Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Speech in Parliament - Economy - 05 June 2013

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (16:55): It is a sad day in the parliament when you witness, as this House just has, such a rambling, incoherent speech—I was about to say 'contribution' but I corrected myself; that would be an exaggeration—from a chaotic Assistant Treasurer. I want to start by apologising to the Assistant Treasurer. Yesterday in the Federation Chamber, I accused the Assistant Treasurer of deliberately, coldly and in a calculated way, knowingly deceiving his electors, when he issued a newsletter this time last year declaring that the budget had been returned to surplus.

Mr Ewen Jones: It already had.

Mr TONY SMITH: On hearing the Assistant Treasurer's 15 minutes of rambling, I am starting to wonder whether he believed it or not; perhaps he had been told it and he did not know the difference. Perhaps I ascribed to him a motive that would have required competence, because what we have just heard, in summation, is a litany of personal attacks on the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Higgins—a list of inventions across the policy spectrum—and the basic message: 'Everything is fine. What are you complaining about?'

He tried to speak a bit about history. Just before the 1996 election, as net debt was approaching $96 billion—but we did not know the extent of it then, because Labor used to conceal the figures before the Charter of Budget Honesty—former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who I have to say was a lot more articulate than the current Assistant Treasurer, let fly on radio one day and said, 'What are people going on about?' That would sum up the Treasurer's approach and this Assistant Treasurer's speech that we have just heard in this chamber. He said the budget is all fine. He said that debt is fine and the economy is completely fine. As the shadow Treasurer said, Wayne Swan prides himself on mediocrity. If you listened to the Treasurer's press conference today, you would think that the figures that were released made his day.

You do not need to take our word for it; the shadow Treasurer very eloquently went through a breakdown of the figures: the growth in the quarter of just 0.6 per cent, what comprised it, and what that means for average families and small businesses across Australia. But the Assistant Treasurer appears to live in a world where, provided he has the script, he will keep repeating it. I say to those opposite: this is just more and more confirmation that a government that ignores reality will always ignore families and small business in Australia.

I accept that those opposite, including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, will never take our word for anything, including the day of the week. At least see what some economists say, and this is just in the period since the figures were released. Jacob Greber, economics correspondent, says: 'Australia's economic growth slowed to the weakest annual pace in seven quarters.' Have a look at the Age online and you will see UBS chief economist Scott Haslem said: 'The overall tone of the release is pretty soft. When you take away the net export contribution of about one per cent in the quarter, the domestic economy was clearly negative.' Australian Industry Group has said: 'Services sector sinks further in May.' Then from the AAP economics correspondent the headline was 'GDP figures confirm subnormal growth' and the first line stated, 'The economy is just not making the grade.' That is just in the hours since the figures have been released. But no, according to the Assistant Treasurer, they are all scaremongering.

As the member for Higgins tried to point out during the Assistant Treasurer's contribution, at no point did he seek to address the release of those figures today. For this government to continue its denial of its failed approach and failed policy is further confirmation to the Australian people that it has no solutions to the problems it has created. We heard the Assistant Treasurer say that he thought the savings result was something to rejoice in because more saving is a good thing, without any awareness of why people are saving. The parliamentary secretary knows, because he knows a bit more than the Assistant Treasurer. People are saving in record numbers as a hedge against your chaos. That is what Australian families are doing: they are looking at the incompetence here in Canberra, they can see it spreading a lack of confidence throughout the electorate and they are saving because of the uncertainty, because of the chaotic policy approach and because they do not know what is around the corner with this government.

They are promised a surplus on more than 500 occasions and in the space of six months a promised surplus of a little over $1 billion misses by $19 billion. They see a government that has become incapable of honesty. There is no better illustration than its approach to the gross debt ceiling. The ceiling has been lifted from $75 billion to $250 billion to $300 billion, and on each occasion the Treasurer of the country has said, 'I will never need the full limit,' like someone who overspends on their credit card. And we hear today from the Treasury officials in Senate estimates that that level is expected to go to $290 billion by Christmas.

Mr Matheson: How much?

Mr TONY SMITH: $290 billion by Christmas. And the Treasurer comes in to question time and says it is not a problem. He expects the Australian people and every business to look back at his track record of utter failure to hit a target and see a miss on the budget outcome by $20 billion in six months and believe, '$290 billion, we are getting close to the 300,' and we got confirmation it will go over $300 billion next year. That is why the Australian people have lost confidence in the honesty and the competency of this government.

The Treasurer likes to compare Australia to Europe on economic growth, on jobs and particularly on debt. But we on this side of the House say to the Treasurer: do not compare us with the worst runners. If you are competing against sprinters on crutches, that does not make you Usain Bolt, it really doesn't. The Treasurer knows that. As we have seen, the Assistant Treasurer does not know that. The Treasurer knows in his heart of hearts, the Assistant Treasurer does not know, and we will see whether the parliamentary secretary can inject a bit of substance and a bit of honesty into the debate where the Assistant Treasurer failed so dismally.

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