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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1947

Senator WONG (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (19:50): I rise to bring the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2103 to a close. I thank all senators for their contribution to the debate. These bills seek authority from the parliament for the additional expenditure of moneys from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to meet requirements that have arisen since the last budget. The total additional appropriation being sought through these bills this year is just over $1.27 billion.

I would like to respond to some of the remarks made in the debate on these bills. First in relation to the spending associated with this bill, I note that, notwithstanding the contribution particularly of coalition senators that they want to stop spending, they did not actually indicate on which aspect of these bills they did not agree with expenditure. I refer to the fact, for example, that a significant component of the spend includes additional childcare payments, support for the childcare system program and increased demand for the Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance Program and the family day care program. The bills also appropriate additional moneys for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to support increased claims for assistance under the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme. They also appropriate moneys for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, which I thought the coalition were in fact supporting. This is the difficulty with the coalition's position on these bills and generally: they talk tough about savings, but they never actually tell Australians the truth about what their position is on those.

Senator Edwards: Look at our track record!

Senator WONG: I am interested—the interjection from the coalition over there is, 'Look at our track record.' The track record in this term of parliament is a coalition team that have never once got their costings right. The track record in this parliament is talking tough but voting against savings measures. It is extraordinary; you are actually opposing the savings measures associated with the baby bonus. You are actually opposing that. There is a lot of chest-beating around savings measures, but they do not actually want to tell people what their cuts would actually be.

I think it is important to put on the record, given some of the contributions, which were interesting to say the least, some of the economic facts. We have an economy that is resilient in the face of global uncertainty. By international standards, our unemployment remains low and our jobs growth in this country has been at least twice as fast as any of the major advanced economies over the past five years. The economy is continuing to grow—more than 13 per cent since Labor came to office—and I have made the point in this chamber a number of times: that is against the backdrop of a range of advanced economies that have not even got back to the starting line.

What do all these facts add up to? It means Australia avoided the extent of hardship for families, skills destruction and unemployment that were experienced and are still being experienced by so many during the global financial crisis. But it is the case that the nation faces economic headlands, and one of the big challenges we face in the budget context is continued hits to government revenues. This weakness was demonstrated in the January monthly statements, which I released last week, which showed a continued fall in government revenues with over $6 billion less received to the end of January than what was forecast in the mid-year review. And for those who follow these matters, the mid-year review itself also indicated a write-down in revenue from what was anticipated at budget.

Now the coalition do not like to discuss this fact, and they like to pretend that this is all an issue of the government. This is an economic policy challenge for the nation that parliamentarians, that parties of government in particular, will have to address and no amount of political rhetoric can push it aside. The figures that I released reinforce the position taken by the Treasurer in December that tax receipts are well below forecast, mainly due to the substantial hit on company profits primarily as a result of the high Australian dollar and falling commodity prices as well as continued global economic uncertainty.

Nominal GDP growth has been below real GDP growth in through-the-year terms for three successive quarters. That is the first time this has occurred in over 50 years. So in the 50 years since the national accounts have been recorded by the ABS—the Australian Bureau of Statistics—we have not seen what we are seeing currently, which is nominal GDP—that is, growth in the value of GDP being below real GDP to this extent. It is a highly unusual circumstance and it is flowing through to lower government revenues and comes on top of the revenue write-downs that the federal government experienced as a result of the global financial crisis, which come to around $160 billion.

The statements also make clear, despite the rhetoric of those opposite, that spending restraint continues and payments for the year to date are in line with the mid-year review forecasts of underlying cash payments. We are managing the budget responsibly. Responsible budgeting means promoting growth and jobs and the government have made clear our plans for a smarter Australia and a fairer Australia and ensuring that we do not leave Australians in different parts of the country, or in different circumstances, behind as the economy changes and adjusts to the Asian century.

Of course the government's clear plans for the future do compare with those opposite. We did find out over the weekend that it appears the opposition have been bunkered down with the right-wing think tank IPA hatching their plans for deep and savage cuts.

Senator Fifield: Oh, Penny.

Senator WONG: I will take the interjection from Senator Fifield of 'Hear, hear'.

Senator Fifield: No, I said, 'Oh, Penny'.

Senator WONG: Well, it sounded like, 'Hear, hear' to me, but if I am incorrect, Senator—

Senator Fifield: You are.

Senator WONG: I will cop that on the chin. As you know, I can do that—which is something you might want to mention to Senator Brandis on occasion. Cuts that are on the list, which, according to the IPA, are the sorts of things that shadow ministers and the coalition think are a good idea, include: the cancellation of the first stage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme—a bill that I understand the Senate will be debating shortly; the abolition of Fair Work Australia and Safe Work Australia; a reduction in the general research budget by 40 per cent; cutting all Commonwealth housing programs; cutting all foreign aid, excluding emergency aid; and privatising the ABC. These savings amount to $23.5 billion and they give an insight into the sorts of drastic cuts that are being contemplated by the coalition in order to fill their $70 billion budget black hole. The sadness, and the outrage, is that a party that wish to form government are refusing to tell the Australian people the truth about what their plans are. I think Australians are entitled to know that.

These bills, as I said, seek appropriation authority from the parliament to provide expenditure on the ordinary annual services of government in the terms that I have outlined. I commend the bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.