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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1706


Mr CIOBO (MoncrieffParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and ParliamentarySecretary to the Minister for Trade and Investment) (19:43): An interesting thing occurred a month or so ago, when the people of Greece, in the majority, elected a government that stood on an anti-austerity platform. I think there were large numbers of people around the world who were a little incredulous at that outcome. This was not because we do not have great affection for the Greeks. We do—we recognise Greece as the birthplace of civilisation and democratic government in many respects. But the thing that struck as passing strange was that for a country that was so fiscally challenged, for a country so beset with debt and deficit, the majority of Greek people actually elected a government that said, 'We can ignore the financial challenges we have. The pathway forward is more spending. Sure—as a country, Greece is absolutely up to its eyeballs in debt, but don't worry—we'll spend our way out of it, we'll borrow more money and we'll go forward more strongly than ever before.'

Anyone who has dealt with debt—be it a personal loan, be it credit card debt, be it a mortgage, or perhaps on a larger scale, be it in an enterprise or be it in government—recognises the folly of that approach. But that is not to say that there is not a certain siren song to that message. That is not to say that there is not a false attractiveness about being told when times are tough, 'Look, things don't need to be this tough. You're the victim here. You need to recognise that you don't actually have to undertake any of the financial hard work that goes with the circumstances you are facing but rather you can just wait and ask for more money, ask for more time or ask for others to do the heavy lifting when you yourself don't want to do it.' Instinctively, it is attractive. It is an attractive thing to say to someone who is burdened by a problem, be it financial or be it being overweight. I am overweight. If somebody said to me, 'Steve, you don't need to worry about the hard work that goes with making the right meal choices or exercising. She'll be right. We'll do it another way,' instinctively, it would be attractive. That is precisely what happened in Greece.

This is the same siren song that we hear from the Australian Labor Party today. I have seen Labor members stand up in this chamber in this debate around the appropriation bills and the budget and say how the Australian people have been unfairly punished, and I have heard Australian Labor Party members explain to people that it is quite okay because Australia's debt-to-GDP ratio is not that bad in the grand scheme of things—'Hell, compared to Greece we look fantastic! Compared to Japan, you would say Australia never looked better.' You hear Labor members make this claim but if you know something about the history of this nation you know that our low debt-to-GDP ratio has nothing to do with the Australian Labor Party.

The former Labor government in six short years took us from $50 billion in savings to a pathway where we were approaching $667 billion of anticipated peak debt. Why? It was not because of any financial management on the part of the Australian Labor Party, no. The Labor Party just ran around and said that, pretty much, people could have whatever they wanted. That was their political formula for success. It was to not say no at any stage but just to say yes—'If economic times are tough, rundown the assets, go into debt, borrow more money and say to the Australian people, "But we are doing it for a good reason. It's to save Australia from the GFC."'

They made promises about $80 billion of spending on health and education. They pushed it out beyond the forward years, beyond the budget estimates, into the out years so that they could say of their great vision, 'Look at us: we're the wonderful Australian Labor Party. We are going to put all this extra money into health spending. Don't worry, Aussie kids. We'll look after you. We're the Australian Labor Party and these are Labor values.' That is the kind of rhetoric that we hear from the Australian Labor Party. Day in and day out, it is the same old broken refrain. They say to Australian children, 'We've got your back, kids. It's all right. We're going to invest in your future.' But the money is never on the table. The money is always beyond the forward estimates.

When I went to see school projects in my electorate when Labor were in government and I would see some Labor senator standing there, chest puffed out, crowing about Labor's great vision under the Building the Education Revolution, I would turn around to the students, parents or teachers who were there and say, 'I hope you enjoy this facility. I genuinely do.' I do hope they enjoy the facility that they paid for because they are going to paying off that facility for the next 20 or 30 years. Children in grade 6 will be paying off Labor's debt to build that school hall for 20 or 30 years. So I hope they enjoy those facilities because they are going to be paying for them for a very long time.

Labor says, 'Don't worry about the debt-to-GDP ratios. Australia's is low.' That is just because of the fortitude of the previous coalition government which for 12 years worked and scrimped and saved to make sure that we paid down Labor's debt from last time to zero. Labor members say, 'Oh, no. It was the rivers of gold.' There is always a convenient excuse when you are in the Australian Labor Party. You must get it when you sign up. You must get your membership form and then get a book of excuses. Labor say, 'But it was the rivers of gold.' They conveniently ignore the fact that the terms of trade were better under the Australian Labor Party than they ever were under the coalition. If you want to talk about rivers of gold, the rivers of gold never ran so wide or so deep as they did when Labor was in power, and yet Labor still managed to spend tens of billions of dollars more money than they were able to recoup in revenue.

I can very comfortably say not only to my children but to other Australian children, 'I will never succumb to the temptation to tell you just what you want to hear.' Rather, I was elected into this chamber to stand up for what I know to be right, to reject a failed so-called pragmatic approach that says to future generations, 'We will steal off you to pay for today's spending.' That is Labor's approach. That is the Greens approach. That is the Palmer United approach. But it will not be the coalition's approach. I will never be part of a government that says to future generations, 'It is our right to put you in a worse position than we want to live in today.' Thank heavens our forefathers never did that. Thank heavens past generations of Australians never succumbed to the lazy, sloppy approach of the Australian Labor Party that says, 'Ah, she'll be right. You can pay it back in the future.' We have had bouts of that approach. Thankfully, they have been shallow bouts. But it was the coalition that did the heavy lifting to make sure that we paid down that debt back to zero.

If you want to see what happens when you adopt Labor's approach, look at the United States's debt-to-GDP ratio. Look at Japan's debt-to-GDP ratio. Look at Europe's debt-to-GDP ratio. Look at what happens when countries box themselves into a fiscal corner, where debt and deficit is so bad that unemployment spikes to 25 per cent, 27 per cent or 28 per cent in southern European countries. Look at what happens when countries get themselves into a situation like the situation Greece got itself into, because that is precisely where this nation will end up if we adopt Labor's policy pragmatism. That is precisely where this country will end up if we follow, to the logical conclusion, Labor's approach that says that we do not need to worry about fiscal discipline.

I readily concede that Labor's approach makes them more electorally popular. Sure, it is easy to be Santa Claus. It is easy to say to people, 'You can have whatever you want.' It is easy to run around the country saying, 'We're opposed to reductions in education and health'—even though, incidentally, that is not real, because they were always in the so-called out-years.

The Labor Party runs around saying, 'We're appalled by reductions in foreign aid spending.' They run around saying, 'We don't like what is happening in terms of defence. We don't like the reductions in the motorcar industry. We don't like that there have been changes made to industry policy. We don't like that there have been changes proposed to Medicare. We don't like that there are proposed changes in relation to Welfare to Work.' All these things Labor is opposed to but, unfortunately, there is a price tag attached to every single one of them.

The hypocrisy is laid bare when you consider that the Australian Labor Party today is still opposing billions of dollars worth of savings that Labor themselves announced. They announced them, they booked them as savings, and now they stand opposed to them in the Senate. Australians know that that is rank hypocrisy of the type that they have come to expect over the years from the Australian Labor Party.

I am proud to be part of a government that is involved in prudent decision-making and prudent investment. I am proud to be part of a government that does not tell people what they want to hear, but rather gives them the state of play as it actually is. We still have very significant challenges. We know that the budget deficit is still in the order of $30 billion or $40 billion. These are not insubstantial amounts of money; these are significant amounts of money, and they represent very real challenges.

There are still an array of important projects that this government has been able to fund out of the existing budget. And I am certainly pleased that the Gold Coast, Australia's sixth largest city, has been a beneficiary of a number of measures in the budget—reasonable measures; measures that are sustainable; measures that are funded appropriately; measures that are important because they meet priorities of the people that I represent. The city has been the beneficiary, for example, of road funding, CCTV, Green Army projects, and even Commonwealth Games funding. These are important projects that matter to my electorate. They are projects that, sure, would be considered by some to be modest. But they are important projects because they make a difference to people's standard of living and they make a difference to the productivity of our city.

I am not going to stand up and make lofty claims about what a coalition government will be able to fund and be able to do. We have to live within our means. That is priority No. 1 for any government. The appropriation debate that we are having tonight really encapsulates the difference between this side of the parliament and Labor's side of the parliament. We will take the necessary action to make sure, as a country, that we live within our means and that we put downward pressure, over the medium to long term, on Australia's debt-to-GDP ratio and the level of debt and deficit. I cannot, in good faith, allow policy settings that see us borrowing $100 million a day, allow a situation where we spend $1 billion a month of borrowed money to pay interest on the debt that Labor left behind—forecast to reach $2.8 billion a month. That is $2.8 billion a month of interest repayments—borrowed money, every last dollar of it—to pay for the failed policies of the former Labor government.

So, I am pleased that the coalition is prepared to take hard decisions—sometimes unpopular decisions—that are in our national interest because they put as on a pathway to sustainability. We will make changes that are appropriate to reflect what we need to do in order to get reforms through the Senate, but the fundamental problem remains that the Labor Party, the Greens and members of the crossbench remain obstinate in their opposition to the tough but fair decisions that we have to make. There is no greater equity—not one!—in the life of any country than for one generation to leave the nation in a stronger position to the generation that follows it. That is something that Labor rejects but it is something I and the coalition will always embrace, and that underpins our policy approach, always.