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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4049


Mr BILLSON (1:25 PM) —This budget we are debating in the parliament is a budget of debt and deficit. It is a budget most notable for its wheel spinning and word spinning. About the most accurate thing that the Treasurer had to say on budget night was that we do indeed need to steel ourselves for the future. What he did not add was that this is a budget that risks stealing our future, and this is why the opposition parties have sought to shine a light on what is in the budget, as this government and its members find it difficult to actually talk about the facts.

A budget is ordinarily a statement of our financial position. That is the most basic thing that a budget does. Yet what is quite remarkable is that on budget night that was the last thing the Treasurer wanted to talk about. He did not want to talk about some of those downright frightening figures, to be honest with you, that are captured in this budget document. You have seen Labor members so indoctrinated with the word spinning and the political game playing that has characterised this government so comprehensively after only a year and a half that they could not actually come to the dispatch box and speak about what is in the budget and what it amounts to in terms of a financial statement and a financial position for our nation.

For those who are interested, let me just share some very basic facts. After this Labor spending spree—an unprecedented spending spree over the last 18 months—this budget anticipates one million people being out of work by 2010-11, record budget deficits of $58 billion and a new, never before visited, stratospheric amount of net Commonwealth debt of $188 billion by 2012-13. These are the key statistics that could not be mentioned on budget night, and so deep has the indoctrination gone that even this morning a Labor member, the member for Petrie, when asked about the deficit that is in the budget—a key figure, a bottom-line, crucial piece of information—found herself unable to describe what it was. ‘I don’t know the budget deficit figure,’ she said. ‘I don’t know the deficit figure.’ She was asked, ‘What is the deficit figure?’ ‘I don’t know the deficit figure’ was her answer. So deep has this Labor indoctrination gone that not only are they not allowed to talk about the budget deficit but clearly they are not allowed to think about it or even remember it.

It is a key economic statistic that gives the Australian community a sense of where our financial position is as a nation and the frightening trajectory that it has been put on by this recklessly spending Rudd Labor government. So these crucial pieces of information do give us an insight into the future, a future that will see us going into red ink in amounts and depths we have never visited before. As we hear Labor members in this parliament talk about the budget, we do not hear them talking about that budget outcome, that net position. You hear attacks on the former Howard government—almost like they are living in the past. You hear this rhetoric about plans for this and plans for that. We heard a lot about reforms in the lead-up to the election, but we knew that Labor reform actually meant spending more money. Where to now for those reform undertakings that Labor gave the electorate when there is not the surplus or savings legacy gifted to them by the former Howard-Costello government?

The budget really takes Australia from being alert and quite anxious about our economic future and the competency of the Rudd government to manage this economy into a time when we need to be genuinely alarmed about the deterioration of our national finances and what that means for the future prospects of our nation and Australian citizens. It is so frightening that the Treasurer could not even talk about some of those key economic statistics that give us a snapshot of just where we are.

Instead we hear a lot of other numbers being bandied around—and I will touch on some of those. For those people who follow sport, think about the key statistics that you see for the players. You could say that Prime Minister Rudd was a high-order draft pick who promised much. He did not have a lot of form to go by, but he was happy to claim credit for the good performance of those around him and say that it was all his handiwork and then offer himself to the Australian people. When you see this Prime Minister’s player profile, you recognise that he does not go in for the hard balls. He does not go in and make the hard decisions. He is, in sporting parlance, a receiver. He has received the savings and surpluses of the former Howard government and has patted himself on the back even though he opposed those savings and surplus measures every step of the way. I remember his speech on the GST, in which he urged us not to venture into flowery rhetoric. He referred to it as ‘fundamental injustice day’—so prone is our Prime Minister to flowery rhetoric and overblown statements.

The Prime Minister is a receiver. He has received the financial circumstances that our nation and the Howard-Costello government worked hard to achieve. He has grabbed that legacy of savings and surplus with both hands, despite his opposition, and has gone about spending it as quickly as he could. So the fruits of that sound economic management represent the opportunities gifted to the Rudd government to apply those resources that others have worked so hard to make available. The Prime Minister has not only applied those resources but has swallowed them whole. He has grabbed them with both hands and swallowed them whole. We have seen a binge of spending ever since the Rudd government came into power.

The member for Wills spoke at length about the impact of the mining boom. He was critical that the Howard government had overseen an era of such prosperity. He referred to George Megalogenis’s article but did not go so far as to mention that journalist’s conclusion that capital and business had not been taxed enough. It was interesting that the member for Wills left that little conclusion out when he spoke about those figures. But he failed to say that the Rudd government is simply spending those proceeds which were overseen, nurtured and supported in the Howard-Costello years. The Labor government have not only spent the proceeds from that boom but have committed to spending the proceeds of booms to come—and this is what is so worrying. In the budget figures, they anticipate an era of herculean economic growth to get us out of the debt and deficit spiral that the Rudd Labor government have put us in. They anticipate a rate of growth that would be unprecedented and quite remarkable in Australia’s economic history, a rate of growth that would leave behind other periods of growth as if they were not really trying. These incredibly optimistic assertions—and that is being as kind as we can be—are what Labor offer as a way out of the debt and deficit hole they have put the nation and the Australian community into. And they assume that we will bounce back brighter and bolder than we were previously.

I have listened to successive Labor members being critical of the recent extended period of growth overseen by the coalition under then Prime Minister Howard and then Treasurer Costello. They have been critical of that time and the opportunity to invest those funds. The Labor Party are putting out a confusing message to the Australian public. Wheel spinning and word spinning have become what the Labor government are best known for. They have a plan, strategy and language designed to protect their short-term political interest but no plan for the nation, no coherent strategy for carrying the nation forward.

But we are seeing spending. Some two-thirds of the projected deficits and the accumulating debt that result from them are the result of new spending announcements by Prime Minister Rudd and his recklessly spending Labor government. I have heard that this government have committed to some $10 million of new spending every hour since they were elected. This is extraordinary. On some of the things they claim great credit for in their stimulus package the coalition has put forward a very coherent and prudent alternative strategy. Instead we have this spendathon, this cash splash, which is making Australians increasingly aware that the Rudd government are looking a bit like a payday lender: you might get your $900 in the short term—and most people would be pleased about that—but the debt and deficit that result from these spending commitments will see interest rates attacking every Australian to the tune of about $500 a year. That is just to pay the interest on the debt and deficit that the Rudd Labor government have accumulated. Isn’t that interesting—$900 now and $500 a year in interest payments for as far as the eye can see? For this government, that amounts to an economic strategy!

I hope this government reflects on some of the things that it is saying. It talks about, and is a very self-congratulatory about, its plan for infrastructure, as if this has never happened before. Labor members are keen to refer to the Australian newspaper. But let us have a look at some of the work that is in the Australian. On May 13, there is very insightful and analytical work by Lenore Taylor in which she talks about just what the composition of the so-called nation-building and infrastructure showpiece of the budget is. She quite rightly points out that the vast majority of its resources is a result of the coalition government’s work and Labor is simply spending it. And then the Rudd government, through the Deputy Prime Minister and others, has the gall to attack coalition members for participating in activities that relate to the spending of the surplus and savings from the coalition’s time in government, as if we are somehow not worthy or deserving of being involved. This is quite remarkable. It is spending money that has been worked hard for and prudently managed by the former government and contributed to by the enterprise and thoughtfulness of the Australian community. Coalition members have every right to do this. In fact, there is a moral duty for coalition members to be involved in the application of those funds, because that is where the hard work was done to make those resources available.

So this is the story that we are getting from the Labor Party: everything is sweet and hunky-dory but they will not dare talk about what the key financial statistics tell us about where the nation is at and the direction in which we are heading. There is the spin of wheels and words. There is great talk and the re-announcement of projects. They announce them again and then there is another announcement with a slight nuancing of the language—and that substitutes for forward-looking, sound and coherent government strategy.

This is a budget where the consequences, the only sure thing that we can absolutely recognise, are debt and deficit in proportions we have never seen before; where the Treasurer rightly urges us to steel ourselves while he and the rest of the Rudd government are stealing our future; and where reform is being retreated from because, in Labor’s eyes, reform is always about spending more money.

Now that they have spent all that the coalition left them in surplus and savings and have plunged us into a new era of debt and deficit, they are wondering where their money is going to come from. We know where it is going to come from; it is going to come from the Australian public. We know that, long after the Rudd government has been written off by history as the cruellest experiment after the Whitlam era, the Australian people will still be carrying its financial legacy. As young people enter the workforce they will face the risk of bracket creep, because that is how the Rudd government wants to increase its revenues; changes to their superannuation so that there is a lack of certainty about how to plan for retirement; and a Rudd Labor government that is so hostile to incentives that employee share ownership schemes are under attack—one of the very mechanisms that best align employers’ and employees’ interests in seeing the success of the company. Those young people know that they will work harder, and they will have to work harder for the Commonwealth to generate the income to start paying for the interest so that we can again get to a point, I hope, where the Commonwealth is net debt free.

When the charts come out after the budget, those pie charts with different colours that give you an idea of where the money is coming from and where the money is going, there will be two new wedges on those pie charts. On the income side, you will see debt and deficit—how we will not be paying our own way, as is the case here. We are living today by creating financial burdens for the future. That will be the new wedge on the income side. On the expenditure side, you will see the big social security, health and defence wedges and then you will see a new big wedge. That will be interest rates, that will be debt servicing and that will be an enormous impost on the budget year in, year out, for as far as the eye can see.

Then we will be told that that was all a product of investment in infrastructure. Well, hooey to that. That is completely false, it is a lie, and I think the Australian public are realising that the more they see the photo opportunities at these choreographed events where people in hard hats revisit the same site over and over again to re-announce the same project over and over again. People will look back and say, ‘Under the Howard-Costello government, the AusLink 2 program that the National and Liberal parties put in place envisaged $31 billion of road and rail infrastructure over five years.’ And then they will look at this Rudd budget and see road and rail infrastructure—their big nation-building plans—at $26 billion over six years. So we are actually seeing a reduction in effort on those key pieces of infrastructure that the Labor Party hold up as the centrepiece of this budget, a reduction in effort in those key areas that go to building productive infrastructure for our economy and helping to improve our prospects for the future.

But you will also hear stories about the discipline that has gone into choosing which projects have been successful and which have not. Infrastructure Australia, a very credible and talented group of people genuinely working, I believe, in the national interest, brought forward their recommendations only to find the budget has inclusions that they have never considered and exclusions for which there is no explanation and no justification. We have heard that embarrassing story where the transport minister in South Australia, the day after the budget, was asked just what the extension of the O-Bahn was all about. It was of the order of $61 million, if I remember correctly. He was like, ‘Ah, er, um,’ a bit like a Labor member being asked what the deficit is: either he never knew or he had been told not to know. What we clearly know is that that reaction hardly represents a commitment to a project that has been developed through analysis and objective assessment. So that project has popped up. It may well be worthwhile; we just do not know.

Where is the transparency? Where is the objectivity? Where is the evidence based decision making? How does a project fall out of the sky, appear in a capital works agenda that has supposedly been nuanced and analysed to within an inch of its life, and then pop up in the budget, when the key proponent, the state government to whom that money has been allocated, does not know the first thing about it? How rigorous is that? And what of the rest of the projects? What of the commitments that Sir Rod Eddington, through his work in Victoria, identified as key priorities that are not funded in this budget? There is one close to me, the Frankston bypass. It was recommended—not a cent. We are not sure why that is. There is no explanation, no undertaking to provide a transparent justification. It was just left out and then others were put in.

At a time when we have already seen a forward agenda that envisages funding commitments but does not actually provide for them, just where is that money going to come from? Is this the end of infrastructure investment under the Rudd government, under their so-called disciplined ‘no more than two per cent growth in expenditure’ plan? Where are all the rest of the resources coming from? Is this a statement in time, and now all the Infrastructure Australia people can do something else with their time, energy and resources? We just do not know.

So much for transparency and openness. We do not know just what is happening with those infrastructure projects, after hearing up hill and down dale that these were the centrepiece of the recent Rudd budget—even though they represent a reduction in effort of $5 billion in terms of the forward commitments over a longer period of time. These are just some of the many mysteries we are faced with in this budget.

There is another thing we need to touch on in terms of my own portfolio responsibilities. Many in this place share a great commitment to sustainability, but Australians with that interest will be left scratching their heads, because the Rudd government once again have rebadged existing programs and moved money around like the pea and thimbles trick, not only because they want you to guess where the money actually is but because they want you to believe it is under each of the thimbles. These programs, about 10 of them at least, have been axed or wound back under this budget. Some of them had not survived one year. They had not progressed past the political spin of an announcement. The only tangible outcome from some of these sustainability related programs were press releases. We will come back to this topic, along with just how wisely some of the money is being spent, particularly given the growing concern and in some cases outright outrage about how some of the Building the Education Revolution funding is being used.

But for those that really want to have a look at this budget, just think about it for what it is. It is a budget that commits our nation to a debt and deficit strategy that we have never seen before, where red ink is there for as far as the eye can see. Its strongest and most common element is its wheel spinning and word spinning, where the mantras are being trotted out over and over again but they dare not speak about the true financial position that this budget puts us in, nor the trajectory that it puts us on. The Treasurer was right when he said in this budget, ‘We need to steel ourselves’, because under this budget the Rudd Labor government is stealing our future. And I, for one, am not prepared to see it given away.