Economy's problems are not new - Speech, House of Representatives

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 3 MARCH 2020

My 85-year-old constituent Jean Carter has had it tough. Last September her granddaughter, who lived in the same Wreck Bay house, passed away. Then the fires came within five kilometres of Wreck Bay and she was forced to evacuate. Ms Carter is a member of the stolen generations. She prefers self-reliance to government handouts, but she struggles to access what little disaster assistance is available from the Morrison government.

Here in Canberra, the Belconnen Tennis Club applied for a grant to upgrade their 50-year-old lighting system. Their submission ranked 82 out of 100: it did better than hundreds of applications that were funded. As President Martin Klein said after they were knocked back, 'To play tennis, you need to be able to see the ball'.

But those opposite do their best work in the dark.

You can have a go, but the only way you will get a go is if you're a well-connected insider. You have a regional fund used to upgrade the North Sydney pool. You have $50,000 going to a sports club in the Prime Minister's electorate for a project that had already been built. It's a mateocracy, not a meritocracy. As the line goes, those opposite were born on third base thinking they had hit a triple. They cling to trickle-down economics, the idea that the best way of helping out baristas is to give barristers a tax cut and it's all right to give a tax cut to surgeons and a penalty rate cut to nurses.

As the member for Brand has highlighted in bringing this important MPI forward, the economy is in a bad way. Unemployment is a full percentage point higher than in the United States, Germany, Britain or New Zealand. It has been that way for years. Productivity is falling. Debt is rising. The startup rate is down. Today the Reserve Bank cut interest rates to 0.5 per cent—one sixth of the level that they were during the global financial crisis.

Let's remember what Joe Hockey—remember Joe Hockey?—said in 2013 when rates were cut. He said, 'They're not cutting interest rates because the economy is doing well; interest rates are being cut to 50-year lows because the economy is struggling.' Now we're not at a 50-year low; we're at a historic low. The economy's problems are not new, despite what the government will try and say.

As the Reserve Bank governor told the House Economics Committee in February:

… the extended period of unusually slow growth in household incomes has been weighing on household spending …

We should have seen, over recent years, the Australian economy growing like the member for Fadden's internet bill, but instead we've seen it shrinking, like a bushfire victim when the Prime Minister approaches for a handshake. Australians have all the job security that the head of Tourism Australia had in 2006!

The fact is that, when it comes to economic management, the past decade has seen the bipartisan undoing of much of the damage that Peter Costello did as Treasurer. We've wound back unsustainable superannuation tax concessions, axed the baby bonus, means-tested the private health insurance rebate. Yet those opposite are like a duckling that follows the first animal it sees. Their idea of good economic management is to run razor-thin surpluses. Forget human capital, infrastructure, countercyclical fiscal policy; don't worry about a structural deficit. If you had a notional surplus, Costello was happy. But the 'kids of Costello' can't even get that right. When those opposite came to office, debt was around $8,000 per Australian. Now it's over $17,000 per Australian. Last year they were saying they had ‘delivered’ a surplus. Now their 'Back in black' coffee mugs are mysteriously out of stock. They can't decide if they're Arthur or Martha. They take the approach of Yogi Berra: 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it.'

It's not surprising confidence is down when you recall the Prime Minister's track record. His first big idea was to increase the GST. He called the banking royal commission a 'populist whinge' and voted against it 26 times. He put his arm around Malcolm Turnbull one day and took his job the next. He said electric vehicles would 'end the weekend', and now he's saying his answer to climate change is technology. As for the Treasurer, his department's latest annual report says that Treasury outcome 1 is 'to improve the wellbeing of the Australian people'. So what does he do? He comes in here and takes a whack at his own department, offending New Zealanders and Hindu Australians on the way.

Those opposite would like to say they're the heirs to Menzies, but, really, they're the successors to Fraser. The Prime Minister is as miserable as a bandicoot and leads a government of know-nothings who stand for nothing and do nothing.

ENDS

Authorised by  Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.