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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5995


Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (19:04): The rhetoric around this budget has all been to do with living within our means, about tough fiscal management, yet when you look at the budget—even since MYEFO late last year—the predicted level of debt has gone from $94 billion to $107 billion. That does not sound to me like a tough budget. We see spending increasing in real terms. Over the forward estimates, we see savings of $2 billion more than the $19 billion of spending, but in the first year it is the opposite: we see spending in excess of savings. So I ask the minister to start with: how can this be presented as a tough budget, when in fact the debt has ballooned from $94 billion to $107 billion?

Secondly, we see now a significantly larger increase—probably up to about $7 billion—in the annual interest to be paid. That is about seven world-class hospitals a year in interest payments alone. And the spending we see in the first year is not much better over the whole forward estimates. I know the minister's head will be full of percentages, but he might go back to the 22 per cent increase in spending a couple of years ago, the base that all of this is coming from.

I compare what the government has done to what Australian households are doing. Households over the last 12 months have gone from minus one per cent saving to about 11½ per cent saving now. That probably equates to close to $75 billion more in savings, by way of people paying off their mortgage or their plastic or putting money in bank deposits. But it is savings in the order of $75 billion. No wonder the retail sector has been as flat as a tack. No wonder there really is a recession in several parts of this economy. If you strip away the energy and resources sector, there is a recession in many parts of this economy.

Here we have a government parading this budget as something setting us up for the future, when it sets us up with even greater debt, when it really demonstrates no impact—or very little impact and certainly none over the next 12 months—on spending over the forward estimates. Then we see an attempt to increase the amount of debt that this government can raise, from $200 billion to $250 billion. Minister, could you please advise us who took the decision to contain the debt-raising proposal in the secondary appropriation bill? Who took that decision about that bill that you introduced deep into the night of the budget, when everyone else was distracted?

Mr Shorten: You don't do it during the day.

Mr ROBB: You could do it during the day the next day. You could have made it obvious to people rather than burying it. It was not mentioned in the budget papers, of course—no amount of money was mentioned. You snuck it in in the depths of the night when everyone was distracted. Why was it done this way, when in the past it has been a matter of a separate bill that the parliament could discuss in a substantive way? Can the minister explain why it was contained in a cognate debate, which does not allow for substantive debate or substantive amendments? Does the government really have the discretionary authority to alter the terms of the cognate debate, given that I have corresponded with Minister Albanese, with a copy to you—and I have yet to receive a response—about the opportunity to discuss that matter in a substantive way?