Thursday, 11 February 2010
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010; Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010
At the outset I want to wish Stavros Michael the best on his 17th birthday, on behalf of his mother, the member for Calwell, who unfortunately did not get the opportunity to speak in this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010. We are reminded daily about this government’s initiatives in overcoming the economic crisis. Last week, I had the opportunity to host a harbour cruise in Sydney for the President of the Senate of the Czech Republic, Premysl Sobotka. The former Czech ambassador now Minister for European Affairs in the Czech Republic, Juraj Chmiel, was also on the cruise. As we moved under the Sydney Harbour Bridge he noted (a) the magnificence of the structure and (b) his endeavours to trace a Czechoslovakian company then located in Melbourne which had provided the very necessary rivets for the bridge. I think the company still exists in the Czech Republic.
This is a reminder of initiatives, of infrastructure and of how governments should counter things such as the economic crisis. As we look around the country we can see realities from the Great Depression such as the Great Ocean Road, in Victoria, and the canals that go through our metropolitan areas, and we know of housing construction et cetera. We have heard comments such as those from the member for North Sydney in September. On 2 September, when Stephen Long and Su-Lin Ong commented about this government, Long said that, in Europe, they were talking about the ‘wonder down under’, about this country’s success in countering this crisis compared with most European and North American countries. When that article was written and covered on the ABC, the member for North Sydney said:
And of course if you throw enough money at a problem, some of it will stick and it’s good. It’s good for Australia.
… … …
It is fantastic for Australia that we are showing good economic growth today. We welcome the news but now Mr Rudd has to pull back on the spending.
That was a bit of condescension, a bit of a pat on the back, but essentially undermining the very necessary actions of this government. Those actions were necessary, and we should now reflect on what might have happened. The opposition are running around the country, trying to pretend that this was wasteful expenditure, that it was a meaningless, unnecessary expenditure of taxpayers’ money, and that taxpayers will have debt for no purpose whatsoever. They are trying to put across a line that, now that the government has been fairly successful by international standards, it was not a crisis and there was no problem. We should remember what the alternative was. Even now, despite our success, I look at the latest unemployment figures for small market areas in my electorate of Reid. At the end of the September quarter, when the national figure was 5½ per cent, the figure in the Holroyd municipality was nine per cent; in Parramatta South, which I think includes the suburbs of Granville South, Guildford and Granville, the figure was 13.7 per cent; and in the Auburn municipality it was 11.4 per cent. These figures represent real people who are unemployed. If you look at the trend over that year, you will see that 2,400 people went on the unemployment list in those particular parts of Sydney in my electorate. That is real suffering for those people.
Every family in this country was affected by the Depression. My father left school at the age of 13, forced to work for his family. At that age, he laboured in asbestos, which eventually contributed to his death. My mother recalls, on her family farm, her constant aversion to rabbits. Some people came and asked permission of her father to shoot rabbits, and the next day they saw the skins of pet cats on the fence. The reality was that people walked around this country, they were compelled to work, separated from their families, and marriages were postponed. One of the great anti-eviction riots and demonstrations of the Depression occurred in the suburb of Guildford, where I grew up—Bolton Street, Guildford is a legendary incident. From my knowledge of history, the family of Australian fast bowler Jeff Thomson was involved in anti-eviction riots. These are the kinds of chronic problems that would have been faced by people if this government had not acted strongly. We now have better social welfare protection than we did in the Depression because of the actions of Labor governments over the decades.
But, as I say, what the opposition are trying to put across is that this action was unnecessary, that there was no need for action, that it was all a furphy. They would have us go back to the Depression, with 29 per cent unemployment. They would have us in the situation that exists in the United States, with unemployment at 10 per cent plus. It is a major success of this government. Everyone concedes that the continuing demand in China, with the Chinese government keeping the economy going by pumping money in, has helped Australia. Our dependence on raw materials is a blessing and a problem but, in this crisis, it no doubt helped. But, clearly, if this government had not acted, more people in my electorate and their families, other than those I have mentioned, would have been drastically affected.
When I go around my electorate I see that there is a very significant presence of Lebanese Maronite builders involved in the economy of the Parramatta region. Whilst many of them are personal friends of mine, they vote Liberal. But they say to me that their industry has been saved by government action. Whether it is in regard to measures by the housing minister, whether it is in the area of social housing and the attempt to overcome homelessness or whether it is the first home buyer scheme, they say that their chronically-challenged industry would have collapsed but for the activities of this government. This country has been more successful than the rest of the world. European leaders are saying, ‘We wish we had done the same thing.’ We have been commended by international economic institutions that are normally conservative about the expenditure of government money; they have commended this government for its actions. Even in this economic climate we see in my electorate people whose businesses have collapsed, people who have run out on debts owed to other people, and we see the impact on the economy.
So I join with other government speakers in commending the government’s actions. Like them, when I go around my electorate I see major school construction. This is important socially because, unfortunately, a reality of life in the western world and, more particularly, in this country over the last two decades is the increased inequality in the government education system. Government schools have become more dependent on the local school community to raise funds. It is not the global budgeting of past decades. Each school is, in some sense, required to do more for itself. In areas such as mine—where we have seen a flight from government schools because of religious schools and because of the perception of those schools—it is more and more a crisis.
The government’s measures in relation to the construction of educational facilities are necessary from the point of view of keeping people in employment, making sure that local building companies survive and ensuring that electricians and their small businesses survive. But it is also very necessary socially. What have we seen from the opposition? We have seen quibbling about whether the Minister for Education, the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, will take responsibility for some trees being moved at Unley, in South Australia. We have heard them carry on about where a building is located at Abbotsford or Drummoyne, in Sydney. Next thing, they will be complaining about whether it should be green paint or brown paint on government buildings. We have had them complaining about whether the contractor from a particular small town in Victoria gets the local school contract or whether someone 30 kilometres away gets it. This is evasion; this is irresponsible; this is irrelevant to the major point. On social grounds, government schools and other schools are receiving funds—whether it be for new assembly halls, covered areas or new teaching opportunities. This would not have occurred without the stimulus. I can tell you that, without this funding, schools in areas such as mine are very much challenged. We have seen consistent negativism from the opposition; we have seen a pretence that these measures were unnecessary.
I want to note, as many people have done in this parliament, the irresponsibility of the current finance spokesman for the opposition, Senator Joyce. He has his corny, seemingly throwaway lines—which are obviously very well practised before the mirror for days on end—but this is not good enough, given the responsibility that he now has. He has been shown to be totally erroneous on very significant financial statistics. To him, a billion and a million are the same thing—there is no difference, apparently. He has the United States and Australia both on the verge of economic collapse. What level of responsibility is there in the opposition? I remember that, when they were in government, if anyone talked about the unemployment figure et cetera you were said to be undermining the national interest, unpatriotic or slagging off the country. But this character, who got paid off with a senior portfolio because he helped to undermine the previous leader, not only gets a plethora of statistics totally incorrect but also undermines the country’s interests when the international crisis is not over. We have seen the interest that has been shown in the last few weeks about Greece’s national debt. We know that, although things are improving in the United States, it is still very borderline for permanent recovery. And the opposition, which has historically prided itself on economic responsibility and financial management, puts such a person in this position! It is no good for the Leader of the Opposition to simply not totally back him and hope that he might go in a reshuffle.