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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6198


Mr SECKER (BarkerOpposition Whip) (20:51): This being the 14th time that I have spoken on appropriations bills since I was first elected in 1998, I have seen it all come and go and I understand that if you are a government member you like to boast about what it has done for your electorate, how good the budget is, and what a country we have and haven't we got such a great government. I have to say that I think this time they will be very disappointed because of the huge amount of the cuts. We understand the reasons this has happened.

Through various means they have shifted about $12 billion from what would have been in next financial year into the present financial year. And of course the last time we debated appropriations bills members of the government would not have known that was going to happen. So they could not actually boast about that $12 billion of funding that might have affected their electorate.

I know that on our side we say how bad the government is. That is the way things happen. In my judgment I think this is quite easily the worst budget I have been involved with. There is no doubt in my mind that if the chief financial officer of a company tried to put forward a budget like this, where it has actually shifted funding from one financial year to a previous financial year in an attempt to manufacture a wafer-thin surplus, they would be held up before the Australian Securities and Investments Commission on the basis that this was all a bit shonky.

This idea that at the end of the budget speech they sneakily slip in this idea that they have to raise the debt ceiling from $250 billion to $300 billion just does not wash. Remember that recently it was $75 billion and we had to have a debt ceiling. But before that we did not need a debt ceiling because we were in surplus and we did not have any debt when the Howard government was in office. The ceiling was then raised to $100 billion, then to $200 billion, then to $250 billion—

An opposition member: And it is still not enough.

Mr SECKER: No. And somehow they are going to increase the debt—and they need the debt ceiling to go up to $300 billion—even though they are suggesting they are going to deliver a surplus. If you are not delivering a deficit, how can you be adding to the debt? Somehow they are, and I think that shows that this government does not believe its own rhetoric about somehow delivering a surplus. We all remember that, two years ago, the budget forecast for 2012-13 was going to be a temporary deficit of 'only $11 billion'. By the time of the MYEFO, six months later, it was going to be $22 billion, and now it is $44 billion. In around 12 months, we have gone from a deficit of $11 billion to a deficit of $44 billion—that is, the debt has gone from $500 in credit for every man, woman and child in Australia to $2,000 debt for every man, woman and child in Australia.

As countries throughout the world are finding—in Europe and in America—the problem is that, if you keep building on your debt, you end up borrowing to pay off your debt. It is a never-ending circus where you will never actually get to the idea of paying off your debt. With surpluses of $1.5 billion, even if they were delivered, it would take 100 years for the government to pay off the debt.

We know how hard it is to pay off debt because we actually did it when we were in government. When we came into government we had a net debt of $96 billion. The real figure that you have got to work from is the $96 billion debt that this country had when the Hawke-Keating government was finally defeated by the Howard-Costello government.

I think it is always very interesting to look at our history. In the 90 years between our Federation in 1901 and 1991, we as a nation accumulated $16 billion worth of debt. In that time, we had to find money to fight World War I, World War II and a few other skirmishes, and we had to build a national capital. In that 90 years, we accumulated $16 billion worth of debt. And then the Hawke-Keating Labor government delivered $16 billion worth of debt every year for the next five years—which it had previously taken us 90 years to accumulate. So as a nation we went from having a debt of $16 billion to having a debt of $96 billion.

We know how hard it is to get rid of that debt. It took us 10 years, but we got rid of it. We were the first government in Australia's history, since Federation, that actually put money into the bank. We put money into the Future Fund and we delivered surpluses of over one per cent of GDP. That is something this government has yet to deliver—and, I believe, will never deliver.

We have a history of Labor governments not being able to handle money. That was shown in the Hawke-Keating days and we are now seeing it from this government. We left this government $40 billion in the kitty, and they are already up to $160 billion of debt. That is a turnaround from having $2,000 in the bank for every man, woman and child in Australia to having a debt of $8,000 for every, man woman and child in Australia. That is the difference between Labor and us. They cannot handle money. They continue to raise debt in the hope that it is going to buy them some votes. We are seeing it now with the $300 billion debt ceiling.

And we have seen so much of that money actually wasted. I mean, how much money did we lose through Building the Education Revolution? Probably $6 billion or $7 billion of the $17 billion that was spent on that was wasted, or overpaid, in terms of what those buildings could deliver.

I remember that we had a fund called the Investing in our Schools program. I was very proud of that. We did not actually tell the schools that they had to build a school hall or a gymnasium. We said we would provide them with, say, $150,000 for whatever they wanted. If the school decided they needed a new toilet block, that was fine; or if they wanted to spend it on carpets or air conditioning, that was fine. The beauty of that funding was that we got such great value for taxpayers' money. If we gave a grant of $150,000 to a school, we often got $300,000 worth of value. The school would have their working bees, they would often have a builder on their school board and, as a result, they got things done cheaply. That is very well explained in the example of Naracoorte. We had a school hall there that cost 2½ times more per square metre when it was built by the government through the state education system, using builders outside the township of Naracoorte, than it cost the local private school. They did not have to conform to the state school system model of funding and they did it for 40 per cent of the cost. That is getting value for taxpayers' money.

Of course, we know about the pink batts and the green loans and how all that money was wasted. I think that is the real difference between our type of government, with its good governance, and this government, who are not worried about spending money. In fact, they seem to think that if they spend money that is an outcome in itself. The fact is that it is not an outcome just to spend money. As my father always said, it is very easy to be generous with other people's money—and certainly this government has done that.

I come from a largely agricultural electorate, like yours, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, and it worries me that this government has shrunk the department of agriculture from a budget of $3.8 billion to just $1.8 billion. That is a cut of more than half in funding. The industry funds that sort of spending by way of levies to the extent of 50 per cent. So the reality is that, in four years of Labor government, they have diminished the agricultural portfolio—something that is so important to this country, not just in food production but in the exports it produces, the jobs it provides and the efficiency in the way that it does things, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker. But, unfortunately, I do not think Labor really care or understand the agricultural industry.

We have a problem with the spend on roads in Barker. That is no surprise. Overall expenditure on roads has plummeted from $6.2 billion in 2011-12 to just $2.6 billion in 2012-13. Again, that is way less than half that of the previous year. I think that is a disgrace. If you were to keep those sorts of spending cuts up for the long term, you would see a very quick deterioration in our roads, because not only do we have to build new roads but we also have to maintain the existing roads. When you get that sort of drastic cut in funding there is no doubt that it is not good for our future.

We introduced the Roads to Recovery funding, but this government is not committed to that beyond 2014. The Roads to Recovery program, as local governments in my area will attest, has been a saviour for them when it comes to maintaining and building new roads in their council areas. I have 24 council areas, and the fact that they get their funding increased from the ordinary state grants by 118 per cent has been a real boon to them. To my knowledge, not one dollar has been wasted on the Roads to Recovery program. Even though Labor, under Kim Beazley, said it was a boondoggle, it has actually been one of the great programs, and it is at risk of being cut in the future. But, of course, we have the carbon tax. What is that worth? Thirty-three billion dollars over the forward estimates.

Mr Hartsuyker: How much?

Mr SECKER: Thirty-three billion dollars over the forward estimates. And what is it going to do? It is actually going to penalise this country. To try to find a reason for why they are doing it, they are actually having this whole advertising campaign—$36 billion—which is supposedly about the carbon tax but which does not mention a carbon tax. It is all about the supposed good news, but I think people in Australia are not that stupid and they obviously will not be conned by it.

I move on to the Murray-Darling. I represent all of the Murray River in South Australia. It is a huge issue—an icon issue—in South Australia. But unfortunately Labor has deferred $940 million promised for infrastructure spending to bring community-friendly environmental benefits to the Murray-Darling Basin off into the future. We are also moving $40 million worth of water buybacks into this financial year. Again, this is a con when it comes to the actual spending on the budget. That is despite the Windsor review saying that we should not just go into buybacks because of the Swiss cheese effect.

So, all in all, this budget is the most disappointing and dishonest budget. I have to say that; that is not just rhetoric. It is a dishonest budget; it is a budget that is going to be very sad for all members of parliament, because they know that it does not give us a long-term future, something to plan on and things like defence. What a shocker! I leave it there. I think it is just a bad budget and that we should recognise it for what it is.