the deregulation of the financial system, we can talk about the introduction of superannuation, and we can look to some of the great reforms that have transformed the Australian economy and opened it up. When we look to the 10 years—the wasted years, the dead years—of the Howard government, we are looking at a period of time when nothing much happened. It was a government sitting on its haunches counting the dollars as they came through from unprecedented commodity prices. It was a government that, frankly, did nothing.

On top of that sin—the sin of omission rather than commission and of achieving nothing and squandering the historic opportunity that was presented to this country—they did something else: they learnt the art of pump priming the economy at a time when the economy did not need pump priming. What am I talking about here? I am talking about the time of unprecedented payments coming in by virtue of high commodity prices, a time when the economy was heating and indeed was in danger of overheating and a time of very high inflationary pressure. What did ‘Team Fantastic’ opposite do? They pump primed the economy, they added to the interest rates and, of course, they did all of that in pursuit of one noble objective: to have themselves re-elected. Now, having spent 10 years achieving zero in terms of important micro and macro economic reform for this country, they have wandered in here, fresh from an election defeat, to insist that the people of Australia have never had it so good and that the people of Australia need to have a long, hard look at themselves.

In fact, that delights me because they are the characteristics of a team that is determined to remain in opposition. We can debate this question week in and week out to your heart’s content. You can win it some weeks and you can lose it in other weeks; I really do not mind. The fact is that while you are setting the terms of the debate in this manner you are consigning yourselves to eternal opposition. The question you need to be asking this parliament is not how marvellous or otherwise you think your legacy might be. The people of Australia have already made that call. They made that call at the 2007 election. What you need to be wondering about is what you are doing here and what your next plan is. And, the longer you delay the day that you have that debate in this parliament, the happier I am.

When we look at some of the minutia of the current crisis facing this country—this crisis, which insofar as you are concerned only presents with you the opportunity for a self-congratulatory motion, although I note with some shock and astonishment the contribution of Senator Joyce, who is apparently opposed to the package altogether—we find that there were key moments in recent times when your economic custody of this country meant there was no proper custody. (Time expired)

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