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Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Page: 3649

Senator HUTCHINS (3:03 PM) —Congratulations, Mr President, on your election and Deputy President Ferguson’s election. My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. At this time of global economic uncertainty, can the minister update the Senate on why it is so important that the government’s budget measures are passed in full?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Hutchins for his question. He rightly points to what are some troubling developments in the global economic environment and signals that that leads to some uncertainty in terms of people making judgements about what the future holds, which makes it even more important than normal that we have a very certain, controlled and conservative economic management strategy in place to ensure the best outcomes for Australian citizens as these international factors impact on Australia.

We as a government brought down a very responsible budget in May which sought to provide the tax relief we promised to Australian families but at the same time provide a $22 billion surplus, which created the economic parameters around which people could have certainty that we would be offering strong economic management to keep downward pressure on inflation and keep downward pressure on interest rates. So we delivered on our election commitments to help ease the pressure on families and those on fixed incomes and we sought to ensure that in the broader context we had the measures in place to put downward pressure on interest rates and inflation.

In this new Senate we find that the opposition, dispirited and beaten, decide that their response to the internal fights is to abandon all responsibility, to abandon any claim to being fiscally responsible. Today they have accused the Labor Party of being too fiscally conservative. That is our problem: we are too responsible! They say we ought to spend more. They say us having a huge surplus is an outrage. They think it is economically irresponsible at this time for the Labor Party to provide a large budget surplus. That is how far they have fallen. They actually think a large budget surplus is a bad thing. They actually think we ought to be more risky. Well, we do not agree. We promised that we would deliver responsible economic management and we are delivering it, and the opposition’s response is to say: ‘No, no, no—this isn’t right. We shouldn’t have large budget surpluses. We’ve decided that we shouldn’t do that. We ought to take the risk.’

That is not what this government is going to do. We are not going to respond to that sort of approach. We are going to provide responsible economic management. We are going to try to assist Australian families and those on fixed incomes to fight the scourge of inflation and to fight high interest rates. And we are going to keep the pressure on those economic factors by running a large budget surplus. We would like to see the opposition join us in passing the budget bills that deliver that surplus—not play the role of wreckers but accept their responsibilities, accept that this is the economically responsible thing to do and let the government pass its budget measures, because their economic credibility is on the line. If they continue to behave like this, the Australian public will continue to reject them.

People do not understand why you are in favour of binge drinking. They do not understand why you are opposed to tax on luxury cars. They do not understand why you do not want oil companies to pay appropriate taxation. They just do not understand where you are at. What they want is for the government to be able to pass its budget, to govern responsibly and to put downward pressure on interest rates and inflation. I urge the opposition to join the government and pass the budget bills.