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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9592


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (13:29): I rise in support of the Gillard Labor government's Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Bill 2011. This bill will provide for the establishment of a parliamentary budget office and the appointment and functions of an independent parliamentary budget officer. There is no better time than this to introduce and pass this bill. Time after time we have seen the Liberal Party's lack of economic legitimacy, credibility and responsibility, such as in their $11 billion black hole during the election period and more recently and more alarmingly the $70 billion black hole they have created since. I do not think the Australian parliament or the people have ever needed a parliamentary budget office as much as we do now, with the current Leader of the Opposition and his shadow Treasurer. Of course, the opposition oppose the measures in these bills. It suits their self interest and shows their economic weakness—of which they have plenty. The bill exposes them as the economically illiterate party that they are.

The Gillard government will provide $24.9 million over four years to establish this independent—and I will keep highlighting that word—parliamentary budget office. This is based on the unanimous recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on the Parliamentary Budget Office. The parliamentary budget office will be independent and dedicated to serving this parliament. The committee that made the recommendations included members of the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Greens and Independents. The government has accepted all of these recommendations, but now the opposition are undermining the recommendations of the committee and its own members—the work of the member for Sturt, the work of the member for Higgins and the work of Senator Barnaby Joyce, although for the last one that is quite understandable. I am sure that the members on the other side who have put in the hard work to get to this position are quietly fuming that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer have thrown away this report and basically kicked all of their hard work into the dirt.

The Liberal Party are so afraid of economics that they want to hide their weaknesses under a rug and hope that no-one will notice them as they will reduce the transparency and public accountability of the election costings process. This would mean that the costings would remain confidential and hidden from the Australian public. We know why the Leader of the Opposition wants to keep those costings hidden. We have seen why on numerous occasions. Their paid parental scheme is a prime example as it alone had a half-billion-dollar gap in it. There was a failure to count the basic numbers, which is terrible. We saw an $11 billion costings blunder during the election and now, as I said, there is a $70 billion black hole. The Leader of the Opposition is not only mindlessly negative but has also admitted that economics is a bore. That is why, I guess, under the 13 years of the Liberal-led government he was never trusted with responsibility for the economy. But we know what he was trusted with—the Liberal Party seem to acknowledge that he is good with cuts and good with slashing funding for hospitals. His recklessness with the budget, jobs and household budgets shows that he does not have the judgment to manage Australia's $1.4 trillion economy. This bill further strengthens this argument because he does not have a clue. He finds it easy to dig these billion-dollar holes, but he can never seem to find his way out of them. It seems he is content to sit and try to bluff the Australian public. The Leader of the Opposition quite seriously could not even manage monopoly money, let alone our economy.

The most recent black hole, probably one of the biggest economic blunders in Australia's political history, is a $70 billion hole that the Leader of the Opposition has dug for himself. How would they pay for this black hole? They would have to manage savage cuts to services and payments on which families and older Australians depend, such as the equivalent of no Medicare for four years which would force Australians to pay for a doctor whenever they are sick and need medical attention most.

Dr Southcott: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, the member for McEwen's speech is now entering the realms of fantasy. I ask you to draw the member back to the subject of the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): The long title of the bill states that it is for a parliamentary budget officer, the establishment of a parliamentary budget office and for related purposes. That does allow for a degree of travelling from the core subject matter of the bill. However, I do draw to the attention of the honourable member for McEwen his obligations to observe the standing orders.

Mr MITCHELL: Again, the opposition try to hide when we start talking about facts in relation to budgets, the economy and spending taxpayers' money. How would they pay for this budgetary black hole? They would have to stop assistance to people with disabilities for three years or cut family tax benefit payments. If all these different things were put in place, a parliamentary budget office would find that their numbers quite simply do not add up. That shows the importance of having a parliamentary budget officer established as an independent officer of the parliament.

Recently the shadow finance spokesperson, Andrew Robb, said that 'the $70 billion is an estimate of the sort of challenge that we will have'. The shadow Treasurer contradicted this when he told 2GB, 'Well I can say to you the number is not $70 billion'. If we had a parliamentary budget office to go through the figures we could get confirmation of what happens. That is the intent of having a parliamentary budget office—to ensure that when we had off-the-cuff comments made by the people supposedly responsible for the Australian budget if a Liberal government came to power—God forbid that that should happen—we would have some credibility of the costings for what was being done. What we continually have now is one contradicting the other. We have looked at the best possible ways of ensuring that Australian taxpayer dollars, particularly during election campaigns when we hear a lot of promises that will not be kept, will be looked after. We looked at how to make sure that money that is spent is not putting at risk every Australian family's future. We looked at how to ensure that when the spending is done we can tell that we have received the benefit of it. We looked at the stimulus package and how, if we had not had that stimulus package, there would have been greater costs to Australian taxpayers because we would have had some 200,000 extra people claiming benefits.

How do we ensure that this $11 billion black hole in the Liberal Party budget never happens again? How do we ensure that there is no risk to basic services which ordinary families rely upon in a whole range of areas such as trade training centres, super clinics or the National Broadband Network?

How do we ensure that these things are properly costed and funded so that we can get the best benefit for Australian families across the nation? How do we ensure that we do not have a risk to our cost of living through financial recklessness that would add to the price pressures on the economy—for example, average families paying some $1,300 more a year to support big polluters? We do this by establishing a parliamentary budget office that would ensure the government's framework and the staff of the PBO would be provided under the act and that the peak officer is appointed by the Presiding Officers following approval from the JCPAA. I think a four-year term with an option for one more is more than fair and reasonable to ensure open, transparent and independent advice that goes to all parties and to ensure that Australian taxpayer dollars are spent in the best interests.

While those opposite continue to dig their holes, the Gillard Labor government is getting on with the job in an economically responsible manner, working in the national interest to get things done for our country and its future. We have created almost 750,000 jobs since we were first elected, with another 500,000-odd to be created in the next two years. We have many more Australians employed today than 12 months ago. Because of the work we do in ensuring that we are financially responsible, we have created a strong economy. Among the world's largest economies we have the lowest debt. We have stayed out of recession and our economic future is very strong under this government.

We are delivering affordable, high-speed broadband that will increase the productivity of this nation. Australian businesses will certainly benefit through the National Broadband Network, no matter where they live. It will mean better education, better health care, better access for Australian businesses to the biggest marketplace in human history. We are delivering on our healthcare agreements, which mean many more doctors, nurses and hospital beds, but less waiting time and less waste. We are putting a price on carbon and making big polluters pay for the pollution they dump in our atmosphere, which in turn will cut pollution, cut taxes and increase pensions. It will create clean energy jobs and industries. We are making sure that we are giving Australians a fair share of the mining boom, as the member for Goldstein mentioned earlier. We are giving every Australian a boost to their retirement savings, tax breaks for small businesses and breaks in company tax. These things are important for the future, both for our nation and for the generations to come.

We have doubled our investments in school education, upgraded facilities at every school and provided more information for parents than ever before. We have created 130,000 training places and we have given a historic increase to the pension, because we know that for many years pensioners were not looked after. In fact under the former government, they went backwards. More and more pensioners found themselves on struggle street, but it was this Labor government that did its costings properly and delivered these pension increases. We have recorded investments of more than $37 billion in 44,000 projects across the country, infrastructure that was so severely lacking under the previous government. We are catching up and getting in front of where we should be, but we know there is a long way to go and we know that we have to keep delivering more infrastructure for people across the country.

That is why it is important to ensure that we are fiscally responsible. That is why it is important that we continue to deliver good budgets to ensure people benefit, no matter where they live. We are a lucky country, we are doing extremely well and we should ensure we pass on that wealth and growth to make life better for all Australians. We have delivered, through tough savings and the flood levy, to provide some $5.8 billion to support the flood-affected regions in Queensland, Victoria and WA. Having gone through the Black Saturday fires, I can tell you that these things are so important in getting people back to normality as soon as possible. Getting the infrastructure in place so that people can have their jobs, their homes and their kids at school are things that can never be underestimated for the health and well-being of communities. We have also laid the foundations for the nation's first disability insurance scheme. This is something I would have thought people would unanimously agree was of vital importance and should have been done a long, long time ago, but it is this government that is getting on with the job and delivering it.

We have put more than 185 bills through this place—more than the previous government could ever have managed. All of these Gillard Labor government achievements, policies and plans have been fully costed, unlike those of the opposite side, who are now running scared of any independent scrutiny of their financial management. Plagued with self-interest, the Leader of the Opposition is a risk to all Australians and a risk to the Liberal Party. No-one can take him seriously; no-one ever will take him seriously. That is why it is important this bill has a speedy passage so that by the next election those opposite will be forced to stand up and account for all the dollars they commit in their promises.