Page 1363 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 5 April 2005

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important that we look closely at these appropriations and the areas of expenditure contained therein.

Sadly, the bill continues in the pattern that we have become quite comfortable with—familiar with, not comfortable—with the litany of big spending. It is a continuation of that general direction. At the most recent election, the government promised more than it can afford, so it has come back to the Assembly for more money. Election commitments now have to be paid for. The bill also provides for what the Treasurer euphemistically described as “various cost pressures being experienced by agencies”. He said that on 17 February.

I guess that is really code for: “The government is unable to control departmental spending, so it has given up and we will pay whatever the agencies want to spend.” As I have said previously, I sympathise with the Treasurer’s difficulty in restraining his colleagues. From the public comments he has made about commonwealth/territory relations, he knows he has got some major problems ahead. But he has got to resist this pressure from his colleagues to continue to spend money without a great deal of restraint. The big spend-up, of course, is on public sector wages, which are defended to the death. There is little evidence of restraint being exercised in moderating some of those expenditures and at least achieving some beneficial outcomes for the taxpayer.

This year the government will hand over $61 million more than last year in wage increases to public servants. Is it any wonder that the government’s reputation for handling financial matters is questionable? The Treasurer, unfortunately, is the one left with the baby in terms of defending a lot of these decisions made by the prevailing number of his colleagues.

Under this government the pattern is well established. In 2001-02, there was an expenditure blowout of $312 million. That is $312 million more than planned expenditure. In 2002-03, the expenditure blew out by $216 million. Obviously, they learnt nothing because in 2003-04, it blew out by $410 million more than was originally budgeted. Over the three years Labor spent $938 million more than it had budgeted for—almost a billion dollars more. Nobody can tell me that that is responsible conduct. It underscores the well-established principle in this country that when times are tough, you really just cannot trust Labor to manage your affairs. Until now the government has been let off the hook by fortuitous surges in revenue, the prosperity of the property sector in Canberra and the windfall gains from GST. That is all taken for granted and now that some of the revenues are expected to be delivered back to the people, they are crying foul and saying; “All bets are off.”

But these are not just the sentiments of the Liberal opposition in this Assembly. The concerns are being echoed loudly and clearly by the Auditor-General, who has warned that the breakeven budgets that have been part of the pattern for the past few years generate little capacity for capital expenditure and provide no real protection from negative fluctuations in revenue expenditure or unforeseen, adverse consequences of future events that may occur from time to time. That message from the Auditor-General ought to be a sobering message to this government. I suspect it is for the Treasurer but I think his colleagues have been slow to get the message.

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