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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 1965

Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (16:24): 'Stick to your election promises when it comes to paying down the debt.' The Treasurer just said it himself. Apparently the Australian people got it wrong, because when they heard the now Prime Minister and the now Treasurer say, 'We'll pay off the debt,' as one of the three fundamental promises, what they really meant was, 'We'll vote with the Greens to get rid of the debt limit.' Remember the Prime Minister on the Bolt interview—and the Manager of Opposition Business very correctly pointed out to the House that you have to work really hard to get a bad interview as a Liberal Prime Minister on the Bolt show—where he said, 'We'll keep the promises we made, not the promises people think we made.' Apparently a promise the people think the Liberal Party made was to pay off the debt. The promise they really made was to vote with the Greens—the economic fringe-dwellers, as the Prime Minister explained—to actually abolish the debt limit, which the then opposition voted against increasing twice, in 2009 and 2012, despite the Prime Minister of Australia standing at that dispatch box and denying it, saying 'We never voted against increases to the debt limit.' They twice voted against increases to the debt limit in this House and/or the other house.

What we are seeing today is the hypocrisy of a party which is voting with another party, which they described as economic fringe-dwellers—those are not my words; they are the Prime Minister's words—to get rid of Australia's debt limit. This is a Treasurer and a Prime Minister who said before the election, 'We have a budget emergency on our hands.' And what have they done since? The Treasurer has given $9 billion to the Reserve Bank—

Mr Hockey: Given!

Mr BOWEN: Yes, that is right, Treasurer; that is what you did. He storms out of the chamber, shaking his head. The fact of the matter is that he has given $9 billion to the Reserve Bank, which increases this year's deficit and increases our interest bill by $1 billion over the next four years. He borrowed money and gave it to the Reserve Bank. They watered down Labor's tax integrity measures and made changes to support people with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts. Those are this government's priorities—all things which increase the deficit and increase the debt. So what do we see? We see the Treasurer asking for an increase in the debt limit, first to half a trillion dollars. That was his first act, and he acted surprised and hurt that the opposition did not just say, 'We know you said you'd pay off the debt, but, if you want half a trillion dollars, that's all right.' No—it does not work that way. What happens is: you have to justify it. On each occasion when the former government asked the House for an increase to the debt limit, it was justified by a budget or an economic statement—on every single occasion. Not once did the member for Lilley, the then Treasurer, come into the chamber and say, 'By the way, I need an increase in the debt limit and I'll show you the figures later'—not once, because that is the wrong thing to do. You justify yourself to the parliament by releasing the midyear economic forecast and a statement, but what we see is the new Treasurer saying, 'I need half a trillion dollars and I'll show you the paperwork later.' Australia's biggest no-doc loan—that is what the Treasurer wants.

The Treasurer found that he could not get that through the parliament because the Greens' position then was that an increase of $200 million was not justified. Now their position is that we do not need a debt limit at all. So the Greens have had a change of position over the last few weeks. That is okay; political parties are allowed to do that. But the biggest change of all is from the government, which told the Australian people solemnly that they would pay off the debt. The Treasurer had a chance to explain. He said, 'You've got to let us fix up the mess,' as he calls it; 'You've got to let us fix the debt.' So his position is: 'We've got to get rid of the debt limit to pay off the debt.' He has not explained the internal inconsistency in that little equation: 'We've got to pay off the debt, so we'll get rid of the debt limit.' Well, I think there are Liberal voters around Australia scratching their heads, thinking: 'Is this really the government we voted for? Is this really the government that promised to pay off the debt and said that we are open for business; the same Treasurer who showed that we are open for business by knocking back a foreign investment application—

Ms Rowland: The national interest.

Mr BOWEN: in the national interest—and who said, 'We need more foreign investment, so I'm going to knock this one back,' to paraphrase the Treasurer? The Treasurer is a cracker. He said, 'We need more foreign investment, so I'm going to knock one back, and we need to pay off the debt so we'll get rid of the debt limit.' This sort of stuff catches up with you, and it will catch up with the Treasurer, because he seems to think it is a matter of pride that they are voting to get rid of the debt limit. He is very proud of it and the fact that he has done a deal with the Greens. He thinks that is an achievement for him. I beg to differ. I think it shows a complete lack of integrity on behalf of this government. (Time expired)