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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26765

Mr CHARLES (2:39 PM) —My question without notice is to the Treasurer. Has the Treasurer seen policy—

The SPEAKER —The member for La Trobe will resume his seat. Member for Lalor, Member for Fraser, I had recognised the member for La Trobe at least 15 seconds ago. The member for La Trobe has the call.

Mr CHARLES —My question without notice is to the Treasurer. Has the Treasurer seen policy commitments regarding the funding of retirement incomes and pensions? What is the feasibility of this policy and what does it indicate about economic credibility?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for La Trobe for his question. I congratulate him on his wonderful news, which I believe he is going to announce shortly, if he has not done so already. I take this opportunity to congratulate him in the House. I have actually been referred to some recent announcements in relation to retirement incomes and age pensions. On 15 March, in a speech to the Investment and Financial Services Association, the member for Werriwa brought down his long awaited statement on superannuation reform.

Mr Tanner —It got a better response than yours.

Mr COSTELLO —On cue the member for Melbourne comes in and tells us what a wonderful response it got. It contained the largest financial gaffe in Australian history. Not only in the speech but also in the policy, Labor made this commitment: `a commitment to ensure the basic government age pension does not fall below 25 per cent of male average weekly ordinary time earnings'. That was a commitment to the pensioners of Australia of an 11 per cent increase in the age pension, costing the Commonwealth $8 billion over the forward estimates. I want to table that policy and have it on the parliamentary record, because if you go to the ALP web site today they have airbrushed it out of their policy. I want to also table the speech that was given by the Leader of the Opposition, because if you go to the web site the old airbrush has been at it again and it is not in the statement. It was the largest financial gaffe in Australian history, costing $8 billion.

During the week, we watched the member for Werriwa wriggle and wriggle and squirm as to how it was that he was so economically incompetent as to make an $8 billion unfunded promise which he did not even realise he was making. His first response was to actually blame the messenger. He went on Sea FM with Kim Geale and Dave Noonan and said:

Oh, we just had the wrong technical term in there. That was corrected as soon as it was drawn to our attention. I think, as ever, Mr Costello is grossly exaggerating.

So it was all my fault! It was not the fault of the super blooper; it was the fault of the party pooper. An $8 billion error and it is my fault for actually discovering it—silly old me! Then he went on 3AW with Neil Mitchell, where Neil Mitchell said:

There is no excuse for a budgetary announcement with an $8 billion mistake.

Latham: But there weren't dollars involved. That's the point. There weren't dollars involved.

Mitchell: If that policy stood, it was $8 billion wrong.

Latham: Yeah, well, it didn't stand because it was wrong and we fixed it up.

Who fixed it up? If it had not been for the government, which bothers to actually read the policies of the Australian Labor Party, it would not have been fixed up. As it turns out, it is not actually the job of this government to be fixing the errors of the opposition. I will take responsibility for this if you send me your policies before you announce them in future. I make an open offer to fix Labor's error if they send the policies around before announcement.

I want to point this out to the House: the member for Werriwa came to this place because his predecessor as Treasurer was unable to say what GOS stood for in a press conference. In those days, when the Labor Party had economic credibility, if somebody like the member for Werriwa was trying to discharge a high office of the Crown and they did not know what GOS was, they were dismissed from office. I make this point: John Kerin never entered into an $8 billion unfunded commitment when he was the member for Werriwa. The idea that you can survive in a high office when you do not know the pension benchmark, when you can stand up at a superannuation conference and enter into a commitment without knowing what you say and then afterwards rely on the government to fix up your errors, quite clearly means this: a person who is able to do that—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Ballarat!

Mr COSTELLO —could not be trusted with the economic management of the Commonwealth. If a person who is able to do that were ever in office, there would not be a government picking up their mistakes. They would be entered into as commitments, the pensioners of this country would be entitled to rely on them and the taxpayers would pay the price. I have always said this: the Labor Party is policy weak. It does not do the homework, it does not understand the economic concepts and it cannot be trusted with the mortgages of millions of Australians.