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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5996

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongAssistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation) (19:09): I thank the member for the questions. I just need some clarity from the chair: is the substantive question there about the increase in the $250 billion? Is that the substantive question?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms S Bird ): Does the minister seek to ask a question of the questioner?

Mr SHORTEN: No, I need some clarity from the chair.

Mr Robb: It was a series of questions.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The minister is free to interpret that question as he sees fit; I am not going to interpret the question.

Mr SHORTEN: I am happy to talk generally about the debt issues and the savings and the tough decisions the Gillard government made in the budget, but I will reserve my right, on a point of order, as to relevance and refer to standing order 76. If we are talking about Appropriation Bill (No. 1), and most of—

Mr Tony Smith: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister may not be totally familiar with the procedures of the Main Committee and how it works. He is duty bound to take a note of the questions—this is a free-flowing exchange—and to deal with each of the questions. If so early in the evening he wants to hide behind all sorts of excuses, that is a very bad start.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member has made his point of order, and I have given the minister the opportunity to interpret and take the question as he sees fit.

Mr SHORTEN: I did seek guidance. It is not my fault if I had to listen to a poorly drafted ramble. The point which I am coming to—

Mr Robb: I asked you a number of specific questions. If that is a poorly—

Mr SHORTEN: Yes, it is. I reserve my right on one aspect, and I will go to the other—

Mr Robb: You can't remember what I asked you.

Mr SHORTEN: Man, you'd need a compass and a cut lunch to follow your question! I am just saying that I am reserving my right on one aspect—I will go to the others; I can understand Mr Robb's impatience to hear my logic—because in standing order 76 the debate is confined to Appropriation Bill (No. 1). Any exception to the standing order can only relate to the second reading debate and not to consideration in detail. I will not quote standing order 76, as no doubt such senior experienced members of the opposition are intimately familiar with it, but we are debating here Appropriation Bill (No. 1) in detail. Questions around the debt cap specifically go to Appropriation Bill (No. 2), and they are not in order for consideration in detail.

Mr Robb: It's a cognate debate, remember?

Mr SHORTEN: All right, but I am sure you regret your question.

Going to the issue of debt, let us go to the alleged opposition narrative on debt. Let us talk some numbers. The member for Goldstein, perhaps anticipating the answer because it is somewhat self-evident, said, 'No doubt the government will talk about percentages.' Do you know what? He is right. Let us talk about the debt; let us see how Australia is going compared to the rest of the world. Let us use net debt, the key aggregate used for international comparisons. At the peak, under Labor's economic stewardship, which is represented in its flagship, the budget, it will be at 7.2 per cent. If you imagine the Australian economy has GDP of $100,000, net debt will be $7,200. That is very good going. And let us have a look at interest payments: 0.4 per cent at its top—or, using this analogy of the Australian economy at $100,000 GDP, net interest under Labor is $400 out of $100,000. Come in spinner—a beautiful set of numbers! No problems.

Now we have had a look at the debt bogeyman, which is just a shadow cast by a mouse, we look at the issue of how tough is the budget. I am happy to draw the shadow finance minister's attention to Budget Paper No. 1. We go to the decisions we have made, and we look at the impact of policy decisions and natural disasters. I draw his attention, in case he has not had a chance to open the book—he does not appear to have one in front of him; he has a good memory—to 3-14, which talks about the impact of decisions. The member has talked about MYEFO and estimates since then. The reality is we have had some natural disasters since then, shocking disasters, and they have had a big impact on revenue. Even so, despite the natural disasters we have had, this government in this budget has made distinct and difficult savings. We are winding back the largesse of the Howard years—the creep of welfare to nearly every family in Australia. Again I would draw the member for Goldstein's attention to the boxes on 3-12 and 3-13: 'Savings in the 2011-12 Budget', 'Family Payments System', 'Health services', 'Tax expenditures'—we are making the hard decisions.