Senator Bushby, what an absolute classic! He is obviously not sure of his arguments because he has just stood up and argued that if Tascott Templeton had been able to supply carpet to schools through the BER program then they would not have had to cease business. So what he is actually saying is that the program was great for job productivity to increase employment. Earlier across the chamber he acknowledged that he had not been to one opening through the BER program. I was a bit concerned about why he had not, but now I realise that he is just deadset embarrassed by his own side’s arguments, because he obviously thinks there is an increase in employment participation through the program, and I am sure that that is something he would support for the people not only of Tasmania, from where we both come, but of Australia.
It is absolutely beyond me why the opposition continues to insist on scoring own goals when it comes to fiscal policy. They bring on an MPI to try to highlight some supposed budget mismanagement on our part and yet, if they had their say on the fiscal settings, Australia would be in a recession right now with double-digit unemployment. Of course, we had former Prime Minister John Howard on Q&A last night trying to rewrite history—I think he has done that in his recent publication as well—by trying to say that Australia avoided a recession and it was down to his economic management. Yet the reason that we needed such a large economic stimulus was the abject failure of those opposite to make any significant moves to boost Australia’s productivity—and productivity, as we know, is the key to good economic management
The Gillard government is committed to strong and sensible economic management. We have a strategy that will get the budget back to surplus in three years, well before any major advanced economy. That is why it has been endorsed again by the IMF and also by the RBA and international credit rating agencies. Market economists overwhelmingly agree that our strategy will get us back to surplus in 2012-13 and keep us in surplus in 2013-14. Fiscal stimulus is being withdrawn, too. Far from fuelling growth, the withdrawal of stimulus will subtract around one percentage point from growth this year, and the remaining investments are in long-term infrastructure which is critical to building our productive economic capacity. Senator Bushby would have us abandon projects midstream. I cannot see any benefit in that it all, Senator Bushby, and I do not know if the voters in Tasmania would either.
If you want a strong bottom line in both good times and bad, you need to invest in productivity. This includes skills and education, such as trade training centres; additional university and TAFE places; and new school facilities, including classrooms and multipurpose halls. It includes infrastructure like the National Broadband Network; renewable energy schemes; record investment in highways, rails and ports; and innovation, spending on which has increased by 34 per cent since we came to government. I would leave, too, Senator Bushby. I would be very embarrassed if I were you.
If the coalition were not committed to productivity then at least they shared Labor’s commitment to economic reform—well, up until recently, anyway. Now they have got some bizarre idea into their heads that the best way to support Australia’s economy is not productivity, not economic reform, but re-regulating the banks. What kind of a policy gets described by one of your own backbenchers as being ‘a policy from the lunatic fringe’? I think that is a great description from the member for Canning. After all, as the Prime Minister pointed out, this was the kind of wacky policy being espoused by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation—or, if you want to explore the lunatic fringe a bit further, how about the Citizens Electoral Council? Come to think of it, the CEC also believe that global warming is a fraud and that Australia should invest in nuclear power.
When we had the coalition’s finance spokesperson Andrew Robb questioning whether Australia should have floated the dollar, does this indicate a return to protectionism by those opposite? Once we peg our currency to the US dollar like Communist China what is next for the federal opposition? Are we going to start raising our tariff barriers? Our floating dollar has kept Australia on an even keel for years, protecting us from price shocks and helping us through financial crises such as the dotcom crash and the Asian financial crisis of 1997.
In fact, our floating dollar, tariff reform, strong banking system and independent monetary policy have been supported by both major parties and kept our economy growing continuously for 20 years. Why would anyone want to wind back a financial system that has been so successful? Well, according to the member for Canning, as I said, only the lunatic fringe would want to do that.
Let us look at our fiscal position. I am going, at this point, to expose a few inconvenient truths for the pre-Copernicans opposite. First of all, they talk about debt and deficit, but fail to point out that Australia has the lowest debt to GDP ratio of all OECD countries. The average for major advanced economies was 70 per cent in 2009-10. I will see if anyone on the other side of the chamber can tell me what Australia’s debt to GDP ratio was. Anyone like to hazard a guess? No? I will give you a clue—it was somewhat less than 70 per cent. Australia’s debt to GDP ratio was 3.3 per cent in 2009-10. And guess what? We are paying it back, as I said, three years ahead of schedule.
This is the great claim of those opposite when they say that we mismanaged the budget—that we had a debt of 3.3 per cent of GDP and continued economic growth, while other advanced economies racked up debts, in some cases over 100 per cent of GDP, had double-digit unemployment and went into recession. In fact, what happened to other major advanced economies despite economic stimulus is a great example of the disaster that could have befallen Australia without stimulus. And that is what, in Australia, would have happened if those opposite had had their way—because they opposed economic stimulus.
If you want to talk about fiscal incompetence, you only need to look back to very recent history, to the 2010 federal election, to find an absolute corker from the opposition. Let us not forget that it was only two months ago that the coalition, after avoiding the scrutiny of having their policies properly costed, finally submitted their figures to the Treasury. And what did we get? An $11 billion blow-out. That is ‘billion’ with a ‘B’ for Barnaby—sorry, for Senator Joyce over there.
Do you know what could be bought with $11 billion? Let us think of a few examples. The Kingston bypass near my office, in the electorate of Franklin, is a $41.5 million project jointly funded by the state and federal governments. So the coalition’s failure to do their sums properly, if they had ended up in government, would have left the taxpayers worse off by the equivalent of 265 Kingston bypasses. Another project in the Franklin electorate is the Clarence GP superclinic, an integrated care centre receiving joint state and federal funding of $18.5 million. The coalition’s accounting error adds up to almost 600 Clarence health centres.
This explains why the coalition did not want the sunshine of Treasury analysis to be shone on their figures. It also explains why most of the Independents were reluctant to support them on supply and confidence. Remember what the Independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, said on the Four Corners program that aired on 4 October? He said:
… I think it does indicate that they knew that there were issues here in terms of the accountability process.
That was Mr Windsor’s polite way of saying that the coalition deliberately avoided scrutiny of their budget figures because they knew the figures were dodgy. And the member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, cited the coalition’s budget black hole as one of the reasons he doubted their ability to deliver on their extravagant promise for the Royal Hobart Hospital. After all, their black hole added up to 11 times their proposed package for the Royal.
In another two months Christmas is coming, and I have a collective present for the opposition caucus—but it is especially for the shadow minister for finance, Andrew Robb, and shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey. I am not usually in the habit of telling people early what their Christmas presents might be because I do not like to spoil the surprise too much. But I think, because the other side is in such need of this piece of equipment, this tool, I will just have to tell them. I am going to get them an abacus. I know how badly needed it is on that side of the chamber. I did consider a calculator, but I figured they needed to add their sums up slowly, to avoid any further mistakes, and do not want them to confuse millions and billions. Maybe I will throw in an instruction booklet and they can have a tutorial for their first caucus meeting next year. I hope they enjoy their present and put it to good use.