Labor saved Australia from the GFC

wayne_swan_finance_minister_of_the_year.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:14): Members of the public who are listening to this debate on the Tax Bonus for Working Australians Repeal Bill 2013 could be forgiven for thinking it was going on in a parallel universe. They could be forgiven for thinking that this is not a country that is now celebrating its 23rd year of consecutive growth. That is something that we celebrate. No one government can take credit for that. The reforms of the Hawke-Keating governments, the Howard government, and the Gillard and Rudd governments all contributed, together with the thousands of businesses and workers around the country who contributed to ensuring that Australia now is enjoys its 23rd year of consecutive growth.

Our policy performances and our success as an economy over the last five years are more impressive when you look at what has gone on around the rest of the world. This is the parallel universe that the Liberal Party occupies and seeks to deny. Our economy is nearly 13 per cent larger today than it was in 2007 when Labor came to office, whereas around the world many advanced economies are still smaller than they were prior to the global financial crisis. While other economies screeched to a halt Australia's per person GDP skyrocketed from 17th in the world to eighth in the world, and we occupy 12th place in the overall international league table when it comes to the size of our economy. We are one of only seven nations in the world that can lay claim to having a AAA credit rating from all of the major credit agencies.

While Europe and most of the European economies are struggling under an unemployment rate of around 11.7 per cent, we here in Australia enjoy an unemployment rate of nearly half that, although those on the government benches are doing their bit to ensure that we no longer are able to enjoy that success. Over 960,000 jobs were created over the period that Labor was in office at the same time that a staggering 27 million jobs were lost around the world.

All of this did not happen by accident, as previous speakers on our side have said in the course of this debate. The former government acted decisively and put three things into place. We stopped the run on the banks here in Australia by securing bank deposits. It is why Australian banks were still able to meet all of their obligations and Australian consumers felt confident about the security of their bank deposits. We put in place an Economic Security Strategy—round about $10.4 billion, designed to strengthen the Australian economy in the face of the meltdown that was going on in the rest of the world. It included lump sum payments to pensioners, because we knew that every additional dollar given to pensioners would likely be spent and stimulate the economy. We put support payments in place for low- and middle-income owners. We invested money in the homebuyers market by putting in place $1.5 billion to help over 150,000 first homebuyers. We invested around $187 million in creating 56,000 new training places over the course of 2008-09 alone.

In addition to this, the third limb of the package was the Nation Building and Jobs Plan of $42 billion, effectively bringing forward the infrastructure spend that any normal government would have put in place over one to 2½ decades—bringing forward the spend in a concentrated period of time to ensure that we kept the economy ticking over and, critically, the building and construction part of the economy ticking over.

Building the Education Revolution, for example, saw over 9,500 building projects going on in schools right around the country. Those on the opposite side of the House criticise this program, but they were breaking their legs to get down to the school halls, the science labs, the libraries and the upgraded facilities to ensure that they could be there cutting the ribbon and taking credit for these programs. They then came here and bagged those very same initiatives.

More than 20,000 new social housing and defence housing projects were put in place to stimulate the home construction part of the economy, while $950 in cash payments to eligible families, single workers, students and drought affected farmers were also put in place to stimulate the economy. There were of course tax breaks to business and funding for local infrastructure and road projects—all critical parts of this three-pronged strategy to ensure that the Australian economy did not follow the path of the rest of the world into recession and in some countries depression.

What was happening around the rest of the world? In the United States, over 8.8 million jobs were lost, $19.2 trillion was lost in household wealth, and real GDP fell by more than five per cent. They are lumbering now under a budget deficit of in excess of $1.4 trillion. In the EU we are still seeing the GFC being played out. Greece has an unemployment rate of nearly 27 per cent and the Greek GDP fell by almost seven per cent. They have had to be bailed out with an over 110-billion euros loan from the EU. In Ireland we saw the banks lose an estimated 100 billion euros and we have seen unemployment rise by 10 per cent. This is just a snapshot of what has gone on around the rest of the world whilst Australia has had this remarkable experience of ensuring its 23rd year of consecutive growth.

It is often said that if you dodge a bullet you don't feel the pain and in many respects that has been the experience of the Australian economy. We dodged the bullet—not by accident but through decisive action by the government. So it is the job of the incoming government to try and rewrite history. That is exactly what they are trying to do—trying to rewrite history to deny the fact that the global financial crisis ever existed and to argue that the proper course of action for a government would have been to do absolutely nothing. We reject this.

We condemn the fact that the Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, actually slept through the critical debates and the critical legislation that put in place the three-pronged strategy that I have spoken about. So interested was he in what was going on in the Australian economy at the time that he could not even be bothered to turn up to the parliament, could not be bothered to turn up and engage in the legislative debate. That is right: he slept through it, so interested was he in what was going on with the economy at the time. It does stick in our craws slightly when we engage in this debate today to be given lectures by those opposite on what the proper course of action was to put in place when the rest of the world was going through a financial meltdown. They argued then that we should have done nothing; they now argue that everything we did was wrong while secretly, back in their own electorates, they took credit for many of the initiatives that were put in place by the former government.

Of course it does not end there. In obtaining control of the treasury bench they have set themselves on the path of a number of wars. We have seen the beginnings of a culture war, but we are also seeing the Treasurer puff himself up and launch his own very special war on entitlements. The age of entitlements is over we are told. He is trying to convince us that it is not what you get but what you give that matters. Whether you are a worker who is struggling to meet your cost-of-living challenges or whether you are a business struggling to compete as the big changes occur in the national and international economies, we are being told by the Treasurer, in his war on entitlements, that we have all got to tighten our belts.

There are only two problems with that: the first problem is that it is not the right message you want to send to the economy when we are seeing a global contraction; the second, and probably bigger, problem I have with the Treasurer's war on entitlements is that unfortunately the Prime Minister did not get the memo. He was more than happy to stick up his hand and claim his entitlement to his wedding allowance, as were many others on the other side of the House. He was not alone in this: the member for Canning engaged in a taxpayer funded real estate tour of North Queensland and Senator Brandis was more than willing to stick up his hand for his entitlements to build his personal library collection. And of course there is the $4.4 billion paid maternity leave scheme.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): The member for Throsby will take his seat.

Mr Frydenberg: I want to ask the member for Throsby whether he is proud of the member for Lalor's and the member for Isaac's record—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Are you suggesting an intervention?

Mr Frydenberg: It is an intervention—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Are you calling for an intervention?

Mr Frydenberg: Yes.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Do you want to ask the member for Throsby a question?

Mr Frydenberg: Yes, I do.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Do you accept the question, Member for Throsby?

Mr STEPHEN JONES: I would be happy to answer a question from the member for Kooyong if he asked the right question, but those opposite never ask the right question, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I decline—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Does the member for Throsby accept—you decline?

Mr STEPHEN JONES: I decline; I do not accept this because they never ask the right question. They are full of stunts but they never ask the right question.

So when we heard the Treasurer launch his war on entitlements—he has got his gaze fixed on many within the community, but it is a one-eyed gaze—he did not, for example, include the mining industry. In fact, one of his first acts in coming back into government was to give some of the wealthiest in our community a tax cut while providing a tax hike for those in our community who can afford it the least. That is right, we saw people with superannuation account balances well in excess of $2 million get a tax cut while those who are earning less than $38,000 a year get a tax hike. In fact, if you want a tax cut under this government you have to ensure that your name is George or that you own a mining company.

So when we hear those opposite launch their war on entitlements, we know it is wrong by our economy. We also know that it is actually a war on the entitlements of those who can afford it the least while those opposite give a free pass to those who can—and I do not begrudge them for one moment but, frankly, if you are going to give a tax cut, the tax cut should be given to those who are in most need. I argue that that has not been the act of this government.

We believe that we should be putting in place the sorts of policies that have ensured that Australia, unlike any other nation on earth, has enjoyed its 23rd consecutive year of growth. We believe in putting in place these sorts of policies. It is not an end in itself; it is like listening to the diatribe of those opposite about the importance of budget surpluses. You do not have to be a Rhodes scholar to understand that, if your policy is to have a budget surplus no matter what the circumstances, your policy is committed to taxing Australians more than you need to. That is what it means. If you are committed to delivering a budget surplus no matter what the circumstances, you are committed to taxing Australians more than you need to. It is not an accident—

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I hope the intervention is not for the sake of hearing the sound of your own voice, Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr Frydenberg: Not at all.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: And I hope you are not leading the member for Bass astray and just taking up the time of the member for Throsby. And I am making sure that you are not using this House as your plaything to hear, once again, the sound of your own voice. Parliamentary Secretary, have you a point of order?

Mr Frydenberg: Yes.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: What is your point of order?

Mr Frydenberg: A question to the member for Throsby.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I think you have already had an intervention. I do not know whether there can be two interventions in the one address.

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The clerk says there can. What is your question?

Mr Frydenberg: The member for Throsby referred to debt and deficit. I would like him to tell the House the last time the Labor Party produced a budget surplus.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Do you accept the intervention?

Mr STEPHEN JONES: No, I do not. And given the time—unless the member is moving an extension of time, and I understand that he probably is not, I believe you are right, Mr Deputy Speaker: it was merely a device to run down the clock because they did not like what they were hearing.