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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 2487


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (16:40): This Labor government is a high-spending, high-taxing government that has left us with record levels of debt. This is a government that has delivered four deficits in a row. This is a government that, even though they have introduced 20 new or increased taxes, have still left us with $167 billion in accumulated deficits. This is a government that inherited a strong budget position. This is a government that inherited a $22 billion surplus. This is a government that inherited $70 billion worth of Commonwealth net assets—and what did they do? They turned that around into a situation where we are heading for $133 billion worth of government net debt, where tax grab after tax grab, one new ad hoc tax grab after another they still cannot live within their means; they still cannot balance the books.

We have the best terms of trade in 140 years, we have 20 new or increased taxes, and still this incompetent, dysfunctional, deeply divided Labor government cannot balance the books. We are talking about the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) where the government is again looking to the parliament to appropriate expenditure. The total appropriations being sought through these bills are $3.1 billion, which includes $2 billion through Appropriations Bill (No. 3) across 19 portfolios and $341.1 million through Appropriations Bill (No. 4) across 13 portfolios.

These bills are part of a cynical fiscal strategy by the government to create an artificial surplus in 2012-13. It is a strategy that includes pushing spending outside 2012-13 and, in several instances, bringing forward that spending into this financial year, 2011-12. In other cases, substantial funds are allocated for programs in 2011-12 and 2013-14 but not in 2012-13. What a coincidence. So they push some spending out into 2013-14, they bring some spending forward, and they use every single accounting trick in the book to make sure that they can protect the political assertion by the Treasurer that, by hook or by crook, he will deliver a surplus. He will never deliver a surplus. He will tell us that there will be a surplus in 2012-13, but I am prepared to make a prediction here that, when all is said and done and the budget outcomes—not the budget estimates—are delivered after 2012-13, it will be there for all to see that the Labor Party will have delivered yet another budget deficit.

That is what Labor governments have done in Australia since 1989. They have delivered one budget deficit after another. Not being able to live within their means is part of Labor's DNA. Wasteful and reckless spending, spending more than they are getting in, is part of Labor's DNA. Increased taxes are part of Labor's DNA. A big debt and deficit budget is part of Labor's DNA. We have had it for more than 20 years and no doubt there is not going to be any relief in sight any time soon.

Despite all the nonsense about fiscal consolidation, it is very clear that this is a very big spending government. The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong, from time to time tries to tell us how this is a fiscally disciplined government because they are keeping spending in real terms below two per cent, not telling us that in their first two budgets they increased spending by 17 per cent in real terms. In fact, if you look at all the budget papers and all the relevant graphs, those two years have miraculously disappeared from the paperwork. All of the graphs now start as if there is a new era which starts in 2010-11. It is as though 2008-09 or 2009-2010 have been erased from the history books as far as this government is concerned. You cannot tell people the truth. You hide it in small footnotes in the annexes. People have to reach their own conclusions and put their own graphs together.

This government is now spending virtually $100 billion a year more, compared to the last year of the Howard government. That is an increase of some 37 per cent. It is a government that blew out spending by 16 to 17 per cent in real terms over two budgets. Amid all the rhetoric about belt-tightening, spending keeps increasing from this increased base. The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook shows that spending under this government as a percentage of GDP has been considerably higher in every year compared to the last two years of the Howard government—and it is projected to stay that way through to 2014-15.

Let me pause here for a moment, because we have had a lot of finger-pointing and a lot of lecturing from the Minister for Finance and Deregulation in this chamber and elsewhere. The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, in her first year in office, presided over a blow-out in the budget deficit this financial year of more than $25 billion. I am sure that you, Acting Deputy President Fisher, like me and all of us on this side of the chamber, would have looked very closely at the pre-election fiscal outlook when it had to be released by Treasury and the finance department.

At a point in time in 2010, we were told that the deficit this financial year would be $10.4 billion, which is a huge deficit. But guess what? A couple of months later, when the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was released, the deficit for 2011-12 had blown out to $12.3 billion. But the government was not going to stop there. By May 2011, when the budget was released, we found that it had blown out by more: it went to $22.6 billion. But this was still not enough. By the time we got to the last MYEFO—the MYEFO that was released after the parliament had risen for the summer so that nobody could ask too many difficult, pesky questions about it at the time—the deficit was going to be $37.1 billion.

So in the first year of Senator Wong being the Minister for Finance and Deregulation the budget deficit for this financial year went from $10.4 billion to $37.1 billion. And who knows where it is going to end up? And while this government keeps whacking on more new taxes and more new spending, the debt continues to grow.

There is a better way. What we need is a coalition government that sorts out Labor's fiscal mess yet again. People across Australia instinctively know that the Labor Party in government always stuffs up our public finances. People across Australia instinctively know that it always comes down to the coalition to fix up the Labor Party mess. That is again what will have to happen next time around.

Of course, the coalition government will be focused on spending less, on taxing less, on increasing productivity, on growing our trade and on growing our economy. One thing this government does not understand is that when you grow your economy not only is it good for people across Australia as there is more economic wealth and prosperity going around, it is also good for government revenue. If you have an economy that grows strongly you do not need all these additional new taxes to reach revenue targets.

I remember that a couple of weeks ago I made a little interjection—very rarely do I interject—during question time. I suggested to Senator Evans, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, that maybe there is a better approach and that maybe we should grow the cake rather than cut the cake into ever more pieces. He sneered at me because he does not understand what it means to grow the cake.

We have seen the Yosemite Sam of Australian politics, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, out there attacking mining entrepreneurs because he does not like success, either. We have a Treasurer here in Australia who is opposed to success. Fresh from his attack on former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in a completely unprecedented statement—clearly still with a rush of blood—he thought he had to do a bit more shooting around like Yosemite Sam. The Yosemite Sam of Australian politics is Wayne Swan and he went after the 'mining billionaires', as he called them.

Let me just say a few things about Andrew Forrest on the record. Andrew Forrest started Fortescue Metals Group from scratch in 2003. It was nothing; it was a company that did not exist before 2003. He took significant risks along the way. He made significant investments in infrastructure. Andrew Forrest now employs more than 3,500 people. He has created more than 3,500 new jobs and the company has a market capitalisation of about $17 billion.

I think that it is in our national interest and in everybody's interest for people like Andrew Forrest, who is at the pointy end, to take risks and have a go—and, frankly, to be successful, create jobs and contribute to our economic growth and our economic prosperity. But whenever somebody is doing well, whenever somebody is in the fast lane, this government want to slow them down. They talk about the patchwork economy and the two-speed economy. Their answer is: 'If somebody is going fast, we don't want them to be successful. If we have a sector of the economy that happens to be doing well right now, we want to slow them down. We can't possibly have somebody going ahead faster than everybody else.'

I would have thought that, rather than slowing the successful parts of the economy down, we should be getting our policy settings right so that those parts of the economy that find it tougher and more challenging in our current global economic conditions have the best possible chance to catch up. They should be given the best possible chance to speed up, using their own strength. This, of course, is a government that not only targets success but also wants to make it harder for that part of the economy that is finding it a bit tougher at the moment with the higher Australian dollar and global economic conditions the way they are. They also want to target our manufacturing business and small business with a carbon tax—a carbon tax which, clearly, will make Australian businesses less competitive internationally than even their highest-polluting competitors in other parts of the world. Businesses in Australia will have to pay the world's biggest carbon tax. This Labor government is imposing the world's biggest carbon tax on Australian business and on the Australian people. With businesses in Australia having to pay the world's biggest carbon tax under this government, businesses in other parts of the world—many of them higher emitters than the very environmentally-efficient businesses in Australia—will take market share away from Australian business. As market share and jobs go overseas, emissions will go overseas as well. So Australians are being asked to make sacrifices without it actually doing anything for the environment, and that is the great Labor lie in the middle of all this.

We had the Prime Minister—in a now well-documented broken promise—before the last election mislead the Australian people by saying, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' But it is worse than that. The Prime Minister perpetuates the lie today because she wants people to believe that the scheme that is on the table will actually make a difference to the environment. It will not. Shifting emissions overseas, shifting emissions to parts of the world where these emissions are going to be higher for the same amount of economic output, is not fixing climate change. It is not taking action on climate change. It is, as a US congressman described it a few months ago, a unilateral act of economic self-harm.

Not only is this a high-spending, high-taxing government that has delivered record levels of debt; it is also a government that wants to choke small business across Australia in red tape. I encourage you, Madam Acting Deputy President Fisher, to go back to the statements before the 2007 election by the member for Griffith, Mr Rudd, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, and also by Dr Emerson. They made some commitments at that time about what would happen to regulation under a Labor government. They had a little catchphrase. Mr Rudd was pretty good at the four-word slogan. It was 'One in, one out.' That was his slogan around regulation. 'One in, one out,' he said. For every regulation that the government was going to put in, they were going to take one out; that was the promise. But there have been more than 12½ thousand new regulations under this government.

Madam Acting Deputy President, how many regulations do you think went out? Do you think that, as there were 12½ thousand new regulations in, there were 12½ thousand old regulations out? No. There were less than 100. I am not sure what the most recent figures are, but when I last looked, around 58 or 59 had gone. There might be a few more, but I would put it to you, Madam Acting Deputy President, that, under this government, less than 100 regulations have been rescinded or abolished in return for more than 12½ thousand new regulations.

There is, of course, a better way. Tony Abbott, our leader, the leader of the coalition, the alternative Prime Minister, commissioned a task force before Christmas, the coalition deregulation task force. It is chaired by Senator Arthur Sinodinos, a very distinguished senator from New South Wales with very senior experience in government, in Treasury and in the financial services sector. He will chair a task force which will look for cuts in red tape that will deliver up to $1 billion worth of savings to business per year.

Not to be outdone—because the government know a good idea when they see one—what did we get from the government the other day? We had the Prime Minister out there in front of a small business announcing an effort to cut red tape. She was trying to make it look as if it was her idea, but a couple of months earlier Tony Abbott had long been onto it. If imitation is the best form of flattery then this is it. But the Prime Minister also wanted us to believe that it would be not $1 billion worth of savings but $4 billion worth. She pointed to Productivity Commission research which said that, if only all these recommendations from the Productivity Commission could be implemented, we could save $4 billion per year. But of course she never said that she supported those recommendations from the Productivity Commission; she just pointed to that research. I would be interested to know whether the Prime Minister supports the Productivity Commission's recommendations, which the Productivity Commission says could lead to $4 billion worth of savings. I would like her to make some statements today, perhaps, to share with us whether she is in favour of the recommendations, the reform proposals, that have been put forward by the Productivity Commission.

Over the last four years with Labor, we have always had to look at what they do and not listen to what they say. What they say is never what they do. It is like that across many areas of government, including, in particular, their promise to cut regulation. Remember Mr Rudd in the lead-up to the 2007 election describing himself as 'an economic conservative'? Yet since then we have had budget deficit after budget deficit after budget deficit. There have been four budget deficits in a row—$167 billion worth of accumulated deficits. When I criticised Minister Wong for having presided over a $25 billion blow-out in the deficit this financial year alone, the $25 billion Wong black hole, I was told, 'Oh well, the coalition didn't always get their budget estimates right either.' But guess what? When Mr Costello was the Treasurer, the question always was, 'How big is the surplus going to be?' He would be asked, 'Is it going to be $1 billion? Is it going to be $2 billion?' These days the question is, 'How big is the deficit going to be this year?' And that is the question on all our lips now: how big is the deficit going to be this year? I would like to know. In 2010-11 we were told that the deficit was going to be $41.5 billion. When we got to it, it was nearly $50 billion—an $8 billion deterioration in our budget bottom line. Of course, I have already talked about what the circumstances are this year.

This is a high-spending, high-taxing, fiscally reckless and red-tape-imposing government, and it is time for them to go. It is time for this Labor government to go because people across Australia know that they deserve better. They deserve a coalition government led by Tony Abbott.

Debate interrupted.