Senate debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Motions

COVID-19: Economy

4:18 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | Hansard source

It is an honour to get up to speak about what is a very, very important issue. I want to start by acknowledging that, from the very beginning of this crisis, this government—our government—has responded swiftly and strongly and in the national interest at every point in dealing with what the Prime Minister has rightly referred to as the dual crisis: the health crisis, first and foremost, and the economic crisis.

When it came to our health response, we acted early and we acted strongly. We imposed a travel ban, ahead of most other nations. We declared a pandemic, well ahead of the World Health Organization. The Prime Minister stood up the national cabinet, an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis.

I think that the very sobering figures today for the labour market, which are devastating for individuals and families, of course, are a significant challenge. As the Prime Minister has said, though they are not necessarily unexpected, they are devastating for many, many in our community. But if we reflect on those numbers—if we look around the world at the unemployment numbers for some of our major trading partners, like the United States and Canada and others—I think we can point to the fact that that strong response has helped us to avoid much worse figures. We don't downplay those job losses; they are a serious hit for those individuals and those families, and for our economy. This unprecedented crisis has caused that. We can be very proud as a nation of the way we're responding.

We responded to the health crisis. We invested billions of dollars extra to respond to that health crisis. Minister Hunt, I think, has done an extremely good job on that front.

Then, when we go to the other part of this crisis, the economic crisis, we have committed and are delivering unprecedented economic support to the community. It started with cash payments to individuals, particularly pensioners and other people in the welfare system getting extra cash in their bank accounts so they can have some support through this difficult time. We delivered cash-flow support to businesses so they can keep the doors open. We supercharged our safety net, doubling our jobseeker payment to support those Australians who, through no fault of their own, are doing it particularly tough as a result of this dual crisis. We enabled Australians who are doing it tough to have access to their superannuation. We heard a bit of criticism from the Labor Party on that today, which we reject absolutely. Giving Australians access to their own money at this very difficult time is an important part of our economic response. The fact that young people and people who are not so young have taken advantage of that so they can look after themselves and their families while getting unprecedented support is something we should all be proud of. All up, the economic response from the Australian government is projected to be $320 billion, or 16 per cent of GDP, compared to virtually every other nation. That is an extraordinary response in extraordinary times, and we should be very proud that we have been able to deliver that. We will continue to do that to protect Australians and protect Australia's sovereignty during this time.

Labor have said at various times that they will give bipartisan support, but we are seeing that language rapidly shift. The tone was set by the leader, Anthony Albanese, when, in criticising the national cabinet, his criticism of the national cabinet was that he wasn't part of it. That was his main criticism of the national cabinet—this unprecedented response, this great show of leadership from the Prime Minister, where he brought premiers and chief ministers of both political persuasions into the now virtual cabinet room, so they could get together and make decisions in the national interest. What we have seen from the Labor Party over time, led by Mr Albanese, is more and more politicking rather than dealing with the serious challenges that we as a nation face and, indeed, that governments and nations right around the world face. As we compare our response to those of other nations, we can be proud of how far we've come. But, indeed, we have a long way to go.

Before I briefly touch on the coming back of the economy and supporting the economy as we come out of this crisis—as we open up the economy again, as we open up our society—I would just address one of the big lies that are being put out there by the Labor Party. Mr Albanese and Mr Chalmers were at it again today, suggesting that the economy was in trouble before the COVID crisis. That is not what the RBA governor had to say. That's not what the IMF were saying when they were projecting what our growth was going to be—that it was going to be stronger than most G7 nations—when unemployment had come down to 5.1 per cent and at a time when we delivered tax cuts for the Australian people, which we said we would do at the last election. This criticism, this claim, this big lie, from the Labor Party, that somehow the economy was doing it tough, is wrong.

As we start coming out of this crisis, we will build on the principles and the values that have kept our economy going strong and that enabled us to utilise our balance sheet to deliver this unprecedented support. Let's imagine for a moment that we'd gone into this crisis with the $48 billion deficit that the Labor Party left us. Imagine if our deficit was at $48 billion instead of having the budget in balance. Imagine if unemployment were rapidly rising, as it was when the Labor Party left office. Imagine if we had not had a strong economy. Our strong balance sheet and budget—with debt as a proportion of GDP around a quarter of that in the UK and in the US and about a seventh of that in Japan—have enabled us to deliver this unprecedented response. It would have been far more difficult if we didn't have that starting point.

As we look to build on that, we are going to reject some of the policies that are being put forward. This week, the shadow finance minister criticised the Liberal Party because we talk about things like lower taxes as we come out. We took lower taxes to the election, and we are delivering lower taxes right now. We're not going to recover from this crisis by increasing taxes for Australians. I don't think that that is going to be the way to create jobs and bring back to the workforce some of those people who newly find themselves unemployed. We are going to do it by keeping taxes low. We are going to do it by supporting business. We are going to do it by investing in infrastructure. We're going to do it by being innovative. But, all the while, we're going to do it in a fair and Australian way.

Australians can trust that, as we come out of this crisis, this government—which I think has responded very well going into this crisis—is going to be best placed to help Australians get back into work, to help get our economy moving, to help keep Australians safe and to help keep Australians together. That's what we are going to continue to be committed to. That will be a task that will be with us for some time. But we are up to it and the Australian people are up to it, and we're going to go on that journey together, supporting them all the way through.

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