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24 February 2014


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (16:55): Recently, we Australians have been told that we are in a period of economic transition. A series of blows to our national economic spirit have left some saying it is the end of us and of life as we know it. In the face of changing economic times these people turn their backs on reason and logic and vow to do exactly the opposite of whatever this government chooses to do. They cling to images of yesterday at the expense of real plans for a sustainable future. They demand: ‘Save the car industry! Give it more money and spare the jobs, because it’s all your fault, Mr Abbott. And, while we are at it, all recent job losses are your fault too.’ Too often in this place during spirited debate the first casualties are the facts, yet the facts in these cases are irrefutable. The overwhelming reason for car manufacturers to shut down operations in Australia is based on the efficiencies gained through mass production. That simple reasoning applies worldwide, whether your car is made in Tokyo or Detroit. The bottom line is that we simply cannot compete. The rule of thumb that now applies is that for a car-building facility to be economically viable in the global marketplace it must produce at least 350,000 units a year. Not one of our factories produces even 100,000 a year. The arithmetic is simple; it would make the decision easy for anyone in Detroit or Tokyo, yet it is a hard decision for us to accept. We are a mobile people and with other cars. Holdens and Fords embody Australian values. They are good, honest cars—world class—and we are rightly proud of them. Add to that the sentiment, the prospect of job losses and the anguish that an uncertainty as to families, and our concerns are understandable.

Proponents of the car-manufacturing industry point to unemployment figures, which are at their highest since 1992—and they say it is all the fault of your government, Mr Abbott. Unemployment figures are universally accepted to be a lag indicator that has nothing whatsoever to do with what a newly elected government has done in the most recent six-month period. The previous government made an art form of making headline-generating announcements and then cobbling together a quick fix that was meant to address the problem of the day. Crisis management created by no management left a legacy of no planning and no work done to foster the sustainable business opportunities, real jobs and real projects that produce real wealth in our Commonwealth. The hard work and sacrifices of the Howard government paid off debts and left money in the bank, but the complete disrespect of the previous government and the vandalism of our inheritance saw our prosperity squandered like a rich kid blowing daddy’s fortune.

Most unfortunately, history has repeated itself. The syndrome of the Hawke-Keating legacy remedied by the Howard plan of management played out again during the Rudd-Gillard love match, which left us with nothing to show for their spending except record debt. These very debts now await Prime Minister Abbott, as we cry out for new management. Thankfully, this government has a plan, one based on sound, proven principles of economic management. The plan may not make headlines and it may not appeal to those who want instant gratification, hang the consequences, but it will appeal to those of us who realise that good money invested wisely will pay dividends for future generations and who appreciate the difference between putting your money on an outsider at Randwick and investing in bricks and mortar. In the past six years our good money has been put on some rank outsiders and we have been left to lament what might have been, had this absurdity not taken place. It is time to return to the principles of sustainable economic management that once guided this great country and conserved its wealth.

The first principle, of living within our means, is sound and essential. But for many who are used to no-limit credit cards and, an ‘anyway, daddy pays’ mentality, this may be somewhat of an inconvenience. The next principle, of being absolutely responsible for one’s actions, is the domain of adulthood. Now is the time for a sober evaluation of our economic situation, and for coming to terms with the facts; not the way we would like them to be, and not the way they can be made to appear with copious spin, but the real, undeniable facts. This government promises to open Australia for business, to provide certainty and stability for those wishing to invest, to reduce red tape, and to restore sovereign trust. This government will replace the stigma that has plagued us since 2007, when we were labelled a nation of sovereign risk—for the first time in our history. Australian businesses demand better, and the international community needs solid foundations to ensure investment and growth. Our integrity as a nation of trust and sovereign certainty must be restored. Our plan appreciates the needs of the day without bowing to populist pressures or advocates of the short-sighted, quick fix. Our promises to build the roads of the 21st century, and to be the government of infrastructure, are the key ingredients to build Australia, to build our economy, to create real jobs and, ultimately, to reduce the cost-of-living pressures that impact everyone living in our major cities.

After a week in which we joined to commemorate and celebrate our nation’s bravest with stories of courage under fire, it is timely to reflect on the qualities of Australian heroes like Corporal Cameron Baird, our nation’s 100th recipient of the Victoria Cross. While we in this place are not exposed to the pressures of war, Corporal Baird ought to be the source of inspiration at this crucial juncture in our history. He is a man who set his course with principle and commitment. We here must do the same. For too long, the tough decisions on infrastructure have been shirked, and the consequences abound—our major cities are congested, overpriced and under-resourced; coupled with no comprehensive strategic program of decentralisation. These have become major issues, neglected for too long, and they demand attention if we are ever to realise our nation’s potential. There will be some amongst us who will hear the concerns of families and workers, and will determine that any resolution to our current economic situation is all too hard. They will throw their hands in the air and pledge to support the status quo at the expense of a sustainable future. But in their commitment to a failing industry, they threaten to stunt our long-term growth and frustrate any chance we have of visualising an Australia for 2020, or 2050, and beyond. It is time to re-imagine our future and to calm those who would have us fight a losing battle, and who cling to an image of this country that will do no justice for the generations to come.

While concerns are understandable, we in this House must have the courage to look long term and to plan our next step. Our future surely lies in infrastructure planning and development. How do you retrofit infrastructure into our major cities when the land is prohibitively expensive? How do you effect urban renewal and densification strategies to replace the endless spread of urban sprawl? How do you attract overseas investment in infrastructure projects that can liberate regional areas to grow, and give opportunities for careers and home ownership to our next generation? In this week when we have commemorated and celebrated Corporal Cameron Baird for his commitment to his duty, his bravery under fire, and his absolute courage, our policies should be inspired by Corporal Baird—to commit to our course of action on principle, and to have the courage to stay the course. The fire that may come across the aisle should not diminish that commitment. Planning our next step will alleviate the uncertainty and anguish surrounding a period of economic transition. It is our responsibility to make the hard decisions and to commit—to the programs that have been thoroughly developed and tested, programs that will deliver to our future generations opportunities and real jobs; programs that will make Commonwealth more than just a name.

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