Parliamentary Speech: The Economy

The Australian economy is on the road and moving forward. It reminds me of the Mad Max scene with the V8 Interceptor charging forward. I find it interesting that Labor Senator Ayres should accuse us of closing down the car industry, because back in 1987 it was actually Button and his tariff plans that put it under pressure.

Since coming into government in September 2013, we’ve added 1.4 million jobs, of which 80 per cent are full-time positions. But, if we want to do the DeLorean story here and go back in time, let’s talk about what happened under the previous, Labor, government: when every budget blew out by billions of dollars to the extent that, over the cumulative period of Labor’s time in government, their budgets blew out by $80 billion—$80 billion.

If we’re talking about our low-income workers, let’s talk about the minimum wage for the last three years. In 2017, it increased by 3.3 per cent; in 2018, it increased by 3½ per cent; and, in this year alone, it has increased by another three per cent. So, cumulatively, over the last three years it has increased by a compounded rate of over 10 per cent. And that matters, because, at the end of the day, a good government always looks after its hardworking people. We saw that in the last election results. The battlers decided to abandon the Labor Party because they knew that the Labor Party had abandoned the battlers. The Labor Party no longer stand up for hardworking people. The Labor Party would rather sit around and blame everyone else for the world’s problems. That’s not the aspirational spirit of working-class Australians.

As for a decrease in penalty rates, I totally reject that. Next month, we’re going to see the Saturday work casual rate increase from 140 per cent to 145 per cent, and, in the following year, to 150 per cent. For Monday-to-Friday evening work after 6 pm, we’re going to see it increase from 130 per cent to 150 per cent by March 2021. So, on top of that compounded 10 per cent over the last three years for the minimum wage, that is well above the rate of inflation. It is to the Morrison government’s credit that we have been able to deliver a pay rise for our low-income workers.

Another interesting fact is that in the last six years, under a coalition government, the amount of revenue collected in company tax receipts has increased from $67 billion to an estimated $95.6 billion in the last financial year—an increase of over 42 per cent. So we’re going after the big end of town, and we’re not abandoning the battlers.

We’ve also got some good numbers coming through for the trade surplus. In the last quarter, for the month of June we saw a trade surplus of $8 billion, and a current account surplus—for the first time since 1975—of $5.8 billion. So we’ve got a win-win. For the first time in almost 50 years, we’ve actually seen our current account position improve. That’s because we are prepared to back mining, we are prepared to back coal, we are prepared to back iron ore and we are prepared to back gas. That’s the difference between this side of the chamber and that side of the chamber. Those opposite won’t take advantage of our vast natural wealth. They’d rather keep it in the ground and let future generations go without.

What I want to talk about is infrastructure and the great contribution that this government is making to the state of Queensland, especially with regard to roads. Just last weekend in Toowoomba, one of my favourite towns, we saw the opening of the Toowoomba bypass. The Toowoomba crossing is a $1.6 billion project that had 80 per cent of its funding from the federal government. We have also seen up to $635 million invested in the Warrego Highway. That’s the highway I grew up on; that’s my yellow brick road. So we have a number of new overtaking lanes coming in there. We also have the Chinchilla open level rail crossing upgrade, and we have $19 million being spent on that. We have the Oakey-Miles upgrade, and we have $43.5 million spent on that. We have $63.5 million spent on the Dalby to Miles pavement widening. We have the Oakey to Miles safety upgrade—another $11 million.

I’m going to go through the completed projects. We have the Dalby to Miles overtaking lanes, the Carroll Creek culvert replacement, the Brigalow to Chinchilla upgrade, the Dalby eastern access upgrade and the Dalby western access upgrade. What’s interesting about this is that the federal government is putting money into the Darling Downs. This is the place the gas is coming out of. This is the place where the beautiful black soil creates the wealth. It creates all the wheat and barley and cotton that gets exported for dollars for this country. My question is: is the state Labor government putting money into those areas? I think not. What I have seen those guys do is shut down our maternity ward, amalgamate our councils and bring in poker machines. What a terrible legacy state Labor has left to our state.

The next thing is the government budget looks like it will be in surplus this year, for the first time—if not last year. We’ll find out in a couple of weeks. Net debt has peaked, and we’re starting to pay it down. We have also retained our AAA credit rating, which under the current circumstances, with the trade war that’s going on, is, I think, a fantastic effort. Our employment is still growing at twice the average OECD rate, and that’s quite a good effort.

With regard to the tax cuts, we have actually brought in the low-income offset rebate and a middle-income offset rebate, and they’re kicking in this year. We’re pleased to have legislated for significant tax cuts in the future. If we can maintain a strong budget position—and we’ll see what happens as to future tax cuts—I’m optimistic that we can bring some more in there. We also have a record $100 billion infrastructure pipeline. As I have just mentioned, we’re spending a lot of money here in my home state of Queensland, and I know that we’re also spending a lot of money on the New South Wales Pacific Highway. I drove down there last week. This time next year we should have a fully dual-carriage highway all the way between Brisbane and Sydney. That’s our second-busiest road, behind the Hume Highway. Most of that’s been built in the last six years, since the coalition has come to power, and that’s a fantastic effort for the people of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, who use those roads all the time in a very heavily populated area. That’s just one of the many areas. We’ve also improved a lot of roads around the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, and we’re now looking forward to improving the roads above Gympie on the way to Rockhampton. That’s something that I know both Senator Scarr and I will be backing—to push further duplication of the highway up to Rockhampton and the Wide Bay area, which is one of Australia’s fastest-growing areas.

I think the other thing that’s worth noting in regard to small business is that we have a $525 million skills package which is going to deliver up to 80,000 new apprenticeships over five years in priority areas of skills shortages. Isn’t it fantastic that we’re getting back to our skills? We’re going to bring back our tradies, which is something I’m very passionate about. We’ve also increased the instant asset write-off to $30,000, which is another great help for our small-business people. We’ve also reduced payment times down to 20 days; that’s another good one.

I want to touch on the business tax cuts that we brought into parliament in the last term, reducing taxes to 25c in the dollar for small businesses with turnovers up to $50 million. Hopefully that should get our Australian-owned businesses on the record growing. I think we can see that with the fact that we’ve now got back into a trade surplus as well as a current account surplus and also a budget surplus. If we get that, that will be a record which we’ll be very proud of; we’ll have a triple surplus. So I’m looking forward to the next 12 months.

Unlike Labor over here, I won’t talk down the economy. I won’t talk down the Australian people, because I believe in their aspirations and their dreams, and I think that we can see out there in the results in the last election that the Australian people would agree with that. They turned their backs on the big-spending Labor Party and the constant vilification of our hardworking miners and farmers. These are the guys that actually create the wealth in the country. These people over here want to bite the very hand that feeds them, and that’s not the way this country was built. This country was built on the back of hard work, not sitting around in ivory towers in the cities and saying, ‘We’re going to solve the world fixing up climate change or whatever.’ No, there’s no substitute for hard work, Senator Sterle—no substitute for hard work.

So I think we do have a plan, and the plan is showing in the results. As I just said, we have a trade surplus and a current account surplus and will have a government surplus. When we’ve got a plan like that, what we’ve got to do is keep it going straight and forward, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re not promising to save the whales or anything like that. We’ve got our eye on the road, and that’s where we intend to stay.

The constant talking-down by these people of the economy is putting their own self-interest in front of the people. They want to talk down the economy. They want to scare the people from spending, but we’ve got record participation rates. We’ve got a solid employment growth rate—twice the growth rate of the rest of the OECD—and that’s quite the achievement given the trade wars that are going on now, I think. It’s interesting that they have to cry crocodile tears over Australia’s unemployed, because, had they been elected, they would have sent a wrecking ball through the construction industry and the mining industry.

Despite the global headwinds, the Australian economy is doing not just well but spectacularly well. We’ve seen reported in the media that the Labor Party are now saying they’ve got to go back and revise their own policies. They’re at a loss. By what percentage are you going to reduce carbon emissions? That’s the big question we all want answered. What’s their newest plan to save the world? The answer is: they don’t know. They don’t know, do they? They haven’t got a clue. As Senator Cormann said earlier today, they’ll still in their seven stages of grieving, wondering what went wrong.

That’s right. Triple surplus! I can’t wait until we get to that: current account surplus, trade surplus and government surplus. That is going to be something special. And you guys over there are talking it down because you can’t admit that this government is doing a fantastic job at managing the economy. It is quite the achievement. It’s a good way for me to start my political career, to be in a government with such a strong set of numbers: a strong employment rate, with a record 1.4 million people in jobs, and a high participation rate. That’s a reflection of the confidence that people have in this economy. They haven’t given up.

The Labor Party has given up. They don’t know what their plan is now. What percentage are you going to reduce carbon emissions by? The left faction doesn’t want to do this, does it? You’d go to 100 per cent if you could. Good luck with that! You’ll bring the economy to its knees. You’re worried about actually stopping growth; mate, you’ll kill the economy. I know what that’s like, having been in Queensland and watched what the state Labor government has done to Queensland over the last 30 years.

Shameful! What have we got? We’ve got the sale of Queensland Motorways and the port at Abbot Point in 2011; the sale of QR National, the Port of Brisbane and forestry plantations in 2010; the sale of the Cairns and Mackay airports and the Brisbane Airport in 2008; and the sale of wind energy assets in 2007. Why would you sell your wind energy assets if you believe in reducing carbon emissions? It doesn’t make any sense. Then there is the sale of gas assets: Golden Casket, Powerdirect and Sun Gas in 2007; and Sun Retail and Allgas in 2006. What’s so sad about this is that, after basically selling all of the Queensland assets, shutting down the maternity wards, amalgamating the councils—

Yes—and in the middle of the GFC. When these last assets were sold between 2007 and 2011, that was in the middle of the GFC. So not only did you sell all the assets, you sold them at rock-bottom prices. When I first moved to Brisbane in 1988, Queensland was the fastest-growing state in the country. Now it’s one of the slowest, because state Labor doesn’t have a plan and hasn’t got a clue. Heaven forbid we ever get federal Labor in, because we don’t want federal Labor doing to Australia what Queensland Labor did to Queensland.

It’s a great neoliberalism plan: let’s sell all the assets. Let’s just sell assets. That’s not an economic plan, but we shouldn’t be surprised, because that was on the back of the Hawke-Keating era—sell CBA, sell Qantas, sell CSL. The great union leader sold his soul for neoliberalism—got sucked into it, didn’t he? It’s interesting: 30 years ago today we brought in the LNG plants and got LNG up and running—and what did the Hawke-Keating Labor government do? They brought in HECS on teachers and nurses. What a sell-out! Don’t hear much about that, do we? It’s a bit like how we don’t hear much about the great effort of Lawrence Springborg in fixing up Queensland Health in 2015. What a great effort after Queensland Labor couldn’t even pay the wages of the nurses! Think about that. Don’t let it happen. Thank heavens the federal coalition is in power—and I can’t wait for that triple surplus. Let’s get Queensland Labor out of power before the last person has to turn out the lights.