House of Representatives - Matter of Public Importance - Budget fails regional Australia
| 10th May, 2012
Mr TRUSS (Wide Bay—Leader of The Nationals) (15:38): The Treasurer did get one thing right this week: this is a true-to-form Labor budget. It is hollow, it is shifty, it is vindictive and it is not to be believed. There is a fudged surplus—in fact, some have branded this budget the 'fudge-it budget'—there are more broken promises, there is nothing to drive productivity, and there is nothing to repay debt or to secure jobs.|
This budget is really built around a carbon tax and additional compensation for the burden that is going to be placed on Australian families and the burden that is going to hit Australian businesses right across the country in just 51 days.
Labor has learnt absolutely nothing from the lessons handed out to it by the voters in New South Wales and Queensland in their recent elections. The people of Australia are sick of governments that waste their money, they are sick of governments that spend what they do not have, and they are certainly sick of governments that fail to tell the truth.
This budget just delivers more bad news for Australians. It does nothing in particular for regional Australia. There is a feeble, contrived $1.5 billion surplus, and it certainly fails to inspire or encourage struggling communities and families in regional Australia. It offers no hope for small businesses battling in a difficult economic environment.
Bringing spending forward and pushing expenditure into out years just to invent a one-off surplus does not give you any more money. Businesses balancing their books and struggling to meet the costs of keeping their employees on staff, and families budgeting for their household needs, are painfully aware of that.
This slippery budget surplus is simply not worth the paper it is written on. For instance, the $1.1 billion that is being paid early to local government of itself almost wipes out the surplus.
The $1.8 billion being paid to the states early for infrastructure projects more than wipes out the surplus. The $1.4 billion being paid to the states early for disaster relief also almost wipes out the surplus single-handed.
The $1.5 billion compensation for the carbon tax, being paid early, also wipes out the surplus. Then, of course, there are many other measures like this where money is shifted from one year to another just to deliver a surplus standing on a lonely island in a sea of debt. Simply no-one will believe this kind of attempt to master the true bottom line after four Labor budgets have simply amassed a cumulative deficit of $174 billion.
Of course, this is not the first time that Labor have promised a budget surplus. They did that in 2008-09 at their first budget, but it was not some tiny $1.5 billion surplus then. On that budget they promised a surplus of $22 billion.
Mr Chester: How'd they go?
Mr TRUSS: How did they manage? A very good question. They actually ended up with a $27 billion deficit. They were out by $49 billion.
If they are only out by $49 billion this time, it will be a $48 billion deficit that we will end up with at the end of this year.
This $1.5 billion means absolutely nothing. The reality is that it is only about two weeks of borrowing at the rate of this government out there in the marketplace. It only takes a 0.4 per cent change in expenditure and the budget surplus is gone.
Labor cannot get their hands off the honey pot. It will only be days or weeks before they announce a new program which shoots the alleged surplus to pieces. In 2010-11, the year we have our closest memories of, we were promised a $12 billion budget deficit. That was bad enough, but it soon became $22 billion, $37 billion and, last night, $44 billion—and we still have a few months to go. The number just keeps on going up and up and up.
One of the most important concerns for people living in regional Australia is what this budget has done to road spending. There is absolutely no new spending on roads or rail in 2012-13. In fact, if you look at the overall expenditure on roads, it plummets from $6.2 billion in 2011-12 to just $2.6 billion in 2012-13.
There is $2.3 billion that has been brought forward or deferred but, after all Labor's rhetoric about big projects, nation building and all the rest of it, this will be a road budget that is lower than the road budget in the last year of the Howard government. If you look at the forward estimates, they show a lower figure for road funding in 2015-16 than in the last budget of the Howard government.
There is less for roads in 2015-16 than the Howard government delivered almost a decade earlier. This has naturally been condemned by those people who care about roads. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport was happy to quote the NRMA yesterday. He did not quote their press release issued on budget night:
‘NSW motorists will be shocked by a Federal Budget that slashes spending on the state’s roads by almost half to an alarmingly low $1.2 billion.’
The government halved the road funding for New South Wales.
Yet we have a minister talking all the time about how Labor is going to fund the Pacific Highway, as well as his dishonest claims that, somehow or other, the New South Wales government is to blame for the fact that the promised 2016 completion date will not be met.
The member for Lyne acknowledged quite some time ago that that target is not going to be met.
The Prime Minister repeatedly says it will, but this budget simply blows the whistle on that. Even if you believe the rhetoric of the minister that the New South Wales government was to provide $3.5 billion, there is not $3.5 billion in this budget from the federal government.
It is about $1 billion short and the rest of it is going to come sometime later, so that guarantees that the 2016 date will not be met.
That is not the only dishonest statement of the infrastructure minister on this issue. Let me quote a higher authority, the Prime Minister, who said yesterday:
‘The deal on roads is always 50/50. That is what the Minister for Transport has made clear and that is what the NSW government should step up to.’
That is simply wrong.
The minister for infrastructure has said there is no deal with an 80-20 split, but the reality is that there is. There is a current agreement signed by both governments which has, effectively, an 80-20 split.
If you look at the funding for the Pacific Highway, when the Labor state government was in power in New South Wales the split was actually 86 per cent to the Commonwealth and only 14 per cent to New South Wales.
It is only since the election of the state coalition government and a $468 million infusion made by that state government that the figures got to 80-20. So, talk about there being some kind of a deal on 50-50 is simply dishonest, and the Prime Minister must know that.
In question time yesterday the minister for infrastructure said that he was upset with the New South Wales Labor government because they cut their share of the funding from $800 million to $500 million. As a result of that he had taken $50 million off New South Wales. He said:
‘… because New South Wales Labor were not delivering on their Pacific Highway promises, I took action against them.’
But, if you read his letter to the then New South Wales minister, he did not take $48 million off them because they had withdrawn their funds. He took $48 million off them because they had not met the deadline for signing the agreement. He said:
‘… the $48 million has been retracted in the update MOU schedule.’
That is because they had not met the required date for signing the agreement. But this penalty, this tough action, by the minister only lasted two paragraphs in his own letter. If you read a little bit further down in the same letter he says:
‘… I have taken a decision to direct an additional $48 million to provide for further duplication works on the Pacific Highway …’
So, he took the $48 million off them for signing up late and then gave them another $48 million for upgrading the highway.
This is simply a dishonest approach.
His answer to the question yesterday was simply not truthful and that is clearly the case on the basis of the letter that he signed. Once more he did not seek a single extra dollar from the New South Wales Labor government for the $48 million that he provided.
The reality is that this is a double standard.
When Labor were in power in New South Wales it was quite okay for the Commonwealth to pay 80 per cent and, indeed, on three major projects the Commonwealth provided 100 per cent of the costs.
But, as soon as a coalition government got elected, the minister expected the rules to be changed. This is typical of Labor's dishonesty, and everywhere you go in relation to road funding the story is very similar.
Earlier this week, when the budget was announced, the minister tried to pretend that he was spending another $388 million on the Bruce Highway between Cooroy and Curra.
Frankly, the people living near the Bruce Highway are shocked because the budget has completely shunned the Bruce Highway. The $388 million he is talking about has been announced many times already.
The project is almost finished; it is not new money at all. What is really alarming about this particular announcement is that there is no money for the next stage of the project, which guarantees that the commitment to complete the Cooroy-to-Curra upgrade by 2020 can no longer be met.
The RACQ said it:
‘… condemned the dearth of funding.
‘The Bruce Hwy accounts for one-in-six deaths on our national highways and to see that really it's just being treated with spot funding and black spots and a few dollars here and there is a very disappointing result…’
That is Labor's approach to road funding in regional Australia. There is a lot of rhetoric and a lot of noise but in reality they do not deliver.
On top of all of that, if that is not a big enough insult, this budget also includes a $166 million hit to the road user charge.
Labor is going to collect $700 million over four years from extra taxes on the road transport industry.
This comes after the ATC's latest calculations on road user costs. Everyone in the industry has acknowledged that the calculations are dodgy, that they are inaccurate and that they have made an inaccurate assessment of the number of trucks.
This is the biggest increase in the road user charge in history. It comes on top of the carbon tax and all the other costs being imposed on the industry. This government is keen to advocate safe roads with truckies, but then it slugs them with an extra $700 million worth of tax.
Then there is the passenger movement charge. One industry facing the most difficult circumstances in Australia at the present time is the tourist industry. They can ill afford an extra $600 million in passenger movement charge.
On top of that the government is now intending to send bills to the airports for having the Australian Federal Police there. Next time, if you are charged and being investigated for murder, you will get a bill before they even start the investigation!
What sort of accounting practices do this government have? Don't they know that the tourism industry is in serious difficulty? Don't they know that this is an industry that needs help? With the carbon tax coming, which makes tourism in Australia less competitive with the rest of the world, the industry can ill afford to be thumped with these extra, unnecessary taxes.
This is an example of how this government is just so out of touch with reality.
In fact, according to ASIC, in the last quarter 2,500 businesses have become insolvent. That is up 17 per cent, and 23 per cent of those are in Queensland, the tourism state. So this is a heartless measure in these circumstances. Indeed, business right across regional Australia is suffering.
The ABS tells us that 800,000 businesses have disappeared since Labor came to office and that small business closures were up 48 per cent last year. What is even worse, there was a 95 per cent reduction in the number of new start-ups.
People have simply lost hope with this government and they have been given absolutely no heart by what is in this budget.
A classic example of what Labor think about regional Australia is that last year, with a whole stack of press releases, they announced a promoting regional living program. In this budget they have axed it. After all the press releases and all the launches, it has been axed.
That is typical of what Labor think of regional Australia.
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