Government ‘trickery’ over budget numbers

Labor has run out of excuses for its mounting debt levels, opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb says.

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Treasurer Wayne Swan has handed down his Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, which forecasts a modest $1.5 billion surplus in 2012/13 after a larger than previously predicted $37.1 billion deficit in 2011/12.

Mr Robb said the government had brought forward or delayed five to six billion dollars worth of infrastructure spending to create an artificial surplus.

But the spending would be unlikely to happen because some states did not have their share of the money in the joint projects, he said.

The government had used “all sorts of trickery” with its numbers and had come up with a new excuse every year for its growing debt levels, Mr Robb said.

“I think the dog ate the government’s homework yet again this year,” he told ABC Television on Tuesday night.

The whole world knew Europe was problematic and the United States was still stumbling yet the government had chosen to put Australia in a precarious position if commodity prices slowed, Mr Robb said.

The decision of ratings agencies to upgrade Australia’s credit rating was because of structural features that had served it well over the past two decades and earlier strong financial management, he said.

“It’s not a point of comparing us necessarily to a number of basket cases around the world.”

Labor’s efficiency dividend for the public services was tougher than the coalition’s election policy but it was too early to reveal how many jobs dismantling the Department of Climate Change, as promised by the coalition, would cost, Mr Robb said.

The coalition was confident it could restore significant flexibility into the industrial relations system but wanted to wait until the hotspots were clearly identified before it announced its policy, he said.