As much as I still think the Rudd government’s stimulus package is a good idea, albeit with a couple minor problems , after sitting in on a couple hours of senate proceedings today as they debated the bills which make up the stimulus package, I am left with a few points of contention.
It was clear from the moment that Kevin Rudd started going on about how any delay in passing the bills was an afront to the funding of schools, rather than an afront to our economic recovery, that Kevin was trying to produce better headlines than anything which could be unearthed by the parliament in a comprehensive review of the bills. Based on the sheer size of the stimulus package, which is the largest non-budget spend by the Australian Government in history, if there was nothing hiding in the pages of the bills then Kevin would have copped the delay on the chin, knowing that such complicated legislation deserves to be debated…a point his side of the parliament were keen to make when the Work Choices bill was passed in about two weeks.
Anyway, on with the points of contention.
It would appear that somewhere in these bills, the Rudd government plans on increasing the government’s maximum allowable debt from $75 billion to $200 billion. This isn’t to say that they will run out and spend up as soon as the bills go through, but the fact that they even want this extra allowable debt is a worry.
From my perspective, it either means that the Rudd government think things are going to get a whole lot worse despite their stimulus package, or they are planning a splurge in the next budget. Either way, a $200 billion dollar debt, regardless of how it is racked up, is just not acceptable. One of the reasons that we are in as good a position as we are when compared to the rest of the world, is that we have run federal budget surpluses for so long.
$200 billion is just not on. That bit of the bill needs to be removed before the stimulus is passed.
The coalition senators presented an interesting proposal to the senate. They believe that a better stimulus for small business than some of the incentives which have been put forward (the rebates for various expensive items, rebates which the businesses won’t see until July 1 or later, and which they can only get if they spend money now, at a time when their cash flow is poor and they probably can’t afford to spend the money) is having the federal government pay some of the superannuation contribution (I think they said two of the current nine percent compulsory super contribution which, to clarify, would mean 7% paid by employer and 2% paid by government) for businesses with 20 employees or less, for the next two years. Effectively this frees up money for the business to spend as it needs.
I agree with the idea, and it would certainly be more helpful than the nutty “rebates on computers which cost more than $2000” (if the public service were buying $2000+ desktop computers for desk jockeys I’d be furious at the waste of money…I don’t know why the government expects small business to waste money like that), although I still believe that the idea of reallocating the cash injections and small business incentives so that they become smaller cash injections for individuals as well as cash injections for small business would be a good idea. Perhaps we could reallocate the $3.9 billion “house insulation for all, so that we can cut greenhouse gas emissions” plan (which apparently won’t cut greenhouse emissions at all ) in to the “superannuation contribution” fund.
The next things on my list are observations which aren’t about the proposal, but about the odd behaviour of Labor to date on this one.
Firstly, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard did not vote on the bill when it passed through the house of representatives at 5am. Sure, they’re busy people, but parliament sits for long hours when incredibly important legislation is being discussed. For the leader and deputy leader of the party which are vigorously supporting the bill to not stay and take part in the vote is an insult to the parliament and to the constituents (I was going to use the word “voters” but that could have been confusing in that context). It does make me wonder what they will do if the legislation doesn’t pass through the senate…will they try to wriggle out of trouble by saying that they “didn’t vote for it, and by the way here’s a smaller package which we’ve already shown to Malcolm who seems to like it”?
I’m also amazed that not a single Labor senator has put themself on the list of speakers for this bill. It could be a tactic whereby they just listen to the ideas of everyone else and then the party room make amendments based on these suggestions for senators to tack on to the bills, or it could be a simple case of “how dare you block our bill, and how dare you waste our time by rambling for days on end in parliament when we could have moved on to other topics”.
I’d suggest that it’s more likely to be the latter, although if the numbers start looking particularly dicey, then it may become the former for emergency purposes. It’s such a pity that Kevin has decided today to only listen to the minor parties  (and even then, not act on their suggestions) though…especially when the coalition make up a lot more numbers than the minor parties, meaning that more people voted for, and are represented by, the coalition than the minor parties.
Ultimately though, I do still support the plan, although I would be happier with it if there were a few amendments.
If I’m not at work when the senate next debate the stimulus bills, then I intend on watching the senate webstream and “live blogging” as the debate rages.