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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5090


Senator RYAN (Victoria) (16:17): In that fantastic contribution from Senator Feeney we saw the very point of the motion moved by Senator Fifield. The modern-day Labor Party is really only expert at one thing, and that is in dissembling the English language and trying to redefine a reality that may work in the confines of this chamber for those on the opposite side and their Greens allies but does not work anywhere else in the community. We see at a state and now at a federal level a pattern of behaviour by the modern-day Labor Party that is all about raising expectations and breaching promises. They are irredeemable recidivists in this regard. It is the most potent aspect of what we might call the modern Labor disease.

I note that Senator Feeney did use the phrase, when he was talking about this government's record, that it kept its 'most important promises'. I do not think any Australian could legitimately not think that was a comedy performance, because it was this government and this Prime Minister who, days before the last poll, stared down the barrel of a camera and said: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government that I lead.' It is fair to say that politicians do not always have the best reputation in the community for keeping their promises. But can I tell you there is something particularly important about a promise not to do something, and that is why this government is going to be held accountable by the Australian people. It is why this side of this chamber and this side of the parliament will not let up on holding to account the Prime Minister and everyone who voted for that particular policy in the Labor Party.

A promise not to do something is very easy to keep. It is not about suddenly finding there is not enough money to build three schools and you can only build two. It is not about finding that it takes longer to build a freeway so it is not going to be built in four years, it might be built in six. It is not even about telling a fib before an election about thinking you can build a new freeway or a new transport system and knowing that it cannot be done.

The reason this promise to not introduce a carbon tax is so lethal to our political system is it impacts on the level of trust politicians more generally are held in. It is because this government and this Prime Minister had to do nothing to keep it. It is a promise that required no activity for the government to keep its word. It is a promise that required the Prime Minister to do nothing in order to keep it. The Australian people know that a promise not to do something, that requires nothing to be done for that word to be kept, is a simple promise to keep. But, no, this Prime Minister, along with the Greens allies and the Independent allies in the lower house, decided that their interests and in particular this Prime Minister's interest in staying in the Lodge—those very private interests of the Labor Party—were more important than keeping faith with the Australian people. That promise to not do something, that promise that required no activity, no action, no measure of effort to keep, other than to stay seated and keep one's mouth shut—that promise will hang around the neck of the Labor Party and hang around the neck of this Prime Minister because the people, quite rightly, do not forgive them.

I note Senator Feeney also talked about this government's economic policies. He talked about so-called record cuts in spending. He also mentioned Europe, and what we are learning from Europe now is that so-called cuts against projected growth in spending, while spending in absolute terms increases, are not budget cuts whatsoever. This idea that we are going to cut budget growth from four per cent a year to two per cent a year in absolute terms but all of a sudden that means we are cutting substantially from levels of government expenditure is not a cut to the budget. A cut the budget is spending less next year than this year. It is a very simple equation that every household and every small business makes. But, no, to the modern-day Labor Party dissembling the truth, if I thought the budget was growing at a certain percentage and it grows at a lesser percentage I am going to call that a cut in spending.

Similarly, as has been pointed out often in this chamber, a government that counts revenue measures and tax increases as spending cuts—or 'saves' in the modern parlance used by this government and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation—has no credibility whatsoever, because spending continues to increase. When this government came to office, the Commonwealth budget was in the order of $265 billion to $270 billion per annum. It is now $370 billion just because over the last four years we have seen the most extraordinary rate of increase in public expenditure in this country, often on projects that are going to show absolutely no value for those bearing the debt in future generations and repaying the debt—the school halls fiasco, the insulation in our roofs, the general splurge in consultants and the numbers of public servants. That record rate of increase that was in the top three fastest in the OECD shows that somehow to simply say that stopping the rate of growth constitutes a budget cut or constitutes a real saving to the taxpayer is nothing short of a farce.

This government can talk about its level of tax as a percentage of GDP, but what it does not want to talk about is the debt that it has run up. It does not matter if I am only taxing at 22 or 23 per cent of GDP if we are spending at 25 per cent because it is the spending that actually runs up debt. It is the spending that determines eventually how much tax Australians will pay. A budget deficit is nothing more than deferred taxation plus the interest costs. If in a financial year we spend $46 billion more than we collect in tax, as we did last year, that is just deferred taxation. It does not just sit there; at some point it is going to be paid. As we know, in this parliament in budgets today if we are not servicing the interest payments on the debt that this government has run up, there would be enough money in the Commonwealth budget today to fully fund the NDIS as recommended by the Productivity Commission. We are spending $8 billion a year on interest payments for debt that was run up in four short years of this government.

The performance of this government when it comes to the budget is nothing short of extraordinary. They came to office asserting in 2008 that the economy was too hot, that the 'inflation genie was out of the bottle'. We never saw the inflation genie again—we will probably see it again soon the way this government is going. The following year the government preached that the world was about to end so they had to justify spending money on overpriced halls in schoolyards, taking away the ability for kids to run around at lunchtime, and putting insulation in homes and hopefully not burning too many of them down.

In the following two years it was, 'We have saved you from the global economic crisis.' Then for this last budget there was a promised surplus—that we know it is not going to appear—and even then it was based on funny-money accounting. We are spending and taxes were pulled forward and pushed back in order to confect and contrive a budget surplus.

It goes to the very core of what the modern Labor Party are about, where the promise and the spin are more important than the substance. The Labor Party do not care that over this two- or three-year period we are still going to be running budget deficits in the order of $40-plus billion when you add them all up. What they want is a financial year when by pulling forward payments to local governments you can save a couple of billion dollars and by pushing forward some tax collections you can add a couple of billion dollars more to the collection size of the ledger. All they want is to somehow claim that in one financial year before an election they think, they hope, that they may have actually collected more in revenues than they have spent.

But when you are just shuffling money around and not really cutting spending, that is not a real budget surplus. I am quite happy to stand here today and suggest to this chamber that there is no way a real budget surplus will be delivered by this government. Labor has shown that it is incapable of delivering a budget surplus. The issue of the finances of the Commonwealth and the budget goes to the very core of what modern Labor is about. Modern Labor is about raising expectations, the great moral challenge of our time that had to be dropped in order to save a Prime Minister's skin. They will say what they have to in the days leading up to an election: 'There will be no carbon tax in a government that I lead.' Then after an election they will say: 'The people presented us with a hung parliament. To stay in office I had to concede to the wishes and the whims of an extremist party represented by one person in the House of Representatives,' because to the modern-day Labor Party the ends do justify the means. Staying in office is all-important. It does not matter what you actually do; it only matters what you say you will do.

It is a pattern of behaviour from the modern-day Labor Party. It has shown that it cannot be trusted with the budget. It has shown that it cannot be trusted with the promises and commitments that it makes before an election, even with those most basic ones where the government has to do nothing to keep its word. On the carbon tax it simply had to sit there and stay mum. It had to keep quiet and its promise not to introduce a carbon tax would have been fulfilled. History will condemn this Labor Party despite what people may say over and over again in this chamber, because history shows that it cannot be trusted.