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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 2938


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:36): My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong. Can the minister update the Senate on the importance of setting out a plan to return the budget to surplus?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:36): Last night the Treasurer presented a budget which returns the budget to surplus on time and as promised, a surplus achieved by taking nearly $34 billion worth of difficult decisions, a surplus at a time when the government is taking less tax out of the economy than Peter Costello took when he was Treasurer. The amount of tax we are taking, as a proportion of GDP, remains below the level it was at when we came to government.

I would also make this point about spending. The budget papers show that, as a proportion of GDP, expenditure gets down to around 23.5 per cent of GDP in 2012-13. Over the budget forward estimates, spending is less than 24 per cent of GDP. The last time that was achieved for a sustained period was in the 1980s. For all the fine words those on the other side like to use to remind us of his economic performance, it was never achieved under Treasurer Costello. As important as the surplus in 2012-13 is, also important are the growing surpluses over time. Surpluses grow each year over the forward estimates because that is the right thing to do.

This is a budget which is right for the economy, but it is also a budget which is about a fairer community. It is a budget which spreads the benefits of the mining boom, fosters opportunity and supports millions of Australians—families and those on modest incomes. It is a budget which invests for the future and helps Australians with cost-of-living pressures. This is a budget, a Labor budget, which demonstrates that a strong economy is the foundation of prosperity but also that prosperity needs to be shared. Opportunity and fairness go hand in hand and that is why we are determined to spread the benefits of the boom. (Time expired)


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:38): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister outline why it is important to detail the savings the government is making in order to bring the budget back into surplus?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:38): The reason it is important to detail the savings is to be upfront with the Australian people and the markets about how the path to surplus has been achieved. We have had to make difficult decisions as a government as a result of the revenue write-downs which have occurred; some $150 billion has been written off government revenues since the crisis. Delivering surpluses when there is less tax revenue obviously means that a government has to make substantial savings to pay for new initiatives. We have done so. These are responsible decisions which return the budget to surplus for this coming year and for each year after that. I invite the opposition, if they are so keen on surplus budgets, to demonstrate to the Australian people how they would return the budget to surplus. It is quite clear that under Mr Abbott they are incapable of actually coming to agreement on any difficult decision.


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:39): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister outline to the Senate any alternative approaches that are a threat to sound economic management?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:40): I thank Senator Brown for her final question. It becomes clearer each day that there is really no coherent alternative economic approach from those opposite. Perhaps the case in question is the schoolkids bonus. The opposition want to stand in the way of giving families more assistance with education costs; the coalition want to oppose and block families getting assistance for those costs. That is what they want to do. Remember, of course, that this is the same coalition that opposes the means testing of the baby bonus. A very interesting question was put to Mr Hockey. He was asked:

You've been critical of the School's bonus. What's the difference between the baby bonus and the School Bonus?

Mr Hockey replied:

There is a vast difference.

The host said 'What?' and Mr Hockey said:

You have to have a baby.

You have to have a baby! Babies grow up, and then they go to school— (Time expired)