Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.06 p.m.)-I thought the performance of the member for Lilley last night on the 7.30 Report was dismal. But I have seen a performance which even outdoes the member for Lilley. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate said that this budget does not fix the problems but he is going to support it; this budget does nothing for education other than higher education but he is going to support it; and the tax cuts do not go far enough but he is going to support them. This is extraordinary.
If you listened to the Australian Labor Party you would think that the government had a very easy time preparing the budget over the last 11 years. I suppose the government did have a very easy time if you ignore the fact that it inherited a $10 billion budget deficit. I suppose this government did have an easy time if you ignore the fact that it inherited a $96 billion debt. I suppose this government did have an easy time if you ignore the Asian financial crisis. I suppose this government did have an easy time if you ignore the one-in-100-year drought. I suppose this government did have an easy time if you ignore the dotcom bust. I suppose this government did have an easy time if you ignore the fact that Labor opposed every single measure designed to bring the budget into balance and that this government did not have a majority for the bulk of its time in government.
Unlike the opposition, we had a set of clear and simple goals. We wanted to see a broadly based economy, we wanted to lower unemployment, we wanted to lower inflation, we wanted to lower interest rates, we wanted to balance the budget and we wanted to repay debt.
The Australian Labor Party would have you think that fiscal policy, budget policy, is too complex, too hard, for the average member of the public to understand. Fiscal policy is actually pretty straightforward. Yes, there are complex assumptions behind budget forecasts and budget modelling but it is actually a fairly straightforward thing. As a government you should live within your means. As a government you should provide for health, education, defence and welfare. Once you have done that, if you have money left over you retire debt. Once you have done that, if you have money left over you give it back in the form of tax cuts. As a result of this approach we have seen the government deliver the longest period of economic expansion since Federation. We have seen this government deliver 10 budget surpluses compared with nine budget deficits under Labor. We have eliminated government debt and we have secured Australia’s economic fundamentals and social services. We have delivered five rounds of tax cuts and a sixth round of tax cuts has been announced, and we are saving $8 billion a year in interest payments, which can go to hospitals, schools and defence.
It was extraordinary last night watching the member for Lilley. He said:
Well, I think we ought to be running surpluses like this, given how good world economic conditions are. We have to be running surpluses like this.
This struck me as extraordinary. Mr Swan is saying that running the economy is easy, having a growing economy is easy and running budget surpluses is easy when the world economy is growing. It is clearly not that easy because under Prime Minister Keating we had a budget in deficit and an economy in recession at a time when the OECD countries were booming and the tigers of Asia were roaring. Clearly, it does not follow automatically that a booming world economy leads to a booming Australian economy and a budget which is in surplus. During the Asian financial crisis the regional economy was in recession but in Australia we were still growing. We still managed to have surplus budgets. Running the economy does not take care of itself. We do not just run off the back of the international economy. Good policy settings in Australia do make a difference.
What I particularly like about this budget is that we have Labor proofed future surpluses with the Future Fund and the Higher Education Endowment Fund so that Labor cannot waste that money as they have previously. What I also like about this budget is that we have now created the expectation that, when a government has the means, when it has the surplus, when it has paid the debt and when it has paid for essential services, it will cut tax. That is an expectation that if Labor were ever to win office they would be bound by. (Time expired)