Thursday, 25 May 2017
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2017-2018, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018; Second Reading
I think that should be Labor's slogan: 'It is almost open'. Budgets are incredibly important to the running of any country and to any government. As a Liberal I believe in equality of opportunity rather than mandated equality of outcomes. Budgets are the keystone to how any government provides both the stability and the platform on which you can grow your economy and allow people to take advantage of all the opportunities that this great nation of ours provides for them. This budget is about growth, providing for essential services, putting downward pressure on the cost of living, and government living within its means.
Every government has a choice. It has a choice between growing the cake so that everyone gets more and fighting over who gets what portion of the cake. This budget is unashamedly about growing the cake. It is about saying to all Australians, wherever they may live, wherever they may come from, whatever the circumstances in which they were born, that they have an opportunity to become anything they want, because the opportunities in this country are completely and absolutely endless.
The problem with running budget deficits ad nauseam, or for any length of time, is that it makes your community poorer. You cannot continue with a government unable to live within its means. An Austrian economist showed many years ago that what happens is that the private sector, private individuals, realise that government cannot keep going on spending, cannot keep going on taxing, without there being a point of adjustment. So the private sector pulls back on its spending and private individuals hoard cash because they know the time is coming. We have seen this in reality. We have seen this in real life. It is not just a theory; it has happened.
When Margaret Thatcher in 1979 brought in her budget that reduced the deficit of the United Kingdom, there were 182 academic economists who wrote an open letter to the Financial Times telling her she was wrong, but what we found was that, in the 1980s, that unleashed a wave of investment that created prosperity in the United Kingdom. For four or five decades, the United Kingdom had been suffering a decline in prosperity. That was reversed when Margaret Thatcher brought the budget under the control.
We saw it with Ronald Reagan in 1981. We saw it with Bill Clinton in 1992 and then again in 1994. Everyone thought that the United States government was out of control, that it would never be able to pay back its debts, that its unfunded liabilities would eat the country alive. Bill Clinton, by cutting the budget, by moderately increasing taxes and then by cutting even further in 1994 with social welfare reform, had the result of reducing the net government borrowing and unleashing a wave of investment into the American economy that led to a decade of prosperity and peace throughout the world.
This is the difference between Labor and the Liberal Party. We believe that people are best placed to make their own decisions—their own decisions—about how they spend their money and the manner and form in which they spend their money, because that is the best way to grow the economy. Labor left us with a lot of unexploded landmines. One example is the NDIS. This is a scheme that helps fellow Australians who, through no fault of their own, find themselves after a catastrophic accident not able to look after themselves. This scheme has gone unfunded for too long. When Julia Gillard introduced this scheme with the Liberal Party's backing, she said that the best way to fund it was with a half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy on all Australians, for all Australians, and we have done that too. We have found that it did not fund the entire scheme, so we have increased that levy from half a per cent to one per cent.
I am yet to meet one person in my electorate or in the community at large who begrudges the idea that they would pay an extra half a per cent on their income tax to fund a scheme that helps the most vulnerable Australians who are vulnerable through no fault of their own and who have no other choice. In my own community I have two such people. One is Scott Lennon. Scott was sailing one day, turned his back at the wrong time and got hit by the boom swinging over because the boat jibed when it was not meant to. He could have died. He got into port. He has had almost 2½ years of intensive rehabilitation funded by the New South Wales government and funded by his insurance at work. He used to be a partner at PwC and now does volunteer work for me. He is going through an extraordinary period in his life.
People like Scott deserve to be supported by government, by the community. If government is nothing more, it is an outreach of the community. There are people like Adam Johnston, who was born with a chronic disease. Adam has been one of the standard-bearers of funding for stem cell research both here and around the world. NDIS will provide Adam with the opportunity to carry out the important work that he has so nobly begun. Why won't the Labor Party support this? Why is it that when they introduced the scheme a 0.5 per cent levy was okay, but when we ask Australians to make a small contribution, to ensure people like Scott and Adam get the funding and support they require, they are opposed? Why do they continue to argue about how the cake is sliced rather than standing with us to grow the cake?
In my community, everywhere I go, people say to me, 'Look, we understand that we have to play our part to get the budget back into surplus and to pay off the debt that the Labor Party left us with, but why are we the only people accepting that burden?' Whether they be superannuants or pensioners, that is a common theme that I get. The fact of the matter is that the government is taking steps on its own. We have reduced spending growth to the lowest level since the Whitlam government was elected. No other government has achieved what we have achieved in reducing spending. There are a lot of people in the Public Service, a lot of people in Canberra, who have made sacrifices to ensure that this is the case, but we are delivering more with less.
This budget is not about tax increases. The real story about this budget is the spending restraint that this government is showing. It is for all Australians to show that we are committed to paying our way. The thing is, you cannot have a budget deficit that does not stop. As Irving Kristol once said, it takes a lot longer for things to stop than you think and then they stop a lot faster than you want. It is important that this House, this parliament, show that we are serious—that we are part of the solution, not part of the problem. After all, we created the problem of these debts and deficits and therefore we have to more than play our part.
Look at the infrastructure deficit. Members of my community pay a lot of tax. They do not get a lot of government services and frankly they do not ask for a lot either, but of the 10 most congested roads three either are on the northern beaches of Sydney or service the northern beaches of Sydney. We have the option of only one form of transport on the northern beaches, and that is road. That is why what Minister Chester has done in creating the national rail passenger fund is so critical for our area. I spoke to Minister Chester last night. I have strongly put the case for a metro to the new hospital being built at Frenchs Forest, between Chatswood and Frenchs Forest. This rail line, this metro, would open up so many opportunities for people to use other forms of transport, rather than their car and buses. It would create a seamless link for people to get to the hospital and get to wherever their jobs and work might be. It is a critical part of unclogging the roads of the northern beaches and improving the lives of so many who give so much and ask for so little.
When I spoke to Minister Chester last night I said to him that the time for us to dillydally on this has ended. We need to get the money for this train, which has been planned since Bradfield put the plans in place in 1932. By getting this extra funding, hopefully, the state government can accelerate its rollout of these trains and this line. I will be speaking to the state minister for transport and strongly arguing that he make an application to this fund as part of that process.
Then there are our roads. Not a day goes by when a member of my local community does not say, 'Not only are our roads congested; look at the state of them!' I have been able to wrangle out of Minister Chester another $2 million to improve the roads in our area and make sure that they live up to the standards that any person living on the northern beaches should expect and that most other people in Australia enjoy. Look at major truck accidents. There have been five in the last five years. We have had four large vehicles roll over. Fortunately, none of them crushed anyone, but they all caused major incidents and it was only by the grace of God that no-one got killed. In Mona Vale, we had a tanker that blew up. It blew up next to residential housing and major businesses that employ nearly 2,000 people. This is not good enough in Australia in the 21st century. I will be advocating for the state government to make application for the heavy truck safety fund to improve these roads and to improve the situation, and for that solution to be indelible—not makeshift solutions, but actual solutions that allow people to go about their work without fear of a truck rolling over.
While we have one of the most beautiful areas in the world, we also have some of the most expensive housing in the world. The average price of a house on the northern beaches is now about $1.6 million. I met with Paul Maddock, David Muir and other residents of Avalon, who made the point that what they worry about is the fact that their children will not be able to enjoy the same standard of living that they enjoyed and will not be able to enjoy the same opportunities that they enjoyed. We all know that the answer to housing affordability is more supply and better transport. This budget goes some way to delivering that. The other thing that this budget does is give first home buyers a faster pathway to owning their first home. The superannuation savings account, which will have the same tax concessions as a superannuation fund, will allow first home buyers to save money 30 per cent faster than they would otherwise, the release of Defence lands and the release of the billion-dollar fund to assist state governments to rollout the supply of housing through improved infrastructure are all things that will put downward pressure on the cost of housing on the northern beaches. This is critical for our children and for our children's children.
Pensioners in my area have suffered the brunt and the burden of what we are trying to do to restore integrity to our budget, so I was pleased that Minister Porter listened to so many on our side of this House when he restored the concession card for pensioners. People like Ralph and Lillian Schubert, who have not asked for anything in life, who have worked hard, who have paid taxes, who have made a massive contribution to Australia through World War II and onwards and who continue to make a massive contribution to our community, will now enjoy the same benefits that they have always enjoyed, whether it is reduced rates at RMS, reduced rates for CTP insurance or reduced rates generally. This budget allows them to live their lives to the full extent that they should.