Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading
Australia needs budget repair, and it needs budget repair which is fair. That is what this bill will deliver after government amendments are moved which reflect the agreement between the Labor Party and the government. This bill will deliver $6.3 billion of savings to the budget bottom line over the next four years. Of course, originally the government said that it would deliver $6.5 billion, then it became $6.1 billion, then the member for Rankin found a little $107 million problem in the bill, which brought it below $6 billion; but the arrangements entered into by the government and the opposition, thanks to some stipulations put on this by the opposition, now see the savings delivered rise back to $6.3 billion.
These savings reflect policies which have been aired in the recent federal election. I will not go through all the details, but I will just take one example: the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. The Labor Party took a very comprehensive renewable energy policy to the election. It was a very comprehensive and robust policy in relation to renewable energy targets and proper investments in renewable energy. We had the change to ARENA funding as part of that overall picture. The government has brought in the cut but not the good parts of the policy—not the renewable energy targets, not the investments. So it has been necessary for the opposition to work with the government to deliver the same savings but in a way which reflects the reality that this government is in office and will not be engaging in good renewable energy policies.
This is the context for this debate. As I said, I understand that the government will move amendments which reflect the arrangements entered into by the government and us. They will reflect primarily changes to ARENA funding. The government was proposing a $1.3 billion cut. We are very pleased that it has been agreed that $800 million will be put back into ARENA. ARENA is a very important organisation for our nation's future and for our investment in renewable energy. Australia can and should be a leader in renewable energy, and ARENA has a very important part to play in that. We know that the government has previously tried to abolish ARENA. This is a significant change, which sees $800 million put back into ARENA. Of course that is a reduction in funding, but, as ARENA has made clear, it enables it to continue with its job. It is the investment that it needs to continue with its job.
In addition, a process has been agreed by which the Minister for the Environment and Energy will meet with the shadow minister for climate change, the member for Port Adelaide, to discuss the profile of remaining funds over the forward estimates and a forward work program, and also, importantly, to establish whether there are opportunities for bipartisan agreement surrounding policies to accelerate the transition to modern and clean energy systems.
There are other points. Of course, the government and the opposition disagree about dental care in Australia. The previous Labor government put in place a very good scheme. We want to protect that scheme. It is a scheme which works. The government has a different approach. I am pleased that the government has withdrawn, through its amendments, the changes to the dental scheme. We have agreed that there will be discussions between the minister and the shadow minister to assess other ways of finding savings. The government reserves the right to pursue its scheme under separate legislation and we, of course, reserve the right to oppose that. We, of course, reserve the right to defend the existing scheme, although we have indicated we do think there are savings which might be possible. The psychiatric confinement measure, which the Labor Party had actually opposed previously, we will continue to oppose. I am glad the government has withdrawn that from the bill.
Then there is the change to the clean energy supplement. This is in relation to the government's plan to remove the clean energy supplement for all new recipients of a whole range of payments. We have made a very sensible proposal to the government that the clean energy supplement be withdrawn for new recipients of income which is additional income, not primary income—family tax benefit recipients and holders of the senior health card—but that we protect and defend the clean energy supplement for recipients of Newstart, the age pension, the disability support pension and other payments. This is appropriate. This is budget repair which is fair. This is not saying to Australia's unemployed people and Australia's age pensioners, 'All the burden is on you;' this is saying, however, 'We recognise that budget repair requires difficult decisions.' That is why, in order to ensure that we get a saving better than the one proposed by the government, we have agreed to remove the family tax benefit A supplements for families with income more than $80,000.
Importantly, I am very pleased that the government accepted and agreed to Labor's insistence that the baby bonus not come back. The baby bonus is unsustainable in modern Australia, where we are talking about budget repair. The previous Labor government took the difficult decision to deal with it. Remember, when we first said that the baby bonus would only apply to firstborn children, that the then shadow Treasurer, the holder of my office, said it was akin to the one-child policy. That was their constructive approach to budget repair. It was akin to China; he said, 'It's just like the one-child policy.' He compared us to the Chinese communist party. Well, we take a more constructive approach. We are happy to say to the Australian people, 'There are difficult decisions which are necessary for budget repair, and the baby bonus is one of them.' The Prime Minister can put it into his deal with the National Party all he likes, but this deal takes it out, because Australia should not have a baby bonus—it cannot be afforded. Whereas we have made our agreement with the government public, the agreement between the Liberal and National parties remains secret. That is a matter for them, but we have made public our agreement in a very transparent way which says the baby bonus will not come back.
I am going to be brief today in the interests of the expeditious passage of this legislation through the House so it can get to the other place in an expeditious fashion and allow them the time to pass it, but I do want to say that the Labor Party has led the debate on budget repair and today we lead the way as well. We led the debate when it comes to superannuation. We announced our superannuation policy last April. The government and the now Treasurer railed around the country saying it was an unfair attack on the retirement incomes of Australians. The now Treasurer said he would never tax superannuation; he would never touch superannuation. Of course, on budget night, up he hopped to that dispatch box and launched an attack on superannuation. We have been consistent on superannuation, and a couple of weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition outlined our plans on superannuation, which avoid retrospectivity and raise another $1½ billion for the budget, a more fiscally responsible plan than the one the Treasurer in office has. So we are prepared to help the government out of its mess on superannuation.
And there is more that can be done. If the government deals with the VET FEE-HELP rorts, we will help it with that. The Leader of the Opposition announced our policy in his budget reply—a very good policy; a fiscally responsible policy which cracks down on the rorts. The government should take it up and the government should talk to us about expeditious passage through the parliament. Private health insurance rebates can be fixed as well. We announced our policy in the election. It can be done. If the government chooses to do what it did on this omnibus legislation, there is more that can be done. We can fix VET FEE-HELP; we can fix the private health insurance rebate—and we can fix superannuation, as well, and the mess that this government has created. So, just as we have led the debate, we have led the way.
I do, in all seriousness, want to thank the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance for their engagement in this debate. I want to thank all my colleagues on this side, particularly the member for Rankin, the shadow minister for finance, who has been a very good contributor and a very good source of advice and counsel to me during this process, and the members for Ballarat, Jagajaga and Port Adelaide, who have also made very important contributions to a good result—here comes the member for Jagajaga to receive the accolades that are her due.
I want to thank my colleagues for what has been a good process. I commend the legislation to the House and I commend its expeditious process through the House.