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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 39


Senator FERGUSON (3:11 PM) —It seems as though Senator Sherry has had to fill in for the last few days of the sittings of this parliament because the only issues that have been raised have been economic issues. There does not seem to be anything else of any importance. Senator Sherry accuses Senator Minchin of misleading the Senate. It is no wonder that Senator Sherry leaves this chamber immediately he has spoken because if anybody is misleading the Senate it is Senator Sherry. Senator Sherry comes from a party that has some form. If he thinks that what has been said in this chamber in recent times is misleading, he ought to look back at what the leader of his own party said in 1996 when he said that the budget was in surplus when in fact there was a $10 billion deficit. If ever there was any misleading statement made by a minister, then it was by his own current leader, who misled the Australian public when he said that the budget was in surplus but there was a $10 billion deficit.

Senator Sherry comes in here and says that it was pointed out in the Senate that Minister Minchin’s answers were incorrect. Who says they are incorrect? None other than Senator Sherry. Senator Sherry says that Senator Minchin’s answers were not correct. It is the same Senator Sherry whose own leader misled the Australian public some 10 years ago to the extent of $10 billion. It is the same Senator Sherry who repeats the same figures and the same arguments in relation to the taxation figures of the OECD, a matter on which I will have something to say directly.

Senator Sherry also talks about the record foreign debt. The only thing that Senator Sherry can lay claim to is the fact that he was part of a government that had a record government debt. The one thing that this government can do and has done is make sure it did something about the horrendous levels of government debt that occurred under the Hawke and Keating governments. It bears repeating—$96 billion of government debt that the Hawke and Keating governments were responsible for. Because of the sound economic policies of the Howard government, that government debt has been reduced to some $23 billion. That is the sort of responsible economic management that Senator Sherry ought to be congratulating the government on. He ought to be congratulating the government on making sure that the government’s portion of the debt that has currently been accumulated by Australia is some $23 billion.

The measure of debt really is in the ability to repay. The ability to repay the record $423 million of foreign debt that currently exists—$400 billion of which is private debt—is demonstrated by the fact that our economy has grown twice as much since that time of the $96 billion government debt. The economic record of this government in making sure that we have low wage growth and low inflation and the fact that we have low interest rates have meant that we have been able to repay the debt accumulated by the Hawke and Keating governments. This government has made sure that, in repaying that debt, we have the ability to service any debt that currently exists. Also, the one way to counteract a huge foreign debt and its impact on the economy is to make sure that we run surplus budgets. Seven out of the nine budgets delivered by the current Treasurer, Peter Costello, have been surplus budgets, which have increased the downward pressure on interest rates and the downward pressure on inflation and kept our economy in good stead.

Senator Sherry talked about the OECD report. Much has been said about the OECD report but, as was the case in 2003, the OECD report shows that the average Australian worker, once again, has the second highest disposable income in the OECD. That is the important statistic. Taking tax and benefits into account, average Australian workers have higher real incomes than average workers in any other country except South Korea. That is the important statistic that Senator Sherry should be reinforcing in this chamber, because the sound economic management of this government has put us in the position now that Australian workers are better off than they ever were during the Hawke and Keating years between 1983 and 1996. This chamber should never be allowed to forget it.