Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Matters of Public Importance

Economy

3:53 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

The sound and robust economic legacy inherited by Rudd Labor is now up in lights for all to see. Having desperately tried to trash the Howard-Costello economic legacy in their first six months in office, Labor now have to admit that our economic fundamentals as a nation are in fact very sound. Indeed, that is what Mr Rudd told us last night in his address to the nation. That soundness, that robustness, is due to the legacy of the coalition government’s economic management. It did not happen by accident and it did not happen after 24 November last year. And it is well that we be reminded of how that sound economic foundation was created, because it did not happen by accident. When Labor left office in 1996, they left the Australian people a $96 billion government debt. In today’s terms, that would equate to a government debt of at least $120 billion. On top of that debt, they left a $10 billion budget deficit—and Labor had in fact promised the Australian people that there would be a budget surplus or, at the very worst, a break-even budget. When we called for bipartisanship to fix Labor’s mess, what did we get? We got Labor stirring up rallies outside Parliament House that led to the front doors of this place being broken down—such was Labor’s outrage at the thought of a balanced budget, let alone a surplus.

When we pursued economic reform to make Australia stronger, we were opposed by Labor at every turn. Despite Labor’s best endeavours, we persevered, we reformed, we took the tough decisions, we looked to the future, we planned and we took considered and decisive action. What was the result? In April 2006, we finally paid off the last of Labor’s debt. Yes, it took a full decade to pay off Labor’s debt—and Labor opposed every budget that allowed us to pay off the debt. Why did we do it? Because we believed in intergenerational responsibility. We wanted to leave a legacy for our children, after we left government, of money in the bank, rather than the $96 million debt legacy that Senator Cameron and his Labor mates left the Australian people. And so, having opposed our many surplus budgets, Labor continued to oppose us when we built the Future Fund for Commonwealth superannuation liabilities, health and education. Having paid off Labor’s debt, we embarked on the task of future-proofing our nation with the Future Fund.

In November 2007, Labor was handed a very sound economy with a budget well and truly in surplus. There were no hidden deficits. Our Charter of Budget Honesty legislation saw to that—yet another one of our reforms. Despite that soundness, as soon as they came to government, Labor sought to trash our economic reputation as managers with their pathetic campaign about fighting inflation. Remember that the inflation genie was allegedly out of the bottle. I do not think we will be hearing much of that in the next few months, unless of course the measures that Labor are introducing will have such a result.

In trying to trash our economic record, Labor said they had raised an extra $19 billion worth of tax. For what reason? To slow down the overheated economy which they had inherited. Such was the mantra associated with the May budget. We are now told by Labor that this same budget is the centrepiece to stimulate the economy. Go figure! Just two weeks ago, Labor, through the hapless Senator Conroy, could not tell us in this place whether the budget surplus was for saving or for spending. Indeed, watching Senator Conroy’s performance today in question time, no Australian should have confidence in the economic management of this country. When Senator Conroy was asked whether the government had any Treasury economic forecasts underpinning yesterday’s announcement, he could not answer. When he was asked whether he could guarantee that the budget will not be in deficit at the time of the next election, he could not answer. When he was asked whether the government had received any advice about the inflationary impact of its package, no answer. And so it goes on.

Indeed, I have this feeling that the laptop that Senator Conroy uses at question time is there only for show, or is, indeed, part of the Rudd education revolution—one of those laptops that comes out of the box with no connections, no cable to make it work and no power point, so that poor old Senator Conroy is sitting there with his laptop and nothing is coming out of it. And if something is coming out of it and he is actually repeating it, we as a nation should be very, very worried.

Now we finally know that the surplus is for spending. But, just two days ago—

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