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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8632


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:13): My question is to Senator Wong, the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer the minister to her statement to the Senate in question time yesterday, when asked if the budget would return to surplus in 2012-13, that this was merely a forecast and her refusal when given three opportunities to confirm that it was still a promise. Why is the government walking away from a commitment reiterated by the Prime Minister no fewer than 30 times—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Fierravanti-Wells is entitled to be heard in silence and I am entitled to hear the question.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Why is the government walking away from a commitment reiterated by the Prime Minister no fewer than 30 times and by the Treasurer no fewer than 15 times in the last 18 months? When will the government come clean with the Australian people and admit that it has abandoned its commitment to deliver a budget surplus in 2012-13?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:14): I am looking forward to not being sledged now, given that Senator Abetz says that is the new benchmark in the Senate. I predict—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Just come to the question.

Senator WONG: I predict, Mr President, that will not last 30 seconds.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator WONG: Here we go—30 seconds.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Wong! Order on both sides! Senator Wong, just come to the question that has been asked.

Senator WONG: We have handed down our midyear review and found billions of dollars in savings to return the budget to surplus and we are on track to deliver it. This government will always ensure the appropriate fiscal settings to support the economy and jobs, and that will never change. That is why it remains appropriate to bring the budget back to surplus, given the economy is growing at trend, giving the RBA room to move on interest rates. Those opposite might recall that they did not enjoy official interest rates at this rate, certainly not in the period leading up to the change of government. Australians with mortgages are obviously substantially better off as a result of those interest rate cuts. Of course, the room for those cuts has been brought about by the fact that the government has engaged in fiscal consolidation—that is, bringing the budget back to surplus.

So those opposite can play all the games they like on this issue, but the reality is this: those opposite still cannot tell the Australian people whether they support the savings measures in MYEFO. They still cannot tell people. So, when they want to come—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Mr President, I rise on a point of order.

Senator WONG: Of course you will get up, because it is embarrassing to talk about fiscal—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, resume your seat.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I thought my question was very clear, Senator Wong, and that is: why is the government walking away from its promise to deliver a budget surplus in 2012-13? I would have thought it was pretty simple, Senator Wong. You can understand plain English.

The PRESIDENT: Order! That is debating the issue. There is no point of order. Senator Wong, you have 37 seconds.

Senator WONG: How about this for plain English: will you support our savings measures or not, Senator? You are still going, 'We might; we might not. We might; we might not.' For you lot, fiscal discipline is all about talk but not about actual decisions, because you are still having a fight in your party room as to whether or not you should support the reduction in the baby bonus or not. The shadow Treasurer says it is the end of the age of entitlement and then he says this is like the one-child policy. Oh, give us a break!

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: We will just wait a moment until people have quietened down. On my right! And on my left! When there is silence we will proceed.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:18): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister of her first speech as finance minister on 14 October 2010, when she said:

The need for discipline and rigour is patent. That is why the Government has made it clear that the return to surplus is not negotiable.

If it was a non-negotiable promise then, why is it not even a promise now?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:18): I would make this point: on this side of the chamber we have taken some $160 billion worth of savings over five years, including—

Senator Brandis: And you've brought in the four biggest budget deficits in Australian history!

Senator WONG: One hundred and sixty billion dollars worth of savings. How many—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, resume your seat.

Senator Conroy: George, did you miss the global financial crisis?

The PRESIDENT: Senators on both sides, if you wish to debate this, the time is after question time.

Senator WONG: I am sorry, I should have said we have found $130 billion in savings over five budgets, in the context of a revenue write-down of $160 billion over five years since the start of the GFC, something that those opposite do not wish to recall.

In addition, in the midyear review we have taken some $16 billion of savings, and I would make this point: when we come to this parliament, we announce our budget or our budget updates and we list off the savings, what do we hear from the other side, the great guardians of fiscal discipline? We hear 'class warfare'. We hear comments about us not thinking second children are worth much. We hear all sorts of political comments because when it comes— (Time expired)

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:20): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the promise that the budget will return to surplus in 2012-13 join the promise that there will be no carbon tax? That was another false promise made by the Prime Minister to mislead the Australian people. After so many lies and broken promises, why should the Australian people believe a word this dishonest government says?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:20): I am asked about belief. I am asked about the belief of the Australian people—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator WONG: No, that was part of the question. I want to make this point: the Australian people know—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: You were asked about integrity and lying.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When senators are silent we will proceed.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Mr President. I think the Australian people know which party was determined to protect jobs and the economy and which party sought to play politics with it. I think it is extraordinary that those opposite seek to pretend that the global financial crisis never happened. We know in this country we have come through that because we have worked together. Because of the actions of government, the decisions of business, the decisions of workers, we have come through the GFC in a far stronger position than any other advanced economy. And we are projected to grow faster than any other advanced economy next year. The only people who do not like it are those opposite. The only ones who do not like the fact that we have growth, low unemployment and low interest rates are those opposite. (Time expired)