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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 607

Mr RAGUSE (2:38 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Minister, why is rigorous analysis and attention to detail crucial in economic and fiscal management, and what are the consequences if such approaches are not followed?

Mr TANNER (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) —I thank the member for Forde for his question. Decisions and statements by government do influence the actions of investors and consumers and it is therefore vital that economic ministers and the government do act and speak responsibly and accurately. It is also, of course, natural that this test should be applied to those who aspire to run the nation’s finances. Unfortunately, the new shadow minister for finance, Senator Joyce, has demonstrated on a number of occasions since he got the appointment from the Leader of the Opposition a serious lack of understanding or, indeed, accuracy in his statements. This demonstrates a very big question mark over the judgment of the Leader of the Opposition in appointing him in the first place, a very big question mark about the opposition’s capacity to manage the economy and the budget, and it does suggest that the election of an Abbott government would be a serious risk to the future prosperity of Australia.

I would just like to refer to a couple of the statements that Senator Joyce has made. He warned in December of the prospect of ‘economic Armageddon’ citing the threat to essential medicines and foods. He suggested that the United States might default on its debts. He suggested that various Australian state governments might default on their debts. He called for Australia’s major banks to be broken up. More recently, he has opposed Chinese investment in Australian companies, and today he said that Australia cannot afford an increase in the minimum wage, which of course has been frozen for some time as a result of the most recent decision of the Minimum Wage Panel of Fair Work Australia.

Had some of these statements been made by a finance minister, the ramifications for Australia could have been very serious, particularly were they to be made at a time of great economic crisis and stress such as this nation went through in the latter part of 2008 and for much of 2009—the global financial crisis. Some of these statements would have been front page news in newspapers all around the world, would have certainly undermined our relationship with the United States, would have called into question the state of the global economy and would have done enormous damage to Australia’s standing with investors both in this country and internationally. I would suggest that, when the Australian finance minister stands up and says that state governments may default, anybody with any sense of understanding of economics on that side—and there are very few—would understand that this poses a real threat to the stability of the Australian economy.

I know there is a tendency to dismiss Senator Joyce as something of an entertaining sideshow. He is now in a very different league. It appears that he has effectively taken over as the No. 1 spokesman on the economy from the opposition. We know from Niki Savva’s book that the Leader of the Opposition said to the former Treasurer Peter Costello that he was bored with economics. He was quoted in a newspaper article that he found it boring and, for that reason, Peter Costello indicated that he would rule out the Leader of the Opposition as a prospective deputy were he to become leader.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I wonder if the poor man’s Costello could become relevant to the question asked.

The SPEAKER —The minister is responding to the question.

Mr TANNER —From the poor woman’s Wilson Tuckey that’s a ripper! Senator Joyce has effectively taken over as the key economic spokesman for the Liberal Party. The Leader of the Opposition is not interested. The member for North Sydney, the shadow Treasurer, is out to lunch—we hardly ever hear from him at all on these issues. But, for all of these entertaining statements by Senator Joyce, Australians should be very concerned about the risk that he and the Leader of the Opposition pose to sound economic and budget management and to the future prosperity of this country.

I note that today the Leader of the Opposition has been holding forth on the good old days—the good old days of public hospital funding under the Howard government, to be precise. As I am sure members on this side will agree, the good old days are not quite what they are cracked up to be.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, a point of order on relevance: The minister for finance has ranged over a wide range of issues and now he is discussing public hospital funding, which did not have anything to do with—

The SPEAKER —The member will resume his seat.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —When these members have ceased having their conversation, I will just call the minister, because obviously the member for Sturt is not interested in my response to him. He sat down and just babbled to the frontbench opposite him.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: obviously I am sorry about the cross-chamber conversation that was taking place, but there is an important point of relevance here. He was asked a question that had nothing whatsoever to do with public hospitals and he should be sat down if he is now ranging way outside the ambit of the question.

The SPEAKER —If the Leader of the Opposition were to look at the question, he would see it is characteristic of questions that are fairly open ended in the possibilities for the responses. I think it talked about—my writing is not good enough to be sure—‘rigorous attention to policy’ and terminology like that. Once again I am happy to hear these examples of the frustrations on both sides of the chamber. But I simply say in my comments to the Manager of Opposition Business: it is a bit riling when he makes a point of order and then enters into a cross-chamber battle before there is even a response to his point of order. There are plenty of people, not only in this place but also commentators, who think, by watching the trials of Speaker Bercow in the House of Commons, that these things are easy. But I wish I was in the position of Speaker Bercow, who, as I understand it, well and truly has terrific standing orders that do not allow points of order during question time. If that is what we want, I would be happy.

Mr Hockey interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney is one of the ones who always want to babble on. I am simply saying to the whole chamber that if you want to change the nature of question time then perhaps it requires collective action of the House and a change of culture. If in fact you think that in other jurisdictions overseas there are answers, you might look to the culture—a culture that allows the primary question to be placed on the Notice Paper, where there is not this cross-chamber debate because there are no points of order and where the Prime Minister is not called upon to attend each question time. There are a whole host of possibilities, but it may be at some stage that the membership of this House will take it on board and not try to change the way the House is being conducted.

Mr TANNER —If the Leader of the Opposition and Manager of Opposition Business had allowed me to finish my sentence, they would have completely seen the relevance of the comment. That was that there is one aspect of the good old days that I do have some slight longing for. That is the days when the Liberal Party had some vaguely remotely credible economic spokespeople to put its point of view. Whatever disagreements I might have had with people like Peter Costello, at least I would concede they knew something about what they were talking about. The unfortunate situation now is that we have the Liberal Party led by people who are completely uninterested in economics allowing people who know absolutely nothing about it to be their public representatives. (Time expired)