Prime Minister Tony Abbott says his treasurer worked a “miracle” to secure a deal on the debt ceiling with the Greens, while labelling Labor “hypocrites”.
The political row over Australia’s debt ceiling looks set to be resolved early next week with a nod of approval from federal parliament.
Business and economists are relieved the coalition government secured a deal with the Australian Greens to scrap the $300 billion debt ceiling before the limit would have been reached on December 12.
However, as Labor questions how the coalition could stoop to an agreement with the minor party, particularly on debt, the government branded the opposition “hypocrites”.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott congratulated Treasurer Joe Hockey on the deal.
“We couldn’t get responsibility out of the Labor Party,” Mr Abbott told a rowdy parliamentary Question Time on Thursday.
“But (Mr Hockey) did get responsibility out of the Greens, what a miracle worker this treasurer is.”
Mr Hockey on Wednesday finalised the agreement to scrap the ceiling in exchange for greater transparency.
The deal requires additional debt reporting in the budget and its updates, and a debt statement whenever borrowings increase by $50 billion.
The Senate considered the Greens’ amendments on Thursday but time ran out.
With the government having the numbers in the upper and lower houses, it should be passed on Monday.
Greens leader Christine Milne said the debt ceiling had been a “toxic political tool” that rendered the Australian debate around debt artificial.
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wondered how the government could enter the “tawdry deal” with the Greens.
Mr Abbott said the government was relying on the Greens to pass one particular piece of legislation, whereas Labor relied on the minority party to survive in government for three years – “really and truly the extraordinary hypocrisy and double standards of the members opposite”.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the suggestion the new requirements would boost transparency was “a big call”.
He accused the Greens of an about-face on debt, saying Senator Milne had originally opposed Mr Hockey’s proposal to lift the ceiling to $500 billion.
Mr Hockey said Labor’s reaction was “like a husband being upset that their ex-wife went off and had a cup of coffee with some other man”.
But Labor MP Kelvin Thomson joked that the Greens-coalition alliance was “a bit more than a cup of coffee”.
“I think it’s the candle-lit dinner and flowers,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
JP Morgan chief economist Stephen Walters said while the coalition and the Greens did not usually make “comfortable bedfellows” on economic policy, an unfortunate fiscal “mishap” had been avoided.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox strongly supported the removal of the ceiling, describing it as “artificial device” that imposed unnecessary inflexibility and created unhelpful openings for political opportunism.