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Minister dismisses Senator Joyce's concerns -

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Minister dismisses Senator Joyce's concerns

Lyndal Curtis reported this story on Tuesday, February 9, 2010 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: The Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has now responded to Senator Joyce's comments. He
told chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis that Australia can repay its debt.

LINDSAY TANNER: Barnaby Joyce's comments again today show that he is totally unfit for any kind of
position of economic responsibility in this country. They are totally ridiculous and grossly
irresponsible. The level of debt that Australia is projecting over the next five to 10 years is
below where it was for much of the past 30 to 40 years of our history so his statements are
ludicrous.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But people would be concerned about the debt. It was only a few years ago when the
Coalition paid it off and now it is back with a vengeance.

LINDSAY TANNER: Australia's debt levels are still going to be amongst the lowest in the developed
world. We have got many countries like the United States and the United Kingdom and European
countries with much higher level of government debt.

It is grossly irresponsible of Senator Joyce to make these kinds of statements.

LYNDAL CURTIS: What is it going to take though to pay the debt back?

LINDSAY TANNER: The Government is projecting that the budget will return to surplus by 2015 and
thereafter of course, we will be paying down the debt and within about five or six years after that
point it should be paid down to zero and we've got budget rules in place in order to enable us to
do that.

The Opposition is playing with fire here. Tony Abbott has said he is not interested in economics.
He has appointed a National Party maverick as his key economic spokesman who is putting his shadow
treasurer into the shade.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of loyal Liberal Party supporters out there who support
the Liberal Party year in, year out because they think they are sound economic managers. They are
being taken for granted by Tony Abbott. He really needs to have a big think about this whole
approach.

LYNDAL CURTIS: You say you have got rules in place but can you give an absolute rock solid
guarantee that a Labor Government will stick to those rules especially as electoral pressure comes
on it, maybe not this election but the next one when it is trying to win?

LINDSAY TANNER: Well, obviously I can't guarantee who will be in government in 2015. We have one or
two elections scheduled between now and then and we take none of these things for granted of course
and I am not in the business of handing out guarantees but we can be judged by our performance,
Lyndal.

We had a mid-year economic and fiscal outlook statement put out late last year and in that we had
some new spending but, as our rules require, that spending was more than covered by savings
initiatives.

LYNDAL CURTIS: There is a report in today's Financial Review that the budget is actually in a much
better position than it was in even at the time of the economic update in December. Is that true
and if it is, why doesn't the Government release the figures showing that that is the case?

LINDSAY TANNER: Well, we have obviously released the figures under my name as we are required to do
but you need to be very careful in interpreting these figures because of course they can be
influenced by timing of particular payments, whether it is tax receipts or whether it is government
payments so I would urge people to be very cautious and not to leap to the conclusions that some in
the media have leapt to here.

The signs are that we may possibly have a better outcome than was projected but that is by no means
certain and so these kinds of extrapolations that we have got in the media today don't necessarily
hold water. You have to be very careful about interpreting these monthly figures.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Your colleagues Wayne Swan and Greg Combet have been reluctant to comment today on
the appointment of Mike Kaiser to a senior job in the national broadband network. Are you happy
with the way the process was conducted for that job?

LINDSAY TANNER: The NBN Co. and Mike Quigley obviously conducted that process at arm's length from
government as they did other senior appointments.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But should ministers be recommending people for appointment to jobs?

LINDSAY TANNER: Look, I don't think there is a problem with ministers indicating views about
particular candidates or possibilities but ultimately it is a question of the decision making
process here and that of course was undertaken by the NBN Co. and the board at arm's length from
the Government.

I am perfectly comfortable with all of that. I don't see that there has been any problem with how
this matter has been dealt with by the company.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Labor's side of politics has praised the former opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull,
for the speech he gave to Parliament yesterday on the emissions trading scheme and climate change.
The Prime Minister said he would like to communicate better. Would you think of hiring Malcolm
Turnbull as the Prime Minister's speech writer?

LINDSAY TANNER: Well, given that Malcolm has an unfortunate track record as leader of the
opposition on a number of fronts, I think there would be a few who might question the merit of that
but there is no doubt that he made a very important speech to the Parliament yesterday and he has
really nailed the new Liberal Party here.

He has pointed out that what Tony Abbott is on about is fiscally irresponsible, it is wasteful, it
is inefficient.

ELEANOR HALL: That is the Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner, speaking to Lyndal Curtis in Canberra.