May 12, 2020

Matters of Public Importance – Economy – Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (15:13): This would normally have been budget day, and we well recall that day, one year ago, when the government declared that the budget was ‘back in black’—not that it would be but that it was, as a statement of fact. What we saw from that point on, as we had seen in the preceding years, was a government that didn’t have a plan for the economy. Post May 2019, they engaged in a victory lap, running around thinking how good they were, telling us how well the economy was going and being totally complacent about the need to keep their eye on the ball. What we saw was a doubling of debt under this government. At a time when incredible prices were being paid for our resources and our exports and when, overall, the global economy was powering along, they still doubled the debt. We saw stagnant wages, we saw business investment down and household debt up, we saw consumer confidence down, we saw productivity actually going backwards and we saw, in response to that, nothing but complacency. There they were with their ‘Back in Black’ mugs, congratulating themselves while they were treating the Australian public like mugs, as they have ever since, because they had no plan going into this crisis and they clearly have no plan going out.

The fact is that the Australian people during this crisis have answered the call. I pay tribute to the nurses, the cleaners, the supermarket workers, the public transport workers—all those people who in an age of celebrity have just gone about their jobs. People don’t know their names. People do know, though, that we have all relied upon them. And it’s about time they were treated with respect by this government, because this pandemic, if it’s shown anything, has shown that Labor’s values of fairness, of security, of the power of government to make a positive difference in people’s lives are the right ones in a crisis and they are the right values for the recovery, because, as the Prime Minister says from time to time, we are indeed all in this together.

But what we actually have from this government is the idea of snapback, and what snapback means is cutbacks. The idea is that the economy can just snap back to where we were: snap back to insecure work, snap back to stagnant wages, snap back to contracting out essential services, snap back to a time where we ignore the need to have an energy policy or to have a climate change policy in this country, snap back to a time where people were paid $40 a day trying to seek work even though the government has acknowledged that that simply wasn’t good enough and that that’s why they had to introduce the jobseeker payment.

We saw in their narrative again today a dismissal of the role that Labor played in saving Australia from the last time there was a crisis: the global financial crisis, when Labor invested to keep us out of recession. Unlike the rest of the world, which was going negative and where millions of people lost their jobs, here in Australia we kept the economy going forward. The fact is that we present vision statements and they present a rear-vision view of the world. Back, back, back is what they want.

The fact is we can emerge from this crisis with strength, can increase work security and can learn the lessons which are there. All those people who are working from home are changing the nature of work, boosting productivity and increasing the quality of life for individual workers, and we can deal with issues like urban congestion by taking cars off the road. These are the sorts of issues that we should be discussing at this time. There is the need to drive manufacturing. We need to increase Australian capability. We shouldn’t have been in a situation whereby we didn’t have personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and essential workers, but we were there. We’re seeing the price of this government begging the car industry to leave this country: the loss of innovation, the loss of investment in skills, the loss of investment in capital.

The fact is that they also have said to us during this crisis that one of the reasons why we are doing better than many countries is that we’re listening to the science. Who knew? We’re listening to the science and listening to experts. Well, we need to listen to the science all of the time, not just sometimes. And they’ve discovered valuing early childhood education. A policy that they dismissed as communism during the last election campaign they have now adopted, but only for a brief period of time. We need to support pay and giving our people the skills for the jobs of the future. We need a safety net that doesn’t consign people to poverty.

Labor has not been and will not be obstructionist. Contrast our actions with the actions of those opposite during the global financial crisis. We can have a bit of an insight into what they would do if the positions in the chamber were reversed: have a look at the behaviour and opportunism of the Victorian Liberal opposition. Have a look at other Victorian Liberal federal members here: Minister Tehan and his angry meltdown on the Insiders program, accusing Dan Andrews of taking a sledgehammer to the education system. Of course, he had to withdraw just a couple of hours later with so much egg on his face you couldn’t tell the bloke from the yolk!

The fact is that this government has a whole bunch of Victorian backbenchers—there’s another one: the member for Deakin. The member for Higgins referred to flu as killing more people than the coronavirus. At a time when the whole government was saying that we needed to give people the message about being responsible, that was her position. And then we had, of course, the member for Goldstein, who said about the Victorian Premier:

… he’s probably enjoying the clampdown too much …

That’s what he said. People have died. They have families. People have lost their jobs. People are isolated, and the response is that the Victorian Premier is enjoying the clampdown. That’s the response that we’ve seen from those opposite.

The fact is it contrasts greatly with the way that we have engaged responsibly. We have supported each of the stimulus packages. We have suggested wage subsidies even when they opposed them. We have supported increased support for mental health. The shadow minister for health has been out there making practical suggestions. The shadow Treasurer has been out there making practical suggestions; making a difference; looking for solutions, not arguments; and making sure that the principle of no-one held back and no-one left behind is at the core of this issue. But the fact is some people have been left behind: casuals, workers at dnata, visa holders—many people who’ve just been forgotten during this crisis.

The fact is we want an economy that works for people, not the other way around. That’s why we’re putting forward practical suggestions on housing through our shadow minister, the member for Blaxland. During this period our homes have been a fortress, and housing can help our recovery as well. The alternative is that it’s about to drop off the cliff in three months time, and those opposite are completely oblivious to this. What we need is a package that supports social and affordable housing. You have industry getting together with unions all calling for this. During this crisis as well, when they needed it, their anti-union rhetoric stopped. But wait for it to start up again; wait for the old class war rhetoric to be cranked up. The fact is unions and business do have common interests, and we’ve seen the trade union movement work during this crisis to ensure that people are kept safe, that people are allowed to stay in their jobs and the economy’s kept going forward.