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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 3542


Ms COLLINS (2:28 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Why is it important that there is bipartisan support for the government’s strict fiscal rules and for returning the budget to surplus by 2012-13?


Mr TANNER (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) —I thank the member for Franklin for her question. It is very important that we have bipartisan support for the government’s strict fiscal rules and indeed for the government’s commitment to get the budget back into surplus by 2012-13. Tonight, we will get some indication of whether or not we do have bipartisan support for those commitments. Tonight is the big test for the Leader of the Opposition. Is he going to put his money where his mouth is? This morning I released a chart, which shows the track record so far. The red is where the existing unfunded commitments of the opposition would take the budget deficit and would keep it in deficit in the two years when it is projected to be in surplus by the government.

I have also released a table which outlines the specific commitments—the actual promises—made by the opposition over that period, which total $15.7 billion and have not been funded. There is no provision made for these promises in their projections thus far. The net effect of these promises would be to move the 2012-13 budget, currently projected to be in surplus to the tune of $1 billion, to a deficit of $4.4 billion and to move the 2013-14 budget, currently projected to be in surplus to the tune of $5.4 billion, to a $450 million deficit. That is before we even get to the very salient question of how the opposition is going to deal with the government’s tax package, where they are clearly indicating that they are going to oppose the resource superprofits tax that delivers $12 billion to the forward estimates. But what are they going to do with respect to the actual things that it is dedicated to funding, such as the 28 per cent company tax, the improvements in tax for small business, the improvements in tax for the mining sector and the improvements in infrastructure for resource sector states? If they try to have a bob each way, as they typically do, then they are going to have to fund those things as well. So on top of the $15.7 billion black hole that is already there, there will be billions upon billions of dollars in extra commitments that they will have to fund.

The outcome of their position thus far is that there would be no surpluses over the four years of the forward estimates. The deficit would be bigger in every year and it would take longer for the Australian government to pay off its debt. So there are four key tests that the Leader of the Opposition has to meet tonight. First, he has to explain where that $15.7 billion for past promises is coming from, let alone any that he chooses to make in his budget reply speech tonight. Second, if the opposition is proposing to oppose the resource superprofits tax, will they also oppose the cuts in business taxes, the cuts in small business taxes, the investment in infrastructure and the investment in superannuation through reduced taxes that that is funding? If they will not oppose those things, how do they propose to fund their commitment? Third, will they commit to matching all of the government’s budget rules, including the extension of the two per cent spending cap to the point where the budget is in surplus to the tune of one per cent of GDP? Finally, will they guarantee that the 2012-13 and 2013-14 financial year budgets will be in surplus, notwithstanding the commitments that they choose to make prior to the election?

Just today, the new and latest shadow finance minister—he is number five for this term of parliament—stated at the doors:

A Coalition government would, under any circumstances, bring the budget back into surplus well before a Labor government could.

He already has $15.7 billion to find, and his leader has not even delivered his budget reply speech. We have not had a response to the government’s tax package, and he is promising he will have a surplus before the government is projecting it. But the facts, of course, tell a very different story.

The amazing thing is that my words, literally as I was speaking them, were going out of date. I got back to the office and finally got around to reading today’s Age, where I discovered that the opposition is proposing to block one of the government’s saving measures, a modest cut in the childcare tax rebate of about $80 million over four years. They are proposing to block that as well, so the $15.7 billion black hole just keeps mounting. It is like a meter that keeps ticking over. Amusingly enough, this article had next to it another article, and it seems that the opposition are not unique in their inconsistency, because this article from the Age attacking the government for being too harsh in this spending cut was juxtaposed against another article, an opinion piece masquerading as a news story, attacking the government for not cutting enough in the budget. So inconsistency on these issues is not unique to the opposition.

Tonight is ‘put up or shut up’ time for the Leader of the Opposition. The debt and deficit campaign is dead. Is he going to give it a decent funeral and a decent burial? Tonight we find out whether the Leader of the Opposition can be trusted with the nation’s finances or whether our view, that he is a giant risk to the Australian economy and a giant risk to the nation’s finances, will be dramatically confirmed.