Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Bill 2012; Second Reading

1:06 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am sorry, it is $252 billion—that last $2 billion would certainly have gone to paying this, Senator Williams. So from a $70 billion surplus in 2007 we now have an estimated $147 billion debt this year—in fact, it is already $252 billion.

Let me put that into perspective for you, Mr Acting Deputy President, if I may. The annual interest bill alone is $6.6 billion—that is, $6,600 million each year. Just the $600 million would account for the $700-odd million that the government is trying to save in this exercise. When the Howard government came into office following the Keating period, Peter Costello was able to pay back $96 billion of debt and, in so doing, saved some $5 billion over the remaining period of that government. We are not talking $5 billion over the remaining period of a government; we are talking about $6.6 billion of debt every year at our current debt levels. Here we are arguing—and we listened to what I would certainly agree was an eloquent representation by Senator Siewert—about the impacts on the most vulnerable people in the community in this move to try to save $700 million over four years when we seem to be accepting $6.6 billion worth of interest payments alone on a debt of $252 billion. This is all in the name of trying to protect a budget surplus.

The budget deficit, the annual difference between revenue and expenditure, was estimated by Treasurer Swan to be $22 billion in 2011-12. It doubled and it blew out to $43.7 billion. Since Labor came to government the deficit, the difference each year between revenue and expenditure, when put together over the life of this government has become $170 billion. They are telephone book figures. So any capacity by this government to actually balance a budget when it has a track record to date of accumulating a $173 billion deficit is a nonsense. It has no capacity to do so. There are many other areas in which the government should be looking for savings so as not to put the yoke upon the shoulders of these most vulnerable people and their children. But, of course, that is the circumstance the government finds itself in because of its profligate spending and because of its waste. The burden is now being carried particularly by those who are most vulnerable.

I will finish my contribution on this with the lamentable observation that not only do we have currently $252 billion of debt and $6.6 billion of annual interest payments on that debt but also, to date, we have seen unfunded commitments of some $120 billion further by the government leading into the next election, whenever that is held. The emphasis must be on two areas. Firstly, there must be sufficient funding so that people do not live in that level of poverty to which others have referred, as I have. Secondly, there must be adequate funding to make sure that those who become eligible to return to the workforce have the financial wherewithal to seek employment, to get to interviews, to complete a task and to have their children minded as needed. Just having clothing and being able to present yourself in a physical and psychological way so that you are attractive to an employer or to those who are interviewing you for employment, as indeed those of us who are participating in these inquiries can, are of themselves critically important. I simply urge that before this bill is given its final concurrence, which, as Senator Sinodinos said, the coalition will not be opposing, we re-examine the circumstances of adequacy and those other incentives, and return the incentives that the Howard government had in place that marked the success of this program so that we can give some dignity to those people.


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