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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1259


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (17:46): These appropriation bills are a further monument to Labor's waste and mismanagement. They pick up some more of the unpaid bill for failed programs, such as the home insulation scheme and the failed asylum seeker plans, and of course some compensation for those damaged by Labor's mismanagement of the live cattle export industry.

These bills also help prepare the way to manipulate a budget surplus for 2012-13—a cynical strategy premised on pushing spending outside of the 2012-13 financial year and in several instances bringing forward funding into the 2011-12 financial year. A classic example of that funding being brought forward is in my own portfolio of infrastructure and transport: $1.2 billion worth of road funding, which is equivalent to almost the entire projected surplus, has been brought forward into the 2011-12 year, even though that will not result in any new roads being built any sooner. The money is simply being shuffled out to the states, where it will sit in their treasuries and be spent on precisely the same projects and on precisely the same time schedule as originally planned. It is simply a manipulation to try to develop an artificial surplus in 2012-13. The 2012-13 surplus of $1.4 billion has been pencilled into MYEFO and will clearly be a fraud. The government uses words like 'fiscal consolidation', but in the meantime they have been out spending money at an alarming rate. Labor is right now spending $100 billion a year more than was spent in the last year of the Howard government—an increase of some 37 per cent. Labor has presided over a spending blowout of more than 16 per cent in real terms over just two budgets. MYEFO reveals that spending under this government, as a percentage of GDP, has been markedly higher every year than in the last two years of the Howard government—and the projections are that it will stay that way at least until 2014-15.

Maybe that would not matter if so much of the money that had been spent had not been wasted. So much of the money has not been put to productive purposes. This government's reckless borrowing and spending—and borrowing again—has placed this nation in a vulnerable position. Believe it or not, despite the best terms of trade in 140 years, Australia's structural budget deficit is more than twice that of Germany and almost double that of Italy. Any superficial surplus this government manages to cobble together will not disguise this reality. The Rudd-Gillard governments have been totally incapable of living within their means. Had they not panicked and spent $87 billion on stimulus, they could have had a budget surplus right now. They are spending a further $10 billion on stimulus this financial year in response to a global financial downturn four years ago. The government have taken a $20 billion inherited surplus and delivered the four biggest budget deficits in Australia's history, with a cumulative total of $167 billion. Is it any wonder that the Treasurer was labelled the world's greatest Treasurer when he is certainly the world's greatest spender? He has delivered no sound economic management and has no credible strategy for the future.

Labor's last 10 budgets have been in deficit. The last time they delivered a surplus was in 1989-90. MYEFO confirmed that, in the space of just 12 months, Labor's estimated deficit for 2011-12 blew out from $12 billion to $23 billion and then to $37 billion. And Labor want a debate on the economy! You would think they would have some record or some performance to defend. In reality, any debate on the economy will demonstrate that this government are incapable of managing our nation's economy.

On the other hand, this side of the House delivered 10 surpluses from 12 budgets, and that was after inheriting an $11 billion deficit and a $96 billion debt from Labor's last stint in office. We have seen the $70 billion in net assets left by the coalition government turned into $133 billion in net debt. There is no doubt that interest rates are higher today than they would be if this government's excessive spending and borrowing had been kept under control. The fact that the government are out borrowing in the marketplace is putting substantial upward pressure on interest rates, and higher interest rates increase our exchange rate. That does not seem to me to be a very logical policy for any sensible government to follow.

These bills remind us of the enormous amount of waste and mismanagement we have seen under this government. Appropriation bills Nos 3 and 4 are a continuation of taxpayer bailouts from failed Labor policy—for instance, the home insulation program. In these bills, there is another $106 million to continue roof inspections and help fix the damage caused by the pink batts debacle—a $2.4 billion program that was full of waste and mismanagement. Over 200 house fires have been linked to the program and there is still a threat that a quarter of a million dodgy roofs might spontaneously combust at some time in the future. This program resulted in not only four deaths but an insulation industry that is in tatters with its reputation ruined. Insulation manufacturing plants have closed and hundreds are out of work—an example of disgraceful management.

Also in these bills are two allocations for support of the Tasmanian forestry industry workers—people put out of work by this government's mismanagement of that industry at a time when Tasmania's legislative councillors are saying, 'Enough is enough.' They are sick of deals with Bob Brown that destroy Tasmanian jobs and destroy the Tasmanian economy. This government also have blood on their hands in that regard because they have been a partner to many of these packages designed to close down productive industry in Tasmania.

There is another $330 million to help fund Labor's failed asylum seeker policies. Their border protection policies have failed and the smugglers are running a closing down sale because they know that this government's life is limited and that, after that, free entry into Australia will come to a halt. There is another $330 million in these bills and there will be much more to come, as Labor have no idea how to resolve the issue.

There is $24 million to provide assistance to support businesses affected by the live cattle ban—compensation for the people who were affected by policy mismanagement on a grand scale. Labor have damaged the Northern Australian economy with this attack on its second-biggest industry. They have insulted Indonesia and damaged Australia's reputation as a reliable supplier. Indonesia has responded by slashing the live animal quota and also given the lie to those who say that, if we do not export live animals to countries like Indonesia, they will buy more meat. The reality is that they have also reduced their meat purchases from Australia. This has been mismanaged in a way which will leave lasting damage. The amount of compensation that is being provided will not be adequate to make up for the damage that is being done. It is just another illustration of policy mismanaged.

I notice there is $10 million to strengthen incentives for parents to have their children immunised. Again, Labor's policies had allowed immunisation levels in this country to collapse. So now they are introducing another spending program to try to recover the damage that was done.

In reality, the largest component of the appropriations is for measures supporting the introduction of a carbon tax in July—$1.3 billion to support a clean energy future for Australia including cash payments to coal fired power stations, which are described as 'to assist the transition' to a carbon price. It is to close down power stations so that jobs will be lost and Australia's low-cost electricity industry destroyed. There is $222 million for the coal sector jobs package, compensation for jobs lost as a result of the carbon tax on our mining industry. There is $36 million to facilitate payments to assist households in meeting additional costs associated with the carbon tax. You would not need the compensation if you did not have the tax. The tax delivers pain and hardship to families and even this amount of compensation will be inadequate for the long-lasting impact on family budgets.

Then there is the $37 million to establish a clean energy regulator and a further $30 million for capital funding for the extra bureaucracy, a bureaucracy you have simply would not need if you did not have the tax that the Australian people do not want. Then there is the $9 million to assist industry transition to a low-carbon economy. Transition to a low-carbon economy means 'close down' and many manufacturing industries will simply close and jobs will be lost, and Labor just dismisses all this as 'growing pains' and chucks $9 million of petty change to them as some kind of a compensation package. There is $6 million to inform the business community about the impact of the carbon tax, a tax they do not want to be informed about because they do not want the tax.

This is not the right time for a carbon tax. It is the worst possible time with our economy in the state that it is in to inflict self-harm like this. It confirms that the government has no idea how to manage the economy. At a time when the government should be looking to back our strengths to help us get through these difficult times, they are undermining them. Our advantage was low-cost electricity, but we are going to close down our power stations. Our advantage was to have an educated and productive workforce, but Fair Work and the other policies of this government have turned us into a high-cost, low-productivity nation according to today's Financial Review. And of course our abundant natural resources, another natural advantage, are now to be subjected to a mining super tax, fuel tax, carbon tax and a whole range of other taxes to make them less competitive.

Labor is also trying to deceive the public into believing that there are going to be tax cuts for small business. That is simply not true. Most small businesses will not get these tax cuts, and around 400,000, in fact, face major tax increases. The government is proposing to cut the company tax rate, but two-thirds of small businesses are not companies so they get no benefits from Labor's proposed tax cuts. Four hundred thousand of Australia's smallest businesses are going to be affected by the abolition of the entrepreneurs' tax offset. These are the smallest businesses in Australia, and yet Labor is taking away from them the tax benefit that they have had. Labor have already introduced at least 20 new taxes, and these new measures will do nothing whatever to ease the pain or to take away from small business the high taxation burden that Labor has placed upon them. Let me get back finally to the point that I made early in my remarks, which was that Labor is seeking to manipulate payments so that they can artificially develop a budget surplus for 2012-12. Let me cite a few examples. Labor's energy security and transformation spending will be just over $1 billion in 2011-12—that is this year. It will also be $1 billion in 2013-14. But in 2012-13, the middle year, it will only be $1 million. So they will spend $1 billion either side and $1 million in the middle—a deliberate attempt to manipulate the budget bottom line.

Labor's Coal Sector Jobs Package provides $220 million this financial year, zero in 2012-12 and in the year after it is back to $230 million. They are bringing forward $2 billion in revenue from advanced carbon tax permit sales to boost the revenue side in 2012-13. But they are making the compensation payments for the carbon tax in 2011-12, before the tax even starts—a multimillion dollar falsification of the true budget situation in 2012-13. They are not spending money in the so-called surplus year but in the two years on either side. When it comes to the critical year, they manipulate the figures to create an illusion of a surplus—and the list goes on.

At least on this occasion they are not trying to bury a proposal to raise the Commonwealth debt ceiling beyond $250 billion. But with gross debt at $224 billion as of last Friday, there is a very real prospect that the government will again bust its limit and come back to the parliament to deal with this issue. Is it any wonder that Labor ministers get so touchy when debt is mentioned? By Australian standards, what we have now is without precedent. These bills prove that Labor cannot be trusted with money, let alone with the nation's purse strings. We need better managers and we need them soon.