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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4450

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (2:50 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Conroy. What is the face value, in a dollar figure, of total Commonwealth government securities outstanding as of 10 August 2009?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Joyce for that question. On a question as detailed as ‘What is the face value today?’—or even ‘yesterday’—I will have to take it on notice and come back to you. I will seek the answer and give you whatever information.

Senator JOYCE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It seems interesting, seeing what Senator Wong has already alluded to—

The PRESIDENT —Your question?

Senator JOYCE —It is with regard to policy rigour and not owning your portfolio. Apparently it is $106.9 billion if we can get that—and you do not know it. How does this deliver any sense—

Senator Ludwig —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. What we have heard is complete commentary before an attempt to even ask a question in relation to this. Senator Conroy provided the answer that he would take the question on notice. What we then experienced was a commentary on the question that was asked. I ask, Mr President, that you review the tape and have a look at whether that part of the question should not be encouraged so the opposition do not provide commentary in relation to a question.

The PRESIDENT —I have made comments previously about statements being made prior to a question, and they should not. I have deliberately tried to pull up a number of people on both sides today who have been making statements. Senator Joyce, continue with your question.

Senator JOYCE —Thank you very much, Mr President. It does refer to the money this nation owes and you would think that the person representing the Minister for Finance and Deregulation would actually know about that.

The PRESIDENT —The question?

Senator JOYCE —How does the fact that you do not know it deliver any sense of confidence to the Australian people over your government’s statement that you have an exit strategy that we will be in zero debt by 2022?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Senator Joyce, that question once again demonstrates the opposition’s complete chaos when it comes to fiscal management in this country. On one hand, you want to argue against the stimulus package and then, when we outline an exit strategy with a two per cent future increase, you start asking, ‘Where’s your exit strategy?’ Then you complain you do not see one. Well, Senator Joyce, this government has been engaged in prudent fiscal management. We have delivered this economic outcome because of the decisive and swift action that we took, which you opposed at every step. The chickens are coming home to roost for you, Senator Joyce—through you, Mr President—and the chickens are coming home to roost for those opposite. (Time expired)

Senator JOYCE —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. If the government is so decisive—

The PRESIDENT —The question?

Senator JOYCE —and if it is so much across policy rigour—

The PRESIDENT —The question, Senator Joyce?

Senator JOYCE —can the minister please allude to where the documentation is that shows this nation the exit plan of how we get ourselves out of this mountain of debt?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Let us just look around the world and see that Australia has become the envy of it because of what we have been able to achieve. It is not over yet. There are many pitfalls that could come our way. But let us be clear: international—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, resume your seat. When we have quiet we will proceed.

Senator CONROY —Let us be clear: we are not out of all the difficulties potentially at this stage. But international credit rating agencies have reaffirmed Australia’s AAA credit rating and they say that we have one of the strongest balance sheets in the advanced world. Standard & Poor’s say:

We believe the deficits and associated borrowings do not alter the sound profile of the country’s public finances.

Senator Joyce —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I refer you to standing order 194, which goes to relevance. We have asked for a decisive answer—and you always use the adjective ‘decisive’, Senator Conroy—that takes us to where your exit plan is. Where is the exit plan, not the prattle?

Senator Ludwig —On the point of order, Mr President: Senator Conroy has been answering the question in a decisive way, unlike Senator Joyce in his question, where he did appear to be a little rambling at the beginning. So I humbly submit that there is no point of order and that Senator Conroy has been entirely relevant to the question that was asked.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, you have 14 seconds remaining in which to answer the question of Senator Joyce.

Senator CONROY —Thank you, Mr President. I could quote Standard & Poor’s, I could quote the IMF article No. 4 staff report, I could quote 21 Australian economists or I could quote the Reserve Bank Governor, where he says public finances remain in very sound shape— (Time expired)