Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (15:34): I am pleased that we are discussing this matter of public importance today because it is critical for a whole range of reasons. We at this point in time are gearing up and the next time we come back here we will be discussing the federal budget. That federal budget will be delivered at a time when there is global uncertainty about the state of the economy. A few years ago, as a nation we were confronted by one of the worst economic circumstances in 75 years in the shape of the global financial crisis, where economies around the world were freezing up as a result of financial systems and where people simply did not trust each other with money. They did not trust each other in terms of lending money. As the banking system started to feel the reverberations of that, we saw in our case—particularly, for example, in the construction industry—projects faltering and not going ahead, and a serious concern about what would happen with jobs.
But, despite all that, as a result of the quick, thorough moves taken by this government that ensured that jobs would not be lost, we have now come out of it with solid growth. The economy is on track to grow at trend this year. We have an unemployment rate that is the envy of the world. It is 5.2 per cent here compared to about 10.7 per cent in Europe. In some parts of the world there is up to 20 per cent unemployment and large numbers of youth particularly, who are seeing the best years of their lives waste away because they are simply unable to find work. Here we have been able to bottle inflation, with underlying inflation sitting squarely in the Reserve Bank’s target band and a cash rate sitting at 4.25 per cent, which is incredible when you consider in the 11 years that those opposite were in government how long they were able to even get that cash rate. It was about six months. Six months of 11 years is about as good as it got for those opposite. We have 4.25 per cent.
The Treasurer mentioned today—and it has been mentioned on a number of occasions—that when you look at how much investment is in the pipeline you will see that there is $455 billion in resources alone. The other great thing is that we have very low net debt. It is less than a 10th of the levels across major advanced economies. We will return the budget to surplus while keeping the tax to GDP ratio lower than the level that it reached at its peak when those opposite were on this side of the House. It is probably worth noting again that, when those opposite were sitting here, tax as a percentage of GDP was about 24 per cent; now, under us, it is down to 21 per cent.
Mr Fletcher: Why don’t you look at expenditure as a percentage of GDP? That’s a different story!
Mr HUSIC: Despite the impact of the ongoing turbulence that I mentioned earlier, our public finance is the strongest in the world. Let us go back to net debt. I heard the member for Bradfield interject. If you compare net debt and expenditure—let us look at net debt.
Mr Ruddock interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Berowra and the member for Bradfield ought to know better.
Mr HUSIC: Net debt is expected to peak at 8.9 per cent of GDP in 2011-12. That, as I said, is less than one-tenth of the average net debt of major advanced economies, which is some 92.9 per cent of GDP. We will return to surplus light years ahead of major advanced economies.
Let us look at expenditure: through MYEFO we delivered a further $11.5 billion in new savings through spending cuts, building further on the $100 billion of savings across four budgets. Again, our record of fiscal discipline is there to be seen and has been endorsed by the international community. Our discipline has seen us get AAA credit ratings from all three global ratings agencies. That was never achieved by those opposite. They would have loved to have got it, but they never achieved it.
The IMF, the RBA and the global ratings agencies continue to back the strength of our position, that we will be getting back to surplus in 2012-13. Our fiscal settings have been endorsed by the IMF. Jorg Decressin, of the IMF, told ABC Radio National: ‘where you have these strong investment plans in the pipeline, where the growth prospects are still quite good, this strikes me as appropriate.’ That is the result of our being able to navigate our way through the worst economic circumstances in 75 years. We have seen jobs grow at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world, our overall growth rate is fantastic, we have bottled inflation and we have got net debt lower. We see the benefits.
What does that mean for my neck of the woods? Look at the types of things we have been able to achieve for my community in the course of the last few years. In my electorate unemployment is still stubbornly high and has been for years. There are a number of reasons for that: there are students who leave school way earlier than they should. They have decided that they will not go to university and so drop out of school. They get a job quickly, but are among the first to suffer whenever there are economic contractions. We are trying to build in students a personal bank of skills and we are doing that in a number of ways. I have been proud to see a number of trade training centres open up in my neck of the woods. Trade training centres open up education pathways for students who are necessarily interested in staying longer at school and who might otherwise have placed themselves in a vulnerable position for the future.
Earlier this year, we announced the investment of $1 million into a new trade training centre in Mount Druitt for Chifley College Senior Campus. This is part of an overall $2.5 billion program to help build schools and upgrade trade training facilities and comes on top of the $15 million spent in the Chifley electorate alone on a trade training centre for Doonside and Evans high schools, which, I was pleased to see, was opened by the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer. A trade training centre was opened last year at Tyndale Christian school. Loyola Senior High School, in Mount Druitt, has always had a strong tradition of providing students who do not want to go on to university with opportunities to learn a trade. The trade training centre at the school, which I toured recently, and which the member for Kingsford Smith came out and saw, is very close to being opened. It will include an automotive centre and cater for electrical apprenticeships, hospitality and hairdressing.
These centres match skills that are required in the local area, as advised, for example, by industry groups such as the National Electrical Contractors Association. These groups are working hand in glove with schools such as Loyola to make sure that we have schools that can train people up for jobs that are waiting for them. You cannot do that if your budget finances are not in order. You cannot do it if your values do not look at what will best help people on the ground, particularly in Western Sydney. That is the case whether it be through building trade training centres or, for example, setting up homes for vulnerable Australians who live in my area.
We have built 259 new homes under the Social Housing Initiative; they are providing safe and secure accommodation for my community’s most vulnerable people. These are people who sleep in cars, with friends or with family. Over the course of the last few years we have been able to build new homes for these vulnerable people. We have also ensured that about 30,000 people in my electorate who earn under $37,000 a year will pay no tax on superannuation. That will help hardworking people such as mums who might be working part time, contract cleaners, shop assistants, childcare workers, hairdressers and aged-care and disability workers. All these people on low incomes, because of the low-income superannuation contribution, will not pay tax on their superannuation. If they currently pay up to $500 a year in tax, they will save more for their retirement. Again, these are good things that are a result of the financial management and fiscal discipline that we have demonstrated.
On top of that, we have been able to see 1,000 former students take up places in 2012 to work as GP registrars in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries in urban and rural areas across the country. The Minister for Health visited the Chifley electorate recently to announce that initiative. In an area where we experience workplace shortages, where people sometimes have to wait an hour to see a GP, we are bringing on line more doctors to make sure that we can cut those times and make sure that people can get to see a doctor. That is on top of the $20 million we have invested in Blacktown hospital, which services the electorates of Greenway, Chifley and Parramatta, to make sure we train in Western Sydney doctors who will stay in Western Sydney. You cannot do that if you do not have the fiscal discipline necessary to ensure that you can deliver those types of programs.
Again, on our side of the fence we have demonstrated the ability to manage our finances and get triple-A credit ratings from all three major agencies. We have been able to achieve higher growth, lower unemployment and inflation contained. We are in a minority government and the pressure is on for both sides to demonstrate their ability to manage finances. I have outlined already what we have been able to do. Those opposite do not have a proud record in demonstrating how they would manage their finances.
You may recall that yesterday I referred to the fact that, when the razor gang of those opposite were meeting in August of last year, a figure had to be put to them for the savings they would need to find. The figure was different for all of the principals in that meeting. That was deliberately done, not in the interests of economic policy but in the interests of finding out who, on their side of the fence, was leaking. A figure of $70 billion was deliberately put out there. As a result of that, we have a situation where those opposite—who could not even last year find $6 billion in savings because they claimed we did not need a flood levy in response to the worst natural disasters that Queensland had faced in living memory—were unable to find savings of their own, but now think that they can find $70 billion in savings.
As I pointed out yesterday, they have been working very hard and long, late at night, to try and find those savings. The member for Goldstein, I think, proudly announced—and I will stand corrected if I am wrong—that in terms of trying to find that $70 billion in savings they had reached for what always gets reached for when you are trying to demonstrate you have been able to discover some sort of waste or mismanagement: they found $50 million in government consultancies. Fantastic work that! $50 million in consultancies—
Mr Hockey: It was $500 million!
Mr HUSIC: It was $500 million? You know what, Member for North Sydney? I will give that to you. So that is $69,500 million to go in finding savings. What does $70 billion mean? As we have previously said, that is like stopping Medicare payments for four years, aged pensions for two years, assistance to people with disabilities for three years, or family tax benefit payments for three years. It requires savings equivalent to 1½ times GST revenue for a year.
Mr Hockey: Come on, Ed—you’re better than this!
Mr HUSIC: Member for North Sydney, I would be interested to find out where you are able to find those savings. The member the North Sydney interjects and says that I am better than this. But, Member for North Sydney, we do not run our ERC on the basis of entrapment! You deliberately hand out different figures amongst yourselves to see who the leaker is. Who manages an economy that way? If in opposition they behave that way, how do you expect them to manage a $1.4 trillion economy? That is what they have to do. They have been unable to demonstrate that level of discipline.
I think the biggest thing, too, that needs to be explained is getting $4 million in support from one particular person and then pushing as hard as you can to get rid of all the revenue gained out of the minerals resource rent tax. You have another serious problem there. You have Clive Palmer effectively helping run the coalition’s economic policy when you have the biggest—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Chifley will resume his seat! I was almost going to say, at the end of his speech, that he had stayed within the reference rules. Member for North Sydney, are you seeking the call?
Mr Hockey: No, I was just having a wander, actually.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You were ‘just having a wander’! You have upset me. I have sat him down. Member for Chifley, go, but relevancy would be good.
Mr HUSIC: He has to walk around. He is always walking around trying to find savings!
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Don’t go to the dispatch box, though!
Mr HUSIC: He has a big job and I want him to be fit, because he is going to have a hard job finding $70 billion in savings.