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Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Page: 4153

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (15:48): In February of this year I held a mobile office at the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra. I was standing there talking to many of my constituents when Greg, a wardsman at the Canberra Hospital, came up to me and said something to me that has stuck in my mind ever since. He said, 'You guys want to keep at it with that economic reform, because it really matters for the long-term future of Australia.' He cast his hand around, looked at the people around us and said: 'You know, in 50 years time the adults we can all see around us won't be here anymore. In 100 years time neither will the kids; none of us will be here anymore. But the reforms we put in place will endure. So keep at it. Keep looking to the future and don't get caught up in that other bloke's negativity. Don't get caught up with his short-termism. Don't get up with his point-scoring, because what you're doing matters to us and matters to our kids.'

Tonight the Treasurer will deliver a true Labor budget. It will be a budget that will return us to surplus. It will be a budget that spreads the benefits of the mining boom and looks after the most vulnerable. It will be a budget that goes in to bat for millions of low- and middle-income Australians. It will help with the cost of raising kids through the schoolkids bonus, which I was pleased to be with the Prime Minister to announce in my electorate at a Big W at Majura Park on Sunday. It will be a budget that will put in place long-term reform—aged-care reform, a National Disability Insurance Scheme and dental reform. That fiscal strategy has been given a strong endorsement by the IMF. Yesterday the IMF said:

… we welcome the authorities’ commitment to return to a budget surplus by 2012-13 to rebuild fiscal buffers, putting Commonwealth government finances in a stronger position to deal with shocks and long-term pressures from an ageing population and rising health-care costs.

The IMF said:

… tighter fiscal policy combined with an easier monetary policy stance is an appropriate policy mix.

It is often forgotten that the tax-to-GDP ratio under Labor is substantially lower than it was under those opposite. Under those opposite, on average the tax-GDP ratio was 24 per cent: 24c in every dollar of output was taken in tax. Under Labor that is now 22 per cent. We are a lower taxing government than the coalition government that preceded us. We have made real spending cuts when circumstances demanded it, something those opposite never did in 11½ years, and we have increased fiscal stimulus when circumstances demanded it, something those opposite would not have dared to do. When the global financial crisis hit, those opposite would have taken the Herbert Hoover approach: they would have cut back on government spending and sent the Australian economy into deep, deep recession.

So on Thursday night the Leader of the Opposition is going to face a serious question: is he going to give us another stand-up performance like the one he gave us last year where he runs out some sort of dog and pony show, or is he actually going to come clean with the Australian people? Is he going to support the savings that we are putting in place to return the budget to surplus and support assistance for millions of Australian families? Or will he stand in the way of a budget surplus?

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has a few problems in order to get there. His economic team is the one that had an $11 billion black hole in its 2010 election costings. His economic team is the same one that gave us the pass the parcel budget reply: 'Oh no, I won't do the costings. Oh no, he won't do the costings. Oh no, I won't do the costings, but my media advisor will be at the back of the room shaking his head.' It is the same economic team that bungled its attempt to find savings to meet the costs of the summer floods. It is the same economic team that has a $70 billion budget crater that it knows it cannot fund without extreme cuts to basic services. Seventy billion dollars: it is like stopping the pension for two years; it is like stopping Medicare payments for four years.

And if this was not enough, the shadow Treasurer has said that he is going to hide from proper costings. When we had a bipartisan parliamentary committee to look into the Parliamentary Budget Office, it was supported by Senator Joyce and the member for Higgins. But when it came time to actually vote for the legislation, the opposition decided they could not back a Parliamentary Budget Office and they were going back to the approach that they took at the last election.

Let us remember the approach they took at the last election, which I am reminded of in a short article in today's Age. It was WHK Horwath, a Perth based accounting firm, that did a costings audit for the coalition and that was later found to have breached accounting standards. The two accountants involved, Geoff Kidd and Cyrus Patell, were fined $5,000 by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for failing to live up to professional standards. Their mistake, of course, was to say that they had audited the coalition's costings when in fact they did not.

Barrie Cassidy asked the shadow Treasurer about this on Insiders on Sunday. Here is how the exchange went:

BARRIE CASSIDY: Have you yet decided with your costings how you will have those costings audited and authenticated before the next election?

JOE HOCKEY: Yes, we have.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And how will you do it?

JOE HOCKEY: You'll see.

A government member: Don't you worry about that.

Dr LEIGH: Don't you worry about that. And the exchange continued:

BARRIE CASSIDY: But the last time around the accountancy firm you used it was found they were breached professional standards, they were fined and reprimanded. This time will you guarantee it will be a genuine audit?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, an audit is obviously a broad term. In accounting senses you have audits of companies; but audit with a small 'a', which is what I was referring to, is about ensuring we can verify that our numbers are accurate.

I have some news for the member for North Sydney: there is only one definition of the word 'audit' and it has a small 'a'. This is not like 'liberal'. I understand his confusion. There are two ways of spelling 'liberal'. There is big 'l' Liberal, which is the stand in the way of everything, block everything definition, and there is small 'l' liberal, which is the market based, standing up for individual liberties. That is a clear distinction—big 'l', small 'l'—and we all get that. But, member for North Sydney, I am afraid big 'a' and small 'a' audit does not wash. There is no big 'a' and small 'a' audit. There is only an audit, and your costings were not subject to that audit last time.

If we are to believe what is coming out of the opposition at the moment, their costings will not be subjected to an audit next time around. That means the Australian people are going to be denied the right to know what the alternative government would do and how they will pay for their promises. The opposition have a magic pudding fiscal policy. They say they have an audit commission. In fact, their audit commission is not about finding the truth, it is about hiding the truth. You cannot help thinking, when you hear the opposition talking about their costings, of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Mensaying, 'You can't handle the truth.' The opposition think the Australian people cannot handle the truth about their costings. They are going to refuse to come clean about their costings.

Meanwhile we are putting in place a Labor plan for investing in the Australian future. On 1 July we will see a substantial shift in Australian tax policy. That shift will involve increasing taxes on pollution and decreasing taxes on work. It will see Australia for the first time raise the price of a tonne of carbon pollution from zero. It is very strange that those opposite think the right price for a tonne of carbon pollution ought to be zero. They want to cut the price of pollution and they want to raise the price of work. If they have their way, the people who will get tax cuts will be the big polluters and the big miners and the people who will get the tax rises will be working Australians. It will be working Australians who will see their taxes rises because that is how we are assisting households on 1 July. That shift from taxing work to taxing pollution is economics 101. It is the right way of managing a modern economy.

We are investing in productivity. It is absolutely critical that we put in place the productivity boosting reforms like the last wave of productivity-boosting reforms under the Hawke and Keating governments, reforms such as floating the dollar—a reform that was opposed by the current Leader of the Opposition as recently as 1994. In 1994, the Leader of the Opposition described the float of the dollar as an 'exceedingly dubious outcome for Australia'. Of course, that is not the only important economic reform he stood in the way of. He said that compulsory super was one of the greatest confidence tricks of the last decade and his coalition colleagues, when backgrounding, quite happily talked about his genuine innumeracy.

We will be putting in place investments in Australia's future, recognising that productivity does not grow by itself, that governments have to invest in skills and training. We have to improve the systems that underpin Australia's productivity. That means our school reforms, teacher quality reforms and My School, and ensuring schools have the resources they need to do the important job they do. It involves investing in vital infrastructure. The National Broadband Network will drive productivity, it will strengthen our economy. It is extraordinary that, if those opposite have their way, they will cease the NBN and they will go back to their string and tin cans approach. That would be bad for delivery of services, it would be bad for Australian businesses. There are many Australian businesses, I know, in my electorate and in the electorates of all of us that are looking forward to the opportunities that the NBN will bring. I am sure that the member for Bass understands the benefits of super fast broadband for his constituents, and my constituents in Gungahlin and North Watson are looking forward to the opportunities of the National Broadband Network.

But, at the same time, those opposite are talking down the economy. We have unemployment at five per cent compared with eight per cent in the United States and 11 per cent in Europe. Our economy continues to grow. It is seven per cent larger now than it was before the global downturn. Meanwhile, the British economy has shrunk; it is three per cent smaller than it was before the downturn and has just gone back into recession.

We have a gold-plated, AAA credit rating from all three ratings agencies, and—I know those opposite hate it—the Treasurer was voted Euromoney Finance Minister of the Year. Of course, Peter Costello would have loved to have received the accolade. I am sure that if he had received that, we would have heard speeches from those opposite about how terrific the Euromoney award was. But of course, with their characteristic lack of grace, as soon as Treasurer Swan received the award, they swept into this place and began saying, 'Well, it's not an award you ever would have wanted.' But, as Treasurer Keating before him did, Treasurer Swan has been voted Euromoney Finance Minister of the Year, and that recognises that the Australian economic circumstances did not happen by accident. They happened by dint of strong investment, most of which occurred under Labor governments, because Labor governments understand the need to invest in the future. They understand, as Greg said to me at the Multicultural Festival, that we are here for a short time on this earth and our job is to invest in making the country just a little bit better than it was before. Our job is to invest in things like super fast broadband and in education. I am reminded by the member for Hindmarsh that it is more than our job—it is our duty. That is why we are here. It is our duty to be here in order to put in place a National Disability Insurance Scheme. For too long, under governments of all stripes, people with a disability have not received the deal to which they are entitled. A National Disability Insurance Scheme is going to change that.

For too long we have had an aged care system that has been patched up with bandaids here and there but has not had the root-and-branch reform that I think all sectors understand it desperately needs. We are an ageing population and we need to get aged care right. We need to think systematically about aged care. In the area of hospital reform it is vital to recognise that we have to have efficiency payments for hospitals. We have to pay hospitals and encourage them to do as good a job as they can.

Those opposite should leave off trash-talking the Australian economy. They should say in Australia what the Leader of the Opposition would say were he in London, where he said: 'Australia has serious bragging rights. Compared to most developed countries, our economic circumstances are enviable.' (Time expired)