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Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Page: 3861


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (11:01): Another day and another fix to some Labor Party stuff-up. This government is the most chaotic, the most dysfunctional, the most divided, the most incompetent government in the history of the Commonwealth. It is a government that has made a complete mess of our budget. It has spent $220 billion more than it raised in revenue; it inherited a strong budget position with a strong surplus and with no government net debt from a government that was collecting net interest payments instead of planning to pay $34 billion in net interest payments over the current forward estimates. This government inherited a situation with Commonwealth net assets of about $70 billion and, of course, they have turned that around very quickly into a situation whereby we are now on track for $191 billion worth of government net debts.

So, we have a government that is always desperate for more cash, that is always casting around for more money and that, in the lead-up to the last election, deliberately and intentionally misled the Australian people about what it would do to return the budget to surplus—at the time promising, come hell or high water, that it would do it by 2012-13. In the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook in October last year the government was trying to keep the illusion alive that somehow there would be a surplus 2012-13, albeit a wafer-thin surplus of just $1 billion. We know that since then, as a result of the budget just a few weeks ago, the government has instead been on track for yet another massive deficit of about $19.4 billion. Despite yet more waste and yet more mismanagement, the government in last year's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was trying to keep this illusion alive that somehow it would deliver a surplus. How was this achieved? How was the pretence of a surplus in 2012-13 achieved, when last year's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was presented?

The government pushed a rapid raid on people's supposedly lost super, their supposedly lost bank accounts and their supposedly lost life insurance policies and so on. I say 'a rapid raid' because within less than six months the government wanted to collect hundreds of millions of dollars—in fact, close to $750 million—from people's supposedly lost super, bank accounts and so on. The government was trying to pretend that somehow the objective was to reunite people with their own money more quickly. Yet the government expects to raise nearly a billion dollars from people's superannuation accounts and supposedly lost bank accounts. If people are to be reunited with their money more quickly, why is all this money expected to hit the bottom line to help this dishonest Gillard Labor government keep alive the illusion of an early surplus for a little bit longer? It is an illusion that has since been smashed. Everybody always knew it was going to happen. It is now one of the many high-profile broken promises of this incompetent Gillard-Swan Labor government.

At the time this substantive legislation came through the parliament, which sought to introduce this rapid raid on people's bank accounts and supposedly lost superannuation, we said: 'This is too rushed. This is indecent haste. You should think this through more carefully.' But of course the government was so desperate for cash as quickly as possible so that they could count it against the budget bottom line in 2012-13 that they just rammed things through, with the support of the Greens, as has been the case way too often under this very bad government. And of course they got things wrong. Over the last few months we have seen many people getting caught by the incompetence of this government.

A lot of the money that is taken out of people's bank accounts supposedly goes to ASIC and then ASIC is supposed to reunite people with their money, but of course it ends up in the government's budget bottom line. In Senate estimates the other day I asked ASIC, 'How much money have you received?' They had no idea. I asked, 'How much money have you reunited with people whose money has been taken away without their knowledge?' They had no idea. I then asked, 'If you do not know how much money you have received, how long will it take you before you can reunite people with their own money?' They had no idea. The evidence of ASIC was breathtaking in its absolute inadequacy.

It was the whole intention of this government to go after people's money more quickly by saying, 'In the case of any account where there has not been a transaction for three years, we are going to grab that, thank you very much,' irrespective of how much money was in there. There were hundreds of thousands of dollars in some bank accounts. People had essentially put that aside for rainy-day savings or whatever purpose. If there has not been any transaction for three years, this government says: 'Thank you very much—that is now ours. By the way, if you claim it back we will give it back to you. But it will take forever.'

The Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013 amends the Banking Act 1959 to exempt reactivated accounts from being reported and transferred to the Commonwealth as unclaimed moneys and to allow the Commonwealth to provide refunds to authorised deposit-taking institutions if moneys are collected unnecessarily. Why was that not done in the first place? It was not done because we have the most incompetent government in the history of the Commonwealth and because we have the most incompetent, part-time Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, who is more focused on the job he wants after the election than on the job he has now. That is one of the problems with the modern-day Labor Party: if they do not have their hands at each other's throat or a knife in each other's back or if they are not packing up their office or jumping ship, they are planning for their jobs after the next election, in opposition. We have Mr Combet saying, 'I will ditch Ms Gillard as Prime Minister if you make me Treasurer.' We have Mr Shorten backgrounding the media about the fact that it is going to be up to him as to who is going to be the Prime Minister at the end of the week. What sort of a state of affairs is this? No wonder they get bills like this one wrong and no wonder people across Australia are getting hurt. The government do not dot the i's and cross the t's because they are too focused on themselves; they are not focused on the public interest and they are not focused on getting things right. People across Australia deserve better than this. They deserve so much better than this.

So, as I have mentioned, in an attempt by the government in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012-13to find supposed savings to bolster their now-abandoned commitment of delivering a surplus in 2012-13, they announced an array of changes relating to unclaimed moneys in bank accounts—life insurance accounts, superannuation accounts and corporations. The changes sought to bring forward the time at which money is recognised under the relevant law as lost or unclaimed money so that the government can get their hands into people's pockets more quickly. It was nothing but a blatant grab for cash to create the illusion of a surplus that was never going to be—it was never going to be, because this Labor government do not know how to manage money.

This Labor government get every budget wrong. They go through the same charade every time. They overestimate, quite dishonestly, the revenue they expect to raise. For last year's budget they wanted us to believe that government revenue would go up by 12 per cent. Even though the economy was expected to grow more slowly, even though the terms of trade were expected to fall, this government, dishonestly and unbelievably, wanted people to believe that revenue would go up by 12 per cent. It was never going to go up by 12 per cent—it was never going to happen. And, because revenue now is growing by six per cent, what are the government telling us? Are the government telling us revenue is growing strongly by six per cent, which is well above the rate of inflation—more than double the rate of inflation, in fact? No, the government are trying to make people believe that somehow revenue has collapsed. That is the most dishonest spin that you can ever get from a federal government.

It is absolutely untrue to suggest that government revenue has collapsed. It is lower than the overly optimistic, and always unbelievable, and aggressively out-there predictions of the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, for sure. But these estimates were never going to be achieved. Look at the track record of this government, even since the last election. We have had two financial years since the last election for which we have either a final budget outcome, or we are now close to the end of the 2012-13 financial year and we have a fair idea where we are going to end up for 2012-13.

So let us look at those two financial years. In the lead-up to the last election, when the government were trying to make us believe that they were on a pathway back to surplus, what did they tell us about the budget outcome for 2011-12? The dishonest Gillard-Swan Labor government wanted to make people believe that, as part of their journey back to a surplus in 2012-13, the deficit in 2011-12 would be $10 billion. They wanted people to believe it was just a small deficit, that it was not too bad. But guess what. When all was said and done, when the final budget outcome came out, the deficit in the final budget outcome was $43.7 billion—it had more than quadrupled. There was a deterioration in the budget bottom line, for just one financial year, of $33.7 billion.

In the lead-up to the last election we were told initially that the surplus for this financial year, 2012-13, would be $3½ billion. Of course, we now know we are on track for a $20-odd billion deficit—another deterioration under this government of more than $20 billion. So the deterioration over the last two financial years under this government, from what they promised to what they delivered or are about to deliver, is in excess of $50 billion—just over two financial years. It is no wonder they are always desperately casting around for more cash, at the expense of the Australian people: because they do not know how to live within their means.

The Gillard-Swan Labor government are still at it; they are still misleading people. This year's budget papers are as dishonest and as unbelievable as the budget papers for 2011-12 or 2012-13. They have not changed their tack at all; they have not learnt from their past mistakes. To pick one example, the government wants us to believe that this financial year revenue from the mining tax will increase by about a thousand per cent over the forward estimates—1,000 per cent! When you look at the detail in the budget papers, even the budget papers are predicting a fall in the terms of trade and that commodity prices will go down, but Treasury happens to say that the Swan-Wong budget papers are too optimistic when it comes to the terms of trade—that they will fall by more than what the budget says. The situation is actually going to be worse. The budget is predicting that the exchange rate will remain high. The two arguments that the Treasurer has used to account for his failure to raise the predicted revenue from the mining tax were falling terms of trade and the exchange rate. How come the government can predict a 1,000 per cent increase from the mining tax, when in the first year of its operation it came in at a staggering 95 per cent below the original forecast?

I would like to pause here for a moment. The government targeted an important industry—one of the best performing industries in Australia when the government came in—with a complex new tax, which they predicted would raise $4 billion in the first year. They spent all the money they predicted they would raise and more and it comes in 95 per cent below the government's forecast. Can you imagine if any chief financial officer in a publicly listed company had got his forecast wrong by 95 per cent? He would be sacked on the spot. If the company did not sack him, the company would be seriously marked down on the stock exchange. There is no way that a company could keep a chief financial officer who got the revenue forecast for a key measure like this so wrong as this incompetent Treasurer has. No matter where you look in the budget, the carbon tax revenue estimate is completely without foundation—literally. What they did was they took today's market price and drew a line to their fictional, self-identified $38 price in 2019-20 and said, 'Everything in between is now going to be our revenue estimate for he intervening years.' No wonder this government gets the budget so wrong and no wonder they need to come up with stunts like the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill to go after people's money in a quick and desperate way, because they are always running out of cash to feed their spending addiction. They are always looking for the next grab for cash.

To go back to the mining tax for a moment, in Senate estimates I asked Treasury officials whether they could point me to a precedent in the history of the Commonwealth—all the way back to 1901—of a circumstance in which a federal government introduced a new tax and put out a revenue estimate and came in 95 per cent below the original forecast. Treasury officials were a bit bemused and they were scratching their heads but could not really think of anything and so they took it on notice, as they usually do. At some point somebody piped up and said, 'Yep, I've got one.' In 1989-90 the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax was introduced, and I asked how much that was expected to raise in the first budget. Scratching their heads again and going through their books, they came up with this, and I wonder if Senator Wong can remember this. The revenue estimate in 1989-90 for the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax was zero dollars!

When Paul Keating introduced the petroleum resource rent tax as a new tax—or a structural reform, the way he saw it—it was not a grab for cash from him in 1989-90; he attached zero dollars to it. And guess how much he raised? When you put zero dollars up, it is very hard to underdeliver, I guess. You would know that you were not overpromising and you were not exposing yourself to the risk of underdelivery. But guess what happened? In 1989-90, the government collected $42 million in revenue from the PRRT, when they had predicted zero, which of course, in that financial year, actually put the government in a better position—unlike the efforts of the most incompetent, cash-grabbing, failed Treasurer that the Commonwealth has ever seen in its history, Mr Swan. Mr Swan should have resigned long ago for his incompetence, or, if he was not going to resign, he should have been sacked. If we had a Prime Minister who had any authority, she would have sacked him long ago. But of course Mr Swan is the only thing that stands between Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd. That is the only reason why he is still the Treasurer of the Commonwealth.

With those words, I finish where I started: this is yet another fix for yet another Labor stuff-up. We should not have had to waste our time on this. The government should have done its homework upfront. It should have dotted its i's and crossed its t's upfront. But this government is so dysfunctional, so chaotic, so divided and so incompetent that it always gets it wrong, particularly when it is going after the money in people's own bank accounts.