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Thursday, 24 May 2001
Page: 27027

Mr BARRESI (2:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer advise the House of the government's approach to fiscal policy and would he comment on any alternative proposals in fiscal policy?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I want to thank the honourable member for Deakin for his question, because in the budget which was brought down two nights ago the government delivered the fifth consecutive surplus budget. We have not had five consecutive surplus budgets since pre-Whitlam days— since the Labor Party destroyed Australia's economy back in the early 1970s.

Members of the House will be familiar with the fact that I keep close to my pillow one of my favourite newspaper articles, and I polish it up every night. It was the Financial Review of 14 August 2000 when, in a rare discussion of economic policy, the shadow Treasurer was asked this question:

Q: ... you will make a promise that you will deliver a bigger surplus than they do?

A: That would be our intention.

From that day on he became known as `Bigger Surplus' Crean, or BS Crean—a man who was committing the Labor Party to larger surpluses. Presumably, BS Crean thinks that $1.5 billion is not enough—that he would have delivered a bigger surplus. The Leader of the Opposition, on the other hand, has been out all morning saying not that he believes in bigger surpluses—no, no, no—but that he believes in more spending. He has been calling for all pensioners to be given $1,000. To give 2.2 million pensioners $300 costs $660 million; to give 2.2 million pensioners $1,000 costs $2.2 billion—according to my figures, an additional net promise of $1.6 billion.

I was musing to myself during the day how could the Labor Party on the one hand pledge itself to larger surpluses and on the other hand call for increased spending—how could they have bigger surpluses and more spending? And the third way has been outlined by the shadow minister for financial services. He was speaking at a forum this morning and he was asked this question:

In order to fund this knowledge nation that Labor keeps talking about, would you be willing to increase revenues in some way?

Good question—and it was a school student that asked it. Listen to this:

Senator Conroy: Look, we've got some hard decisions to make over the next couple of months. I mean, I don't think we can run away from the fact that there will be hard decisions. We have to prioritise how we are going to fund our spending initiatives and we are going to have to make choices between are we going to cut programs, are we going to increase some taxes?

Some hard choices to be made and a hard choice to be made in the Leader of the Opposition's reply tonight. Are you going to cut programs? Are you going to increase some taxes?

I want to come back to one point on this, because I think it is important that every member of the House know the Labor Party's secret agenda on increasing taxes, and I would ask every journalist in Australia to read the speech that was made by the now Leader of the Opposition in this House on 28 September—

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition!

Mr COSTELLO —He is panicking. I do not think I have ever before seen anybody rise to the dispatch box—and not make a point of order—just to do an interjection. I do not think I have ever seen anybody rise to the dispatch box to make an interjection; nor of course have we seen the exaggerated laughter that we are now seeing from the Leader of the Opposition—psychobabble followed by exaggerated laughter. But I would ask the press of Australia and the members of this House to read the speech given by the now Leader of the Opposition in the House on 28 September 1993. It was a matter of public importance, a discussion in this House as to why the Labor Party, which had run to the 1993 election promising not to increase tax, was justified after the election in taking away income tax cuts, in increasing the petrol excise and in increasing the wholesale sales tax. The Leader of the Opposition said:

... Nor is it the fault of this government that that statement was made

that they would not put up tax

and that the Leader of the Opposition did not then go out and thump the table and demand to know how the government of the day was going to keep that promise or keep to that particular mark. He did not ask what taxes the government was going to raise or what tax cuts it was not going to put through. The fact that those opposite did not, day in, day out—like any halfway decent opposition—go through those propositions ... is not our fault.

In other words, he said he was justified in increasing those taxes because the opposition—we were in opposition then—did not go in, day in, day out, making sure that we nailed them down on their tax rises. I tell you: we are not going to fail this time. We are going to, day in, day out, make sure that we nail you on your secret plans for tax rises. We are going to, go, day in, day out, to know what Senator Conroy means when he says `increasing taxes'. You are not going to get away again with the deceit that you practised in 1993. You are going to be held accountable.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —The level of interjection is much too high. I would also remind all ministers of the obligation they have to direct their remarks through the chair.