Wednesday, 4 May 2016
Statements by Senators
As the 44th Parliament heads towards its conclusion, it is clear that the choice confronting Australians at the ballot box this year is a stark one. The coalition government's agenda is unapologetically centred on job creation in an economic environment that is changing and that is challenging us in ways not envisaged by previous generations.
The end of the mining boom is one element within this, but it is by no means the only economic challenge Australia faces, or even the dominant one. It is not just Australia's economy that is in transition, and nowhere is the proof of that more evident than in the case of China, as its giant economy shifts from being production based to becoming consumption based. Today for the first time, over half of China's economic activity is to be found in the services sector. Thus, just as the construction phase of China's economic transition offered enormous opportunities for Australia's resources sector, the shift to services holds in prospect tremendous potential for other parts of the Australian economy in the years ahead.
That is why the coalition placed such a priority on securing a free trade agreement with China during its first term, along with similar agreements with Japan and South Korea. The burgeoning ranks of the middle class in the Asian region seek lifestyle opportunities commensurate with their growing personal incomes. To take China alone, an additional one million middle-class consumers are now in the market for higher quality food, much higher standard education and health services and, with their higher incomes, have greater opportunities than before to travel abroad. The free trade agreements signed under this coalition government will offer Australian exporters in our agricultural, tourism, education and healthcare sectors an unrivalled opportunity to tap into this flourishing marketplace. This will not only further enmesh Australia in the Asian region but provide real jobs for Australian workers.
For all the gloom that pervades economic commentary, the Australian jobs market has performed strongly under the coalition. Since this government came to office in September 2013, employment has risen by 441,900, or 3.9 per cent, and as of last month stood at a record high of 11,909,600. Put another way, employment growth over the past year is around three times higher than that managed by Labor during their last year in office. This has been achieved despite the fall-off in the resources sector and is further proof that the government's pursuit of free trade opportunities is delivering for Australian workers no matter where they live. Of course, no-one can predict with certainty that Australia will not be buffeted by future international economic shocks, which is why the coalition government remains committed to the task of repairing the fiscal mess bequeathed to us by the Labor Party, and needlessly prolonged by Labor's obstructionist practices here in the Senate.
In fact, Australia's alternative government is possessed of an economic platform that owes more to the seven deadly sins than around any sound fiscal principles. After almost three years of sloth when it comes to policy development, Bill Shorten and his colleagues are constructing an economic platform based entirely on envy. Labor's approach is to whip up a generalised wrath among voters and then direct it at various villains—banks, foreign workers and multinational corporations—portraying them all as greedy. This cynical exercise is designed to mask the opposition's lust for higher taxes.
Labor's gluttonous appetite for revenue lies at the heart of its platform. Virtually every policy Bill Shorten announces includes a tax increase. This was confirmed last week with the announcement that a re-elected Labor Party wants to introduce two carbon taxes—one in 2018 and another after 2020. Australians should be in no doubt there is only one plan on the table for double taxation at this election and it comes from the Australian Labor Party.
Labor's twin carbon taxes are designed to inflict twice the damage on Australian households and small businesses by driving up electricity prices. That is not a random claim that this government has made up. Indeed, Labor's own modelling—modelling that those opposite commissioned when they were last in office—shows that to reach the emissions reductions targets professed by Labor, it needs to achieve wholesale electricity prices closer to 78 per cent higher by 2030. Labor's claim that these costs will not ultimately be borne by consumers is either breathtakingly naive or brazenly mendacious. Australian voters have learnt from bitter experience that whatever Labor says, the carbon tax is ultimately paid by families and small businesses—and anything that hurts business harms jobs growth. Which brings us neatly to the last of the seven deadly sins: pride.
Pride, of course, comes before a fall. The Labor Party in this place thought they had been so clever; they were very proud of themselves. They went before the Australian people and pledged massive spending increases on education, all funded by an increase in the tobacco excise. One minor problem existed: once again, the Labor Party managed to get its sums catastrophically wrong. Labor estimated that its plan would raise $47.7 billion over the next decade. Treasury modelling says that it would actually raise around $28.2 billion; meaning there is a $19.5 billion shortfall, or blackhole, that has now been punched through Labor's education costings.
Now, the shadow Treasurer and the Leader of the Opposition are desperately trying to play this down, saying their costings will be 'reconsidered' in the light of the Treasury's latest views. I hope for the sake of the Australian people that that reconsideration is both quick and honest. The bottom line is there is no way Labor can afford the proposals it is putting forward to the electorate—not without other significant tax increases. Yet, for those of us who were in this Senate prior to the last federal election in 2013, it is eerily reminiscent of the experience with Labor's mining tax.
In February 2012, the member for Lilley, the then Treasurer, came clean and admitted that in the first six months of operation of its mining tax it had raised just $126 million—falling ridiculously short of the suggested tens of billions originally projected.
Ultimately, Labor's mining tax raised around $400 million in total over Labor's period in office—$26.5 billion was projected to be raised but only $400 million was actually raised. Yet, did any of this temper Labor's enthusiasm for its spending commitments during the last election campaign? No, not at all.
As regional communities, especially in Western Australia, discovered to their cost, the Labor Party cut a path through regional WA, promising millions upon millions in new spending commitments—all supposed to funded using revenue from a tax that Labor knew was not raising anything.
I recall working closely with my colleague, the member for O'Connor, in the first couple of months following his election at the 2013 federal election to try and salvage funding for regional development projects that were at risk in Albany, the heart of Western Australia's Great Southern region. The local community had been told by the Gillard-Rudd government that their projects would be funded only for this government to discover, upon coming to office, that the cupboard was bare.
I am pleased to say that, after a lot of hard work with the local community, we did have some success in that regard. We are talking about hardworking local community leaders, like Mrs Annette Knight OAM, a former mayor of Albany, who even in retirement remains a passionate advocate for regional development in Albany and the Great Southern. Her superb and continuing efforts have been recognised through her induction this year into Western Australia's Women's Hall of Fame. Annette and her husband, Tom, a former Western Australian parliamentarian, are pillars of the community in Western Australia's Great Southern region.
It is one thing to make campaign promises but quite another to brazenly mislead volunteer organisations in regional communities and say things will be funded when you know full well the money is not there. Western Australians are a wake-up to Labor's approach. We saw another glimpse of this when the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Shorten, flew to Perth to announce that a particular rail project would be Labor's 'top infrastructure priority.' However, when pressed on how much money he was actually pledging for this top priority, Mr. Shorten could not answer the question. It is a repeat of the same old Labor Party games.
All Australians will soon have their opportunity to make a choice between an economic plan that sets Australia up for jobs and growth; or Labor's grab bag of shopsoiled rhetoric, hollow promises and discredited tax-and-spend policies.