Monday, 25 May 2009
Questions without Notice
Mr Speaker, my question is again to the Prime Minister. I refer to his previous answer in which he said ‘net debt is projected to be 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2020’. Could the Prime Minister tell the House what he projects GDP to be in 2020 and what he projects the net debt to be in 2020 expressed as a sum of money?
On the question of GDP and 2020, I do not have that number with me. On the question of net debt as a figure, it would be about 75 billion. I also draw the honourable member’s attention to the following: these figures represent, on Australia’s part, a net debt performance that is the lowest of all the major advanced economies. I would say to the honourable member opposite that when net debt peaks for Australia at 13.8 per cent of GDP, the average for the major advanced economies is 88.7 per cent of GDP: for Japan, 131 per cent of GDP; for the United Kingdom, 80; for the United States, 80; Canada, 28; France, 79; Germany, 84; Italy, 125. Then we go to the rest of the economies.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. We know that the member for Dickson has such a strong and personal relationship with the Leader of the Opposition. That is why he seems to figure so prominently in question time. Mind you, given his performance last week on private health insurance and public hospitals, it is no wonder why.
The member for Brisbane is not assisting. The member for Sturt knows that when he rises for a point of order, he can make his point of order, he cannot then add matter. I am not going to enter into things such as we had in the last sitting week, when that matter that is added, if it is not in Hansard, is put into Hansard, because then that indicates that the purpose of the point of order was not a point of order but trying to get things on record by way of debate. On the question of relevance, the Prime Minister is responding to the question. The Prime Minister has the call.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The uncomfortable news for those opposite is that net deficit and net debt for this country compare well against the rest of the world. On the question of net debt, I would simply re-emphasise this point: when our net debt peaks at 13.8 per cent of GDP, as projected in the budget papers, it represents not just the lowest of the other major advanced economies, it is something like seven times lower. That means that when we peak at 13.8, that across the G7 will be 88.7. I heard an interjection before in relation to the other advanced economies. The average across the other advanced economies is, I am advised, 79.1. Therefore, for Australia, taking such a responsible approach to stepping in to make a difference with Australian economic performance now in the midst of a global recession is the responsible course of action.
I welcome the interjection by the member for O’Connor. I was in Western Australia last week and I was with the WA Premier, who was supporting this government’s investment in nation building, supporting this government’s investment in the Oakajee port development, supporting this government’s investment in the Northbridge link in the middle of the city of Perth, supporting this government’s investment in a range of infrastructure projects. It seems that at that stage the government was engaged in the business of building the economy up. The only contribution the Leader of the Opposition seemed to be making in Perth last week was a dubious contribution to retail sales in a particular supermarket outlet, where he was not entertained for an extraordinarily long period of time.
On the question of net debt, the government’s position is that 13.8 per cent of GDP is the lowest of the other major advanced economies by a country mile. This entire strategy on the part of those opposite rests on an absolute lie and the Leader of the Opposition knows that fact. That is what this is about. He knows that taxation revenues have collapsed $210 billion at a time when—
Mr Speaker, I am sure you know why I have risen. The Prime Minister should not use the word ‘lie’ to describe anything that the Leader of the Opposition has said and I ask you, for the benefit of the House, to ask him to withdraw.
My difficulty is that I am not sure that he was directing it to any person; it was that the debate or the discussion around the matter had that as its substance. It appears that the Leader of the Opposition has inferred that what the Prime Minister was saying was directed to him. I would therefore, for the convenience of the House, ask that the Prime Minister withdraw it.
Mr Speaker, to assist the House, I do so. The absolute untruth upon which the opposition’s strategy is based is this: they know that there has been a $210 billion collapse in taxation revenue. I contrast that with the $334 billion taxation windfall which the member for Higgins received when he was Treasurer, courtesy of the resources boom. That is fact 1. Fact 2 is that, as the member for North Sydney blurted out in a stream of consciousness last week or the week before, their overall borrowings would be $25 billion less than the government’s. If you net that—
He intervenes and interjects now: ‘At least.’ The Leader of the Opposition is so well served by the member for North Sydney. They have committed themselves therefore to a gross debt of $300 billion or thereabouts, minus $25 billion. That is their position. That is the second lie upon which the entire strategy on the part of those opposite—
Opposition members interjecting—
It seems that those who are, shall we say, casual in their relationship with the truth are very sensitive when it comes to being pinged for being so casual in that relationship with the truth.
Of course, then we have the third element of their strategy. Firstly, they know there has been a $210 billion revenue collapse; secondly, they themselves admit through that great voice of reason on their part, the member for North Sydney, that their total debt would be $25 billion less than the government’s; thirdly, as the Deputy Prime Minister and the minister for infrastructure have said today, they then show up out on the ground and participate in the launching of infrastructure projects across the country because they want to be part of the local action. This I think also goes to the heart of the truthfulness of the strategy being embraced by those opposite.
But here it is in a nutshell: they have embarked upon a strategy to talk the economy down. That is their strategy—to talk the Australian economy down and to create a greater problem than would otherwise be the case.
The government’s strategy is one of nation building for recovery, and we are in the business of doing that with our sleeves rolled up right across the country. We were in Western Australia last week with a Liberal Premier doing exactly that. In fact, I seem to recall the member for Curtin showed up at one project associated with that. Maybe I am mistaken as to where the money came from for that particular project.
Can I say to those opposite that this is the practical response to and what you do in the face of a global recession which is the worst economic downturn in three-quarters of a century. The alternatives are these: you stand back and do nothing, or you embrace the government’s strategy, which is this. When there is a huge assault on private sector activity in the economy, government steps in temporarily to make a difference. That is what we have done. That is why we are investing in infrastructure. That is why more than 70 per cent of the government’s stimulus package is investing in infrastructure. That is why we are engaged in rail, road and ports right across the country. That is why we are investing in social housing right across the country—to make a difference, to reduce the impact. What those opposite in their hard of hats say is, ‘Let the free market rip.’
Heart of hearts. I think those opposite are also challenged in terms of their hearing. What those opposite say in their heart of hearts, to the extent that they have one, is as follows. The ultimate position of those opposite seems to be: ‘Let the free market rip. Don’t intervene, and therefore throw another 200,000 people onto the unemployment queues.’ That is the position which you have, unless we accept what the member for North Sydney said last week at absolute face value. Joe, I have known you for a long time; I can only take it for what it is. You would simply borrow $25 billion less. This entire strategy is based on an absolute falsehood. You know it. But its sinister political objective is this: to talk the economy down.