Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Answers to Questions on Notice

Question Nos 437, 541, 601, 603, 604, 605, 606 and 607

3:25 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Finance and Deregulation) Share this | Hansard source

I do not think we will be answering some of the questions that we were asked on Q&A, Senator, but I will attempt to answer some of the erroneous propositions that Senator Cormann put forward, many of which had very little to do with the matter before the chamber. First, on the accountability question, the senator suggested, amongst many incorrect asser­tions, that the Treasurer had not made an effort to answer any questions. That is simply untrue. I have been in this chamber where I have outlined very many hundreds of questions asked of Treasury to which answers have been provided. I also explained to Senator Cormann that, for whatever reason—and I make no accusation around this; it may have been at our end—I was not made aware of the letter from him indicating that he would be questioning me, as the Minister representing the Treasurer, until the fax was received while question time was still proceeding. Hence, I indicated to him that I would obviously need some time to get a response from the Treasurer. Those are the facts as opposed to the rhetoric.

The second set of facts that go to Senator Cormann's comments is about the lack of legitimacy that Senator Cormann has. Everyone who listens to this or watches this should be aware of that. The coalition have made it clear that they stand for smaller surpluses. Mr Hockey has said that they will run down the surplus, they will risk the surplus, in order to provide tax cuts. Another point that Senator Cormann does not talk about is that the coalition have a $10.6 billion black hole from their election policies, found by Treasury and Finance, which they have never filled, and they have simply added to it by their botched savings package for the flood tax and by their opposition to a range of savings measures the government have put up in this place. That is why there are those on the coalition side—and I would have thought that Senator Cormann should be one of those; he prides himself on being a fiscal conservative—who would understand the importance of the coalition voting responsibly and sensibly when it comes to savings measures. Prev­iously in this place I have spoken about the comments made by Senator Minchin, which have been reported publicly, about the need, if the coalition oppose savings measures, to find other savings measures to respond to them, and I have also spoken about the fact that even coalition MPs are speaking publicly to the papers about the coalition's failure to be fiscally responsible and how it just does not stack up.

Every time Senator Cormann comes in here and attempts to give a speech, beating his chest about fiscal responsibility, what ought to be recalled is that his side stands for smaller surpluses—those are not my words; those are Mr Hockey's words. His side has a $10.6 billion black hole in its election policies, which was found by Treasury and Finance after the election had been finalised. That side is blocking savings measures, thereby imposing further costs on the budget, and that side has botched its savings package for the flood levy, also adding to its parlous fiscal position. As I said, I agree with the anonymous coalition MP who told the Adelaide Advertiser on 28 May:

'We can't keep agreeing with government spending measures and opposing savings and revenue measures and keep our financial credibility intact.'

I would suggest to Senator Cormann as one who is part of the economic team of the coalition that perhaps he should listen to whoever that, I suspect somewhat senior, anonymous MP speaking to the Advertiser was. I would make the point also that whenever the coalition come in here and talk about deficits—apart from the fact that they would have a bigger deficit and smaller surpluses—there is one glaring omission and that is the global financial crisis.

We as a government made the right economic call at that time, which was to ensure that the economy did not fall into recession. We did ensure that stimulus was put into the economy and that did impose a cost on public finances. That is the case. We are working our way through that to come out of it at the moment and we would welcome the coalition's assistance in that, but to ignore the global financial crisis, to ignore the 200,000 Australians who would have been in the unemployment queue if the government had not intervened and put stimulus in the economy is really not sensi­ble economics. When Senator Cormann stands up in this place and bangs on about the very many things that over 20 minutes he banged on about, people should remember the coalition stands for higher deficits and smaller surpluses, as the shadow Treasurer said. The coalition wants to forget—


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