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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 2511

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (17:10): You must admit that, generally, out there—look at the chamber now—people's interest in the budget is pretty dead. No-one is staying up late at night worrying about the Labor budget. Even the fourth estate, when they are asked, 'What's it like?' say, 'It's pretty boring; there's not much there.' People have switched off. It is just another day in the office. And it is not because it is not important; it is just that they do not believe the Labor Party anymore. It is like a new pair of socks on the town drunk: who cares? You have a look, have a think about it, but it does not really change them. It does not make them more charismatic, it does not make me want to invite them round for dinner; they have just got themselves a new pair of socks.

You might have missed this, but I have got this thing about gross debt; I have been talking about it for a couple of years. So during the budget lock-up—one of my staff members, Matt, was in there—I said, 'We'd better have a look around for the debt position. Obviously, they are about to max out the credit card, so we'd better have a bit of a hunt around.' Sure enough, there it was: they have maxed out the credit card and they are looking for an extension. There it was.

So what does this mean? You have to go back into the history of this whole national credit card thing—how we ended up with it, where it came from and what it is all about. Basically, in 2009 a wondrous gentleman, a luminary, Wayne Maxwell Swan, Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia, stated in the budget papers:

The … emerging economies of China and India are now expected to slow markedly—

Therefore, 'We have to extend the credit card.'

He also said, on 10 March 2009:

As a result of the deteriorating global economy and consequent falling tax revenues, it will be necessary to increase government borrowing.

Therefore, under the Commonwealth Inscri­bed Stock Act 1911, they decided to up the credit card by $125 billion. What's $125 billion between friends? That is from $75 billion to $200 billion. I remember going to the Senate estimates. They sat down and I said, 'That's a remarkable amount of money.' They said, 'But you don't have to worry too much about it; we'll never get there.' It will be in 2013-14. If things are at their worst, 2013-14 is when they will get there—unless we have a major turnaround.

But a couple of things happened, you see. China never missed a beat, nor did India. And, because China never missed a beat and there was never negative growth in India, the demand for our resources kept going and we did not have a recession. It was nothing to do with ceiling insulation, school halls, $900 cheques or the NBN. It was due to the fact that we had these black rocks over on our east coast and these red rocks over on our west coast—one is called iron ore, the other is called coal—and these wonderful people over in South-East Asia who want to keep buying them. They buy as much of them as they can get, at a pretty remarkable price. Naturally enough, that drove our economy forward.

Mr Swan would like to make you think that it had something to do with $900 cheques—that a splurge in retail spending and gambling revenue at the local pub somehow kept Australia from a recession. It is the same sort of logic, I suppose, as saying that buying a new PlayStation will get you a wage rise at work. I do not know how they came to that logic, but that is apparently what it was. However, the result of their squandering was that our credit card charges kept going up and up and up and up. I remember doing the debt graphs—here is Keating; here is us paying Keating off; here is Rudd; here is Gillard. Now we are going up here, right off the graph, because the Labor Party just cannot handle money. They have no idea. The Labor Party just cannot handle money. They have no idea.

Let's look at what would happen if Australia was a business, a shop. With record sales for the produce that that shop produced, we would end up with a $54 billion loss in the shop, followed by a $49 billion loss in the shop. Then they say things get better because we end up in the following year with a $22 billion loss in the shop. We all know what happens to a shop that trades like that. We all know what happens to the people who rely on that shop for an income. We all know how fearful people get. We know how the people who are relying on that to support their hospitals and defence force and to build roads feel when that is how the shop is run. We all know what is going to happen to the shop: the shop is going to close its doors. What is important is that, if we did not allow you to increase your credit card limit, the shop would close, and it would close in the next month or so. That is startling. That scares me.

Maybe it scares Mr Swan as well, because just this morning I watched him and saw a terrified man with a shake in his voice tip and then smash a glass on a table up at the ABC studios. I see a person out of his depth, a person who is really struggling. He is really struggling because he just does not have the competency to manage, and this is an issue. If he was a heart surgeon you would have a bit of a problem, a quandary. If he was about to operate on that sacred vessel, your head, you would have a bit of a problem seeing a man obviously under the pump. Mr Swan is the nation's accountant; he is supposed to bring it all back under control. He is supposed to be the cool, level-headed and competent architect bringing it all back under control.

The best we have been able to get from him thus far is, 'Coalition, you have to explain to us what you would do.' It is all about what Tony Abbott announces tonight. I will translate that for the Australian people. It is like this: if you were a complete and utter stuff-up like the Labor Party and had completely and utterly botched the books, what would you do next? I do not know—drown yourself? I do not know what you would do next if you were that bad. What does one do? What a peculiar question: 'If you were as bad as us, what would you do about it?' I would remove myself from the building—that is what I would do about it, and I think that is what the Australian people are going to do about it.

When you say, 'Hang on, we're selling all this produce. Our soft and hard commodities are going out the door at record prices, but we can't balance the books, we can't make it work, we can't make it stack up,' the problem is not ours; the problem is yours. And the way to solve it is to get rid of you. That is step number 1. That will start making things better.

The Labor Party always comes up with, 'When in doubt, talk about net debt'—this magical, mythical money that is going to appear from somewhere. They always say: 'You don't worry about the gross debt. You don't worry about going to the Australian Office of Financial Management website and looking at Australian government securities outstanding and seeing exactly where we are'—that is their actual overdraft state­ment—'You just make up a number and you call it net debt.' If this magical, mythical money exists, let's test you. Grab some of that magical, mythical money and drop it in your bank account and bring the debt down. Grab some of it and drop it in the bank account so you do not have to extend your credit card.

In the place where I and many others grew up, the bank manager says to you: 'I don't think I should extend your credit card because you seem to be out of control. I've been looking at what you've been buying and I notice you bought about $2½ billion worth of fluffy stuff which you stuck in the ceiling and then ripped out again. I don't know what the purpose of that was. Then you went on this manic episode of building school halls all around the countryside. Then you spent $22 billion on $900 cheques. I've got a bit of a concern about you as a client, a customer, of this bank. I think we'd better pull your horns in a bit, so we're not going to extend your credit card. But you've told us that you have this magical, mythical money, $100 billion; we want you to go find some of that magical, mythical money and drop it in the account.' Mr Swan cannot do that because he cannot find it. He does not know where he put it. It is somewhere out there, though!

We had a search for it and we found some of his magical, mythical money. About $68 billion of it is in the Future Fund. The Future Fund is, of course, the money that is put aside for public servants' superannuation. So what Mr Swan is saying when he talks about net debt is that he is going to pay off the nation's debt with public servants' savings, their retirement fund. I want to know if the public servants know about this. They must be happy to know, especially the people in Canberra, that the government might be going to use their money to pay the debt off! They are going to their savings to pay Wayne's debt. I suppose that is the way it works. My suggestion is that the public servants will not accept that. Maybe that is another reason why we are extending our credit card.

The Labor Party stand back and say: 'Australia's not that bad. Australia's fine. Everything's fine.' Well, there is another bloke who has a different opinion, and his name is Professor Ken Rogoff. He is from Harvard University, in Massachusetts, in the United States of America. He has a different view. He did an analysis on cumulative public debt throughout the world from 2007 to now. 2007 is very interesting because that is when that crowd, the Green-Labor Party Independent alliance, got elected to govern­ment. From when the Green-Labor Party Independent alliance got elected to government to now, in an assessment of the cumulative increase in real public debt, the worst in the world is Iceland, and then comes Ireland. We have heard a bit about Ireland and Iceland. Iceland has basically completely fallen off the ledge. Ireland—well, that is hopeless.

Guess who No. 3 is. Is it Portugal? No. Is it Spain? No. Is it the United States? No. Is it Australia? Australia is the third worst. With our trajectory to disaster, we are right up there with the best of them. We are worse than Mexico, Chile, Belgium, Greece, Portugal and Spain. And the government say it is not a problem. They do not think this is an issue. I am starting to have concerns about this client.

In the old days, I had a great old boss, Philip Mawby, a chartered accountant and an auditor with Price Waterhouse. When people were coming unstuck, he would say to us, 'Go get a dump on all their drawings and bring it into the office.' You would go through their drawings one by one and then you would find all this rubbish: a new boat, new stereo, new trip, new this and new that—nothing to do with business. He would hand it to them and say, 'That is why you are about to go live in your son's or daughter's caravan at the back of their house—because you're going to lose your own.' That is what happens when you lose track. You have to really shake people to try to break them out of their false sense of security. Australia is on that trajectory. I think it was a clarion call this morning when Wayne Swan dropped the glass. It was a sign. He understands and that is why they are sneaking these things in now. With $250 billion we have finally got ourselves into the realm where we can start talking about things in portions of a trillion. We are heading to having a quarter of a trillion dollars in credit card debt. We are borrowing this money from the Chinese, from trusts in the Middle East and from superannuants in Japan, who probably want it back because they have a few problems over there. These people have not given us the money; they want us to repay it. We actually have to repay them. We have to send them back their dough. There is not a skerrick of a sign that the Green-Labor-Independent alliance and Mr Wayne Swan can do that. So where do we go from here?

That is why the Australian people have switched off. Mr Swan could have done cartwheels with a wig on, been whistling Dixie or been quoting poetry. No-one cares anymore. No-one listens to him anymore. What he says is irrelevant. He has never been able to hit a target and he cannot deliver the goods. The ramifications for Australia are shocking.

I have had a look at some of the things we are spending money on. Regional develop­ment always fascinates me. I have seen some of the accounting tricks. They must think we are all simpletons with the way they are dealing with it. First of all, to create the Green-Labor Party Independent alliance they got a couple of blokes and said, 'We'll give you $1.4 billion,' and that sounded great. As soon as they did that they had two major disasters they had to cover. One major disaster was Cyclone Yasi, and they ripped $350 million out of the budget to repair things in North Queensland, and the other disaster was the member for Lyne, and they had to pull another $50 million out for him. So these two disasters cost them $400 million. One is finished and one is still going.

Then we were down to about $1 billion, so we thought they were going to spend $1 billion on regional Australia. But when you look at the figures, you see they are cunning and shrewd people. Of the $1 billion, they are spending $300 million and then the rest sits out in never-never land. We will get to that later on. Only $300 million is in the forward estimates. Unfortunately, Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor have been touched, and either they do not acknowledge it or they are stupid, because it is not going to be spent, it is not going to happen.

I was fascinated to see the regional development document put out by Simon Crean. It was to be the saviour of regional Australia. I was very interested in the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. I can see that pulling us out of the position we are in. The Flying Fruit Fly Circus is highly recommended. It made its way into the regional development doc­ument. We also have research into crazy ants, which is important—I was thinking more of the crazy ants in the western suburbs of Brisbane, but why not?

Then we had the biggest appropriation of money for regional development—in excess of $400 million—for a poor little regional town. It was not Bollen, Kununurra, Temora or Bellingen. What was the regional town's name? Perth. They are building a new road in the regional town of Perth and they have banged it under regional development. I have nothing against building a road in Perth—it is a great idea—but do not call it regional, not unless you are building it all the way to Kalgoorlie. I suppose it would become regional once it got outside the city limits. This is just being mischievous with the terminology to try to cover your tracks. If Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor are stupid enough to swallow that, then explains why they were stupid enough to put in a Labor-Green-Independent alliance.

They are spending money on a whole range of things in regional Australia. This will be of great interest to the people of New England, especially those in northern New England. In the regional development document is investment in the Australian Antarctic Division. I know it is getting chilly at this time of year and there is a bit of snow about—maybe that is having an effect—but I think it is a bit of a stretch to say the Australian Antarctic Division has something to do with part of regional Australia. If it is, what part? Mawson and Davis?

This is how absurd our nation has become. This is where we have got to. If you did not laugh, you would cry. Underneath it all it is the same old story. The debt just keeps marching ahead, racing ahead. You see they are borrowing roughly $1.6 billion every week. There are a couple of new public hospitals in that every time, major road improvements or the Toowoomba range crossing. Those are the sorts of things we could do with that money. But we have arrived in this twilight zone of Labor Party economics, of 'Swan-onomics'. We would have built dams, railways and ports to create wealth, but they just squander it and cannot work out where it has gone, and borrow it from overseas.

I heard Mr Albanese the other day announcing the inland rail again. This thing has more entrances than Nellie Melba had exits. It gets announced every second day by Mr Albanese. It is never going to be built. They will never build it. It is just another one of those mythical beings, like their mythical money.

What depresses me is that the Australian people have switched off from you. They really have. They have stopped listening and they do not care anymore. You can do anything and say anything. All you are doing now is annoying them. You annoy them more and more every day. Every day they see Julia Gillard overseas the whole set-up annoys them. The whole process annoys them. Mr Swan annoys them. The Australian people are becoming gradually more and more angry. On top of that you have these other mad policies. The Malaysian refugee expedition is the most recent one. To conclude on a sombre note, wherever you people got the idea to send 800 people to a country that still believes in caning and still believes in capital punishment and where there are huge question marks over its humanitarian values is beyond me.