I’m glad to see you’ve acknowledged the Liberal Party’s fraudulent claims about my government’s Energy Efficient Homes program during the global financial crisis. However, I wish you’d shown the same level of attention to other aspects of our stimulus strategy.
For instance, you refer to the “mountains of cash handouts that went straight to Harvey Norman for widescreen televisions”. This misconception about the $900 income tax bonuses we paid to working Australians is misguided on two levels.
First, sales from department stores, such as Harvey Norman, accounted for less than one-fifth of the lift in retail trade in the June quarter of 2009, compared with June 2008. Just as pronounced were increased sales from cafes, restaurants, clothing stores and supermarkets. No evidence there of a surge in television sales as opposed to any other kind of product.
Second, so what if some Australians did head to department stores to buy televisions? Almost 1.2 million Australians were retail workers at the time, accounting for more than one-in-10 workers – higher than any other sector of the economy. Deutsche Bank estimated the stimulus payments boosted retail sales by $7.5 billion and helped save about 115,000 jobs in early 2009, including 40,000 jobs in retail.
After retail, the next highest employing sector was construction, with almost one million jobs. For them, we introduced a series of programs including supporting first homebuyers and the biggest program of social housing renewal in Australian history.
We also launched a $16.2 billion school modernisation program, which you flippantly call the “school halls” program. This very moniker is a Liberal lie. In reality, multi-purpose halls accounted for about one-quarter of projects under that program. The majority of projects funded were classrooms and 3000 state-of-the-art libraries around the nation’s primary schools – all connected to the internet.
In fact, the independent implementation review found just 332 complaints across 10,492 projects. Indeed, this was well within expectations for the construction industry on private sector projects, and “a testament to those involved”. Only a sliver of these complaints were subsequently substantiated, with the scheme delivering good value for money.
The school modernisation program alone helped support 120,000 construction jobs, including a generation of apprentices, and prevented workers with key skills exiting the industry altogether.
As your analysis of the insulation program demonstrates, there is often much more beneath the surface of partisan claims about government programs than meet the eye.
As Scott Morrison is now discovering, it’s a lot harder to defend Australia against recession than it is to snipe from opposition. If the Liberals had been successful in blocking our stimulus strategy, we would have witnessed an 18-month recession with 210,000 more Australian out of work, on Treasury and OECD estimates.
Instead, we were the only advanced economy to escape recession, with among the world’s lowest debt and deficit levels, triple-A ratings from the three major credit agencies, a stimulus strategy reviewed by the blue-ribbon economic institutions as among the best in the world.
The Hon Mr Kevin Rudd is former Prime Minister of Australia