Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (27 May) . . Page.. 661 ..
MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education) (4.12): I rise to support the motion. I agree entirely with the comment of my colleague Mr Humphries that this is probably the most important piece of business we have discussed in the last two weeks. It is absolutely crucial to the Territory. There are those among us who have been involved in budgets - I as part of Kate Carnell's Government over the last three years, and now coming up to our fourth budget, and no doubt you, Mr Deputy Speaker, when you were in government. There is never enough money to go around, to do all the things you would like to do. Try as you will, there is always more money which supposedly needs to be spent on things than there is money available.
We do not have any magic wand here in the Territory. We do not have any oil wells. We are not the sultanate of Brunei. There is nothing like that that can artificially prop us up. We have a clever community and we have a number of assets. We still have, as my colleague Mr Humphries indicated, less debt than, I think, virtually any other State or Territory. That is a result of what occurred at self-government. But, quite clearly, we have these constant funding pressures and we simply do not generate enough money to go around. The Commonwealth grants have dropped by 50 per cent since 1989. The untied grants have dropped from $500m to about $280m. They may well now have bottomed and plateaued, but they are going to rise only by basically the CPI.
You can keep increasing fees and taxing the population only so much. There gets to be a point where that becomes totally counterproductive. Businesses are forced into bankruptcy, more people are forced onto welfare, and the problem compounds itself. This is a very significant problem. We have seen what occurred in Victoria. Mr Osborne quoted an interesting figure. Debt chewed up 32c in every dollar in Victoria. We saw what happened in the 1980s. A government was prepared to borrow with no regard for the future. We saw some of the dreadful things that happened there when the State Bank crashed. Many small people, small investors, had their savings wiped out. We saw the value of family homes plummet. You would be lucky to get 60 per cent, maybe 70 per cent, of what your home was worth three or four years ago when you tried to sell it in Victoria. That is not the sort of situation I want to see occur in the Territory.
We have some significant problems with unfunded superannuation. We have a liability of about $700m now, but by 2013 it will rise to $1.7 billion. Sure, Mr Quinlan is probably right; we may never have to pay that all at once. But we face a real possibility of not being able to meet those commitments in about 15 years' time. That not only affects our children, Mr Deputy Speaker; it also affects a large number of people in our work force who are paying superannuation. It is a very real problem indeed. It is essential now, I think, at this stage, that we take stock of the situation and put in place budgets that do their best to address this very real problem. As several other speakers have indicated, the Government has gone some way towards doing that. We now know exactly where we stand in terms of what our real loss is. There have been some improvements in terms of the operating loss coming down. I think it was somewhere around $351m and it is down to $153m. There have been significant improvements, but there is the need to go still further.