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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 3856


Senator MARK BISHOP (Western Australia) (14:13): My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to the government's commitment to return the budget to surplus by 2012-13.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator MARK BISHOP: That's right—the commitment. Can the minister outline to the Senate any recent opposition to the return to surplus? Is this consistent with previous commitments?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: It is very early in the new Senate, and people are just a little bit too excited.

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:14): As everyone in this chamber knows, the opposition to return to surplus comes from those opposite, comes from the opposition. They do not need to listen to me to believe this because they can listen to their own shadow Treasurer who finally, on Friday, made it clear what their grand fiscal plan to fund tax cuts is. Do you know what it is, Mr President? It is to risk the surplus. What Mr Hockey said—

Honourable senators interjecting

Opposition senators: There is no surplus!

Senator WONG: I know they do not want to hear it, but they should listen to what Mr Hockey had to say.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence we will proceed.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: All you are doing is chewing up the valuable time of question time by disorderly interjections. Senator Wong, please continue.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Mr President. For those members of the shadow cabinet—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, resume your seat. As I said, when there is silence on both sides, we will proceed.

Senator WONG: For those members of the shadow cabinet who may not have been aware of their new policy, they might want to know that Mr Hockey on 1 July said as follows:

The truth about tax reform is that you have to leave money on the table for people, even if it means you are reducing the size of the surplus.

This is their great plan to fund tax cuts: run down any surpluses in order to fund tax cuts that they have not costed and they have not funded. It is not surprising, Mr President, that they do not want to talk about this because it is extremely embarrassing for them that the shadow Treasurer's great plan for tax cuts is simply to attack the surplus, to risk the surplus. That is their plan!

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: If senators on both sides want to debate it, they know the time to debate it is post question time.

Senator WONG: I suppose the only thing one can say about Mr Hockey's comments is that at least he is being upfront about the fiscal recklessness of the opposition. This is an opposition with an $11 billion black hole, an opposition with a climate change policy which will cost $30 billion—$20 billion more than they told the Australian people—and an opposition that is blocking saves worth $6 billion. There are some on that side who do understand the importance of sound fiscal policy, but it appears that Mr Hockey is not listening. (Time expired.)

Senator MARK BISHOP (Western Australia) (14:18): Mr President, I have a supplementary question for the minister. Can the minister outline for the Senate the approach the government is taking to return the budget to surplus and how this contrasts with alternative approaches?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:18): It is always interesting to go back over what Mr Hockey has said from day to day. It is always a new the surprise about what he is going to come up with on each day. In May this year he committed the opposition to delivering a surplus perhaps even earlier than 2012-13. In May he said they would deliver it earlier and then in June he said theirs would be a bigger surplus—'We'll deliver a bigger surplus; no doubt about that!' And then on Friday, 'No, actually we're going to run down the surplus to pay for the tax cuts because we haven't worked out how we're going to cost them.' So the opposition were going to do it earlier, then they were going to have a bigger surplus, now they are going to have a smaller surplus because they will not do the work to find the savings to cost the tax cuts to protect the surplus. They simply will not do the work; they are completely fiscally irresponsible. (Time expired.)

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence on both sides, we will proceed!

Senator Cameron interjecting

Senator Joyce interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron and Senator Joyce: if you want to have a debate about this, post-question time is the time.

Senator MARK BISHOP (Western Australia) (14:19): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question of the minister. Can the minister advise the Senate of whether the government's plan to return to surplus has been welcomed by economists? How does this compare to economic assessments of alternative approaches?

Senator Brandis: It has been welcomed by astrologers and fortune tellers!

The PRESIDENT: I know people are a little bit excited about being back here for the first week of July, but it does not help question time with the constant interjections.

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:20): Thank you, Mr President. I am pleased to share with the Senate that a range of economists have provided very positive responses to the government's budget. The CommSec chief economist, UBS, the Commonwealth Bank chief economist and a whole range of economists recognise the importance of returning the budget to surplus. This is a government that is happy to engage with economists; this is a government that is happy to listen to economic advice. Of course, that does put us at odds with those opposite, who are led by a man who believes that economics is boring and now, most recently, has described Australian economists as 'a joke'. This is what Mr Abbott had to say last Friday. When confronted by the fact that his climate change policy is not supported by a single economist, he said:

Maybe that's a comment on the quality of our economists.

What a typical approach: shoot the messenger. The joke is the surplus-free zone opposite. That is where the joke resides. (Time expired.)