03 March 2020

 I do indeed rise today to talk about the government's failure to adequately support the economy. That has been demonstrated in today's decision by the Reserve Bank to cut the cash rate to a new record low. It's a new low for the cash rate in this country, but it's also a new record low for the Morrison government's economic credibility.

This is a massive and unforgivable failure. It is a failure that will haunt this third-term coalition government. This government under the leadership of this rotten Prime Minister will predictably try to spin its way out of this terrible economic mess. That's because the Prime Minister is a salesman and not a leader. We have had ample evidence of this over the summer and we have had ample evidence of this right here today in question time.

In times like this, when the world and Australia are confronted by very serious issues such as coronavirus and the bushfires that we had earlier this summer, Australia is crying out for a leader. Instead we get an ineffective Prime Minister with no plan for this country and certainly no plan for this economy. This is a ramshackle coalition government of disaffected Liberals and disappointed Nationals. Even worse, this is a blatantly dishonest government led by a Prime Minister who is up to his neck in this sports rorts fraud.

Amazingly, this Prime Minister and his Treasurer are now trying to use the coronavirus and bushfires as an excuse for their longstanding failures of economic management. I'm amazed but I am not at all surprised, and neither are any of us on this side of the chamber. This government desperately wants people to forget that before this occurred growth in this country was already slowing, that wages were already stagnant and that we had big problems with investment and productivity.

The Australian people will see through this latest marketing ploy from this ad man. For a long time Australian people have worried about their jobs and family budgets. They know the economy was weak before the emergence of coronavirus and the bushfires. The government cannot escape this fact. It has been confirmed by the Reserve Bank of Australia, leading economists, business groups and other analysts. Another fact is of course the cut in the cash rate today—another blow to the economic credibility of this rotten government.

I will give you more inescapable facts about the government's economic record. Economic growth has slowed since the election, it has slowed since Mr Morrison became Prime Minister and it has slowed since the Liberals came to office in 2013. Underemployment is at record highs, with almost two million Australians looking for work or for more work. Weak wages growth has stalled further, and the Liberals are presiding over the worst wages growth on record. The worst wages growth on record—what a legacy for a Liberal-National coalition government in this country. Household spending is growing at its slowest pace since the global financial crisis. Again, what a legacy! And we know consumer confidence is below average. Household living standards have declined under the liberals, with real household median income lower than it was in 2013. Everyone knows it. Everyone around this country knows it. They know they have less to live on than they did seven years ago when this government came to power. We know it on this side of the House, because we talk to our constituents and we witness their lives and what the higher cost of living and stagnant wages growth is doing to them every single day. This government does not care and does not listen. It has no plan for the economy and no plan for this country.

Business investment is down 20 per cent since the Liberals came into office, and now it is at its lowest levels since the 1990s recession. The private domestic economy is contracting and has experienced the biggest decline since the GFC. Labour productivity has declined for the first time on record. Net debt has more than doubled—more than doubled!—under the Liberals and rocketed to record highs of $430 billion.

These are the facts. The Liberals can say what they want—and they will say what they want—but facts remain. That's the good thing about facts: they always remain. The data doesn't lie and facts don't lie. That's something all of us in this place can have a think about.

For many months before the bushfires and coronavirus, Labor had been calling on the government to stimulate the economy in a sensible, responsible way by bringing forward infrastructure spending and tax cuts. We have said that the economy is much weaker than the government had pretended and much weaker than their own budget forecast. But the Prime Minister and the Treasurer refused to do a thing. For the past several weeks, we, on this side, have been saying the impacts of the coronavirus on the economy have been and will continue to be substantial. We have called on the government to do more. You'd think by now this government would have come up with a plan to support business and workers during the fallout from this virus but, again, we have seen nothing. Again, this government is behind the eight ball when it comes to confronting the true economic impacts it is facing.

In my role as the shadow minister for trade, I've been made aware of serious concerns among business groups about the current and particular impacts of this virus. Businesses are concerned about a lack of information and guidance from government. The government has a national hotline for anyone concerned about the health effects of the virus. That is entirely a good thing. But, for businesses struggling to stay afloat, there is little information available on the exposure they face or the steps they can take to plan for different scenarios in the weeks and months ahead. Today even in the Financial Review it's been noted that businesses with a network of consumer outlets around every state in this country have complained about a lack of information coming from government about the impact of this virus on their businesses. They seek to know more about potential protocols that they could follow if a customer or staff members is diagnosed with the virus, but they are not getting this information.

I first raised concerns about the government's lacklustre response on the business side and the economic impact of the coronavirus back on 6 February. Four weeks later, business is still waiting for this information. It's still waiting for anything—some kind of better information on the website, some kind of hotline—for something to support the economy, and that's why we speak about this government's failure to support the economy today.

Another thing that happens in this place time after time in question time is that the government trots out one of these tired lines about its virtues in international trade. It has this line, 'The government has increased our two-way trade by free trade agreements from 26 per cent to more than 70 per cent and are aiming for a high of 90 per cent.' They repeat this over and over. That's fine. What we do know is that Labor has supported the passage of these trade agreements through the parliament. Without our support for open international trade, this government would have nothing—nothing!—to gloat about in respect of its economic record. All it has is its failure to support the economy and its luck that it has the support of a Labor opposition that will do the right thing and make sure we do get international trade happening through this country.

Labor in government has a history of supporting international trade and we'll continue to do so. We support the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. We started IA-CEPA. It was a Labor initiative. It took time, it took patience and it took Craig Emerson to start it. We helped finish it, and we're proud of it. Labor support and always will support free, fair and open trade because we know that it raises living standards around the country.

The truth is that this government is more concerned with doing absolutely anything it can at any possible cost to remain in government. As we've seen in answer to questions here, it relies on technically correct yet vague assertions about deals it has signed. What is clear to everyone in this place and in this country is that this government cannot run an economy but it sure can run a corrupt sports rorts program. This government can't run an economy but it can run a regional infrastructure program that funds swimming pools in North Sydney. That's great for the National Party. This is their very first dam. They would be very pleased indeed. As an actual bonus, they've delivered a dam with change rooms in North Sydney. Congratulations to the government! This government had a plan and enacted a plan to flagrantly buy the last election, but it's never had a plan to boost economic growth. There will be a reckoning for this government, because the Australian people, the Australian voters, will not forget this sports rorts program, this fraudulent, corrupt program that you have ownership of. This will go with you for all of your careers, because you all played a part in it. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You should just apologise. You do not support the economy.