Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Australian Business Investment Partnership Bill 2009; Australian Business Investment Partnership (Consequential Amendment) Bill 2009
Malcolm Turnbull’s tame economist; Malcolm Turnbull’s paid economist. I heard the word ‘brilliant’. Well, I challenge anyone to look at the submission that Dr Henry Ergas gave to the economics committee and describe it as ‘brilliant’. In fact, it was sloppy, it was biased and it did not go to the facts of the matter that was before them. You do not have to pay Dr Henry Ergas to come to the economics committee anymore. What you should simply do is pick up his articles in the Australian and table them as your opposition report, because that is what you have basically done. You see, the Prime Minister announced this initiative on 25 November last year. On 27 November, Dr Henry Ergas wrote an opinion piece in the Australian without understanding the details of the legislation, without seeing the legislation and without understanding what was going on. It was typical of Dr Henry Ergas. He rings Malcolm up, and Malcolm says: ‘Say no. Find me a story so that I can justify saying no.’ And Dr Henry Ergas goes back to Concept Economics and says, ‘Build the story for no,’ and out it comes to the economics committee and the Senate. The Liberal and Nationals senators on the economics committee sat there in raptures, clapping their hands at the negativity of Dr Henry Ergas. What a joke! What an absolute joke you lot are. You really do not have the interests of this country at heart; you are simply into negativity and saying no whenever it counts.
Unlike other people who came to the committee and tried to deal with this issue, Dr Henry Ergas did not deal with this in a rigorous and independent manner. And Henry Ergas has form on this. He is not seen as independent. He is not seen as rigorous. The whole case from the opposition rests on a sloppy submission from Dr Henry Ergas to the economics committee. Dr Henry Ergas is the guy who has had 64 articles or quotes in the Australian since 11 August. Twenty-three of those articles are negative about the government. The guy is an absolute, serial oppositionalist. He is a bit like Malcolm Turnbull—‘Just say no.’ He is the paid apparatchik of the Liberal Party, yet you have the hide to come here on an issue of such importance to the construction and building industry in this country and use Dr Henry Ergas as the reasoning for why you oppose this. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves. How about putting the building workers of Australia before your ideology? How about putting the 50,000 building workers who could lose their jobs if foreign investment is removed from this country before your ideology and your dogma? For once, stand up for the workers in this country and look at this legislation on the basis of what it is about. It is not, as Senator Bob Brown tried to put it, standing up for big business. Sometimes you have to actually analyse the issues, and the key issues here are 50,000 jobs that could disappear unless we do the right thing in the face of the global economic crisis.
The Labor plan is to fund this proposal to put a safety net in place if that foreign investment disappears. As we understand it, close to $30 billion will need to be refinanced over the next three years in the building industry. Close to 70 per cent of this is bank debt controlled by foreign banks. This is not simply an issue where the opposition should say, ‘We don’t like the government legislation,’ because the coalition do not want any government involvement in the markets and their ideology will not let them do it. They should get over that. Senator Brown should get over simply targeting the issue of executive pay. No-one on this side supports the terribly high pay that is provided to some of our executives, but the issue here is not executive pay; the issue here is to get the financial backing for our commercial construction industry. It is about ensuring that 50,000 jobs do not disappear if that funding is removed.
It is about time the opposition took the blinkers off. It is about time they stopped looking at their toes and looked around, not only within Australia but at the rest of the world, and started to understand that we have a global financial crisis facing this country. That financial crisis will cost workers their jobs. We must do everything in our power to buffer ourselves against the failure of the financial system. What do the Liberal-National coalition do? They go back to what they always want to be—neoliberals with small government, with no involvement for government. They think it does not matter if workers lose their jobs and if communities go backwards, just as long as the government does not intervene in the market. All the Liberal-National coalition understand is to try to be internationally competitive on ripping away workers’ wages and conditions. That is why we saw the nonsense that we saw in relation to the Fair Work Bill, where those on the other side were clinging to what they see as the only economic way forward—that is, to be competitive by reducing workers’ wages and conditions.
You can be competitive and smart and you can do it by government involvement in the economy. The market should serve society, not the other way round. That is what you lot do not understand. Your opposition to this legislation is an example of saying that the market should be let rip and that it does not matter about jobs as long as the economic theories of Hayek are there, as long the pure neoliberal approaches are in there. ‘Do not let the government intervene, do not let the government support this industry, do not let the government support 50,000 jobs’—that is the nonsense that we have from those on the other side. It is the lack of economic credibility that left this country ill-prepared to face the global economic crisis—ill-prepared on training, ill-prepared on infrastructure—