The Coalition's Costings Crater

I spoke in parliament last night on an amendment calling on the Coalition to submit their costings to the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.
Coalition Costings and the Parliamentary Budget Office, 10 September 2012

The motion which we are debating this evening is moved by the member for Mayo, who is one of the self-appointed group of modest members. The term 'modest members' is not only a current misnomer but also a historical reference to the great Bert Kelly. In thinking about speaking to the member for Mayo's motion I thought perhaps I would go to my bookshelves and pull down Economics Made Easy by Bert Kelly. As I listened to the member for North Sydney, I was struck by the words in Rod Carnegie's introduction. He says, 'When confrontation and mutual name calling are stock forms of debate it does us all a service to learn and relearn that shouting loud and long need not be as effective as gentle persuasion.'

We have just had 10 minutes of long, loud shouting from the member for North Sydney. It is not quite clear what the member for North Sydney is saying about the coalition's position on preferencing the Greens in the electorate of Melbourne. The historical record shows that the decision by the Liberal Party to preference the Greens Party in Melbourne saw the first election at a general election of the current member for Melbourne. In his speech, the member for North Sydney said, 'We don't back frauds,' and, 'You'll suffer,' but it is not clear whether they are words which ought to be taken as gospel truth and carefully scripted remarks or whether they are merely off-the-cuff rhetoric to be thrown around in a debate and have no matter when it comes to the Liberal Party's decision on preferencing at the next election.

I would be delighted to have a modest member alive and well on the coalition's side of the parliament, but the fact is that they are dead as a dodo. Bert Kelly has no heir. Doug Anthony is alive and well, as Senator Joyce showed us in an extraordinary interview with Marius Benson this morning. The only thing that remains of Bert Kelly is a great sense of humour. You have to admire the humour that the member for Mayo brings to this chamber in moving a motion on transparency of costings. That is because we are speaking about an opposition which has a $70 billion crater in its costings, requiring $70 billion of cuts. Were the member for North Sydney in the chamber, he would doubtless shout that that is a Labor Party fabrication. Let me quote from an interview from the member for Goldstein on ABC 24 on 18 August 2011:

‘The $70 billion is an indicative figure of the challenge we've got … if we start to impose some discipline we should be able to stop spending in the order of $70 billion …’

Or on Meet the Press on 4 September 2011:

‘Q: It's not like a furphy, then?

‘A: No, it's not a furphy. We came out with the figure, right?’

Seventy billion dollars is the equivalent of stopping the Family Tax Benefit for three years; it is the equivalent of cutting the age pension for three years; it is an extraordinarily large sum of money. The amendment simply says that if the coalition has to find cuts of that magnitude it ought to follow the Parliamentary Budget Office process.

We have a Parliamentary Budget Office which came into being as a result of a bipartisan parliamentary committee—the member for Higgins and Senator Joyce signed on for the recommendations of that committee. The amendment calls on all parties to submit their costings to the Parliamentary Budget Office. Once upon a time the coalition was going to do just that. The coalition had some problems in the last election. According to Treasury, they had an $11 billion crater in their costings as a result of having them audited by a private accounting firm. Curiously, the member for North Sydney said that what they had done was an audit with a small 'a'. It is a bit strange, because there is no such thing as a big 'a' audit. 'Audit' is one of those words that comes with a small 'a'. They did not do a small 'a' audit. In fact, WHK Horwath was subsequently found to have breached professional standards in the context of the coalition's costings. So, you would think that the coalition would now be embracing openness and transparency in their costings but, sadly, they are doing anything but.

The shadow immigration spokesperson, the member for Cook, has had costings done by a catering firm, suggesting that using a private accounting firm might be the high point in quality of the coalition's costings. There have been suggestions that this might involve cooking the books and that at best we could expect to see some pie charts from the opposition, but they are lines which I will leave the member for Mayo to deliver, given that he is the great prankster in the parliament this evening. The member for Goldstein has told Sky Sunday Agenda:

‘I've got on my desk, as co-ordinator of our policies, 49 policy documents with covers—‘

It is great, isn't it, that they pick the covers? They haven't got any of the numbers checked, but they have picked the covers. It has a great Hollowmen aspect to it.

‘… narrative, a list of policies, what Labor has done wrong and the costings.’

Apparently, the costings have been done. What we are calling on the coalition to do is no more than they indicated they would do when a joint bipartisan report was brought down by the member for Higgins, Kelly O'Dwyer, Senator Joyce and others backing the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The member for North Sydney has said he might use the new budget office in one report. Then he has told The Insiders on 6 May 2012 that:

‘…we want to submit policies to it. In addition to other services, we want to submit policies to it for costing.’

And then in a doorstop on 30 May 2012:

‘Journalist: So you are giving a commitment to submit your election promises to the Parliamentary Budget Office?

‘Joe Hockey: We will give some policies.’

This is the equivalent of Mr Howard's immigration policy: 'We will give choose the policies we give to the Parliamentary Budget Office and the circumstances in which we give them.'

The Australian people deserve better than that. There are coalition policies that are all over the shop. The coalition wants to continue the superannuation increases but repeal the minerals resource rental tax—the profits based tax—which is a tax so supported across the political spectrum internationally that Sarah Palin signed on to a profits based tax for taxing resources. It is not a left-wing way of taxing resources; it is just a sensible way. When the price goes up, because the price is set by the world, the taxpayer deserves a bigger share of the money. Instead, the coalition wants to go back to the old royalties regime. It also wants to cut taxes on polluters. First it is tax cuts for big miners, then it is a tax cut for big polluters and then it is unwinding the means test for private health insurance. Of course, when the private health insurance rebate was first put in place it did not generate a bump up in the take-up of private health insurance, and we have seen no evidence so far that the means testing of the private health insurance rebate has seen high-income earners drop their private health insurance. But they are getting a tax cut, too, from the coalition. So that is big miners, big polluters and very high-income Australians. If you are a millionaire, you are getting back your 30 per cent private health insurance rebate under the coalition. The coalition says it will support the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but we have no idea how it will go about paying for it.

What Australians are worried about is that what they are seeing from the coalition has a lot of the smell of what is going on in Queensland. Before the election the coalition gives the notion that everything will be okay, but after the election it slashes and burns. The member for Mayo himself is on record in his so-called Modest Member column as saying:

‘Pensions, disability support, family tax benefits and childcare support, among others, create a cycle of dependency for millions of Australians.’

That is just a hint as to where the money might come from. The Australian people deserve better than to have the opposition hiding behind the veil of secrecy. They have the right to expect that they will get what Kelly O'Dwyer and Barnaby Joyce promised them: coalition promises that are properly costed. The amendment calls on the coalition to do just that. I commend the amendment to the House.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.