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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11887

Ms JULIE BISHOP (3:09 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. I refer to the Treasurer’s failure to define the government’s so-called temporary deficit. Isn’t it a fact that the government’s plan to run deficits is about disguising policy time bombs and poor economic management, like the bungled computers in schools program and the bungled national broadband policy? Treasurer, given the government’s preparedness to go into deficit, what plan does it have to return the budget to surplus and pay off any debts?

Mr SWAN (Treasurer) —The shadow minister has asked me about the deficit or a possible deficit. It is interesting that the Leader of the Opposition has not raised this issue at all today given the dilemmas that he got into on ABC radio this morning. We have said that a deficit is not necessary now but that it is irresponsible to rule it out. That is the case because of the global financial crisis. We have said that we will take whatever action is necessary and responsible in the circumstances to strengthen our economy and to protect jobs. Those opposite have said the opposite. They have clearly said that they will not act to protect jobs—they have clearly said that. But we have said that we will act. We have never ruled a deficit out. We have also said that if there was a temporary deficit then it should be for the shortest time possible consistent with strengthening growth and jobs.

Australians can take heart that there is a federal government and a Reserve Bank doing everything they possibly can to strengthen our economy, given the threat to our economy from the global financial crisis. We expect in all of this for the banks to play their role in being part of the effort to strengthen the economy and should there be a cut in official interest rates to pass it on as responsibly and fully as possible. We have said all of those things to strengthen the economy.

But where is the opposition in the middle of that? They will not act to protect jobs. On the radio this morning, the Leader of the Opposition boxed himself into a corner on the issue of deficits. He only has two options now: to repudiate his position of last week and admit he was wrong or continue in the fantasy land that he was in this morning. This morning, he was asked four times on the radio whether he would run a deficit. Four times, he dodged that question—four times. When he finally got pinned down, he said, ‘Look, it’s the quality of the spending.’ Which spending have we announced that does not meet that benchmark? Perhaps he can answer that question. Is it the payments to pensioners and families? Is it the money that was spent in COAG? Is it money to be spent on infrastructure? What does not meet that standard?

Mr Pyne —Computers in schools.

Mr SWAN —We now know that they are not in favour of additional spending on education—we know that. Those opposite can either be part of the solution or part of the problem.

Mr Pearce —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance so the Treasurer can have a drink of water. The Treasurer was asked what the plan is to repay the debt.

The SPEAKER —The Treasurer will respond to the question.

Mr SWAN —The member for Sturt has confirmed they are opposed to that expenditure. Things are getting so confused over there that they are running around stabbing each other in the chest! You have the member for Sturt, the member for Dickson and the member for North Sydney all running around jockeying. What the community expects at the moment is leadership from political leaders, and what they want and what they are getting from the Rudd government is leadership to tackle the global financial crisis, to put in place decisive action—and it would help if those opposite got on board, because it is very important. What could be more irresponsible at a time of global financial crisis, for example, than to have the opposition attacking our regulators? What could be more irresponsible than that? Those over there are simply at sea when it comes to the whole question of the budget bottom line and what needs to be done to strengthen this economy and to protect jobs. Their attitude is: do nothing. Our attitude is to act decisively and put in place a range of policies which protect households and protect jobs.