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Monday, 24 November 2008
Page: 19

Senator FIFIELD (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Conroy. Will the minister guarantee that the budget will not go into deficit, as promised prior to the election?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Fifield for that question. MYEFO is clear that the global financial crisis and the global recession have resulted in a $40 billion reduction in the budget surplus. There are no easy solutions or quick fixes to the global financial crisis. MYEFO is a reminder that while the Australian economy is sound our budget is not immune from the global slowdown and the real possibility of a global recession.

Tax receipts have been revised down by $5 billion in 2008-09, $12.2 billion in 2009-10, $12.4 billion in 2010-11 and $7.9 billion in 2011-12. In MYEFO, the government is forecasting a modest surplus but as global conditions deteriorate that position will become tougher and tougher. The government remains committed to taking whatever action is necessary to strengthen growth and limit the impact of the global recession on jobs. Our strategy is to run budget surpluses on average over the medium term and to allow the automatic stabilisers in the budget to do their job. But the budget is not immune from the global financial crisis, which has delivered a global recession and budget deficits all around the world. That is one reason why we have an economic security strategy to support growth. The $10.4 billion economic security strategy is designed— (Time expired)

Senator FIFIELD —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the minister has declined to restate the government’s pre-election commitment to a surplus budget. Will the minister advise the Senate how long the economic cycle that the government frequently refers to is? The minister might also advise the Senate how long the medium-term cycle to which he referred is?

Senator Abetz —Got you this time!

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —You have not got me at all. The answer to that question is very simple: it is as long as it was when you defined it in exactly the same terms.

Senator Marshall interjecting—

Senator CONROY —I do think that Senator Marshall is correct—Senator Fifield was in actual fact in the Treasurer’s office. Senator Marshall, I think that you are right. So it is exactly the same as when you wrote that answer for your former employer.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, address your answers through the chair, and you need to be relevant when answering the question.

Senator CONROY —I accept your admonishment for not speaking through the chair, Mr President. I do appreciate that. As I was saying, Senator Fifield knows exactly about the budget cycle because he actually wrote the very same answers when he was in the former Treasurer’s office. He might want to come into question time today and try and pretend— (Time expired)

Senator FIFIELD —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I ask the minister why Labor’s 74 page one-year progress report does not mention the need to keep the budget in surplus? Will the minister at least guarantee that the government will achieve a budget surplus in the remainder of this parliamentary term?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The fact is that the global financial crisis has blown a $40 billion hole in the surplus and substantially reduced the size of future surpluses. The fact that we are still budgeting for surpluses is because of the hard yards that we did in the last budget. In these uncertain times, Australians should take comfort from the fact that their government is acting decisively here and engaging abroad. When it comes to strengthening the economy in uncertain times and protecting hard working Australians, we will never sit on our hands. We are focused on those things that we can influence and doing what we can to limit the impact of global developments on our financial markets and on our economy.

The opposition leader is a very clever politician who spends all his time telling people what they want to hear— (Time expired)