Prime Minister John Howard today accused Labor of being reckless and short-sighted in proposing to raid the Future Fund to pay for a high-speed broadband network.
Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd today unveiled a plan to use up to AU$2.7 billion of the Telstra shares held in the fund to establish the network.
"This appears to be an economically irresponsible way of funding a program," Howard told parliament. "It also appears to be short-sighted with no regard for the future and no regard to the fact that of all the challenges this country faces, none is greater than the ageing of our population."
"Raiding the Future Fund is recklessly indifferent to the welfare of future generations of Australians."
The prime minister said Labor's plan was to rob future generations in order to nourish the current generation. "Labor has fallen at the first hurdle of economic responsibility," he said. "They couldn't resist it, they've reverted to type and gone back to their old habits. This is the first instalment of Labor's pattern of betrayal of the interests of future generations of Australians."
Treasurer Peter Costello described the opposition's plan as "shameful economic vandalism".
Costello said the International Monetary Fund had lauded the establishment of the Future Fund as leaving Australia well placed to meet the challenges of an ageing population.
"All of this is under threat in what I regard as the most irresponsible announcement of the past 11 years made today by Labor," he told parliament. The treasurer said legislation would have to be changed to retrieve the money, making the fund vulnerable to further raids. "Once that Future Fund is open, it is open for all purposes and the only losers will be future generations of Australians."
Costello added Rudd's announcement was a humiliation for Labor treasury spokesman Wayne Swan, who in 2005 said the fund should be a "locked box".
The Future Fund was set up to pay for the superannuation entitlements of public servants.
In a statement issued this afternoon, Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan said the new ALP policy was "nothing more than a re-heated [Kim] Beazley proposal".
"Labor's proposal will entrench its legendary neglect for rural and regional Australia by abolishing the AU$2 billion Communications Fund earmarked to ensure that non-metropolitan Austraians can get reliable services in the future," the Minister said.
"Added to this, Labor announced today that it is prepared to throw out its ideological opposition to the sale of Telstra, provided they can now get their hands on the money. This is textbook Labor, and a very clear signal that if elected, they will spend the Future Fund and send Australia back into recession."
"Australians still vividly remember the 'recession they had to have', and today's announcement is akin to giving the bank robber the keys to the vault," Coonan added.
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