MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - THE ADVERSE IMPACT OF THE GOVERNMENT’S BROKEN PROMISE TO DELIVER A SURPLUS
February 5, 2013
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (16:45): Given this is my first opportunity to speak since the summer break, I would like to wish all members and the parliamentary staff a very healthy and prosperous 2013. Like other members, I appreciated the opportunity to catch up with my constituents over the summer break. One of my favourite places to spend some time is my local surf club. There is a bloke at the surf club that everyone knows as Dingo. I turned up there the other day and Dingo said, 'Jeez, there's been some bad news for Julia Gillard—Minister Roxon, Minister Evans are both leaving. But there's worse news: Wayne Swan is staying.' I said: 'Dingo, you're a bit harsh on the Treasurer.' Dingo has got it in for the Treasurer for some reason. I basically tried to defend the Treasurer in the interests of bipartisanship. I do try to defend the Treasurer a bit; I say, 'He's not that bad.' I said, 'It's a hard job to defend him.' But Dingo has been adamant. He kept saying, 'This Treasurer can't even add up.'
Next Sunday when I see Dingo, I am going to have to apologise to him, because I think he is right. I think this Treasurer really has been treating the Australian people like mugs. This Treasurer has been misleading the Australian people with his repeated promises and repeated assurances that he could deliver a surplus in 2012-13. Honestly, if the treasurer of my local surf club ran the books the same way as this federal Treasurer runs the nation's budget, he would be run out of town. I want to refer to the Treasurer's budget speech on 8 May 2012. There really is no bigger stage for an Australian Treasurer than delivering his plan for the future on that night—to stand before the mums and dads of Australia and explain how the nation's books are looking. This is what the Treasurer has to say; this was the Treasurer's opening line on the biggest stage of the year—live television:
The four years of surpluses I announce tonight are a powerful endorsement of the strength of our economy, resilience of our people, and success of our policies.
He is no shrinking violet, our Treasurer, is he?
In an uncertain and fast?changing world, we walk tall — as a nation confidently living within its means.
This Budget delivers a surplus this coming year, on time, as promised, and surpluses each year after that, strengthening over time.
That is our Treasurer on his biggest night of the year. He went on to say:
A surplus provides our best defence against dramatic changes in the global economy.
This is probably the best line of all. The speech writer deserves a medal for this one.
The deficit years of the global recession are behind us. The surplus years are here.
There he goes, but as it has turned out, it was all a con. It is a myth, a mirage—just another Labor broken promise.
Instead of a surplus, we have another deficit heading our way, and it is proudly brought to you by the same Treasurer who has delivered record deficits–one after another—throughout his time in the portfolio. Those opposite would have seen all those polling results and they are probably wringing their hands trying to figure out what the problem may be and why there is an issue between them and the Australian public. I am afraid that this issue of breaking promises goes to the very core of the public's mistrust with the Gillard government. If the Australian people cannot believe their Prime Minister when she promises there will be no carbon tax under a government she leads and if the Australian people cannot believe the very first sentence of the Treasurer's address to the nation when he delivers his annual budget, why should Australians believe anything anyone in this government tells them in the lead up to the 14 September election?
The promised surplus was not just a passing mention; it was not something he dreamt up; it was on the biggest stage of the year for this Treasurer. He staked his entire political credibility on it. We have had the shadow Treasurer highlight for us today that more than 300 times he has promised this surplus. Actually, the shadow Treasurer said it was 366 times,. He used terms like 'Come hell or high water'. As any reasonable Australian knows, we have seen a bit of hell and a bit of high water this summer, but we still have not seen a surplus. We have seen the hell, we have seen the bushfires, we have seen the high water in Queensland, but we are still looking around for that surplus. This Treasurer was so confident about it, I thought I would take him on. I offered to bet the Treasurer a thousand bucks. He was boasting about his forecast surplus and I bet him in this place. I stood up here and I bet the Treasurer. I checked the Hansard just before. On 21 September, I came in here I challenged the Treasurer in his presence—he was in this place with me—I bet him a thousand bucks on his surplus promise. I said that if he had won the bet, I would pay a thousand bucks to his favourite charity and if he lost the bet, he would pay a thousand dollars to my favourite charity. But the fact that he would not take me on says a bit about this Treasurer, because I think he knew even then that he was conning the Australian people. He was misleading the Australian people with his repeated surplus promise even then. He was never prepared even then, in September 2011, to put his money where his mouth is, because that, I think, is increasingly becoming the Australian Labor Party's way: they will always spend someone else's money, but never their own.
So, the surplus promise has gone. It has disappeared. It is going to be replaced by another whopping big deficit, but, interestingly, we probably will not know what that deficit is when we all go to the polls on 14 September. The final figures may not even be in by then. So, Australian people will not even know whether the Treasurer has outdone himself and delivered his worst ever result—whether it is going to be a personal best deficit or just a run-of-the-mill $20 or $30 billion or $40 billion deficit. We do not know if it is going to be a personal best or not. We have a Treasurer who has presided over the four biggest deficits in Australian history, so he has got the record, but he is going for the five peaks. Can he top his own performance? It has all added up to the Rudd and Gillard governments combined borrowing $200 billion.
Keep in mind: this is from a government that inherited a budgetary situation of no debt whatsoever and money in the bank. That was the situation they inherited. I have only been around politics 20 or so years; I cannot recall an incoming government being so quiet about the state of the books. Normally the incoming government says: 'Oh no! There's a big black hole and things are worse than we thought!' I think this government came in and said: 'Let's be quiet about this—things are looking pretty good!' But they have managed to destroy it all in five years.
While you are borrowing $200 billion, the Australian people need to understand what that means in terms of the interest bill alone. We are talking $7 billion per year which needs to be repaid by the Australian people.
Mr Hartsuyker: How much?
Mr CHESTER: That is $7 billion! The member for Cowper is right to ask because I ask the Australian people listening today: can you just imagine what we could do if we did not have to pay back Labor's debt? Could you imagine if we did not have to pay back the principle but just the interest alone—if we only had to pay back the $7 billion a year? This is Kevin Rudd's and Julia Gillard's gift to our children: this massive debt that they are going to have to repay. Think about what we could do, as members in this place in each of our own electorates, if we did not have to pay back that debt. If we are in the fortunate position sometime later this year to form government, imagine what you could do, the good you could do in your community, with $7 billion per year. Think of the hospitals we could be building. Think of the roads that we will not be able to build because of the debt, and the improved aged-care and childcare facilities—think of all the things we could be doing for regional Australia and the cities. Think of all the things we could be doing if we were not paying back that interest rate bill. It is interesting, because the interest rate bill alone would pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
So, when it comes to economic management, we have this Treasurer and this government failing to deliver any certainty or stability for the Australian people and Australian households. At the same time, they are out there making new promises—casting grand ideas out there and throwing them up in the media as if they had been paid for. But the simple fact is: they have not been budgeted for, and projects like the National Disability Insurance Scheme will never be delivered by a Labor government because even if they win in September this year they will not have the money to pay for them.
As we have just emerged from a summer of natural disasters, which will obviously have an impact on the budget bottom line, hopefully this government is not going to go back to the Australian people and demand another levy, because prudent governments should be preparing for such events and responsible governments would be making contingencies, in a nation such as ours, for the impact of such natural disasters.
On that note, and in conclusion, I will perhaps finish with a word of caution to members opposite, and perhaps even members on this side: the public will judge us very harshly in this place this year if we are seen to be wasting time talking about ourselves. I can assure you now that people in Bundaberg shovelling mud out of their living rooms do not care about the latest Newspoll, and the Gippsland farmers who are out there today rebuilding fences in my community could not care less if the caucus is leaking to the Australian media. They want us to be focused on their interests—which goes to the very heart of the debate we are having here today.
Those opposite have tried to claim that economic conditions have changed and that is the reason for their major write-down in revenue which has caused this broken promise on the surplus, but the bottom line remains unquestioned: this government is actually receiving more revenue than previous governments but has failed to manage the budget in an economically sustainable manner. Australians deserve better from their government than having this divided and distracted mess. Australians deserve better economic management and the coalition government which can deliver it after September this year.