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Monday, 15 September 2008
Page: 17

Senator BIRMINGHAM (2:01 PM) —My question is to Senator Conroy, the Minister representing the Treasurer. Would the minister explain why the government chose to introduce a means test on the solar panel rebate earlier this year ahead of the finalisation of the government’s review of climate change policies?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank the senator for his question. At a time of global economic uncertainty, we need a strong surplus. Let us be clear: this is a budget measure. To provide—

Opposition senators—You’re reading from the wrong folder!

Senator Sherry interjecting—

Senator CONROY —No. I know that those opposite choose to ignore what is happening around the world. As my colleague Senator Sherry just indicated, yes, there are again serious economic issues facing the international community. There are serious issues that this Australian government, as opposed to the previous Australian government, is conscious of and is actually spending its time trying to address.

We need a strong surplus to provide a buffer against this global turmoil, to ensure that the Reserve Bank has room to move on interest rates and to finance critical nation-building investment for the future. That is why we delivered a strong $22 billion budget surplus, whereas those opposite are conducting an irresponsible raid on the budget surplus. This is the height of economic irresponsibility. It is vandalising the budget at a time of heightened global uncertainty. Those opposite—

Senator Birmingham —Mr President, I rise on a point of order that goes to the issue of relevance. The question was very clear. It related to why the government chose to act ahead of its review being completed. Could you please ask the minister to refer back to that rather than talking about the budget surplus in generalities.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. As you know I cannot instruct the minister how to answer the question. However, I draw the minister’s attention to the question that was asked. Relevance is required in respect of the question.

Senator CONROY —This is exactly relevant to why the government introduced a raft of measures designed to protect the Australian economy. It introduced these measures, which were designed deliberately and specifically to protect the Australian economy, because of the irresponsibility of those opposite. Those opposite have not just advocated a hole of $6.4 billion but, in the last two weeks, started advocating an even greater hole in the size of the budget surplus. They want to block the surplus and spend it at the same time. It is just more of the same. You cannot spend a surplus you do not have.

I heard the former Treasurer on radio last Friday saying that he would be willing to help out the shadow Treasurer with some advice. As it happens, I have dug up a little advice from the former Treasurer that would not go astray right now. This is what the member for Higgins said:

If you spend surpluses, you don’t have surpluses.

                …            …            …

... if you spend a surplus, what you’ve got is a deficit.

The Rudd government has done the hard yards in the budget to make room to provide relief for families and to fund vital investments in the future. That is the responsible thing to do. Those opposite have shown that they will always put their own interests before the interests of Australian families. Given the choice between responsible economic management— (Time expired)

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. If the government can scrap this vital program before a comprehensive review is completed, why won’t the government immediately provide relief to single aged pensioners and support the coalition’s call to immediately increase the single aged pension by $30 a week?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —This government makes no apology for being upfront and saying that the single pension is lacking. The only ones who should be embarrassed are those opposite, who did nothing about improving it during their 12 years in office. The Rudd government will not be putting up its hand in support of something that excludes 2.2 million pensioners, including the disabled and their carers. Pensioners in Australia are doing it tough. We recognise that. We in the Labor Party have a century-long commitment to the fair go—

Senator Coonan —Just not recently!

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Not recently—really! It is breathtaking to see those opposite, who were in command of the Treasury for the last 12 years, sit there and cry crocodile tears— (Time expired)