Monday, 16 January 2012

Mr Robb's Embarrassing Lack of Understanding

OMG!  The Coalition Parties seem to be keen to keep on highlighting their frightening ignorance on economics and economic management.  Even basic maths seems to be an issue sometimes.

It perhaps wouldn’t matter so much if it were an odd backbencher shooting from the hip, but this time it is the Shadow Finance Minister, Andrew Robb, mouthing an analysis of Australia’s debt and fiscal position that would be humiliating to any high school economics student, let alone someone wanting to run the budget of Australia’s $1.5 trillion economy. 

In The Australian today, Mr Robb is quoted:
  • “growth in the nation's level of indebtedness since Labor came to power has been outstripped only by global financial crisis casualties Iceland and Ireland; it [the Opposition] warned of a European-style budget crisis here.”

Mr Robb also said:
  • "Under Labor, commonwealth debt in gross terms has grown by around 250 per cent, putting us third only behind those powerhouses Iceland and Ireland.” 

What?  Is this a mistruth or a very basic misunderstanding?

The facts show that Australia’s net debt is projected to move from a net asset position of 3.8% of GDP in 2007-08 to a net debt position peaking at 8.9% of GDP by 2011-12 - a widening of around 13% of GDP.

According to the IMF data base, Iceland’s net debt is projected to rise by 58% of GDP, from 11% in 2007 to 69% in 2012.  Ireland’s net debt is projected to rise by 92% of GDP from 12% in 2007 to 104% in 2012. 

Then there’s this suggestion:
  • Mr Robb said a commodities slump could push Australia into European budget crisis territory. "Debt just keeps growing under this government and if we experience any downturn in commodity prices the $50 billion budget deficits that have become the norm under Labor will stretch out as far as the eye can see," he said.

Let’s have a look at some of those “European crisis levels” of net government debt:

Between 2007 and 2012, net government debt is projected to rise by 53% of GDP in Greece (from 105% to 158%); Portugal 32% of GDP (from 58% to 90%) and Spain 30% of GDP (from 26% to 56%).

As an aside, according to the same IMF database, net debt in the US is projected to rise by 35% of GDP between 2007 and 2012 (from 42% to 77%); in the UK, the rise is 41% of GDP (from 38% to 79%), while in Italy, is a relatively modest 13% of GDP albeit from a high starting point (from 87% to 100%).

All of which make’s Mr Robb’s claims completely ridiculous and for him, quite embarrassing. 


  1. Stephen, could you include a link to the Australian's article?

    I read it earlier, and IIRC Mr Robb was taking the incredibly creative step of combining the debt positions of *State* and Federal governments to arrive at these figures!

    The question is, why is Christian Kerr incapable of providing an analysis of Robb's puffery like you did?

  2. Hi Stephen,
    to fix time date

    On your Blogger Dashboard find the Link or Tab 'Settings'

    Select third Tab 'Formatting'

    Scroll down to 'Time Zone' select the one you want

    THEN scroll down and click on the big orange Save Settings button

    You can delete this comment - please

    If you want I can email screen shots d (dot) mick (dot) weir (at) g mail

  3. The only thing 'wrong' with your assessment is that Mr Robb & co are not at all embarrassed by presenting their fictions as fact.

  4. Even more embarrassing for Mr Robb is this quote from his leader when he was in the UK last year:

    "... our net government debt, Commonwealth and state, about 8 per cent of GDP; our collective budget deficits just under four per cent of GDP and net interest payments just under 2 per cent of government outlays.

    On the face of this comparative performance, Australia has serious bragging rights. Compared to most developed countries, our economic circumstances are enviable"

  5. What D Mick Weir said - they should be embarrassed - but they won't be.

    a)No-one will call them out on it, and
    b)They consider their bums as good or better as any economic authorities.

    Thanks for the article. I'm dreaming but I hope more like your articles could displace some of the IPA rot on the ABC.

  6. You are of course correct to highlight this nonsense from Robb. However, he was (deliberately) talking about GROSS debt levels rather than NET and this (as you and others have explained) comes down largely to the ongoing development of the Australian bond market.