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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3556

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(8.12) —It seems to me that the essential element of this kind of reporting is the phrase `as soon as practicable after the end of each month'. There is no doubt that there is an obligation on governments to report as quickly as possible not only so that the Government knows where it is at and the Senate knows where the Government is at but also so that, because of the enormous impact that the public sector has on the economy, the private sector can judge the impact of the public sector on what is happening in the economy. For that reason, for example, it is very disappointing that the requirement to report early and as soon as practicable after the end of each month does not seem to extend to some other of the Government's reporting activities in this area. For example, on 20 November last year the Government issued the report on the Forward Estimates of Budget outlays and staffing for 1986-87 and 1987-88.

The principle outlined in this statement of monthly transactions that information should be released as soon as practicable apparently has not applied to this even more important document which relates to what the forecasts are, the results of which end up appearing in the monthly transactions document. The forecasts were released on 20 November last year. Where are they this year? Why has the Government not come clean and told us what the Forward Estimates for next year will be. It is all very well for the Government to beat its breast and say that monthly statements will be released as soon as possible. What is the motive for not having released the Forward Estimates for next year? The Senate will recall that earlier this week, on Tuesday, I gave notice of a motion calling on the Government to release this matter--

Senator Haines —How could we forget it. You do it every day.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I called on the Government to release this matter, a matter of major moment even to the Australian Democrats, even though they may not understand it. But it is of major moment because it outlines, just as this monthly statement does, the impact that the public sector will have on the economy as a whole and therefore on the judgments and decisions that the private sector has to make. Following my notice of motion, I am pleased to see that the Australian Financial Review, in today's editorial, states:

Why have the forward estimates not been released yet? Is it because they will indicate that the Budget deficit is now certain to blow out?

Of course, that is the reality. The Budget deficit is blowing out. The figures in the monthly statements are clearly showing that so far this year. They are showing that there is no way that the Budget deficit of $3.5 billion outlined as recently as August will be met largely because of the massive increase in public debt interest which, of course, emerges from a mixture of incompetence on the Government's part in not knowing what sort of monetary policy it was going to follow and its inability to judge what was evident to everyone else, that it would be obliged to maintain a high interest rate policy if it was to allow what was excessive government spending to impose excessive demands on both imports and the domestic economy. Even under the old format the figures show that there was something like a 5 per cent increase in the Government spending contribution to national income growth over the last 12 months and that the private sector, of course, contributed nothing. In other words, government spending has still been the main reason for the continuing disasters in Australia's balance of payments figures.

There has been no real will on the part of this Government, as these monthly figures demonstrate, to cut down on government spending. The enormous publicity campaign that alleged that government spending was being cut this year was totally phoney. There has been no cut in government spending this financial year. There has been a cut in what the Government wanted to spend; there has been a cut in what it would have spent if all of its massively increased programs over its four years or so in office had proceeded unchecked. Surely there has been a cut from what it would have spent in the circumstances, as revealed in the monthly Niemeyer statements, as they are called. But the reality is that it has not cut government spending at all compared with what it spent last year. The Australian Financial Review asks the fair question:

Why have the Forward Estimates not been released yet? Is it because they will indicate that the Budget deficit is now certain to blow out?

Senator Messner —There is no doubt about that.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Of course, as Senator Messner says, there is absolutely no doubt about it. As a result of today's activities it is now clear that the Senate will sit on at least Tuesday of next week and, hopefully, on Wednesday. The Government has a duty to the Senate to release the Forward Estimates while we are still sitting so that we have the opportunity of raising the matter here rather than waiting until 17 February next year to do so.

Senator Watson —Do they have them?

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Senator Watson asks whether the Government has those figures. Does the Government have them and, if so, is it keeping them a secret? What does the Government have to hide?

There is no doubt in my mind that the Government knows what the Forward Estimates are. If it knew them by 20 November last year, it certainly knows them now. Why does it not have the intestinal fortitude to release them now? There is one very simple answer to that question-because it knows that they will reveal that the Budget is in a disastrous situation, that in fact there has been a blow-out and that in fact the figures will reveal that the Government's economic management has been as incompetent as we forecast it would be at the time.

Senator Maguire —Not as incompetent as your $9,600m.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I am glad that the honourable senator mentioned that phoney figure. Perhaps he could explain the situation to us. It is very kind of the honourable senator to raise that point because it is on the record perfectly as the most phoney, dishonest and disgraceful figure that any party has ever tried to put across in this chamber.

Senator Gareth Evans —And you are very embarrassed and rightly so. You are very embarrassed.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I think it is appropriate that if anyone should talk about phoneyness it should be the Minister for Resources and Energy who is at the table. The reality is this: The figure that the Government will not release is in fact the figure on which the Forward Estimates for the deficit is based. The good senator will understand that. The figure has not been released since 1983. It was released once and it was proved to be so ludicrously wrong that the Minister's Government has never since revealed it. The Minister's Government does not provide the figure for the deficit. The reality is this: That figure, according to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), is illusory. That was the word that the Prime Minister used to describe it. Yet the honourable senator has the hide to come in here, knowing full well-I do not mind if the honourable senator is too indolent to have found out-that his Prime Minister regards this figure as illusory. The honourable senator knows that the Minister for Finance at the time, Mr Dawkins, said it was so unreliable and ludicrous a figure that it would not be released. Even when we put in applications under the Freedom of Information Act, we were told it was not in the public interest to reveal the forward deficit figure because it was so unreal and so ludicrous.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Coleman) —Order! Senator Baume, you are moving away from the motion.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Madam Acting Deputy President, I am responding to an interjection, which seemed to me to challenge the basis of what I was saying. I am seeking simply to correct the record, which has been so disgracefully distorted in this place by honour- able senators who either have no knowledge, or with knowledge, are deliberately distorting the truth. I do not want to dwell too much on this except to say that there is no doubt that these monthly figures theoretically reveal after the event what the forecasts are supposed to show. The better we make the reporting, certainly the greater it is to our advantage. But there is not much merit in even the most outstanding reporting if we are going to have the deception in the area of forecasting that the honourable senator opposite is prepared to continue with. He knows perfectly well that the deficit in the 1983-84 Budget ended up at under $8 billion after his Party had added $2.5 billion of extra, totally new, spending commitments. Even the honourable senator opposite can do the sum by taking $2.5 billion away from $8 billion.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Baume, we are not discussing the matter that you are debating. We have before us a financial transactions motion. I ask you to stay on that debate, because if you do not I will sit you down.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Madam Acting Deputy President, that is very kind of you, and I trust that you will ensure that any possible interjections which go beyond that area, which demand a response, will not be made. I would now like to stress the point that these monthly statements of actual expenditure have a clear relationship to what the forecasts of expenditures are. It is only because of the quality of these monthly statements that we can establish the veracity of the forecasts. In other words, the two are very closely and clearly related. That is why when the format of the final result paper is changed, it is essential to have a forecast as well. Of course we have not got this year's forecast which is now several weeks overdue and which this Government has in its possession but which it refuses to release because it knows perfectly well that the figures put it in a bad light because this Budget is blowing out, just as the current year's Budget under these monthly figures is clearly blowing out right now.

As I have mentioned, we have already seen that the public interest figure in the current monthly statements, which we have received so far this year, clearly shows a very significant and very disturbing blow-out, something like a 25 per cent increase in the debt bill of this Government, this year, when in fact the Budget forecast was for only a 6.7 per cent increase. We can see that these monthly figures are very important to the Senate. They enable us to keep a close eye on the credibility and, if you like, on almost the integrity of the Government's Forward Budget Estimates. As we have already noted, those Estimates in the current Budget have no credibility, and this Government, by refusing to release next year's, has no integrity.

Question resolved in the affirmative.