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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1926

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (17:10): More appropriation bills—more money, in excess of $1.2 billion. It is a common theme of this government. Last Friday, when looking at the website of the Australian Office of Financial Management, I was shocked to see the gross debt going to almost $269 billion—an enormous amount of money. Some in the government say, 'Don't worry about that; that is just gross debt; the net debt is what is important.' That is so wrong because, when you look at the so-called good side of the ledger, we have around $82 billion for the Future Fund. What happens to the money that the Future Fund earns? That money stays in the Future Fund for the retirement of public servants—it has to be budgeted for. How was that Future Fund built? It was built by the Howard-Costello government through good financial management.

Some $22 billion is owed in HECS fees by tertiary students going to university. You cannot charge interest on those fees. When a student completes their tertiary degree, gets a job and starts earning more than $30,000 a year, they start to pay that HECS fee back over time but with no interest. We have around $16.5 billion of residential mortgage backed securities, which earn a little bit of money for the government. I have just mentioned $82 billion for the Future Fund, $22 billion for HECS fees—that totals around $104 billion—and about $16.5 billion for residential mortgage backed securities, so around $120 billion on the good side of the ledger that does not earn the government any money to help pay that huge $269 billion gross debt. That is why we have to pay the interest on the gross amount, because the good side of the ledger is not earning any income.

For example, if you owed the bank $1 million and that was your gross debt, but you had $500,000 in another bank earning interest, your net debt would be $500,000. The interest on that $500,000 you had invested could help pay your debt on the $1 million. That is not the case with this government. We are going to have to fund $269 billion. We heard about a surplus in this financial year. How many times did we hear that? We heard it literally hundreds of times from the Prime Minister; the finance minister, Senator Wong; and the Treasurer that there will be no surplus. Here we are again, with these appropriation bills, discussing what? We are discussing more debt. Borrow, borrow and mortgage our children's future away. That is what the Labor Party knows.

I can go back through the history of my life with Labor governments, state and federal. Take the debt building of the Whitlam era—some say the worst government this country has had since Federation. In fact, Gough Whitlam is the only person laughing about this government because he is no longer regarded as the worst government this country has had since Federation. The current government has rounded up Gough Whitlam's government through mismanagement of funds and wasting of money. That is why the Australian people simply do not trust this government. They do not trust this government to manage money or to run a budget correctly as households and businesses have to do, but not this government under the Australian Labor Party. They do not trust the government to keep their word, whether it be on a carbon tax or private health insurance. Remember those words from Ms Nicola Roxon, 'We will not tinker, we will not alter the private health insurance.' You have upset everyone who has private health insurance.

The mining tax is a farce. My colleague Senator Cormann has highlighted so many times in this place the $2 billion collection of tax from our large miners—those in the iron ore and coal industry—who are making more than $50 million profit and what did we get for the first six months? It was $126 million. But the money has been spent. The government have committed that money. Remember it was going to be superannuation contributions for our Australian workers, for those working families. The money is not there. Once again we see more borrowing, more debt. You just cannot fathom it.

When the government were elected into office in 2007, there was a cap on government debt of $75 billion. Then through that crazy stimulus package of so much waste of money—with the Building the Education Revolution, the pink batts et cetera—that limit was raised to a massive $200 billion. We thought they would not have to raise the limit any more than $200 billion surely. What happened next? They raised the debt to $250 billion. They would have had to have maxed out the credit card at $250 billion but no, in May last year they raised it to $300 billion. Add that debt to the state debts.

We know what sort of a financial shambles and mess Queensland was left in after the removal of the Bligh government, a government that balanced its budget for decades and was debt free. Now we have Queensland with a debt of more than $70 billion. The state of Queensland has just 4½ million people and owes more than $70 billion and is on a course for further debt. Some on the other side in the government say, 'Why are the Queensland government cutting costs; why are they trying to save money?' Well, they do not want to take Queensland down the road of Greece, Portugal, Spain and many other countries that are in serious financial trouble. They are cutting spending because of the huge debt that you financial mismanagers have left that state with.

David Murray, former boss of the Commonwealth Bank and former manager of the Future Fund, has highlighted the debt in Australia. Combine the state governments with the federal government and, in 2015, we are looking at debt of somewhere around $500 billion. Now we are talking half a trillion dollars. We are talking the figures they talk in America where there is $14.3 trillion of federal debt. Put that $500 billion, over our $1.3 trillion economy and what are we looking at? At a guess, it is 35 per cent of GDP. Now we are starting to get the debt up. And who is responsible for it? The Australian Labor Party. They have done that all my life.

I have often spoken in this place about the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Cain-Kirner government sent Victoria broke to a tune of $60 billion, where Victoria had to sell off electricity for $19 billion and use every cent to retire debt. Western Australia was sent broke and South Australia and Tasmania. Then the world's so-called greatest Treasurer at the time, Mr Paul Keating, did exactly the same thing here in Canberra when in government.

I cannot believe how this government has no respect for a budget. We were going to have a deficit of $12 billion for this last financial year. Then it came out to $22 billion in MYEFO and in the May budget of 2011 it came out to be $30-odd billion but the last financial year actually had a deficit of $43 billion. Two years prior to that, if you estimated a $12 billion deficit and it came out at $43 billion, that was not even a good guess. That is such a bad way to manage our money and forecast deficits in our budget. It is not even a good guess.

There was a $12 billion estimation of debt for the last financial year and what did we get with the final budget outcome in September 2012? We got $43 billion worth of debt. What are we facing here in these bills? As I said, more debt, more borrowings, more mismanagement of taxpayers' money in Australia. Where is it going to end? I tell you where it is going to end. It is going to end on 14 September. That is what will bring it to an end, because many in Australia who run their households, their budgets and their businesses know that governments do not have money, that governments take money off the taxpayers and off the companies and off those who make profits or they borrow it. This government is just a legend when it comes to borrowing money.

When I was at a function on Saturday night in Armidale and told the businessmen and businesswomen there that our gross debt was just short of $269 billion, they just shook their heads. We are now looking at a case where next year we will have to find somewhere between $10 billion and $12 billion to pay the interest only. It does not sound like much money when it just rolls off the tongue—$10,000 million but $1 million is an enormous amount of money and $10 million is a huge amount of money. It is 10,000 lots of $1 million just to pay the interest on the debt that this mob have built before we pay one pensioner, before we put one cent in an aged-care facility, before we put one bullet into the weapon of one of our soldiers, defending democracy and promoting peace on behalf of Australia. We have to find $10,000 million. That is the legacy this government is going to leave us. The Australian people cannot be fooled. They will not be fooled. They know how to run their budgets and they see what this government is doing.

These appropriation bills mean more debt. Just put it on the tick for the future. Is that what we are going to do for our future generations of Australians? Leave them wallowing in debt? Just running through the figures from memory through my life, I think the Whitlam era inherited a debt of around $4 billion but when they were thrown out of government just a short period of time later it was $10 billion. We then saw the debt of the coalition government of Malcolm Fraser grow to a massive $96 billion by the Hawke-Keating government. Then what? We saw that debt reduced to zero. Sure there was $50 billion owing on the gross debt because the then finance minister, Senator Nick Minchin, did not want to shut down the Treasury bond; he kept it open and left $50 billion worth of gross debt—I discussed this with him personally—but he also put $50 billion in the bank to neutralise it to zero. That is why this government started off with a $50 billion gross debt that is now $269 billion, because the Treasury bond market was left open instead of being shut down, but the money was put in another account to neutralise it.

Now we are just seeing borrow, borrow, borrow to whatever limit they wish to go and sneaking it through the budget figures. Don't worry about it; the Greens will support you. We know their history of managing money. They just say 'spend, spend' and then shut down half the businesses in this country and say, 'It'll be right, mate.' No, it will not be right. If you do not have a strong economy, then the government does not get money to carry out the services and responsibilities that this government and any government is responsible for. So we are facing a situation of borrow, borrow, borrow.

As I said, all my life, whenever the Australian Labor Party get into power—and I must differentiate the Australian Labor Party from the Democratic Labor Party—they send us broke. At a state level or a federal level. They have done it all my working life. From the end of 1972, when I left school down there in Adelaide, where you live, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, I have seen nothing but borrowing and debt building and waste from the Australian Labor Party whenever they are given the chequebook and control of the budget. And now we are seeing more and more of it.

They wonder why they are so much on the nose with the Australian people. Just think about who they have upset. They tried to kick the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme out of here a few years ago and we blocked it in the Senate so that elderly people and pensioners could have more than $4,000 worth of dental work carried out on behalf of the taxpayers, which is only good. They have upset all those people with private health insurance. Doing what? Making more people pull out of private health insurance and putting more load on our states' hospital systems, which are already overloaded throughout Australia. They said about the minerals resource rent tax, 'This will be a fair way to tax.' No, it is just digging into state revenues and so they have upset everyone in the mining industry.

They talk about the environment. The cleanest fuel we have is LPG—liquid petroleum gas—and so they go and put a tax on liquid petroleum gas of 2½c, going up to 12½c by 2015. Ninety million taxi fares a year in this country. If you want to get on the nose with Australians, upset the taxi drivers because they talk to a lot of people. So they tax a clean green fuel that happens to be produced here in Australia and not imported and then they talk about the environment, they talk about carbon taxes, putting costs on industries. We have seen the figures today where so many businesses have been put under pressure.

I see Grain Products Australia—I brought their three months of electricity accounts into this place—have gone into administration, they have gone into liquidation, they have just been sold. Of the 68 jobs there, half of them are gone, and then there are people in the transport industry around Tamworth who relied on that business to keep their trucks and the wheels of their trucks and their income coming in. I was challenged to table the accounts. I tallied those three months of invoices: that food-producing, value-adding business averaged $28,000 a month in carbon tax alone on their electricity account. That is around $350,000 a year. How much would that finance? Well, at 10 per cent it would pay the interest on $3½ million, but you would not be paying 10 per cent. Probably $5 million of that carbon tax component of electricity bills for Grain Products Australia based in Tamworth is how much this government put on the cost of that business. Grain Products Australia could not pass it on. They competed against cheap imports from China and other places, with a high Australian dollar brought about by high interest rates in this country compared to those around the world. Brought about by so many purchases of Australian Treasury bonds financing the debt that this government is creating. This is the situation we find ourselves in.

That is why, I say it again, the people of Australia do not trust the government. They have offended almost every sector. And now, of course, Senator Conroy decides, six months out from an election: 'We'll take on the media! We'll bring in the public interest media advisor. He'll shut them down if they say anything wrong. We'll do away with this.' It is just outrageous and he will suffer the consequences, and no doubt he will face troubles getting that legislation through. He says, 'It's got to be through this week; just rush it through.' Yet he was the one criticising a Senate inquiry in the Howard era, saying it was rushed over a few weeks. His legislation is going to be rushed over a couple of days! The irony of this is simply amazing.

I come back to that word 'trust'. The Australian people do not trust the government. The Nielsen poll today is saying exactly that. You cannot treat the Australian people with disregard and disrespect and then expect them to turn a blind eye to the way you govern our great nation. Here is more debt—that is what these appropriation bills are about. 'Just put it on the tick; she'll be right. We'll leave it to the other mob to clean up our financial mess.' That must be their attitude because that is how it has been all of my working life. The Australian Labor Party create a debt, blow the money, borrow up to the hilt, put the Visa card up to the max and then leave the financial mess for the coalition to clean up. That is how it has been for state governments and federal governments for all of my working life.

And this government is no different. But come 14 September the people will have their say. They will have their say in the seat of New England, where Independent member, Mr Tony Windsor, backed this government—supposedly for regional Australia. Got out to Rooty Hill the other week and here is all his regional development money going into Rooty Hill, a suburb of Sydney. That is supposed to be regional Australia! The government has betrayed Mr Tony Windsor MP. Likewise Mr Robert Oakeshott, the member for Lyne.

Senator Ronaldson: And they've betrayed their constituents!

Senator WILLIAMS: They have betrayed their constituents, Senator Ronaldson; that is exactly right. They say they are not conservative seats. Have a look at the Senate vote in those seats: 44 per cent to the coalition in the Senate vote. They are not conservative seats: those seats do not belong to politicians; they belong to the people and the people will have their say on 14 September. They believe that their local members have betrayed them and sided with a Greens-Labor government, left-leaning, that has done its utmost to cripple business in this country. Never forget that in a free enterprise economy the nation's wealth is derived from the business sector, and if you strangle that business sector you strangle the nation.

This government has broken its promises. The carbon tax, the minerals tax and the other crazy schemes it has brought in that it thinks will change the planet will not change a thing. China is going to go up to 7.6 billion tonnes of CO2 a year by 2020 and we are going up from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes or even more now apparently. We are not reducing our carbon dioxide output in this country. All we are doing is shifting our industries overseas, like our cement industry, which is put under enormous pressure.

Our government is doing this through crazy policies, crazy borrowing and wasteful spending. All these appropriation bills are doing is topping up the financial mismanagement. That is typical of the Australian Labor Party. As I said, come 14 September the Australian people will be able to have their say and they are very much looking forward to it.