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Thursday, 30 May 1996
Page: 1432

Senator SHERRY —My question is directed to the Assistant Treasurer. Time after time—and you have done it again—you loudly assert in this place that an $8 billion budget deficit exists. In light of yesterday's national accounts figures, why won't you now avail yourself of this opportunity and admit you were wrong?

Senator SHORT —I am not sure whether I need to go over the answer I have just given; it rather sounds as though I do. As I said, the wilfully deceitful assertion by Labor that there is no longer an $8 billion black hole is wrong, wrong, wrong. That figure of $8 billion is not a figure that we concocted. It is a figure that was produced two days after the election by the government's official forecasters, which showed that the deficit for 1996-97 is $7.64 billion. That is the $8 billion black hole. It is not an invention; it is an official forecast.

The previous Labor government was all too happy to rely on official Treasury forecasts. They were not going to revise them and come clean with the Australian people. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why you lot on the other side lost the election—because you deceived the Australian people. You knew what the true state of the finances of this country were. You refused to come clean, open the books and reveal the $8 billion black hole which you knew about, and which the present Leader of the Opposition, the former Minister for Finance, Mr Beazley, knew full well. As far as your assertion is concerned, Senator Sherry, it is simply wrong.

Senator Sherry —What did Don Argus say?

Senator SHORT —As I said in my answer to Senator MacGibbon, those figures are official figures. If you want to quote people, let me point out to you the statements by very responsible economic commentators today. I draw particular attention to Alan Wood in the Australian .

Senator Sherry —Ha, ha! What about the other economic commentators? What about Don Argus?

Senator SHORT —You do not like Alan Wood, do you, because he is a responsible forecaster. He said that your assertion that there is no black hole and that we can go easy on fiscal policy, back to the old laxity that you had of a $17 billion underlying deficit two years in a row and almost as large figures in the surrounding two years since 1991, accompanied by economic growth, and you believe that that is fiscal responsibility—the Australian people and anyone who follows the finances of this country and is concerned about the future of this country know that you vandalised the finances of this country and you still do not seem to have learnt your lesson.

Senator SHERRY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will you now give a categorical commitment, particularly in light of your continued assertions that, if budget figures demonstrate there is no $8 billion deficit, in other words, if you get it wrong, wrong, wrong, you will resign?

Senator SHORT —You fellows—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Just take a seat for a second or two and we will see whether we can get some silence.

Senator SHORT —You fellows and ladies got it so wrong, wrong, wrong during your 13 years in government that you almost got RSI from getting it wrong. The fact is that, as we move towards the budget and in the course of the presentation and preparation of the budget, as is always the case, the figures and forecasts will be reviewed. They always are reviewed and the budget will be prepared in the light of the situation at the time.

The fact is that the official forecast for a $8 billion deficit in 1996-97 is the deficit you seem to refuse to acknowledge exists. That is the deficit that, whether you like it or not, does exist.