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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 201


Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (18:11): The Treasurer quoted Paul Keating. I know Paul Keating, and you are no Paul Keating. Here we are on the first full sitting day of this new government.

The SPEAKER: I think you were quoting Ronald Reagan.

Mr BOWEN: The millions of Australians who voted for this government were told, 'This new government's going to stop the boats and pay back the debt,' and on their first day, at the first question time on the first full sitting day, we see the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection refuse to answer questions about stopping the boats and we see the Treasurer move a piece of legislation, to be rammed through in an hour, to increase the nation's debt limit by $200 billion, a 67 per cent increase—the biggest ever increase in our debt limit. This happened on the first day of this government. That is the clearest sign, the clearest symbol, that the party opposite campaigned on one platform and is governing on a very, very different one.

We heard the Treasurer just then say, 'We didn't vote against the debt cap in some cases,' and he is right: in some cases they did not vote against it. What he did not tell us—despite his rhetoric about responsibility, the Tea Party and who will wear the blame—is what they did in opposition. We had the former Leader of the Opposition, the now Prime Minister, on 11 May, in relation to the debt cap, say:

… the Government has to justify this. Our money, our future, is too important to be mortgaged like this without the Government giving us the strongest possible arguments for it, because every dollar that they borrow has got to be repaid.

'Give us the strongest possible arguments for it,' the then Leader of the Opposition said. And what do we see from this government? No MYEFO, no economic update. They are taking decisions—which we will get to—in relation to the Reserve Bank and refusing to give an economic update.

The Prime Minister again, today in question time, says, 'We'll give you MYEFO in December like you used to.' There is one little problem for the Prime Minister: in the six years of Labor governments, not in any year was MYEFO released in December—not once. In his first question time the Prime Minister misleads the House of Representatives—in his first question time. He does not mislead the House of Representatives once; he misleads the House of Representatives twice in his first question time, because the other thing he said was, 'We never opposed increases in the debt cap when we were in opposition.' When the Leader of the Opposition and I pointed out that they voted against one in 2009, he changed his story real quick. On the run in question time he said, 'Well, not when I was Leader of the Opposition we didn’t.' So it was somebody else's fault—it was Malcolm Turnbull's fault!

There was one little problem for the Prime Minister—they voted against an increase in the debt cap last year. In 2012, as I recall, the member for Warringah was the Leader of the Opposition. If you look at the Hansard for the Senate, the other place, you will see 'ayes 35; noes 30'. The noes are the Liberal Party and the National Party in the Senate. As I recall, the member for Warringah, the now Prime Minister, was Leader of the Opposition. So do not go lecturing us about Tea Party politics. Do not go lecturing us about our moral obligation to vote for an increase in the debt cap when you voted against it in 2009 and 2012.

What about the justification? We saw the Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition, say, 'Give us the strongest possible arguments for it.' One of the arguments could be the mid-year economic forecast, and I thought, in fairness to the government, that they might provide more of an update in the explanatory memorandum. I thought I had better wait and see what was in the explanatory memorandum—I thought it might provide a new peak debt figure. I thought it might provide more information about the state of the books. We got the explanatory memorandum a few moments ago. I will share it with the House. It is 11 pages long. Page 1 is the glossary. There it is, page 1—more blank than not. Page 2 is completely blank. Page 3 is a general outline. Page 4 is blank as well. We get to page 5 and there is a bit in there. We have a figure on page 5, so we are getting somewhere, making progress. Net debt is $370 billion—they have repeated my economic statement in the explanatory memorandum. There is no new figure, no update—they have repeated the economic statement on page 5. On page 6 there is a detailed explanation of the new law. Page 6 is not too bad. On page 7—now this is a good one—the House needs to know this—

Mr Craig Kelly: Madam Speaker, under standing order 66A, I request that you ask the member for McMahon whether I may ask a question of him on this bill.

The SPEAKER: Does the member for McMahon accept the intervention?

Mr BOWEN: I would be absolutely delighted.

Mr Craig Kelly: I ask the member for McMahon if, during his time as Treasurer, he was aware that the debt limit of $300 billion would be exceeded. If he was aware, why did he not attempt to legislate to increase that limit while he was the Treasurer? Why is he leaving it to the coalition to clean up Labor's mess?

Mr BOWEN: I have rapidly become a fan of these new standing orders. I was a little bit sceptical this morning, but I have since rapidly become a fan. It was in the pre-election forecasts. The previous government released it. The answer to the member's question was in the pre-election forecast. It was released publicly. We held a press conference. Thanks for coming! Ask another one. Do you want another one? I will give you another go if you like.

We need to get back to the explanatory memorandum because I was only up to page 7. This is an important part. The House needs to know that this bill is compatible with human rights. It is there on page 7. That was important to include in the explanatory memorandum: it complies with human rights. Page 8 is blank. We get to page 9 and that is the index. So the contents and the index takes up two pages of the 11-page explanatory memorandum. Pages 10 and 11 are blank too. We do not get what the member for Warringah would have called, when he was Leader of the Opposition, the best possible arguments for it—or maybe we do on pages 10 and 11. We get the best possible arguments for this bill on pages 10 and 11 of this arrogant explanatory memorandum—treating this House with contempt. It is the same contempt we were treated with in question time by this executive that says they will only answer the questions they choose to answer. They even choose whether they answer them accurately—the Prime Minister of Australia misleading the House twice in his first question time as Prime Minister. It was not just the member for Warringah who said quite a bit about the debt cap when they were in opposition.

Mr Briggs: I rise on a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are in a wide-ranging debate, but if you are going to accuse a member of misleading the House, you need to do it by substantive motion.

The SPEAKER: The member for Mayo has drawn attention to the fact that the member for McMahon needs to adhere to the motion before the chair.

Mr BOWEN: I thank you for not upholding the member for Mayo's point of order, Madam Speaker. It was not just the member for Warringah who made a habit of talking about debt caps. We heard a lot from the then opposition about debt of course. It was at crisis levels, a budget emergency, we were like Greece. Our children and our grandchildren would have to pay it back, and their children. But, specifically about debt caps, we had the then shadow Treasurer, the now Treasurer, in this place at this dispatch box on 21 May last year say this:

Now they are saying they are living within their means but are also saying, 'Just in case, please give us an increase in the credit card limit to $300 billion.' It does not sound like a lot if you say it quickly but it is a hell of a lot of money that Australians have to repay. Enough is enough.

So $300 billion is a lot of money, but $500 billion—that is OK. He was in full bluff and bluster mode, as only the member for North Sydney can be, as he was just now. They went on of course to vote against the increase in the debt cap in the other place. So we will not tolerate for one second the member for North Sydney lecturing us about why we must vote for increases in debt caps when he did not vote for one—or instructed his senators not to vote for one—just a little over 12 months ago. He said this:

The quest for a debt ceiling increase is also the clearest evidence that the claim of returning the budget to surplus is a hoax.

If you are going to return the budget to surplus, as the government says they will in 2016-2017, he says the need to increase the debt cap demonstrates that it is a hoax. Now that he is the Treasurer he has changed his tune quite remarkably.

We saw the Prime Minister of Australia say on television this morning: 'We never opposed the former government's decision to increase the debt limit. We were critical but we never played fast and loose. We never did that. They are bunging on a Tea Party situation.' Wrong yesterday, wrong today on Channel 9, wrong in the House at question time—the Prime Minister should apologise for misleading the House.

In 2009, the now Prime Minister voted against the increase in the debt cap. Hansard does not lie. It records 78 ayes and 53 noes—the 53 who sat on this side of the chamber. In the Senate the Hansard records 36 ayes and 34 noes. The 34 votes came from the Liberal and National parties. They even voted against it at the third reading. You only do that when you feel really passionately that a piece of legislation should not pass. They voted against an increase in the debt limit at a third reading, so they should not lecture us about the Tea Party.

These are important matters to discuss. The government, in its infinite generosity, has given us an hour to discuss this 67 per cent increase in the debt cap! The Labor Party will not take the same irresponsible approach that the Liberal Party took in opposition. We will not oppose an increase in the debt limit. We will support an increase in the debt limit and we will pass the bill in this House and in the other house, with an amendment. We will move an amendment in the other place and in this place—I think our chances of getting it through the other house are slightly better than getting it through this House!—to authorise a debt cap increase to $400 billion. A $100 billion increase is not an insubstantial amount, but we will authorise it because we recognise, for the sake of responsibility, that an increase in the debt cap is not only warranted but is necessary.

We will move an increase in the debt cap to $400 billion. We will even facilitate it through this House and the other house very expeditiously. It could pass tonight. We would pass this debt cap increase tonight. We are happy to sit late. I am sorry to tell the backbenchers that we are happy to sit late tonight if that is what is required. We would pass it tonight, but this government have come nowhere near close to justifying a half-trillion-dollar debt cap. The government say, 'We may need to come back to the House in six or 12 months to ask for more if you only give us $400 billion.' Well, if they need to come back for more they should come back, and we will consider it based on the evidence put before the House. And we will be constructive, just as we are being constructive on this occasion.

Here is an important point: the Treasurer says, 'We are going to get to $370 billion, at least.' I agree with that; that is what the pre-election forecast said. We are prepared to go to $400 billion, which provides a $30 billion buffer. The $370 billion net debt peak comes in 2016-17. That is not now. My old friend the member for Hughes clearly did not read the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook, because he asked me a question about it before. If you look at PEFO—I strongly recommend it to you; it is a great read—you will find that it says:

Based on current estimates, CGS—

that is, Commonwealth government securities—

outstanding is expected to reach the limit within the 2013-14 financial year (around December 2013) and will remain around that level from December 2013 onwards.

It will remain around that level. Here is an important sentence in the PEFO. It says:

It is important to note that there is a debt issuance strategy for the budget year only.

The Australian Office of Financial Management does not, this year, issue Commonwealth government securities to cover debt in 2016-17. The Australian Office of Financial Management issues Commonwealth government securities year by year. So what is going on here? What is the Treasurer's tactic? Why is he moving this extraordinary increase that he did not tell the Australian people about before the election? Why is he doing this? I think we saw the reason during his contribution in this second reading debate. He was at pains to say, 'This is your debt; you'll have to wear this.' He was playing politics. He is trying to make this year's budget deficit bigger than it might otherwise be. He is trying to ram this through now, just after the election, so that he can, in a political point, paint this as Labor's debt.

Mr Briggs interjecting

Mr BOWEN: I have a news flash for the member for Mayo, who is now a minister. He has been sworn in; he might remember popping down to Government House and taking the oath. The news flash: you are now responsible. The Treasurer is now responsible for decisions which increase the debt and deficit—like the decision that he has taken to transfer $8.8 billion to the Reserve Bank. That decision was taken to blow out this year's deficit in a quite transparent political tactic. Maybe the Treasurer thinks we were born yesterday. Maybe he thinks the Australian people were born yesterday, but it is a pretty clear and cheap political tactic, which tries to blow out this year's deficit. But I correct myself: I said it was a cheap tactic. I apologise: it is a very expensive one. Why?—because he has to borrow that $8.8 billion, and that comes at a cost.

We asked the Treasurer today to confirm or deny that the impact of the borrowing of $8.8 billion is more than an extra $1 billion in interest repayments over the next four years. He would not answer. He would not confirm nor deny that to the House. He could not deny it, and he would not confirm it, because he does not want to admit that the cost of his cheap political tactic is to give the Australian people a bill of more than $1 billion in increased interest repayments. There is no better example than this of the hypocrisy of this government. The Treasurer came into this chamber and bluffed and blustered. He is like a B-grade actor in the C-grade sitcom which is this government. Maybe he is a C-grade actor in a C-grade sitcom, but the bluff and the bluster will not work.

The Treasurer stood on the opposite side of the chamber a few moments ago and tried to bully this House. He said, 'If you don't pass the debt increase you'll be responsible.' He said, 'We'll have to make cuts so that we do not go over the debt limit.' He will not have to make cuts so that we do not go over the debt limit; he can just accept the will of the parliament. The will of the parliament is to increase the debt cap to $400 billion if that is what happens in the Senate. I feel that, because of the indications that are coming from the Senate, the simple fact is that the government will not get parliamentary approval. If you get parliamentary approval good luck to you, but if you do not get parliamentary approval you will have to accept the will of the parliament. The will of the parliament is to give you an increase in the debt limit, but not half a trillion. You have not justified it. You have not made the case. You have not done what you said you would do in opposition. You have treated this parliament with arrogant contempt.

We will move an amendment in this House, Madam Speaker, in the consideration in detail stage. The amendment will replace the term '$500 billion' with '$400 billion'. We will press that amendment in the House. It will probably not pass. My colleagues in the Senate will move the same amendment. If it passes this government has a choice. The Treasurer can beat his chest and do his old huff-and-puff act, which he is very, very good at. He can say, 'We won't cop it.' He has a choice. He can have an increase in the debt limit tonight or he cannot. It is up to him.

If he wants to hold this parliament and the Australian people to ransom, because he has made the political calculation that he does not want to come back before the House and justify further increases in the debt limit, then that is a matter for him. But I can tell him, through you, Madam Speaker, that we will be holding him to account. If he thinks that we are going to blithely go along with his arrogant theatrics and say, 'Okay, Joe, you said you'd pay down the debt, but now you're not going to, and you're going to increase the debt to half a trillion. We'll go along with it,' well, he has made a mistake.

I hope the Treasurer does the responsible thing. I hope he remembers at some point that he is the duly commissioned Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia and has responsibilities. It is a very high office and it is an office that I have been honoured to hold—it is a huge honour—and it is an office that I will hold again someday. It is a great responsibility that the Treasurer has, and he should live up to that responsibility and do the right thing by the Australian people and accept the will of the parliament. He should accept the view of the parliament that this is a clear example of where the government has campaigned for one thing and is governing to do another. It has campaigned to reduce debt and is governing to increase the debt limit. If he does not do that, he will be held responsible for the results.