Abbott Rejects Surplus Commitment Ahead of Australia Ballot

Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott, whose coalition is leading in polls ahead of the Sept. 7 election, said he won’t commit to a date to return the budget to surplus.

“One of the reasons why we are making so few major commitments is because we want to be absolutely certain we can deliver on those commitments,” Abbott told reporters in Brisbane today.

Treasury predicted a budget deficit of A$30.1 billion ($27.4 billion) in the year to June 30 in its Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook released yesterday as the economy slows and unemployment rises. With the final budget position in place ahead of the poll, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is calling on the Liberal-National coalition to release its funding plans.

Australia’s 2014-15 deficit is expected to be A$24 billion and the 2015-16 shortfall is now seen at A$4.7 billion, according to yesterday’s Treasury documents. A 2016-17 surplus of A$4.2 billion was projected.

“We saw from the Treasury yesterday that there is a wide range of variability in the forecasts and in the projections,” Abbott said today. “The only way to get back to a surplus is to have a coalition government because Labor will never deliver a surplus.”

Fiscal Challenge

Abbott says his coalition has outlined policy plans that will save the budget A$17 billion. Should he win office, the fiscal challenge will be exacerbated by falling revenues as prices for Australia’s resources decline from record highs and by coalition pledges to scrap a mining tax and carbon pricing.

The government’s 30 percent levy on iron ore and coal mining profits is forecast to raise A$4.4 billion in the four years to June 30, 2017, according to the Treasury outlook published yesterday. The carbon pricing mechanism is expected to raise A$16.1 billion, the documents shows.

The coalition has also pledged to cut the tax rate for companies by 1.5 percentage points to 28.5 percent.

“Mr. Abbott plainly has a hidden plan on his cuts to jobs, education and health,” Rudd told reporters in Queensland state today, calling on the coalition to release the costing details for its funding plans. “What he fears is, if the Australian people knew what was in his plans, that they’d be very, very worried about voting for him.”

The coalition maintained its 52 percent to 48 percent lead over Labor in the two-party preferred measure, according to a Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper Aug. 12.

Rudd returned to the leadership on June 26 after defeating Julia Gillard in a party-room vote, about three years after she took his job. Australia’s first female prime minister led Labor to the August 2010 election, the nation’s closest in seven decades, and subsequently cobbled together a minority government with the backing of Greens and independents.

Abbott Pledge

Abbott today pledged his coalition wouldn’t form a minority government with the Greens should another hung parliament eventuate in this year’s election. Liberal voters would be directed to preference the Greens last in a bid to avoid another hung parliament, he said.

Australia’s electoral process allows voters to indicate an order of preference for candidates, which means contestants with relatively small first-choice selections can be elected.

“This is about putting the disappointments, the betrayals and the failures of the last three years firmly in the past,” Abbott said. He called upon Rudd to direct Labor voters to also preference Greens candidates in last place on electoral ballots.

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