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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26638

Senator LIGHTFOOT (2:24 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Finance and Administration, Senator the Hon. Nick Minchin. Will the minister inform the Senate of the importance of honesty and transparency in relation to economic policy? Is the minister aware of any attempts to hide proposed policies from public scrutiny?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —One of the most shameful acts of deception by any Australian government was that perpetrated by the last Labor government in the 1996 federal election campaign. Throughout that campaign the then Labor government asserted that the Commonwealth budget was in surplus. The reality, which former ministers like Mr Crean and Mr McMullan must have known, was that the Commonwealth budget was then in deficit to the tune of $10,000 million. That Labor deceit was the reason this government introduced the Charter of Budget Honesty, so that no future Australian government could any longer deceive the Australian people about the state of Commonwealth finances. Labor opposed that charter and have treated it with contempt in opposition.

A key feature of that charter is the opportunity for both the government and the opposition of the day to have their promises independently costed by the departments of Treasury and finance. In the 1998 campaign the ALP submitted only 28 of their 319 spending promises for costing four days before the election, and a further 87 less than 48 hours before the election. Then in 2001 they submitted their first promises for costing just five days before the election, and even by polling day they had submitted only around half of the promises that they had made in the election. So the key question for the Labor Party and for the Australian people is: will this new found interest in truth and honesty from the opposition result in them complying with the Charter of Budget Honesty for the first time since it was introduced in 1996?

Senator Conroy —Come on; you're going to have to do better than that!

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy, you have been a habitual interjector today. I ask you to come to order.

Senator MINCHIN —Will the Labor Party comply with the Charter of Budget Honesty? Will they submit their promises for costing, independently, by Treasury and Finance? Will they come clean on the full details of their economic policies, now only six weeks before the federal election? They have already made, by all accounts, about $9 billion in new spending promises. They claim to have a list of cuts to existing programs that are going to pay for these promises. Mr Latham promised that we would see this list weeks and weeks ago, yet we have seen nothing of it. Labor then claimed they were going to get PricewaterhouseCoopers to audit all their policies, but then PricewaterhouseCoopers had to come out and deny that that was the case; all they were going to do was pull out their adding machine and see if the numbers added up. Now we have the shadow Treasurer telling us that the tax policy is already done, that it has already been fully costed and that it is finalised. But where is it? It was promised just after the budget. It was promised 17 weeks ago and we still have not seen the policy. So there is no guarantee they are going to submit their policies for costing. We still have not seen the tax policy. They simply cannot be trusted to keep the budget in surplus, and they therefore cannot be trusted on the critical issue of keeping interest rates down.

Mr Latham has his suddenly newly found honesty. He says he has never told a lie, but on vital economic issues he has misled the public time and time again. He told us he would release his tax policy straight after the budget, and he has not. He told us that he had left the Liverpool council, of which he was the failed mayor, in surplus, and he did not—we now all know he left that in a shambles. He told us he had a list of savings to pay for all their promises. We have no list. He told us that PricewaterhouseCoopers would audit Labor's policies, and they had to come out and say that was a lie. This opposition cannot be trusted on the question of the budget: they cannot be trusted to keep it in surplus and they cannot be trusted to keep interest rates low.