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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5875


Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (17:13): I rise to speak on Appropriations Bill (No. 1) 2012-13 and related bills. I would first like to bring to the House's attention the noise that the government makes with reference to the current budget surplus. I remind the House that the surplus budget before us at the moment is an indicative figure of $1.5 billion, which they intend to reach at a period of time 12 months from 1 July this year. Because of the relatively small forecasted surplus budget of $1.5 billion, in order to test the authenticity or the integrity of this government's ability to forecast out 12 months, it is prudent that we go back 12 months and see what the government forecast this budget would deliver us in the way of a deficit. I remind the House that just outside the 12-month period, in the MYEFO period before the last budget, I think we were forecasting a $10 billion deficit. That increased from $10 billion to $22.7 billion. That in itself—a $10 billion 'just got it wrong'—is unfathomable. However, that is not all. From the $22.7 billion at the last budget through to the recent MYEFO figures, that figure increased to $37 billion that they were forecasting that this deficit would be. So we have gone from $10 billion to $22 billion to $37 billion, and more than likely on 30 June the deficit that will be delivered by this government will end up in the vicinity of $44 billion. So it would go from $10 billion to $44 billion. How could Treasury—the expert advisers to this government, who rely on the waves of support that they had to get these numbers right—have got it so fundamentally wrong, from $10 billion to $44 billion? Yet we are led to believe—they are leading this nation into a false sense of security—that in 12 months from this point in time they will deliver a $1.5 billion surplus. Time will tell.

I am not one to stand up here and bash the government on every front. Mind you, there is a heap of fodder, but the economy does have some strong indicators—figures that any nation in the world would be happy with. I am paying a compliment to the government on some of the strengths in the economy, because we have to be mindful in this House that there is a wider audience. It is not just this room; it is not just this nation. There is a global audience that looks on at Australia, and being a net investor of capital we need to make sure that we send a message to those capital markets that Australia has a strong footing. But I would suggest that one of the reasons that we have some of those strengths in those financial indicators is the position that the coalition left this government in financially. We had money in the bank. What a great place to be when it comes to dealing with appropriations! We had no debt. Again, what a fantastic position when going into a global financial crisis! The government take the position that we are the envy of the world. I would suggest that the government would have been envious. We would have been the envy of the world on the figures that were handed to this government.

I would also like to bring to the attention of the House some of the comments made by some of those in the government with reference to spending as a percentage of GDP. The noises that are being made are along the lines that this government has a better track record on spending as a percentage of GDP. I thought that was quite interesting, so I went to the 2012-13 Budget Paper No. 1, and I went to the percentage of GDP payment. Surprise, surprise—in the last year of the Howard coalition government, our percentage of GDP was 23.1 per cent, and the year before that it was 23.4 per cent. When it comes to saying that this government has a better track record on spending, the papers themselves say that in 2008-09 Labor's spending was 25.2 per cent of GDP—increased payments over what we left. For the following year, 2009-10, it was 26 per cent. In 2010-11 it was 24.7 per cent, and in 2011-12 it was 25.1 per cent. None of those figures come anywhere close to our last budget on spending as a percentage of GDP. So I would just ask the House to be mindful of that when Labor colleagues of mine make the point that this is not a big-spending government.

I would also like to bring the House's attention to my concern with reference to the debt and the interest payments. You will often hear the rhetoric of the government saying that it is only 7.2 per cent of GDP or only eight per cent of GDP, or now nine per cent or whatever it is. I would use this analogy from the global financial crisis: the majority of those countries that are in trouble are now struggling to service their interest payments on that debt. I would suggest to them that following their lead of going and borrowing more money is not going to fix our problem. We are the envy of the world, and one can only imagine what they would have thought of the financial position of the Howard government when we had no debt and money in the bank. I bring the attention of the House to a recent paper by an ex-IMF senior executive who is now a Harvard law professor, Professor Ken Rogoff. He tracked Australia's spending and indicated that, per capita, after the GFC Australia had the highest rate of spending of any Western nation. One has to question whether or not we overdid our spending.

Regarding the appropriation bill, the real question for the Australian people is: can the economy and the finances of this nation, with the waste and mismanagement of the Labor Party, be managed better? Can we do a better job as a government? Can we do a better job as an opposition? Can the government do a better job managing the books? During times when we should have been prudent, has this government wasted money? I suppose you only need to look at the home insulation program. It was not the government's finest hour. In all sincerity, I pray that the residents of the 200 homes that were burnt to the ground as a result of that program have got their lives back in order. Then there was the outrageous overspending on the Building the Education Revolution program. In government, the opposition would have stimulated the economy, but we would have spent it in different sectors.

Mr Champion interjecting

Mr BUCHHOLZ: I am more than happy for you to take these ideas on board. We have a number of gridlocks in our resources sector. You can understand the two-speed economy—

Mr Champion interjecting

Mr BUCHHOLZ: Mate, you will get to have your chance in a sec. Muscle up and take this in because you are part of the problem. We would have stimulated the economy in a different way. We would have invested in ports. We would have created jobs. Jobs needed to be stimulated. The BER did that, but I do not suggest that it was a great return on our investment. We could have created jobs with a capital investment that potentially had a return on the investment that had the capacity to service its own debt. Of course, there were the $900 cheques to dead people. That was a shocker.

On the subject of waste, recently $526,000 was spent on finding 11 ABC television directors. We cannot go past the $36 million on advertising the carbon tax that just forgets to mention the carbon tax. Then there is the government's management of the asylum seekers and our border protection. The list goes on and on. The set-top box program was something that I believe the government could have handled better. We had GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch—anything that the government set up with the word 'watch' after it could have been handled better. With the Australian Network tender, Sky won the tender but did not get the contract. Only under this government could something like that have happened. We heard earlier in the House about the $314,000 study to see if birds were shrinking. We had the $140,000 investment study to monitor the sleeping habits of snails and the $210,000 study on the early history of the moon. There is more; however, you get the idea. When it comes to managing the nation's finances, I am suggesting that it can be done better. You have to be blind Freddy not to think, even putting politics aside, that it could be managed better.

Let's talk about jobs. This government said that stimulating the economy was all about jobs, jobs, jobs. You do not have to take my word for it; have a look at what the growth rate was in the calendar year 2011. It was zero. For every job that was created, a job was lost. There were uncontrollable increases in the Public Service. Since the government came to power, there has been in the increase of 13,420 full-time equivalent positions. That is from page 654 of the budget papers.

Are Labor's policies driving growth? I ask myself that question with my hand on my heart. Are the policies that the Labor government is putting in place really driving the growth of the two-speed economy?

Let us have a look at the resources sector. I struggle to find anything that is driving the resources sector from the fiscal perspective. The real growth in that sector is coming from demand from our trading partners. With a population of 1.3 billion people, China's export markets are two main ports—America is about 20 per cent and Europe is about 22 per cent. Both of those economies have softened. So we are still picking up growth here as a nation on the back of China's domestic growth as we see a more westernised development of their 1.3 billion population.

This government are in trouble with the polls. Not all of us take a lot of notice of the polls. To dig their way out of trouble they are spending money, and they are spending money they do not have. That is not a prudent way to spend money. They are spending borrowed money and spending money that will hopefully come from the mining boom. I would just like to bring to the House's attention Twiggy Forrest of Fortescue Metals' comments the other day when he gave an address to the press gallery. He said the government's handling of the mining boom was not that dissimilar to a group of guys establishing that they had a Melbourne Cup winner, that it had potential in the way of a racehorse and that it had the potential to earn them millions and millions of dollars. But after it had run its first race, instead of getting the horse ready for the second race, they celebrated by eating the horse. I thought that was an appropriate example of how external sectors of the market are commenting on Labor's handling of the resources sector.

Another interesting statistic with reference to the managing of the economy is the Essential Report survey conducted in May 2012. Asked which party they trusted to deal with another global financial crisis, most voters picked the Liberal Party at 42 per cent over Labor's—guess what?—25 per cent. Support for the government's economic management has collapsed this year because, when voters were asked the same question in 2011, Labor's support was 31 per cent compared to the Liberals' 40 per cent. Like I said, that is an open survey conducted by Essential Report.

I want to bring this back to the coalition's capacity to eliminate the waste, to eliminate mismanagement and, more importantly, in a two-speed economy to restore confidence to our manufacturing sector and tourism sector and get away from the internal Labor constant news cycle of who is going to be the leader this week. Can the economy be run better? Yes, it can. There is a heap of room for improvement.