Just listening to the former speaker I was wondering if the children up there in the schools area of the gallery were wondering whether their new multipurpose facility, their new library or their new outdoor learning centre has been a complete waste. They certainly have not been in Canberra: in Canberra, every project has been delivered on time and on budget, and everyone I talk to in the community is absolutely over the moon.
It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of this motion today because it goes to the very heart of what this Labor government has achieved; that is, a strong, stable and resilient economy.
Our unemployment rate continues to go down, and is incredibly low when you consider the unemployment rate in much of Europe. I know Spain is looking at unemployment at around 24 per cent, while the fiscal crisis in Greece continues to get worse with the jobless rate hovering at around 21 per cent. However, the latest figures for Australia show our unemployment rate to be less than five per cent.
This is no accident; it has been achieved through careful economic management and well-developed employment participation programs by the Labor government. In fact, more people are in employment now than ever before: just over 11.5 million Australians are participating in the workforce, taking the total number of jobs created since Labor came to office to around 800,000.
We are privileged to enjoy some of the best living conditions in the world and we continue to rank highly on the UN Human Development Index and the OECD Better Life Index, as this motion suggests. Our per capita GDP is ranked sixth according to the International Monetary Fund, and our net debt as a percentage of GDP is extremely low when compared to other countries.
All this is reason why now is the time to return our budget to surplus and to look at transforming our economy for the future by introducing a price on carbon pollution. If anyone is in doubt about the need to return the budget to surplus, I suggest you consider what the IMF had to say on the issue just a few weeks ago. The IMF said:
… we welcome the authorities’ commitment to return to a budget surplus by 2012-13 to rebuild fiscal buffers, putting … government finances in a stronger position to deal with shocks and long-term pressures from an ageing population and rising health-care costs.
Putting our finances into a stronger position, which we are doing, will give our economy a buffer against any future uncertain economic times. Returning to surplus also sends a very clean sign to the rest of the world about our strong fundamentals, amidst all this global uncertainty—and it is indeed uncertain. It will also give the Reserve Bank flexibility to cut rates if it feels that is necessary, on top of the rate cuts that we have already seen. Returning to surplus will also allow us to concentrate on what we all came to parliament to achieve: necessary reform for a better future, making a difference. We will be able to help Australia prepare for an ageing population, which Labor is doing through the reform of the agedcare package. We will be able to establish a National Disability Insurance Scheme, which will do nothing short of revolutionising disability services in this country.
I am proud of the work we are doing, and even more proud of the state of our economy just four short years after the height of the global financial crisis. This is in stark contrast to what those opposite continue to say and do, which is talk down our economy—and we have heard a lot of it today—and vote against the vital fiscal measures that have been so beneficial in ensuring that Australians do not experience the same unemployment that has befallen the eurozone. This is the same opposition that voted against the schoolkids bonus because it did not trust families to spend that vital cash on school supplies and new uniforms. The Leader of the Opposition did not trust families with their own budget, so why should Australians trust him with the nation's budget?
I strongly support this motion. It concisely states the remarkable result of Labor's careful economic management during the worst economic crisis of our time. I can only imagine what state our economy would be in today if those opposite had been in charge.