Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Matters of Public Importance

JobKeeper Payment

5:42 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Labor's relentless negativity appears to know no bounds, and today's matter of public importance, put forward by Senator McCarthy, is another example of this relentless negativity. Labor's newfound interest in small business is welcome, but, like all of Labor's business statements, there's no actual substance or actual policy initiative put forward. It is just criticism after criticism after criticism. On the one hand, Labor told us—and, might I add, quite rightly, in a rare lucid moment—that JobKeeper needed to be rolled back. As we announced JobKeeper we said it would be a temporary measure to assist us through the immediate crisis, would be tapered off and then would need to be stopped. Labor actually agreed with that at one stage, in one of their rare lucid moments in this space. But, of course, it doesn't take them long to try to play the populist card, the relentless negativity, and somehow suggest that the money for JobKeeper can just keep flowing and flowing.

The Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens don't seem to recognise that, through this pandemic, massive borrowings have been undertaken, all of which need to be repaid—repaid, I suggest, by the next generation and, chances are, the generation after that. Therefore, we have to be exceptionally circumspect to ensure that the debt burden inflicted on the next generation, or generations, is as limited as possible. To do otherwise would be intergenerational theft, and this parliament would be abrogating its duty and its responsibility to the next generations.

The topic that we have before us is this sort of glib dismissal of our small and medium enterprise support scheme. The topic says that somehow all we've done is rebadge it without dealing with the significant measures that are contained therein to ensure that our small and medium enterprises, the ones that we on this side seek to champion, are able to be maintained, because small and medium enterprises—employers as they are—are called employers for a very simple reason: they employ people, and jobs are the lifeblood of our community. Jobs provide the individuals who have those jobs with better mental health, physical health, self-esteem and social interaction outcomes, and they do that for everybody who lives in a household with somebody who is gainfully employed. So, in pursuing our economic measures, it is not because we believe in economic purity that we so pursue them; we pursue them because of the social dividend that is delivered by good, sound economic management.

I must say it was somewhat galling to have to listen to Senator McKim, who was one of the failed ministers of the Greens-Labor government in my home state of Tasmania that left its economy as a smoking ruin in recession. But, with the election of the Abbott government and then the Hodgman government, Tasmania has been able to go from recession to the turnaround state and, today, the standout state. These things don't happen by accident. Recessions usually occur because of bad economic management. The turnaround has occurred because of good economic management by Prime Minister Abbott and Premier Hodgman, now built on by Prime Minister Morrison and Premier Gutwein.

But, as well, we were told by the Greens contribution that somehow the financial sector was rigged in favour of the housing sector. Well, if it were rigged in favour of the housing sector, one would assume that more and more houses were being built and, if it were not so rigged, as Senator McKim describes it, there would be fewer houses being built. But how often do the Greens issue their press releases, like confetti, complaining about homelessness and the lack of housing availability? They really have this capacity, as is the wont of the Left in this country and, indeed, elsewhere, to talk out of both sides of their mouth. On the one side they say there's a housing crisis and we need more houses; on the other side, when it suits them, they say that the financial system is skewed in favour of creating too much housing. I don't care what your story is, just keep it consistent. Give us an actual position on these matters. You can't claim credibility in this space and assert there aren't enough houses and then simultaneously assert that too many houses are being built.

So I turn to Senator Ciccone's contribution, which started, not surprisingly, by thanking the Greens for their contribution. The Labor Party and the Greens cannot help themselves. They continue to be in lock step, especially when it comes to bad economic management. I don't know what the attraction is, but it is a fatal attraction. We have seen the results in my home state of Tasmania, and I would never want to see it inflicted at the national level. But, in the moments remaining, I will note that that which the Labor Party seeks to dismiss as simple rebadging includes such things as having the SME Recovery Loan Scheme increase from the current 50-50 split between the government and the banks to an 80-20 split, which will encourage more banks to support small businesses. It demonstrates the government's commitment to back those businesses that are prepared to back themselves. This is clear, good, positive policy that is simply dismissed by those economic illiterates on the other side as rebadging. I dare say they use that terminology because they don't understand the significance, importance and value of these sorts of initiatives.

The expanded scheme will also increase the size of eligible loans from $1 million under the current scheme to $5 million, and maximum eligible turnover will increase from $50 million to $250 million. In anybody's language, these are significant changes to the scheme, but they are simply and ignorantly dismissed as rebadging. Is it really the case that Labor don't understand or haven't looked at the significance of these policy changes? Similarly, the maximum loan terms under the expanded scheme will be increased from five years to 10 years, providing businesses and lenders with greater flexibility and certainty. The expanded scheme will also allow lenders to offer borrowers a repayment holiday of up to 24 months. All of these fantastic initiatives are simply dismissed as rebadging. Eligible businesses will also be able to use the scheme to refinance existing loans—another great assistance. This allows SMEs to access more concessional interest rates available under the program and to better manage their cash flows through an extended loan term and lower combined repayments. These are targeted, focused enhancements with real outcomes, but they are simply dismissed by Labor as rebadging.

You really can't take the mob opposite seriously when it comes to economic management, which in turn means employment and self-sufficiency for our fellow Australians. You've got to give it to the Labor Party—when it comes to spin, chances are there's no-one better. But, when it comes to sound economic policy, that is where they are found wanting. The Australian people are awake to them. They understand that JobKeeper funding cannot keep going. They do know that the fundamental underpinnings for SMEs to keep people in employment are required, and that is what we are delivering.


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