Mr Abbott’s addiction to scare campaigns is well known. From claiming whole cities would be wiped off the map to the Budget Emergency, facts are sacrificed in pursuit of a political objective. But not one of the Prime Minister’s claims about the Budget stacks up against a simple fact check from Senator Penny Wong.
Claim: Australia has a Budget emergency
Nations with Budget emergencies don’t receive AAA ratings with a stable outlook from all three credit rating agencies, as Australia did under Labor.
Australia is one of only 10 economies in the world with AAA ratings from all three agencies – in the company of other countries with strong public finances like Germany, Canada, Sweden, Singapore and Switzerland.
Claim: Debt levels are unsustainable
The Australian government has low levels of debt by world standards.
The latest Budget update shows net government debt for 2013-14 of $191.5bn, or 12.1% of Australia’s GDP. By contrast, net government debt in advanced economies around the world averages 74.7%, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Claim: Labor’s deficits were too high
Governments typically run Budget surpluses when the economy is strong and deficits when the economy is weak.
Labor allowed the Budget to go into deficit in 2008-09 because the global financial crisis was threatening to plunge our economy into recession. Our action stimulated the economy, kept Australia out of recession and supported hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The deficit peaked at $54.5bn, or 4.2% of GDP, in 2009-10 – less than half the advanced country average. Then, as the private sector started recovering, Labor started reducing the deficit. In our last full year in office, 2012-13, the federal deficit was $18.8bn or 1.2% of GDP, compared to an advanced economy average of 4.9%.
Claim: Spending was out of control
In the four years from 2009-10 to 2012-13 Labor met its fiscal rule of keeping real average spending growth to less than 2% a year. In fact, this was the lowest four-year period of real spending growth in 23 years.
The Abbott government arrives at a higher figure for political purposes by including the 2008-09 stimulus – an economic program the Nobel laureate, economist Joseph Stiglitz, has described as one of the “best designed” stimulus packages of any advanced economy.
Claim: Labor increased taxes
Labor was a low-taxing government. During our time in office, federal government receipts averaged 22.5% of GDP. By contrast, under the Howard government, receipts averaged 25% of GDP.
Claim: Debt will reach $667bn by the end of the decade
The Budget’s debt and deficit figures have been inflated by Joe Hockey through a combination of spending decisions and changes to economic assumptions, such as unemployment projections. These changes doubled projected Budget deficits by $68bn and have also blown out debt figures. These political changes in Budget assumptions were confirmed by Treasury at Senate estimates hearings earlier this year.
By contrast, the independent pre-election economic and fiscal outlook’s medium term projections, using long-standing methodology, show that on Labor’s policy settings the Budget surplus grows to 1% of GDP in 2020-21 and net debt returns to zero in 2023-24.
Claim: Labor’s school and disability reforms are not funded
In the 2013-14 Budget, Labor took the unprecedented step of releasing 10 year figures for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Gonski school reforms, demonstrating how they were funded over the long term.
The Coalition has reversed a number of these savings measures and now claims these reforms represent a fiscal “time bomb” – this is an obvious attempt to justify breaking Abbott’s election promises on schools and disability.
The result: Labor v the Coalition
Structural improvements in the Budget are needed to ensure key spending is sustainable. That’s why Labor made targeted savings worth more than $180bn over the six Budgets since 2008-09.
Treasury analysis shows that the long-term savings made by Labor mean the Budget is cumulatively more than $300bn better off by 2020-21.