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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23620


Mr McMULLAN (2:31 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer, and I refer to his false claim in his last answer that Australians' mortgage interest payments have fallen under the Howard government.


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member has just used argument in the introduction to his question, and I refer you to the practice, wherein it is stated that unnecessary preamble can be ruled out of order by the Speaker. That has been your practice and I would ask you to rule in that way.


The SPEAKER —The member for Fraser did have a preamble. He was well aware of that. I suspect when he glanced at me that he was almost indicating an awareness of that. That does not make it acceptable. The question stands.


Mr McMULLAN —I refer to the claim that Australians' mortgage interest payments have fallen under the Howard government. Treasurer—

A government member—What sort of fool are you?


Mr McMULLAN —One that can count—that is your problem!

Government members interjecting



The SPEAKER —The member for Fraser will resume his seat. Let me point out to the member for Prospect that, while obviously she did not have the call, I understand her interjection. In fact, as the member for Fraser could concede, the interjections that were occurring were good-natured rather than disruptive. For that reason, I have not taken action. The member for Fraser has the call. I have allowed his question to stand. I have attempted to offer a similar level of accommodation to both sides of the House.


Mr McMULLAN —Treasurer, wasn't Ross Gittins correct when he said last month—that is, after last month's interest rate increase but before this month's further interest rate increase—of this claim by the government:

But can you believe it? In that claim you have the quintessence of Howard ... the carefully crafted statement that, while literally true in some sense—



The SPEAKER —If the member for Parramatta has a point of order, he will follow the forms of the House or I will deal with him.



The SPEAKER —The member for Batman is warned!


Mr Ross Cameron —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Standing order 144 prohibits quoting media statements in questions. It makes one exception for that but says that, if quotes are allowed, they must not introduce argument or material which is otherwise unparliamentary. This question clearly breaches that provision.


Mr McMULLAN —Mr Speaker, on the point of order: it is the height of the proper process of accountability in this House to be able to raise with the minister whether a criticism of a statement he has made that has been reported is accurate. It seems to me extraordinary if we were to interpret the standing orders to say, `Criticisms of ministers that have never been published are okay, but if somebody ever publishes them you cannot quote them in a question.' That is the logical implication. What we have here is a proposition where a respected economics journalist has said that an argument previously put by the Prime Minister and today put by the Treasurer is inaccurate. I am merely seeking from the Treasurer confirmation of the accuracy of that quote.


The SPEAKER —Let me point out to the member for Fraser and to the member for Parramatta that I had not ruled on the point of order. I had not indicated to the member for Fraser that the question was out of order. His feigned indignation at what he may have anticipated would be my ruling was inappropriate, and the member for Parramatta's comments about quotes I am struggling somewhat to find any reference to in standing order 144.


Mr McMULLAN —Mr Speaker, can I briefly say I was not seeking to reflect; I was seeking to contribute to the debate on the point of order.


The SPEAKER —The member for Fraser will come to the question.


Mr McMULLAN —The quote was—and I begin again:

But can you believe it? In that claim you have the quintessence of Howard ... the carefully crafted statement that, while literally true in some sense, is calculated to deceive.

... ... ...

It turns out that Labor's Mark Latham is closer to the truth with his claim that an average family is now $350 a month worse off.


Mr Kelvin Thomson —They are sensitive about this.


The SPEAKER —So am I, member for Wills, and you are warned!


Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —These are the incontrovertible facts—



The SPEAKER —The member for Fraser has been extended a good deal of licence and will respect it.


Mr COSTELLO —that under the Labor Party home mortgage variable interest rates averaged 12 per cent and peaked at 17 per cent. Under the coalition, home mortgage standard variable interest rates have averaged 7.15 per cent and, if today's 25 basis point rate is passed on, it will be 7.05. That is lower than the average under this government.



The SPEAKER —The member for Ballarat is warned!


Mr COSTELLO —The consequence of that is that, on the same borrowing, somebody is paying, as opposed to when the Australian Labor Party left office, $545 per month less. As to the second part, about whether people are actually worse off, the way to measure liabilities is against assets. I can have no higher authority for this proposition than the member for Werriwa. The member for Werriwa—and I have the quotes; I have read them out to the House before—says that the way in which one measures liabilities is in relation to assets. The truth of the matter is that Australians have seen a remarkable increase in the value of their assets over the last 7½ years, and I will give you the figure. Net assets—that is, total financial assets plus other assets less liabilities—have increased by 106 per cent since 1996. So, Mr Speaker, what that is showing you is that—


Mr Tanner —Is that debt has increased massively as well.


Mr COSTELLO —The member for Melbourne interjects, `Debt has increased.' I was giving net assets—that is, assets after liabilities. It takes into account debt. That is the whole point. And this is supposedly one of the bright members of the frontbench of the Australian Labor Party. One gives out the answer, `Assets after liabilities,' and he says, `What about debt?' Debt is actually a liability. Strange as it may seem, it is a liability. After we take liability off assets, net assets have increased by 106 per cent, which shows that, whatever the level of borrowings, Australians have enjoyed an increase in their net assets of over 100 per cent since 1996, which, far from making Australians worse off in net terms—that is, after liabilities—makes them significantly better off in terms of assets.