PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra:
Don’t you just love taking lectures on leadership from the man who assassinated not just one prime minister but two prime ministers? Regardless of where Bill Shorten goes from here, he will now go down in the history books of Australia as being the man who has assassinated, knocked off, more prime ministers than any other person who has entered this parliament. Congratulations, Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten has the loyalty of a rat. I tell you what, we are not going to be taking lectures from a man who may have expertise in knocking off prime ministers but when it comes to policy is just such a pale imitation of some of the Labor leaders of the past who actually believed in economic reform, who believed in trying to grow the economy and who believed in deregulation, such as Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. He is an absolute pale imitation of those leaders.
I am very happy to be speaking on this matter of public importance. In some respects we have had a tough week—of course we have. We have had a very difficult week—one which as a member of parliament you never really want to go through. But have we listened? Have we learnt? Have we acted? Absolutely we have. We changed some personnel in December and have made some adjustments to our policy already. Already we are making some changes to the way we will engage with the community. Yes, we have listened. Yes, we have learnt. Yes, we have acted.
If you are going to make accusations about the way Liberal and National parties behave and conduct ourselves here then you better have a pretty squeaky clean record. I would like to examine the Labor Party’s record in relation to their accusations. Have they been a party that has listened, that has learnt and that has acted? Perhaps we can start by looking at the overall budget management which the Labor Party oversaw for six years and now in opposition are starting to comment on as well. The biggest debate we have had for seven years now is the fiscal management of this country. We know that when the Labor Party took over from the coalition government there was $20 billion in budget surplus and $90 billion in the bank. Of course we all know what happened over the following six years. There was budget deficit after budget deficit after budget deficit—the biggest budget deficits in Australian political history.
Today of course we have to pay $1 billion a month just on the interest on Labor’s debt. Do you know what that gets you? One billion dollars can build you a full tertiary hospital each and every month. That money is just gone. That money has been paid for on the interest. We do not get anything back for that. We could build a hospital each and every month. Today we still are borrowing $100 million per day just to pay for the deficits that Labor left. The size of the debt and deficit that the Labor Party left is quite extraordinary. Of course it was not just what they did in office but they also legislated incredible growth in expenditure for the years ahead. In fact, their forecast was six per cent in real growth in expenditure in the years ahead despite the $50 billion budget deficits and commodity prices coming off that meant our revenues were also going to be coming off.
Had they not listened to Peter Costello? Had they not listened to the Australian public, economists or international accolades—at all of those who said: ‘Gee, look at the fantastic fiscal position under the Howard-Costello governments. We are so jealous. How did they do it?’ Did they not listen to that? Have they not appreciated the importance of running budget surpluses? In some respects they had, and this is the funny thing. In some respects the Labor Party do understand the importance of budget surpluses because they say so themselves. They understand it but they just do not have the spine, the ticker and the capacity to actually deliver them.
Let us go back and look at some of the things people said. Mr Swan, who was the Treasurer for so long, said:
meandering back to surplus—would compound the pressures in our economy and push up the cost of living for pensioners and working people.
So coming back to surplus is about making sure we help those people sitting around the kitchen table when they’re figuring out how they will make ends meet.
Chris Bowen, now the shadow Treasurer, said:
The Government needed to make responsible spending cuts to put downward pressure on inflation and therefore interest rates.
They even went through the pretence of saying that it is very important to keep expenditure under control so we could get back to surplus. They committed to two per cent real growth in government expenditure. So they sort of had learnt but they simply had no capacity to act. Perhaps the greatest illustration of this is exactly what the budget deficits were each and every year under the Labor Party.
Listen to what Wayne Swan said. In 2008 he said in the budget, ‘It is a surplus built on disciplined spending’—a $27 billion deficit.
The next year: ‘The savings decisions we have taken will have put us back to surplus in 2015-16’—a budget deficit of $54 billion. The next year, for the third time, Mr Swan says, ‘A strategy that will see the budget return to surplus in three years time’—another deficit. He said: ‘We will be back in the next year. We will be back in the black by 2012-13, on time as promised’—a $43 billion deficit. The next year: ‘The budget delivers a surplus this coming year on time as promised, and surpluses each year thereafter’—an $18 billion deficit. And the final one, in 2013-14, ‘This budget sets us on a sensible pathway to surplus,’ he says, and what was it? It was $47 billion of deficit.
All the rhetoric is there. They understand the importance of budget surpluses. I think they do, but they do not have the spine, the capacity or the will to actually deliver upon it. For their expenditure they had a target of two per cent growth, and what actually was it during the entire year of the Labor Party? It was 3.6 per cent growth. And what did they lock into the forward estimates frequently through legislation? Six per cent growth. What is more, now that they are in opposition, as the coalition are trying again to fix a budget mess which the Labor Party has left, what do the Labor Party do? It blocks every single measure and not just the measures that we announced before the election and are trying to put through but the measures which they themselves had announced, had locked into their budget, but had not legislated to bring those savings into effect.
When we were actually trying to legislate to bring into effect those savings that the Labor Party had proposed, what do you think the Labor Party did? They opposed it. They opposed their own savings. They are not fair dinkum at all about getting back to surplus. They no longer even talk about it. I believe there are some sensible people who still understand the importance of running budget surpluses, who still understand the importance of getting control of the overall debt of Labor. They understand, as we do, deep in our veins, that debt today is put on to future generations, who will have to pay it back. We understand that it is intergenerational theft to be running up massive budget deficits today and that it is our future children and grandchildren who will be paying it back. We understand, deeply in the marrow of our bones, that you cannot continue to spend more than you earn, otherwise you will follow countries that we have seen in Europe, where they continue to spend more and more and more above what they are earning. Look at what happened to them. We are the responsible side of this parliament. We are the ones that understand that you must live within your means when it comes to budgetary policy. Labor, I think, sometimes do understand that, but just do not have the ticker to deliver.