We're Set to Deliver, but can Opposition?

02 April 2013


On May 14, the Treasurer will hand down the government's sixth budget. Through all these budgets, the government has been firmly focused on jobs and growth to make sure that Australia is equipped to prosper in the decades ahead.
This Labor government has had to manage the economy and the budget through turbulent times. We averted recession during the global financial crisis and kept 200,000 Australians in jobs. Together we were one of the few countries to avoid the full force of the economic shockwaves that spurred recessions in much of the developed world.
This budget will again respond to the challenging economic circumstances the world is facing. We are still living with the fallout from the GFC and continue to face a highly uncertain global economic outlook. But we can't delay putting in place the plans to secure our nation's future.
That's why our plans for reforming school funding are a priority. They are central to ensuring our children can compete and succeed in this, the Asian Century.
And we also understand that providing fairness to people with a disability through establishing disability care is a reform long overdue.
Of course, there is a cost for these reforms. As the Prime Minister has said, "new structural calls on the budget need to be associated with new structural savings''. They will require the right decisions.
Our track record shows we can and will find room to fund national priorities. Difficult but fair decisions, such as means testing the private health insurance rebate, and reforming personal tax offsets and the family payments system, were contested, but demonstrably improved the long-term position of the budget for future generations.
Treasury has stated that without our savings since 2008-09, net debt would be $250 billion higher in 2020-21.
Ultimately, budgets are about priorities. And our reforms will be properly accounted for in the upcoming budget.
Australians have been subjected to an enormous amount of posturing on budget matters by the Abbott opposition over these past years, and most of this has been striking in its hypocrisy and inconsistency.
Joe Hockey has pontificated about the ``end of the age of entitlement'', but then likened the government's tightening of the Baby Bonus to China's one-child policy.
Tony Abbott demands savings but opposed means testing the private health insurance rebate to make it sustainable in the long term.
The opposition's fiscal strategy is purely political: talk in vague terms about the need for discipline while opposing the government's fully developed and costed savings and never disclosing your own.
Well, in an election year, responsibility goes both ways.
The government will be judged on our budget in May. But budgets are as much a test for opposition parties.
We will release detailed budget papers, as we always do, but will the opposition commit to the same level of scrutiny leading into this year's federal election?
The first test for Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey is to commit to outlining credible policies. A slogan is not a plan.
The second is to outline how they will pay for them.
Remember, this is the team that delivered an $11bn black hole in its last election costings, hidden from Australians until after polling day.
Australians are entitled to know what Abbott would do, and how he would pay for his promises.
A repeat of the bluster and rhetoric of past Coalition budget-in-reply speeches is not only economically irresponsible, it's also politically arrogant. It could only be seen as a clear message that the opposition believes Australians don't need to know about its plans.
Fiscal responsibility requires more than bluster. It's about choices.
The government will front up with our choices. Let's see if Tony and Joe will have the character to do the same.