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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4672


Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (11:03): In speaking on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012 and cognate bills, the fourth budget from this Labor government, delivered by the Treasurer, Mr Swan, it is right and proper to reflect on the fiscal failure of this government and the Treasurer, on the level of confidence in the delivery of budget programs and on the level of honesty of the Treasurer himself. In this wide-ranging debate on these appropriation bills, it is right and proper that the House reflect on what the government has promised in the past, that the House reflect on the government's ability to manage the budget and the economy and that the House reflect on the value of the government's word, and indeed the value of the Treasurer's word as the person responsible for the budget and the government's approach financially. Each appropriation debate, we get this opportunity to reflect and I want to start on the most obvious issue in the budget—that is, the position of the budget and the government's fiscal strategy.

We have heard the Treasurer talk about the government's planned fiscal consolidation, spruiking that if all goes to plan this will be a very fast fiscal consolidation—and my friend and colleague the member for Bradfield in the chamber with me has heard speaker after speaker on the other side talk about this. Of course what they fail to mention every time is that they presided over a very fast fiscal deterioration. You only need to go to the detail of the budget papers to see the true picture that has emerged under this Treasurer. Our debt position is a good starting point. On the government's own budget figures, Australia's net government debt this financial year will be $107 billion. You would not have found that figure in the Treasurer's budget speech. But you would know from the Treasurer's budget speech, if you were watching, that there is a percentage of GDP in there. But in mentioning that figure alone and not mentioning the net government debt dollar figure, we know that that is the Treasurer's history and form. He deliberately does not mention the dollar figure of the debt and his colleagues, like the previous speaker, will never mention the dollar figure of the debt because they do not want the Australian public to know the level of their financial failure and incompetence.

The Treasurer did not mention the $107 billion figure in his budget speech. He went from his budget speech to a series of television interviews. In one of them on Sky News on budget night, he was asked to name the dollar figure. His response was that he did not have the figure with him. From this we are led to believe that the Treasurer of this country either does not actually know the dollar figure for net government debt without it being brought to his attention in his own budget papers or—and I think this is really the case—will go to any lengths to conceal it. The member for Bradfield may not agree with me on this, as good friends as we are, but even this Treasurer would know the level of government debt in dollar terms. I think this Treasurer will go to any lengths to conceal the truth. He will engage in any amount of trickery to conceal the facts and those opposite will engage in any level of juvenile behaviour and never mention the figure.

Dr Mike Kelly: We don't like talking figures.

Mr TONY SMITH: That is right. I am glad you do not like talking figures because you would get a headache if you talked figures. The unwillingness of the Treasurer to mention the $107 billion of debt follows a consistent history for him. We remember, in his budget speech two years ago, he refused to mention the level of the projected deficit at the time—projected at $57 billion. Now we know that he still will not mention that level of debt. That $107 billion is much higher in dollar terms than the $96 billion debt which Paul Keating left this country, but the story is much worse than that. The Treasurer of this country did not inherit a zero balance; the Treasurer of this country inherited money in the bank.

For those opposite who are not, by their very nature, interested in detail—and it is a point which their electors, including those in Eden-Monaro, will be interested to know when it is pointed out to them—they might like to turn, on behalf of their electors, to page 10.8 of Budget Paper No. 1, which shows the historical table. What they will find is that when they came to government they inherited $44 billion in the bank—nearly $45 billion—and that at the end of this year net government debt will be $107 billion. So the fiscal deterioration is of the order of $150 billion.

It pains me to say this in this appropriations debate. There has been a lot of criticism, rightly so, of this Treasurer, but we have now seen his performance in concealing the level of debt; in not knowing when Labor was last in surplus, in that shattering performance up in the ABC studio; and in his refusal yesterday to acknowledge the ridiculous situation he had got himself into in denying on ABC radio that he knew anything of the Western Australian government's plans on royalties—only to be confronted with the fact that he had been told, he had been written to, he had received a minute and he had been rung. Short of a message coming by carrier pigeon, it is hard to think of how else the Western Australian government could have communicated with the Treasurer.

When you look to the worst Treasurer in Australian history some people would nominate John Kerin. I think that is a little unfair. I think that, if you look at the whole sweep of history, most people would settle on Jim Cairns—most people except for the two opposite—that famous Treasurer in the Whitlam government whom even Gough Whitlam sacked. Jim Cairns clearly, by the length of the straight, had the title of Australia's worst Treasurer. In question time on April 15, 1975, when Bert Kelly asked:

If printing money is a good solution to the unemployment problem why not print more of the stuff and get rid of unemployment problem altogether?

Jim Cairns famously replied:

We might do precisely that.

But, while it pains me to say it, I think Jim Cairns has now been overtaken by Wayne Swan. I really do. I have thought about this long and hard, but I think if you consider the level of honesty—Jim Cairns was not straight about the loans affair—and the level of competence, what we have from this Treasurer is a combination of incompetence and dishonesty. When he is asked in the parliament what the projected outcome for his own four budgets is, he cannot answer. And when he is asked what he was told by the shadow Treasurer, he says he was told nothing, when every piece of evidence before him shows he was told everything. To a large degree, you can measure the cost of this incompetence by the level of debt. For those opposite $107 billion of debt is just a number. The member for Monaro is not interested in numbers: what do they mean? I will tell you what the cost is. It is $5.5 billion a year. That is just to keep it; not to pay it off. It is going to rise to more than $7 billion a year every year. That does not matter to those opposite. That is just $5 billion, $6 billion or $7 billion every year that cannot be spent on important programs.

The Australian public, though, have lived this debt journey before. They lived it following the accumulation of $96 billion of debt, which took place at the end of the Hawke and Keating governments. I will give the governments of Hawke and Keating one thing: the debt that they accumulated—as incompetent, reckless and dishonest as they were—happened at the end. Australia's level of net government debt in 1989-90 was somewhere between $25 billion and $30 billion. All of that blow-out occurred in the last five or six years. The problem with this government is that they have had no good beginning. They have started off at an incompetent level. And the public will keep paying the price.

Even when it comes to the programs of priority, the government still cannot find it within itself to be straight. With their mental health package—something all members would agree is a priority area—we have the minister refusing to acknowledge the fact that the majority of his money is back-end loaded. The figures are there in the budget: most of the new money is in the fifth year. But faced with reality, he denies it. Why this government would continue to do that when the public are so awake to it, and when it is so wrong, is beyond me.

Mental health is a priority area. Our leader and our shadow health minister have put it on the agenda. They did so before the last election with a real commitment over the forward estimates. In the local electorate of Casey there is a desperate need for the sorts of initiatives we have put forward. I would say to the government that if they are serious they will look at headspace facilities in the Yarra valley centred in Lilydale. There is an absolute area of need servicing thousands of square kilometres.

The government should at least accept an application. They should look at this as a priority area—I just use this as one example because there are so many—but it is not a good start if the minister and the Prime Minister cannot be straight with the funding and the figures in this important area. But it follows in the tradition of the Treasurer, who cannot be straight about the budget position. Two years ago he could not even mention the deficit figure, the outcome, and this year he cannot mention the debt figure. (Time expired)