Colin Brinsden and Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)
Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack has suggested the federal government will pay off its massive debt by 2021.
Mr McCormack found himself backtracking on his comment reported in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that Treasurer Scott Morrison would play “Santa Claus” announcing some “goodies” in the May budget.
Mr Morrison, who spoke with the Nationals leader on Tuesday after the article was published, played down the suggestion it will be a giveaway budget.
“I’m not Santa Claus – it won’t be Christmas in May – but I don’t intend to be the Grinch either,” he told ABC radio.
“What we will have is what we’ve always produced, and that is a responsible budget with measures the country can afford that are about investing in a stronger economy.”
Mr McCormack, who is standing in for Malcolm Turnbull while the prime minister is in the UK and Europe, later told reporters he was merely being “upbeat” about the budget’s transport and infrastructure spending.
He said the government had been able to put a record amount of money into roads and rail because it had managed the economy and budget well.
However, he went on to suggest debt – which stands at $523 billion – would be paid down within three years.
“I’ve already spoken to Scott Morrison and he is looking forward to the budget too,” Mr McCormack told reporters in Mildura.
“He’s looking forward, as he says, to producing a fiscally responsible budget. He’s looking forward to getting this nation back on track, so that by 20/21 we’ve paid down Labor’s debt.”
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said it had been a torrid first few days for the acting PM.
“Michael McCormack must still believe in Santa if he thinks if the government’s debt will be paid off by 2020/21,” Mr Bowen told AAP.
“The fact is the deficit for the current year is eight times bigger than what Abbott and Hockey originally forecast at their 2014 budget.
“And gross debt has just crashed through half a trillion dollars on the coalition’s watch with no projected peak in gross debt in sight.”
The government has targeted 2021 for turning the budget deficit into a surplus.