Chamber Senate on 6/02/2018 Item MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – Budget Speaker : Bernardi, Sen Cory

Senator BERNARDI : Conservatives respect history. We mark history, unlike many who prefer to ignore it or not learn the lessons of it. On 3 February 2009 the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, who, I might say, described himself as Mr Austerity during the election campaign, said there wasn’t a cigarette paper’s worth of difference between his economic management and fiscal discipline and that of the previous Howard government. But on 3 February 2009 he launched what became the start of a debt avalanche, if I can say that: a $42 billion stimulus package.

It was excessive. It was targeted poorly. It delivered bad outcomes. Significantly, the consequences of that debt avalanche have been compounded by decisions on the so-called fiscally responsible side of politics. It’s very frustrating. But before I get into that, I should also note that Mr Rudd is clearly a man who cherishes history, too, because he’s now suing the ABC for allegedly misrepresenting his history in respect to this stimulus package. Let’s remember, the $42 billion stimulus package was targeted at school halls, which many may say was a good thing to do; but those school halls often resulted in massive cost blowouts, a total of $1.7 billion more than was budgeted for them. They were installed in schools that closed shortly thereafter. They were built where they weren’t necessary—all in the name of grandiose stimulus for the economy.

There was the infamous pink batts scheme, which I think Mr Rudd is suing the ABC over. Leaving aside the terrible tragedy of the four young men who lost their lives through this scheme, it had an estimated budget blowout of $5½ billion. $5½ billion in rorts and scandalous blowouts because of fiscal mismanagement. Plus there was another $42 million in remediation costs attached to that.

Then we had the cheques sent out to millions of Australians, including those who were deceased: $900 cheques were lobbing into people’s post boxes, even if they weren’t still alive. If you were a backpacker and had been in Australia and earnt some money, you got a $900 cheque as well. They were sent overseas. It wasn’t so much a stimulus for us—it was a stimulus for people to go out and buy Chinese televisions, I think it was at the time. I remember we had those on the then government benches defending the statistics which showed a lot of that money found its way into gaming machines in hotels and saying, ‘That’s okay, people can choose to do what they like.’ But the consequences of that were that $42 billion worth of debt was incurred chasing this stimulus dream that resulted in debt, deficit and disaster and sowed the seeds for where we currently stand: $530 billion worth of debt.

Now, of course, following suit in South Australia, we have Mr Weatherill installing the laptops of the 21st century, sending computers out to kids. That was a dud scheme from the Rudd government as well. Now they’re giving free solar panels and batteries—I shouldn’t say it’s free: it’s taxpayer-funded solar panels and batteries—to Housing Trust tenants to cover up for their lack of management of the electricity grid. Now, we are not simply picking on the Labor Party. I regret the fact that when this stimulus was brought in, the $42 billion stimulus package, the then Labor government accepted that there needed to be a fig leaf, a veneer of fiscal control, and installed a debt ceiling—a debt ceiling that would assuage the concerns of conservatives like myself who saw this runaway train before us, this avalanche of debt, that would only continue to build and build and build because politicians are addicted to doing stuff whether the country needs it or not.

We have been told since then that the stimulus package saved us from the onslaught of the financial crisis of 2008. I would reject that in its entirety. There could have been a case made for prudent spending or the application of some of the Howard government’s surpluses, to have been invested in infrastructure that was going to increase productivity and that wasn’t going to be thrown away to people overseas or wasn’t going to be spent in a whole range of other areas. They could have built water pipelines, they could have built dams or they could have built rail lines. They could have built any number of infrastructure projects. But, instead, they chose to build school halls for schools that were closing and to send cheques to people who were deceased. It was wrong.

I would suggest also that it was the mining boom—the rivers of gold—and the exports to China as they were building things, that sustained and protected Australia from the more severe ravages of the financial crisis. This is not some great Keynesian triumph. This is sowing the seeds of economic doom for this country until we can arrest this continuing debt problem.

I might say, as we’re remembering dates, that tomorrow is the 107th birthday of the great American president Ronald Reagan. If I may quote Ronald Reagan:

The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is the government spends too much.

Very few people in this place actually believe in that. I happen to. I believe that people are taxed too much and government is spending too much. I think we need to cut taxes and we need to cut the size of government. If we don’t, we are going to be sentencing our future generations to intergenerational debt and to the greatest moral theft of our time; that is, we are propping up today’s lifestyle at the expense of our children and our grandchildren. That’s why I’ll be introducing a bill to re-establish the debt ceiling that was abolished by the coalition government to make sure government lives within its means for the benefit of successive generations.

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