Thursday, 11 May 2017
Statement and Documents
We acknowledge that we meet on Aboriginal land, that this land was never ceded, that we have unfinished business and that we the Australian Greens are committed to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to address this. On the eve of the 50th year anniversary of the 1967 referendum, a time when Australians came together to say that they would no longer tolerate Indigenous Australians being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, there is next to nothing in this budget to close the gap with the first peoples of our country.
The indifference to this great injustice in our national story is just one of the many failures of this budget. And there is no greater failure than this budget's silence on the greatest challenge facing us, not just as Australians but as a species on this beautiful, fragile, little blue planet of ours. It is simply remarkable that a budget delivered in 2017 does not even mention the words 'climate change', not once, at a time when the Great Barrier Reef is undergoing a second coral bleaching within 12 months and the summer Arctic ice could disappear within a generation. Indeed, how telling that while the budget references the cost of Cyclone Debbie, it fails to mention that we will see more cyclones and more extreme weather.
There are Torres Strait Islander peoples who are right now threatened by rising sea levels and storm surges, desperately trying to build walls to protect their beautiful island homes from seawater inundation. This week I met with the mayor of Torres Strait shire who told me about how his community needs funds to finance mitigation work, but of course this government is deaf to his pleas. The science is clear, the need for action is urgent and yet there is nothing in this budget to address the existential threat of a rapidly warming planet. And unless we deal with that, unless we deal with that existential threat, then everything else is background noise.
Inaction on climate is a stunning betrayal of all of us, but it is especially a betrayal to the generations that follow in our footsteps. It will be the next generation of young leaders who have to clean up the mess that our government is making. It will be the farmers of the future who suffer the consequences of damaged land and increasingly frequent extreme weather events. It will be the next generation of engineers who inherit a decrepit and polluting energy system. And it will be the next generation of medical and nursing students who will have to deal with the climate impacts on their health of the rapid spread of infectious diseases.
But climate is just one way that this budget screws over young people. It is now crystal clear that this government has no plan for their future. The politicians who benefited from higher education have decided that the single biggest cut in spending in this budget should be against university students at $3.7 billion. Many of the same politicians who are lucky enough to buy properties when housing was affordable have decided they would rather continue to enrich themselves and their mates with tax breaks for their property investments instead of abolishing negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount, which is critical if we are going to make inroads on making housing more affordable for young people.
The stinking reality is that change will not happen while this government—and, indeed, the Labor Party—remain hopelessly handcuffed to the mining lobbies, property developers and their rich mates, who funnel millions of dollars into their campaigns. Over the past five years, for example, mining companies have donated $1.3 million to the Labor Party and $5 million to the Liberal and National parties. I have said it before and I will say it again: this is state-sanctioned bribery. These entities are not donating out of the goodness of their hearts. It is a commercial decision to buy influence, and this budget proves that it is working. You have to wonder for a moment if it is a coincidence that just a few months ago the big four banks all agreed that they would no longer make political donations to either of the major parties, and it is the one area where the government finally chooses to act in the public interest and take them on.
Of course, the good news for the vast majority of Australians who believe in a more decent and more caring society is that the government has finally, reluctantly, been dragged, kicking and screaming, to accept that we do have a revenue problem. After persisting with the 2014 budget—flogging that dead horse and it is cruel and heartless cuts—they have seen the writing on the wall. The government has had no choice but to accept that its individualist, dog-eat-dog, neoliberal ideology is a dead end. Trickle-down economics has failed. The public has had a gutful. They understand that we are not just economic actors, selfish individuals always in violent competition. They know that we are members of a cooperative species who like to work together.
The community understands that taxes are the force that allows us to pool our resources and create a better society for everyone. Both here and around the world, people will no longer stand by and allow governments to continue flogging off public assets. They are sick of governments acting in the interests of corporations, and not those of the community. And so it was that the Treasurer walked through the looking glass and has begun to talk proudly about investing money in the public ownership of the Snowy Hydro and other infrastructure. It is a welcome change, but there is also a little bit of Stockholm syndrome in the response to this budget. The nation has been held hostage by this Liberal government's brutal ideology for so long that, when the chains are finally off, we are lulled into thinking that they have our best interests at heart. No-one is fooled. The public know that this is a political decision: carefully calibrated, carefully calculated and borne out of political survival.
It has been described as a Labor-lite budget, but let me tell you that it could never be a Greens-lite budget. It is a budget that utterly fails our environment. There is more public money to open up gas fracking across our cherished farmlands than there is for anything that will help us make a rapid transition to take advantage of the rich resources that we have for renewable energy and a pollution-free future. There is bugger-all for the climate. Indeed, the only money for our natural world is what the Greens secured for Landcare, Indigenous Protected Areas and the Indigenous Rangers program.
Still, those of us on the progressive side of politics should take heart from the fact that we are winning the battle of ideas. It dawned on me just yesterday when I was listening to a government minister, one of a long line of alumni of the Institute of Public Affairs. There he was, going head-to-head with me, spruiking the benefits of the bank levy. I have to say, it must have really stuck in his craw. I could see that he was doing it really tough. The Greens have been banging on about the bank levy since well before the global financial crisis. The behaviour of the big four banks and the response from government represents some of the most egregious failure of free-market, neoliberal, crony capitalism that we have ever seen. You see, the big banks make huge profits. They gouge their customers and worse, yet they have got their hand out, relying on a taxpayer guarantee if they ever get into financial trouble.
The 'too big to fail' response after the global financial crisis represents everything that is wrong with our broken system. When times are good, the big end of town creams it; when times are bad it is up to taxpayers to foot the bill. That is why we support the move for a bank levy. It is something we have long pushed for and was knocked back by Labor and Liberal governments for years. People around this place told us we were dreaming, yet here we are.
The government talked a lot about fairness in its budget, but simply saying 'fairness' does not make it so, just like talking about protecting Medicare does not keep it safe. Look at what the Prime Minister was doing only a week ago, standing on a warship with President Trump, congratulating him on dismantling public health in the US. People are not going to be fooled by the Medicare guarantee fund. It is a glorified bank account. It does nothing to improve our health system or to protect Medicare.
Of course, rather than taking responsibility for their failures, they have chosen the well-worn path of the Right. They blame easy targets. They look at foreigners and people doing it tough and blame them. This is a budget that uses racist dog whistles to encourage resentment and scapegoating—look no further than the changes to 457 visas, the foreign investment tax and the new citizenship test. Meanwhile, the Australian government continues to torture innocent refugees and people seeking asylum in offshore detention camps, at a cost of $573,000 per person each year.
We saw the predictable attacks on people who receive income support. Treasury has forecast unemployment to remain at above five per cent over the next four years. What that means really simply is that there are more people than jobs. But rather than acknowledge that, we have this disgraceful, shameful, discriminatory proposal for mandatory drug testing. As somebody who has worked as a drug and alcohol clinician, let me give the government a few tips. By the time someone is addicted to an illicit drug they have often lost their job. Their marriage has often broken-down. They have got no contact with their family and they might even have contracted a disease like hepatitis C. They might be living out of their car or on the streets. If all of that is not enough to stop someone from using drugs, what fool thinks that taking away income support is going to succeed? All they are going to do is be driven further into despair and find other ways to get their money to buy drugs.
It is not just about people being addicted to drugs. If we open this gateway to government applying a morality test for government support, what is next? We are setting a very dangerous precedent. Imagine failing a drug test because you take a pill at a festival or smoke a joint and losing your HECS funding as a result? Imagine losing access to Medicare or the pension? It is a dangerous move by the government, and there is no way it will pass the Senate on our watch.
Sadly, health reform is back in the waiting room for another two years. We are not going to see any action on chronic disease, and there is nothing to tackle three of the looming health challenges facing Australians: obesity, heart disease and diabetes. While we push people on income support further to the margins by ostracising and demonising them, we are being asked to celebrate the end of the freeze to doctor's payments under Medicare. The Medicare freeze might be over, but the Newstart allowance has been frozen at levels below the poverty line since 1991.
Tonight, the opposition mouthed platitudes and made a big fuss about corporate tax avoidance, yet it is hard to believe that they are serious about corporate tax avoidance and about taking on the multinationals when they are taking their massive donations. Tonight, Bill Shorten called on the government to make the deficit levy permanent. Yet when the Greens sought to amend the act back in 2014 to make it permanent, guess what Labor did? They voted it down. When the Liberals sought to give top-end earners a $315 tax cut last year, it was Labor who joined with the government and One Nation to back it to the hilt.
Meanwhile, we Greens in the Senate are the genuine alternative. We are working with the community to knock off many of the worst aspects of the last three budgets. In this budget there is: mandatory drug testing; higher education cuts; ineffective approaches to housing affordability; ripping $300 million from the aid budget to give to ASIO—I look forward to ASIO building wells and engaging in polio eradication right across the world; and spending more on war and weapons. Those things have not been done yet, and we will be working hard in the Senate to stop them. You can look to my colleagues across the chamber and know that we will do everything we can to make sure that these proposals do not see the light of day.
There are different choices that this government could be making. If we built one less submarine, we could fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. If we built three less submarines, then we could have a world-class public education system. Our job is not just to deal with the dangers of the present; it is to champion new ideas.
In this budget, we finally see the notion of good debt being introduced, separating out recurrent and capital spending to utilise low interest rates to build productivity-enhancing infrastructure, such as national rail projects. These are Greens ideas. It is just a shame the government did not fund them properly. The list goes on: the levy on the banks, as I mentioned; aggregating bonds from public housing to be managed by community housing providers; overhauling financial dispute resolution schemes; portability of bank accounts; and measures to stop multinational tax avoidance. These were all first pushed by the Greens, and now we are seeing those ideas being adopted. Indeed, we see Labor adopt negative gearing and capital gains tax discount reforms, despite initially opposing them. We see their support for a royal commission into banks and financial services, despite voting down our proposal when we introduced it.
It is the Greens who are generating new ideas and who are at the vanguard in this parliament. The fact that our ideas are moving into the very centre of public debate has a much longer history than this budget. The Greens were ridiculed when Bob Brown first talked of marriage equality and when we laid out our vision for a clean, green, 100 per cent renewable energy future. It was Christine Milne who began the charge against multinational tax avoidance, well before it was fashionable with the Senate inquiry that has led to some of this budget's new measures. We were the party that proposed reform of superannuation as a priority for budget savings, put forward as a way to end its operation as a tax haven. No-one was prepared to touch it. Now we know—again, big change. Of course, my colleague and co-deputy Senator Ludlam has been advocating for veterans exposed to nuclear radiation to be covered by the gold pass since well before I was even in this place. Well done, Scott—this budget finally ushers in this change.
An incident having occurred in the gallery—
So what is next? We need a Buffett rule so that very wealthy individuals have to pay tax on their income instead of employing fancy accountants and lawyers to work it so they pay nothing. We are sick and tired of hearing about millionaires who pay not a cent in tax. There is nothing fair about that. A Buffett tax will address the growing inequality in Australia, and I urge Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten to join the Greens in adopting it. I understand the opposition leader today mouthed the words, 'Let's back it up with action.' We are prepared to work with you to introduce meaningful reform. Let us introduce a Buffett tax.
It is time to get rid of inefficient stamp duty and replace it with a broad based land tax that drops the price of a house by $50,000 in Sydney or Melbourne, and encourages and enables people who want to downsize. The Greens have outlined a pathway forward where the Commonwealth can help the states switch from the worst tax in the country to the most efficient one. I would just say to the Treasurer: it is on our website—right next to the bank levy! Have a look at it!
We need to end the tax-free fuel for mining companies. It is among the biggest expenditure items of government. It will grow 16 per cent from $6 billion this year to $7.4 billion annually. Surely, given that the rest of the world has recognised that fossil fuels have got no future, this has to be the last budget where we see this needless subsidy. I suppose it depends on whether the mining lobby continues to give generously to both sides of politics. But you know what? I have got a sneaking suspicion that it will not be long before we win this one, too.
Let us redirect the private health insurance rebate and put more money back into our public hospitals—into public health care. It is worth over $20 billion every four years.
People want to see their representatives thinking about the future and about our country's place in the world, but what this government has done with this budget does nothing to assure people that these massive issues—issues perched on the horizon, ready to arrive—are being thought about, let alone prepared for. The government has been dragged kicking and screaming to the present, mugged by political reality. But while they are looking over their shoulder, the world around them is changing.
Australians do not want a government that is nostalgic for the past. They want a government that has plans for the future. They want a future-focused budget, which is why we are making a commitment to give young people the opportunities in life they deserve no less than did the generations before them. It is why we will fight those university cuts and ensure that underfunded public schools get the help they need. It is why we will bring in a renewable energy transition authority to tackle climate change and support Australia's rapid transition to a 100 per cent clean, modern, renewable energy system.
The future of work is precarious. Whether we like it or not, a massive reorganisation of work is underway. That is why we will protect penalty rates and continue the conversation about a shorter working week. And we will ensure that wealth is shared around our community.
We will fund preventive health and bring dental into Medicare. A Green budget would mean that going to the dentist is just like going to the doctor. A Green budget would properly fund drug and alcohol treatment services, rather than stigmatising people who are on income support. And, rather than giving lip-service to domestic violence, we would properly fund legal support and homeless services.
And we would close down those bloody offshore detention camps. The time has come. Shut them down!
At a time when income inequality is spiralling out of control, we are a party that is not afraid of taxing wealth. I look forward to the day when the other parties join us on that one.
This Treasurer said he wanted a budget that was for future generations. Instead, he has delivered a budget that has well and truly screwed over young people. But rest assured: it is we Greens in the Senate who stopped them before, and we will stop them again.
I have one word to sum up the Turnbull government's 2017-18 budget, and that word is 'pragmatic'. This is a budget that is aimed at this chamber—aimed at the Senate, especially the crossbench. They have finally buried the 2014 Abbott-Hockey horror budget, and their so-called zombie bills—although cynics know that zombies have a habit of rising again from the grave, like the horror movie. We should have seen this coming when financial minister Cormann repeatedly said: 'Park, park,' to controversial segments when negotiating passage of the recent omnibus bill. It is more proof that, in this 45th Parliament, Senator Cormann and Prime Minister Turnbull are real pragmatists. And that is good. It is not the Abbott-Credlin 'my way or the highway'—that approach to the crossbenchers. This is not wasting-your-time, ideological, play-to-your-base material. These are bills that seem genuine, practical and, in the case of Gonski mark II, fair and justifiable. I have heard so many commentators, including the Greens leader and Labor MPs, describing this at times as a Labor budget or a Labor-lite budget. So I guess I should now presume that the opposition will be voting for all of it.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I will deal with some of the other issues in a minute. I mentioned Gonski, so I will get education out of the way first.
I have admitted on radio and television in the past—before I jumped the shark—that I am personally opposed to taxpayers funding any private schools, Catholic or otherwise. My belief in the separation of church and state extends to many areas. The taxpayer should not be funding proselytising school chaplains either. But that is another issue. I sent my stepson to a private school, Wesley College, and he got a great education. I went to a state school, primary and secondary, and I thought I got a good one, too. But these are personal views, not party views. Anyway, I will concede: taking funding away from private schools is never going to happen, so it is not worth wasting any time debating it.
It is not the only reason I had reservation about Gonski mark I. The money for Labor's Gonski was never there. That is why I thought it was ludicrous for them to be bleating about Gonski II slashing $22 billion. You cannot cut money that was never there. So I will support the reborn Gonski. I will withhold judgement on the university issues until I am better briefed, but, instinctively, I think the new $42,000 kick-in for the repayment of HECS debts seems savagely low, especially in this day and age when rents, electricity and other living expenses are so high.
Right now, I am more interested in a claim by Senator Birmingham which has not received much mainstream media. He was quoted the other day as saying that the government was writing off—or, even worse, had written off—more than $50 billion in HECS debts. I am told tonight by the government that the write-off figure was closer to $12 billion. But even $12 billion smackers! My God, wouldn't Sco-Mo love to get his hands on some of that. I have not been able to find out yet why this is so—as Julius Sumner Miller would put it. All I have been told so far is some lame rubbish about, 'Oh, some people moved overseas to live.' Twelve billion bucks worth?
While we are on the subject of money, as I said on TV last night the bigger story about the banks in budget week was not the surprise imposition of a supertax but the leak which saw $14 billion ripped off major bank shares by short sellers in the know. I have written to the Federal Police, asking them to investigate what looks to me like a serious criminal case of insider trading. At first, I thought there must have been a leak from the lock-up. But I have since discovered there was a rumour sniffed by Sky News on Monday night and the short sellers hit the exchange Tuesday morning. The banks had been raided for $14 billion by 10.30 am—three hours before the lock-up even started.
As I said in my letter to AFP Commissioner Colvin, this is a classic criminal case of insider trading. It could be the biggest case of insider trading in Australian history. It makes Steve Vizard's insider trading sound like Monopoly money. I contacted the feds because they can easily find out who sold short on Tuesday. I asked them also to see if those sellers or their families had any connection with Capital Hill. Did it involve a federal employee or employees, a ministerial staff or staffers, or even a politician or a politician's staff?
I am now, disturbingly, getting unconfirmed reports that some banks were briefed some time ago about the modelling of a levy, but, to be fair, there was no hint that it would actually be in the budget. Then, a wink is as good as a nod, as they say. Worse still, I am hearing today that some stockbrokers heard of it from their investors early Tuesday morning, instructing them to dump the major banks' stocks. ASIC is now getting involved, too, so this issue still has long legs.
There was some good news for pensioners in this budget. There was good news for 92,000 pensioners in getting their concession cards restored and, especially, for pensioners wanting to downsize their homes but who have been scared of being penalised. I have been pushing this pension protection idea here in Canberra and on 3AW with Neil Mitchell. Now, I know that under the new budget—we all know—that homeowners who downsize will be permitted to each put $300,000 into their super funds and maintain their pension status. I am told that could free up 50,000 family sized homes for younger homebuyers or families wanting to trade up to bigger houses. That and other things, like salary sacrificing, will not solve the housing crisis, but it is something.
Big ticks too for the $350 million for Defence returned servicemen. That includes, of course, $130 million for survivors of the British nuclear tests at places like Maralinga. On that, you have too ask: what took them so long? Whenever returned servicemen are mentioned these days, I cannot get one awful statistic out of my mind: more than 30 of them have committed suicide this year. The last one I heard about was on Anzac Day. On the surface, I applaud the $33 million earmarked for the establishment of a Commonwealth redress scheme for survivors of institutionalised sex abuse, as documented in heartbreaking fashion at the royal commission, but I will suspend judgement on this one because I am already, sadly, seeing signs that the government is going soft on early royal commission recommendations, like the proposed maximum payment of $200,000.
There is another fund that deserves a mention: the new Skilling Australians Fund. Over four years, $1.5 billion will be allocated for apprentices and trainees, and the government claims that could support 300,000 young people training to enter the workforce.
One embarrassing thing for the government was the scant mention of two controversial words: negative gearing. It is true: people with negatively geared property will no longer be allowed to claim an annual trip to inspect the property as a tax deduction, and depreciation on the washing machine I think has also been disallowed. I support negative gearing. I have declared in my pecuniary interest register that I have one heavily mortgaged negatively geared apartment, but I am open to legislation to limit the number of properties, residential or commercial, that a person can negatively gear. I am increasingly being convinced of a limit of two or three such properties. It could help first-time buyers who are being swamped by investors, local and foreign, at every weekend auction.
Also on the issue of house prices, we should be pressuring state governments to scrap stamp duty. That, along with things like payroll tax, was meant to go when the Howard government brought in the GST. Stamp duty is a savage tax. As I have said before, you do not even get a bloody stamp! Still on housing—and permit me to be parochial for a minute—in the budget, and I have to applaud this, the government announced that it will release 127 hectares of Defence department land in Victoria which will accommodate 6,000 new houses, and that is great. Some would say that the fact that it is in Bill Shorten's electorate is even better. Still being parochial, the $500 million for Victoria's regional passenger rail is very good news, as is the $100 million for the Geelong Line upgrade. The Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail project was a boomer, mainly for freight, but I wonder: what does that mean for the much vaunted Melbourne-Brisbane bullet train? I am probably dreaming to think that the $30 million from the federal government to help build a city-to-Tullamarine rail line will convince the Andrews government to embrace the project. In my view, it is a scandal that a major metropolis, the world's most livable city, does not have a city-to-airport rail link.
Before the budget, I tweeted a good-news link. It was about living organ donors and recipients—an issue close to my heart, literally. It was confirmed on Tuesday night. It is a plan I have been pushing for more than three years. It involves payment to living organ donors, especially for kidneys. Sometimes a compatible mother or father cannot donate a kidney to a family member because, in these tight times, neither of them can afford the three or four months off work to recuperate, so the government is now providing $4.1 million for donors' out-of-pocket expenses. It is not enough, but it is a good start. When I first raised this issue a few years ago, The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney accused me of organ trading or organ selling. Yeah, right! But this is a good excuse to segue to my plea for a million more Australians to join the organ and tissue donor register and to remind people of my campaign for the government to legislate and create a living will so that, if you are on the organ donor register, your wish to be an organ donor will be honoured. I call it 'opt in plus'. Right now, there are more than six million Australians either registered or intending to give the gift of life, but what many people do not know is that more than 40 per cent of people registered as donors will not have their wish granted because, in their grief, their families, their loved ones, will overrule their wishes, and I believe that is wrong. I understand what grief can do, but it is your body and if in life you want to be an organ donor then that wish should be honoured and protected in death.
Still briefly on health and the Medicare levy increase: the NDIS is one of the most important health and welfare advancements in Australian history. The Medicare levy will guarantee that the NDIS will be fully funded in the decades ahead. Disabled Australians and their carers need this not tomorrow but yesterday, and now it will be done. From me—and I hope from all Australians—it gets a big tick of approval.
Finally, I hope it is not an omen or a sign that the 2017-18 Turnbull government budget is about to go arse-up that the printed copies of Treasurer Morrison's speech on Tuesday night that were distributed to senators and members in the other place and dignitaries had inside the cover the speech upside down. I know it is a topsy-turvy world that we live in, but that is ridiculous. I will leave you with a final word about the budget: pragmatic.
This budget overturns the many commitments of the Liberal Party that they have held for many generations, it tramples Costello era fiscal responsibility, it taxes Howard's battlers, it leaves the Minchin mantra on finance friendless and, to true conservatives and loyal Liberals, it is a disappointing budget. Australians, particularly the millions of conservative Australians, want better from their government. They want governments to be principled, to be transparent and to be honest. The only transparent and honest thing about this budget lies in its naked ambition to help the government to hang onto office.
This budget is a political fix. It takes all of Labor's attack points and embraces the Labor agenda. It has left Labor and its leader, Mr Shorten, so bereft of lines of attack that they have had to dust off the old records—class warfare and beating up on the wealthy. These things work a charm every time, particularly in trades hall, or so they tell themselves. Labor have essentially been blindsided because they thought the Liberals would never tell their conservative base to go jump, but the Liberals, unfortunately, have told the conservatives to go jump, and they are jumping over here to the crossbench. I believe this budget will see the crossbench grow.
I have said before that this budget is not honest. Australian voters are realising, to their horror, that the Liberal government they elected, which they thought were not Labor, are very close to Labor too. This should be Labor's triumphant moment, quite frankly—their attack of the clones, if I can put it like that; the moment where everyone flips and you discover they are all a version of Labor. It is 50 shades of Labor in this place. There is the realisation that the Nick Xenophon Team does Labor better than Labor does, that the Greens are just a more extreme version of Labor and that the Liberals are now Labor light.
Everywhere the voter looks we have got 50 shades of Labor—well, almost everywhere, because there are pockets of us. There are millions of conservatives around Australia who are looking for a better alternative and, as a representative of Australian Conservatives, I am determined to provide a better way for them because they are demanding a better way. They are seeking a credible alternative to vote for because the government has disappointed them again and again. Conservatives do not like being told to go away. They do not like being told by pollsters that they do not matter. They know there is a better way, because politics is failing to deliver for the people in this country.
Let us remember that the government got to this side of the chamber in 2013 by fighting Labor's big new tax—the carbon tax. It is a government that rolled up its sleeve and in its very first few weeks managed to get rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax. This government now, because of this budget, can be accused of getting here under false pretences because it is now implementing big new taxes of its own. In fact, there are three of them.
The first big new tax is the insurance tax. We were told when the carbon tax was repealed that it would mean every household would be $550 a year better off, and yet Minister Porter told us on budget night that the insurance tax that his department has introduced will alone cost $400 per year per taxpayer. It is fair to say the savings from axing the carbon tax are now gone. The carbon tax is effectively back, only this time it is bigger. It has been on steroids. Copying the Labor playbook of virtue taxation, it is not now a tax that is supposed to save the planet; it is a tax that is supposed to save the NDIS funding mess that Labor left us with. It is a virtue double whammy, if you will. But this time it is from a Liberal government. I consider it quite callous, quite calculating and very political that this government is appealing to people's patriotism and their sense of moral obligation by pegging this insidious new insurance tax to the NDIS.
I predict today that the NDIS will never, ever be fully funded. The NDIS will be exploited. It will be rorted. In fact, it is already being rorted, and no amount of money will stop those rorts. There has to be a better way. But I find it ironic that a government that got in after getting rid of an opposition leader over his support for the then big new Labor tax is now led by the same leader bringing in an even bigger new insurance tax.
As I said before, that is not all. There is not one or two but three big new taxes. The second one, of course, is the bank tax. We were told on budget night that it was a levy, but it is not a levy. Former Prime Minister Mr Howard belled the cat on that. He just told the newspapers that it is a bank tax. This is coming from a Liberal government, now a 50-shades-of-Labor government, that ignores two maxims, two essential truths. The reality is that the more you tax, the less your economy is going to grow and, just as sure as night follows day, business taxes flow through to consumers. The bank tax will flow through to consumers. In fact, many investors, particularly self-funded retirees and those with money invested in superannuation, have already paid once and they will pay more with the bank tax because, before Labor, the Greens and, I am sure, the Xenophon team clear this big bank tax through the Senate so that taxpayers can pay for it a second time, we have already seen $14 billion wiped off the value of the banks due to this additional taxation burden. That is $14 billion worth of investors' money that has gone up in smoke or with the stroke of a budget pen. And that is before the banks even pass it on to consumers in the form of higher fees or higher interest charges.
There is also a third big new tax in this budget. I call it the worker tax. Just like the carbon tax was designed to cash in on public hysteria about the climate, the worker tax is designed to cash in on the public outrage about foreign workers. It is straight from the Labor playbook—another 50 shades of Labor in this parliament. In this place and in the other place we have 226 members, but there are only the Conservatives and what are essentially the 50 shades of Labor. As the sole true-blue representative of Australian Conservatives, it is hard to see past the red because the new worker tax will, like other taxes, flow through to consumers. Businesses that cannot fill skills gaps, gaps they cannot wait years to get Australians trained up for, will have to raise their costs to meet the worker tax. These costs will be borne by consumers.
Of course, the worker tax is funding another big government agenda: a training fund. It is, again, a virtue taxation styled at skilling Australians. It is going to be rorted. Nothing is surer because every program that has been introduced in this space has been rorted. What is amazing is that a Liberal government is setting up a training fund so that the government—not a market, a business or an associated entity—can decide the best way to fill skills gaps. It is going to be left to the government now. We know that in the past the government's schemes have not produced the results that are required.
So, in combination, the insurance tax, the bank tax and the worker tax, will raise the tax take by an extraordinary 7.8 per cent next year. That is 7.8 per cent that will not be in the productive economy. By 2020-21, the federal government will suck in an additional $60 billion a year more in taxes than they do today. Yet, in that same year, debt is expected to be higher than it is today, peaking at around $600 billion. That is what the government will tell you, because that is what they put the debt ceiling to. In reality, the budget papers say that in 2025 the debt is expected to be $725 billion. That means that the debt ceiling they established only two days ago is going to be smashed. So these three big taxes are not designed to pay down debt; they are designed to grow the size, the scope, the reach and the power of government. It is the antithesis of what the Liberal Party used to stand for. It is the antithesis of what the Australian Conservatives do stand for. We know there is a better way.
The government told us repeatedly that this was an honest budget. It has not taken long—no less than 48 hours—for it to be made clear that this is not an honest budget; it is a dishonest budget. It says that the Liberal Party and the executives within it have adopted another characteristic of the Labor Party, and that is the deployment of newspeak. It is Orwellian. Honesty is now actually dishonesty.
During the last election the Prime Minister talked up innovation. Remember that? It was one thing that he ran through the whole campaign—'We're going to innovate our economy to great things.' I did not think by 'innovation', the Prime Minister meant innovative accounting techniques—account techniques that he had previously derided and smashed as being wrong and not prudent. Yet they have been adopted in this budget by this government. The innovation started when they started to talk about good debt and bad debt. As I put in a tweet during the week, I worked out what good debt was: good debt was the debt you can hide off the balance sheet and you do not have to disclose in your budget. It makes your bottom line look better but it is still debt; it still needs to be repaid. It is hidden from the headline figures, but you cannot hide it from the overall figures.
That debt, the overall debt of $725 billion in 2025—if you can believe that figure—is going to have to be repaid at some point. The fact that they will not admit this publicly demonstrates to me that new innovation is a tricky Labor style vehicle designed to shield things from the Australian people. In effect, they are stuffing debt under the equity mattress. It is the tactic that the coalition could legitimately criticise the Labor Party for until now. It was a methodology that Labor minted with NBN Co: you start a government venture that will never be profitable—that does not stack up; that you can cook up on a coaster flying in a private joke; something that you can only sell at a loss once it is built—but you can justify it by sticking it off your balance sheet. It is just like the second Sydney airport: the market does not want to build it because the rate of return is not there. It is just like the inland road project that the government is choosing to build despite someone else in the commercial sector wanting to build it for billions of dollars less. The Western Sydney Airport and the inland road project equity vehicles now mean that Labor's NBN model is a practice owned by the coalition too. It is yet more of the same.
And it gets worse. Today I asked the Minister for Finance during question time about these equity projects. I asked what the minimum rate of return is for these projects to justify them as equity projects. I was told it was the inflation rate as set by the ABS. But the funny thing about this inflation rate is that it is currently around one per cent. In the forward estimates it is scheduled to get to 2½ per cent, and the government is borrowing money on the 10-year bond rate at around 2.6 per cent. So, even on the government's current estimates, and assuming they borrowed all the money today when interest rates are lower than they are likely to be in four years time, according to their own estimates, they still do not pay for themselves.
Government does not have a good track record of building things on budget and on time. So there is every reason to believe that these projects are underfunded and will result in a loss for the taxpayer. That is one of the things I asked the Minister for Finance about today, about the need possibly to be writing off billions of dollars from the NBN Co because it will be an unprofitable government venture when they come to sell it. He did not accept that. He suggested that that was not right. But I can tell you now that telecommunications analyst Bevan Slattery said that $30 billion might need to be written off. Similar calls have existed within the industry, and I have spoken to many analysts about it. I want to read a quote from the then Minister for Communications and now Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, in December 2014. In talking about the NBN and the possibility that they might be losing money on it, he said:
These funds will be recovered one way or another, regardless of which party is in office.
Some will be recovered from consumers—
As I said, debt always flows through to the consumers—
in the form of charges for broadband access and telephone services. Money not recovered from consumers—
something like $20 billion or $30 billion, I am suggesting—
will be recovered from taxpayers by the Government simply writing off much of its investment.
That is what the Prime Minister said when he was Minister for Communications, but it has been rejected today by the Minister for Finance, because they are using the same tricky vehicles that the Labor Party used to hide their profligate spending.
Another dishonesty in this budget is its attempts to lay blame at the feet of the Senate. I have immense respect for the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard, and his right to say that the coalition could not get the zombie savings measures, as they are termed, through the Senate or a previous incarnation of the Senate. I understand perfectly why the government decided to abandon the zombie measures. Why persist with something you cannot get through? But it does not mean you give up presenting some serious alternatives for savings. And yet that seems to be what the government have done. There have been debates in this place to put other savings measures forward, but we have not seen them pursued with vigour by the government. Instead, they have decided that it is easier to tax and spend.
I call the measures the government have introduced vampire measures. They are no longer zombie measures; they are vampire measures. They will suck money out of the productive economy. They will take money from business and from every household taxpayer. They will burden them with new taxes, new impediments and new costs, which will flow through to consumers. That is going to diminish our economic growth, not strengthen it.
It is fair to say that many on the crossbench, I am not one of them, do like tax-and-spend budgeting. They see the government as a solution to many things. Despite the length of Senate terms—which I believe were designed to allow us to take a long-term view and avoid short-term thinking, and also to act as some sort of hedge against short-term banking—quite frankly, many in this place want the short-term sugar hit of gouging a bit of extra cash out of the government for their focus group or their constituent group. They do not give a hoot about the cost and the long-term consequences, as long as they can kick the can down the road for future generations and for future governments to deal with.
There were many sensible, saleable alternate savings measures which the government could have adopted. The National Commission of Audit in 2014 professed a host of measures that in combination would have delivered annual savings of $60 billion or $70 billion per year in a decade or so's time. They are annual savings, as I said—savings that would also in many cases have restructured the Federation and ended the blame game, so that those levels of government that spent the money would also raise the money and be accountable for the money. It would not have resulted in a decrease in spending on good health outcomes. It would not have resulted in a decrease in spending on good education outcomes. It would have resulted in ending the wasteful and often duplicated spending in the power struggle, creating bureaucracies to battle over health and education and infrastructure, and almost every other field between state and territory responsibility where federal governments have no business intruding. As the father of the Federation, Sir Samuel Griffith, famously said, the Commonwealth exists to do those things the states cannot do themselves. How far we seem to have travelled from those wise words.
One sensible and, I think, simple recommendation from the Commission of Audit was to abolish, merge and consolidate government departments, agencies, boards and committees. Over 60 per cent of them could have been dealt with in this manner, saving hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars every year. Another recommendation that I believe has strong support along the crossbench—and I look around at my colleagues here and I know they support it—was, among other things, to freeze members' and senators' pay. It might not have made a huge difference to the budget bottom line, but it would have sent a very strong message. If you want to make a significant difference to the budget bottom line, then freeze the pay of high-level bureaucrats as well, until they deliver a surplus. It is not too much to ask that those who keep delivering budgets in the red and formulating the policies that deliver such bad results for the Australian people should be held to account.
This place is awash with red—red ink, red politics. It is 50 shades of badness. It is 50 shades of Labor. No-one here knows what a surplus looks like anymore. Treasurer after Treasurer after Treasurer tell us a surplus is around the corner. There is never any talk now of paying back debt, and one Liberal backbencher today said, 'Well, in 2021, if we deliver a surplus of $7 billion and we do that every year for the next 100 years, we'll be able to pay back the debt that we've got by then.' Does anyone really believe we are ever going to repay the debt that has been accumulated over the last 10 years and will possibly be accumulated over the next 10 years? I, for one, doubt it very, very much.
Another dishonest aspect of this dishonest budget is the claim before budget night that the projections would be conservative. People love clinging to that term 'conservative', because it offers credibility and authenticity, but only if you actually adhere to what it means. The problem we have is that I am a conservative, and I can tell you that these budget forecasts are not conservative in any way, shape or form. They are either courageous, in the term of Sir Humphrey, or they are foolhardy. You can take your pick. The projections double down on Treasury's overestimation of GDP growth. Remember that Treasury have overspruiked GDP growth for the last five budgets before this one. Their projections have been absolutely wrong for eight of the last 11 budgets. But suddenly we believe their optimism is well founded now? Forgive me for my cynical questioning of that claim.
Real GDP is estimated to be three per cent over the forward estimates. Unemployment is supposedly going to improve by over half a per cent, inflation is going to double to 2½ per cent and wages are going to grow by a massive 3¾ per cent. These are fanciful projections. They have already been panned for being overoptimistic. I repeat: they are dishonest, because the government said the projections would be conservative. And yet, privately, those who have been involved in Treasury deliberations will tell you that the best thing about forward estimates is that they have an inkling about what might happen next year, but years 3 and 4 are entirely guesstimates about what might happen in the economy. For goodness sake, they revise things from MYEFO to the budget, in six months, because they get that wrong, but now they can suddenly predict with such certainty this optimistic growth phase for our country?
So convinced are the government, so footloose are they with taxpayers' money, that they now are adopting Labor's policy. We were told today that they are going to lock in to legislate a minimum rate of three per cent funding for schools every year. You might welcome that, but what if growth projections are one per cent, or 1½ per cent? What if that is the reality about what we are dealing with? It creates a baseline for guaranteed school spending that pays no heed to economic conditions and pays no heed to educational outcomes. It is a recipe, once again, for waste, for rorting and for inefficiency if ever there was one.
While we are talking about projections in education, let us talk about one herd of elephants that is coming over the horizon. It will stampede the budget projections. It is student debt. The government has failed to learn the lessons of the rorting and wastefulness of extending HELP debt or HECS, as I knew it—as it was then known to vocational students. The VET FEE-HELP scheme was a scam. It was a scam to the tune of billions of dollars. But, higher education debt, supposedly that good debt—that equity investment from government given to universities so that students can graduate with degrees that they will not get proper jobs out of—has already tripled over the last 10 years to $30 billion.
The budget office is predicting that, in the next 10 years, it will get to $180 billion—that is six times higher. It will, assuming the government does not ramp up other elements of national debt, increase students' share of the interest paid on national debt from 15 per cent, currently, to almost half the interest in the future—that is about $20 billion a year; almost half the interest of national debt will be accumulated by students for student loans. Remember: that is interest we are paying on the debt; it is not about paying back the debt—no-one is talking about that now; nobody talks about interest costs any more in this place. That is all we used to talk about—not publicly at least. We prefer not to talk about the fact that in 2020 there is going to be about $20 billion a year of interest costs payable. That would build a lot of roads and hospitals but, no, it is just going to be paid to bankers for the excessive spending of today.
Let's remember also: this student debt, an estimated 20 per cent of it, will never be collected. That is: what? About $36 billion. It is not accounted for anywhere in the budget bottom line. It is not accounted for in the forward projects. That is why it is fanciful, and they are rosy. They ignore the unwelcome reality.
Wait—I say: there is more, unfortunately. It is a bit like deep space in science fiction novels. The coalition has joined Labor on a unity ticket in running dishonest budgets that promise things beyond the known universe of forward estimates. As I said: they ignore what they do not want to know, but they promise, as a virtue, money that they never will have to find themselves.
Labor took us into deep space on the 'Starship Gonski.' It had the velocity of a spaceship. It did not move much in dollar terms in the near orbit but, once it got into the furthest reaches of them not being in government any more, the spending really ramped up. Quite rightly, it was condemned and criticised by those on this side of the chamber. But, now, because they cannot deal with it, they have adopted the same mantra themselves. There is no provision to pay for the extra $16 billion or $18 billion that has been promised outside of forward estimates. So what we have got now is a supposedly conservative government adopting another of Labor's 50 shades: firing up the 'Starship Gonski' because they think it is a quick political fix, but it is unfunded and it is unaffordable.
So already we have got $16 billion in unfunded education. There is another $20 billion or so dollars in unfunded promises to build submarines in my home state of South Australia, and there is also going to be the ongoing costs of an ageing population. Superannuation is simply not going to meet the needs of many Australians. There will be an increasing demand upon pensions, and we are on that heady road that so many Western European nations have found themselves on: the road to unsustainable and unrepayable debt.
There is something else that is threatening our economy that the government has not really sought to acknowledge—because if it did, it would not be running debt and deficits; it would be strengthening our economy against a global economic downturn. We are a trading nation. We run high deficits and debt at our peril. Our international sovereign debt comparisons, which so many in this place love to use, are not there because, in our case, they never include the state and territory debts and, regrettably, we are also amongst the world champions of high household debt levels. So, if ratings agencies lose faith in our ability to sustain our borrowing practices or to repay the loans that we have, then global finance houses will also lose confidence and we will face a day of fiscal reckoning unseen in this country since the Great Depression.
Our constant exposure to a regional or a global downturn is a truth that few in this place seem to want to understand. I thought the Liberal Party did until Tuesday night, but they seem to have abandoned that fiscal common sense. They now say, 'The other side seem to be having such a good time, so why don't we join them? Let's party like it's 1999 and pay no heed to the Y2K bug.' It sounds callous, but it is exactly what is happening.
Every principled statement the Liberal Party has made, every criticism of Labor the Liberal party has mounted, every talking point they have uttered criticising the Labor accounting position and provisions—all of it means nothing, because this government has adopted the same Labor approach. They have only a fig leaf of difference from the Labor Party. They are no longer conservatives, and the people are demanding a better way. There is a tried and tested way, a fiscally responsible way, that the Liberal Party once knew; it is now our way, a better way—a way for Australian Conservatives.
I rise to present One Nation's response to the 2017 Commonwealth Budget. This is my first budget reply speech on behalf on my colleagues. And, hopefully, if we have been doing our job listening to the people of Australia, we can deliver what needs to be addressed, so that we, as a nation, can move forward and repair the damage caused by consecutive governments and instil hope in all Australians that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
In 2013, the current government was saddled with a debt of over $257 billion from the previous Labor government. It is now at $552 billion and rising, with an interest bill of $16.4 billion per year. The Treasurer declares; 'We don't have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.' But I have to ask the Treasurer: why did he just sign up a further credit card debt of $600 billion instead of tearing it up and throwing it in the bin?
I and many other Australians are fed up with governments delivering budgets purely as vote winners. When are we going to see gutsy leadership that is long overdue to pull this country out of the ever-increasing mess and the hole we are digging ourselves into—one from which our future generations will never see the light of day?
I am asking for a 'please explain' on behalf of the Australian people. Why are we allowing multinationals to strip our nation of its natural resources, such as gas and oil, without paying adequate taxes and royalties that are the norm in many other countries around the world? These multinationals call us 'Treasure Island'—come on down and plunder and take what you want! We have one of the largest, if not the largest, gas fields in the world, yet Australians pay more for our gas than the countries who buy it from us, even after exploration and production costs. On top of that, we have an energy crisis, with out-of-control, overpriced energy costs that are destroying businesses and the family budget.
Why haven't consecutive Australian governments kept sufficient energy resources to meet Australia's needs? If Australia had conducted business like many other countries around the world, such as Norway and Papua New Guinea, we would not have a debt. Let me put it this way: the budget shows that taxes on beer will generate $2.4 billion; and tobacco, $11.4 billion. This far exceeds our government budget figures of $1 billion for the petroleum resource rent tax.
The problem is that we have a profits based tax for gas, which is all too easy for multinational companies to rort and pay no tax. Instead, One Nation proposes that, like most other countries, we adopt a system of royalties paid on production. On gas alone, such a scheme would raise up to $10 billion per year, with anticipated revenues of around $400 billion over the life of the wells, and clearly multinational companies can afford this. Instead of just enriching multinational companies and sending our resources overseas to benefit other countries, this is just one example of how effective management of our nation's collective resource assets could transform our finances and enrich us all.
I talk about multinationals not paying their taxes here. I spoke to a minister recently, and they were thrilled about the fact that we are going to rein in, I think, $4 billion or $6 billion from multinationals. They thought that that was wonderful. I revert back to what Jim Killaly, the former Assistant Commissioner of Taxation, said in 1996—that we are losing $200 billion a year from multinationals not paying their taxes in Australia. I refer to Among the Barbarians, written by Paul Sheehan in 1997. He said, 'With our 1953 double taxation agreement, we are losing out of our country $39 billion a year in taxes, and Australia only brings in $19 billion.' It can be addressed if the government, Liberal or Labor, is prepared to change legislation to ensure that the multinationals pay their fair share of tax in Australia and not go to the battlers or people who want to have a drink or a smoke, who are picking up the taxes and keeping this country going.
I am sure that when Australians heard the Treasurer say that he was going to impose a levy on the banks we all thought: 'Great! It's about time.' I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the levy will be a tax deduction for the banks of approximately 30 per cent. Had the federal government brought it in as a tax on the bank, it would not be tax deductible. These costs imposed on banks—$6.2 billion over the next four years—will no doubt be recovered by the banks through higher interest rates on mortgages or decreased returns on savings, affecting each and every Australian. Shareholders will receive less returns on their shares, and this will impact on self-funded retirees, who are already struggling to maintain sufficient income streams. In fact, the levy amounts to an indirect taxation by the Treasurer on the Australian public. I think that this policy was made on the run. I do not believe enough investigation was put into this before it was brought in in the budget.
I now want to turn to housing affordability. This budget does next to nothing about balancing the demand and supply of housing in areas where many people feel that they will never be able to afford a home. One Nation congratulates the government on the release of Defence land for housing. We also support the government's initiative to allow first home buyers to save within their super fund a sum of $30,000 towards their deposit on buying a property. My fellow senators and I also congratulate the government on its initiative to reduce the number of apartments in a development that can be sold to foreign nonresidents to 50 per cent, but this measure does not go far enough.
I must say that Labor have been talking about housing affordability as if they worry about the people out there being able to find a home to rent. It was Labor in 2009 that made it that foreign developments could be sold fully to foreign investors. They got rid of the rule that 50 per cent must be sold to Australians. I congratulate the present government on reversing that and going back to 50 per cent having to be sold to Australian residents.
One Nation wants all sales of established property to be only for Australians whose identity and right to buy is verified at the time of contract, with effective penalties and enforcement. How often do we hear from people that they believe foreign investors are buying established housing? Under our laws they are not allowed to, but this is not investigated; it is not policed. What we are saying is that at point of sale, on the contract, you must produce evidence: your passport, your citizenship or a document from the Foreign Investment Review Board saying that you have a right to buy that property.
One Nation also believes that foreign nonresidents should not be able to buy established property. Likewise, in relation to new property, One Nation believes foreign nonresidents should be limited to one new property per person. We have 400,000 foreign students in Australia. They can buy established housing, but they must also sell that property when leaving Australia. This is not policed, so, if they buy a property and it is listed with the immigration department, that can be followed up if they leave the country and the property is not sold. One Nation would also force nonresidents who already own properties but do not live in or rent them to either do so or sell them to Australian residents within 12 months.
Everyone knows the single-largest outlay in this budget is for welfare related programs. Australia has gone into debt to keep paying welfare. I will not deny support for those in genuine need, but we have too many people on welfare who are cheating the system. This is not a new problem, but something needs to be done to reduce welfare expenditure so that those in genuine need can be supported.
It is time for an identity card to be issued to every person who is entitled to receive taxpayer funds. We cannot carry the costs associated with people who are not entitled to support. This has been raised previously, with an Australia card, but what we are proposing is an identity card. People who are going to access taxpayer funded services must apply for it, they must present 100 points for it, it must have their photo and a chip in it with their details, and it must have some form of security, which would be the palm of their hand, which cannot be duplicated. For anyone who is going to apply for welfare or child support or goes to the doctor, gets a prescription or goes to hospital, let's make sure they are not rorting the system. There are too many aliases out there and too many illegal people in this country using their friends' and family's cards to visit a doctor, go to hospital or get prescriptions. People are rorting our system. There was a case in New South Wales where two brothers ripped off $27 million from taxpayers in childcare fraud, and there are numerous others.
If people are concerned about this card and their privacy, I say to them: you have probably applied for a mobile phone, where you have to present all kinds of identification to get a $30 plan. This is more important. If you are not prepared to present your identification to prove who you are to get taxpayer funded services, you will pay full price for it. Our welfare payments at the moment are over the top and we need to rein them in. There are people in this country in multiple marriages, having multiple children and getting thousands of dollars a week and, on top of that, we are providing housing for them. We have to do something about it. Australians are screaming out that changes need to happen. The welfare budget is now so large that it is stopping us investing in the future. Most of the infrastructure we enjoy today was made possible by past generations, but, as the population grows, we need new investment. The government expects to spend $164 billion in the coming year on welfare, and that figure will increase as our population ages. We cannot keep borrowing for recurring expenses.
One Nation is not convinced the NDIS will be funded by the half-a-per-cent increase to the Medicare levy. This is another thing that needs to be raised. We have over 800,000 Australians—it is approaching that number—who are on the disability pension. In one case I was informed about, a woman applied for the disability pension because she had chronic fatigue. She was put on a disability pension, was receiving it for four years and was never called in for a test. We have to stop this rorting from happening. I believe that, on a yearly basis, those who are on a disability pension should be called before a government-appointed doctor to reapply for their disability pension, unless it is evident that they are truly in need of a disability pension.
This budget represents a missed opportunity to build our nation. The government plans to spend $75 billion over 10 years on infrastructure. It sounds like a lot until you realise that, over this period, government revenue will be around $5,000 billion and welfare expenditure will be well over $2 billion. These figures show that the government's infrastructure plan is just token window-dressing.
The proposal to build a new freight rail line from Melbourne to Brisbane will only benefit regional Australians, if it stops at the towns on the route—there is no suggestion yet that it will. Instead, the government's proposed Melbourne-Brisbane rail link, using existing low-grade tracks, will support the alternative private consortium proposal building new high-speed rail lines. This will provide a cheaper, faster, safer and more accountable solution. The proposed rail link that the government is putting in will cost $10 billion and take over 10 years to build. Normally, anything the government does will blow out, so of course the cost is going to blow out. It is not going to go to the port, but the private proposal that they are planning will actually cost only $13 billion, be built in six years and actually be more beneficial to the people of Australia than the government's proposal. Too often we see that government proposals and plans to build anything in this country do not work. It is over-the-top costing, and I do not believe it is investigated enough.
Likewise, the much-hailed 'Snowy 2.0', while also sounding wonderful in principle, starts to wobble as soon as it gets out of the gate. This appears to have already been the subject of a feasibility assessment by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation about 30 years ago, which found that it was not a viable proposition, so the likelihood is that this too will be a fizzer.
As announced by our parliamentary leader in Queensland, Steve Dickson, One Nation will build the visionary Bradfield scheme, which will divert water from North Queensland coastal rivers inland under the Great Dividing Range to irrigate a vast area of western Queensland the size of Tasmania and make the deserts bloom. An epic infrastructure project of around five times the size of the whole Snowy scheme, the Bradfield scheme will employ tens of thousands of people, hugely increase productive land and greatly increase the agricultural output of Queensland.
Hence, I now have to go to the Murray-Darling Basin. My colleagues and I just went on a three-day intensive tour of the Murray-Darling. It is costing Australian taxpayers $13 billion to buy back water and put in programs that are not going to work. We saw a program that is denying farmers, small businesses, industries, communities and councils the right to the water that will help them survive. We are shutting them down. We are saying, 'You will not have the water supply.' Water is the lifeblood of this nation. Why have we got individuals—who have no connection with the land and who are not farmers—who have the right to own water in this land? Why have we got multinationals and others who have bought water rights in Australia? And, yet, our farmers are crying out for more water so they can increase their production and are ripping out their trees because they have got no water. And yet, we are intent on allowing the size of the Hume Dam—approximately 3,000 gigalitres—to flow down the Murray and out to sea, which is not going to flood the entrance of the Murray-Darling. It is sheer madness, and the fact is that this and the $13 billion that the government is putting into this needs to be looked at. I saw farmers on their knees, losing their properties and their homes for the cost of something that belongs to every Australian: the water that falls out of the sky. Yet we are charging them thousands of dollars and destroying their livelihoods and their businesses all so big organisations or individuals can reap the rewards of it at their expense.
While I am happy with the increase in legal aid to community legal centres and Aboriginal legal aid, the government has ignored our request for an increase in legal aid generally to the tune of $200 million, which would have alleviated the burden on the courts, particularly the Family Court. Every member in this parliament knows that the Family Court and the issues that are happening there are devastating families. We need to put more resources into it. I would have dearly loved to have seen more money put into the Family Court, with registrars and with legal aid supporting and helping this, because the average family normally has to wait three years before their case can be heard. We see fathers and some mums out there suiciding over this, yet we are not addressing this matter of great concern. I see too much waste that is happening. There are Australian people who are crying out for assistance and it distresses me.
I support the massive program of construction of coal and gas fired power stations. We must go ahead with this. We must implement them to give us cheap power so that we can have industries and manufacturing and to lower the cost of living for the average family out there. The rising cost is nearly doubling. In Western Australia it has gone up approximately 72 per cent in a year. In Queensland we have the highest wholesale price of electricity. We have seen the power station in South Australia close. Now it has been Victoria. Yet we keep pouring more and more money into climate change—billions of dollars—and it is going nowhere. We have the Greens saying, 'We've got to support wind power. We've got to support solar power.' We cannot run the country on that with the population, the industries and manufacturing we have. We need coal fired base power load in Australia to run this country. I see the billions of dollars that are going into this and I just feel that we need a real debate to make sure this happens.
Student debt is blowing out of all proportion. With the vocational education and training debt plus the HECS debt, it is approximately $52 billion. No-one is really reining this in. You have to pay it back at $54,000, so I do say the government is trying to do something about it, but to pull it back to $42,000 before you start paying your debt back is not good enough. An education in Australia is all well and good, but if you are going to go on and do course after course and expect that you are going to become a professional student at the cost of the taxpayer when we have not got the money and we are borrowing it, you have to face up to your responsibilities. You cannot do it. I have no problem with giving a helping hand. It was One Nation policy that once you start earning $22,000 then you start paying back the taxpayer. When you are on $22,000, paying back two per cent is not much, because some of these people can go out on the town and spend over $100 on drinks and having a good night out—sometimes it is even more than that. They have a responsibility to the Australian taxpayer, and it cannot be taken for granted anymore. Let me put the vocational education and training debt into perspective. In 2009 it was around $25 million. By 2016 it was over $6 billion in debt, and we are looking at over $185 billion by 2025-26, which is going to be 46.3 per cent of our national debt. So these are people who have been given the opportunity of a higher education, and then they leave and they go overseas and they do not pay their debt back. I believe that we need to rein that in. We need to do something about it. And it is the taxpayers' money. It is an opportunity that has been given to them. A lot of other countries around the world do not give their people this opportunity. But I feel that we are being taken for granted and abused.
I congratulate the government on reining in the 457 visa. We need jobs in Australia for Australians, and the apprenticeship scheme that the government is introducing and the money it will create. I hope that the government will actually look at an apprenticeship scheme, as One Nation has proposed, where the government pays, in the first year, 75 per cent of the wage; in the second year, 50 per cent of the wage; and, in the third year, 25 per cent of the wage. Businesses have approached me, and I have spoken to them about this. They would jump at the opportunity to put on apprentices. I congratulate the government on starting the intern scheme. That is wonderful for a short period of time; hopefully, it might turn into a full-time job. But, with an apprenticeship, those youths, or, maybe, the older generations who want to take on an apprenticeship, will have a job for the long term, and we will have our own trades men and women, and not be bringing in skilled migrants from overseas or 457 visa holders to fill these positions.
The NBN is costing this country an absolute fortune, and I am talking around $55 billion to $60 billion a year—sorry; I retract that; it is not 'a year' but 'in total'. The NBN will fail. It will be out of date. And that is why many Australians are not taking it up. I believe that we should look wisely at how we spend this money and make sure that we have an up-to-date NBN that is going to be, on the world stage, as good as any other country's, but I fear that we are throwing good money at something that is not going to be beneficial to this country.
What we in One Nation hope for is a vision to return our nation to unparalleled wealth and happiness. I would like to see back again the day when we were on the sheep's back and had prosperity. I want to see industries and manufacturing, and I was disappointed to see that the government did not express that in their budget papers. In contrast to every other party, One Nation's vision is for a new golden age of prosperity, accountability and integrity, unity and progress, in which all Australians will share.
Today, just two days after the 2017 budget was delivered, it is time to acknowledge the mistreatment of Australia's taxpayers, amongst the longest-suffering peoples on this land, in a budget in which those taxpayers—the ones who pay for all that the government does; the diminishing minority—once again copped a hammering. We reflect, in particular, on the systematic punishment meted out to wealth creators and on the relentless grab of their hard-earned money.
On behalf of myself, my party and those who share my views, I apologise for the laws and policies of successive coalition and Labor governments that inflicted a profound loss of wealth on our people, deprived them of their liberties, and then took pride in recklessly spending their money. On their behalf, I say: I am deeply sorry about the sheer greed of those in power who believe they are entitled to an ever and ever larger share of other people's money, and their fake generosity—transforming giving away other people's money into an art form.
Can we take a minute now to reflect on how this money was grabbed in this budget and how it was wasted? It was grabbed from wage and salary earners who suffer higher and higher taxes each year through bracket creep, grabbed from the customers and shareholders of banks, grabbed from the people who already pay most of the tax via a higher Medicare levy, grabbed from those who employ foreign workers because they need their skills and grabbed from those who smoke cigars and roll their own cigarettes, leading more and more to switch to the illicit market.
Governments, over decades past, Labor and Liberal, right up to the present day, have imposed myriad income taxes, company taxes, sales and consumption taxes, tariffs, excises, levies and stamp duties, and then they strangled creativity with red tape. Then there is the waste. It is wasted on welfare for those on middle-class incomes, like childcare subsidies for those on very high incomes, when it should be for the poor—up to $350,000 a year; wasted on welfare for over 800,000 people who are not Australian citizens; and wasted on nearly two million public servants and all their spending. How can a nation of 23 million possibly need two million public servants? It is wasted on Aboriginal welfare—failing to improve their welfare and not closing the gap; wasted on antibusiness, environmental and industrial laws that cost thousands their jobs; and wasted on duplicated Commonwealth and state departments, such as health, education and environment.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past. Unfortunately, that cannot occur under either a coalition or Labor government. As the budget has shown, one is no better than the other. They differ only in terms of how they rack up ever more deficits and debt—whether to rack up deficits and debt is never questioned.
For a party that does not believe in deficits and debt and that has a plan to do something about them, we can look to the Liberal Democrats. Our 20 per cent flat tax would turn Australia into a magnet for wealth creation. And our plan to abolish import tariffs, alcohol tax, tobacco tax and fuel tax would dramatically cut the cost of living. We could then focus welfare on the needs of the truly poor, support our defence forces and justice system, and maintain and improve our infrastructure.
For all the needless pain, suffering and hurt caused by outrageous taxes and regulations, we say sorry. For taxing and harassing the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, the value creators and their valued creations, we say sorry. To those people who have created wealth for everybody else and who were then publicly vilified and pilloried, we say sorry. I offer you this apology without qualification. But now we must move forward with hope renewed and condemn this sorry state of affairs to the scrap heap of history. The Liberal Democrats will never vote for a reduction in your liberties. We will never vote for an increase in taxes, and we will always vote for a tax reduction.
I am so pleased to be able to make this budget-in-reply speech on behalf of my colleagues Senators Griff and Kakoschke-Moore and the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, from the other place, because we represent not just the state of South Australia; we represent the political centre. We look at issues not from ideology, not from the left or right, but with practical solutions to real problems that must be addressed.
The measures contained in this budget will be the subject of literally millions of words of reporting, analysis, commentary and debate in the coming months. On behalf of my colleagues in this place and in the other place, I say this: we welcome, unambiguously, the specific measures we have collectively fought for, lobbied for and negotiated for in this budget. They are all measures which we believe are not only good for our fellow South Australians but, very much, in the interest of all Australians.
The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Fund of $100 million over the next two years, targeted at South Australia and Victoria, is long overdue. My home state and Victoria face a tsunami of job losses when car manufacturing in our nation ends in October this year, in less than 160 days. This fund will stimulate advanced manufacturing and research projects and will create advanced manufacturing innovation labs in South Australia and Victoria which will serve industry in a variety of roles, including test centre facilities and business capability development. It will also help to maintain engineering excellence, with engineering and student research through universities, technological institutions and industry in order to maintain the flow of highly trained engineers to the automotive design and engineering industry, rather than seeing an exodus of our best and brightest overseas.
And the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Fund of almost $50 million of new funding committed over the next two years will help dozens and dozens of innovative advanced manufacturing businesses in South Australia and Victoria to grow, to flourish, to find new markets and to develop new products and processes—and with it, to employ many hundreds, if not thousands, of Australians displaced by the closure of automotive manufacturing in this country—companies such as Supashock in Magill in South Australia, which design and manufacture state-of-the-art shock absorbers used the world over in racing vehicles and high-performance vehicles, where the drivers tell me that the difference between winning and losing those races is put down to the superior handling they get from the Supashock product developed in South Australia over many years. There are other businesses in South Australia, such as REDARC, with their automotive electronics, and Australian Clutch Services, that are itching to get an opportunity to grow their businesses with this fund. Across the border in Victoria, companies such as Quickstep, Dolphin Products and, of course, Carbon Revolution, all have an opportunity to bid for this fund and to employ so many more Australians.
This is a crisis that we face in terms of jobs, and we must address it. Australian manufacturing has declined from 12 per cent of GDP to just over six per cent in the last decade. Of course much more needs to be done, but we now have $100 million more than we did a week ago, and we all worked very hard to make sure that that happened. I see this as a down payment on something much bigger once the government sees the enormous economic flow-on effects of this—the multiplier effects, the effects of having more technology and research, the jobs it will create and the intellectual property it will create that we can export to the world.
I and my colleagues will also push for the Fraunhofer model, which has been such a great success in Germany, and involves collaboration between industry, universities and other research organisations as well as international collaboration to serve the needs of small and medium enterprises. Going from strength to strength since 1949, it has been a great success in Germany, a country that is similar to ours—a high-wage country, a country that is all about developing advanced manufacturing, where their share of manufacturing as a percentage of GDP is not six per cent, as it is here in Australia, but 22 per cent.
When it comes to jobs, the apprenticeship mentoring program which my colleague Senator Griff has been instrumental in will have a positive impact on the lives of 45,000 apprentices across the nation, thousands of those in my home state. This program of $60 million worth of funding over the next two years is targeted and highly effective. It is a very, very good use of taxpayers' money. For instance, in South Australia alone, previous mentoring programs in the automotive industry—for mechanics, panel beaters, spray painters and associated trades—lifted completion rates from an industry average of around 50 per cent to a massive 91 per cent, but in 2014 the government decided to axe the program to save money in the budget. It was the worst form of false economy, because we saw a plummeting of those completion rates. Apprentices did not complete their apprenticeships, because mentoring was so critical to that.
As my colleague, Senator Griff, said, axing the program was a dumb choice. It certainly was, but reinstating it is a smart decision that will help to fill a chronic shortage of trained workers. In South Australia alone, the automotive retail service and repair sector is in desperate need of trained workers, and its industry association, the Motor Trade Association, is very excited to see the introduction of this new, updated mentoring program.
When it comes to supplementary local road funding for South Australia, that is something that my colleague Rebekha Sharkie, the member for Mayo, has been an outspoken advocate for. She travels a lot of roads in the Adelaide Hills. It is a big electorate. She does thousands of kilometres each week, it seems. She is wearing that car of hers out. This announcement, whilst modest, is $40 million more than we had a week ago. It is $40 million over two years that will be poured back into council-managed roads in South Australia, including more than $2.3 million for the Adelaide Hills, for Mount Barker, for Victor Harbor, for Yankalilla, for Kangaroo Island, for Barossa and for the Onkaparinga Council in Mayo. This money was cut in the 2014 budget, creating a huge gap in the funding allocation to South Australian roads compared to other states. This is something that the member for Mayo has advocated for long and hard. We got that result. It is important for those country roads.
There is also the solar thermal plant for Port Augusta—something that all of us have been very passionate about. The budget announcement of a $110 million equity loan will make a huge difference. It will be the tipping point to get this project off the ground, to build the solar thermal plant at Port Augusta and to get it across the line. Not only will it mean virtual baseload renewable energy of a 100-megawatt plant, it will create 1,050 jobs in the construction phase, with a flow-on effect of another 3,000 jobs. And it will drive advanced manufacturing and research not just in South Australia but nationally.
I want to pay tribute to the community of Port Augusta, to its former mayor, the late great colourful Joy Baluch, and to its current mayor, Sam Johnson. They have both championed this project. Sam Johnson has been such a great advocate for this program. I also want to say that the member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, is someone who has also advocated for this project. I will work with him because this is an issue that goes beyond politics—to make sure that this happens.
Proton therapy is a form of cancer treatment that is state of the art. It is much more advanced than ordinary forms of radiotherapy. The beams can be targeted for difficult and hard-to-treat cancers, particularly pediatric cancers, brain cancers, spinal cancers and so many other cancers where the beam is targeted and it stops where it is needed so it does not cause damage to surrounding tissue. There is not one proton therapy centre in the southern hemisphere, but there will be now in the next three years in South Australia in Adelaide at the new SAHMRI. The $68 million one-off capital payment, plus changes to Medicare schedule, will ensure that proton therapy will finally come to Australia. It is not just for South Australia; it is for all of Australia and the entire region, and for the goodwill it will bring. Importantly, it will save, literally, thousands of lives in the years to come. It will mean the best and brightest from around the world in medical research will be drawn to this proton therapy centre.
I want to thank all of the people who I have worked with on this. I had many discussions with the Prime Minister, with the health minister, with Minister Birmingham and with Premier Weatherill in South Australia. It is an issue that is beyond politics. It is about saving lives and, also, driving excellence in innovation and driving this medical research that will save lives. The fact that the dean of the Harvard Medical School believed that the South Australian proposal was by far the most advanced and the best is something that is to be commended. I am looking forward to it. Just a few days ago when I was in Sydney speaking at the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, Professor Charlie Teo, one of the great brain surgeons not just in this country but in the world, was so thrilled when the announcement was made last Saturday. It was about Australia having a proton therapy centre—finally.
I also want to talk about other issues that have not got the attention they deserve in the budget. But they do deserve our attention; they are important issues. One is the issue of defence abuse. The way that some of the men and women who have served our country over the years have been treated—some of them subjected to the most horrendous abuse without any forms of redress in the past—must be addressed. I commend and praise my colleague Senator Kakoschke-Moore for her ongoing advocacy for those victims of abuse. The budget, as a result of Senator Kakoschke-Moore's advocacy, includes some $30 million for victims of sexual and physical abuse in the Australian Defence Force over the years. It means that a fund previously set up through the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce will now be able to continue through the Defence Force Ombudsman. It means that many people who missed out on Defence abuse compensation will now be able to get that, because arbitrary cut-off dates will no longer be applied. That is very important. I know how many people Senator Kakoschke-Moore has advocated for. Their moving stories cannot be ignored, and this at least provides some redress. Of course there are more details, and Senator Kakoschke-Moore will advocate to make sure that the fund is working effectively and well and fairly. That is very important.
I also want to talk about another issue involving our veterans. I know that we will be hearing from Senator Lambie soon, but one issue that I have campaigned for—that we have all campaigned for—relates to British nuclear test participants. Finally there will be some justice for Australia's nuclear test veterans, for the 1,100 survivors of the 17,000 who were part of the Maralinga, Monte Bello and Emu Field tests in this country, as well as the thousands who served in the British occupation forces in Japan, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the aftermath of World War II. They will get the gold card—finally some recognition for what they went through and for the illnesses that they suffer, instead of having to jump through bureaucratic hoops to prove, seemingly beyond doubt, that they were subject to illnesses due to that radiation exposure. That was a very unreasonable and onerous burden. This will make a difference. This $137 million will transform lives and be a belated recognition.
There is something else that we negotiated for that may not seem that important in the scheme of things and it may not cost that much. It is community radio—the 440 stations across the nation that many hundreds of thousands of Australians listen to, that many thousands of volunteers are part of and that are an integral part of our communities. There will be $6.1 million allocated over the next two years, and it has been terrific to work with the Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield, on this. This will provide diversity and difference. That capital injection will mean the difference between many of those station staying open and closing or restricting their activities. That is important.
We will have an opportunity to discuss measures in the budget in detail in relation to school funding and higher education. That will be the subject, appropriately, of Senate inquiries. But I want to address the whole issue of the bank levy. We support the principle of the bank levy, subject to two associated issues being dealt with. Firstly, we need to have a last resort compensation scheme for victims of financial mismanagement and fraud. I and my colleagues have seen the victims of, for instance, managed investment schemes. We cannot blame the banks for that. Those managed investment schemes were a creature of this parliament from 2004 to 2007, when they were set up, and literally many thousands of Australians have been devastated financially by those schemes. We need a last resort compensation scheme in this country. I know that the Ramsay review has been looking at it, but it must be put in place. I acknowledge that, if you have been the victim of bad financial advice from a bank, at least you know the bank has the dough to cough up compensation, even though the method of compensation and the processes need to be improved dramatically. But we know that they are there. But too many businesses have gone into liquidation, too many financial advisers have gone bankrupt, leaving no redress for those many thousands of victims.
But there is one matter that I believe must be addressed in the bank levy. It is something that we will push for, because there is an anomaly here. The levy as currently proposed excludes foreign banks operating in Australia. This has the perverse impact of according almost a preferred status to foreign banks over Australian banks in the latter's home market. There are a number of these banks that are global in size and reach, and they compete with precisely the same types of lending that are targeted by the levy. That is, in particular, lending to large corporations and institutions, as well as lending for home loans. In both cases, HSBC and ING are significant lenders. Those foreign banks should not be excluded from this levy. Indeed, if the primary purpose of this measure is to raise revenue then this would be much better met by their inclusions.
In terms of the global liabilities of just three foreign banks active in Australia—with ING, BNP Paribas and HSBC—a levy of just six basis points on those three banks and their Australian liabilities would raise $179 million per annum, almost $800 million over the forward estimates, which I believe would be a very significant contribution to a last resort compensation scheme. This is something that is long overdue. We cannot credibly have a levy on Australian banks without also applying it to those foreign banks operating in Australia. And additional money raised must be used for that last resort compensation scheme.
I want to talk about infrastructure. I know I got derision from some of my colleagues when I talked about the $70 billion of infrastructure commitments set out in the budget, but the fact remains that $3.1 billion of that infrastructure spend has been allocated to South Australia, which is some 4.5 per cent of the total spend. South Australia' share of population growth is 7.1 per cent. We have something like 12 per cent of the nation's local road network.
The cries are, 'You're getting all this naval shipbuilding.' The fact is that, in the next financial year, only $319 million has been allocated for the Future Submarine project, and most of that will go overseas for the French design teams in France, before relocating Australians as part of the advance design teams to France, and for the US combat systems in the United States. Very little of it will come back to Australia.
The budget does mention $270 million for the supply ships. But guess what? That is $270 million that will be spent largely on propping up jobs in Spain—not here in Australia—and that is something that must be noted. We also must note that South Australia has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. That is something that we must take into account with this anaemic infrastructure spend for South Australia.
But I am pleased that the government is committing to some significant rail projects: $8.4 billion to the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail and other rail projects that of critical importance to the nation's infrastructure. There must however be an absolute guarantee that we use Australian steel—structural steel from Arrium in Whyalla and rolling steel from Port Kembla in New South Wales. This is very important.
We are very proud of the work that we have done, in negotiations with Senator Cormann, the finance minister, on the procurement rules in this country being changed dramatically. From 1 March this year we have had a situation where, for the first time, Australian standards must be considered and employment, environmental and occupational health and safety practices must be considered in any procurement decision. And, for the first time, the economic impact of any procurement of over $4 million must be taken into account. These are important issues, and we intend to ensure that the government lives up to not only the words of that procurement document—the procurement rules—but also the spirit of it to ensure that we maximise Australian industry participation in these projects.
I want to mention a few other matters that relate to some big-ticket numbers, such as Badgerys Creek and $5.3 billion for the Western Sydney Airport—long overdue. I note the comments of the Wagner brothers, who developed Toowoomba airport, which is referred to as the Wellcamp airport. It is a pretty remarkable piece of infrastructure, developed privately and without any government funding, and it was delivered at a fraction of the price that it would have been if a government project had delivered the same sort of airport—an airport that can land jumbo jets, large aircraft and international aircraft. I know that one of the Wagners was on the ABC just a few days ago saying, '$5.3 billion sounds too much; we can do it cheaper.'
We must, when we spend taxpayers' money, work out the best and most effective way of spending that money so that we do not waste it. And that also goes for defence spending. I support the two per cent target, but we must make sure that we do not have the debacles of the past, such as the $1.4 billion for the Seasprite helicopters that never actually flew in service.
When it comes to energy prices, of course it is of critical importance that this country lowers its energy prices, and that is why we unambiguously support a scheme that I, and the then opposition leader, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, put forward back in 2009—an emissions intensity scheme. It was condemned by Labor then as a mongrel of a scheme; I note that now it is Labor Party policy, so it seems that the mongrel has become the top dog. We need to have certainty for investment in this country in energy infrastructure, and we need to tackle head-on the gas crisis in this country. With my colleagues, we have worked constructively with government for a number of measures of transparency in the gas markets. But we need to go further and have tough competition laws, and make sure we have export control so that we have enough domestic gas, and we need to get tough on the 'use it or lose it' policy, to make sure that people do not hoard their retention leases and gas is not there for the domestic market.
I also want to talk about other measures that my colleagues have expressed real concerns about. We believe that this budget has failed older Australians. It has provided no additional funding over the next four years for the massive increases in older Australians requiring aged care—in short, it has failed the over-65s. There are over 200,000 Australians in residential aged care. There appear to be no policies to help to meet the increasing need for residential places. And, even more concerning, we are only providing half the required number of places that the Aged Care Financing Authority says we need. This budget does nothing to increase the home care support that older Australians rely on to remain safely in their homes. The budget provides an incentive to the over-65s who want to downsize to contribute $300,000 from their home sale into their superannuation; however, that amount and more will be absorbed by the significant fees nursing homes charge for a residential place. So, much more needs to be done. We need a comprehensive approach to aged care that allows all Australians to live their latter years with dignity and care.
When it comes to palliative care—and I know that Senator Lambie may talk about the particular impact, the cruel impact, in her home state and in South Australia—why on earth would we slash, in effect, home palliative care in this country, where people can die at home with dignity and with their loved ones? It makes good economic sense but, above all, good social sense.
Why would we be mean-spirited at home, and also abroad by cutting our foreign aid? The ambassador for World Vision, the Reverend Tim Costello, and many others have made—
Well, there is a real concern that foreign aid is well below the millennium goal of 0.7 per cent, and that is something that we are concerned about. We need to lift foreign aid because that is what we should do as a wealthy nation, and it builds resilience in our near neighbours and is a bulwark against fundamentalism and extremism. It makes good sense.
As to the Medicare levy, we will consider that. We think we need to fund the NDIS adequately, but we want to look at the details of that. Also, we believe that the deficit levy for those who earn more than $180,000 ought to be kept in place. We welcome the housing affordability measures in this budget, but we believe more needs to be done. And, when it comes to our institutions being strong and robust, we will continue to pursue reforms to whistleblower protection laws which we believe would lead to better governance and government, both in our corporate and public sectors.
I just want to finish off with a long-forgotten piece written for The West Australian in 1950 by Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest philosophers of the last two centuries. Bertrand Russell had visited Australia and made good friends here in 1950, and he spoke of a country whose future would surely be better than its past and which had greatness in its grasp. This is what Russell wrote, in a warning to his new-found Australian friends—a warning that has even more force today. He said:
Perhaps you are all to comfortable to take so much trouble. Perhaps you will be content with a moderate and humdrum success, but I hope not. I hope that the more adventurous and enterprising spirits among you will be inspired by a golden vision of a possible future, and will be content to take the risks involved in aiming at a great success rather than acquiesce in the comfortable certainty of a modest competence.
We share Russell's hope for Australia, particularly for my home state of South Australia, and we hope that the vision and noble aspiration of Russell is something that, in a sense, will guide us in the decisions we make on this budget, because we want the very best for our nation and for our home state.
I rise to contribute to the debate regarding Treasurer Scott Morrison's 2017 budget. I would like to take this moment to thank the Liberal government for its one-off funding commitment to the Mersey Community Hospital of about $730 million. Thank you for listening to the concerns of the Mersey community and to my concerns and those of the Labor Party regarding a lack of long-term vision for the hospital. I and my Tasmanian constituents still have concerns about what will happen in 10 years when the funding deal runs out and the Mersey Community Hospital is in the hands of the state government, who have proven, so far, to be incompetent when it comes to running the public health system in Tasmania. I strongly encourage health minister Greg Hunt to intervene in the state health minister's management of the health system in Tasmania and protect the lives of Tasmanians. The state of the health system is at breaking point, and Tasmanians are needlessly suffering. Our nurses, doctors and paramedics are overworked, with many being asked to work three or more shifts in a row. In Tasmania, it is now normal for our medical staff to work double shifts because they are so under-resourced. This is an important matter to me, and I will not stop lobbying until the federal government intervenes.
I would also like to thank the federal government for listening to my call to fund Missiondale Recovery Centre in Tasmania. Missiondale has a high success rate and a proven track record of rehabilitating those with substance abuse issues, and it makes sense to grant them the funds instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. This funding will allow Missiondale to dedicate more funds and time to the work of rehabilitating people by resourcing beds that already exist.
While we are talking about rehabilitation, let me tell you about a centre that will go ahead in Tasmania soon. The Home of Hope is a rehabilitation centre for mums and bubs, a safe place where women with substance abuse issues can escape traumatic environments with their children. There is a proverb that says, 'It takes a village to raise a child,' and the Home of Hope will be situated in the beautiful and caring community called the Meander Valley, a community that is happy to be a part of the healing process for these women and their children. But the Home of Hope has received no government funding because it was set up by religious organisation Teen Challenge. I admit my son did his rehab with Teen Challenge in Queensland. But—when statistics state Teen Challenge has a success rate of 86 per cent, with over a thousand centres in a hundred different countries, which makes the organisation one of the most effective in the world—I would hope that the Liberal government will consider granting ongoing funds to the Home of Hope in the next budget, as a way to help these women escape domestic violence situations and rehabilitate substance abuse issues. This will be the first mums-and-bubs rehab centre in this country, and I am very proud to be a part of that. In the meantime, I am the one out there raising the funds, and I have to raise about half a million dollars this year. I am going to be throwing in everything I can in the next six months. It would be nice for the government to consider putting some funding into these mums and bubs.
It was disappointing to see that the budget included around $70 billion in infrastructure spending over the next 10 years, yet there was no new infrastructure spending for Tasmania. I am sure you are aware that the Bridgewater Bridge near Hobart desperately needs to be replaced. At 70 years old, the bridge has suffered constant maintenance issues, including lifting span malfunctions. With a price tag of $535 million attached, it is costly infrastructure that the state government cannot fund on its own. It is a necessary project, with an average of 18½ thousand vehicles crossing it each day, according to the Tasmanian government.
The government's budget does provide funding for a plan for the Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0, but fails to provide any funding for a second Basslink cable, which would have been a good investment opportunity for the Tasmanian economy. New pumped hydrotechnology together with a second Basslink cable would have seen renewable energy investment in Tasmania, with opportunities to export more power to the mainland. That would have put Tasmania in a position to assist our cousins in South Australia during electricity shortages. Because Tasmania already has a baseload power in its Hydro, greater renewable investment would not affect the reliability of power in Tasmania but would increase the island state's exporting capacity.
Greater export capacity is a double dividend for taxpayers, because further jobs would be created in Tasmania in the renewable energy industry while providing cheaper electricity to the mainland, giving Tasmania the opportunity to make more profits for its balance sheets and therefore be less reliant on government handouts. The Liberal government's failure to fund a plan on a second Basslink cable shows that it is a government with horse blinker on and is incapable of broad energy planning for the future of Australians.
This budget fails to address bringing in an appropriate royalty regime in the natural gas industry. The petroleum resource rent tax, otherwise known as PRRT, is grossly inadequate because it is not delivering real economic paybacks for Australia to re-invest in infrastructure. Once these fossil fuels are depleted they are gone forever and our nation will have nothing to show for it because it failed to collect proper royalties. Some royalty regimes have been implemented at a state level; however, there has been a failure to consistently implement such at the federal level. This results in extraction of natural gas without Australia being reimbursed for its natural resource. By next year, the Reserve Bank estimates that liquefied natural gas—otherwise known as LNG—is likely to become Australia's second largest commodity export in value terms. Because Asia is increasingly importing LNG for electricity production, this demonstrates that the Australian government should benefit from the extraction of our fossil fuel resources. The government's 2017-18 budget fails in addressing these important energy issues, just as it fails to appropriately address the issue of housing affordability.
The government's plan, outlined in the budget, to allow first home buyers to salary sacrifice their deposit savings into their superannuation and to unlock supply will not go far enough to help those who really need it. I have developed a housing affordability package that I believe will be a gentle approach and I would like to see it discussed in a mature and open-minded manner. My proposal includes a cap on the number of houses that can be negatively geared and the removal of the capital gains tax exemption on houses worth more than $2 million. I would also like to see foreign investment in the housing market reduced at a taper rate of 10 per cent per year for five years, until foreign investment in the housing market has been reduced by 50 per cent and then reassess the situation.
I would also allow access to superannuation for first home buyer deposits but would cap access at five per cent of the house price up to $500,000, with a requirement that the buyer matches at least 50 per cent of the super contribution. For example, if you want to buy a house valued at $500,000, the first home buyer would be able to access $25,000 from their super for their deposit but they would have to match it at 50 cents to the dollar and therefore would have to put $12,500 in. Lastly, boosting supply is a vital part of any housing affordability scheme and can be achieved by reviving a first home buyers grant for new homes and a first home builders grant to be funded by the states, as we have previously seen. This would get them close to a $40,000 to $50,000 deposit for their first home of up to $500,000.
While the media are reporting that this budget is a Labor budget, I can assure you that there are still signs of the Liberals in it. The higher education reforms proposed in this budget have the Liberals all over it, asking students to take on a greater burden. There are already so many barriers for students of disadvantaged families that a jump in fees and a requirement to pay the HECS debt back sooner will only deter students from this group from continuing their education.
University carries with it the promise of a better future and the potential to earn more. So, if a university graduate is earning $42,000 a year, I do not imagine that they are in a career where they can use their university degree—and that is a failure on the government's behalf. It is a failure to stimulate the economy and create jobs for our university graduates. I imagine if my Liberal colleagues had ever been on a salary of $42,000 they would know that every dollar counts. Even a one per cent repayment places pressure on that person's budget, especially if they have family.
I notice the budget also proposes to reduce funding for Catholic schools. When the legislation presents in the Senate I will be moving to exempt Catholic schools in rural and regional Australia, because it is those schools who are helping disadvantaged students and families. I am just going to explain that a little further. My children went through the public system until high school. Then, when they went to high school, I was able to put them into Catholic education, that being St Brendan-Shaw College in Devonport. I started to run into a lot of financial difficulties, and my children had the opportunity to stay there even though I could not pay the fees. They were able to do that because of the school funding they received. I know there are a lot of single mums and low-income families out there who want to give their kids the best possible chance in life. If that means that we can just scrape together a little bit more money to give them a better education and better discipline through the private system, then we will do that. But if you take that away from those people, you will make the divide even greater, because it will not give people like me, who are going through what I went through, the opportunity to give their kids a better start during their teenage years.
The removal of the deficit levy was also a sign of the Liberals' involvement in this budget. While the richest Australians are getting a tax break, everyone else is getting a tax increase in the Medicare levy. While 0.5 per cent may not seem like much to my colleagues, once again, to a low-income earner, it is enough to break the bank. As I have mentioned already in this speech, a low-income earner has every cent accounted for, and a 0.5 per cent tax increase takes away their ability to pay for life's basics. Going forward, I will be discussing with my colleagues how to increase the threshold for the Medicare levy to at least $40,000—and, quite frankly, I would make it a lot more—for a single person and reintroduce the deficit levy to make up for the gap in funding for the NDIS.
Of course, if anybody had had any idea what it would be like to pay for medical conditions and support, they should have looked at veterans' affairs, because they underestimated the cost of the NDIS. It does not matter who did it, you underestimated it. You may have put the money away, but you short-changed yourselves. That is okay; these people are disadvantaged, and I am sure most Australians that can afford it will not mind paying a little bit extra. But, certainly, those who are not paying tax—the big boys up there, the boys at the big end of town—need to pay their fair share. It is time they did their heavy lifting.
By now, you have probably heard that I have asked for politicians to take random drug testing and alcohol testing. I admire the politicians who have stood up since then and said they would willingly take random drug tests. This is not a political stunt. I believe politicians must lead the way if they expect welfare recipients to be drug tested, as this year's budget states. A trial for 5,000 welfare recipients to undertake random drug tests at Centrelink appointments is discrimination, which is unhelpful in overcoming substance abuse. Creating greater stigma around welfare recipients will not help rehabilitate people with substance abuse issues. As my mother always says, 'What's good for the goose is good for the gander.' Politicians and public servants are also paid by the taxpayer and should be held to the same, if not a higher, standard as an unemployed person being paid by the taxpayer. The government must stop its discrimination against Australians on welfare and be willing to step up to the plate themselves. Politicians have an opportunity to set an example and send a clear message to welfare recipients, 'We are in this together,' which, at the very least, is a show of support. I did appreciate the government's promise to rehabilitate any welfare recipient at the first positive test.
I was particularly pleased to see the government take up the cashless debit card for this group as well. It is not news for my colleagues that I would like to see it rolled out all across Tasmania as well. The substance abuse in regional Tasmania is one of the highest in the nation, and intergenerational welfare dependency is also higher in Tasmania. And because Tasmania is an island, it makes the perfect trial site. It is isolated. The cashless debit card will be the kick-start we need to break the welfare cycle. But I will not support it unless the government implements support services alongside it, otherwise there is no point implementing it. If there are not enough rehab centres and mental health services and programs or jobs, the cashless debit card may as well not be implemented. It will be a waste.
Education and industry need to be in lockstep to ensure Australia is producing graduates with relevant skills who have a job waiting for them at the end of their qualification. Twiggy Forrest has said Australia is one of the most educated unemployed countries in the world, and many qualifications are not translating into jobs. To make matters worse, the Job Services Australia system is costing the government $1.3 billion a year, yet the unemployment rate is not moving. If you read Twiggy Forrest's Creating Parity, you will find only five per cent of employers use the Job Services Australia system to find workers. It does not meet employer needs and trains for the sake of training. The government claims the Job Services Australia system is outcomes based, yet only eight per cent of their funding is at risk if jobseekers do not hold a job for 26 weeks. On the other hand, Vocational Training and Employment Centres—VTEC—services put 100 per cent of their funding on the line if jobseekers cannot retain work for 26 weeks. It is this VTEC model which the government should be funding for all Australians. It connects jobseekers with guaranteed jobs and brings together the support services the jobseeker needs to remain employed in the long term.
The government's budget provides funding for early access to rehabilitation for veterans. Doing such is good for veterans and their families. However, in the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Defence Force) Bill 2016, otherwise known as DRCA, the government omitted the provision of minimising the duration and severity of injuries to employees by arranging quickly for the rehabilitation. When it comes to veterans' rehabilitation, the government is inconsistent with what it is budgeting for and what it is offering veterans under veterans' entitlements law. When DRCA comes up in the Senate, I will be moving an amendment to restore the provision of arranging quickly for rehabilitation so as to accord with what the government has actually budgeted for. The quick rehabilitation of our veterans, who have made enormous sacrifices to defend our freedoms, is the key to a successful recovery. Supporting veterans exposed to atomic bomb testing with a gold card in this budget has been 60 long years overdue—better late than never. But the government budget fails to provide funding for the children of those veterans exposed to radiation involved in the British nuclear testing and the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. Some of the children of these veterans have experienced serious health issues and have no support from the government. This is shameful and should be reconciled this year as a matter of priority.
The government's continued commitment, in this budget, to funding pilot programs on suicide prevention is most welcome. The government needs to follow through with implementation of pilot programs, given its funding commitments. I note that last year the government made commitments for a rollout of a pilot program. It took seven-plus months for it to be instituted. In this regard, prior to making public announcements, the government should have a blueprint of any pilot program that is ready to go and should have its funding commitments guaranteed. Veterans do not need to be misled or experience broken or delayed promises.
I note this budget is void of any funding to support those who have experienced side effects with mefloquine and other antimalarial drugs. This important health issue is being addressed by our allies as we in Australia lag behind.
The modernisation of computers within DVA in this budget will be the key to streamlining veterans' claims processes—we hope, anyway. I will be following DVA's information and communications technology upgrades very closely to insure best possible outcomes for our veterans. Cutting over $170 million through changes to veterans' healthcare arrangements in this budget may serve to negatively affect healthcare services to veterans. Thus far, the government has failed to adequately explain that cut. Nor has the government assured the veterans community that this budget measure will not disadvantage veterans in their healthcare needs.
There are a number of measures in this budget that I am pleased with but, before the Liberal government gives themselves a pat on the back, this budget is the bare minimum. Many of the measures are nothing but a change of mind—a reversal of cuts and a commitment to make no more cuts. It is the very least this government could do to support the Australian public. It is a budget that lacks vision and much-needed reform. I will not be smoking a cigar. Jobs and growth never took off. Exciting times were short and sweet. The 2017 budget is anything but fair. I think the opportunities for the LNP have taken a detour, and the only question still unanswered is: is the PM's job secure?