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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6143


Mr IRONS (Swan) (16:43): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2011-2012, Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2011-2012 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013. In my contribution today I will, of course, speak about the broader economic situation that the nation finds itself in.

My electorate of Swan is a disproportionate loser from this budget, and the decisions and measures contained within it are going to have a significant local impact. The budget is almost suspiciously targeted at Swan councils, ratepayers and single parents and at jobs and businesses in my electorate, and I cannot support it.

There has been a significant deterioration in the nation's finances over the course of the last four Labor budgets. There have been four Labor budgets and four massive deficits—in fact, the four biggest deficits in the history of the Commonwealth have preceded this budget. The total cumulative debt of these budgets is $174 billion. This government has beaten Paul Keating's net debt record of $96 billion. I and many Australians thought that this record could never be beaten. Four years ago, long after the Howard government had successfully paid off Labor's debt through successive surpluses and left the country with cash in the bank, who would have thought that we would be in this position?

But perhaps we should not be surprised, for the Labor Party has a track record on economic management that has seen it fail to deliver a surplus for well over 20 years. It is little wonder that we in the coalition have sincere doubts that this wafer-thin paper surplus can be ever be delivered. The Labor Party wants to blame others for its deficits and poor fiscal discipline, but the facts are that Labor has not managed to deliver a surplus in 20 years and that our government presided over the fastest growth in revenue in real terms since the mid-1980s. It is spending $100 billion a year more than the amount spent in the last year of the coalition government. That is a 40 per cent increase over four years excluding the stimulus, the pink batts and the school halls.

The shadow finance minister hit the nail on the head the other day when he said that, if Australian households decided to increase their household spending by 10 per cent a year, most would go broke pretty quickly. The people in Victoria Park and Cannington in my electorate cannot afford such luxuries, but this government thinks that it can—and it is doing so at the expense of people who pay taxes across this country.

I have to give you some examples of the wasteful spending which my electorate needs to know about, and in doing so I will follow the shadow Treasurer's MPI speech last week. Labor's digital set-top box installation program cost an average of $350 per installation per box; Harvey Norman is offering the same thing for $168. The Australian reports that the average installation cost of the set-top boxes has now risen to $700 per unit. You could buy a whole TV for that. Labor's bungling of the Australia Network tender has cost at least $2 million. The net result is that compensation is now being paid to Sky News for winning the tender but not getting it. The Australian Research Council is spending millions of dollars on questionable research projects, such as a study of climate change emotion and a study of ancient economic life in Italy. There is a grant of $578,792 to UWA for a study of 'an ignored credit instrument in Florentine economic, social and religious life from 1570 to 1790'. There is $197,302 for a study called 'Sending and responding to messages about climate change: the role of emotion and morality'. There is $314,000 for a study to determine if birds are shrinking. There is $145,000 for a study of sleeping snails to determine 'factors that aid life extension'. There is $210,000 to study the early history of the moon. I am sure there are plenty of charities in my electorate who would love to have had just a slice of some of that wasteful spending by this government.

There can be no excuse for the size of the government's deficits and the dreadful financial position of the nation; there can be no excuse or justification for the six new taxes in this budget; and there can be no excuse for the way the Treasurer has cooked the books. This government and its economic skills remind me of the movie Margin Call, and I dare say that Australian taxpayers will feel the full brunt of this economic bungling.

There is an alternative: we in the coalition have a strong economic plan for Australia's future to get the economy growing again. Our plan is about hope, reward for effort and opportunity for all. We will build a bigger and stronger five-pillar pro-growth economy based around a strong manufacturing industry, a growing knowledge economy and a sophisticated services sector, as well as our world-leading resources and agricultural industries. We will release households and businesses from the burdens of carbon and mining taxes to promote jobs and growth for Australia. I spoke at length in the grievance debate last night about the bungling involved in the potential refrigeration loading, where the government implemented with their carbon tax a wrecking ball for the HVACR industry without satisfactory consultation with all stakeholders.

There is no dispute that the Treasurer's political goals were heavily skewed in this budget as he tried to produce a paper surplus. All sorts of accounting tricks have been used to cook the books, one of the most obvious being the shifting of funding commitments for the 2012-13 financial year to fractionally outside the budget period. For example, by bringing forward just two programs—the back-to-school payment and the Commonwealth grants to local government—the government has managed to artificially save $1.5 billion in the 2012-13 budget. Honest budget treatment of these two programs alone would have led to an overall deficit.

As we move on to some of the underpinning budget assumptions, the scale of the accounting deception becomes apparent. One of the championed assumptions is that tax receipts, which normally grow at a rate of eight per cent per annum due to fiscal drag, will inexplicably jump to 11 per cent in the forthcoming financial year when, on the government's own figures, the unemployment rate is expected to also rise to 5.5 per cent. These are heroic assumptions by the Treasurer, which leads to the question: why would the Treasurer be sticking his neck on the line and making these predictions? Is it because he knows that the outcome of the budget year will not be known until November 2013—in other words, after the next federal election? I think he does not believe he can make this surplus, and neither do many Australians. The Treasurer knows it is a grand charade.

This suspicion is confirmed by one simple fact that is buried deep within part five of Appropriation Bill (No. 2), in relation to the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 2011: a provision to increase Australia's debt ceiling outwards to $300 billion. Madam Deputy Speaker O'Neill, if you or I were planning to go on an austerity drive and cut costs from our personal budgets or from our business budgets—because I know you have business experience—would the first thing we would do be to ask our bank for an increase in overdraft capacity? The Treasurer has no confidence in the surplus and we should have no confidence in the Treasurer. The coalition plans to move a second reading amendment seeking that the terms of the debate be varied so that substantive amendments can be moved and debated in relation to Appropriation Bill (No. 2).

This is the first carbon tax budget, and it has proved to be particularly bad news for the constituents in my electorate of Swan, who have recently learned that they will be disproportionately hit by the carbon tax in their local council areas. In addition to residents having to pay more for electricity, food, groceries and basic living expenses, it was revealed in Senate estimates last week that the federal government's carbon tax policemen have written to two councils in my electorate warning them of an expected hit from the carbon tax. These councils, the Town of Victoria Park and the City of Canning, are the only councils in the inner metropolitan region of Perth that have been sent these letters. This is a ludicrous situation, where ratepayers in these two council areas have been targeted and no other councils in inner metropolitan Perth have been sent a similar letter. The government cannot explain why, and targeted councils across the country have come out and said they have been given insufficient guidance from the federal government on how to factor this in. This is one of a number of contradictions involved in the carbon tax that cannot be explained and are frankly perverse, chief among these being that it will not reduce Australian emissions. Australian emissions will rise under the tax and Australia will only meet its targets by purchasing carbon credits from overseas.

However, the contradiction that takes the cake is that involving the EMRC and the City of Belmont in my electorate of Swan. On 26 March, the member for Hasluck and I visited the Red Hill Waste Management Facility, which is run by the EMRC. The idea is that the site is operated as a joint site for six councils, costs are saved and in the process carbon emissions are reduced through the shared waste management strategy. It has been extremely successful, with great savings on emissions, and both the member for Hasluck and I have spoken on the great results from this particular waste management program. However, the economies of scale are where the carbon tax problem arises. The site is big enough to qualify for the carbon tax and will be targeted. Because the councils have grouped together, they are big enough to be liable. So, while there are going to be many major broad impacts on the electorate of Swan and Australia from the carbon tax, it is clear that it is going to have a very disproportionately big local impact on my electorate of Swan. As we often hear and are reminded, Prime Minister Gillard said there would no carbon tax under the government she led.

I want to talk in more detail about the unemployment statistics in the budget, particularly in relation to the solar industry in my electorate of Swan. The government's decision to suddenly suspend the solar hot water rebate—a decision that was clearly taken to achieve the paper surplus—has been estimated by the Clean Energy Council as putting 1,200 manufacturing jobs and 6,000 jobs in installation, sales and administration at risk. This decision is a broken promise. Many of these jobs at risk are in my electorate of Swan, at the Rheem factory in Welshpool, in the transport and industrial hub of Perth. Last week, the member for Flinders and I fulfilled a promise that we made to the workers on the factory floor on 7 March to introduce a private member's bill to force the government to keep its commitments.

I want to turn my attention briefly to small businesses, which are of particular importance to my electorate of Swan, on account of nearly 20,000 businesses operating locally, making it one of the small business hubs in Australia. First and foremost, there is the broken promise of a one per cent tax cut, which is quite extraordinary given the amount time and effort the Prime Minister put into talking about this on the airwaves. Second, there are the updated figures obtained last week that over 18,000 regulations have now been brought in by the government, with only 86 having been repealed. This is despite a promise by Labor that when they were elected they would introduce one in, one out, meaning that new regulations would be matched by repealing others—another broken promise, but one with serious consequences for business confidence. That is not to mention the six new taxes in this budget. This budget is a poor outcome for small business.

Border protection is also a key issue for the constituents in my electorate of Swan, and it goes without saying that the budget showed that there have been massive blow-outs in the cost of managing this issue. It is really just incredible what the Labor Party have done to our border protection laws, and I do not think anyone out there in the electorate can really understand why they did it and why they will not re-introduce the policies that actually worked. They are soft on protecting our national borders, a key obligation of government, which is inexcusable.

At the 2010 election we heard the Prime Minister, and in my electorate of Swan we heard the Labor candidate, talking tough, saying, 'We must stop the people-smuggling trade.' Two years on, the government have the solutions from the previous government, which they changed, and all they have to do is re-implement them. Australia needs to have a strong resolve when it comes to people smuggling, and I think most people in Australia recognise that the only way now to stop the boats is to elect a Liberal government that will re-introduce the suite of policy measures that worked so effectively in the past.

Interest payments on net debt for the financial year 2012-13 are projected to be $7 billion. This was one figure that was not leaked prior to the budget. That $7 billion in interest payments that the government is throwing away next year could be spent on vital infrastructure for projects across the nation and across my electorate of Swan. It is because of this crippling debt the government has built up that it cannot and will not fund these important community initiatives that would benefit the people of my electorate, whether they are related to roads, aircraft noise amelioration or community facilities. Instead, the people of Australia will for years to come have to pay back the debt accumulated by this government by paying new taxes.

No Gillard election commitments for Swan were delivered in this budget. I must conclude that I have not seen a more damaging budget for the people of my electorate of Swan in this place before. It has, as I said before, almost suspiciously targeted councils, ratepayers, single parents, jobs and businesses in my electorate and across Australia.