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Tuesday, 7 August 2001
Page: 29292


Ms JULIE BISHOP (2:49 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer advise the House how the government has improved the transparency of the Commonwealth's finances and how this compares with previous approaches?


Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Curtin. I can inform her that under the way in which the Commonwealth now reports in its budget, we have made light years of progress against the sordid and sorry tale of our predecessors, the Australian Labor Party. One of the things that the government does now is publish a measures document with every budget. It sets out every measure that the government has taken in relation to revenue and expenses. In addition to that, there was never a budget paper of measures prior to the election of this government. The government did not report the individual measures that it had taken in relation to revenue and expenses. There was no Budget Paper No. 2 in relation to budget measures.

In addition to that, under the Charter of Budget Honesty the government is obliged to report a mid-year review with measures taken between the budget and the mid-year, an update of all economic forecasts and budget projections out over the four-year forward estimates. That is the most recent mid-year review for 2000-01. Now I want to show the House the last mid-year review that was prepared before our election: two pages! Not only did it not have any measure— not one single measure that had been taken by the government—but it did not have four-year forward estimates and it did not have a budget position. Not only was the mid-year review of December 1995 laughable by its size, it was laughable by its content. The mid-year review of the Labor Party—two pages compared with what we do now—had this for the 1995-96 mid-year review estimate of the budget position: surplus $115 million.



Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition!


Mr COSTELLO —I table the outcome for the year after six months, the actual outcome—



Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition is defying the chair!


Mr COSTELLO —Remember what they said: surplus $115 million. I table the outcome six months later: deficit $10,077 million. They were only out by $10,000 million. The finance minister at the time was the man who interjects loudly in his own defence, the now Leader of the Opposition. He was the man who, during that election campaign, as late as March claimed that the budget was in deficit.

Government member interjecting—


Mr COSTELLO —Claimed the budget was in surplus; I stand corrected. When we were elected, the Prime Minister and I remember the Monday after the election when the Treasury came to us and said, `Sorry about that surplus claim.' We were then $8,000 million in deficit, finishing by June at $10,077 million in deficit. That is why the Charter of Budget Honesty was introduced. The Charter of Budget Honesty was introduced in this country to make sure that nobody could ever again try to do what Kim Beazley did in the 1996 election.

The Charter of Budget Honesty, which has to be released during the campaign, is a statement from the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, and it works like this: if a government tried to cook a budget figure in the way that Mr Beazley tried to cook a budget figure during the election campaign, an independent audit would find them out. So you cannot cheat in the way that Mr Beazley cheated in 1996. The Charter of Budget Honesty ought to be called the `charter of Beazley honesty'; that is what it should have been called—the `charter of Beazley honesty'— to make sure nobody could ever again try to do what he did in the 1996 election.


Mr Price —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order under standing order 80.


Mr SPEAKER —Yes, the member for Chifley is entirely correct to draw my attention to the obligation that the Treasurer has to refer to members by their office, not by their names.


Mr COSTELLO —The `charter of the honourable member for Fremantle honesty'—that is what it ought to be called. What is he? The honourable member for Brand.

Opposition members interjecting—


Mr COSTELLO —We will brand him all right, Mr Speaker. We will brand him honourably as the author of the Charter of Budget Honesty. The Charter of Budget Honesty was introduced as an independent statement by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration to make sure that nobody could ever cheat again in the way that the member for Brand did in the 1996 election—so that it could never be done again. That means that the Commonwealth budget position, as updated by the midyear review, I think in every year of our government has come in with a better bottom line—never with a $10 billion hole driven right through the middle of it.

Now, of course, the author of the 1996 deceit says that he cannot release his policies because he has to wait for the Charter of Budget Honesty, which by law must be released during an election campaign—by law. It is an independent statement. So what does he now say? He cannot have any policies until 10 days into the election campaign. I have never seen a political party run from its own policies in the way the Labor Party does. For 5½ years, we heard about the noodle nation. We have been back here two days; have we had one question about the noodle nation? For 3½ years we heard that the GST was awful and we had to roll backwards, but we cannot hear one detail about rolling backwards, because the Australian Labor Party is so ashamed of its policy. When the shadow minister for small business gets up, he cannot even talk about the roll-back word. He now has to talk about `complexity' or use some other nom de plume for roll-back.

The Charter of Budget Honesty makes sure that this government's accurate budget statements cannot be fiddled in the way in which Mr Beazley fiddled the 1996 midyear report. It ensures that the Commonwealth account is clean. It ensures that we have measures over the full four years. It ensures that we update the forecast. It ensures that we have projections out over the four-year period. The hiding of the Leader of the Opposition against the Charter of Budget Honesty, a measure which has cleaned up the accounts immeasurably and which has ended his deceit, is nothing but a subterfuge for a man who has no policy and who has no credibility in relation to policy.

Honourable members interjecting


Mr SPEAKER —Order! It should never be necessary for me to rise in order to get silence in the House.