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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4765

Mr HOCKEY (North Sydney) (15:51): As I was saying earlier today, before the debate was interrupted, the mistrust starts straight upfront with the claim that the government will deliver a surplus next year. The Treasurer says it with a straight face and yet it is so very clear to everyone that the government has cooked the books to engineer a dodgy promise of a surplus. It has been widely accepted that spending has been brought forward out of next year or delayed beyond the forward estimates. I have taken Australians through that in relation to the National Broadband Network and the CEFC, which, at $10 billion, are treated off-budget. There are other initiatives such as special dividends from the Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation and the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation that are being taken only next year in order to fluff up the promise of a surplus. Of course the government has allocated only minimal funding to the expensive, $8 billion a year, National Disability Insurance Scheme and the $40 billion submarine program. And I totally refute the allegations made by the intemperate Acting Prime Minister today that we do not support the National Disability Insurance Scheme or its funding. The fact is that the government has not properly funded it and is running away from that issue.

There are a number of other broken promises in the budget. It is a budget of new promises made and a budget of broken promises. In fact, 10 major commitments were broken in this budget. First is the government's promise, and the Treasurer's promise, explicitly not to introduce a carbon tax. In fact, from memory he described it as laughable when it came up in the course of a debate with me on the 7.30 Report before the last election.

Second, the government cancelled tax cuts which they said were all part of the redistribution of money from the mining boom to deal with a patchwork economy. What we do know is that it was going to pass the Senate with the support of the Greens in relation to small businesses. But the small business minister here, like the rest of his colleagues in the Labor Party, ran away from that, after having made all those promises, and on so many occasions the Treasurer said he would introduce company tax cuts and then dumped them before it even came to the parliament.

Third, there was the $500 standard deduction on tax returns promised in August 2010 which was due to commence on 1 July this year. This was a move the Labor Party sold as 'tick and flick' tax returns. You have to be very careful with this mob because if they do not repeat something which is meant to be a core promise then you know they are going to dump it, and the $500 standard deduction is one example of that.

Fourth, they had a 50 per cent tax discount on interest earned on bank accounts, bonds, and annuities, announced in May 2010. It was meant to start on 1 July 2011. They dumped that. Then it was meant to start in July 2012 and they dumped that. Then a year later it was meant to start in 2013 and we know they have dumped that. And now they have finally dumped it altogether. They have put it out of its misery.

Fifth, Labor went to the 2007 election with a solemn promise to increase foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of GNE by 2016. Well, they have dumped that promise.

Sixth, it now appears that the government's commitment to saving the environment was not quite as strong as you would have believed. In 2010 they announced the green buildings tax break of 50 per cent on eligible assets or capital works, but that was dumped in this budget.

Seventh, Labor went to the 2010 election trying to be more conservative than us. They said that there was a real commitment for a three per cent increase in average real growth in defence spending right up to 2018. They have dumped that.

Eighth, the government has also promised that defence savings would be reinvested in defence. Well, they have dumped that.

Ninth, the government went to the 2010 election promising to spare the Public Service from budget cuts. They have challenged us up hill and down dale about all those cuts that they claim that we are going to impose on the Public Service—whereas in fact they were redundancies that I had talked about—but lo and behold, in this budget the government itself goes on and announces a number of cuts to public servants.

Tenth, there was the promise to increase the concessional cap on superannuation contributions for Australians over 50. That was promised as part of the mining tax package to start on 1 July 2012. They have now delayed it to 1 July 2014. Therefore, they have broken that promise.

So, given that the Labor Party says that they are now going to get there—they are going to deliver the much-vaunted surplus—a surplus that you would need to repeat over 100 times just pay off their deficits for the last four years—the government expects us to believe that this promise is real. The challenge is that the debt they are leaving us is the great legacy of Labor, as it always is. But what we know is that peak net interest on debt is now $8.2 billion in 2015-16, and the interest bill alone on government net debt would fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme or, alternatively, build eight new teaching hospitals a year.

As I have previously foreshadowed, in the limited time I have available I am moving an amendment to the appropriation bills before the House to allow substantive amendments to these bills and, if successful, we will remove the increased debt limit measure and seek to have a separate debate about that $50 billion increase.

We have sought an urgent commitment from the government that they would not attempt to hide an increase in the debt ceiling in the appropriation bills. On 7 May 2012, I wrote to the Treasurer seeking that commitment. I said: 'I am therefore seeking your urgent commitment that, if the Gillard government intends to increase the existing limit beyond $250 billion, this increase is not contained in the 2012-13 appropriation bills. Instead, if the government seeks to increase Australia's debt ceiling in excess of $250 billion, it must be in separate, stand-alone legislation so that it can be given the proper scrutiny and consideration that such a significant increase in borrowings demands.'

In 2009, the government had no such issue of increasing the debt limit through a standalone piece of legislation, the Inscribed Stock Amendment Act 2009, rather than in the appropriation bills. We do not accept the current proposed justification for an increase in the debt limit, and I reckon in his heart of hearts neither does the Treasurer, with his flimsy response to the question today.

The government must appropriately reflect the significance of increasing the limit on the face value of stock and securities that can be on issue under the Treasurer's standard borrowing authority. The Treasurer must then make the case to the Australian people that Labor deserves the right to increase the credit card limit. The Treasurer must explain why he cannot use the Loan (Temporary Revenue Deficits) Act 1953. I asked him a question in this place. He could not answer it. So, to that effect, and I move the following second reading amendment:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House requests the Government to vary the resolution in relation to the Appropriation bills agreed by the House on 8 May 2012 to permit amendments to be moved and debated to Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2012-13.”

This is the very least that the public deserves. Australians deserve an opportunity to debate the increase in the government's proposed debt limit. I would suggest that the members for New England and Lyne, who signed an agreement with the government for greater transparency, would have been appalled at today's cover-up, or protection racket—the attempt to try and avoid having a proper debate about the statement by the member for Dobell. They agreed with the coalition that it was inappropriate to close down debate. On the increase of the debt limit of the Commonwealth, I believe that the members for New England and Lyne would have a similar proposal—that you have to have a proper debate about that. They were the ones that argued that we had to have greater transparency, that sunlight is the best disinfectant. On no issue could there be a more substantive case made for having a separate and proper debate than the Labor Party's proposal to increase the debt limit of the Commonwealth government.

This is a very significant issue. The Treasurer received advice from the Australian Office of Financial Management. It is quite revealing about his incompetence, his inability to do his job and his lack of confidence that he did not challenge the Australian Office of Financial Management—'Why do we need to go that far? Are there any alternative routes?' He did not have the knowledge or the wit to ask whether there was any other legislation, such as that that I have outlined, which could be used to address the concerns in relation to refinancing during the course of any one financial year.

The Treasurer is not up to the job. He simply tables advice from an agency and says, 'That's the reason why I take public policy decisions.' Why do we have him in the Treasurer role? Why don't we have the head of AOFM or a senior public servant acting as the Treasurer? You have to have a Treasurer who questions the department, questions agencies and seeks other advice in relation to these matters. Sadly, we have a weak and insipid Treasurer who simply, when he has to come to the parliament and explain himself, refers to a tabled advice from his department, as if that is conclusive.

We will quiz the AOFM and the Department of the Treasury at estimates. We want to get to the bottom of exactly why this sneaky government is trying to avoid proper scrutiny on the debt limit.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Robb: I second the amendment.