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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Page: 4698

Senator RYAN (2:13 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Sherry. Has the government undertaken any modelling to support its claim that debt will be zero by the year 2022?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —Certainly in terms of the Treasury projections and forecasts that are contained in the budget that was delivered in May, they have carried out their own internal estimates as to the level of debt—both net and gross—the level of budget deficit, the return of the budget to surplus and the estimated years for the repayment of government debt. They have done it in a highly professional and accurate manner.

Senator RYAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is it not a fact that Treasury specifically denies modelling the medium-term fiscal outlook beyond 2019-2020 and in fact stated in an answer to a question on notice in the last estimates:

Treasury did not model the medium-term fiscal outlook beyond 2019-2020.

Is it not a fact that all Labor claims of net debt being zero by 2022 are based on no more than extrapolation and guesswork?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —As I indicated in my previous answer, I did not say that Treasury had done modelling. What I did say—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—

Senator SHERRY —You were not listening, obviously, Senator Macdonald. What I did indicate was that Treasury have highly professional officials who have great skills and expertise, who provide their best assessment of these particular forecast and projections.

Senator RYAN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Senator Sherry, given the government, as you admit now, has not actually modelled the elimination of debt, as it has so often claimed, how can the Australian people and generations of future taxpayers believe the claims about eliminating this debt?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —It is not the government that carries out these sorts of forecasts and projections; it is the Treasury that prepares them on behalf of the government. I have great confidence in the capability and skills of the Treasury officials in their preparation of budget figures. In fact to that extent, in terms of calculating debt levels—and I might make the point that it is certainly not acknowledged by the current opposition—the level of gross government debt when the opposition was defeated was $58 billion. There was a level of gross debt left to this Labor government and it is not commonly understood or acknowledged. They are the same Treasury officials who have provided forecasts for years. (Time expired)