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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 5699

Future Fund


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:00): My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong. Given that finance department secretary, David Tune, confirmed that government revenue in 2012-13 includes revenue from the expected sale of Future Fund assets, can the minister advise the Senate how much of the $4.937 billion in estimated proceeds from the sale of non-financial assets in 2012-13 is expected to come from the sale of assets from the Future Fund?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:00): I am extremely pleased to take that question from Senator Cormann because it gives me an opportunity to explain to the chamber just how wrong he is and to invite him to correct the record, given that he has been out on the radio and on television making assertions which are simply untrue. Senator Cormann has asserted in relation to the Future Fund that the government is raiding the Future Fund—that the govern¬≠ment is withdrawing funds from the Future Fund. He is wrong. He is utterly and com¬≠pletely wrong, and he ought to know better.

Senator Cormann: Mr President, a point of order on the requirement under the standing orders for the minister to be directly relevant to the question: there was a very specific question and the answer is a number. The secretary of the finance department has confirmed that the revenue in 2012-13 will include revenue from the sale of assets from the Future Fund. The question is: how much of that $4.937 billion will come from proceeds from the sale of Future Fund assets? It is a number; there was no political rhetoric in the question. All we have been getting from the minister is political rhetoric, yet again.

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on the point of order: not only is the minister directly relevant but she is directly answering the claims made by Senator Cormann both in his question and in the media today. Quite frankly, to waste minutes of question time taking points of order which then go to a long explanation of his argument is clearly a waste of the Senate's time. Clearly, there is no point of order.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. I believe the minister is answering the question. The minister has one minute and 13 seconds remaining to continue the answer.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Mr President. I again say the government is not making withdrawals from the Future Fund. What is occurring is the Future Fund is making a change to the type of assets it holds. The timing of the sale of assets is a matter for the Future Fund, and what the budget papers reflect is the assets the Future Fund plans to hold going forward. This is an important point.

The next point I wish to make—and I have put a press release out, which I assume Senator Cormann has read, but I will again say it in the chamber and perhaps he will understand it this time—is that any funds raised from the sale of non-financial assets will be kept by the fund, not by government. In other words, governments cannot spend these funds. In fact, were the government to spend these funds out of the Future Fund, under the terms of the legislation which established the Future Fund we would have to change that legislation. The government has no plans and no intention to do so. I am very happy to have a discussion about federal finances. It is a pity the opposition are so busy throwing things at the government that they cannot even look at their $70 billion black hole.






Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:04): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the minister has refused to advise the Senate of how much the government expects to raise from the sale of assets from the Future Fund, can the minister confirm that the expected proceeds from the sale of assets from the Future Fund are included in the government's estimated underlying cash balance of $3.5 billion for 2012-13, as published in the government's budget papers? If so, why, and has that ever happened before?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:05): It is normal for the sale and purchase of non-financial assets held by the government or a particular government entity to be reflected in the budget papers. That was the case under Mr Costello and Senator Minchin and it is the case under our government. But the political point that Senator Cormann is making is some assertion around the budget surplus and around the timing of the sale of assets from the Future Fund. I again say that the timing of the sale of assets held by the fund is a matter for the fund. I make this point: in our last budget we put forward $22 billion worth of savings, some of which you previously opposed and then supported. The budget is made up of the sum of many— (Time expired)


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:06): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the expected revenue from the sale of assets from the Future Fund will be reflected in the $3.5 billion so-called surplus, when will the proceeds from the expected sale of those assets from the Future Fund be withdrawn from the government's underlying cash balance and returned to the Future Fund—full stop?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:06): The funds remain held by the Future Fund and their accounting treatment will depend on the type of assets that the Future Fund itself chooses to enter into or chooses to hold subsequent to the sale. So, frankly, the questioning here I think is predicated on an incorrect basis just as the opposition costings are. Let us remember Senator Cormann comes in here wanting to throw doubt on the government's budget figures. This is an opposition that has a $70 billion black hole confirmed by their shadow finance minister, Mr Robb, on Sunday.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator WONG: It was confirmed by Mr Robb, your shadow finance minister: a $70 billion black hole, and you have no idea how to fill it, no idea how to fill it whatsoever. So no-one should pretend that Senator Cormann has done anything other than throw more light on— (Time expired)