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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2256


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:00): My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to statements made by her on Insiders on Sunday morning and by the Treasurer on Radio National this morning that the government has not prepared 10-year costings of the RSPT and MRRT revenue estimates. Are these statements true—yes or no?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:00): I am happy to take the question about—

Senator Abetz: How gracious of you!

Senator WONG: I am gracious—something many on that side are not. This is true. I am very happy to take the question from the senator. Given his reference to those two interviews, he is obviously talking about revenue projections for the minerals resource rent tax. I am always interested that Senator Cormann is so anxious to know what a tax he will oppose will raise, given that he has already said no, and continues to say no, to everything, including the tax breaks for small business. The government has published the MRRT net estimates in the midyear review released last year, which was $10.6 billion over the forward estimates period to 2014-15. We also have factored into the budget bottom line not only this revenue but the expenditure for the sorts of policies that we have been talking about—the tax cuts for small business, the instant asset write-off, tax cuts for the broader economy, investment through the increase in the superannuation guarantee levy and so forth. Those things are factored into our budget bottom line and that shows a budget surplus in 2012-13. I have a recollection, Senator—and I will come back to you if I am wrong—that you yourself FOIed some working figures from Treasury. I am sure you would be more across that than anybody in the chamber because you FOIed it, if I am correct—if I am not, I apologise.

I would refer you to comments by the former head of Treasury, Ken Henry, regarding 10-year forecasts. He indicated that there was doubt as to whether they were worth producing given that they were simply too unreliable. Dr Henry, of course, advised your government and Mr Costello.

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:02): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Were the minister and the Treasurer really unaware that Treasury released its 10-year costings of the RSPT and MRRT revenue estimates under FOI on 14 February 2011 when they made those claims and that those costings show a $60 billion drop in revenue over 10 years? Shouldn't a competent Treasurer and finance minister be aware of those costings, or was the denial that they exist another attempt to mislead the public?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:03): I am having a bit of a deja vu moment here. Didn't I just say in answer to the first question that I had a recollection that under FOI—because we are a more transparent government than they ever were—the senator had in fact obtained some Treasury costings? I also made the point that Dr Henry said he did not think 10-year forecasts were sensible for publication because they are too unreliable. I also made the point that, unlike those opposite, we have factored in things like—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, on a point of order: the minister is being asked about her awareness of the existence of a document. In her answer to the primary question she talked about working figures. Now, in her response to the first supplementary question, she has not responded to the charge that Senator Cormann has made in his question. Either she was aware of it or she was not. If she was aware of it, she misled the public. If she was not aware of it, she was incompetent. Which is it?

Senator Cormann: Mr President, to assist the minister I seek leave to table the Treasury revenue estimates of the MRRT and RSPT over 10 years—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann, we are on a point of order. The minister has been answering the question for 31 seconds. I draw the minister's attention to the question. There are 29 seconds remaining. Senator Cormann.

Senator Cormann: Mr President, a second attempt: in order to assist the minister I seek leave to table the Treasury RSPT and MRRT revenue estimates over a period of 10 years released on 14 February 2011.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann, it is not a point of order.

Senator Cormann: I am not raising a point of order; I am seeking leave.

The PRESIDENT: Leave is not granted.

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on a point of order: question time is a time for people to ask questions of ministers. Senator Brandis says that they are laying charges, and Senator Cormann wants to pull a stunt. I suggest to you that you only give them the call if they are prepared to ask a question in accordance with standing orders.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. I am going to go to the minister. The minister has 29 seconds remaining.

Senator WONG: It is the case that the government does not generally publish 10-year projections for individual measures, just as Mr Costello never did for the GST. But I will take the attempted point of order from Senator Cormann because I think what he wants to table in the chamber is what Treasury has put on their website. It is hardly secret information, because it was publicly released. But what we rely on is what we published in our budget. (Time expired)

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:07): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Why do the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation continue to mislead the Australian people about everything, whether it is about the minister's mismanagement of important Future Fund appointments, the government's dodgy mining tax revenue estimates, the impact of the world's largest carbon tax on the cost of living or her disastrous record as finance minister, having presided over a $25 billion blow-out in the government's deficit during her first year in the job?

The PRESIDENT: The minister need only answer that part of the question which refers to her portfolio.

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:07): The significant difference between those of us on this side and those on that side is: we cost our policies, we fund our policies and we publish a budget bottom line. Senator Cormann beats his chest in here in an attempt to look better than Senator Sinodinos. One wonders: are you even on the ERC? The Expenditure Review Committee has had Senator Sinodinos added to it because your colleagues do not trust you, Senator.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! I need order on both sides! The minister has 29 seconds to complete her answer. Minister, I said you need to address those parts of the question that apply to your portfolio. The other matters you can ignore.

Senator WONG: The difference between us and them is: we use Treasury and Finance for costing; they use catering companies and accountants who are fined for breaching professional rules. The difference between us and them is: they have a—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Wong, I draw you back to the question.

Senator WONG: Mr President, with respect, the question was fairly broad, and I would make this point: with $70 billion worth of savings that they have to find, four years of Medicare is what you would have to cut—and you are hiding it from the Australian people.