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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 8413


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:09): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Brandis today relating to the Budget.

Since the 2010 election the centrepiece of this government's economic policy and fiscal policy has been to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13. That is the foundation of their economic credibility. There is no promise, there is no commitment, there is no assurance more fundamental than that reiterated again and again and again. One could be forgiven for being sceptical of that promise, given that not only has this government never produced a surplus budget but its four budgets for which we have the final budget outcome so far have consecutively produced the four greatest budget deficits in Australian history. So one might be sceptical of a government promising to produce a budget surplus when it has won the gold, silver, bronze and runner-up medals for the four worst budget deficits in Australian history. One might be sceptical of that but there can be no doubt about this: it has promised time and time again that bringing the budget back to surplus in 2012-13 was the foundation of its fiscal strategy.

I do not warrant the comprehensiveness of this research but I can tell you, Mr Deputy President, that since the beginning of 2011 we have found at least 30 separate occasions when the Prime Minister has promised that the 2012-13 budget would be brought back to surplus—at least 30 occasions. And in the same period the Treasurer, Mr Swan, so far as our research takes us, has promised on at least 15 occasions that the budget would be brought back to surplus. So, Mr Deputy President, even for a famously dishonest government you would think that no fewer than 45 separate promises in the space of 20 months would be enough to give you an indication of the government's intention.

Yesterday in the House of Representatives the shadow Treasurer, Mr Hockey, asked the Prime Minister a direct question: does the Prime Minister stand by her promise to deliver a budget surplus this year? To nobody's surprise, there was a very rapid shifting ground on the part of the Prime Minister. In the space of a column and a half recorded in Hansard, the Prime Minister waffled, the Prime Minister procrastinated, the Prime Minister stonewalled, but never was she prepared to reiterate what she has said more than 30 times since the beginning of last year, that the government promised to bring the budget back to surplus.

It might be that the Prime Minister was distracted by the manifold scandals surrounding her government. Maybe she was not concentrating. So we thought that today we would give her Finance Minister, Senator Penny Wong, the opportunity to set the record straight. I asked Senator Penny Wong the very same question that Mr Hockey in another place asked the Prime Minister yesterday: does the government still promise to bring the budget back to surplus by 2012-13? But not a promise, not a forecast. So I asked her again in the first supplementary and I asked her again in the second supplementary, and on each of those three occasions it reminded me of chapter 36 of the Gospel according to St Matthew when St Peter denied Christ thrice.

On three occasions—three out of three—given the opportunity to reaffirm the promise that lies at the heart of this government's fiscal strategy, Senator Penny Wong resiled from repeating that promise. Thrice she denied it. (Time expired)