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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2098


Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (13:30): There was once a country that enjoyed strong economic growth and had government debt of around 22 per cent of GDP—a level not much more than Australia's expected debt in the next year or two. This country proceeded over the subsequent generation to have successive budget deficits, to direct workers into its burgeoning public sector, to raise the tax burden and to produce a business environment characterised by red tape. Voila! You end up with the basket case economy that is Greece. Is Australia treading down the path well worn by Greece? Or are we better than that? If you think we are, then I invite you to confirm it.

My challenge is to everyone who thinks Greece has no lessons for Australia. Tell me which spending cuts you support to stop the growth of the public sector, to stop the growth in the tax burden and to deliver a balanced budget. Tell me which red tape you are prepared to cut. If you think we should deliver a balanced budget but not right now, tell me why not now. What brilliant contortions in economics can justify us having a budget deficit now, when the global financial crisis was nearly a decade ago and when the economy is growing at three per cent? If you do not think we should deliver a balanced budget now, then tell me when. We have not had one since I was in my fifties. You can tell by the lines on my face that that was some time ago.

I previously requested the Senate to commit to a balanced budget by 2020, but my motion was voted down. The government now proposes to balance the budget in 2021. But, on current trends, that is very unlikely. So I ask all senators in this place, from all parties, if you do not agree to commit to a balanced budget within five years or so, by what year will you do so? Or are you comfortable with perpetual budget deficits, ever increasing debt and eventual default? The current Liberal-National government and the previous Labor government signed up to a fiscal strategy of achieving budget surpluses on average over the course of the economic cycle. This is fine, but we are now in the midst of an expected 12-year stretch of budget deficits. Twelve years is the upper limit of the duration of economic cycles, according to many economic estimates. So what we really have is a fiscal strategy of maintaining budget deficits on average over the course of the entire economic cycle.

The Liberal Democrats are alone in proposing an immediate balancing of the budget and are alone in having a credible plan for spending cuts to achieve this. For example, the Liberal Democrats have detailed plans to slash welfare, the biggest area of Commonwealth government spending. The Liberal Democrats would abolish Abstudy, the pensioner education supplement and the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme. We would abolish Youth Allowance and Austudy for post-school study assistance. We would abolish family tax benefit part B, the national paid parental leave scheme, the childcare benefit and the childcare rebate. The Liberal Democrats would reduce family tax benefit part A and abolish associated newborn, energy, large family and multiple birth supplements. We would lift the age pension eligibility age. We would freeze maximum unemployment payments for the duration of a recipient's unemployment. The Liberal Democrats would means test all welfare payments and include the home in those means tests. We would limit welfare to citizens, and we would limit the growth of welfare payments to the rate of inflation.

This is just a taste of our spending cuts. Beyond the welfare system, the Liberal Democrats have extensive policies to cut spending in each other area of government spending. What is more, we have policies to avoid the red tape that has suffocated the Greek economy and is threatening to do the same here. Key to this red tape reduction is the repeal of the Fair Work Act—which could more accurately be described as the 'keep unemployment high act'. This act is not needed to allow unions to form, to ensure workplace health and safety, or to prevent workplace discrimination. But it bans work for less than $17.29 an hour and it bans work that does not conform to Soviet-era 'award' regulations. It bans the firing of workers who fail to attend work and the firing of workers without the approval of a tribunal—provisions which discourage businesses from hiring workers in the first place. The act also requires businesses to negotiate with a union irrespective of whether the union enjoys support from workers. Our first priority should be helping to get people into a job in the first place. Feather-bedding those who already have a job at the expense of those who want one is exactly what Greece did.

These cuts to government spending and red tape proposed by the Liberal Democrats are necessary to avoid the path trodden by Greece over the last generation. No other party proposes anything like it. Some politicians know we need to pursue such cuts, but they do not know how to do it and get elected. That is why we need a strong advocate of small government holding the balance of power in the next parliament, to force whatever government we end up with to avoid a future of big spending, more red tape and economic stagnation—in short, to avoid the slow path to Greece.