Monday, 24 November 2014
Questions without Notice
Mr President, my question is to the Minister for Finance and the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Cormann. Will the minister inform the Senate how the government's budget reforms build on the responsible policy reforms of previous governments?
Honourable senators interjecting—
Mr President, our challenge as a nation is to ensure that we can live within our means, to ensure our income covers our expenditure so that we do not have to keep borrowing from future generations in order to underwrite our lifestyle today and to ensure that we have a sustainable funding base for important services in welfare, health, education and all of the other important services that the Commonwealth provides. Of course governments of both persuasions, Labor and Liberal-National party governments in the past, have recognised the importance of structural reforms and sound policy when it comes to managing the budget, but not this Labor opposition under the leadership of Bill Shorten.
I just remind the Senate and I remind senators opposite that many of the reforms that we are talking about today are reforms that were first initiated by Labor governments in the past. For example, Bob Hawke introduced a co-payment on GP services in the 1991 budget, and we know that the shadow Assistant Treasurer, Mr Leigh, is strongly supportive of that particular proposition. A biannual indexation of the fuel excise commenced in August 1983 under Labor, and Paul Keating at the time said:
… every six months [the fuel excise is] adjusted for inflation—the real value of the tax does not change.
He also said:
… we are definitely not prepared to have the excise base of the Commonwealth eroded … the direct income tax burden will rise if other categories of tax receipts fall.
And wait for this, Mr President: who was it who introduced for the first time the efficiency dividend on the ABC? It was none other than Ralph Willis. Remember Ralph Willis? He said in 1999 that 'the government decided that ABC funding should be maintained in real terms for the next two years but be subject to the efficiency dividend in the same way as all government departments and most budget funded agencies are required to be'. Who abolished it? It was the Howard government after putting the budget back on a sound footing. (Time expired)
If we want to protect our living standards, if we want to build stronger opportunity for the future and if we do not want to live at the expense of our children and grandchildren, then we need to repair the budget. I might just reflect a bit further: it was a Labor government that first ensured that the ABC was subject to the same efficiency dividend as every other taxpayer funded agency of government. It was the coalition in 1997-98, when John Howard and Peter Costello put the plan in place that restored our public finances, that exempted the ABC from the efficiency dividend. But under Senator Wong agencies right across government—in health, in education, you name it—were all subject to an efficiency dividend. I never ever heard Senator Wong say that imposing an efficiency dividend was tantamount to a cut. You are changing your arguments to suit yourselves. (Time expired)
What we know from Mr Shorten is that he has promised to deliver a budget surplus more quickly than the coalition. Having been a senior member of the team that created the mess that we are currently dealing with and opposing most of the savings that we have put forward, he is not even able to get Labor to support Labor's own promised savings to bring the budget back to surplus sooner than the coalition. We want to see how he is going to do that. Where is he going to cut more deeply? Where is he going to increase taxes in order to get there?
And then we have this from Mr Shorten's press conference on the weekend:
One bit of good news about Australian politics is that Labor has been consistent in what it stands for.
Ha, ha, ha, ha—as if! Is that the Labor Party that said that we should not provide a subsidy to companies earning more than $20 billion a year?
Opposition senators interjecting—