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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 194


Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (11:33 AM) —I am going to reflect on what the Governor-General actually said the other day, rather than go on with some spurious rant as my good friend and colleague Senator Cameron just did, and try to transcribe the reality of what was handed to the Governor-General to read out and what is actually happening.


Senator Cameron interjecting—


Senator JOYCE —The first place we should start while you are still in the chamber is with the wondrous event where Australia is going to go down the path of investing part of $43 billion to roll out a program that did not even start with a cost-benefit analysis. I note that the key placement of the speech was the NBN. The NBN is a wondrous thing—the largest infrastructure program in Australia—but the first question one has to ask is: what price are we prepared to pay for this? Everybody would love broadband, but at what price? What price do you want to put on it? How much more money do you want this crowd to borrow from the Chinese? How much more money do you want this crowd to borrow from the people of the Middle East? How much more money do you want our nation to borrow so that we can build something that a lot of people do not even really want, already have or have to a lesser degree? This is a complete indulgence. They invested $43 billion without doing a cost-benefit analysis—that is, for those who want further information, they did not work out whether it pays for itself.

Why would they worry about that? After all, it is the Australian people who have to pay the money back. But the cornerstone of the Governor-General’s speech was the money that is going to be spent—money that will be borrowed from overseas and then spent on a dubious project which has the possibility of being out of date before it is even finished. People say that we will have fibre to every house. No, you will not. You are going to have fibre to houses and areas where there is fibre already. They talk about fibre to schools and fibre to hospitals. We do not need to spend $43 billion on that. There is a complete paucity of involvement in crucial decisions and a lack of financial discipline. Any discussion about coalition costings will pale into insignificance compared with where this debacle is going to end up.

You have to remember that the government that sits behind the building of the NBN is the same government that gave you the Building the Education Revolution for school halls. That is the acumen that will be behind this. They are the same people who managed to burn down 190 houses. They are the same people who gave you a record deficit. They are the same people who now give you record debt. These are the people who are going to build the NBN, and this apparently is the cornerstone of Labor Party policy. In fact, it is the cornerstone that apparently attracted the Independents. So this is it. This is the litmus test, and we will see where this nation goes. Many people ask, ‘Why should we spend $43 billion to download movies more quickly? Is that what we are going to get? What is the actual benefit in my life and in my house of borrowing this money? Even if we do get fibre into my house, what is the actual benefit?’

We read in the paper that people have said, ‘Build me a railway line. Build me a road. Build me something that has a real outcome in my life, an outcome for the aggregate capacity of our nation to produce goods.’ If we build lines to the coalfields, if we build lines to deliver wheat, if we build lines for greater intercapital connectivity by rail and by road, we increase the productive capacity of this nation. But you have to ask a serious question: what is this $43 billion investment in upgrading a telephone line going to do for the country? What is the involvement of the incremental increase in speed in the economy?

The other question you have to ask is: why are you putting in this request for the Christmas tree when you do not have the money, when you actually have to go overseas and borrow it? The final question you have to ask yourself is: how much more money do you want to owe to the Chinese? You have to pay it back. They are not giving it to you. How much more money do you want to owe to people in the Middle East? You have to pay them back. God help you if you cannot pay them back. If you had a bad bank manager, that would pale into insignificance compared to not being able to pay back the people that this nation is borrowing this money from.

That was one of the cornerstones and we also heard about this new Parramatta to Epping railway line. I am always fascinated about the Parramatta to Epping railway line because I found out that the first time that they promised it was in 1823. They have been promising it ever since and back out it has come. When in doubt, promise the Parramatta to Epping railway line. Will it get built? No, it will not. What we have to do in this term of parliament is actually put the Labor Party’s hands on the hot plate and see whether they actually do any of these things that they are supposed to do.


Senator Nash interjecting—


Senator JOYCE —They promised the inland rail. It sounds great. That is definitely coalition policy. We want the inland rail to go from Gladstone right down to Melbourne but then it comes down to reading the fine print at the bottom. It will be built—wait for it—by 2030. The reality is that there will be many people in this chamber not only who will not be in politics but whose mortal coil will have descended the pearly vale to the choir invisible by the time that railway line is built. These are the sorts of promises that you get from the Labor Party. We have an NBN that is the biggest infrastructure project so that you can download movies more quickly—that is not even costed. We have a promise for a railway line first promised in 1823 and a promise for another railway line that they are not going to build until 2030. These people have a job coming their way at a second-hand car dealership on the Parramatta Road. I can see it. Cash for clunkers—they have evolved into that game. These are the sorts of experiences that we are going to have in this term of the Labor government.

They also talked about building regional Australia. I have the greatest respect for the Governor-General, but I do have a sense that these are not her words—they might have been handed to her. They talked about developing a housing policy for regional Australia but then we have to read the fine print—it is only for cities of over 30,000 people. In Queensland there is not one city of 30,000 people off the coast. They were going to develop a regional housing program in one of their regional cities which was called the Gold Coast. Five hundred thousand people live in this regional town called the Gold Coast and Minister Burke said it was to help fly-in fly-out workers. Where were they flying in and flying out from?


Senator Nash —Bribie Island.


Senator JOYCE —Bribie Island to the Gold Coast. The other depressed regional town that they were helping out was called the Sunshine Coast. So we have the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast and it just goes on because part of their regional policy at this moment is the redevelopment of an airstrip in this depressed little regional town called Perth. Four hundred and eighty million dollars is coming out of their regional development budget to develop an airport in Perth. That airport well may need to be developed, but I think you have a little bit of a hide to call Perth a regional town. I think it has probably evolved a little bit beyond bucolic kitsch. I think it would be fair enough to say that Perth is a substantial city and should be nominated as such. But these are the sorts of intricacies that we have and examples of the duplicitous nature that the Labor Party will purvey in this parliament. What we must do is to hold them to these ridiculous promises and really shine a light on them. We want to say to the Australian people—especially, to be honest, to those who supported the Labor Party in attaining government—that if we get to the end of this term and the inland rail has not been built, did they keep their promise? If we get to the end of this term and see what has happened to the NBN—how did that promise go?

The promise that I am really fascinated with is the one that says you will bring the budget into surplus. I have to see it to believe this one. It is going to be a ripper. Just in the last week, your gross debt went up by $4 billion. You now owe $160.9 billion at a federal government level. We read in the papers that the states, which have predominantly state Labor governments—Western Australia has been good, but the state Labor governments are hopeless—are going to get to $240 billion in debt. This peak debt is marching on its way. Even under your own estimates—and you are always wrong—you say it is going to peak at $210 billion. You have your $210 billion that you owe to the Chinese and to the people in the Middle East—people all around the world that have to be repaid. You have the debt that the state Labor governments owe to people all around the world and you have to start adding these numbers up. Because the state Labor governments in their many guises are absolutely hopeless with money they are saying to the local governments, ‘If you want something, you have to borrow the money.’ Now we are seeing the local governments’ debts marching ahead. This is all a house of cards that the Labor Party has created and does so every time.

They are hopeless when it comes to managing the books. Then they try with the guile, cunning and sleekness that would be splendid in any flying carpet salesman to say that they are good economic managers. We have a party who, to be honest, started with $58 billion in gross debt and who have now taken it to $160.9 billion in gross debt and whose state governments are marching out to $240 billion in gross debt, which they have to repay, and they say that this apparently is good economic management. We will take this government back to core themes about their capacity, when they talk about a surplus, to actually deliver it.

I will tell you why I am sceptical about it. The year that just passed was supposed to have a $17 billion surplus. We actually had a $57 billion deficit, so they kind of missed the mark just a fraction. The second biggest deficit in our nation’s history is the one we are in right now. You have to remember that, even if we did get to a surplus, a surplus does not mean you have paid back your debt; it just means that you have a little bit of money available to pay back your debt. For instance, if they talk about a billion-dollar surplus—or maybe it is a $2 billion surplus, but let us say we have a billion-dollar surplus—and we still have our $210 billion in gross debt, how many hundreds of years do you want to hang around to pay it off?

They say, ‘You’ve got to talk about net debt.’ It is always about net debt. They never actually explain to you exactly how they get to their net debt number. They can say, ‘Even though our gross debt will be $210 billion, our net debt’s only going to be $90 billion.’ That is splendid. Explain to me the difference between the two numbers. Explain to me how you have got from $210 billion back down to $90 billion—a difference of $120 billion. How did you do it? It becomes very difficult. They say, ‘You plough your way through Senate estimates and you find out that there’s $30 billion in cash reserves in the Future Fund.’ We always thought that the cash reserves in the Future Fund were to cover the liability that is out there for public servants’ superannuation—$120 billion in liabilities there. But no: apparently they are saying that if needed it will pay off the debt. Then we have the $16 billion in HECS. Good luck collecting that! You will be going up every gully around Nimbin and around every pub trying to get the money out of the students to pay back their loans. I do not think you will get it overnight. It might take a while, and you would have to put a contingency on whether you get it at all, or at least a large portion of it.

Then there is the big one, a question put on notice at the last estimates and still not answered. We found that, in going from $210 billion—it was actually larger at that point, $220 billion—back down to $90 billion, they had $75 billion nominated as—wait for it—‘other’. There was $75 billion worth of ‘others’. I always get worried about ‘others’. As an accountant, I have found rats, mice and all sorts of pests in ‘other’. But they have $75 billion stacked up in there. I will bet you London to a brick that the day the light really shines on the Labor Party books there is going to be a massive hole in the finances of this nation. Anyway, there is their financial management.

Then, of course, we have come down to the great wonder of our times, climate change. This is the plan where the Labor Party cools the planet from a room in Canberra. It has to be seen to be believed. Yes, it can do it! Penny Wong tried; she had a go at cooling the planet from a room in Canberra. She was there for a little while. She has disappeared now; she is the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. She has evolved to a higher species. ‘We are going to cool this planet from a room in Canberra, and it will be a shared responsibility.’ So look to the heavens and realise that that is about to change, because the Labor Party is going to do it. The way it is going to change the temperature of the globe is with a new tax, because that is how you cool things down. If taxes made things cooler, the place would be an icebox.


Senator Williams —It’d be freezing.


Senator JOYCE —It will be freezing. If Labor Party taxes were going to cool things, this place would be a very frigid chamber indeed. But apparently that is how they are going to cool it this time: it is a new tax. And we have to believe this, because they are very believable people. They are just up the Parramatta Road from Baulkham Hills, and they have a deal for you: they are going to change the temperature of the globe by a new tax.

One might suggest, however crude it is, that they are trying to bring this on because they are trying to dummy up the books. One could suggest that they might be trying to bring this tax in to dummy up the books so that every time you turn on a light you pay the tax to pay for the Labor Party’s paucity of capacity in balancing the nation’s books. That is why you are going to do it. It is not going to cool the globe; it is just because they are desperately in need of a new flow of funds to dummy up their dodgy books. This is the reality we live in.

So we will be engaging with you fervently on making sure that this nation is not going to have this swiftie pulled on it again by the Labor Party. If we have to once more melt down the phones in this building in letting them know which people are going to vote for this ridiculous tax then we will do it. We will go back into action to try and protect Australia from this deceit. I want one person from the Labor Party to stand up and tell me, or tell Australia, how much they intend the temperature of the globe to cool by reason of their new tax. Just tell me that. Is it a degree? Is it part of a degree? Is it 10 degrees? How much is the world going to cool because of the Labor Party’s new tax? This is the premise of the argument: that this is the problem that they are about to solve.

We are going to look at dodgy promises—the fine print about promises that will never be delivered. We are going to look at the absolute stuff-up that the books are in at the moment, which will reflect exactly where our nation is. If you want to know where our nation is, you should go to the Australian Office of Financial Management website, look up ‘Australian government securities outstanding’ and rate them yourself every week. Every week, have a look at how much bigger our debt gets and then ask yourself how you—because it is the Australian people—are going to pay this money back. The way they are going to try and do it is by banging new taxes on you.

We will take the Labor government directly back to where we were prior to this election, with their lack of detail on their finances, their lack of delivery on their promises and the lack of believability in the omens that they put forward. Once more we will be reminding the Australian people that these are the ones who came up with a plan where they were not trying to cool the planet. They were just going to cool your houses, and in the process they did not cool them; they burnt down 190 of them. These are the people who decided that apparently a new school hall at three times the price at the back of your local state school, whether you wanted it or not, was somehow going to bring the world economy back into gear. These are the people who believed that the purchase of a flat screen from South Korea was somehow going to stimulate the Australian economy. These are the people who told you that the reason Australia avoided recession was not the iron ore exports from Western Australia, the coal exports from Queensland or the wheat exports from New South Wales. No, it was the $900 cheques. That is what did it. That is what saved the world. Remember, they said at the start, ‘Go hard, go household, go early.’ They left a couple of things off there. They went hard, they certainly went household, they went early and then they went off their heads and now they are going broke.