Federal Politics

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Pyne caught red-handed with the airbrush

Christopher Pyne had his airbrush out yesterday – erasing the entire global financial crisis from Australia's economic history.

"Well if there had been a Coalition government for the last five years ... I think most people accept that we would have had continuing surpluses," he told Sky television.

Actually most people do not accept that.

In 2009, a forecast $20 billion surplus became a $57 billion deficit in part because Labor spent more than $50 billion as stimulus in the face of an international economic meltdown and in part because company tax revenue collapsed due to the financial crisis.

What Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull said at the time was that we should have spent less on the stimulus – maybe $25 billion or $30 billion. The Coalition waved through the first $10.2 billion stimulus package but opposed the second $42 billion package on the basis that it was too big – and that spending of about $15 billion to $20 billion would have been more appropriate.

It's pretty safe to assume that revenue would have collapsed just the same, no matter who was in the Lodge.

In retrospect, what Mr Turnbull said looks pretty smart (he also argued it was implausible to effectively and efficiently spend $16 billion on school halls in the timeframe proposed and that the pink batts scheme should be means-tested or require a co-contribution from the householders, which might have saved a whole lot of pain) But even if Australia had done exactly as the Coalition said we should do at the time, we'd still have come out of the crisis about $180 billion in debt, rather than $200 billion. And the nation would still have run very large budget deficits.

Mr Pyne has every right to question where the Gillard government intends to get the money to pay for its promises on a national disability insurance scheme and the Gonski education reforms, and it is possible that a Coalition government might have now been in a better fiscal position. But breezy statements that the Coalition would have "got through the global financial crisis quite easily" do not match the facts.

For the record, he told Fairfax Media we were were taking his statements "too literally . . . I was simply making the point that the Coalition's economic management is better than Labor's".


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