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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2545

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:06): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Communications (Senator Fifield) to questions without notice asked by Senators Keneally and McAllister today relating to the 2018-19 Budget.

The opposition asked two very simple questions of Mr Fifield. The first of those questions related to the issue of the government's debt levels. We asked: has the debt level doubled over the course of this government? Of course, we got no answer.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Yes, we did.

Senator FARRELL: No, we never got an answer.

Senator Colbeck interjecting

Senator FARRELL: I don't know what NAPLAN's got to do with this, Senator Colbeck, but we got no answer on the question that we were asking. We were asking about debt. What Mr Fifield should have said in answer to the question about this government's doubling of debt is that gross debt in this country is projected to reach $684 billion in the medium term. I will repeat that, in case members of the government didn't hear the level of debt: the projections are that, under this government, in the medium term, debt is going to reach $684 billion.

We asked a second question of Senator Fifield. We asked him to comment on a quote by the fellow he used to iron shirts for, as I understand it, before question time, former Treasurer Costello. Mr Costello made an observation of this government's competence in the budget that we are expecting to see tonight. In an article that appeared in The Age today headed 'Costello savages budget strategy', Mr Costello, talking about the debt levels of this government, said:

It means that future generations will be paying interest on the debt that is being run up on their behalf over the last decade, and they will probably be paying for the rest of their lives.

The probabilities are we will never get back to where we were, you and I will die before that happens.

This is an observation by former Treasurer Costello on the level of debt under this government. Former Treasurer Costello has nailed this government. He's nailed them. He knows, just as I'm sure you know, Madam Deputy President, that this government's budget strategy is all wrong. Former Treasurer Costello makes it very clear that under the policies that are currently being prosecuted by this government, in his view, we will not see a return to surplus in his life—

Senator Abetz interjecting

Senator FARRELL: I've got my own handwriting here, Senator Abetz. I do have to confess: it is a bit hard to read. I'm not the neatest. But I can read what former Treasurer Costello says about your debt strategy, and he's nailed it. This $80 billion tax cut which you're proposing for big business is simply the wrong strategy. Costello knows it; I suspect even you know it, Senator Abetz. I reckon that the senator sitting next to you, Senator Macdonald—yes, he's just nodded!—knows that this is the wrong strategy. Costello has got it right. The strategy that the Turnbull government is adopting on debt is the wrong one. When our debt is spiralling out of control, what does this government propose to do? It proposes to give an $80 billion tax cut to the big end of town, to big businesses and to the big banks. Seventeen billion dollars of this $80 billion is going to go to the big banks. It's the wrong policy. Costello's got it right. (Time expired)