Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to the fact that the government's stock of outstanding debt has grown by $5 billion since the beginning of this financial year to a gross total now of $239 billion, an increase of almost $180 billion in additional debt since this Labor government was elected. The government has promised to deliver a surplus of $1½ billion, so can the minister explain why the government has increased its borrowings by over $5 billion in the past seven weeks?
I thank the senator for his question and I congratulate him on having a small win over the Liberals on foreign investments. I do not agree with it, but I congratulate him on his win, although I did notice that Mr Hockey went back pretty hard at Senator Nash and put her in her place.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. It is obviously on relevance. Her answer has not dealt in any way, shape or form with the question, although she might want to address it to the Labor Party, who have been rolled on their position on immigration.
Thank you, Mr President. I am very happy to address the question. As the senator would know, because he has asked me questions about gross debt and net debt previously, gross debt peaked as a percentage of GDP in 2011-12. Net debt peaks as a percentage of GDP at 9.6 per cent. This is, of course, at about one-tenth of the level of the major advanced economies. We start paying down gross and net debt as a percentage of GDP this year, and net interest payments in this financial year, according to the budget figures, would be about one-half of one per cent of GDP.
We have laid out our figures very clearly. They are in the budget. They are accounted for. That, of course, puts us in stark contrast to a coalition that have never once under this economic team—including under Senator Joyce for the short period he was in this position in opposition—got their costings right. If you want to look at what an Abbott government would have to do in order to balance the books, go to the home state of the senator. Go to Queensland and have a look at Premier Newman.
Thank you. Once more I raise a point of order on relevance. The question asked why the debt has gone up by $5 billion in seven weeks if they are telling us they are going to have a $1½ billion surplus by the end of the year. She has not answered it.
I do not know how to explain it to Senator Joyce. I have given him the figures on gross and net debt. I have given them to him on previous occasions. It is true that there is obviously an issue about a stock of debt that he would be aware of. He is an accountant; I am sure he would understand the difference between stock and flow. But the relevant figures for the purposes of assessing the strength of Australia's public finances are gross and net debt positions, and I have outlined those. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the updated NBN Co. corporate plan that the government released last week, which revealed a $5 billion blow-out in the net cost of the NBN. Given that the government will be required to borrow more debt to provide to the NBN, can the minister advise the Senate what the value of the outstanding Commonwealth government securities will be at the end of this financial year and at the end of the next three financial years?
I am happy to answer the question, but I struggle to see how this is at all supplementary to the question that was asked. As a matter of courtesy I will answer, but you cannot cope with that, can you?
Opposition senators interjecting—
I suspect that in the figures that Senator Joyce has just given me he has probably mixed up capital expenditure and operational expenditure. There was an increase in capex, and the reason for that is fully explained in the corporate plan. We will also see, in fact, a slightly increased rate of return—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The question is quite clear. We want to know what the outstanding Commonwealth government securities will be at the end of this year and the next three financial years, taking into account the blow-out that has occurred by reason of the NBN.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to the fact that Minister Wong is a shareholder of the NBN in her role as the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Why, then, did the minister not appear at the press conference with her fellow shareholder Minister Conroy to reveal NBN Co.'s 2012-15 corporate plan? Was she more embarrassed about revealing the corporate plan, appearing with Minister Conroy or not having any of the facts on any issues whatsoever?
I have tried to recall a time when Senator Joyce appeared with Mr Hockey or Mr Robb on any occasion. I certainly think Senator Conroy and I have shared a press conference many more times than I can recall with those gentlemen.
I am one of the shareholders of NBN. I am also one of the shareholders in Australia Post, the Australian Rail Track Corporation and a range of other government business enterprises, and it would not be normal practice on every occasion to stand up with the relevant minister on the corporate plan. I am sure Senator Conroy did a very good job. I am certainly happy to share a podium anytime with Senator Conroy. I invite Senator Joyce to tell us whether he is happy to stand up with Bruce Scott on any occasion.