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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4787


Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (17:18): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 and related bills. This federal budget has sunk like a stone. The experience in my electorate office and elsewhere, from what I gather in discussions with so many of my colleagues, is that there is virtually no contact—no phone calls, no attempt to get detail. This is most unusual irrespective of how budgets are received or who delivers the budget on either side of the chamber. You would normally expect to get a reasonable number of calls coming to your office either to complain or to congratulate or, at the very least, to seek details of different programs. This year, silence—because this budget has sunk like a stone. People have stopped listening to this government. They have no confidence that anyone is running the show. They have no confidence in this Treasurer and his ability to bring down a budget that is in any way believable or competent.

Australians simply do not find this budget believable. Not more than 18 months ago they heard the first forecast of $12 billion for this budget's deficit. Then, in the budget last year, they heard a forecast of $23 billion. Then, toward the end of last year in November's mid-year economic statement, they heard that the budget deficit would be $37 billion. This time around, when the budget was actually given, they hear that it is $44 billion—at a time when the year still had a couple of months to go. No wonder people do not find this budget believable. No wonder they have taken absolutely no notice of what has been said by the Treasurer and the government. Why would they believe a surplus forecast? Why would they believe in a $26 billion turnaround? They have heard the spin before, again and again, and we have just heard it again from the member for Oxley—apart from the last four minutes on IBD and Crohn's disease.

People have been bludgeoned into reality by the outcomes, not the spin. They have been disheartened. They have been let down so often. They are sick of it—the cute words, the explanations, the endless forecasts which are never delivered. We hear this Treasurer bemoaning the fact that he has had to deal with a $150 billion write-down in the budget, as though someone came along and put an extra burden on him. But they were his forecasts from previous budgets that were overstated—everyone said they were overstated, these pollyanna forecasts from previous budgets. Then he comes in here with shoulders stooped, complaining of the fact that he has got to write down $150 billion. Well, poor Wayne! Poor Treasurer! These are things that he forecast and then, when the forecasts were not realised, he gets it on one side—he helps sell a budget with a shonky forecast—and then he gets it on the other side, by saying that he had to deal with the write-down of $150 billion of moneys that were not realised.

This is just an example of the type of spin that everyone has to put up with. It is the type of spin that has made people so cynical, so distrustful and so confused, and so upset about the way in which this government is running the affairs of state. It is why there is a crisis of confidence in this country. It is why people are saving at a level they have never saved at before—12 per cent for the last 12 months. That is nearly $90 billion not spent that normally would be spent. No wonder retail is on its knees. There is all of the money that is sitting on balance sheets of companies not being invested. Go out and talk to them, and they all say, 'Why would I invest? I've got no idea who's running this show. Is there anyone up there who's got any ideas?'

Mr Sidebottom interjecting

Mr ROBB: Madam Deputy Speaker, do I have to put up with this nonsense from the other side here?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The parliamentary secretary!

Mr ROBB: This budget is a discredited budget—totally discredited. I just want to give a couple of quotes. The chief of certified practising accountants, Alex Malley, said that Australia desperately needs a vision and that that was not achieved in the budget. 'Accounting chicanery was the winner tonight,' he said at the end of the budget. On the same evening, respected economic commentator Alan Kohler said:

This is, at its core, a big taxing, big spending budget, including a big increase in welfare.

And he also said:

… it is the budget of an unpopular Government approaching an election, not one that's tightening the belt.

He has nailed it. You would not think so, though, from the verbiage about the budget coming from the other side of the chamber.

This budget is a flight of fancy. You need look no further than the revenue forecast. There was a revenue forecast of 11.8 per cent. The Treasurer is setting himself up again for an opportunity to bemoan the outcome next year by overstating the forecast this year, once again. The revenue forecast is 11.8 per cent. This cannot happen and will not happen. The long-term average through good years is eight per cent.

The Australian dollar, the coal price, resource share prices—they are all forward indicators, and they are all heading south, every one of them. Add to this the new socialist governments in Europe, the recent developments in the last week or two in Spain and Greece and unemployment on the up again in the United States, and we are not going to see a 12 per cent increase in revenue. It simply will not happen. We will be a long way south of that. And this government knows it. It is again an exercise in deception. It is an exercise designed to fool people long enough to get through a budget and to seek to put a gloss on what are, demonstrably, failed results.

The Treasurer keeps talking about Australia being well ahead of the rest of the developed world. Of course, our competitors are, in the main, not in the developed world, but put that aside. The IMF just a couple of weeks ago stated that six developed countries are now back in structural surplus—six developed countries. This is the yardstick that the Treasurer keeps wanting to refer to. And yet they still referred to Australia being in structural deficit. In other words, we are wasting the mining boom. The rivers of gold are being used to fund excessive payments. That is what a structural deficit means. And if the rivers of gold come off 20 or 30 per cent, we are in deep trouble. We are back in deficit without doing anything else. Without doing another thing, we are back in deficit.

This budget is a confused budget. On the one hand, we heard for weeks that it was going to be a really tough budget. My goodness, this was going to be tough. This was going to shake the bones of all those people who like to spend, spend, spend. Yet when we got to the night—actually, when we got to a couple of weeks before, when the Prime Minister came back into the country and thought she was being set up by the Treasurer—we started to hear of endless handouts: a vote-buying exercise. Of course they are all paid for by borrowed funds.

We hear again and again from the other side of the chamber, in defence of the budget, about all the spending initiatives that they have got and who they are helping. People are not deluded by this. They are worried by the fact that you are helping them with more borrowed money. That is not help; that is just deferred pain. That just means that someone further down the track is going to require repayment of that money. It is, again, spin over substance, and we are seeing the outcome of it.

The $800 cheques—that is all borrowed money, every penny of it. One hundred million dollars a day! They say they are helping small business. They are in the market for $100 million each day, forcing small business out of the market. They cannot get money to keep the doors of their businesses open, to refinance their mortgages. Nor can they get loans at any sort of reasonable interest rate, because this government has been borrowing $100 million a day for years now—for three years, $100 million a day. And they say they are interested in and supportive of small business. It is a joke.

Not only have they got a supposedly tough budget that ended up with all these handouts, but also there is a confusion of broken promises. The budget actively discourages investment by Australian based companies and foreign investors. They claim that this shonky surplus is going to give great confidence and comfort to business and will turn the tables on all sorts of problems faced by businesses outside of the mining sector. Yet, in the same breath, they drop a long-standing promise to reduce company tax. And of course there was nothing on deregulation. It is a budget that actively discourages investment. And when you look to foreign investors, one little reported measure in the budget that demonstrates that this government just does not get it which was not lost on the business sector was the doubling of the withholding tax on distributions from managed investment trusts for overseas investors. At a time when we have the biggest carbon tax in the world being introduced and a mining tax which no-one else has—which is becoming a huge sovereign risk issue in other parts of the world for investors—we also have a withholding tax, one of the few things they could claim to have done in a successful and promising way.

Just four years ago the then Assistant Treasurer put out a statement after the budget announcement which said:

As part of its commitment to establish Australia as a regional financial hub, the Rudd Government has acted to dramatically improve the competitiveness of the Australian managed funds industry.

… it will substantially reduce the level of withholding tax from a non-final rate of 30 per cent to a final rate of 7.5 per cent … These arrangements will make Australia's withholding tax rate one of the most competitive in the world, and provide a significant boost to Australia's ability to compete globally.

They were on the money. We supported this initiative. It was a very sensible thing. They got out in front of the world. And it produced results, billions of dollars of results. It went from $1 billion in the MIT to $4 billion.

Then, when it came down to 7½ per cent, it went to $5½ billion; $5½ billion came in here, got invested in infrastructure that we hear being talked about endlessly, but what happens? On budget night they reversed it. It was back up to 15 per cent. Of course there was no consultation, no warning whatsoever. What do you think this does to people in New York and London and other places who are looking to put billions of dollars here? It spells sovereign risk. It spells a government that has the shakes. It spells a government that does not know where it is going. It spells great big question marks over Australia as a destiny for stable and accountable government.

None of this is happening and these are the sorts of signals. It is not only that; it is retrospective, so companies and big funds that have sunk billions into infrastructure projects and done all their numbers on 7½ per cent withholding tax are now going to be slugged 15 per cent. Do you think they are going to come back with money to get a measly $260 million?

For this Treasurer to pull out a shonky surplus, they have probably sacrificed tens of billions of dollars over the next 10 or 20 years by this move. It is such a pathetic thing for this government to do. Then they stand up and say they understand and they have the interests of businesses at heart.

This is a budget with the debt issue, this increase in debt from $250 billion to $300 billion debt ceiling. It is so misleading. That was hidden. It is a budget of deception by omission. It has the biggest carbon tax in the world, with not one word of explanation in those inches and inches of budget papers about how this thing will work. Yet it is going to put such an enormous burden on everybody in the country.

This is a budget which will only compound the crisis of confidence currently running rampant within Australian households and businesses. (Time expired)