Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5383

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (10:58): The Treasurer's opened his budget speech by saying that, over the next four years, Australia would enjoy surpluses and that they were:

… a powerful endorsement of our economy, resilience of our people, and success of our policies.

I think that is a sweeping assertion that is unlikely to be fulfilled this year, much less in the following three years. Why do I say this? Because of the appalling performance of the government since it came to office. There is no certainty that any of its targets will be met. Just look at the deficits for the last four years alone. The blowout of this year's deficit from $23 billion to $44 billion means more borrowing and more debt for future generations to repay. All of this is despite the fact that in real terms the government is experiencing the fastest growth in revenue since the mid-eighties. It is not as though it is being constrained on the income earned. This is the fourth Labor deficit in four years, and those four deficits together now total $174 billion. As I said, this 2011-12 budget deficit has blown out in three stages—from $12 billion to $23 billion to $37 billion to $44 billion—and the end of the year has not yet come. It may even go further.

It simply proves the inability of the government to reach even modest targets. Why should we then believe that it is capable of delivering a $1.5 billion surplus next year? Worse than that, the surplus that is promised is contrived. It is a fudge. In fact, the overall 2012 budget is $26 billion worse off in cumulative terms than last year's budget. So, against this incredibly poor performance, we are asked to believe that everything is sweetness and light and we will come out into the Elysian fields of a surplus in 2012-13. Even if this surplus is legitimate, it is going to make precious little by way of a dent in the government's debt, which will reach $145 billion in 2013-14. In comparative terms that is as bad as the Keating debt of $96 billion which he left the Howard government. This government will probably leave an Abbott government somewhere in the order of $140 billion to $150 billion in debt. It took the Howard government eight years to pay it off. I imagine that $145 billion would take even longer.

People reading or listening to this speech may say, 'How does that affect me?' It means that the government has to borrow to support this debt and that means it is spending $8 billion a year, or around $22 million a day in interest payments alone. Think what that $8 billion could do for hospitals, or the disabled, or improvements to our national highways, or pensioners on the breadline—and we have plenty of those at present. People tell me they are down to one meal a day. That really makes me angry. All these areas are constrained because of poor management and the profligate spending of the government.

After all that, the so-called surplus still remains a mirage. I will explain a few examples of that. This financial year we will spend $6.2 billion on roads but next year, when you would think there would be at least the same sort of demand if not slightly more, we are only going to spend $2.6 billion. Obviously, the figures have been moved from one year into the other. Why would you not be spending around $4½ billion per year? Put yourself in the situation of a main roads planner or engineer, someone who works for the RTA or the main roads departments in the states. How do you think they plan with $6.2 billion in one year and $2.6 billion the next year and so on? It would be like being on a roller-coaster. Little wonder we have this stop-start mentality on roads like the Pacific Highway and the Bruce Highway.

There are other examples of this. With local government payments, $1.1 billion is being brought forward to this year and that will mean a lesser deficit, or this wafer-thin surplus that the government is planning for next year

Queensland will also receive $1.4 billion in disaster relief this year. There will be allocations of $1.8 billion for infrastructure and $1.4 billion for compensation for pensioners and welfare beneficiaries as an offset for the carbon tax. Another example of doctoring the budget is in the coal sector. Payments will go from $220 million this year right down to $10 million next year and back up again to $250 million the next year. That is so blatant that it is farcical. It is obvious the government has resorted to these accountancy tricks and money shuffles to manufacture the appearance of a wafer-thin surplus of $1.5 billion for 2012-13.

If the government really believed it could deliver a surplus, why is it moving to increase the Commonwealth debt limit from $250 billion to $300 billion? That is four times the level of 2008, which was not that long ago. If the government genuinely expected a series of surpluses, why in heaven's name would that be necessary? In fact, it has buried this proposal in Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2012-2013 to avoid any proper scrutiny and a specific vote on the debt limit. When the Treasurer was challenged about this, his glib throwaway line was, 'It's no big deal.' We are borrowing $50 billion and lifting our limit to $300 billion and it is no big deal. I think that is emblematic of the attitude of the government to financial control. It would seem that the government is embarrassed about its debt levels. It does not seem to care how much worse they get—so much so that the Treasurer did not even mention his plan to raise the debt limit in his budget speech. Why wouldn't you mention it? There was not even a mention.

And so it was with the carbon tax, the tax that dares not speak its name, the tax that every one of the government's senior ministers assiduously avoids, a tax that is barely five weeks away. To soften the impact, we have had this cash splash, which many members on the other side have spoken about as if it was some great act of generosity to pensioners and low-income earners. It is not. It is an offset and it is a one-year offset, but those electricity bills, gas bills, transport bills and all the other things will be there to haunt them in subsequent years.

Let me move to small business, because this is an incredibly important sector in my electorate of Hinkler. I know the government's negative attitude resonates strongly in my small businesses, amongst shopkeepers and in tourist attractions in Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Bargara. Shop closures are a testament to the fact that there is a weakness in the availability of the disposable dollar. When people will not go out for dinner or will not go out to coffee lounges, you know there is something seriously wrong in the community. It is also reflected in the fall in tourism. Some motels tell me these are the worst periods since the economic downturn, the GFC. In their worst years they have had occupancies as low as 30 per cent. So a lot of tourists have either shortened their holidays or deferred them. In a place like Hervey Bay or Bargara, that is the bread and butter of the community.

The Prime Minister herself said on 14 March:

If you are against cutting company tax, you are against economic growth. If you are against economic growth, then you are against jobs.

Yet, two months after that statement, she reneged on the promise to drop one per cent off the company tax rate and saved herself a notional $4.8 billion. I would have liked to see some of that $4.8 billion in my electorate, to help businesses and to get industry to a vibrant level again.

We should also recognise that, while there will be some compensation for pensioners and low-income earners, there will be no carbon tax concessions for small businesses, who are already seeing the effects of the carbon tax in their electricity, gas and transport costs. The councils in my area are deeply disturbed by the drop in business and the lack of opportunities for new business. This budget gives them very little hope.

I was pleased to see one thing in today's media. The Cassowary Coast, which was going to be charged a carbon tax offset of $1 billion for cleaning up the rubbish in its local tip, will now have a 12-month period of concession, a window of opportunity, in which to do that. But, at the end of that time, councils who have rubbish tips that give rise to emissions will be penalised on an ongoing basis.

In the minutes that remain for me to speak, I would like to talk about the Bruce Highway. Nothing could have more starkly demonstrated its vulnerability than the floods last year. It was cut off many times, in four, five, six or seven places. You cannot have that in the main artery from Brisbane to North Queensland and, in particular, the areas that have not been receiving attention, from Cooroy to Cairns. This lifeline connecting all the major provincial cities in the most decentralised state in the Commonwealth is a ramshackle roadway. Quite apart from the bodgie spending on roads in the current financial year and the next financial year—as I pointed out before, there is only $2.6 billion going into next year's funding—there is no new money going into the Bruce Highway in this budget. There is no new money. The neglect is there for all to see.

When the state's Traveston dam was on the agenda, section B of the highway, from Cooroy to Curra, went ahead at a frenetic pace. But, when the dam was aborted, the whole thing slowed down. I want to see that picked up again. I want to see the road to Gympie completed, I want to see the Gympie bypass completed and then I want to see the road upgraded from Gympie all the way through to Apple Tree Creek near Childers. This is very important not just for the people who live in that area, not just for safety and not just for tourism but simply for commercial facilitation.

No, this was not a good budget. No-one should be taking pride in it. (Time expired)