11 April 2013

Opinion piece: Getting the big calls right to protect jobs and growth


Published in The Daily Telegraph

Most Daily Tele readers would've been on their way to work when they picked up this morning's paper. The fact that this is the norm for so many Australians says a lot of things about our great country. Australia has more people in work than ever before in our history, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world at 5.4 per cent.

Since Labor came to office just over five years ago, more than 900,000 jobs have been created in Australia. Contrast this with the 28 million people who have been added to unemployment queues around the world over the same period. Widespread job losses across the globe have been a direct consequence of the recessions that engulfed almost every developed economy, with many of these economies still struggling to return to growth. Australia avoided this fate - we dealt with the worst the global financial crisis could throw at us and came through it with flying colours.

Consider these facts:

  • Our economy has grown more than 13 per cent over the past five years, while around half of all advanced economies have not grown at all.
  • We have an unemployment rate with a '5' in front of it, less than half of what it is in Europe at 12.0 per cent; and
  • We are now one of only eight economies with a AAA rating (with a stable outlook) from all three major ratings agencies - something never achieved under the Liberal party.

When I see people like Andrew Robb try to pretend the GFC never happened, I think of the hundreds of thousands of people who wouldn't have a job if we took the advice of people like Mr Robb and Tony Abbott. Their strategy of denial would've smashed our economy into the ground and unemployment queues would've ballooned like they did across the developed world. Their approach was to sit back and neglect the economy when all the experts said we needed to act to protect jobs and the country. Which we did. And it worked. As the OECD concluded, "the exemplary handling of the global economic and financial crisis helped avoid a recession" with Australia's fiscal stimulus "among the most effective in the OECD".

Of course, Australians haven't been immune from severe turbulence in the global economy, and neither have government revenues. But despite the huge hit to government revenues from difficult global conditions, Labor took action to protect families and jobs, and keep the doors of business open. The result is we came through the worst of the GFC in better nick than just about any advanced economy. As the IMF said, "five years on, both the [Australian] economy and the financial sector continue to outperform most of their peers. The authorities' timely response to the fallout from the GFC, their prudent economic management, and strong supervision of the financial sector, has kept Australia on the dwindling list of AAA rated countries."

It is true that GFC and its fallout wiped $160 billion from government revenues.

Contrast this with the last years of the Howard Government, when rivers of gold were flowing in, almost as fast as Mr Robb and the Liberals were trying to shovel it out the door, squandering an enormous opportunity for our country. Even the IMF recently confirmed that the Howard Government was the most reckless spending government in Australia's history.

The irresponsible spending of the Liberals meant that inflation was not contained, which had a devastating impact on families with mortgages.

Who'll ever forget interest rates going up ten times on the trot in the last days of the Howard Government? Thankfully, it's different now. Interest rates are now less than half what they were under the Liberal Party - if you're a family in Parramatta with a $300,000 mortgage on your house, you're saving around $5,000 a year on your mortgage repayments. That's an extra hundred dollars in your pocket every week.

When the worst of the GFC was bearing down on Australia, workers, businesses, unions and governments all banded together to keep our country strong. Robb's suggestion that this never occurred is an insult to every Australian who worked hard to secure our resilience.