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MPs discuss the amount spent by the major parties on election advertising.

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Tuesday 9 October 2007

MPs discuss the amount spent by the major parties on election advertising


EMMA ALBERICI: Who are the true fiscal conservatives? 


In May, Kevin Rudd proclaimed himself
one for the first time, but the Government claims in the five months since then the Labor leader has made $17 billion worth of election promises, more than double that of the Coalition. 


The Finance Minister Nick Minchin says Labor has agreed with all of the Government's commitments and then made many more spending promises of its own.  


He's challenged the Opposition to submit all the promises for independent costing by the Finance and Treasury departments during the election campaign. 


But Labor has dismissed the $17 billion figure as rubbish that should be ignored.  


From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Kevin Rudd joined the ranks of fiscal conservatives with this declaration in May. 


(excerpt from Labor advertisement) 


KEVIN RUDD: A number of people have described me as an economic conservative. When it comes to public finance, it's a badge I wear with pride. 


(end excerpt from Labor advertisement) 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The election hasn't officially started but that hasn't stopped either major party from making spending promises and lots of them. 


According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the Coalition's new spending promises total $9.7 billion since the May Budget, with Labor showing a little more restraint - $8.8 billion since May or $11.4 billion since Mr Rudd became leader.  


The Finance Minister Nick Minchin says his number crunching shows Labor's spent much more.  


NICK MINCHIN: Labor has agreed with all the Government's spending commitments, totally $8.4 billion over the next four years. Our analysis of the Labor Party's spending announcements comes to the grand total of some $17 billion.  


Now for Labor to portray themselves as fiscal conservatives seems remarkable in the light of these very heavy spending commitments. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Minchin's also challenged Labor to submit its promises to independent scrutiny by Treasury and Finance departments during the election campaign, insisting the Government's been responsible and conservative with all the promises it's made.  


NICK MINCHIN: We don't believe Labor has the experience or capacity to manage that $230 billion Budget responsibly. 


LINDSAY TANNER: This is yet another Minchin work of fiction. In April this year he claimed the figure was $20 billion, in August he said it was $14 billion, in September the Prime Minister said it was five, now Senator Minchin says it's 17. They just pluck these figures out of the air.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor's finance spokesman Lindsay Tanner wields the Opposition's abacus.  


LINDSAY TANNER: Our additional spending commitments total up to around $5 billion at the moment and we've announced about $3.3 billion worth of savings thus far, and we intend to have those two figures in balance at the conclusion of the election campaign. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Lindsay Tanner maintains Labor has not accepted all of the Government's pledges and insists Labor's fiscal conservative tag remains intact. 


LINDSAY TANNER: Absolutely. Our commitment is that we will not engage in a spending contest with the Government. We are going to be spending less than them and we are going to fund all of our commitments from savings. 


I would urge everybody to ignore the rubbish that gets pumped out from Senator Minchin's office. It is full of holes, it is complete fiction. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Outside the political fray, the former New South Wales auditor-general Tony Harris says the Government has shown it can't count very well.  


TONY HARRIS: The Minister for Finance, Senator Minchin said earlier this year that Labor had promised more in this year than the Liberals, when in fact Minchin could count Labor better than he could count his own spending. In fact the Government's spending was much bigger than the Opposition's spending promises. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And he says if Labor wins it will want to take advice from the public service before implementing all its promises. 


TONY HARRIS: I remember when the Hawke Government won in 1983, they had been left a deficit by John Howard, which in today's terms is about $35 billion. And they had to think carefully about the promises they had made in light of that information. Well I think the same thing will happen if Labor wins again. 


And as for the Government, the Government if it wins and gets back into power, it will wish to reconsider the list of promises in light of the economic circumstances that are applying. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So is it really possible do you think to decide who is more fiscally conservative at this point? 


TONY HARRIS: I think each of them, each of them is very aware of the dangers of overspending when the economy is fully stretched. And so I actually discount the promises that each of them makes because it's much more important for them to avoid inflation and interest rate increases than it is to seduce voters by promises. 


EMMA ALBERICI: Tony Harris, former auditor-general for New South Wales, speaker there to Alexandra Kirk.