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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4442


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (12:36): I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014. Five budgets, five record deficits and then another $20 billion blow-out. This year's budget figures make a mockery of the manipulated and over-optimistic document the Treasurer presented to the parliament 12 months ago. Shifting of expenditure from one year to another was always an insult to the intelligence of the general population and yet the Treasurer persists in blaming everyone but himself. In fact, his latest effort is to blame the Howard government for his mismanagement, and it is plainly pathetic. In case the Treasurer cannot count—and that is entirely possible—let me help him. He has been the Treasurer for almost six years now. He inherited a $20 billion surplus, and $70 billion in net savings. And lately he has taken to blaming Howard and Costello for the situation he finds himself in—the situation we all find ourselves in. Surely, if the Treasurer was so concerned about the state of the books, he could have attempted to do something about it before now. But, no, amazingly, he had not actually spotted the problem before. The member for Lilley has taken almost six years to discover that all of these problems were caused by Peter Costello. Give me a break. Are we expected to believe that rubbish, that tosh?

The body language of the government members on budget night said it all. Even they do not believe the Treasurer. In fact, no-one believes the Treasurer any more. He is either completely incompetent or he is deliberately misleading. And the public can take their pick. But there is no doubt that they do not—indeed they cannot—trust the Treasurer to get it right. He claims that the unprecedented deterioration of the last four budgets is due to unforeseeable drops in revenue, even though in the last year revenue has grown by seven per cent, just as it did the year before.

He blames Treasury for bungled estimates, and yet all he had to do was to step out into the street last year to know that the economy was struggling, and that estimating a 12 per cent growth in receipts was way out of touch with reality. After all, surely it is one of every politician's first jobs to be in touch with their electorates. Surely, the Treasurer could have got out of his ivory tower and talked to his constituents—and then I am sure he would have got the message that a 12 per cent growth in revenue was clearly overly optimistic. After all, every serious commentator in Australia also believed that the 12 per cent growth in receipts was unachievable. Like a farmer budgeting on a record price and a record crop he could find that it comes off, but it is highly likely that it will not—and certainly not every year.

Having lost another $19.4 billion, we are now told to expect more future deficits, more future debt and more broken promises and, unfortunately, the Treasurer seems not to have learned from his past errors and continues to predict a miraculous economic surge. He estimates that the mining tax in its fourth year, for instance, will return 10 times as much as it has in its first, that the carbon price in Europe will increase by 150 per cent over the next three years and that the government will stop the boats with its current policy over the next four years, even though the last five years have plainly been failure after failure on that front.

Even if miraculously these events came to pass, the Treasurer's budget predicts that government debt will rise by a further $100 billion to $370 billion gross debt by 2016-17. Quite simply, as the Leader of the Opposition said: this government does not have an income problem, it has a spending problem. The government has made big announcements on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and school funding but they are significantly under-funded, with most of their expenditure coming from beyond the four-year estimates. For instance, the government is selling the Australian Education Bill as a funding revolution for schools when, in fact, spending in the next three years will fall. Somehow we are supposed to trust this government to deliver a surge of funding to the sector in years 5 and 6 of the program. Half way through what would be the fourth term of a Labor government—we haven't even started on a third yet—we are supposed to believe that this Treasurer who has continually missed the mark is going to deliver that extra funding at that time.

This is from the mob that told us in October there would be a $1½ billion surplus. In December we were told that a surplus would be unlikely. In late April the Treasurer predicted a $7.5 billion deficit. Two weeks later the Prime Minister told us it would be $12 billion. By the first week in May the finance minister, Penny Wong, told us, 'No, the deficit would be $17 billion' and a week after that, on budget night, the Treasurer informed us the predicted deficit for this financial year is $19.4 billion. It is worth remembering that the financial year is not over yet. On that trend line there is more bad news in the pipeline.

On this record, how does the Treasurer expect the education sector or indeed the disability sector to trust him to deliver on the increased funding in five to seven years? How can we believe anything the Treasurer says? Having put the appalling record of this government behind us, it is disappointing to find that the budget presents no overarching plan for Australia. If Australia is to stop increasing its debt and start paying its overdraft it must have a plan to stimulate industry. Worthy as public spending may be on benefits—such as stimulating the education sector and supporting the disability sector, the caring sector—the economic benefits of doing so will be further down the pipeline. What is needed is a fresh push by government to re-invigorate the industry and investment cycle so that it can start to help pay for these projects that are important for Australia.

It is worthwhile reflecting that since this budget was delivered we have seen the announcement by Ford Australia that they are closing their manufacturing capability here in this country and that the SPC Ardmona plant at Shepparton has drastically cut production. They join a long list of failures and withdrawals from projects right throughout Australia: from James Price Point to the cancellation of the Port Hedland expansion to the difficulties experienced with the development of the Oakajee Port, and from your state, Mr Deputy Speaker, where Glencore Xstrata have announced the cancellation of the Balaclava Island loading facility to my state, South Australia, where it is best demonstrated by the loss of projects and opportunities like the Roxby Downs expansion and the cancellation of a proposal to build a rare-earth refinery, in Whyalla, by Arafura.

Simply put, we cannot as a nation stand to keep losing projects. They are the economic stimulus that will underwrite this nation in the future. It is not borrowed money. It is money that invigorates the economy. It is so important that we get it right. Unfortunately, in this budget there is no signal at all that the government has got the message. Along with the rest of Australia, South Australia has its own economic challenges. That means awakening that capacity in the regions. In most cases, I must gladly report, that is in my electorate of Grey, which covers more than 90 per cent of the land mass. It stands to reason that if you have 90 per cent of the land mass you will have 90 per cent of the resources.

In my electorate, aside from the mineral resources, we are, along with Tasmania, the equal biggest aquaculture region within Australian. That is centred around the Port Lincoln region and has been very successful. But in the way of this government, the aquaculture and fishing industries have been presented with some very real challenges through the development and declaration of marine parks. In particular, the abalone industry and the southern rock lobster industry have been badly hit by not only the Commonwealth marine parks but also the state marine park declarations. They have lost much of their most productive ground. At the same time, all of those industries are dealing with extra costs that have been forced upon them by Biosecurity Australia.

Deputy Speaker, you would remember that the government made a deal. They said that they would remove some funding from Biosecurity Australia but bring in efficiencies so that it will work better. They said, 'You blokes will be paying for it but it will work that much better that you won't know the difference.' Well, the money has been removed, but that is as far as we have got on that project.

We in South Australia are major producers of livestock, cattle and sheep. The ham-fisted handling of the live cattle problem out of the Northern Territory by the current government caused enormous difficulties for the industry not just in the Northern Territory, not just in north-western Australia, not just in Northern Queensland, but right throughout the industry within Australia. These good industries are facing extra penalties every day, penalties engineered by the government.

For grain producers, it is pretty much the same story. Last year, the government, in its infinite wisdom, removed the Wheat Export Authority. I have had come to my attention in recent days—and I think that I will be having more to say about it in this place soon—the fact that a major buyer has underperformed in the market to the tune of around $50 a tonne over the last three season and left growers completely out of pocket. I might point out that if you as a wheat grower are getting a price of $300 a tonne you are making pretty good money. If you are getting a price of $220, you are covering costs but 100 per cent of your profit has gone. That is what has happened to these growers.

If we look at the resources sector, we have in South Australia enormous resources in iron ore that are largely untapped. We have the birthplace of the Australian iron ore and steel industry at Iron Knob and Whyalla. Over recent years, the Middleback Range has been developed further. OneSteel export around about six million tonnes a year directly from there and another six million tonnes to eight million tonnes from their northern province, which is called Southern Iron and is near Woomera. But this is only scratching the surface.

Even with that export capacity, we still do not have a deep sea port in South Australia. That is completely holding up their projects. At this stage, I know of six current proposals to build ports within 200 kilometres of each other on the Spencer Gulf. Clearly, that is preposterous. This needs the government to take a firm hand and put these people in a room together to get them on the same page to develop one port that will provide super efficiency—the same kind of efficiency that we see in Western Australia. We need one port that can deliver the 40 million tonnes to 80 million tonnes a year that this industry is capable of producing.

We are also dealing with the copper industry, which has a number of new projects, particularly on Yorke Peninsula. We have had the Prominent Hill copper mine developed in the last 10 years. But that will run out in the next 10. Carrapateena is the next project that is proposed by OZ Minerals. All of those miners, who are looking to expand their operation and build a bigger pool of income for all of the people of South Australia and Australia, are facing new impediments day after day from government.

The carbon tax is a very big concern for all of those industries. It impacts on them in a very real way. They are very nervous, always, about this government when it comes to the terms of the diesel fuel rebate. Certainly, the mining tax, while it only on impacts on one miner in South Australia at the moment, and that is RM OneSteel, an exporter of iron ore, it is causing all the other junior iron ore explorers and developers to build that into their future planning and financial models so that they can anticipate when they might have to start paying that tax, should it remain. This requires an investment in accounting so that they can understand at any given point in time just exactly what their operations are worth, what has been invested and what their write-off periods are. It is the kind of restriction that they would not have to face if the mining tax were not in place, because those accounting standards are quite different from standard accounting practices.

What we need is a change of government. What we need is a return to coalition government, to sensible and methodical government, where taxpayers' dollars are treated with respect and not wasted on harebrained thought-bubbles like GroceryWatch, pink batts and cash for clunkers. I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, this is what the public expect. They are not looking for flashy government. They are not looking for the big broad ideas. They want someone sensible to get the books back in order and to give Australia the stability it needs.