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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 938


Mr MITCHELL (2:41 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Will the Treasurer update the House on the importance of transparent and credible fiscal policy?


Mr SWAN (Treasurer) —I thank the member for McEwen for his question. As members know, Australia came through the global financial crisis and the global recession in better shape than any other major developed economy. Our net debt position is a tiny fraction of what it is in major developed economies and we are getting back into surplus well before all of those. While we were putting in place the policies to avoid recession, we were also putting in place the policies to promote the recovery—both at the same time. Absolutely critical were the strict fiscal rules that we outlined in this House early in 2009—that is, putting in place our two per cent expenditure cap. For example, it is very important in bringing the budget back to surplus, and banking any revenue improvements is also important, but it takes hard work. What that means is that the budget is coming back to surplus in three years, three years early. It means our net debt position is substantially lower than in any other major developed economy at six per cent compared to something like 90 per cent for the other major developed economies. This task and this achievement has been recognised extensively by international agencies. This is what the International Monetary Fund had to say just a couple of weeks ago:

… returning quickly to budget surpluses as the authorities intend will put Australia on firmer footing to deal with future shocks.

Then they go on to say of our fiscal consolidation:

… is faster than past consolidations in Australia and plans in most other advanced economies.

We had Standard and Poor’s make this comment on 24 September:

Australia has one of the strongest fiscal positions globally with a net general government debt burden less than half the level of AAA rated countries.

It has taken a lot of hard work to do this and it takes more than the effort that we have seen from those on the other side with their $10.6 billion costing con job. You cannot just walk in five minutes before midnight, as the shadow Treasurer did and the shadow finance spokesperson did, and expect that you can be credible. What we have seen is that they ignored the advice of the accounting firm. There was no audit of their costings and they got nine dollars out of 10 of their net saves wrong—nine dollars out of 10 absolutely wrong.


The SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer will return directly to the question.


Mr SWAN —It shows there is no fiscal strategy on that side of the House.


The SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer is now absolutely arguing a case. He needs to be directly relevant to the question.


Mr SWAN —Mr Speaker, I was outlining the importance of a strict fiscal strategy, which the government has implemented with great discipline. At the time that we were dealing with the global recession we put in place strict fiscal rules, but those on the other side of the House do not understand the importance of such a strategy.


The SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer is arguing the case. He is now debating the matter. The Treasurer will relate his remarks directly to the question.


Mr SWAN —I was outlining how important it is to our prosperity that strict fiscal rules are put in place, particularly when it comes to spending, particularly when it comes to banking upward revisions of revenue, and explaining how important it is that those policies need to be seen to be credible, and that a $10.6 billion costing con job, such as those that were put forward during the last election campaign, is completely inappropriate.


The SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer will resume his place.


Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I would like to ask a supplementary question to the Treasurer.


The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney will resume his seat, and the member for Denison will resume his seat. Again I find myself delaying the House, which I am trying to avoid but manage to do all the time. For two reasons the member for North Sydney has been invited to resume his seat. Firstly, there was an attempt for a supplementary, which I will acknowledge, but I will take it that the attempt allowed the Leader of the Opposition to get on the record a point which goes to the matters that I was raising about other devices being used to put an argument. I think that would mean that in a strict interpretation of an opportunity and an attempt, even though it failed, a message was placed on the record which I cannot expunge by ruling it out of order.

On the second matter, which I am glad that we have addressed, I congratulate the member for North Sydney for highlighting a point, where he was attempting to raise a supplementary question on a question that had been asked by the other side, and I do thank him for that. But I have to disappoint him that, in my rulings on supplementary questions at this point in time—I repeat ‘at this point in time’—that is a bridge too far for me, even though the other jurisdictions that I referred to would have allowed it. In fairness to the member for North Sydney I have given a full explanation. As I said, I have decided that it is a bridge too far to allow it, but it is something that a mature house in other jurisdictions is able to accommodate and maybe sometime down the track, when others besides the Leader of the Opposition and his delegate can ask supplementaries, it is something that we should consider, because it would lead to a much more lively question time.


Mr Abbott —We’re up for it.


The SPEAKER —Order! Again, I refer to my pleas of last parliament. I really would leave that in the hands of the Procedure Committee. I apologise to the member for Denison: he now has the call.