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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5290

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (3:08 PM) —As I said before question time, you can always get a rise out of Senator Conroy and the opposition when you get them talking about the debt that the Australian Labor Party ran up when it was in government. Senator Conroy does not like the fact that the only issue he can find to challenge the government on is economic management. In the latest Bulletin, Laurie Oakes said that it is `a two-edged sword for Labor', because, every time the issue is raised, the government reminds Labor that the reason we are dealing with the difficult issue of foreign currency exposure is that the Australian Labor Party ran up tens of billions of dollars worth of debt during its time in control of the exchequer in Australia. I see that Senator Conroy is slinking out of the chamber because he does not like to be reminded of Labor's bad economic management. But his leader, Mr Crean, accused the Treasurer of being `asleep at the roulette wheel'.

I note that, in his contributions, Senator Conroy likes to talk about gambling losses. Gambling is a term that you cannot apply to the Treasurer or to the Howard government. It is a government that has come into government with a determination to make good economic management its hallmark, because, on our side of the chamber, we members of the government know that good economic management delivers quality, high living standards and security for people, wherever they live, in Australia. We know that, if you can repay the debt that Labor ran up, you can reduce interest rates. All the people who live in the suburbs and across the country and in regional areas of Australia are paying lower interest rates on their farms, their small businesses and their homes as a result of the sound economic management of this government. In fact, we are repaying the debt that was run up by Senator Conroy's mob— the Australian Labor Party, the wreckers of the Australian economy—in two spectacular periods of Labor government in the second half of the last century.

We had, of course, the Whitlam experiment of economic management that saw government expenditure go from 21 per cent up to nearly 26 per cent of GDP, with the second biggest tax rises in Australian history. Then, in 1975, the Whitlam government was turfed out ignominiously. Not content with that, we had Mr Whitlam's friends from the New South Wales Right move back into the federal Treasury in the guise of Mr Keating. And what did Mr Keating and one of his finance ministers, Mr Beazley, and his other cabinet minister, Mr Crean, do when they got there? They actually outdid Mr Whitlam in tax increases. Not only did they outdo Mr Whitlam on tax increases; they outdid Mr Whitlam on cranking up debt. The record shows, the Treasury figures show and the budgets show that they ran up debt to $96 billion. They did not quite crack triple figures, but they were on their way. What did we do? We came in and, through sound economic management, cutting expenditure where we could and using privatisation proceeds to repay debt, we have reduced that debt by about $60 billion in the first six years of the Howard-Costello economic management team.

So Labor come in here today and say, `But you've lost money on foreign currency swaps.' It is foreign loans that we are trying to get rid of. We are seeking to repay those loans. Labor have stopped us by opposing privatisations but they have said that we are at the roulette wheel. These are the people who walked up to the roulette wheel, put all the money on it and rolled the dice. But we have gone to that roulette wheel—if you want to use that analogy—to get all the money off it, yet Labor are saying, `No, we want you up there; we want you to expose to that risk,' and they have the hypocrisy to walk into this place once again and accuse us. We want to get rid of the foreign debt; we want to get rid of the government debt, but Labor want to keep it. That is the clear policy difference on this. There is no other difference. In terms of the allegation that it was a $1 billion loss, the fact is that that stock actually gained in value by $1.2 billion in the last year, so it was not a loss; it was actually a gain. I suggest to Senator Conroy that, if he wants to have a debate on this, he should get his facts right. (Time expired)