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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4422


Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (11:00): I rise to speak on the appropriations bills. These appropriations bills are the formal bills which underpin the 2013-14 budget. They are standard supply bills which allow for the appropriation of amounts from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the services and programs of government and all of its agencies. These three bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014 and Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2013-2014, will be considered together as a whole, part of a cognate debate.

Everyone in this House comes to this place with the best of intentions—everyone does—and I do not believe that anyone in this House is intentionally dishonest. I truly put my hand on my heart and say I do not think that is the case. For me, I believe that the budget of this nation is the most important part of the electoral cycle annually. Outside an election, the budget is what gives a government credibility. It is what you hang your hat on. It is the report card on how you have managed the nation. Colleagues of mine will come to this debate and deliver an absolute bollocking to the government for the way that they have managed the budget. Many of them will say that there are components of this budget that we will keep. As a coalition, we will not oppose this supply measure. We committed early in the parliamentary cycle to not blocking supply. We are true to our word—in this world, sometimes all you have as a human being is what comes out of your mouth: your word and intent.

So, for me this bill is about trust and about how the Australian people see this government and the way that they have been treated under this budget. This election will be about trust and, again, I do not believe that this government is dishonest. Is it incompetent? Yes. Is it inept? Yes, it is; it is lacking the basic underlying principles of sound, responsible fiscal management in every quarter. But is it dishonest? No, it is not. I really do not believe this government is dishonest; it is not. It just lacks the machinations of budgeting and the pivotal good that this part of the process can achieve. In saying that, there are parts of the budget which, due to the budget emergency, we will adopt. We need to live within our means in the future moving forward.

Anyone can get up and say what they are going to do—but do not judge us by what we say; judge us by what we do. Look at the era of the Howard government. We inherited a $97 billion deficit and we paid that down. We left money in the bank. We paid that down by selling off an asset, a small asset that we had called Telstra. It raised $45 billion. In anticipation of trying to write down the approximately $200 billion of debt, we do not have any big assets on the balance sheet at the moment to draw down. So the task in front of us is somewhat more difficult moving forward. It concerns me when the government says the debt is not high compared to other countries. That is a real concern for me because, when we left government, there was money in the bank. Now, over the forward estimates, we are looking at an interest component of around $37 billion. In economic terms, there is an opportunity cost of having that interest. That means: what would we spend that $37 billion on that, historically, we did not have as a cost item in our budget?

What services are we going to go without? What is our nation going to have to sacrifice in order to balance our books? We should not have been surprised that this was coming when we accepted our $900 cheques as part of the stimulus program. It comes back to me that we always get nothing for nothing. There is always a sting in the tail and, giddy-up, this is the sting in the tail. It is the debt-laden government policies which will haunt not only this generation but the next generation and possibly, if we do not turn the ship around quickly enough, the generation after that because of the amount of money that has to be repaid.

The government would have you believe that revenue was down. Forecasted assumptions out into the forward estimates were based on terms of trade at record highs. The government would have you believe that the revenue was down. The reality is that their forecasts were incorrect. Revenue was actually up. Evidence for that is in the budget papers for 2013-14, in the appendix. Our receipts were $350 billion, up from $329 billion last year, and our expenditure this year was $367 billion. You just need to look for yourself when you hear that the revenue was down. I looked no further than the revenue papers, the very papers that this government would have you believe are incorrect. The other thing that it is always somebody else's fault—it is Treasury's fault; it is somebody else's fault. What has happened in real terms today is that Labor's spending has increased. That is the problem with this government: they are spending more than they are earning. They are struggling to live within their means. The coalition commit that we will live within our means.

As a nation, we have transitioned from structural surpluses—structural surpluses are when you get them in a row: surplus, surplus, surplus, surplus—to structural deficits: deficit, deficit, deficit, deficit. I will help you to get your head around how big these deficits have been. Since Federation we have seen a number of crises. From 1929 to 1932 we had the Great Depression, a scar on the Australian landscape. The last six deficits that we have incurred have been greater than the deficits in that period of time. The Labor Party will try to blame the GFC. They will also blame the Australian dollar: 'It's too high.' Do you know that there were periods in Australian history when the dollar has been at $1.20 against the US dollar, much higher than the exchange rate at the moment? And yet we have businesses today going broke a great rate of knots.

This government has written up the biggest deficits—the biggest deficit, the second-biggest deficit, the third-biggest deficit, the fourth-biggest deficit and the fifth-biggest deficit, totalling $191 billion. And guess what. It is not their fault. This government is not dishonest. It is not their fault, they claim. They say it is a revenue thing. I remember when the Treasurer came out and said, 'There's been a $7.5 billion write-down in our revenue.' As he is the Treasurer, you believe him. He is not dishonest. Then a couple of days later the Prime Minister trotted out and said: 'Wayne's wrong. It's not $7.5 billion. It's actually a $12 billion write-down. Because of the economic fallout from the global financial crisis, five years ago'—this is three days after the previous announcement—'our numbers have changed. It's now $12 billion.' They are not dishonest. Then, a week after that, Senator Wong, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, trotted out and said: 'No, no. The Prime Minister was wrong. The Treasurer was wrong. Treasury was wrong. The write-down now is $17 billion.' It is everybody else's fault. This government is not dishonest.

Was this an isolated incident? If it were, it could be forgiven as just a really ugly part of the history of the government's ability to run the books. I thought, 'If it were just the first time that these blokes have made a mistake, you could let them get away with it.' So I went and had a look at last year's forecasts.

The easiest way to look at the integrity of the four-year forecasts from a government is to go back four years and see what was budgeted for four years ago and measure it against the real figures today. That was not an isolated incident. Last year's deficit, which was one of those record high ones I spoke about, was $44 billion. Two years prior to that the government forecast that there was going to be an $8-billion deficit in the budget papers. Six months later the revised MYEFO figures forecast it was going to be a deficit of $22 billion. They said, 'We should be able to pull it up there 12 months out.' The MYEFO, six months from the budget, forecast a $6-billion and they delivered a $44 billion deficit. Am I the only one that is starting to see a track record emerging from the incompetence of this government when it comes to dealing with the nation's finances?

It would appear at face value if you look at a graph how far these guys are out. They are continually out by about $20 billion. Just think what that money could buy. As a parliament, I think we too easily go from using the word 'million' to using the word 'billion'. It just rolls off the tongue. I really challenge you to stop and think what $20 billion can buy. I hope on the trajectory that we are on at the moment that we do not make the same mistake as the government in adopting the word 'trillion'.

We left money in the bank. Our gross debt or credit card limit in 2008 was $75 billion. That was our capped rate. The government said, 'That will get us through the Global Financial Crisis. We will not need any more.' The very next year they said, 'Oh jingos, we have totally underestimated the incompetence of our own selves. We had better bump this out to $200 billion.' A couple of years later in 2012 they were back begging to have this thing bumped out to $250 billion. Today we live under a cap of $300 billion with every chance in the forward estimates period that we will get closer to $400 billion than $300 billion. It scares me as a father, it scares me as a businessman and it scares me as a politician that we are pushing the debt and the hard decisions of today onto the next generation because it is a lot easier to do that than to muscle up and make the hard decisions now.

I remind you of the integrity of those on the other side when it comes to managing the fiscal budget. Who will ever forget 'come hell or high water we will deliver a surplus'—the very words uttered by our Treasurer. Just in case that was an isolated incident, the Prime Minister then came out and said, 'If you cannot manage the budget you cannot manage the country.' There have been other comments such as:

No other government in our history has done what we have done in this recent budget, which is bring the budget back to surplus over time.

This was a government boasting about a surplus when they had no idea that they had not even reached a surplus yet. They stuck on the $44-billion deficit. The Treasurer also said:

This budget delivers a surplus this coming year, on time, as promised, and surpluses each year after that, strengthening over time.

It sickens me. I do not believe this government. It is dishonest. It is inept and lacks the credibility to manage this country's finances.

A government should inspire a nation. It is our job to inspire this country to be better tomorrow than what it was today. We need to instil our families with hope. We need to drive a sense of confidence into our business sector so that it will invest and employ people and stimulate the economy. We need to encourage and foster investment into our nation from overseas and internally. To do that you need a robust, sound government that takes away the issues of sovereign risk that hover over the investment sector at the moment. We need to invest in sound infrastructure that gives our nation a return. We need to invest in ports and roads. History will be the judge of the investment decisions of this government.

We need to inspire our nation with reference to our agricultural sector so that in future we can produce food and fibre not only to feed ourselves but to feed the globe. We need to make sure that we have a buoyant tourism sector and that we can share the benefits of the resources sector. In closing, this has probably been the single most disappointing part of the budget for this government. They sold the perception that the resources sector was about sharing the boom. It does nothing other than share the debt and discomfort and deceit of this government.