Senate debates

Monday, 25 June 2012


Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2012-2013; Second Reading

9:10 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I must say it would be pretty hard to be accusing me of reading anything in this speech. Let us go back to the economic nonsense that you hear from the coalition, and I will continue that quote. It was 27.3 per cent of GDP in 1984-85, but Labor brought that down to 22.7 per cent at the top of the previous boom in 1989-90. Megalogenis wrote: 'Half those gains were lost in the recession in jobless recovery and federal spending was at 25.5 per cent of GDP by 1995-96. The coalition returned the benchmark to 23.1 per cent of GDP by 1999-2000.' The coalition have got no capacity to come here and lecture the Labor Party on any of these issues. He goes on to say that former Prime Minister John Howard 'switched between purity and pragmatism, attacking the profligacy of his predecessor, while building a middle-class welfare system that would become more generous than anything Gough Whitlam had advocated.' That is your record. It is not the Labor Party that is saying that—that is a respected economic analyst who is out there having a look at what was done. I have to say to you that it does not get any better than this book. I would say, 'Have a read of this book.' It will show you exactly what the problems were. I say to you that it is nice that we have at last got Senator Cormann saying are some storm clouds on the horizon. He has actually seen storm clouds on the horizon. Senator Cormann, the storm clouds have been battering the world economy and battering governments all over the world since 2008. But I am glad that, four years later, you have discovered there is a problem.

It is now 2012 and we have gone through the global financial crisis. The Labor government took us through that global financial crisis in a better condition than any other country in the world—absolutely better than any country in the world. And 210,000 jobs were underpinned by the policies of the Labor Party—a bit of Keynesian policy in there, ensuring that the government took up the slack. At the same time we had the Deputy Leader of the Opposition saying: 'Don't go down Keynesian lines. Let's go back to Hayek. Let's wait and see what happens. Just let the market rip and everything will be okay.' Not another government in the world was looking at that position. We had banks failing all over the world. Our capacity to keep our industrial wheels moving were being jammed by the global financial crisis. We had to underwrite the banks' lending. Yet the coalition were saying, 'There is not a problem.' They have never recognised that the global financial crisis ravaged people's jobs, economies and governments all over the world. Yet you pretend that there is nothing happening. But there are now storm clouds on the horizon. Whoopee, Senator Cormann, you are four years too late for that analysis and if that is the level of your economic precedent, then we are in a bit of trouble.

It is not only George Megalogenis who has got an analysis of the coalition's economic capacity—our budget is a good budget; the coalition budgets were about introducing structural deficits—what did Peter Hartcher say, back in 2009, in his book To the Bitter End? He said:

At the heart of the Howard government's management of the economy was a raging, unending argument.

Peter Costello was arguing with the boss and the boss was telling him: 'Go away. You're not going to get your way on economic policy, you're not going to get your way on fiscal policy and you won't be taking my job, because you don't have the backbone or the capacity to take me on.' That was the analysis of John Howard and that is why we had such a weak position from the coalition on economic management, because former Treasurer Peter Costello was not up to it. That is the problem for the coalition. The history of the coalition is not being written by the Labor Party; it is being written by independent analysts. The coalition were economic incompetents. That is the bottom line: you were economic incompetents. The drunk down the bottom of the garden could have had a surplus under the provisions you ended up having. He could have spent as much money on booze as he wanted and he would still have had money in his pocket. That is what you had. You had money flowing in, but what you wanted to do was to ensure you spent it as quickly as possible.

We have another interesting quote from Peter Hartcher. We have Senator Sinodinos being put forward as a great economic guru. He will probably take Senator Cormann's job. What did Peter Hartcher say about Senator Sinodinos:

Howard's former chief of staff, Arthur Sinodinos, was also a former Treasury official. He said the boom gave the budget process "a lucky dip feel" …

So what was your budget process? It was a lucky dip. Do not take my word for it; listen to Senator Sinodinos. Senator Cormann, through the chair, can ask for some advice on that position from Senator Sinodinos, that under the coalition it was an absolute lucky dip approach. And further:

… officials and ministers scrambled to formalise tax cut options and decide which ones would get the go-ahead.

He went on:

As the tax cuts grew, however, so did the spending. Overall, of the combined total of government spending increases and tax cuts that the Howard government disbursed between 2002-03 and 2007-08, 58 per cent of the total went to government spending and 42 per cent was distributed in tax cuts, according to the ANZ Bank's chief economist, Saul Eslake.

The result was four successive years of tax cuts, six successive years with a budget surplus of between 1 and 1.6 per cent of GDP, and 11 successive years of real spending growth averaging 3.6 per cent.

You did not have the wherewithal or the economic understanding to build for the future of this country. What you did was throw out money in tax cuts; spend more than you should have spent on the wrong issues not build the infrastructure needs of this country; not build the education system; and not build a national broadband network that we have had to build after 11½ years of absolute incompetence of the Howard government. You also had an incapacity to look after pensioners. Pensioners were on the streets, screaming and yelling to get more money but the Howard government did nothing about it. You were an absolute rabble when it came to understanding what you need to do to build for the future of this country.

And to you, Senator Cormann and Senator Joyce, who have the hide to lecture the Labor Party about economic competence, I say: look at the historic facts. You were incompetent to the maximum. We had an opportunity in this country to build for the future. We had an opportunity to take action, to support the economic base of this country. When we were taking the opportunity to build the trades base of this country, you were throwing money out to kids and McDonald's as your training agenda. That was your training agenda. You were an absolute disgrace. The only way that you saw to increase productivity was to introduce Work Choices and rip penalty rates and everything else from workers in this country. We know that if you get the chance you will rip penalty rates and every other benefit from workers in this country. You are a disgrace.


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