Yesterday Chris Bowen addressed the National Press Club to announce a Labor initiative to have the independent Parliamentary Budget Office prepare the forecasts to be used in government budget and fiscal statements to allow for greater transparency, accountability and rigour.
He started well by talking about the Charter of Budget Honesty and how Joe Hockey has manipulated the figures to inflate the debt and deficit. He mentioned Hockey’s decision to give $8.8 billion to the RBA which was designed to maximise the deficit, attribute it to Labor, whilst hoping for increased dividends in the future. He also mentioned the effect of Hockey’s manipulation of assumptions about key projections like unemployment, inflation, terms of trade, and GDP growth.
Bowen briefly ran over the comparison of PEFO projections with MYEFO – the former being prepared independently by the secretaries of Treasury and Finance, the latter being a propaganda sheet prepared by Hockey and Corman.
I was optimistic for once. This is exactly what needs to be highlighted in the media because it is what this government is basing all its rhetoric on. The attack on the ‘leaners’ is necessary to avoid saddling our children with an unpayable debt. Apparently we don’t mind burdening them with an unpayable personal debt to pay for their tertiary education but we can’t have public debt because…ummm…we are the knights of No and we want a surplus.
But it went downhill from there.
Instead of continuing in this vein, Chris Bowen then went to great lengths to explain that this was not a criticism of Treasury for whom he has the highest regard. He backed away from direct criticism of Hockey’s lies, concentrating on what the PBO would do and who they would collaborate with. This was what stuck in people’s minds. The introductory part of the speech, by far the most important aspect, was forgotten and not one question by the ‘journalists’ afterwards related to Hockey’s deceit.
Straight afterwards on ABC24, Lyndall Curtis interviewed Matthias Corman who had already been out that morning pre-empting Bowen’s speech. In his usual fashion, regardless of what he was asked, Corman repeated his preprepared lines like a doll having the string in its back pulled. “Layboor’s debt and deficit disaster leaving us with $123 billion in deficits, debt spiralling to $667 billion, and no credible path back to surplus.” Despite Chris Bowen’s introduction, Curtis, like all other journalists, allowed this to pass without question.
So there we were, back where we started with Corman’s mantra ringing in our ears.
Bowen’s answers to the questions that were asked was entirely inadequate. Having admitted there was a budget problem, Bowen was asked how Labor intended to address it. His response – “I’m not going to reveal our policies today. We are in the process of carefully developing them and rest assured you will all know them well before the next election and they will be fully costed.” What a fizzer. Where was the vision for the future? Where was the promise of a better way? Where were the ideas even if the detail was still to be determined?
When asked about negative gearing, Chris nearly got a hernia twisting away from the question and talking instead about housing affordability whilst making it clear that he was not suggesting specific changes to taxation. When pressed further about the very low numbers of first home buyers, he waffled on unconvincingly about stamp duty and construction.
The speech was the wrong way around. He should have started with the changes he wanted to make with the PBO and then outlined why he wanted those changes by listing the duplicity engaged in in the preparation of MYEFO.
Just for the record:
PEFO gives independent predictions using Labor policies. MYEFO gives Hockey’s assessment using Coalition policies.
PEFO shows a cumulative deficit of $54.6 billion over the forward estimates with a predicted surplus of $4.2 billion in 2016-17.
MYEFO shows a cumulative deficit of $122.7 billion with no surplus predicted over the forward estimates.
PEFO states, in 2013-14, net debt for the Australian Government general government sector is estimated to be $184.0 billion (11.7 per cent of GDP) and is projected to return to zero in 2023-24.
Hockey’s MYEFO predicts, nay BLARES, a debt of $667 billion. This figure is quoted ad nauseum every time you press the button on Matthias Corman’s belly. This is a projection of the GROSS debt in a DECADE under COALITION policies.
Let me make that absolutely crystal clear…this is a projection of the future with the Coalition’s decisions to axe the carbon tax which, according to MYEFO, “will reduce receipts by $6.3 billion over the forward estimates period” and the repeal of the minerals resource rent tax which “reduces receipts by $3.4 billion over the forward estimates period”. Add in the decisions to repeal the changes to the FBT and superannuation taxation and to gift $8.8 billion to the RBA, and also the payment to Rupert Murdoch of $882 million from the tax department, as well as the PPL that won’t go away and billions for Direct Inaction, and I would contend that Hockey and Corman OWN that projected debt. Increased spending on defence, searching for missing planes, attending memorial services whenever and wherever you can…these are all discretionary decisions made by this government.
Gross debt was approx. $280 billion when the Coalition took over. It is now $337.686 billion. Since September 30 2013, they have been borrowing over $157 million extra a day.
This article quotes the numbers presented in recent fiscal documents. I wish Chris Bowen had rammed it home a bit harder because Joe is setting us up to say “look how much I have saved” when the numbers tell a different story.