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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2144

Senator McALLISTER (New South Wales) (16:37): I seek to make comments principally on the answers provided by Senator Cormann—noting that the debate has so far ranged much broader than that. Of course, what Senator Cormann was asked was about the timing of the budget, whether or not we would know the government's tax policy before the budget, and whether or not there would be adequate time to scrutinise the budget. These are important questions, and they are particularly important questions for this government and this Prime Minister.

As we know, just five months ago Malcolm Turnbull stood out in the courtyard outside here and he declared that he would be challenging the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for the leadership. Apparently his reason—and he made it very clear at the time—was that there was an urgent need for economic leadership. That was the pitch. That was the pitch to his party room and that was the pitch to the Australian people. He said of the then Prime Minister:

He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs. Now we are living as Australians in the most exciting time. The big economic changes that we're living through here and around the world offer enormous challenges and enormous opportunities.

And we need a different style of leadership. We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities … that respects the people's intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action … and makes a case for it.

It all sounds pretty good actually, but what a fall from grace it has been in that very short period of time—in just five months.

I understand what the Prime Minister was trying to say at that time: that when you are facing complex economic issues, and when you are facing an economic transition with many variables, government should do what it can to provide certainty and confidence to the community, to business and to families. You would think, if that is the priority, that it would be pretty easy to commit clearly to a date, time and place for the federal budget. After all, it is pretty much the same time every year. Instead, for reasons which are almost inexplicable to me and I suspect for many Australian voters, the government has created an incredible aura of absolute chaos by being utterly incapable of giving a straight answer about where and when the budget will be held. We now have endless speculation that the budget will be brought forward, even though the original date is just eight weeks away.

The Treasurer has said simply that they are working towards a 10 May budget, which sounds like weasel words if you have ever heard them. Today Senator Cormann did say that the budget would be delivered on 10 May, but Senator Scullion just then interjected, telling opposition senators on this question, 'We'll let you know.' It is utterly unclear to me, and I believe to everybody else in this place and I suspect some people on the government benches, when this budget is actually going to take place.

As Mr Bowen, Labor's shadow Treasurer, has pointed out, this is not a trivial issue. The question of budget timing is not trivial, and governments do not muck around with it in this way. If government were choosing to do this, it would be a break with precedent. It has not been done since the 1950s. For more than 60 years we have worked on the assumption that the budget timetable has been clear and understood. But now, only weeks before the budget, the government cannot tell us what day it is on, let alone what is in it. Honestly, it is a sign of complete and utter desperation.

The longer Mr Turnbull is in office, the worse the government's position gets and the clearer it becomes that there is, in fact, no economic plan and the economic leadership that was promised is not going to be delivered. It seems to me that the Prime Minister has been reduced to quite desperate measures and the people around him are following along. They are rushing towards an election because they presumably hope that the complete lack of economic leadership shown by the Prime Minister and his cabinet will not catch-up with them before election day. I think the public are onto them.

There is nothing calm and methodical about this process without a clear budget timetable. There is nothing calm and methodical about a set of budget propositions which come and go, which swing like a weathervane in the wind depending on the mood of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister and whether or not they bothered making a phone call to one another. Watching the coalition trying to decide what goes in their budget is like watching— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.