Page 888 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 24 February 2009

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Australia, federally, with the $42 billion, and the vast amounts in the US, with the trillions of dollars, it is very important that we do not lose sight of the fact that, although our figures are smaller as we go into deficit, they are, on our scale, equally important. We should not lose sight of the fact that, whilst the $17 million deficit for this year and the $163 million for next year are smaller amounts, their scale, for the ACT, is huge.

It is a conversation that needs to address not only the long-term implications but also the implications in the short term—that is, the budget for this year and where the ACT sits right now. And that is the budget for 2008-09. It is important because the outcome for this financial year actually sets the platform for 2009-10 and the years beyond.

In order to shape the debate, it is interesting to look at the government’s response to the global economic crisis and at how they have framed this budget as we have moved forward from mid last year to now, as the credit crisis and the economic crisis have unfolded. So what are the government doing in the short term, and what have we seen them do in this financial year? Really, until recently, we have seen them do very little. Indeed, what have we received from the current Treasurer about the deterioration in the 2008-09 budget? Very little. Most of the conversation seems to be about the outyears.

She is not alone in her approach to this. In the lead-up to the election last year, the Chief Minister, who I remind you, Mr Speaker, was the former Treasurer, assured the Canberra community that the ACT economy was performing strongly. In the Assembly on 26 August, the Chief Minister, who was then the Treasurer, said:

… the ACT economy has experienced a period of sustained economic growth and prosperity.

So whilst around the world the warning signs were ringing and it had become apparent that there were problems, he was saying to the Canberra community, to the Assembly, that the ACT economy had experienced a period of sustained economic growth and prosperity.

Whilst this was unfolding, the crisis was looming and governments in various jurisdictions around the world were starting to develop responses to this crisis, our Treasurer was in denial. Soon after, on 9 September—two weeks later—he did identify that the ACT had a “slowing economy”. The question was asked just before the election: what was the Chief Minister telling the Canberra community? Did he understand what the prospects for the ACT economy were, and implicitly for the budget in this financial year, and was it already looking less favourable? But if he did understand that, he certainly was not going to say that to the community shortly before the ACT election.

In fact, not only did he not make suggestions about the severely deteriorating prospects for the 2008-09 budget, but he said quite the opposite. I will quote what the Chief Minister said on 19 September 2008. I can table the document, which is a Labor press release policy statement, in the Assembly. He said:

ACT Labor has given its word—

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