Australia warns of US-style debt shutdown

Australia warns of US-style debt shutdown
Joe Hockey.

SYDNEY - Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey warned Thursday of a US-style shutdown if the Labor opposition refuses to agree to lift the nation's debt ceiling to A$500 billion (S$580 billion).

The current ceiling of A$300 billion will be breached on December 12 and while a bill to raise it passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday evening, there is a stand-off in the Senate.

Labor and the Greens hold the balance of power in the upper house and only want an increase to A$400 billion, but the Tony Abbott-led government said that was not enough.

"If Labor prevents an increase in the debt limit, there is no choice but to start having massive cuts to government expenditure because the government is running on borrowed money - that's what we inherited," Hockey told ABC radio, adding: "They're playing an irresponsible game here."

Last month the United States government was shut down 16 days and taken to the brink of default as Democrats and Republicans locked horns over a budget bill and raising of the country's borrowing limit.

Hockey told parliament on Wednesday the government may have to stop welfare and health-related payments if the ceiling was breached.

"The Labor Party is now playing a game of Russian roulette," he said.

"But what they don't understand in relation to debt limits is that the barrel is fully loaded. If they choose to pull the trigger, there's only one outcome for them. But the problem is, there will be ancillary pain for the Australian people."

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