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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 9314


Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (10:50): I do not know where to start after a piece like that. Yes, of course, we support a Parliamentary Budget Office. We obviously support one that does the job, that allows us the capacity to act in a way where we are not confined and not exploited, but this process would leave us open to exploitation. There are a whole range of things that I will go into later on.

I want to touch on why we need a Parliamentary Budget Office. We need a Parliamentary Budget Office to deal with the issues which are the complete and utter rolling fiasco that you see at the moment with this government. We could start with the carbon tax. A policy costing on the carbon tax would be a good thing for the Parliamentary Budget Office to look at. We know that when they modelled it they took into account that the whole world, in one global position, would be participating in a carbon tax. Then we had the President of the United States of America out here merely a week ago saying that we were taking a very bold position and that we were very courageous, which is code for, 'You are completely and utterly off your head.' We are going down the path of a carbon tax of $23 a tonne when we know that no-one else in the world is doing it. We are out there. We are better than a lemming. At least lemmings take other lemmings off the cliff. We are doing this by ourselves—a solo lemming job. It would be good for the Parliamentary Budget Office to look at the implications and costings of that.

It would also be good for the Parliamentary Budget Office to have a look at the mining tax and the implications of that. This is another thing that we are just supposed to accept. As I have said before, the Greens have this passionate dislike of mining. It is very much pythonesque. It is very much Life of Brian. I always remember the demise of Brian, when John Cleese said, if I can use an analogy: 'Your death will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate the parent land from the hands of the imperialist mining aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viticulture and any other miners contributing to the welfare of Australians of both sexes and hermaphrodites. Signed on behalf of the people's liberation front or the people's front of Judaea. I would just like to add a personal note of my own admiration for what you are doing for Australia in what must be a very dark and hard time for you.'

The Greens have this pathological dislike of mining. They always ask: what has mining done for Australia lately? Well, quite a bit—Ballarat, Bendigo, wealth, keeping us out of the recession, regional development. It is our largest export. These are just a few of the minor things. I do not know whether we could put aqueducts and viticulture up there with them, or medicine, I suppose. But the Greens have a pathological dislike of mining. In this pathology of theirs, they are willing to play this crazy game with the Australian people—and with the Labor Party, which they are playing with like a cat plays with a ball of twine. Right as we speak, we and the Labor Party have no idea whether the mining tax is going through or not.

I also want to address a few other things, including this statement about the $70 billion black hole. It is one of these things where, if they keep saying it enough, ultimately people will believe them. That is their process, but it is not working. You can see that in the polling. People do not credit the Labor Party with anything anymore. People think they are completely and utterly incompetent. Obviously what they are doing is taking into account the loss of revenue streams, which is fair enough, but they have failed to take into account the loss of expenditure streams. If you take out the loss of expenditure streams, you will find that if you got rid of the carbon tax you would be about $4.3 billion better off over the forward estimates to 2014-15. Australia would be better off without a carbon tax. We would actually have money in the bank.

Now we are seeing in the latest reports on the mining tax that it is going to cost about $13 billion over the forward estimates for all they have promised, but at the best it is only going to raise about $11.1 billion. At the very best it could raise that much. So what is the purpose of this? This is the only crowd I have ever met who can bring in a tax which costs the country money. It is just beyond belief. It is like going to the shop and buying an ice cream and delivering them more than you took away. It is a perverse form of economics. The reason they get themselves into these ridiculous traps is that they are beholden to the Greens, who have no real desire to run the country. Julia Gillard is like Romulus Augustus: she is there when the Vandals come in. They love the trappings of office but they have no desire for the real responsibilities of running the country, but the Labor Party is foolish enough to let them run it for them, and to do it from a courtyard near them every day.

I would love the Parliamentary Budget Office to look at the NBN. I see that the take-up rate in Armidale has been as low as one in 50 homes. They always put Armidale up as the light on the hill. One in 50 homes has taken it up. That is not a very good business plan. This thing is starting to walk a lot like a white elephant and make noises a lot like a white elephant, and what it is doing to the budget smells a lot like what a white elephant would do. This thing has just launched itself at us.

We heard a statement from Senator Conroy. A spokesman for Senator Conroy said the take-up rates were 'no longer a relevant issue'. They are if you believe in business plans, which they did not have. This thing is a $36 billion network which we never did a cost-benefit analysis for. It is absolutely remarkable. Then we have to add the lease payments on top of that and any interest costs on top of that. And by the way, on closer examination—and this is something that has not been seen—they are issuing the debt just for Australian government securities outstanding, just like any other debt. So this debt is just going to be smacked on with all the other debt, which currently stands at $217 billion gross. I noted that the other day and I thought maybe they were issuing their own bonds, but they are not. It is just AGS. You will be able to see it. It will be out there with all the other money that we have borrowed, and we cannot finance it. That would be a good thing for the Parliamentary Budget Office to look at.

Given the precarious position the world is in, the Parliamentary Budget Office could look at the global situation and the issues that are before us at the moment. We believe in a Parliamentary Budget Office, but we believe in one that allows us the capacity to have greater scrutiny of the information, because the opposition, whoever that is, is always at a disadvantage compared to the government. The government have their own Parliamentary Budget Office; it is called the Treasury. They can walk in and out every day and everything they say is confidential. Treasury can deal with it. We are at a complete strategic disadvantage. So there are certain things we must have to be able to have some form of confidence. We have put up a bill for a Parliamentary Budget Office, so let's dispense with the idea that we do not believe in a Parliamentary Budget Office—we do.

The government's bill requires the PBO to make arrangements in writing with the head, however described, of a Commonwealth body to obtain information and documents relevant to the Parliamentary Budget Office's functions—in other words, to agree with a memorandum of understanding. Our bill does not say you have to agree with a memorandum of understanding. It gives greater versatility in how you act. There is greater capacity in our bill for impartiality. What we will see under their bill is that every time we take something to the Parliamentary Budget Office—because we do not have the capacity which they have to go back and forth to Treasury—the day after you will read about it in the paper; it will be out there. So this makes it a very difficult organisation to work with because we will be put at a strategic disadvantage. If we were allowed the same confidentiality with our use of Treasury, it would be different.

Treasury, of course, is an arm of government and has hundreds of millions of dollars in resources. We have to allow for the fact that with the much smaller resources of a PBO we have to have something that will give us some sort of fair ground to work on, which will mean a greater confidentiality in how we work with them and not having to be tied up with memorandums of understanding and with ultimate disclosure to the public. The coalition's PBO, for instance, provides complete confidentiality for all requests from MPs and senators. It will allow non-government members and senators to engage in discussions with the PBO as well as allowing views to be changed in a private domain. The Parliamentary Budget Office would not be permitted to publish costings without the permission of the non-government member or senator. These are the sorts of protections you need when you do not have what they have, which is Treasury.

Both parties were asking for a Parliamentary Budget Office. The issue is not about whether we have a Parliamentary Budget Office; it is about the form the Parliamentary Budget Office takes. Now more than ever we need one. We do not know when the next election is going to be. It could be at any point in time. It could be when Mr Rudd retires or ultimately throws teddy in the dirt—and that is the end of that and the balloon goes up—and we have an election, or when someone decides that they have had enough and they see themselves falling at the high jump, and they pull the pin. We could have an election at any time. So it is important that we get the proper Parliamentary Budget Office through.

Just to go back to another issue: there is no $70 billion black hole. This is the sort of thing that you need a PBO for: to dispense with these ludicrous claims that the Labor Party make ad nauseam in the perverse belief that if they say something that is incorrect enough times then somehow people will believe them. When the finance minister or the Treasurer do that, it shows that they are inherently desirous of misleading the Australian people, because they know what the truth is but they say something which obviously is entirely different.

We need an independent arbiter to go out and say: 'What the finance minister said to you is not correct. There is not a $70 billion black hole.' In fact, to be honest, the finance minister would not have a clue. The finance minister is great with the wondrous flowery statements and the back of the Weeties packet rhetoric, but when you get down to the details of an issue she is completely and utterly at sea. We saw that with the carbon tax. That is why they love to guillotine these debates: to try to avoid displaying to the Australian people the fact that they are ignorant of the technical details of their legislation. If you ask them a technical question, they will never have an answer. They just do not know the answer. What they have are grandiose, rhetorical, BlackBerry-delivered talking points and that is where basically it stops.

If a finance minister was worth their salt, we would not be $217 billion in gross debt. We would not have borrowed $2 billion just last week. We would be in a better financial position. Even as we speak, the Treasurer is trying all these little tricks. They are pulling forward expenditure from future years and jabbing it into this year to try to somehow save themselves down the track from an impossible scenario. They are just not competent and could not possibly give you a surplus. They could no more give you a surplus than sprout wings and fly around the chamber. It is beyond their capacity.

I remember back when they started talking about a surplus. Why do I say this? Because week on week, you see a structural deficit in what they do. Because their actions and the way they are conducting themselves have not structurally changed then, quite evidently, they are going to end up in a position of a resultant deficit down the track. It is a simple rule of accountancy. If you keep acting like you acted yesterday, you will end up in the same destination as you were going yesterday.

That is a problem with the Labor Party: they have failed to grasp the nettle of really dealing with the issues with their structural day-to-day finances, their cost controls. If you want to look at where the holes are, it is beyond just the ceiling installation program, the building the education revolution and all the other waffle; all those other $900 cheques that went out and the $22.8 billion in a day, or whatever it was—in fact, it is worse than that.

They cannot control their day-to-day costs. The best reflection of that is when you see them issuing securities to try to prop up their structural deficit, and they do it week after week after week. Two years ago, I remember looking at where they were going and I thought they were heading to oblivion. When I looked at my analysis from two years ago, their position now is worse. The debt unfortunately for Australia is going to be the great truth serum. You cannot get away from debt. You can use all your Weeties packet rhetoric to get away from debt.

Senator Conroy: You just keep adding state debts in there to make your point. Don't forget to add the local councils in!

Senator JOYCE: They always get upset when you mention debt because they know that that is where they are vulnerable. They do not understand that they are $217 billion in gross debt. Do you understand that, Minister Conroy?

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator JOYCE: All of it—you fool! All of it. That is it. That is how stupid he is. There is $217 billion of Australian government securities and how much of that is Commonwealth? The whole lot.

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator JOYCE: That is the classic example of how completely and utterly incompetent they are. He just asked on the Australian Office of Financial Management website, a Commonwealth government website, 'What Australian government securities are outstanding? How much of that is federal debt?' The whole lot, you clown. And they are running the country, and that is what we are seeing in the person who sits in proxy—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Furner ): Order! I call the chamber to order. Senator Joyce, address your comments through the chair.

Senator JOYCE: They cannot help themselves.

Senator Williams: Mr Acting Deputy President, I have a point of order. You did not mention the interjections, consistently and loudly, of Senator Conroy. I suggest you make your address also to Senator Conroy.

There is no point of order. I called the chamber to order.

Senator JOYCE: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is why the whole of Australia is so concerned about the carbon tax. This single frolic to change the temperature of the globe from a room in Canberra, issuing to the Australian people a broad based consumption tax delivered by every power point in their house to make every aspect of their cost of living dearer—a tax on all the people of Blacktown, of Ipswich, of Pennant Hills and the people of Rockhampton and of Gladstone, a tax that says you can have cheap wages or cheap power. We have now decided that cheap power is not for us so it is either cheap wages or no jobs.

In the past the party of Curtin and Chifley would never have agreed to something as absurd as that but this is not the party of Curtin and Chifley any more. It is the party of Senator Bob Brown, Mr Tony Windsor and Mr Adam Bandt. That soul that it once possessed was of an incredible party. There are two statues of Curtin and Chifley down near Old Parliament House. What would those men say if they walked into what we have here at the moment? They would say, 'Who are these people? Who's running the show? What happened? What happened to it all? Where did it all go?' The party has been sucked into these nutty positions. It said the right thing before the election when it said they were not going to have a carbon tax. That seems a logical thing to do. No-one else in the world is having it.

Then the real dynamic of who is running the show became present—the political vandals, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths turned up and they started to run the show. The result is the carbon tax, the mining tax—a mining tax which even as we speak shows we do not know where we are. We do not know whether Bob Brown is supporting it or not. It is lunacy. You should have kept your dignity and said, 'No, enough of this farce. Enough of it. No, it stops and it should have stopped yesterday.' After that press conference, the Prime Minister should have said, 'No, this is where the lunacy stops. No more being run by courtyard press conferences. We are taking back the reins and we are going to run the show.'

Of course, we did not get that. The lunacy still rolls on. We will go to Christmas with this Pythonesque form of lunacy. What has the mining tax done for us lately? Nothing except kept us out of recession; developed as our major export.

We need a Parliamentary Budget Office. We need it on fair terms. We have not got it on fair terms in this current bill. There is obviously a distinct strategic advantage for the position of the Greens-Labor Party-Independents alliance. They have their parliamentary budget office but we do not have a fair parliamentary budget office. It is very important for the Australian people to know that we believe in a parliamentary budget office. We believe in one that is fair, that we can work with. We believe in one which does not compromise our negotiations and our capacity to work with that organisation.

We acknowledge that the Greens-Labor Party-Independents alliance has an immense strategic advantage. The glee club has an immense strategic advantage because they have the Treasury at their disposal. We have to make sure that what we get is something that we can show to the Australian people so that we can dispense with these fallacious statements like the $70 billion black hole. We need it so that we can do it.

Senator Conroy: Andrew Robb said it was true.

Senator JOYCE: As they know, if you want to understand what the Labor Party is, it is the carbon tax, it is the mining tax, it is the NBN and, as we speak, $270 billion— (Time expired)