AUSTRALIA - The Labor Party's leader, Kevin Rudd, has announced plans to use money from the country's Future Fund to help finance an A$4.7bn scheme to set up a broadband network across the country.
Described by the ruling Liberal party as a “smash and grab raid”, Rudd’s plan to give 98% of Australians access to high-speed broadband within five years would be partly funded by the selling of the Telstra shares the Liberal government used to seed the Future Fund.
The fund, which will become Australia's largest institutional investor, was set up by the ruling Liberal government in May 2005 to combat the the $101bn deficit in civil servant superannuationin assets under management by 2020.
Labor’s opposition treasury spokesman, Wayne Swan, said any use of the fund’s money would be for “productive projects”.
He said: "We will not do anything which will stop us from meeting our target of public servant superannuation liabilities being fully funded by 2020."
The announcementt has met fierce criticism from the Liberal government, with treasurer Peter Costello comparing the Labor party to a “bear with a honey pot” in an interview on Australian TV channel ABC.
Labor argued that the government already had plans to invest in improvements in regional communications and said the job of providing improved broadband access would be better left to private companies.
In another interview, Costello said: “It is hard to think of a more irresponsible policy than a policy to raid the savings of future generations and yet that is what Labor is proposing to do. To raid future generations, to spend the money now on its election programmes and to take Australia back into debt.”
However, this was countered by Swan: "Peter Costello ought to get off his high horse, roll up his sleeves and walk in the streets of Australia, walk in the suburbs, walk in the great regional towns which are starved of broadband and desperately need it so we can lift our productivity in this economy."
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