MPI: The Floundering Economy

16 October 2019

An address to the Australian Parliament on the state of the economy.


In recent months there has been no shortage of indicators that the Australian economy under those opposite is struggling. But perhaps the most reliable indicator, the thing that really gives us a sense in this place of how badly the Australian economy is performing on their watch, is the amount of time that they dedicate in Question Time to talking about the Labor Party.

There has not been in the history of this Commonwealth a third-term Australian Government which spends more time obsessing over its opponents than this one. How humiliating for those opposite, having come through the election in May, having won a third term and now in their seventh year, to spend all of their time talking about the Labor Party.

When Australian workers and families and pensioners, when Australians need a Government focussed on wages and growth and jobs, instead they've got a Government focussed on Labor, Labor, Labor, and that's not good enough.

Deputy Speaker, the economy is floundering and people are struggling, the IMF is slashing its forecasts for Australian growth all for one reason; those opposite don't have a plan to turn the economy around. The weakest growth in the last decade is an inevitable consequence of a Government with a political strategy but not an economic policy. We saw the consequences of that as well last night when the IMF shaved one-fifth off the growth expectations for this country for this year. But not just the IMF. The OECD's downgraded their forecasts. The Reserve Bank has downgraded their forecasts. All of them, since the election, have slashed their expectations for the pace of growth in this Australian economy.

The economy has deteriorated substantially since those opposite were re-elected in May, since they wandered around the country pretending that they were good at managing the economy when the facts tell a very different story. What we're discovering now is that no amount of blame-shifting or finger-pointing or buck-passing can obscure these basic facts about the economy; the slowest growth in 10 years since the GFC, the worst wages growth on record, declining productivity and living standards, record household debt, the worst business investment since the early 1990s recession. I can go on and on and on about this.

Amongst the many conclusions that we can draw about the underperformance of the Australian economy one really jumped out at me today when I was listening to the Treasurer in Question Time earlier on. There has never been in this country a bigger gap between the Treasurer's own stupendous self-regard and his actual performance in the role as Treasurer. There has never been a bigger gap between those things. As the Member for Moreton reminded me in Question Time today, the flattest tyre needs the most air. When you think of that saying, you think of the Treasurer of Australia. It's dawning on him now that all the skills that made Treasurer Frydenberg the Treasurer in the first place - all of the networking, all the backbench stuff, all the pestering of journalists - doesn't matter a cracker when the economy is slowing as it is and he doesn't have a clue how to turn things around. That's why he doesn't have a plan to turn things around.

Deputy Speaker, the IMF rang the alarm bells on the Australian economy but those opposite are too out of touch to hear them. This is a Government which is long on excuses, but short of a plan. In Question Time today we heard every excuse in the book. We heard that they anticipated this growth slowdown despite the fact that the budget numbers in April are substantially higher than the outcomes that we are getting. We heard that it was all about global factors despite the fact that the IMF's downgrade for Australia is four times bigger than their downgrade for the other advanced economies as a whole and despite the fact that that Reserve Bank, Deloitte, and others have said that our problems are home-grown on the watch of those opposite.

We heard, remarkably from the Treasurer, that the drought is now apparently the number one call on the Commonwealth budget. When you look at his own budget papers there's a neat little pie graph in there about where taxpayers' money is actually spent. The Treasurer saying that the drought all of a sudden is the number one call on the budget will be news to the Minister for Social Security, and news to the Minister for Health, the Minister for Education, the Minister for Defence. Really for almost all of the Ministers over there it will be news to them that drought all of a sudden is the number one call on the Commonwealth budget.

We heard all kinds of excuses from those opposite. They are long on excuses and they are short on a plan.

As I said at the outset we know that the economy is struggling and we know that the Government is struggling because they spend all their time talking about us. Right on cue in Question Time there was the ”Human Highlighter”, the Treasurer. He's now conceded that he sits around in his office reading my old transcripts and my old speeches, he's now admitted as much, the Human Highlighter. There he is pouring over these transcripts making these B-grade memes while the economy flounders and people struggle.

While the economy is floundering and Australians are struggling, stagnant wages, record household debt, this guy the Treasurer of Australia spends his time with the little yellow highlighter out poring over the transcripts of those of us on this side of the House.

I don't suspect that he has many moments of reflection but if he does perhaps he could reflect that maybe the reason why the Australian economy is performing so badly on his watch is that he spends all of his time focussed on us here on this side of the Parliament and none of his time focussed on the Australian people and their economy and their country. That's what we need and expect from the Treasurer. We expect him to take responsibility for once, and the Prime Minister, to come clean on their role, to take some responsibility for the fact that the challenges in our economy are primarily home-grown. There is some international turbulence, of course there is, but the fact that they don't have a plan to deal with our domestic challenges leaves Australia dangerously exposed and unnecessarily exposed to some of that turbulence that we are seeing around the world.

As I said before, the Australian people want those opposite focussed on wages. They want them focussed on jobs and household debt. They want them focussed on economic growth. Whatever they are doing right now is not working. We hear the Prime Minister and the Treasurer trying to retrofit whatever their most recent ideological obsession is as if all of a sudden that's part of some plan to turn the economy around. If that's their plan to turn the economy around it's not working.

All we're asking for, all we're proposing and suggesting in good faith, is that whatever is currently in the economy in terms of interest rate cuts and tax cuts which we supported, it's not currently enough to shift the needle on economic growth. The economy is badly underperforming. The disappointing thing is that with all of the things that have changed since the election, all the ways that the economy have gone has gone down since the election - all of this data we've had about household debt and growth and wages and jobs, 1.9 million Australians looking for work or for more work - all of that has changed, all of that's deteriorated but the Government's policies have not. All we're calling on those opposite to do is to come up with a plan, to take responsibility for it and to come up with a plan because whatever they've been doing so far has been insufficient.

What they've done is they've proven that sitting on your hands when the economy is floundering, just crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best is not good enough for the Australian people. The Australian people deserve better than the kind of hands-off approach that they're getting from those opposite. There's a lot of anxiety in the community, we know it. All of us do the mobile offices on Saturdays. We're all engaged with our communities and people say to us that they're worried about their jobs, worried about their kids' jobs. They're worried about the fact that no matter how hard they work they just can't seem to keep up with the cost of childcare, energy or private health insurance. We understand that, we feel that very deeply.

Our responsibility in this building is to make the best decisions and the best judgments about the economic circumstances and to actually do something about them in the interests of the Australian people; in the interests of workers and pensioners and families and people right around Australia. Not just in parts of Australia, but in every single corner of Australia. That's where those opposite are really derelict in their duty to the Australian people.

We all hope that the economy picks up. But hoping is not enough. Hoping is not enough. Hoping is not a strategy, as the Member for Greenway says. It's not a strategy and a strategy is what we need.

We need less of the political games, less of the wandering into the New South Wales party convention saying that the Prime Minister's highest priority is to come up with legislation which is hard for Labor to support as he did a few weeks ago - wedge-islation as the Member for Moreton says. That shouldn't be the highest priority of a Government when the economy is slowing as it is and people are struggling as they are.

So we call on the Government to change course when it comes to the economy. Not to throw the kitchen sink at this, not to jeopardise the surplus, but to do something responsible to fund a proper plan to turn this economy around.

Whatever they are doing right now, it isn't working. We see that in the IMF numbers overnight, the OECD, the Reserve Bank cutting rates to less than 1 per cent for the first time ever in the history of this country. It's time to change course. It's time to take responsibility. Those opposite should have a plan to deal with an economy which is floundering on their watch.