PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra: I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2013-2014, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2013-2014 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2013-2014.
May I start with commending the member for Higgins for that fine contribution, in particular for pointing out some of the myths in relation to Labor’s claims that it saved the world through its stimulus package in
to 2008-09. It was Prime Minister Paul Keating who said, ‘When you change the government, you change the country.’ It was an apt comment. I believe it is true because when you reflect on 1996, with the Howard government coming into being, it did change the nation. It brought a period of prosperity, fantastic relationships with our neighbours and allies, and incredible wealth creation for families across the country. Similarly, in 2007, when the Labor government was elected, the nation changed. I would argue that the changes were not always for the better when the Labor governments came. Indeed, they re-regulated the economy and we saw waste and debt like we have never seen before in the history of this country.
We are now almost six months into the Abbott government. As with the election of other governments in 1996, in 2007 and prior to that, the nation is changing and will change with this government. I would like to use this appropriations debate to outline how the nation is changing for the better already and to specifically report back to my electorate, through this parliament, on the progress against the key commitments that we made before the last election to improve this nation. Of course, our starting point has been to fix Labor messes because, unlike the incoming Labor government in 2007, we did not inherit a strong economy and a $20 billion budget surplus. Rather, we inherited
, what can only be described as a mess.
The clearest example of this was in border protection, where, over the period of the Labor government, over 55,000 people arrived by boat, at least 1,200 people died at sea, and people waiting in refugee camps were denied places in Australia. As former Prime Minister John Howard has noted, it was probably Labor’s greatest failure because they alone were the author of the crisis through their deliberate dismantling of the system which was painstakingly put in place under the Howard government. That system ensured that almost no boats were arriving, that there were no children in detention and that in fact there were only four adults in detention in 2007. It also ensured that our entire refugee intake, which is about 13,500 people per annum, was taken from the United Nations refugee camps, which, I believe, is the right process for this country. Having created the crisis, Labor then used every justification imaginable as to why they could not fix the crisis, but the simple reason they could not fix it is that they lacked resolve. We have no such lacking of resolve in addressing this crisis.
Operation Sovereign Borders commenced 11 days after the election. While it is too easy to say that the boats have stopped, they are certainly stopping because over the last three months we have seen not a single boat arrive; whereas, in the same three months in the previous year we saw hundreds of boats arrive. The measures we have put in place and which Scott Morrison continues to put in place for the government in this area are not easy measures. Tough decisions had to be made in order to put those measures in place. But I strongly believe that our policy is fair towards genuine refugees and is saving hundreds who might otherwise be lost at sea. Importantly, when borders are secure, there is stronger confidence from the public in our overall immigration program. That overall immigration program has underpinned the progress of our great multicultural cities like Melbourne, where I live.
Repairing the economy has been the next great task of this government. Having inherited a $20 billion surplus, Labor then recorded the four biggest budget deficits in the history of this country. We have made this point before, but it is worth stopping to reflect on that. The four biggest budget deficits in the history of this country were recorded under the Labor government, despite inheriting a $20 billion surplus in 2007. If settings do not change, there will be another $123 billion worth of deficit over the next four years and our gross debt will go up to $667 billion.
They are extraordinary numbers. But this is Labor’s legacy that they have left the nation and that they have left this government, the Abbott government, to deal with. They borrowed from the future to pay for things like pink batts—as the member for Higgins pointed out—for overpriced school halls, for set-top boxes, for $900-cheques to dead people and for other things which can only be described as wasteful spending. We should never forget that wasteful spending and never forget who undertook it or why it was undertaken. No government should repeat such wasteful spending again and certainly this government will not do so.
As well as the budgetary situation, the macroeconomy was seriously weakened over the last six years. For the first time, the government reregulated the Australian economy in industrial relations, in environmental regulations and with other red tape. Twenty thousand new regulations were put in place. Taxes, including of course the job-destroying carbon tax and the mining tax were put in place, and investment decisions by companies were postponed or rejected. Multifactor productivity declined by four per cent per annum since 2007 with only the record high terms of trade causing us not to have a weakening of living standards.
Our approach to these very difficult financial and economic challenges is based on some fundamental principles. The Prime Minister very neatly summarised some of these principles at the World Economic Forum in Davos just recently. He had four pithy principles: first, you cannot spend what you have not got; second, no country has ever taxed or subsidised its way to prosperity; third, you do not address debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit; and fourth, profit is not a dirty word because success in business is something to be proud of.
These principles are very different principles than those which operated under the Labor government, and we are putting these principles into action, into practical steps. I will provide some examples to the House here. Perhaps one of the most substantial examples of that is the $400-billion worth of projects that were in Labor’s too-hard basket but which have now been approved by environment minister, Greg Hunt. Think about what employment $400-billion worth of projects creates, what wealth that creates, what money into the country that brings. I commend the environment minister for making those decisions, a man who is not only passionate about the environment but who also knows we must have a strong economy in order to sustain job creation and wealth creation.
The trade and investment minister, Andrew Robb, has already concluded a free trade agreement with Korea. That is worth $5 billion to the economy. Likewise, he is working on free trade agreements with Japan and China. All three of those free trade agreements were stagnant, they were stalled, they were on hold over the last six years. They did not go anywhere. But already under the principles which the Prime Minister has articulated, under the open-for-business principle, a $5-billion free trade agreement has been signed with Korea. We are hoping we will have free trade agreements with Japan and China signed very soon. When that occurs, it will mean that we have free trade agreements with our four largest trading partners. What that means is golden opportunities to our exporters. It also means cheaper imports as well. There will be billions of dollars worth of wealth creation from those trade agreement. Again I commend the trade and investment minister, Andrew Robb, for leading those free trade agreements.
On the tax front, we have scrapped dozens of Labor’s announced and budgeted but not enacted tax changes. Of course this included the $1.8-billion hit on the novated car lease industry. The carbon tax and the mining tax repeal legislation, as everybody knows, has been introduced into this House and has passed this House but is now stuck in the Senate. If Labor stops blocking those pieces of repeal legislation then families will be on average $550 per annum better off. But Labor right now is in the Senate blocking those pieces of legislation which would see the abolition of the carbon tax and the mining tax. When we abolish those that will also lift the burden on businesses as well.
We will cut the company tax rate by 1.5 per cent. We will remove over $1 billion of red and green tape so that our businesses can focus on improving their performance and not on form filling. To repair the budget we are putting through this parliament already $20-billion worth of savings. And we have a full Commission of Audit which is identifying waste, inefficiency and duplication between layers of government. We have got the East-West Link project about to begin construction and we have other major infrastructure projects in every state across the country that will soon begin. All of these measures are designed to build business confidence, to encourage investment, to allow businesses to be more profitable, which ultimately allows jobs growth and salary growth.
There are many businesses which are struggling, including in my electorate. When those businesses struggle, jobs are lost. It is ultimately only profitable businesses that create wealth for this nation. When we have profitable businesses, we have job creation and that is our overall objective. We want to support these businesses and the best way to do that is to make the business environment as attractive as possible. So our measures are designed to lower taxes, to have less regulation, to have better infrastructure, to have lower energy prices, to have a more flexible industrial relations system and to have consistency of decision making. We are seeing this approach already translating. We see business confidence is higher.
We see in the papers today that both private sector housing and non-residential building approvals have risen by more than 20 per cent, surpassing levels from before the GFC for the first time. We still have record shipments of coal and iron ore, returning the trade account to a surplus. I regularly hear from companies that investments that were put on hold pre-election are now being made; the decisions are being made. All of those are terrific signs. So there is great room for optimism, despite the difficulties that some of the older industrial companies are having.
Stopping the boats, ending the waste, getting the budget under control, growing the economy more strongly again and reducing the cost of living were the core commitments we made during the election, and we are delivering upon them. We are strongly moving forward on our social policy agenda as well, including giving unprecedented attention to our nation’s greatest social policy challenge, the plight of many Indigenous Australians. There will be other opportunities for me to outline in greater detail the progress on this front.
There are so many challenges and so much to do as a nation. As a government, we cannot fix Labor’s messes overnight. We cannot turn the economy around on a dime. But we are off to a good start, and the pieces are being put in place. In time, the government’s finances will be restored. The economy will grow strongly again, and there will be more opportunities for all Australians and greater wealth creation.
Paul Keating may not like it, but the nation is changing, and it is changing for the better. We ask the Labor government to support this program. Get on board, so that wealth creation, job creation and business investment can occur.