House debates

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014; Second Reading

5:14 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Deputy Chairman , Coalition Policy Development Committee) Share this | Hansard source

This debate on the appropriation bills provides each member with an opportunity to give their views not just on the budget but on any aspect of government policy. Of course, it is right and proper that each member of parliament who speaks on these bills focuses, to a large extent, on the government's budget. With a budget the government tells the nation its priorities and the public in turn can judge it on its capacity, on its competence and on its priorities. In this very Federation Chamber last year we had this debate and if we could go back to that moment in time we had those opposite pledging, and in some cases announcing, that they had achieved a budget surplus. As I reflect on each of our current Treasurer's budgets, they all have one underlying theme: with each budget there are grand promises that are always followed by broken promises, nasty surprises and, frankly, incompetent government. The Australian people have been paying the price for that over the last five or six years.

In my contribution I want to look at this government's track record, because it is the best and the only indication of their future capability. Last year we had those in government telling the opposition they had returned the budget to surplus. The Australian public were meant to believe that a Treasurer who had missed each of his previous budget targets would miraculously take a budget deficit of some $40 billion and return it to surplus in one year. In fact, together with the Prime Minister, the Treasurer pledged on 500 occasions to return the budget to surplus this year. As it got closer to the budget and even as it became more obvious that the Treasurer was going to miss his target by a long way they kept making that pledge. As a corollary, for those opposite who spoke last year on the budget surplus that has not occurred this year, that will not occur next year or the year after. If you believe the Treasurer it will be near balance the year after that and then a small surplus.

The Australian people have seen this Treasurer's track record. They have seen his capacity for meeting targets. What they see is a government that makes a promise on budget night and then spends the rest of the year working out how to break that promise. Those opposite who also spoke on the budget last year also spoke about a number of commitments that were in the budget. They spoke of the importance of an increase to Family Tax Benefit A, worth $2.5 billion. That was in all of their newsletters and in all of their speeches. That promise pledged with hand on heart in last year's budget was broken in this year's budget. Promised tax cuts were also abolished. The mining tax which was supposed to share the benefits of the boom, of course, only delivered a fraction of what Labor claimed. I will come back to that in a short while. The Australian public—who has seen this track record—knows that any promise made by this Treasurer and this government is a promise that will surely be broken by this Labor government in the days, weeks and months ahead. We have looked at the deterioration in the state of the budget; that has deteriorated year after year with this Treasurer. We have seen the gross debt limit increase from $75 billion up to $300 billion. Each time the Treasurer has increased this debt limit, he has said that he would not have to increase it further and that he would never reach the cap. Now it is obvious that he will breach that $300 billion cap and that it will be necessary for him to again seek to increase it. For those opposite who listen to their Treasurer—I think, a year or two ago, there were some that believed their Treasurer, but I cannot believe that there are any of those in the government and on the government back benches who honestly believe in the competence of this Treasurer or the honesty of this Treasurer—each year, they have seen the results of his budget promises.

I could run through how much he has missed on each budget projection. I have done that before in similar debates. But I want to talk about the cost of these broken promises and the cost of this incompetence. Our net government debt—let me be generous; I have referred to the gross level of debt—which has escalated to projections up towards $170 or $180 billion. From a Treasurer who inherited $45 billion in cash in the bank, this is a monumental turnaround. And with that debt comes an interest-servicing cost—a significant interest-servicing cost. It is basically $7 to $8 billion a year—$21 million a day. And that is on the net debt figure. That is just to keep the debt. It is not to pay a dollar of the debt off; it is just to keep it. The price Australians pay is the price of the services that could have been delivered with that amount of money every single year, and the cost of paying that down. There is only one way to pay that debt down and that is with a budget surplus, which would be a repayment. Of course, the Treasurer has never delivered a budget surplus and never will.

The Treasurer would have us believe that this is all because he has had a collapse in revenue. Nothing could be further from the point. Revenue is up this year. It is up by about six per cent. It is way up, of course, when you look at the figures going back over the last few years. The Treasurer's problem is not that he has had a decline in revenue; the Treasurer's problem is that he has so overestimated what he saw to be the increase in revenue—and then spent the money—that when the increase did not turn out to be so much, he claims he has had a fall in revenue. It is a bit like a family sitting down to do an annual budget and making the assumption that at the end of the year they will get a $30,000 bonus, and on the basis of that assumption spending every single cent of it.

Then the problem arises not that they get no bonus but that the bonus is not $30,000; it is something a bit smaller. The best example of this, if you want to go to the detail in the budget papers, is the mining tax, which was going to collect billions and billions of dollars. On the basis of the projection by the Treasurer, that money was spent yet it has not been realised. In fact, as we famously discovered, the mining tax has collected only a little over $100 million in its first six months. You would have thought that the Treasurer would learn from this, but no. If you look at the budget figures where he has the outcome and a low projection for next year, miraculously there is the projection that revenue from this tax will increase massively in the out years, coincidentally at the time he says the budget begins to return to balance and to surplus.

This government does not have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem. Families and small businesses in the Yarra Valley and in the outer east know that they pay the price of this government's incompetence and irresponsibility because an incompetent and irresponsible government in Canberra spreads a lack of confidence throughout all of Australia. Whether it be in my electorate or in the electorates of my colleagues, Australians have seen this Treasurer and this government's approach to economic and fiscal policy. After five and a bit years they know that not a word that is pledged can be trusted and they know there are nasty surprises around the corner.

This set of appropriation bills following on from the budget really does provide a capacity for those opposite to reflect on the promises they made to their constituents out of each budget. As they start to talk to their electorates again, they should think about what they have done in the past. They should think about what they know will happen in the future. The Australian people are not going to be lectured by this government and certainly members of this opposition are not going to be lectured by this government in the days and weeks leading up to the election about what they will deliver and what they say we will not. For every promise made to families—like the schoolkids bonus, which is linked to the mining tax, which they are promising hand on heart—I say to the families that their promises are the same as the promise they made on family tax A in the last budget. The future under Labor of the schoolkids bonus is the same as what has occurred to the family tax payment, which was promised with such fanfare last year.

On these appropriation bills the government has demonstrated that it is getting worse, not better. What Australia desperately needs is a change of government. Australia desperately needs a new Treasurer delivering the budget next year and the present shadow Treasurer will deliver a responsible budget, a budget of integrity, a budget that starts to solve Australia's economic problems. That is what we want to be debating next year. (Time expired)


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