Abbott Must Come Clean

10 May 2012

The Australian

On Tuesday night, Treasurer Wayne Swan handed down a budget that is focused on a strong economy and a fair go. It is a budget that will spread the benefits of the mining boom, that will foster opportunity and support millions of Australian families and pensioners on modest incomes and that will help with cost of living pressures and invest in the future.
Budgets are about priorities. They are about balancing the longer-term fiscal imperatives, and Australia's contemporary economic circumstances. A sound budget position enables us to deliver world-class education, quality health care and jobs.
The differences between the Gillard government and opposition have never been more clear.
The government wants to support working Australians and spread the benefits of the mining boom. The opposition wants to give a tax break to wealthy miners.
The government wants to build a sustainable budget and enable long-term social policy reform. The opposition simply wants to create more conflict.
It would seem Tony Abbott's negativity is so entrenched, he doesn't know how to say no to saying "no". He has already said "no" to the SchoolKids Bonus which would give families $410 or $820 per child in primary or secondary school to help pay for uniforms, books and stationery. This from the man who opposes the means testing of the baby bonus.
The Gillard government has laid out its plan to return the budget to surplus, on time, as promised. Our budget shows growing surpluses for the next four years. We have achieved this despite the fact that the amount of tax we collect as a share of GDP is below what we inherited from the opposition. We expect to spend less than 24 per cent of GDP over the forward estimates, something not achieved since the 1980s.
Returning to surplus in 2012-13 is appropriate for our economic conditions. It is our best defence at this time of global uncertainty and continues to give the Reserve Bank maximum flexibility to cut interest rates, as it did last week.
Tonight, Abbott will give a budget reply speech to the House of Representatives. It's supposed to be a speech in which the Leader of the Opposition, the alternative prime minister, outlines their vision for the country. A speech that, as Abbott himself said in 2003 when in government, in which "the Leader of the Opposition should tell us tomorrow night exactly how much, [he] should tell us exactly where it is coming from, and [he] should tell us exactly what will be cut to pay for any increase in spending that [he] proposes".
But in the past two years, we have not heard anything remotely close to this from Abbott.
Last year, his 20-minute budget reply speech was full of rhetoric and criticism, only for the opposition to turn around and support all of the budget measures.
The year before, Abbott told Australians his Treasury spokesman would respond the following day, only for Joe Hockey to handball the task to his colleague, my counterpart, Andrew Robb.
Every savings measure Abbott says "no" to will take a wrecking ball to the budget surplus.
Tonight, he needs to come clean about what cuts he'll make to not only fill the $70 billion budget black hole but achieve a $15bn surplus that the opposition committed itself to on Tuesday night.
According to Robb, the opposition will deliver a $15bn surplus in its first year of government if it wins the next election. This is a glib promise by an opposition that refuses to tell us what cuts they'll make until after they are elected.
The opposition would have Australians believe that they will deliver a budget surplus simply by cutting public servants. In fact, a $15bn surplus would require severe cuts to health and education and equates to abolishing almost all of Medicare.
And this would be on top of the $70bn in cuts to services that Abbott is keeping secret.
Tony Abbott can't keep treating Australians with such contempt. He needs to front up with real policies. Let's hope he starts tonight. An opposition that calls for transparency should demonstrate some.