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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12561

Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (16:00): Wouldn't you know it? This happens every time. I seem to follow the Assistant Treasurer, the member for Lindsay, every time we have a matter of public importance, which gives him an opportunity to defend the position of the government. He did not spend one second defending any position of the government. It was just another exercise in cheap shots, anecdotes and all the rest. As usual, he scurries off. It is a fruitless exercise but it does reinforce the point about this whole debate—that is, that the failure to outline a plan to return to surplus in MYEFO is yet again just another symbol, another example of the failure now for many years to present any sort of vision, any sort of road map as to where they are taking the country. That is why there is a crisis of confidence in Australia. That is why people are saving like there is no tomorrow. That is why businesses are sitting on, in many cases, very healthy balance sheets. There is no confidence about investing in this country and it largely stems from the absence of leadership.

There is failure, from the Prime Minister down, to articulate what this government will do not just to deal with the problems but to set us up for the opportunities. How can adding $257 billion of debt to Australia—and growing—be consistent with the rhetoric we heard over the weekend about Asia? We have the minister responsible for Asia now in the House. How can Australia properly take advantage of what should be a miraculous, spectacular three decades—in my view—if we are burdened with the highest debt this country has ever had? If you add federal and state debt together, we have nearly half a trillion dollars of debt and it is growing. There is nothing in the MYEFO or in the budget before it which shows that this government has any idea, has any prospect, has any concept of how it is going to take Australia to a better place. On 30 August this year the Australian Financial Review wrote a telling editorial in which it observed:

… going forward, the budget is facing a black hole of colossal proportions and Labor has no strategy to deal with it.

That is what the community thinks. Here is a government now with a black hole of colossal proportions. This is after, by the way, years of growth. Farmers will tell you that if you have a bunch of good seasons in a row then you put hay away for when you need it, when the bad season comes.

This government keeps telling us about trend growth and we do know that we have had the biggest mining boom and 150 years. Compared with the rest of the world, we are so blessed yet we have a debt going through the ceiling; we have a government with a colossal black hole. We saw not one thing in the budget which suggested how this government would pay for $120 billion of commitments that it floated are going to be made in the years ahead.

You watch at the next election the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The government will claim credit for having introduced it. We are so far away from it that it does not matter. It is a con on the Australian public but, most importantly, on the most disadvantaged people in our community. They are being misled to believe that it is just around the corner, that it is funded and that it is deliverable. This government has no moral fibre. To go out there and mislead people in this way is a disgrace, an absolute disgrace. It is because, as the Financial Review said, Labor has no strategy to deal with it, none whatsoever.

We saw nothing from the member for Lindsay. The Assistant Treasurer, would you believe, had 15 minutes to quietly and confidently articulate a case for the plan they have got to deliver a surplus. What did we hear? Nothing but cheap shots straight out of the Labor-union book of how to play politics. It is a game to them. It is game of politics, it is not about using politics to get in good policy. It is about playing with people's minds and with policy to deliver politics and power. That is the objective.

This absence of a plan or strategy that the Financial Review spoke about and the growing colossal black hole that the Financial Review also spoke about on August 23 are not new developments. The failure of this government to outline a plan to return Australia to surplus has been with us for some time as have the growing consequences. I am not normally in the habit of quoting myself but I thought it would be instructive to remind people of what we on this side of the House and so many others over the last two or three years have been saying. It is instructive to go back and see what the nature of this debate was two years ago. I quote from a speech I gave on 16 February 2011. Right back then they were making cast-iron promises about a surplus in 2012-13 and it helped them get through the 2010 election.

They forecast nirvana. They forecast these things and then, when they do not happen, say, 'We've had to deal with some setbacks.' A 150-year high in terms of trade—what a setback that was! That was really bad luck! A 350 per cent increase in commodity prices—oh, shock, horror! How bad is that, to have to deal with those sorts of problems! I feel so sorry! But to go back to what was said nearly two years ago:

Any "illusory" surplus in 2012-13 ignores the spending commitments being made during the boom times that still need to be met when the boom tapers off and revenues fall.

We were talking about terms of trade coming off—not collapsing but coming off—two years ago. But what did the government do? It ignored this advice. I went on to say:

On top of that, several leading economists claimed last week that a potential $7.4bn black hole existed in the mining tax forecasts due to the "highly risky" revenue stream.

Here we are: leading officials, leading business people and leading economists were warning two years ago that this mining tax was not going to deliver a cent. But the government blithely went on. They have been beating their breasts. They have been lying and obfuscating and misleading the population again and again and again.

Dr Emerson: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Consistent with the standing orders, I seek a withdrawal of the claim that this government has been lying. We know that the man who is at the dispatch box himself has a $70-billion black hole. He might tell the truth about that.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): The member for Goldstein will withdraw the word.

Mr ROBB: I withdraw. The minister opposite talks about black holes. Again, I refer the minister to 30 August—a $120-billion colossal black hole. We are not saying this; this is an analysis by the most respectable financial paper in the country.

In that same speech I went on:

As a consequence of the blowout in the structural deficit, the cloud over the amount and volatility of the mining tax revenue and the potential collapse of revenue if the terms of trade drop … Swan and Penny Wong must guarantee full disclosure of the estimated structural deficit in this year's budget papers.

Well, of course, all of that is what we have seen in the last two years. The government has not responded to any of it. We have a government that has no direction and must be gone.