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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5145


Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (17:48): This is a budget that is based on spin and deception. This is a budget that achieves a meagre surplus based on sleight of hand rather than sound economic management. The Treasurer said this is a Labor budget, that it is 'Labor to its bootstraps'. And he is right. This is a Labor budget that breaks promises and makes new ones. This is a Labor budget that increases taxes and makes no genuine attempt to rein in spending. This is a Labor budget that reintroduces class warfare and the politics of envy. This is a Labor budget that does not seek to grow the economic pie but, instead, to reallocate its pieces. As we saw in last year's budget, the debt ceiling is being increased. At the same time as the Treasurer seeks to convince Australians that the budget is in surplus, they are increasing the credit card limit of this country by another $50 billion. This shows that not even the Treasurer thinks that he will deliver a surplus and by hiding the increase of the debt ceiling in Appropriations Bill No. 2 the parliament does not get a chance to debate this measure independently of the budget. According to the Australian Office of Financial Management, there is currently about $227 billion worth of Commonwealth bonds on issue, about $221 billion of which is factored towards the current $250 billion debt ceiling. This government's excessive spending has required them to raise the debt ceiling to more than three times the Keating Labor government's previous record deficit of $96 billion that took the coalition government nearly a decade to repay. I say excessive spending because this government is spending more than $100 billion a year more than the last Howard-Costello budget. To put that in perspective, that is a 40 per cent increase in the size of spending over a four-year period when inflation for the same period has been 13 per cent. The reason members of the coalition speak about debt is that the coalition knows what it meant to pay off Labor's debt when we were last in government. We are the only party capable of repaying debt and generating a real surplus.

Only weeks ago the Prime Minister was promising that there would be money in this budget for a national disability insurance scheme. The funding announced in this year's budget showed that this announcement was a cruel hoax on those families who were waiting for a real national disability insurance scheme. Because of this government's poor record on the delivery of programs, the coalition have extended the invitation to create a joint committee of the parliament to be co-chaired by the disabilities frontbenchers from both sides of politics. This would provide non-partisan cross-party support for the oversight and implementation of the NDIS because an NDIS should be owned by the parliament and by the nation as a whole.

Why raise the NDIS straight after Labor's record levels of debt? Because the interest payments on that very debt are reaching an alarming $8.2 billion and this $8.2 billion interest bill would fully fund a fully implemented national disability insurance scheme. That is the demon of debt, that the interest bill that comes with it restricts the ability of future governments to deliver services. Until a coalition government is elected and the debt is repaid, the interest bill will be reducing the ability of those governments to deliver to the Australian people. I will speak more on the Pacific Highway later in my contribution, but $8.2 billion would cover the cost of the complete duplication of the Pacific Highway. Just one year's interest bill would complete the duplication of this dangerous road.

One of the real concerns about this budget is that, as I said, it is a budget bill on sleight of hand. There are a number of accounting tricks that have been used to manufacture a surplus for next year. The first of those is to bring forward spending from next year into this year, blowing the projected budget deficit from the original projection of $12 billion to $44 billion. I ask you, Deputy Speaker, would you believe a Treasurer who predicted $12 billion and delivered a $44 billion deficit when he was promising a $1.5 billion surplus? It is a very skinny margin indeed. Ironically, the plan to spend this money early will increase the interest paid on the debt to fund it, as the money is being borrowed for a longer time. The Australian taxpayer is again paying more for the failings of this government.

The second accounting trick that the government has relied on to claim a surplus next year is to have massive cuts in the range of government programs for the 2012-13 year only. Effectively what the government is doing is appropriating next year's funding in this financial year or pushing it out into 2013-14. As the shadow Treasurer pointed out last week at the National Press Club, the coal sector jobs package will cost $220 million this year, $10 million next year and, miraculously, $220 million in the year after that. Once again it is a sleight of hand. The best way that this government could support coal sector jobs is by dropping the tax that was not mentioned in the budget speech, the tax that it does not want to name, the carbon tax. The Energy Security Fund is another example of a 12-month spending freeze, with spending going from $1 billion this year down to $1 million next year and $1 billion the year after that. The third and largest trick the government has played to create a surplus is to take key expenditure items off budget. The NBN and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation are off budget and NBN spending, for example, of $5.8 billion is not included in the calculations of the current forecast surplus.

Although the promise of the 43rd Parliament was transparency, this government has done no such thing with spending in this budget, and the NBN is a clear example. If the government wanted to be transparent with its spending, it would have included the cost of the NBN on budget. If the government wanted to be transparent about the cost of the NBN, it would have asked for a cost-benefit analysis of the project, rather than pretending it was trying to create a project that provided value for taxpayers' money over and above what was spent. We will believe that when we see it. As highlighted by Tony Abbott in his recent budget reply speech, the $50 billion for the NBN would have been sufficient to duplicate the Pacific Highway, Sydney's M5, the road between Hobart and Launceston, build the M4 East in Sydney, the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane's cross-city rail, upgrade Perth airport and still leave $10 billion to upgrade faster broadband.

The government's budget was also a major disappointment to North Coast residents with regard to the Pacific Highway. In the lead-up to the Treasurer's speech there had been leaks about what funds were being committed. For example, we had the member for Lyne posturing about expending political capital in order to deliver the highway funding. This was nothing more than political theatre from the member for Lyne who has betrayed his constituents by propping up this incompetent government, a government that hinders the stability of our economy and threatens the very standing of this parliament.

On budget night we found out that the devil was in the detail with regard to the additional funding for the Pacific Highway. Importantly there was no additional funding next financial year to accelerate the highway. The fact only confirmed what I have been saying for some time, that the 2016 deadline for this road will not be achieved. It is a reality that has been evident for some time, but denied by this government. According to the New South Wales government's most recent Pacific Highway update, as of the 29 February 2012, 346 kilometres of the highway are completed dual carriageway, about 60 kilometres are under construction and 121 kilometres have received planning approval and are now being prepared for construction; about 50 per cent of the final highway length of 664 kilometres is now dual carriageway. Anyone who believes the remaining 318 kilometres will be completed by the end of 2016 is not being fair dinkum with North Coast residents.

Back to the budget and the devil being in the detail. The budget does set aside $3.6 billion for a nation-building program between 2013-14 and 2016-17 to 'enable further major infrastructure projects'. The government only suggests 'this funding could be allocated towards the Pacific Highway duplication'. However, that funding is conditional on the New South Wales government's funding contribution. We have heard a lot of talk from the member for Lyne and Minister Albanese about Pacific Highway funding, but unless this is an unconditional commitment to the road this is nothing more than hot air.

The Pacific Highway is the most important road project in the nation. It is essential that this funding be quarantined for the highway. North Coast communities want governments to stop the bickering and get on with the job of duplicating the road. They are sick of political power plays that have become a hallmark of the former state Labor government with the likes of Joe Tripodi, Michael Costa and Carl Scully when they were state minister for roads. I thought the House of Representatives had moved on from the situation when the current federal minister honoured the funding commitment set aside by the Howard government and provided additional funding for the Kempsey bypass which was welcome indeed.

I believe that all levels of government should be committing the maximum amount possible to get this dangerous road duplicated as quickly as possible. I am already on record saying that the maximum amount of funding should be targeted towards black spots with the worst accident records and getting the trucks off the main streets of our local communities. In my view the next project which should receive funding commitment is the Warrell Creek to Urunga section where 27 people have lost their lives in the past five years. Whilst there is a commitment for Nambucca Heads to Urunga, that needs to be extended further south down to Worrall Creek, to take the traffic out of the main street of Macksville and to bypass the notorious Macksville bridge, which is now decades past its use-by date. There needs to be bipartisan support for completing this highway just as quickly as possible.

Kempsey Hospital is an important piece of medical infrastructure in my electorate and I would like to note that there was $40 million from the Commonwealth to fund the upgrade of Kempsey Hospital, which is being matched, dollar for dollar, by the state. This funding is long overdue and I would certainly like to acknowledge those in the Kempsey community who have worked so hard to push for this upgrade. Whilst I am not in a position to recognise everyone, I would like to note the energy of former Kempsey shire council mayor John Bowell, the current mayor, Liz Campbell, the medical staff of the hospital and the wider Macleay Valley community. Just four years ago I launched a petition on this issue with John and Liz and nurses Di Lohman, Jennifer Clarke, Jo Hensler and Linda Weir. In no time we had some 4,400 signatures from across the shire, and I tabled the petition in the parliament later that year. Whilst it has been a long wait, the Kempsey Hospital upgrade will certainly be a welcome increase in the capacity to deliver medical services to the people of the Macleay Valley. I think it is a project which will be certainly welcome for years to come.

But the real concern in relation to this budget is, as I said, that it is a budget bottom line by a sleight of hand, it is a budget bottom line that depends on very optimist forecasts, it is a budget bottom line that, with the Treasurer's past performance, you have no confidence will be achieved. There is no confidence that he will actually achieve it. This is a Treasurer that has delivered some of the biggest budget deficits in our nation's history. To think that miraculously through shuffling the money around he can come up with a surplus does, I think, certainly defy credulity. I think that people have a right to certainly suspect that this Treasurer will not be able to deliver. He has not delivered in the past and he is unlikely to deliver this time. He is certainly quite happy to shackle this economy to a devastating carbon tax, a carbon tax that can only depress economic activity, a carbon tax that can only make the budget outcome worse, a carbon tax that is so reviled by the Australian people that he did not even mention it in his budget speech, a carbon tax that those on the other side of the chamber do not want to mention. It is about time that the government faced reality and looked towards repealing the carbon tax.

We in opposition cannot save them from themselves, but certainly their voters are very unhappy. When you walk down the street of any town in Australia, what is the number one subject that comes up? It is the carbon tax: the impact of the carbon tax on 'my cost of living', the impact of the carbon tax on 'my business'. There is the fact that people have lost confidence in the ability of this government because primarily of the broken promise on the carbon tax. This carbon tax is not good for Australia. This carbon tax is not good for the Labor government. It is a major factor in the revulsion that is out there in the electorate as a result of this broken promise on this carbon tax. There is the ridiculous nature of the tax, of imposing a far greater level of taxation on this country than is imposed anywhere in the world. It is about time the government came to its senses, listened to the opposition and looked towards repealing this tax. It is a tax that is only going to drive Australia further into debt. It is a tax that is only going to drive up unemployment. It is a tax that is going to deny young people opportunity. It is a tax that is even going to tax you to dump rubbish. It is an amazing tax. It is a tax that only Labor could come up with. So incompetent has been its implementation that we have councils who do not even know whether they are going to have a tax liability or not. Forty days out from the implementation of the carbon tax they still do not know which council it applies to. This is a budget that is not going to take Australia forward. This is a budget that is just going to muddle on in the Labor way, as we have seen from this current administration.