Friday, 12 June 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Cormann. Minister, during your time as finance minister, you referred specifically to $667 billion in government debt as being, amongst other things, unacceptable, unsustainable, a mess and a disaster. Minister, what is the amount of gross government debt today?
You are quite right: that is precisely what I have said in the past. That is the trajectory that a disastrous Labor government put Australia on between 2007 and 2013 because when we came into government we inherited a rapidly deteriorating budget position. Remember those 11 weeks between Labor's last budget and their last economic update—
Senator Wong interjecting—
The point of order is not only relevance but also under standing order 73(4) that the answer should not be debated, Mr President. But the question was very straightforward: what is the amount of gross government debt today?
The preface, to be fair, Senator Gallagher, contained assertions about quotations you used of the minister. He is allowed to directly address those and be relevant. There is an opportunity to debate the sufficiency or otherwise of answers after question time. Senator Cormann?
We are tabling this afternoon an updated statement of Australian government debt. Now, given the question's been asked, I'll table it now. I'll make sure that—here we are. Let me tell you: it is much less than it would have been if we hadn't fixed your budget mess because, you know what, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone, other than the Labor Party, understands this. Yes, we've had to spend a lot of money in the last few months in order to support the economy, to support business, to support jobs, to support those Australians who lost their job. There is a context to this. But let me tell you: we went into—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! Senator Keneally, can I say something before I take your point of order. When I can't hear Senator Cormann about three metres from me, there's a serious problem with noise. I'm going to call everyone to order on the matter of noise, and I'll call Senator Keneally on the point of order I assume she's about to raise.
That is much less than it would have been if we had not fixed Labor's budget mess. The Labor Party at the same time accuses us of cuts that are too hard. Then they say we should spend more on everything. Then they complain the debt is too high. Let me tell you: the debt is much lower than it would have been under your government than it is under our government. We have reduced the unsustainable spending growth when you oppose us every step of the way. Australia went into this pandemic in a stronger fiscal position as a result of the work we did, and the Australian people know it, which is why they voted against you at the last election.
Opposition senators interjecting—
I can confirm that debts continued to increase because of the spending growth trajectory that Labor had locked into legislation when we came into government. The debts were less as a result of the work that we did. I can also confirm that the Labor Party have been living under a rock, because they clearly don't understand why we've been forced to spend as much as we have in recent times. Let me ask the Labor Party: which program do you think we should scrap? JobKeeper or jobseeker? Should we cut the jobseeker payment in half? Is that what you are suggesting? The implication of your question is that you don't want us to spend the money we're spending in supporting business, supporting jobs and supporting the economy. You are completely out of touch, and the Australian people know it.
As the finance minister who has now delivered six budget deficits and more than doubled the debt, would you describe today's gross government debt figure as unacceptable, unsustainable, a mess and a disaster?
The Labor Party left a mess. We put the country on a stronger fiscal foundation trajectory for the future.
Senator Watt interjecting—
Senator Watt talks about spending. Spending as a share of GDP was heading way beyond. We brought spending as a share of GDP down below the long-term average. Labor were running it past 30 per cent of the share of the economy, according to the Intergenerational report. The Labor Party position is completely inconsistent. They are arguing for more spending and fewer cuts but somehow think that that is going to lead to less debt. Their position of fewer cuts and higher spending would lead to higher debt. That is basic mathematics. I know that that is not something that the Labor Party understood in government, which is why when we came into government we inherited a seriously rapidly deteriorating budget position. Their revenue forecasts were based on absolute—I was going to say something rude— (Time expired)