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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 985

Budget


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (14:41): My question is to the Minister for Finance. Due to the decisions taken by the adults in this place, every Australian child has a $90,000—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Bernardi, I will get you to start again.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! If we could just have a bit of quiet, particularly on my left.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: Gee, it is necessary from Senator Polley—her interjections.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Bernardi, could you start your question again?

Senator BERNARDI: Thank you. I will. My question is to the Minister for Finance. Due to the decisions taken by the adults in this place, every Australian child has a $90,000 Commonwealth debt hanging over their head. That is $500 billion in total. It is not being repaid and it continues to grow every single day. Australian Conservatives stand ready on the crossbench to rein in that debt by reducing wasteful spending.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left!

Senator BERNARDI: With very little to show for a decade of reckless government spending, it is time to shine the cleansing light of transparency on how the government are using taxpayer funds. Minister, will the coalition set up a searchable payment portal comprising real-time disclosure of all Commonwealth spending so that parents can see what they are getting for their children's $90,000 debt?









Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:43): I thank Senator Bernardi for his question. We of course share his concern about the state of the budget that Labor left behind and, in particular, the spending and debt growth trajectory that we inherited from the Labor Party. As Senator Bernardi would know—because he was, of course, a valued member of the team that worked to repair the damage that Labor did to the state of the budget in Australia—we have so far implemented about $250 billion worth of budget improvements over the medium term. Now, there is much more work to be done.

The first thing that we should be doing is to pass about $13 billion worth of unlegislated budget improvements that are already reflected in our budget. As Senator Bernardi would know, on current projections our budget is projected to return to balance by 2020-21. That does require that we do pass all of the budget improvements that are currently reflected in the budget. We certainly urge all senators—Senator Bernardi, Labor senators and all crossbench senators—to support the government's plan. From there on in, obviously, being in surplus means that we are in a position to start paying down Labor's debt.

In terms of the specific proposal that Senator Bernardi put forward, I will take that on notice, and we will consider whether that is something that we might be able to assist him with further.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bernardi, a supplementary question.



Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (14:44): Minister, governments have gone to great lengths to hide controversial spending, resulting in federal freedom of information requests surging by 60 per cent over the last five years. There were about 38,000 in the last reporting year. The US, the British and many European governments run online, searchable, spending disclosure gateways, enabling taxpayer and journalist scrutiny. These gateways have saved national budgets hundreds of millions of dollars. Why don't we have searchable gateways so taxpayers can scrutinise spending?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:45): Of course, in Australia the budget and the performance of the government against the budget is scrutinised by none other than the very august Senate estimates committee process. Obviously we are always happy to take on board any suggestions on how the scrutiny of government performance can be further improved, but, as you would appreciate, this government complies with the same accounting standards and submits itself to the same accountability processes as governments of both political persuasions in the past.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bernardi, a final supplementary question.



Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (14:45): New Zealand has taken out the top spot in the last two Open Budget Index transparency rankings. Despite the index rating over 100 countries, Australia has never featured. I understand the Prime Minister wrote to them on 24 November 2015 saying that we would join. Why is it taking so long for this government to catch up with Trinidad and Tobago and Timor-Leste, and be in the Open Budget Index rankings?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:46): I note that Senator Bernardi references a letter from the Prime Minister. I will seek advice from the Prime Minister and get back to the senator.