Senate debates

Friday, 22 June 2012


Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2011-2012, Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2011-2012; Second Reading

10:29 am

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

So, despite the fact that during the Asian financial crisis our region was not growing, Australia continued to grow. When I hear from the other side that we had it easy when we were in government—that we had no challenges—I say that the Asian financial crisis was a big challenge. Our region was not growing, and we continued to grow. One of the reasons we continued to grow was that the Australian people had confidence that the government of the day knew what it was doing. The Australian people had confidence that if there were external shocks, external challenges, we would make the right call. One of the reasons business confidence and consumer confidence have taken a hit under this government is that the Australian people have lost faith in this government to make the right calls when there is a challenge.

With the global financial crisis, the Australian people know that the government made the wrong call when it came to massive spending on school halls. They know the government made the wrong call when it came to massive spending on pink batts. And they know that e reason we did not go into recession was not due to those spending measures. It was because of demand from China for our mineral resources. It was because the Reserve Bank cut interest rates. It was because we had a floating exchange rate. They are the reasons we came through the global financial crisis. Also, we had the world's best prudential regulatory environment, courtesy of Mr Costello's reforms. That is why we survived the global financial crisis in relatively good nick. When looking at these appropriation bills we must look at why we are in the situation that we find ourselves in today. The reason is the policy decisions made by this government. This government acts as though it is just a victim of circumstance: it is a bad world out there, things happen that are beyond our control—gee, shucks, revenue is right down and we cannot balance the budget. That is not true; it is because of policy decisions. The important thing with this government, and indeed with all governments, is to look not at what the government says but at what it does—to look at the policy decisions it makes.

One of the reasons I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated in my disability portfolio is that when you look at the forecast debt interest costs for the next financial year, you see that they are $7 billion a year. Debt interest of $7 billion a year represents an opportunity forgone. Every one of those seven billion dollars is going towards absolutely nothing. They are going to fund not a single school, not a single hospital, not a single supported accommodation place and not a single port; those dollars are going to support absolutely nothing. If this government had managed its affairs better, if it had lived within its means, there would have been enough money today to fully fund a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The additional ask for an NDIS is $7½ billion; $7 billion to $8 billion will be the annual interest bill for this government. It represents an opportunity forgone. It is frustrating, and it is tempting to say, 'It does not really matter if the government goes into debt.' It does matter, because that debt has to be repaid, with interest, and those dollars represent an opportunity forgone. That is why I want to see government live within its means. That is why I want to seek government not go into debt unnecessarily. Debt compromises the ability of governments to do the things they need to do, such as implement an NDIS. I suspect that is part of the reason why this government allocated only $1 billion for the NDIS over the forward estimates rather than the $3.9 billion recommended by the Productivity Commission.

I will leave it there, because time is short. We know that the guillotine is going to come down and I know that Senator Brandis is champing at the bit to make a contribution.


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