House debates

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Questions without Notice


2:49 pm

Photo of Wayne SwanWayne Swan (Lilley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Treasurer and relates to his claims about fiscal policy. Can the Treasurer confirm that his own fiscal strategy includes a supplementary objective of ‘maintaining budget surpluses over the forward estimates period while growth prospects are sound’. Treasurer, why doesn’t the government’s own fiscal strategy pledge surpluses over the forward estimates no matter what?

Photo of Peter CostelloPeter Costello (Higgins, Liberal Party, Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I am confused. I will tell you why I am confused. This is why I am confused. The Labor Party asks me what our policy is but the Labor Party supports it. So what is this? You are now asking me to define what your policy is as well. Do you think you should have asked me what my policy was before you stood up and said that yours was identical? Let me tell you what my policy is and therefore explain to you what your policy ought to be. My policy is to produce surplus budgets. As it turns out, we have produced 10 of them. If it had not been for the fact that when we were first elected the budget was $10 billion in deficit, we would have produced a few more.

By producing surplus budgets we have now been able to pay off $96 billion worth of debt. I hold this out as a model, because in the current circumstances in Australia it should not be hard. It was much harder in 1996 to balance the budget, but in the current period in Australia, with booming GST receipts, it should not be hard to balance the budget. What we are seeing in Australia is that there are some levels of government that were in surplus but are now going the other way—they are the Labor governments. They were in surplus in 2005-06. They have booming GST receipts. Some of these states have booming mining royalties. They ought to be able to pay for their infrastructure out of their revenue and yet they are going into debt. Why would that be? It is because they are Labor state governments.

The old hairy-chested Leader of the Opposition—who wants everybody to believe he is a fiscal conservative and who dearly wants the electorate to think he is a Liberal—cannot make a statement of complaint about this fiscal policy by the states. Why is it? Mr Speaker, has it ever occurred to you that, if he were such a fiscal conservative, he would have no problem being critical of a level of government that was in surplus in 2005-06 and is now going into deficit? A fiscal conservative would not have any trouble doing that. But, as we know, the truth is that he is no fiscal conservative. He wants people to believe that he is a Liberal—but he only talks the talk; he never walks the walk.

He had plenty of occasions to stand up in this parliament and vote for fiscal conservatism. He had plenty of occasions to stand up here and support important economic policy. But, when the crunch came, Kevin Rudd was never on the right side. Kevin Rudd never had the decency or the courage to support good economic policy. If he ever became Prime Minister, he would be as much a patsy in the hands of the Labor premiers then as he is now. The difference is that then he would have some influence and some power; fortunately, now he has none.