Sep 21, 2011

Matter of Public Importance

ANTHONY ALBANESE – That was the least graceful performance in the history of this parliament. It began by insulting a number of nations with whom we have relationships. It moved on to tell the same sordid Year 7 joke about female genitalia that goes on in a boys school. It went on to that and it did not get better. You do not lift yourself up by dragging other people down. The fact is: when Paul Keating won the award as the world’s best Treasurer, the then opposition showed grace and congratulated him—in an act of decency, in an act of maturity and in an act of the national interest. What those opposite have shown yet again today is that they are incapable of that. Whilst the Treasurer was showing leadership in protecting Australians from the impact of the global financial crisis, the shadow Treasurer’s main concern was the noise of the leaf blower outside his office in Parliament House. He was not engaged in the big issues, he was not concerned about jobs. When the economic stimulus plan was put before this parliament, the Leader of the Opposition was literally asleep. He could not drag himself down to vote on those bills.

Let us have a look at what our record is and why it is that the Treasurer has been recognised—not just on his own behalf but on behalf of all Australians, Australian business and Australian working families—for all Australians’ resilience and for Australia’s determination to say, no, we won’t give in to pessimism and negativity. We will ensure that we work issues through in the interests of our national economy and in order to secure the future for ourselves, our kids and our grandkids.

This is what Euromoney magazine had to say today:

“… the careful stewardship of its treasurer, Wayne Swan, has played a key role in making it the best-performing economy among the world’s richer developed nations. His work as Treasurer is acknowledged as much for what didn’t happen to Australia on his careful four-year watch – economic Armageddon in the trail of the 2007-08 sub-prime meltdown – which he confronted in his first year of office, as for what he positively did, positioning Australia to power through the new crisis looming from abroad.”

This is the position which the Australian economy is in. We avoided recession—unlike seven out of our top 10 trading partners, who fell into recession. While the world was shedding millions of jobs, we created 750,000 jobs, including 200,000 jobs because of our economic stimulus plan. The Australian economy has grown by over five per cent since the GFC, while many other advanced economies are yet to return to their pre-GFC output levels. Australia’s financial systems have remained secure and stable amid the worst effects of the crisis by introducing bank guarantees. Remember how quickly we acted? We did not wait, we acted—criticised by those opposite at each and every stage along the way. Australia’s net debt will peak at 7.2 per cent of GDP compared with 80 per cent of GDP for other G7 economies. We have put in place $100 billion in savings across all budgets. Unemployment in Australia is at 5.3 per cent—half of what it is in the United States. We are in an envied budget position. We have record terms of trade and hundreds of billions of dollars in our investment pipeline.

We believe in a strong economy ,not as an end in itself but for what it does for people—for our people, for jobs, for working families and for communities. That is why we did not step back and say, ‘This is too hard.’ That is why we acted, and that is why we are continuing to act. We are building on the three-quarters of a million jobs that have been created under this government while the rest of the world has shed 30 million jobs. Treasury modelling shows that 1.6 million jobs will be created under a carbon price over the period to 2020. Just as the Hawke and Keating governments took the big, tough decisions to position the Australian economy by opening it up to competition and opening it up to the global economy, we are taking the courageous decision to make sure that we build an economy which can be strengthened in the carbon-constrained world which we face. The earlier you act, the cheaper it is and the more effective it is. Every single economist says that is the case.

What do they say opposite? Not only do they criticise the policy but they then go after the economists, whether they be from Treasury, the Reserve Bank or the private sector. We have created 130,000 new training places. We are addressing skills and infrastructure. They were warned 20 times by the Reserve Bank—20 separate warnings—about the constraints to our economic growth because of a failure to invest in skills and infrastructure.

We are doing it: 130,000 new training places. In infrastructure we have doubled the roads budget. We have increased the rail budget by more than 10 times. We have rebuilt one-third of the interstate rail freight network.

We have committed more to urban public transport since we were elected in 2007 than was committed by all governments between Federation and 2007. We have transformed the way that the national government engages in infrastructure development. We created Infrastructure Australia to engage across the levels of government and directly with the private sector. It is a model which has been copied. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, there is the creation of Infrastructure UK, a similar body in New Zealand and other similar bodies being considered and constructed now in France and other parts of Europe. Indeed, our Tory friends in New South Wales have created Infrastructure New South Wales; an acknowledgement that we have got the model right.

Through that, we have developed the first-ever National Ports Strategy. We are developing the National Freight Strategy. The Friday before last, I announced the most significant reform to revitalise Australia’s shipping industry in Australia’s history – not by going back to a protectionist model, but by going forward. We are making our shipping industry competitive with the world, making sure that we are a shipping nation, not just a shipper nation as those opposite said. We are making sure we are participants, not just customers. That is the difference between this side of the House and the other side of the House, we believe in engaging. We believe that with government working hand-in-hand in partnership with our people, Australia can continue to be a strong economy that is up there with the best in the world with whatever we do. That is why they continue to talk down the economy.

The dismissal of Australia receiving the award that was given today is quite extraordinary. Of course, they are a bit sensitive over there – Peter Costello never got the award. But maybe that was just because he did not have good staff and advice. It is significant that Peter Costello did have some things to say about Mr Abbott. This is what Peter Costello said about the current Leader of the Opposition and his economic policy:

At one point when we were in government, he asked for funding to pay for telephone and electricity wires to be put underground throughout the whole of his northern Sydney electorate to improve the amenity of the area. He also wanted the Commonwealth to take over the building of local roads and bridges in his electorate. We know that he also was a staffer. He worked for John Hewson. John Hewson said, “Tony is genuinely innumerate. He has no interest in economics and no feeling for it.” Indeed, that is the case.

We had in this House a considerable debate—12 hours and 20 minutes—over the Parliamentary Budget Office bill, because those opposite are determined to hide the fact that they have a $70 billion black hole, after they were found out with their $11 billion after the election. They do not want to be accountable. They run around the country making all sorts of promises—for roads and bridges and railways and paid parental leave schemes—but the starting point they acknowledge is $70 billion. It is much more. I will give them a tip: we are keeping the file of every commitment made by every one of their members. Their commitments to roads alone is in the order of $30 billion, on top of what they have said already. These are local one-off commitments trying to con the Australian people.

Even today when they had an opportunity to show a bit of grace, a bit of concern for the national interest, we have seen completely the opposite; they only have one thing to say: no. They say no to everything—except for Work Choices of course. I have said that the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, is the vuvuzela of Australian politics. He walks around and he just says ‘No, no, no,’ to everything. Over a period of time that becomes simply annoying—true, it gets your attention. People find it frustrating when they realise that there is only one note.

If Joe Hockey did not play kettle drums at school, I would be amazed; big, loud, full of air, and empty. The emptier it is the louder it gets. We saw it last night—standing up for five minute contribution after five minute contribution. It was Mr Hockey and the shadow finance minister purely arguing amongst themselves, trying to see who could be louder and who could throw more abuse across the chamber. For five hours they talked to themselves. They have never actually picked up the little green book, the Standing Orders, or the big green book, the House of Representatives Practice—so they were not quite sure what had happened when we negated the adjournment. When we said to them, ‘We are determined to get the Parliamentary Budget Office through’, they eventually folded. Eventually, reality hit, except for the member for Mackellar, whom they forgot to tell—to widespread amusement from all. It was like that Japanese soldier on the island who did not know the war was over and was still waiting to have the fight. That is our member for Mackellar.

They are a bit sensitive, of course. I would be sensitive too if the member for Mackellar was on the front bench and I had been put up the back.

The fact is that we have provided leadership for a strong economy that is the envy of the world. I had the privilege to attend the G20 meeting which was held in London. There, Australia is regarded as the envy of the world. One of the things that has been said by various organisations, including the IMF and the OECD, is that our economic stimulus plan was perfectly designed. They have also said that we are in a position of fiscal consolidation to return us to surplus. We on this side of the House have a serious economic policy and a serious plan for the nation, those on the other side only have relentless negativity.