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Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Page: 4157

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (16:03): Well, here we are on budget day being lectured by the Labor Party in this matter of public importance on the need for surplus budgets and the need for openness and transparency. We are seriously being lectured by the Australian Labor Party on budget day about the need for a surplus, which they have not delivered at all in government, and about the need for openness and transparency, which they have not delivered in any regard on any day that they have been in government.

Tonight, in a few hours time, the Treasurer, the member for Lilley, will hand down his fifth budget. Four years ago, of course, his budget journey began. Whilst it is very difficult, particularly at the moment—you would appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott—to make any predictions about what those opposite may or may not do, I think we can safely say that this Treasurer's budget journey, as far as handing down budgets goes, ends tonight. I think that, in their heart of hearts, those opposite know that. In his heart, the member for Fraser, who moved this matter of public importance, knows that is the case. They know that because not only do the Australian people have no confidence in this Treasurer; some of his own colleagues have no confidence in his capacity as Treasurer. If the Australian public are going to listen to a lecture about the necessity for a budget surplus, which everyone knows is necessary, they are not going to be lectured by the Australian Labor Party.

Let us look at the journey so far. Let us go to budget night four years ago. Four years ago almost to the day, the member for Lilley stood at the dispatch box. He had inherited no net government debt; in fact he had inherited $45 billion cash in the bank and a surplus of $20 billion. And do you know what he essentially said? He said that it was not good enough, that he was going to have a bigger surplus, that the Howard and Costello government had been reckless and irresponsible and that he was going to hand down a larger budget surplus. He went to great lengths to explain why he was a more responsible economic manager. Of course this followed on from the Labor Party's pre-election campaign that they were truly fiscal conservatives, more so than Prime Minister Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello who had paid off all of Labor's net government debt, put $45 billion in the bank and handed down a surplus of $19 billion or $22 billion in 2007. But, no, for the member for Lilley, this was not good enough; he was going to do better.

And then what happened the next year, in 2009, when he gave his budget speech from the dispatch box?

I remember sitting here listening to the speech all the way through. I have worked on a few budgets before, in another capacity. I have seen a few budgets delivered and I have listened to lots of budget speeches, and almost from the first paragraph I thought: there is something missing; there is something big missing; in fact, the whole thing that matters is missing! And what was missing was any mention of a surplus or a deficit. This is Labor Party openness and transparency! It was a deficit, and page after page and line after line as the Treasurer delivered that speech there was not one mention of the projected budget deficit for that year. It was projected at about $57 billion, from memory.

In case anyone thought this was some oversight—and the Treasurer could have it either way; he could say it was an oversight, that he was so incompetent he left the budget outcome out of his speech—that was dispelled pretty quickly. We had those contorted interviews in the days after the budget from both the Treasurer and the then Prime Minister, the member for Griffith, where they would refuse to state the dollar value of the projected net government debt or the budget deficit. It was a figure they were embarrassed about and it was a figure they went to great lengths never to mention. This is the openness and transparency that is so dear to the heart of the member for Fraser, who has moved this matter of public importance.

Let me remind members of this House that tonight there will be lots of budget documents, four of five volumes, and there will be PBS statements across the board. But in the end it all comes down to one figure, doesn't it? It all comes down to the outcome. In 2009 the Treasurer did not mention his budget outcome. Such is the commitment to openness and transparency of those opposite. Then, in 2010, even the Treasurer, delivering his third budget, thought, 'I don't think I'll get away with that again,' and he did for once mention his projected deficit. Then he said the deficit would be $40.8 billion. As it turned out, the real figure was not $40.8 billion. It was not less; it was more. It was nearly $48 billion.

Then we come to this year. We have had much fanfare from those opposite about how they will deliver a surplus tonight. What they will deliver, of course, is their projection. I predict that, following the shame of 2009, the Treasurer will actually state what the outcome of the budget is, but it will be his projection for the coming year just as it was back when he projected a $40 billion deficit in 2010 that turned out to be $48 billion. With this Treasurer, the moving numbers are surely something to behold. In this financial year, which still has a little over six weeks to run, his initial projection was that the budget deficit for this year would be around $12 billion. This time a year ago at that dispatch box he said it would be about $22 billion. Then, in his MYEFO, the regular six-monthly update that updates all of the budget figures thanks to the Charter of Budget Honesty delivered by the previous government, it had grown from $22 billion to $37 billion. All predictions are that it will be in the 40s tonight, and it ain't over yet—there are still six weeks to run. We will find out, as we do with all budgets, the final outcome towards the end of September. We know where he started: at about $12 billion. We know he has gone past $37 billion. We know there has been a threefold increase in his projected budget deficit for this year.

Mr John Cobb: So far.

Mr TONY SMITH: So far, as my friend and colleague next to me says. The Treasurer will stand up tonight, deliver a budget surplus and say: 'Believe I will hit the target. Believe me that, for once, I'll hit the target.' Maybe he will say, 'Believe me, I'll get near the target.'

As some of you know, the History Channel on Foxtel is a great source of knowledge and inspiration if you ever get home after a function. There was a great show a while ago on the precision needed for the first moon landing. The maths and all the work had to be spot on. Too fast and there would be a huge problem. The wrong calculation and the astronauts, instead of going into orbit around the moon so that they could land on it, would bounce off and fly into outer space never to be recovered. In fact, if they had got it wrong they would still be out there. I could not help thinking, 'Thank God the Treasurer wasn't working at NASA.' Can you imagine it? 'Near enough's good enough,' I was about to say, but we do not even get near enough with this Treasurer. We have seen in the days leading up to the budget, as the shadow Treasurer rightly pointed out, that he 'doesn't know whether he is Santa Claus or the Christmas Grinch'.

Years and years ago when I had a lot more time on my hands as a teenager, I used to watch most test cricket matches. There was an opening batsmen for Australia, who I am sure was a great bloke, called Graeme Wood.

Opposition members: Western Australian.

Mr TONY SMITH: A West Australian; there you go. He went through a bad patch where he ran out most guys at the other end. He would play a shot and he would have a combination of yes, no and wait, in rapid succession, and it always ended the same way—with the opposing batsman standing next to him at the other end of the pitch. That is what we have seen with this Treasurer. He says it is going to be a tough budget; that is his script. The problem with his script is: it is the same script he uses every single year. On 1 April 2008 he said, 'It's going to be a tough budget.' Before the 2009 budget, in an interview on radio 2UE, he said, 'This is going to be a tough budget.' In 2010 the government said, through Senator Sherry, 'It's going to be a tough budget.' Again this week we have heard the Treasurer say, 'It's going to be a tough budget,' as he has handed out cash in one direction and clawed it back from another. Yes, no, wait.

The other thing we are going to see in this budget is fiddles galore. We have seen that already in some of their predictions. As the shadow minister for finance pointed out a few weeks back, in March, if you look at the spending pattern over the forward estimates there is a desperate desire to drag spending forward into this year and to push it back beyond the next financial year so that the Treasurer can stand here tonight and say, 'I am projecting a surplus.' One example is the Energy Security Fund. Here is the pattern of spending over the forward estimates: $1,000 million in 2013-14, the same in 2014-15, but apparently—for reasons that are not obvious—the purpose of the Energy Security Fund almost evaporates in the year 2012-13. It goes from $1,000 million to $1 million. Just for one year: a dip down and a dip back up. And that is only what we know to date.

What Australians can be sure of, unfortunately, is that whatever this Treasurer says tonight it will not be the outcome. Whatever he says tonight, in a little over three hours, it will not be the outcome. The unfortunate fact about the economic management of this government is that incompetence in the ministry and incompetence across the government is leading to a lack of confidence throughout the Australian economy. There is only one way to restore economic responsibility to Australia and that is with a change of government.