Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.01 p.m.)-I move:
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Senator Evans) and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to questions without notice asked today.
What we have witnessed over the last week or so is a government that has stopped commentating and started governing, although I hasten to add that Senator Conroy is an exception-he backslided into his bad old habits in question time today. The shift by Mr Rudd and Mr Swan to make decisions and start governing is a good thing because commentating got the government into quite a bit of trouble early in its term. Mr Swan and the Prime Minister spent the first eight months of government talking the Australian economy down. They manufactured an inflation crisis. Why? Because, having inherited a strong economy, a strong budget position and strong employment, they sought a way to smash the coalition’s economic credentials. The overriding imperative was not to reinforce the economic fundamentals but to undermine the coalition. But in doing so, the government undermined their own credentials. We saw the Treasurer talking about a war on inflation; we saw a Treasurer talking about inflation genies and bottles; we saw a Treasurer egging the Reserve Bank to increase interest rates, which it did.
But what the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have belatedly realised courtesy of the financial crisis-a real crisis-is that words do matter. When you hold the high office of Treasurer or Prime Minister, markets, regulators and Reserve Bank governors actually listen to what you say, and that is how Labor killed confidence and raised inflationary expectations and interest rates. Sure, it is legitimate to play politics in this business and in this place but, when it comes to the fundamentals of managing an economy, you have to play a straight bat in word and in deed. Labor, sadly, became convinced by their own rhetoric that the nation faced an inflation crisis and they framed a budget accordingly. It was a budget the government were proud to state was not stimulatory-it was a budget that contained new and higher taxes and had an objective of slowing growth and raising unemployment.
Thanks to Mr Swan and Mr Rudd, we had an interest rate rise at just the wrong time. We had growth slowing at just the wrong time. We had falling business and consumer confidence at just the wrong time. We had taxes rising at just the wrong time. And we had policy settings leading to rising unemployment at a time when the challenge to employers was about to increase. Labor’s first response to the international crisis was to claim these circumstances were unknowable. The former Treasurer predicted an economic tsunami and Mr Turnbull flagged his own fears about growth. Labor scoffed at them both. Regardless, it is the job of government to plan for the worst, to not let rhetoric override judgement. But the crisis is here; it has to be dealt with. One thing I do agree with Mr Rudd on is that Australia is probably the best placed economy in the world to deal with this crisis. One of the reasons for this is that Australia has responsible opposition prepared to give support to the government, prepared to back its security package for banks and prepared to back the government stimulatory package. And we will give those packages rapid legislative passage.
But there are two other reasons why Australia is well placed to deal with the global situation. The first is that the coalition established APRA, the world’s best prudential regulatory authority covering all deposit-taking institutions, banks, insurance companies and super funds. The second is that the coalition bequeathed to Labor a budget surplus and a government with no debt. We paid down Labor’s $96 billion debt with no assistance from them and no bipartisanship. Unlike Labor, on this side of the chamber we do not play politics with economic crises. Labor’s challenge at this time is to steer Australia through this crisis, to maintain growth and low unemployment and to stop the budget going into deficit. These are the benchmarks for the government. The government also need to be transparent. They need to release revised budget forecasts so all Australians can know the true situation that the Australian economy finds itself in. This side of the chamber is giving bipartisan support to the government. This government has the opportunity to prove to the Australian people that the government is serious about putting the national economic interest ahead of partisanship.