Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (20:06): by leave—I want to address some of the issues that have been raised by a number of opposition speakers in relation to what we are doing. In particular, they tried to use a number of claims, which I think are quite false and, frankly, wrong about what we have been doing with this budget. There is no way that you can cook books, with an economy as big as ours, with a budget as big as ours and with a government that needs to be as transparent as ours. You need to be able to verify exactly what you plan to do and how you plan to achieve it.
We have been able to do in one year—and it has been clearly recognised by many people who look at the work that we have done—what those opposite were not able to do in the last five years of government, namely, cut expenditure. In the coming fiscal year we will cut expenditure by more than four per cent, whereas those opposite in the last five years of government continued to increase spending to the tune of four per cent every single year. And they were unable to deal with the critical issues that were constantly raised and I mentioned these in the House earlier today. The Reserve Bank had said that there were two particular issues in terms of capacity constraints affecting the economy that those opposite were unable to deal with, chiefly, skills shortages and infrastructure blockages that were affecting the country. Skills shortages take ages to deal with. They require sustained investment by government in education and training, both in tertiary and vocational areas.
Those opposite, when in government, had the idea that in dealing with skills shortages they would do a number of things. They underfunded the TAFE system and then sought to duplicate it by the creation of the Australian Technical Colleges, which were in direct competition with TAFE. If I can also point out, they undertook radical industrial relations reforms, designed to suppress wage growth, undercut conditions, ensure that there was a massive transfer of wealth from employees to businesses and cap wage growth. They dealt with it in that way, in a market where skills shortages would drive up wage costs because demand for labour was high—a fundamental underinvestment at a time where they continually spent.
This government, in cutting spending, has targeted its spending on the way through, making sure that economic conditions are not affected by a government continuing to drain, in terms of capital markets, money away. When economic conditions are much more buoyant, we start withdrawing our spending and ensuring that business has the best climate to invest. It is clear that a lot of investment in the economy is about to occur over the next few years, and the competition for cash should not occur as a result of anything the government is doing.
We are spending more wisely but also ensuring that we are facing the economic challenges of the nation, such as investment in skills. We had a debate today, for example, in the House on enterprise migration agreements. There are massive projects occurring on the other side of this continent that will see up to 100,000 positions that require to be filled. We are providing the mechanisms to ensure that they will be filled. We are making investments in trade training centres, in vocational education and in enterprise migration agreements. These mechanisms will ensure jobs for Australians. Businesses will be required to get their supply of labour through hiring locals or, if they cannot, through hiring people on 457s.
If you look at the budget, these initiatives have all been detailed. They have been up for public scrutiny. They demonstrate investments in our people, particularly through education. I am particularly proud of those, yet those opposite, when they, during their time in government were unable to achieve these things—and some of the snapshots I have given have demonstrated they were unable to do so—seek to denigrate what this government has been able to achieve in a short space of time. I have previously commented on what this means for people on the ground in my own electorate, and I commend the budget, not only to the constituents that I am proud to represent but also to the nation as a whole because I think it meets the challenges now and into the future.