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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1633


Dr EMERSON (RankinMinister for Trade and Competitiveness and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy) (15:32): This matter of public importance is a welcome debate because we are witnessing a sharp contrast between the position of the Labor government and that of the coalition in opposition, and that contrast is this: Labor consider that the economy is strong and that the economy can be strengthened further, and we are implementing policies to do that in order to secure jobs for the working men and women of this country and for the young generations coming through, while the coalition consider that the economy is ailing, it is sick and it needs the sort of radical surgery that the shadow Treasurer just outlined—savage cuts to government spending, and big tax increases. I will substantiate my arguments by going through, one by one, the areas where they would cut and the areas where they would increase taxes.

I do note that the shadow Treasurer, in his opening remarks, declared that he is a good mate of Peter Costello. Peter Costello has been in the news in the great state of Queensland recently, yet again, and the reason is that he has overseen the preparation of a second audit commission report. The first audit commission report contained cuts in government services that were not outlined by Premier Newman before the Queensland state election. The second audit commission report contains recommendations for the privatisation of government services, including hospital services. So, when I speak of the radical surgery that the coalition considers essential because it believes the economy is ailing, you need look no further than the second audit commission report, where the coalition—the LNP in Queensland—under the recommendations of the shadow Treasurer's good mate, is proceeding to cut vital hospital services. This points to the fundamental difference between Labor in government and the coalition in opposition.

Labor in government note that, here in Australia, we are growing faster than any other major advanced country; the unemployment rate is relatively low; and the official inflation rate is low. Interest rates, the Reserve Bank cash rate—which went up 10 times after the coalition government promised in the 2004 election to keep interest rates at record lows—have fallen from 6¾ per cent under the coalition government to three per cent. That means, for a mortgage holder with a $300,000 mortgage, a saving of $5,000. We consider that to be good. The coalition considers all of these indicators to be the signs of an ailing and sick economy.

We consider that investment at 50-year highs is a sign of a healthy economy. The coalition considers that the Australian economy is weak and ailing and in need of radical surgery. We consider the fact that three international ratings agencies, for the first time in Australia's history, have rated Australia triple A and stable to be an indicator of a strong economy. The coalition considers this to be an indicator of a weak and ailing economy that needs radical surgery. We consider car sales going through the roof to be a sign of a healthy economy. The coalition considers car sales going through the roof as evidence of an ailing and weak economy. We consider a pick-up in consumer confidence to be a good sign, along with a surging stock market and improving retail sales and house prices—all indicators of a strong economy that is getting better. The coalition considers these things indicators of a weak economy—a sick and ailing economy—which needs radical surgery.

It is through the device that the coalition have already supported in Queensland that they would pursue their radical surgery. I refer, of course, to the shadow Treasurer's mate Peter Costello and his device of an audit commission. The coalition, in opposition federally, have said that they would have an audit commission just as Campbell Newman has had an audit commission in Queensland. The reason they want to have an audit commission is that they want to conceal from the Australian people, just as Campbell Newman tried to conceal from the Queensland people, savage cuts to services and to jobs; they do not have the wit or the courage to explain to the Australian people where they would make their savage cuts to what they consider to be a sick and ailing economy.

The opposition leader's Liberal Party, in contrast to the Liberal Party of the member for Wentworth, propose policy prescriptions such as $180 billion in cuts to government spending. The shadow Treasurer referred to the global financial crisis—at last he has acknowledged that it did occur—but this opposition leader's Liberal Party are saying that, when there was a hit during the global financial crisis of $180 billion to government revenue, the opposition would have cut spending commensurately. They would have matched a $180 billion write-down of government revenue with $180 billion in cuts to government spending.

I refer now to statements by the shadow education minister, who said late last year:

Well, if there had been a Coalition government for the last five years, Kieran, I think most people accept that we would have had continuing surpluses.

This is my point—they would have matched the $180 billion write-down in taxation revenue with a $180 billion cut in expenditure. The shadow Attorney-General said:

Well, we think the budget should never have been put into deficit.

Again, this indicates that they would have matched $180 billion in government revenue cuts with $180 billion of cuts to government spending. What would such cuts have inflicted on the Australian people? They would have inflicted a deep and prolonged recession. That is why I think the Australian people should rightly be fearful of a coalition that are led by this opposition leader. A cut of $180 billion in government spending is an example of the cuckoo policy prescriptions they have in mind for the Australian people and for the Australian economy, which they consider so sick and so ailing that it needs radical surgery.

We know from the mouth of the opposition leader that his preferred policy prescription for dealing with the GFC was a recession for Australia. He said:

For instance, in New Zealand they have tried to reform their way through the global financial crisis under the new government's leadership, and they seem to be doing pretty well.

But what happened in New Zealand? There was a recession that lasted five quarters—1¼ years. That is what happened in New Zealand, and that is the policy prescription of the current Leader of the Opposition, supported by the shadow Treasurer. When they lecture us on ensuring that we have responsible fiscal policy they ought to look at their own admissions, because they personally have admitted that they already have a $70 billion funding hole. The opposition leader said:

Well, this $70 billion figure is a fanciful figure. It is plucked from the air by government ministers and I'm surprised you're retelling it to me.

Who gave the $70 billion figure? It was the shadow finance minister. He said:

The $70 billion is an estimate of the sort of challenge that we will have.

He went on to say:

The $70 billion is an indicative figure of the challenge that we've got.

He was asked:

Is it a furphy?

He replied:

No, it's not a furphy. We came out with the figure, right?

That is the coalition admitting that they have a $70 billion funding hole—and they have been trying to plug the hole ever since.

Just recently the shadow Treasurer has been fluffing his lines. The coalition know that they are going to make, through the concealed device of an audit commission, the $180 billion in cuts. When talking about the fact that they would remove the mining tax if they were elected, the shadow Treasurer was asked by a journalist:

What about the hole in the money?

He said:

The expenditure against it is going to go.

He had already mentioned, in the same context, the government's increasing the superannuation guarantee from nine per cent to 12 per cent, so he was saying that the increase in the superannuation guarantee from nine per cent to 12 per cent will go if the coalition is elected. The journalist then asked him:

So what would you cut?

He answered:

I just outlined them. I can go through them again if you want.

The journalist asked:

So you would cut all those initiatives?

The shadow Treasurer answered:

Absolutely, you can’t afford them.

So he was saying, at about four o'clock in the afternoon, that the opposition would cut the nine per cent to 12 per cent increase in the superannuation guarantee. But, by the time the six o'clock news put what he said to air, he tweeted to reprimand National Nine News for reporting what he had said—the words that came out of his own mouth. The shadow Treasurer said, in a moment of candour, that the increase in super from nine per cent to 12 per cent would go under a coalition government. Of course, what he said was repudiated by the Leader of the Opposition because the Leader of the Opposition did not want the smelly cat out of the bag before an audit commission. But the cat is out of the bag—and a dirty, smelly creature it is. The coalition would cancel the increase in superannuation from nine per cent to 12 per cent. They were the words that came out of the mouth of the shadow Treasurer.

But it gets worse. In only the week just gone, the shadow Treasurer discussed the tax-free threshold. I refer to the increase in the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200 which has liberated more than one million Australians from being taxpayers; it has taken more than six million Australians out of the tax system and offered them cuts of more than $300 a year.

Mr Van Manen interjecting

Dr EMERSON: I am reading from a transcript. I know that members opposite do not think that transcripts have any credibility. Certainly the member for Forde does not believe a transcript has any credibility and neither does the shadow Treasurer, because he expunges embarrassing material from transcripts. He said:

Let me be very clear, if there is no carbon tax then there is no need for compensation.

He was asked about the tax-free threshold and he actually said, '$3. That is what you said'—turning to the Liberal candidate for Parramatta—'$3.' It is not $3; it is $300, and that part of the transcript was expunged. Why? Because, again, the shadow Treasurer tripped up on his words. He let that dirty cat out of the bag, that dirty, smelly cat, and the opposition leader said, 'Put the stinking creature back in the bag because that is going to come out if we get elected, through the audit commission process after an election.' We know that the shadow finance minister has said that they have got all their policies. They are already costed. They are all ready to rock-and-roll. He said: 'We have identified 49 errors of policy. I have got on my desk 49 policy documents with covers'—very nice covers, apparently—'and the costings.' But, of course, once they get a bit of pressure on the costings, they then run away and seek refuge in this audit commission.

What is the truth of the matter? The truth of the matter is that they have these policies, but they have personally said that they are going to wait until after the budget in order to reconcile. Then they said they were going to wait 10 days into the actual election campaign. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, 'No, no, we're going to wait until 30 September for the final budget figures,' which is after the election. The truth is that they would wait for this audit commission to make all of these errors add up through the savage cuts that they would deliver. Of course, they have form. We know that last time they botched it to the tune of an $11 billion funding hole. And, on 12 February this year, the shadow Treasurer was asked:

Your costings were wrong before the last election.

The shadow Treasurer said:

I don't accept that at all.

It was objectively shown to be the case.

I go back to where I started: we believe that the Australian economy is fundamentally sound. We can strengthen it further. It does not need the sort of radical surgery that the coalition believe it needs and want to conceal from the Australian people until after the election. The Australian people deserve better. They deserve accountability. They will continue to get that from the Gillard Labor government. The cowardice of the coalition in saying, 'We'll do it after an election,' is unacceptable, and this economy does not need the radical, savage surgery that they have in mind for it. (Time expired)