Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Allocation of Departments and Agencies
That is right. The committee is a place for alternative points of view and, boy, you sure provide an alternative point of view, Senator Cameron. But, in all seriousness—and, I think, Mr Acting Deputy President, we probably have some sympathy for this view—the economics committee really is one of the flagship committees of the Senate estimates committee system. It looks at monetary policy, fiscal policy, competition policy, Corporations Law, financial services and retirement incomes—there is no significant area of economic regulation or economic policy that it does not have coverage of. If there is one committee that this parliament should think very carefully about when it comes to allocation of responsibility and ensuring that there is adequate time for appropriate scrutiny, it is the economics committee.
We have heard time and again from the government that they are good economic managers. We have heard time and again from the government that they, supposedly, saved Australia from the effects of the global financial crisis. We have heard time and again from the government that they are good budget managers. We have heard all these things—no-one believes them, but we hear them frequently. The Senate economics committee is the place for those propositions to be examined and challenged—to challenge the proposition that the government saved Australia from the full effects of the global financial crisis. I would contend that they did not, that it was not a massive spend on school halls and pink batts that saved Australia but that it had perhaps a little more to do with the fact that we have a floating exchange rate, that there was strong demand from China, that Australia has some of the best prudential regulatory arrangements in the world, courtesy of the Howard-Costello government, and that we have an independent Reserve Bank and monetary policy did a fair bit of the heavy lifting in the face of the global financial crisis. Monetary policy could have done more. There could have been more space provided for the stimulatory effects of lower interest rates, but the massive spend by this government denied that opportunity. Those are things which still should be fully examined by the Senate estimates process. This government have told us time and again that they are good fiscal managers, that they will have this budget back in surplus in the next financial year. Again, no-one believes that. It may well be that on budget night the Treasurer stands up and declares that he forecasts a surplus for the next financial year. But, as we know, a forecast in a budget speech counts for nothing. In Wayne Swan's very first budget speech he forecast a surplus. We have not seen a surplus from this government.
What really matters is the final budget outcome, and we need to examine in Senate estimates the assumptions on which the next budget will be based. We need to probe and examine those, and that opportunity should not be denied as a result of the Economics Committee being overburdened with other tasks of examination of the VET portfolio and of the tertiary portfolio. We need to have that opportunity.
We need to have the opportunity in the Senate estimates committee to look at the effects of the carbon tax. This government are still not being forthcoming with all of modelling work behind the design of the carbon tax. We need to examine the focus that the Leader of the Opposition has put on this in the last few days, where we know from Treasury's own work that there will be a $1 trillion cumulative hit on the economic output of the nation up to 2050.