Tuesday, 10 November 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I rise to speak on this matter of public importance, which, effectively, is to do with the relative performance of our country. Australia is probably close to being the best country on earth in the way it has dealt with this debilitating pandemic. The Australian FinancialReview said that just four countries had fared better than Australia. Our economy underwent a seven percent contraction in the June quarter. Other economies, as the Senate would be well aware, have experienced much greater contractions: 12 per cent in the case of New Zealand and 20 per cent in the case of the UK. So in a fair comparison with other jurisdictions—ones that we would generally compare ourselves to—Australia has performed very well on the economic front.
As the Prime Minister has said throughout this pandemic and recession, this is a real balancing act between the health objective and the economic objective. It's all well and good for us to try to pursue a health objective, but not, in doing so, to flatten the economy, which is effectively what we've seen in New Zealand. I predict that the recovery in New Zealand will be very, very difficult.
In my own home state of New South Wales, I pay great tribute to the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, for the way that the New South Wales government has kept the state open in terms of its borders, for the most part, and in terms of its businesses, and also deployed a very good health response.
This is a health and economic crisis in which Australia has performed very well. I think part of the reason we've performed well is that our institutions have been very successful, and the leaders have taken this virus seriously. When you reflect on the way that some leaders in other jurisdictions have dealt with this virus, I'm not sure that they always took it seriously. The Prime Minister and the innovation of national cabinet have meant that we've been quite successful in addressing this virus.
We were prepared to drop our prior commitment to a budget surplus in the short term in order to deploy the economic stimulus that the economy has needed to get through this enormous economic shock. In historical terms, this is a very significant shock. It is the biggest shock in 100 years. So the JobKeeper scheme was designed to keep businesses united and to keep the fabric of Australian businesses together. At the end of the day, the economy is underpinned by private investment, so our schemes have been designed to keep the blanket underneath the private economy so that, once the shock is over, normal transmission can resume. JobKeeper has been a successful scheme—$100 billion there. We've also deployed the JobSeeker scheme, which has been an additional payment recognising the extraordinary times in which we are living.
In terms of the future—and I think that's what the Australian people want to hear about from us, and from other people elected to this chamber and, over the road, to the House—the opportunity for us now, being in the first recession in 30 years, is what we do to drive private investment. Typically, the two big levers that a government has are tax policy—and that goes to tax rates, tax complexity and tax administration—and labour laws. We have very inflexible labour laws and a very inflexible industrial system, and we are a very high taxing country. These are two things that we should pursue in coming years, with a view to having a more competitive and more flexible economy. With the recession we're now living through upon us, I think it will become clear to more Australians, especially young Australians, that no-one owes this country a favour. We have to be competitive in order to attract investment and we need to be competitive to attract the best minds the world has to offer. That is the challenge for our government; that is the challenge for our parliament: how can we be competitive, knowing that we're always going to be an outward-looking economy and an outward-looking people?