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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5404

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (12:38): I rise to support the amendment to the motion that Appropriation Bill (No. 1) be read a second time. It is an incredibly important amendment because it goes to the heart of transparency in how the nation's finances are handled. We especially need transparency at the moment.

Before I go into the specifics of the amendment, I would like to spend some time talking about the budget. We have global economic uncertainty, especially with the uncertainty of whether the Eurozone will hold together or not, and we have ongoing political turmoil, with changes of government and changes of view about how austerity measures should be dealt with. Here in Australia we needed in this budget an economic plan—some vision, some leadership, a way forward. We needed a demonstration that, in particular, the Treasurer knew what the hell he was doing. Sadly, what we got was no such statement, no such vision, no such leadership. We got a budget which offered no plan, more debt and continued on the path to delivering, come 1 July, the carbon tax.

I would like to look first at what the budget did for my electorate of Wannon. The No. 1 issue at the moment in the electorate of Wannon—it has been for some time—is how we can get more money from federal, state and local governments into our road infrastructure. There has been a road infrastructure deficit now for some years, and we need to get funding to address that deficit. what did this budget do to help in that regard? Sadly, road funding will be cut from $6.2 billion in 2011-12 to $2.6 billion in 2012-13. That is a $3.6 billion shortfall. It is a key infrastructure demand—something which will drive productivity and help this nation deliver its goods and services to export markets to make sure that our domestic economy functions coherently and increases productivity, and what has the government done in this important area? It has cut its spending by $3.6 billion.

We see that impact more specifically when it comes to how the Western Highway will be funded. The Western Highway will not get the full amount of funding that had been promised to it each year for the next four years. Instead the books have been cooked. I understand that there have been some environmental planning issues which have led to some delays, but that does not mean that the Treasurer should cook the books so he delivers less funding next year to deliver his surplus and then puts extra funding in the outlying two years to help him achieve his wafer-thin surplus. It demonstrates quite clearly that the Treasurer has cooked the books when it comes to delivering his surplus, and we are highly unlikely to see it. As a matter of fact, if history dictates anything, we are definitely not going to see it. As we saw with the blow-out in the deficit in the last budget, which totalled over $20 billion, it seems almost impossible that the Treasurer can hang on to this wafer-thin, $1.5 billion surplus which he has announced for the coming financial year.

On that point, we also need to ask—and this is what the amendment we are debating today goes to the heart of: if the Treasurer is determined to deliver his wafer-slim surplus, why is he asking for an extra $50 billion credit limit to be placed on the nation's credit card? Why is he asking for that borrowing limit to be raised from $250 billion to $300 billion? It just does not pass the common sense test. It does not pass the pub test. If you are telling people you are going to deliver a surplus, why then would you be also saying, 'Oh, we need to sneak through this little increase in our credit card limit'? And this 'little increase' is $50 billion. Something just does not stack up, and I think we all know what does not stack up. It is the Treasurer's ability to deliver a budget which will achieve what it sets out to do and which shows any sort of vision for this country.

We also see, despite the predicted growth rates, that unemployment is set to rise to 5.5 per cent. Last year's budget promised 500,000 new jobs over two years, but the government now expects to miss its target by 300,000 jobs. So once again it is hard not to be just a little bit cynical. We have a commitment to achieving 500,000 new jobs in the last budget and yet already, one year later, that target is going to be missed by 300,000 jobs. It does make it hard to believe the Treasurer when he says that we will get a surplus out of the next financial year. It makes it extremely hard to believe.

The other thing which makes the budget fairly dubious and raises a level of cynicism—that raises a level of mistrust, with how it has been cobbled together and what it sets out to achieve—is that we are assured that the carbon price—with no mention of the carbon tax, of course, but the carbon price—will only impact the 500 largest emitters. Yet, at the same time, it then goes on to explain what assistance would be offered to families to help them cope with the price increases from the tax that will not speak its name, the carbon tax—or the carbon price, whichever way we want to define it. So once again there is an inconsistency which has to raise a level of cynicism. It really has to make one wonder whether this Treasurer has any credibility whatsoever. Assistance to cope with the carbon price to families is clearly laid out within the budget yet the overarching statement is that the carbon tax will only impact on the 500 big emitters.

If there is a message that comes out of this budget, and if I could very humbly provide some advice to the Treasurer, it is that you need to get a consistency in your messaging. Otherwise, people are going to grow more and more cynical about what you are trying to achieve. I think that has been clearly established. We have a budget where the government is saying, 'This is what we are saying, but this is what the result will be.' What is being said does not fit with what the results or the outcomes are. It is a real tragedy that that is the case, because at this time, more than at any time, at least since the GFC and before it, the Asian financial crisis, we needed a clear economic statement—a clear economic message—which showed the way forward for this nation.

We have set out a vision as to how we would increase the productivity of our capital, how we would increase the productivity of our labour and how we would deal with the ongoing stormy seas which are surrounding us, especially the stormy seas surrounding Europe. But this budget does not do this. What does it do instead? It engrains the carbon tax. In my electorate of Wannon, that means extra cost to our dairy farmers; extra cost to our beef producers; extra cost to our land producers; extra cost to our manufacturers, large and small; extra cost to local government, especially when it comes to waste disposal. On that point, it adds not only extra cost but also extra confusion, because none of the people who manage waste fill in my electorate have been able to get a clear idea from this government as to how the carbon tax will work in this area.

With this budget we get record debt. We get a ceiling of $300 billion—four times what it was in 2008. We also get a level of net debt which is increasing to $144.9 billion. It is important to pause and think about what this means. It means that the government will be spending over $8 billion a year, or around $22 million a day, on interest payments alone. Just stop for a minute and think what could be done with that $8 billion. We could make serious headway with the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We could start to address the infrastructure deficit which is beginning to hurt regional and rural Australia in particular. Eight billion dollars is a lot of money. That is $22 million a day. That money could be put to productive use. Instead, it will be put towards paying off interest. Let us not forget that in 2007, when Kevin Rudd came to power, that level of debt was zero. The books were actually showing a positive position. That is the turnaround. Since 2007, $8 billion a year in interest payments has been incurred.

In conclusion, I think that this budget showed once again that what this country needs is an election. We have a government which does not know how to run the government's finances. We have a parliament which is beset by issues and problems of its own making. What the Australian people need is an election, so that we can get on and decide what is the economic vision that this country needs and set about delivering that economic vision so that people—especially people in my communities—do not continue to have the worries and the economic concerns which this government is placing upon them. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Order! The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day at a later time this afternoon.

Sitting suspended from 12 : 54 to 15 : 57