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Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Page: 43


Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (15:18): I am grateful to Senator Gallacher for putting those matters on the table and explaining what he feels the benefits are of Labor's administration. But as questions in question time today very amply demonstrated, the problem with making promises like paid maternity leave, NDISs and so forth is that, worthy though they might be, you have to deliver them sustainably. And to deliver those sorts of promises sustainably to the Australian people, you have to have balanced budgets. That is at the very nub of these sorts of processes, because without balanced budgets you end up having to borrow money.

The coalition has made very clear that we stand for the kind of fiscal management which brings Australia back to sustainable, continuous budget surpluses of the kind that Australians saw almost without interruption throughout the days of the Howard government. That is the kind of process which brings Australians the real benefits that Senator Gallacher has spoken about.

This government inherited a very strong fiscal position. Effectively, it inherited $45 billion of assets tucked away. It inherited no net debt and it inherited a budget in surplus. Of course, it has turned that around in just a few short years into massive deficits and into enormous amounts of debt—$107 billion worth of debt today, climbing upwards at the rate of about $100 million a day. One hundred million dollars a day! A billion dollars every 10 days that this government is in office.

The problem for the government is, of course, that today it faces a struggle toward the light to reach its surplus. It was supposed to be delivered this financial year; it was promised faithfully that it would be delivered. In fact, it was promised on more than one occasion that it had actually been delivered. I received in my letterbox a note from Senator Lundy, Community News—I gather along with everybody else in the ACT—in which she said:

The 2012 Federal Budget has not only returned to surplus as promised - it has ensured that families and small business will share in the benefits of the resources boom.

Well, the budget has not been returned to surplus. Presumably, she is referring there to the mining tax delivering benefits of the resources boom to families and small business. Of course, we know that the mining tax has delivered nothing to the Australian people today. Not one penny! She went on to say at the bottom of the page:

How do we compare on jobs and the economy?

…   …   …

Under Labor:

…   …   …

Our Budget has been returned to surplus in 2012/13.

We find a few weeks or months after that page was delivered into everybody's letterbox in the ACT that in fact it has not been returned to surplus. The budget is very much still in the red, and it looks like being in the red for quite some time to come.

I think that Senator Gallacher and others on that side of the chamber who extol the virtues of the government's budget process need to understand that getting to a surplus this year, or next year or whenever it is going to be, if they ever do it—and I have my doubts—is just the beginning of their problems. Because, once they get to a surplus, they have then got to start to use whatever that surplus is to pay for the mountain of promises which the government have already made to the Australian people and for which there is no plausible means of delivering.

You have promised an NDIS, at a cost of $10½ billion a year, once fully operational. You are then paying another $3.7 billion in new money over five years for aged care. You have promised low-paid workers another $1 billion. You have promised to buy a number of key assets in defence—$36 billion for submarines and $16 billion for Joint Strike Fighters. You have not promised but you have had to find the money to pay for your mistakes in border protection. You are now paying $2.1 billion to reopen the Nauru and Manus Island refugee processing centres. You are increasing the refugee intake, costing the Australian taxpayer $1.4 billion over the forward estimates. There are also the Gonski recommendations, costing $6½ billion a year once fully operational. Today, you cannot even reach a budget surplus five years after weathering a fiscal crisis—five years ago the GFC happened. You still cannot get to a simple budget surplus, a wafer-thin budget surplus of $1.1 billion. How are you going to pay for those promises? This does not add up. Labor is off the rails with this and all Australians can see that. (Time expired)