Thursday, 13 September 2012
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for North Sydney proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The urgent need for the Government to address its worsening debt position.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
Whilst the member for Hunter is in the House, I will note that the photograph was published on the web on Fairfax's site. That was the source of the photo.
The parlous state of the government's budget is obviously back in the headlines—and so it should be. We all know the story—the four biggest budget deficits in modern Australian history, totalling $174 billion; a massive blow-out in spending, with the government this year spending $100 billion more than the last year of the coalition government; a massive increase in debt, with the $70 billion the coalition left in net assets being turned into a projected $145 billion of net debt; and an interest bill on gross debt of $12 billion a year.
Madam Deputy Speaker, if the member for Lyne and the minister want to negotiate, they are perfectly entitled to do so outside this place.
This government has left us with an interest bill of $12 billion a year. This would be enough to fully fund the Gonski education reforms, to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme and to build 12 new teaching hospitals.
The government has staked its economic credentials on delivering an underlying budget surplus, but already there are private sector bodies such as Access Economics raising doubts about whether a surplus can actually be achieved this year. We will wait and see if it is achieved. The government has shuffled the money around. They have shuffled expenditure from one year to the next. They have shuffled revenue from one year to the next. They have engaged in accounting tricks. The numbers will be heavily massaged. But whether they get there or not, what matters is the sustainability of the budget and whether budget borrowings will continue to climb. The whole idea behind a desire to have a surplus is to reduce the burden of debt. The Treasurer knows this. On the day after this year's budget he claimed the reason to achieve a surplus was to pay down debt. He said, 'It is very modest. That is why you come back down to surplus. That is why you pay down your debt.'
Yet the budget papers show that the Labor Party will continue to increase borrowings until 2015. This year alone the Labor government will be borrowing $24 million a day to fund just its off-budget initiatives. Next year they will be borrowing $19 million a day. So every day this government has been in power debt has been increasing. Nothing changes.
Labor has now sought to increase the limit on the government's debt ceiling on four separate occasions, to increase the credit card limit. It was originally $75 billion. Then it went to $200 billion, and then $250 billion. This year the government said, 'Don't worry—we're paying down the debt. But, just in case, we want to go to $300 billion.' Just in case!
Total government debt on issue is currently $240 billion, but with all the spending for an uncosted National Broadband Network and a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, who knows where we will be in three years time. Most concerning of all, it does not include all the announcements this government has made over the last few weeks—all targeted, dare I say, not at the electorate but at Kevin Rudd. The government has announced $120 billion of new spending initiatives to put off the leadership challenge of the member for Griffith. That is what it is about. If anyone thinks it is seriously about people with disabilities, then why isn't the government allocating serious money to it? If it is seriously about submarines, then why isn't the government allocating the money to it? If the government is really serious about dental health care, where is it going to find this money?
Of course, there are also the Gonski reforms. Remember it was the member for Griffith—whose predecessor had 'noodle nation'—who said he would deliver the education revolution. That is why this Prime Minister is determined to have a Gonski plan with no money. But still, they have given the commitment. This is about building monuments to Julia, as everyone in the Labor Party seems to be doing, to fend off Kevin. The bottom line is—
Let's go through them. There is the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which will cost $10½ billion a year when it is operational. There is an extra $3.7 billion for aged care and an extra $1 billion which the government says is going to $3 billion for low-paid workers. There is offshore processing. Gee, that's gone well! So far there is $2.1 billion for reopening Nauru and Manus Island. There is an increase in the refugee intake to 20,000. That is going to cost an extra $1.4 billion. For Defence there is $36 billion for submarines and $16 billion for joint strike fighters. The Greens dental care program, which the government has taken credit for, is $4 billion. Then, of course, there is Gonski, at least $6½ billion a year. Where is this money coming from? These are huge announcements. Where is it coming from?
Listen, old sunshine: it is not your money; it is the taxpayers' money. It is the taxpayers' money out there, not yours. That is the problem with Labor. They think it is their money, but it is the taxpayers' money—the same poor old taxpayers who have to pay for the $900 cheques that go to dead people, for the pink batts that go into people's roofs and burn down people's houses, for the massive overspend on school halls. That is the same Labor Party and you know it is the same taxpayers who have to pay those horrific bills.
We know that it can only come from one of two sources. It can come from increased taxes, and Lord knows the Labor Party is pretty good at that. There have been 26 new or increased taxes since the Labor Party was elected, some of them real crackers, like the carbon tax and the mining tax. The carbon tax has had six different versions and is over $8 billion a year. Gee, that's gone well for you guys! That is terrific. That has done great things to the Australian economy. Then there is the mining tax, which now raises less than one per cent of Commonwealth government revenue. The Labor Party has been so diligent in its application to delivering a simple mining tax that there are mining companies spending up to $1½ million a year on accountants, complying with the mining tax, and they have no liability to pay it. They have no liability to pay the tax, but the paperwork of the tax is costing $1½ million a year for some mining companies, half a million dollars for most of the others.
I would say to you that the coalition is absolutely determined to get rid of the carbon tax. We are absolutely determined to get rid of the mining tax. We are absolutely determined to have smaller government than Labor. We are absolutely determined to empower taxpayers to have more control over their own hard-earned money. That is what we do. But it is in the DNA of the Labor Party to have increased spending and increased taxation. That is what the Labor Party does.
I always love referring to Doug Cameron. We love Doug Cameron. Dougie, with the Scottish accent over in the Senate, is a truth teller for the Labor Party. He said, 'We need Kevin Rudd to campaign for us at the next election.' Damn right they need Kevin Rudd to campaign for them at the next election. It would be a welcome change from Kevin Rudd campaigning against the Labor Party at election. So yes, they do need Kevin. But Doug Cameron said about the $120 billion of new commitments that it was:
… inconceivable that this amount of government expenditure on building a good society could be funded from existing revenue.
That makes everyone a little bit nervous. What tax is next?
The Labor Party is refusing to release the costings undertaken by the Treasury on the Greens policies. Let's just get this right. The Greens, who are the coalition partners of the Labor Party, went to the Commonwealth Treasury and said, 'Can you cost our policies?' Then the Labor Party gives us a lecture and says, 'You should do that and then everyone can see what the numbers are.'
But the thing is: the government are refusing to release the Treasury costings of Greens policies. They are claiming they are cabinet-in-confidence. I been around this place a while, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, as have you—not nearly as long as me, but you are showing your age very well!—and I have never seen a Green in the cabinet. I do not think they are there. So how is their deliberation actually in confidence to cabinet? They do not sit in the room. So we will be looking at the information office's deliberations on this very carefully.
What we do know is that the Greens want to see company taxes increased to 33 per cent. We know the Greens want to reintroduce death duties to Australia—and the Labor Party struggles to answer the questions. The Greens want to increase taxes on superannuation. You might say, 'That's the Greens.' Well, the last time the Greens had a policy costed by the Treasury, it was changes to FBT on company cars. The Greens came out and said, 'This is our policy,' and then the government announced it. I thought at the time, 'Gee; I've heard that before.' What other policies do the Greens have? The Greens went to the last election promising a $23-a-tonne carbon tax. Wow! What does this government do? 'We're going to have a $23 a tonne carbon tax.' So now we know.
The Labor Party have a $120 billion black hole, in an attempt to make the Prime Minister more popular with the Australian people. They have had a huge raft of announcements over the last few weeks, and now they will not tell the Australian people where the money is coming from. It is a magic pudding. But you know what? At the end of the day, there is only one taxpayer, the poor soul. Labor are hoping that everything is going to be okay, that the economy is just going to choof on. They are ignoring what is happening in Europe. They are ignoring the challenges in the United States. They are ignoring that China is coming off what seems to be quite a peak. They are ignoring that, in the last national accounts, the government sector contributed 0.5 per cent to the 0.6 per cent growth. They are ignoring that, in the June quarter results, without their cash handouts household disposable income would have been in trouble, because the economy is not performing as well as was expected. They are ignoring that company profits are coming down, according to the national accounts. They are ignoring that investment in dwellings continues to slump. They are ignoring that the terms of trade continue to decline. They are ignoring that the June quarter accounts predate the introduction of the carbon and mining taxes. They are ignoring that retail sales fell by nearly one per cent in July. They are ignoring that ANZ job advertisements declined by nearly one per cent in July and two per cent in August. They are ignoring that the Sensis Business Index showed that confidence of small and medium businesses declined in the September quarter, and consumer confidence remained pessimistic for the seventh consecutive month. These are the stats.
What does the Labor Party do? In response to the general malaise across the Australian community, the Labor Party says: 'Don't worry. We're going on a big-spending, big-taxing binge.' You know what? The Labor Party are hypocrites for this. They criticise for Campbell Newman for job cuts. They are cutting 3,000 jobs this year out of the Public Service in Canberra, and they are trying to give us a sanctimonious lecture about who cares about jobs. Typical Labor—all hypocrisy.
I am not sure what planet the member for North Sydney has been living on or what country he thinks he was referring to, but he is certainly not representing the state of our economy, including our debt, in any accurate way. What we just heard from the member for North Sydney was a delusional attempt to suggest that our economy is in some way weak when compared with other advanced economies. The facts are that all economic indicators say otherwise.
I would like to say this on behalf of the government. The government is not interested in taking lectures from an opposition so lacking in fiscal rectitude that they came to the last election without satisfying their own Charter of Budget Honesty. As we all know now, when they eventually provided those details, after the election, after there was proper scrutiny of the details of those costings, they were found to have a very significant black hole. So we do not really need any lessons from those on the other side in relation to the economy and the way in which we should handle the global financial crisis.
We all remember that, when this government made a decision to stimulate the economy, to replace the contraction of private capital, to ensure that small businesses and workers across the country kept their jobs, those opposite voted against those initiatives. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition slept, both metaphorically and literally, through the legislation that was passed in this place to provide support to our economy. As a result of those initiatives, in partnership with businesses and with workers across this country, we came through the global financial crisis as well as any other country in the world.
In relation to debt, there is no doubt that the member for North Sydney is delusional. Let me just turn to his references about tax. He says that this is a high-taxing government. Let us just be very clear and ensure that we place on the record in this place in this debate which government was the biggest taxing in the history of Australia. It was not the Whitlam government. It was not the Fraser government. It was not the Hawke government or the Keating government. It is not this government. It was the Howard government that was the highest-taxing government, when tax was compared to our gross domestic product as a ratio. It does not matter what the member for North Sydney says—he can bluster all he likes; he can distract us with all sorts of other references—but the fact is, when you look at the most important indicator to illustrate the extent to which a government taxes its people, the Howard government is left exposed as the highest-taxing government in this nation's history.
This debt delusion of the member for North Sydney is all just a further example of the alarmist, scaremongering nonsense that we have been hearing from the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Treasurer and other members on the other side in relation to our economy—an attempt to scare people into believing that our economy is in some way in bad shape, an attempt to talk down our economy, which adversely affects businesses in this country. It is a shameful act that, for their own self-interest, they choose to misrepresent the facts and create a problem with consumer and business confidence. It is a shameful and irresponsible act.
Just have a think about what we would expect to find in the Australian economy if there were any merit to the arguments of the member for North Sydney. If it were true that the government was flooding the place with government debt, what would you expect the consequences to be? The answer is quite straightforward. Either the price of government bonds would be collapsing because of all the bonds being issued, or the interest rates in the economy would have to go up to influence people to hold extra debt. Are either of these scenarios true? They are not true. The reality is in fact the opposite.
Just in relation to debt—and the Acting Prime Minister referred to this, of course, when asked in question time today—net debt peaks as a percentage of GDP at 9.6 per cent in 2011-12. That is on average one-tenth of the level of the major advanced economies in the world—one-tenth—so by any measure the debt in this country is very, very low. As a result of that, and for other reasons, the rating agencies have given our economy a very big tick indeed. For the very first time, all three major rating agencies have given our economy a triple-A rating. Fitch referred to our economy thus:
Australia's low general government debt-to-GDP ratio … is already a standout ratings strength, having given it a demonstrable capacity to absorb fiscal and economic shocks.
As a result, Fitch upgraded Australia to AAA from AA+ in November last year.
Moody's, on 8 May this year, said:
… by demonstrating continued commitment to fiscal discipline, the Australian budget presented on May 8 is consistent with the government's Aaa rating.
And of course we maintained that triple-A rating.
S and P on the same day, in relation to the budget, said:
Restoring the government's strong fiscal settings through a forecast return to surpluses over the cycle and maintaining low debt will provide flexibility to respond to large economic and financial shocks, and is consistent with maintaining the 'AAA' rating on Australia.
For the very first time in our history, this government has received a triple-A rating from all three rating agencies when they are comparing us with other economies. We could not have a better evaluation from independent bodies than that.
But we do have more. We have more people commending our efforts. Very recently, the former Prime Minister, in a moment of candour—a rare moment of candour, perhaps, when it comes to praising this government—said:
When the Prime Minister and the Treasurer say that the Australian economy is doing better than most, they're right. I agree with them. There's no doubt that the Australian economy is doing better than most.
Our unemployment is remarkably low; our debt-to-GDP is converged very favourably; and by all the measurements, our inflation is low. I won't bore you with the statistics; you've heard them all before.
Well, we were not bored by that, because the former Prime Minister is right in saying that we have very low debt, very low inflation, very low unemployment and, as a result, a very strong economy—which of course makes this MPI quite absurd. The proposition upon which this whole debate is based is that somehow we have a debt problem, but we do not have a debt problem.
I will tell you what we do have. We have an economy that is 11 per cent larger since Labor came to office, despite going through the worst global economic conditions since the Great Depression. We have growth running at 3.7 per cent up to this year. We have low unemployment of 5.1 per cent, less than half the rate seen in Europe and significantly below that of other advanced economies. We have an exceptional job creation record of 800,000 jobs that we have created since we came to office, despite our watching 27 million jobs disappear globally in that same time. We have had inflation at 13-year lows, with underlying inflation at the bottom end of the RBA's target band. We have a low official cash rate at 3.5 per cent—350 basis points. We have seen a reduction of 125 basis points in that official cash rate since November last year and, indeed, an official cash rate lower than was the case at any time under the Howard government. And of course we have hundreds of billions of dollars in a huge investment pipeline. We have healthy consumption of four per cent through the year. We have very low debt, as I have said before. We are of course returning the budget to surplus. These are the facts—
Mr Truss interjecting—
if the opposition want to listen to them. These are the facts confirmed by rating agencies and confirmed by the former Prime Minister of this country, John Howard, in a recent discussion that he had.
That being so, you wonder: why is it that the member for North Sydney chose to suggest that we have a debt problem? Why would he posit a view that we somehow have a debt problem in this country? There must be some rationale. The only conclusion I can draw from the opposition and the Liberal shadow Treasurer suggesting that we have a debt problem is that he needs to have a bogus rationale to cut services. He needs to advance the argument that we have a major debt problem to justify the cuts to essential services across this country if the opposition were ever to be elected to government. That is the basis upon which this whole argument that we somehow have a debt problem is being run. Nobody else believes it other than the Liberal Party. They say we have a debt problem, and as a result they want to find a case, find an argument, find the rationale, to cut jobs—front-line job services and essential services—in the same way that the Premier of Queensland, the Premier of New South Wales and indeed even the Premier of Victoria have been doing in recent times.
You might wonder: 'Is it fair to say that? Would it be true to say that the federal Liberal opposition are supportive of the approaches taken by the Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian governments?' I think it is fair to say that they are indeed supportive. Premier Newman himself has said that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer are supportive. He said:
I talk regularly to Mr Abbott … He is very understanding, he and people like Joe Hockey have been incredibly supportive.
Of course they have been incredibly supportive!
Just last Friday, the shadow Treasurer praised Queensland Premier Campbell Newman as he cut 2,745 health jobs—with more to come. The shadow Treasurer said:
Campbell Newman, all strength to his right arm, is showing incredible courage …
That is the view of the member for North Sydney on the cuts in Queensland. It is also the view of the Leader of the Opposition, who is supporting the cuts being made by Liberal governments in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and other parts of this country.
What does all that mean? It means it has been a very bad week for Queenslanders—reckless cuts to front-line services which will impact on patient care; cuts to breast-screening services; cuts to nurses in Townsville, the Darling Downs, Charters Towers and West Moreton; cuts to the flu vaccine for health workers; and cuts to counsellors who help grieving relatives at the morgue. The Queensland Tuberculosis Control Centre is being closed and 12 full-time jobs are going from Donate Life, effectively shutting down this organ donation agency.
This is what the Liberals do. This is in their DNA. They do this as a matter of reflex. But they know they must dress it up—they have to be able to pretend there is a need to do it. That is why we have this MPI—they want to pretend we have a debt problem so that in future, if they are ever elected, they can justify announcing cuts. Just recently we have seen the South Australian Leader of the Opposition announce a keenness to slash the public sector. She is keen to swing the axe on the public sector just as her colleagues in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have done. That is what you get from Liberal governments. They do not say anything before the election, but once they are in they are after you. They have been cutting services throughout regional Queensland—Townsville, Mackay, Cairns, Rockhampton. These places are being decimated by a rampant government with a callous disregard for people who need education and health services.
We do not need any lecturing from those opposite .We do not need any pretence that there is a debt problem in this country. We know that is their way of giving themselves a pretext for announcing cuts in essential services—education, health and other areas which ordinary Australians rely upon for a good quality of life.
What we do need before the next election—and we need it soon—is a direct explanation to the Australian people from the Leader of the Opposition of what he is looking to do. We know he supports Campbell Newman's approach, we know he supports Premier Barry O'Farrell's approach, we know he supports the cuts in Victoria and I am sure he will support the Leader of the Opposition in South Australia, but we need to know—and the people of Australia deserve to know—what Tony Abbott is going to do in relation to cutting essential services if he gets elected. He needs to tell people the truth. In the last week he has said nothing. He owes the Australian people an explanation. He needs to tell them the truth.
The MPI before parliament today is one of very great importance—our worsening debt position and rising government debt. If anyone needed any further convincing that they should despair of this Labor government, they would have had their views totally reinforced by the response we have just heard from the minister. This is a matter of public importance about Australia's worsening debt position. In spite of a $145 billion black hole, in spite of $174 billion worth of debt racked up by this government, in spite of repeated demands for increases in their credit card borrowing limit, this government says we do not have a debt problem. Their attitude is: 'This is nothing to worry about. It is only a $145 billion black hole. It is only $174 billion worth of deficits. We do not have a problem.'
The minister just said that it is only a pretend debt. You go and tell your bank manager that your house mortgage is only a pretend debt—you don't have to pay it back; it doesn't matter. This is the irresponsible approach this government are taking towards debt. Their response to being racked with debt is to spend, spend, spend. Their attitude is: 'Spend your way out of debt. Spend your way out of the country's troubles. The credit limit doesn't matter—raise it again. Keep on spending.'
Labor have no appreciation of the crisis. They are leaving this country with a level of debt which just grows and grows. They have learned no lessons from the Hawke-Keating government, which left behind $96 billion worth of debt, debt which took a decade to repay. This government is already way beyond that—$145 billion worth of debt—and they have no plan to repay it. The minister's attitude is: 'It does not matter; it is only pretend. Who cares about the debt? Just keep on spending.'
Today and on previous days Labor have criticised the Queensland government, the New South Wales government and the Victorian government for having to cut expenditure. This is a further reflection of the way Labor believe debt should be dealt with. The Queensland LNP government does not want to cut expenditure. They would like to keep going on spending—as all of us would like to keep on spending. They are not doing this because they want to do it; they are doing it because they have to do it.
Labor has spent the state into a $70 billion deficit, rising much higher as time goes by. The state has lost its credit rating under Labor.
Queenslanders are paying hundreds of millions of dollars more than they should because of the higher interest rates caused by Labor spending irresponsibly—and, again, it had no plan to ever pay that money back. Now the South Australian Labor government has had its credit rating downgraded. What is Labor's response? Keep on spending—spend your way out of debt. This is the kind of illogical economic policy that has given that state so much trouble over the years.
Every Labor government leaves behind a legacy of debt. It is quite clear from the minister's recent comment that they do not care. The mantra of the government has been heroic announcements. They revel in rhetoric and big-vision type announcements full of carefully crafted speeches, but with no plan ever to pay for them. They are big on overcooked promises but they are hopeless on delivery. The cost blow-outs, along with commodity prices in freefall, mean that any hope Labor ever had of achieving its $1.5 billion surplus is long gone. The budget was never honest. There was never any likelihood that it would return to surplus. The Gillard and Rudd governments have never delivered a budget surplus. This is not the first time they have promised one—they promised it in their very first budget. After Kevin Rudd had promised the Australian people that he was a fiscal conservative, Labor delivered their first budget, promising a $22 billion surplus. We all know that that turned into a $27 billion debt. The $70 billion that was in the bank and that they inherited has now gone and they are way into the red. Our national debt is at a record—a staggering $145 billion.
But they have not stopped the promises. They are still out there with these big announcements that are simply not funded. That is what has delivered a $120 billion black hole, on top of the existing debt that Australians are going to have to fund. There is a whole array of announcements. There is to be $10 billion a year for the National Disability Insurance Scheme—a project that everyone would like to see put in place, but Labor have not provided the money. They have even boasted that they have delivered the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but it is unfunded. There is $4 billion for a new dental health package. They are not telling the Australian people, who are despairingly starting to wake up to this, that as of last week they have actually cancelled the previous government's billion-dollar dental scheme.
No-one can now get any government funded dental treatment, because the government have cancelled the previous government's billion-dollar scheme. The new program does not start until 2014—after this financial year, when they are trying to deliver some kind of fake budget surplus. It is a long wait to get your tooth filled, but that is where the government are going with their overblown rhetoric.
There is $6.5 billion a year on the Gonski education program not funded. There is $3.7 billion for aged care, but there has been no new money for a long time and even when the program is fully implemented most of it will come from older Australians themselves—it is not a government program. There will be $2.2 billion for mental health, but they are actually cutting expenditure for mental health.
They are up to their old tricks. We have seen these grand plan announcements before—big promises but they are not delivered on. There was GroceryWatch; Fuelwatch—it did not even get off the ground; cash for clunkers, abolished before it started; the green loans scheme, which has left so many people out of pocket; $2.4 billion for the pink batts that went up in smoke, with 250,000 botched installations and a thousand electrified roofs; and then there was the Building the Education Revolution, which delivered overpriced school halls, and the computers that were supposed to go to every child between years nine and 12, costing $900 million. It cost $2.3 billion and ran years late. Labor is out there just cynically trying to buy votes. They are talking up the rhetoric, but everyone needs to remember that the money is not there to pay for any of these programs.
Labor's $120 billion black hole is not just on paper—it has a direct effect on families. It is not pretend money, as the minister suggested. There will be an ongoing cost for Australian households and Australian businesses. As a result of this great black hole, as a result of this debt, there will be less money to be spent on health, education, roads, defence and all the important things that governments must do, because money will first have to be paid as interest to the bankers. They are the people who are going to demand interest on this debt, the people who will decide whether even the federal government can maintain its credit rating if it keeps on spending, spending, spending with no plan whatsoever to pay the debt back. Is it any wonder that countries around the world are observing Australia and wondering whether this is a place they should invest in—we have a government that cannot be trusted, that does not understand economics, that does not care about debt.
The Treasurer has been asked over recent days about what he proposes to do about this debt and what new taxes are going to be introduced. There are 26 new ones already and another 20 at least are being talked about, including the horrors of death duties, which the Treasurer was not willing to rule out yesterday. The reality is that Labor continues to deliver record deficits, record expenditure and record incompetence. Australians are paying for this at the rate of $20 million a day in interest and they will keep paying for it for generations. (Time expired)
If you want to know what the member for North Sydney thinks about debt, don't listen to what he says in this House. You know what those opposite say in this House is not to be taken as gospel truth. Listen to what he said on 17 April, when he travelled to London to give a speech and talked about the debt that Hong Kong held. He said that the debt that Hong Kong held was 'moderate'. How much debt does Hong Kong hold? It holds debt that is 34 per cent of GDP in gross terms. That is about twice Australia's gross debt, which will peak at 18 per cent. So the only reasonable way the member for North Sydney could characterise Australia's debt would be 'low'. Australia's net debt will peak at 9.6 per cent. So, if you want to find what those opposite really think about the economy, look at what they say when they go to London. When the member for North Sydney went to London, he noted that Hong Kong's debt was moderate; therefore, ours would be low. When the Leader of the Opposition went to London last year, he said:
… Australia has serious bragging rights … Compared to most developed countries, our economic circumstances are enviable.
The opposition get the economic truth-telling gold when they go to London! The trouble is that, when they get back to Australia, they do not make the medal ranks because they cannot be honest with the Australian people and tell them that Australia's debt levels are around a 10th of those of the major economies. Nine point six per cent of GDP is like someone earning $100,000 a year owing a modest $9,600.
If you want to know what those opposite really think of debt, again, don't listen to what they say in this place; listen to what they tell the Register of Members' Interests. If they really believed what they said, that debt is a bad idea, then you would not expect to find that any of them personally held debt, would you? You would think that, if debt is bad for the country, then it must be bad for them. You would think, for instance, that the member for Aston would not have a mortgage. You would think you would not see a mortgage for the member for Forde, the member for Mitchell, the member for Boothby and the member for Casey. The member for Paterson and the member for Mackellar also hold mortgages, as do the member for Dunkley, the member for Sturt, the member for Wannon, the member for Canning, the member for Herbert, the member for Flinders and the members for Groom, Mayo, Ryan and Gilmore.
I note in passing that the member for North Sydney himself has a mortgage. He thinks it is worth taking on some debt for his own future, but he thinks it is a bad idea to save the jobs of some poor people. The member for Bennelong, the member for Kooyong, the member for Pearce, the member for Curtin, the member for Higgins, the member for Hasluck and the members for Macquarie, Cowan, Stirling, Dickson, Berowra, Bonner, McMillan, Wright, Cook, Indi, Swan, Moncrieff and Leichhardt all hold mortgages, as does the member for Warringah. His mortgage was a little late in coming on to the Register of Members' Interests, but it did get on there eventually, with a story in June 2010 over his failure to declare a $710,000 mortgage. 'What's that as a share of income?' I hear you ask. 'If he's worried about this country's debt levels being 9.6 per cent of GDP, I bet he's got a small mortgage.' Well, no; in fact, his mortgage was then about 300 per cent of his annual income. There is nothing wrong with that. It is perfectly fine for the Leader of the Opposition to take out a mortgage because he thinks that is a good way of securing his future. I would just like to see him have the same commitment to securing the future of low-income Australians, because they are the ones that get wiped out in recessions.
Let's be very clear about what the opposition's anti-debt strategy means. When the global financial crisis hit, the revenue write-downs were two-thirds of the total debt we took on. So, if you take the view that we should not have taken on debt, what you are saying is, 'Bring on the firings; if only the government had cut back at the same rate as the private sector when the global downturn hit, everything would have been all right.' But we have a historical example of just that: Herbert Hoover, in the teeth of the Great Depression, as the member for Wakefield was reminding me earlier, cut back on government spending as the Great Depression hit. But the impact of doing that here would have been brutal to young Australians and low-skilled Australians, who are the first to be hit when a downturn strikes.
So, really, those opposite are just playing politics with debt. They do not really believe it. They carry debt themselves; they take out mortgages. But they come in here and rail against Australia's debt. If you take them to London, they might tell you the truth; but bring them in here and they will angrily rail against debt. I am reminded of one of the most awful Lenin quotes:
It would not matter a jot if three-quarters of the human race were destroyed; the important thing is that the remaining quarter should be Communist.
Those opposite seem to be taking a leaf out of Lenin's book. They would rather see the Australian economy suffer than see Labor succeed. That is the Leader of the Opposition's modus operandi. As David Marr's Quarterly Essay reminded us:
There was always the Santamaria way: when you haven't got the numbers, be vicious. It's called minority politics. Abbott would come to play them superbly, having learnt in the Democratic Club how small constituencies can cause big trouble.
Mr Marr talks about how the Leader of the Opposition pursued that strategy, first through 'don't know, vote no' in the referendum on the republic, and then in minority parliament. As the then tyro journalist writing for the Bulletin, now the member for Wentworth, wrote of the Leader of the Opposition—this is well before either of them entered politics, but you can imagine some of it is still there today—
Malcolm Turnbull wrote:
The leading light of the right wingers in New South Wales is twenty-year-old Tony Abbott. He has written a number of articles on AUS in the Australian and his press coverage has accordingly given him a stature his rather boisterous and immature rhetoric doesn’t really deserve.
The destructive politics on debt are characteristic of the way in which this opposition does business. In a piece entitled 'Small target, big letdown' Peter Hartcher, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, talked about the opposition's strategy as being in the vein of Achilles: they rage against everything in front of them. My friend Macgregor Duncan has noted, similarly, that the opposition seem to be behaving like an Achilles rather than like a Hector. The opposition are out there to attack, to criticise to condemn. They are not there to build and to create. I will end there.