Rush to surplus would be ‘hammer blow’ to economy: Chris Bowen

Treasurer Chris Bowen backed Wayne Swan’s plan for a return to surplus in his speech at the National Press Club in Canberra on Thursday. Photo: Alex EllinghausenSwan proud of his recordCar lease plans parked

Treasurer Chris Bowen says rushing the budget to surplus would be a “hammer blow to growth” and a “terrible strike to the Australian economy”.

However Mr Bowen stuck by Labor’s timetable to return the budget to surplus in 2015-16, saying the plan outlined by former Treasurer Wayne Swan was “the right one”.

After a wide-ranging speech at the National Press Club on Thursday, Mr Bowen strongly defended his controversial decision to crack down on fringe benefits tax benefits for salary-sacrificed cars.

The move, which could cost hundreds of jobs according to representatives from the fleet and automotive industries, was tough but necessary, Mr Bowen said.

“It is controversial, of course it is,” he said, adding that Paul Keating had advised him that as Treasurer “sometimes hard decisions might need to be made”.

You’re not going to return to surplus … without controversial decisions,” Mr Bowen said.

“And I’m up for that task as Treasurer. If it’s too controversial for Mr Hockey, well that’s a matter for him to explain how he’s going to reform the Australian economy”.

Mr Bowen continued his attack on the shadow treasurer by copying Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s strategy of goading his opponent about supposedly lacking courage for a debate.

“A number of media outlets have suggested debates between the shadow treasurer and I,” Mr Bowen said.

“I’ve agreed to them all. Mr Hockey has yet to agree to any. You have to ask just why the opposition is so scared of engaging in these debates”.

The Treasurer said he would happily return to the National Press Club “any time, with two podiums, to debate the economic issues and debate alternative approaches”.

Mr Bowen was originally booked at the Press Club to speak about his new book – Hearts & Minds: A Blueprint for Modern Labor – but since he was now Treasurer he thought it more appropriate to talk about “growth and opportunity”.

“To those who came here today to hear the backbench member for McMahon talk about his new book – I apologise,” Mr Bowen said.

“The Treasurer has turned up instead”.

Mr Bowen tried to undermine the Coalition’s platform by saying Labor was the “true party of the individual”. Labor was the only party that cared that an “indigenous child in the outback” or the “daughter of a single mother in Melbourne’s western suburbs” was able to “grow to their full potential”.

But Mr Bowen ducked when asked how those claims gelled with Labor cutting welfare payments for thousands of single mothers. The Treasurer segued into a riff about school funding.

During his speech Mr Bowen repeated the Prime Minister’s call for a “new competitiveness agenda” and said Mr Rudd was correct to say the China resources boom was over.

“We have reached a crossroad,” Mr Bowen said. “This is not a crisis. But it is a challenge.

“The reality is that the past decade has been abnormal … Over the next two years, the Australian economy will begin to return to normal.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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