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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 2 Hansard (20 February) . . Page.. 449 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

In terms of what he quotes in his press release Standard and Poor's as saying, I want to put my hands up and plead guilty. First of all, he says the Standard and Poor's said:

... the previous government had already significantly loosened the purse strings in the May 2001 budget.

He went on to say that as a consequence the territory's liabilities appeared to increase and-here is the quote from Standard and Poor's:

the general government operating surplus for fiscal 2004 is now about A$100 million ... less than originally projected.

On both those matters I plead guilty, because it was quite deliberate government policy at that time not to have massive surpluses piling up in the ACT and not to have the territory deprived of the benefits of what was for the first time in the ACT's history real accrual accounting-based surpluses.

We had money. We worked hard to make that money happen. It was there, and we were determined that it should be spent for the benefit of the ACT community. So our budget in 2001 did spend significantly in that year and projected further spending in future years, because we believed that was the entitlement of the ACT community, whose sacrifices had contributed to the fact that we now had a budget surplus.

Yes, we were going to have a surplus of $100 million less in 2004, but the surplus would still have been a surplus. A surplus in excess of $100 million, in my view, in a place the size of the ACT would have been unconscionable. We have heard today about gaps in services in the ACT. Mr Quinlan, as Treasurer, will find lots more gaps in lots more surpluses before his time is up. It is plugging those gaps in services which is much more important than piling up surpluses in excess of $100 million.

The real test of Mr Quinlan's criticisms here is, first of all: will he have surpluses larger than the ones that we had forecast, deliberately planning those sorts of surpluses? I think he is going to find it very hard to maintain the surpluses at all, given the pressure on him and his colleagues to spend, spend, spend. Secondly, if he believes the things we did in office in that budget were irresponsible, will he undo them? Will he cancel the programs he criticised and, by implication, Standard and Poor's criticised-the things that concentrate on issues like better Aboriginal health, more money in schools for lower class sizes, a roads program, et cetera? Will he cancel them? No, he will not. That is the best test of whether this criticism is fair or is not and whether the program of the previous government was a fair and appropriate response to the change in financial fortunes of the ACT.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The Assembly adjourned at 6.21 pm.

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Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the Canberra region. It is also an important meeting place for other Aboriginal peoples. We respect their continuing cultures and value the contribution they make to life in the ACT.