House debates

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill 2014, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014; Second Reading

6:57 pm

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to follow the member for Gorton and I will have a little bit to say about his contribution later on. Mind you, I will say right from the word go that one of Prime Minister Abbott's favourite sayings is that there is nothing new in politics—and I think members opposite are now finding out the joys of opposition. When the member for Gorton was in government there were no problems gagging a debate, no problems shutting things down, no problems at all; it was about getting the business of government done on the day. Today, when we say we want to get things through before the end of the financial year because they are time critical, suddenly this is a problem, suddenly it is the end of civilisation as we know it, suddenly this is shutting down debate. It is proof again that the more things change the more they stay the same.

The suite of measures in these social services bills present us with just about the starkest choice we can make in this place. These bills give us the chance for us on this side of the House to tell the Australian people that we want our social security system to be sustainable, not just for the next four to 10 years but sustainable into the future. We won the election on 7 September and on 17 September incoming Treasurer, Joe Hockey, made a speech which I have referred to quite often. In that speech he said that as an incoming government we have to do three things: we have to tell the people what the problem is, we have to tell the people what we are going to do about it and we have to take the people with us when we do it. That is the important part for me.

Going into the last election we attacked Labor's six years of record debt and deficit, which was a real issue for us and had to be addressed. We had the best terms of trade for many generations, the best this country had ever seen, yet we racked up the six largest deficits in the history of this country. I think that says a lot about what we had to do and the challenge we had in front of us. We had to tell people what we would do about it, so the budget was handed down. I will say this to anybody who will listen to me: I do not expect anyone to be skipping down the streets singing our praises. But the people who are coming to me, almost to a person—except for those so ideal logically left that they cannot see it—all say that, even though they are not happy about what has happened in their individual circumstances, 'We know something had to happen. I'm not real keen about what you've done to me, but I know something had to happen.' I think that is the difference.

This bill is also a chance to consider what the Labor Party stand for and how they present as an alternative government to the Australian people. Labor will tell you all the way through: 'Labor will stick to two per cent growth in spending in real terms. This budget cuts to the very core of our being.' But spending growth in real terms in this budget is at 2.7 per cent. Mind you, Labor never achieved two per cent growth in real terms, so they would have to cut another 2.7 per cent. Even with these measures, we will not get into surplus in the next four years of the forward estimates. That is how serious this job is.

What were we elected to do? We were elected to axe the carbon tax and we presented that as our first order of business in this place. It was passed as the first order of business in this place. What did Labor take to the election? Labor took to the 2013 election a policy that they were going to axe the tax that, in 2010, they said they were not going to implement. In 2010, they said, 'Under no circumstances will we have a carbon tax.' They implemented that. Coming up to the 2013 election, they said that they would axe the tax—they would kill it—and now they are fighting to the death to keep it. In 2007, when we lost the election on Work Choices, we stood aside and just let the thing pass through. Lots of things were good about Work Choices and some of them are still in the legislation, but, because Labor made that their reason for getting elected, it was passed through on the voices. There was no objection. In 1993, Paul Keating won the unwinnable election against John Hewson's GST, or value-added tax, by saying, 'If you elect them, don't think that Labor will save you. We will pass it through on the voices.' He stood for something; these guys stand for whatever they think is going to sell them to the public at the time.

We were elected to build the roads of the 21st century. Minister Warren Truss and Assistant Minister Jamie Briggs have announced a $50 billion infrastructure plan—and a significant part of that is around Townsville. Anthony Albanese, the opposition spokesperson on infrastructure, has claimed every road and every project as Labor's. I am sure that he will stand at the opening of the second Sydney airport saying he started it, he turned the first sod and it was already under construction.

We were elected to stop the boats. There have been no boats in six months because we have a minister and a plan that actually mean something. We have a minister with some steel to his spine and a policy with steel to its spine that will actually do something. It was eternal vigilance under Philip Ruddock that made sure that, when we lost government in 2007, there were four people in detention. So what we say we mean. Labor came in saying that they would keep our policy and then changed it. Everyone had a go on that side; I think there must have been four or five immigration ministers. They were as weak as water when it came to immigration.

We were elected to fix the budget mess. In 1996, we came in and there was a $10 billion black hole and $96 billion worth of gross debt. We had rising terms of trade and we came in after a government that had made some structural changes to the economy and to the way Australia did business, and we benefited from that. We have falling terms of trade now. We have some significant issues to deal with. In 2001, John Howard and Peter Costello stared down the Asian financial crisis and we went into deficit for one year and $6 billion. We were back in surplus the very next year. In one year we did that. In 2007, Kevin Rudd stood up and said he was an economic conservative—he was 'John Howard lite'. They attacked the GFC and we approved the first round of stimulus, but it was the second round of stimulus that has led to this whole thing. As Andrew Robb said, when he was opposition finance spokesperson, your normal household expenses go along and then maybe you decide to make an extension to your house. For one year your expenses spike—and that is what should happen when you are attacking a GFC: your expenses spike, and then they come back down to where they should be as you go along. Labor were going along nicely, they spiked expenditure and that was the new base for expenditure. Now we are faced with this massive deficit. They go on about OECD figures and everything like that. It is not so much about the percentage of debt to GDP; it is about your ability to repay. Because our budget has so many structural spends in it, we have very little cash at the end to pay off debt.

The member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, summed this up the other day. We are heading towards $667 billion worth of gross debt at the moment. We are paying $1 billion worth of interest per month, every month—and that is at the lowest interest rates in the history of the world. What if interest rates spike and go back to, say, 1983 levels, where government bonds were 16 per cent, and that is how government raises capital to pay off debt or to guarantee debt? If our interest rates go to 16 per cent and government bonds have to be offered at 16 per cent, who knows what we are going to have to pay? Who knows what the interest bill is going to be? So, when we won on September 7, we got to work. We knew we had to do something.

I will address the issue of pensions. Pensions will go up. We said there would be no changes to pensions and there will be no changes to pensions. We have said that we will take to the next election a policy that, after the next election, we will be proceeding with legislation to ensure that pensions go up but only by CPI. The member for Mallee addressed the issue of the rise in the age at which the pension can be accessed to 70. In 1908, when the pension was brought in, the age was 65. The life span of the average Australian male in 1908-09 was 62, so you would have been dead for three years before you got the pension. If we applied that rule today, and if that rule had kept pace with Australia's life span, you would not access the pension until you were 85, because the average life span of the average Australian male is 82—or near enough to 82 years of age. It is not an extravagance. As the Prime Minister and the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, would say: we do not take any joy in this. What we are doing is trying to make sure that these things stay sustainable.

Can I address the six months leave. It is not six months' worth of leave for those who are unemployed and under 30. This is about kids leaving school with no options and just saying, 'We are going to go home and go on the dole.' That cannot be allowed to happen. Who is going to end up more socially isolated—the person who is doing work for the dole or the person who is sitting at home and just being given a cheque every fortnight and told to go away? Who is more likely to commit a crime—the person sitting at home just collecting a cheque every fortnight and playing on the Xbox, with no contact with anyone, or the person who is participating in workplace training? For every year that you have been working, you get a month off that six months. So if you have been working for six years and you are 24, you go straight onto benefits. We are not leaving anyone alone for no matter what and for however long. You will be supported. You will be supported by training, and you will be paid to train. You will be paid to work. You can do something, you can work with someone else, you can break that cycle. So I support these bills.

We need to be serious and we need to be constructive if we are to have a social security system into the future. At the moment, social security spending is 35 per cent of our budget. And this is whilst we have a massive debt with a limited capacity to repay. I would put it down as being the same as a business person who has a low-debt-to-asset ratio and is making $1 million a year. There is a gap in there of $1 million a year. But if he has got a structural spend in there of $2 million a year for staff, you cannot afford to pay off that building. t is basic maths. You have to have the ability to repay. It is not just your debt-to-asset ratio that we should be looking at here; it is your ability to repay. We have so many structural spends in our budget that we have to make sure that our system is sustainable. That is what this bill is all about.

Can I just say, again, that I do not expect anyone to be skipping down the streets singing our praises with this budget and these measures. I do not expect anyone to be over the moon saying 'fantastic'. But if I can use this quote:

In periods of growth we must put away savings for the downturns. But far from saving, the previous Government kept ratcheting up our debts—spending money it didn't have.

Our predecessors had Australia on a path of deficit and debt to the next century.

Make no mistake, this path would only make future choices harder, future possibilities bleaker and rob Australians of the future opportunities they deserve.

Our Government could not stand back and ignore the problem. Although we did not create it, we will take the responsibility to fix it.

That was Peter Costello in his first budget handed down in 1996. And it is as true today as it was then. What followed on from there was 11 years of pretty good government—of lowering taxes and of growth in real wages.

We must face up to the fact that Australia is living beyond its means. We must all have our shoulder to the wheel on this; we must all do our bit. These bills are not an attack on anyone. These bills are to ensure our social security system is sustainable into the future. Labor will say that pensioners are losing $80. That is a great line. It fits into your 10-second grab for TV. It is a fantastic line, but it is completely disingenuous and it is not true. You can ask a pensioner which they would rather have—a pension that goes up by CPI or no pension. Would you rather have nothing at all? Do we address the problem when it becomes Greece? Do we address the problems when we shut the banks and not let people get their money? Do we address the problem when it is a problem or do we address the problem when we can do something about it, when it is manageable, when we have got the ability to stand here and say 'enough is enough'? We have to start turning the corner; we have to start heading it down.

This budget is a good budget. These bills are good bills. Minister Andrews is doing the right thing by the Australian people and the right thing by everyone with these social security bills to make sure our system is sustainable into the future. This is not about the electoral cycle; this is not about winning votes; this is about what is doing right for the country. I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister and with the Minister for Social Services. And, to quote Anthony Albanese, I will go door-to-door if I have to. That is also a line from The American President. I thank the House.


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