Thursday, 1 August 2019
Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey
I rise to speak on this motion. We've just heard Senator McAllister discuss it. I'm not sure whether you're aware, Senator McAllister, but we've been able to create more jobs, reduce unemployment and reduce inequality over the last six years while we've been in office, so the figures that you refer to actually don't stack up. Anyone who's ever worked outside of government knows that the only game in town which creates employment is private investment. It's been said often in this place that the best form of welfare is a job, and that's why we've always been so focused, throughout this term in office, on creating more employment—because that's the best thing you can do for all Australians.
We've heard a lot about Labor's tax policies, and I think it's absolutely right that we discuss those tax policies, given that the Labor Party is still clinging to enormous housing taxes and retiree taxes. We've heard a lot from 'Sir Tax-a-lot' in the lower house, and $387 billion in new taxes is still Labor's plan. I don't think that's a very good plan for jobs, because you have to accept the fact—and you can't have your own facts—that the only way to create new employment is through private investment, and, if you impose $387 billion in new taxes, you're going to have fewer jobs. But that is still Labor's policy and that's why we take it upon ourselves to remind the Australian people that that is very much still their agenda.
Senator McAllister's address could have been called 'I love unions' or even 'How good are unions?' because, effectively, it was all about the trade unions' agenda. I do feel very sorry that the once great Labor Party have adopted this antibusiness agenda. Everything you hear from the Labor Party is about how much they hate enterprise, how much they're not interested in encouraging private investment—and I can run through the list. In the last five or six years, Labor have opposed trade deals. In fact, when Labor were last in office, they were unable to conclude the trade deals with China and Japan that the prior, Howard government had commenced, because the unions said they weren't allowed to do trade deals. Again, Labor are opposed to tax cuts or any measure to make the economy more competitive. That is because, at the end of the day, the unions are isolationist. They're not interested in trying to grow the pie or trying to improve private investment. They're only interested in their own jobs—and I'm referring here to the union bosses.
The list goes on of how the union movement writes the Labor Party's economic policy platform. Labor policy is to abolish the Building and Construction Commission—rather extraordinary, when you consider that the people that the Building and Construction Commission is supposed to rein in are people who say they're going to come round to footy clubs, come round to people's homes, and 'get them', referring to government officials. So that's quite extraordinary. At the last election, we saw Labor's tax policies were still being drafted by the unions, drafted by various parts of the financial industry.
We saw today a very good report from the Property Council saying that the economy would have been much smaller if Labor had won the election, and there would be vastly fewer jobs. Once again, these tax policies, these economic policies drafted by the unions, are fundamentally antibusiness; and, if you're in the business of trying to create employment, these policies are the last thing the country needs. Our plan in government, other than trying to fix the fiscal mess the Labor Party left to us, has been to try to cut personal taxes, and that's what we've done in the past few weeks. But we've also sought to do trade deals and generally try to make the economy much more competitive, because at the end of the day the only game in town is private investment. There is no other way to create jobs.
There is of course much more to do, and that is why we have announced a review of industrial relations. The PM made it clear when this was announced in Perth around a month ago that he was asking Christian Porter to take a fresh look at how the system is operating and where there may be impediments to shared gains for employees and employers. The PM said:
Any changes in this area must be evidence-based, protect the rights and entitlements of workers and have clear gains for the economy and for working Australians
That is an opportunity for us to look again to improve the economic landscape in this country by looking at practical issues in workplaces, not pursuing any ideology or any other agenda but looking at how we can improve workplaces so that we can create more jobs—more jobs in big businesses, more jobs in small businesses, more jobs in the private economy. That has been our focus and our aim since we've been in office, since 2013.
There is also more to do, and the trade minister, Senator Birmingham, is currently abroad, trying to deliver the RCEP trade deal. If we were able to conclude that, it would be another feather in our cap in terms of being able to deliver a very significant trade agenda. When senators opposite say that we have no economic agenda, it's obviously a case of short memory, because, frankly, there's been no other era that has been able to deliver a slew of bilateral trade deals with enormous trading partners—China, Japan, Korea and Indonesia—while simultaneously being able to deliver large multilateral deals as we did with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Labor Party said at the time that we shouldn't worry about, because the incoming President of the United States had said he was going to walk away from the TPP. But we worked with Japan, we worked with New Zealand—we worked with our counterparts—and we delivered the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That was on top of these bilateral deals that we were able to do.
And of course now the work goes on. Senator Birmingham is working on the RCEP trade deal, but we're also looking to try to land a trade deal with the EU and with the UK—post-Brexit, of course. The contrast there is that when Labor was in office for six years they couldn't land a single substantive trade deal with these large trading partners in our region. They couldn't do China and they couldn't do Japan, because the unions said, 'No, we don't agree with some quite odd international legal concepts'—known as investor-state dispute settlement, and I'm not sure that the unions actually understand that this has been designed to promote trade and investment. We on this side are not isolationists. We welcome foreign investment. We welcome all forms of foreign investment that are in our interests—subject, of course, to all security screening and good governance.
I do want to run through some data, because this motion before us is full of errors. The latest ABS employment data show that we have experienced 11 consecutive months of employment growth, and that's good. And welfare payments are the lowest, as a share of the working-age population, that they've been in a generation. So, we've got more people in work and fewer people on welfare. Inequality has also reduced under the coalition, from 0.304 to 0.302. That is also a good step in the right direction. But overall we have focused our efforts on job creation. We have focused our efforts on trying to get private investment up. That's why we've sought to do trade deals. That's why we have cut taxes. That's why we have a plan to, again, ensure that workplaces are calibrated so that more people in this country can get a job.
At the end of the day, we can talk about the size of government all we like, but we are a nation that has always relied upon foreign investment and private investment for our prosperity. That being the case, we need to run a competitive economy, because we don't run on the good graces of the rest of the world. We need the rest of the world more than the rest of the world needs us. That's why it has always been important to promote a competitive economy, one that is open and dynamic, and one that is always looking to attract job-creating foreign investment and to create the best conditions for domestic private investment to create those jobs.
When we consider the summary of the other side's efforts—they don't like trade deals, they don't like tax cuts, they're too afraid to discuss any other economic reform and they want to put in place enormous new taxes which are, frankly, risky and would crash private investment—I think it is, again, timely to reflect that we've seen a new report today with detailed modelling showing that there would be vastly fewer jobs in the property and construction sector if there was to be a housing tax imposed. But then, if you just reflect on the logic for one moment, whoever would have thought that a new tax could create new houses? The logic is just so crazy. It is odd that this is the sort of logic which is promulgated on the other side of the chamber. I look forward to them coming to their senses in future years, potentially. But if, all the while, you have the view that more tax will create more houses, then I think you're in quite a difficult place intellectually, and, as it's often been said: you can't have your own facts.