House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024


Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Tax Cuts) Bill 2024, Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living — Medicare Levy) Bill 2024; Second Reading

6:15 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

The Albanese Labor government has been working for all Australians since the very first day we came into government on 22 May 2022. We've been working hard across all portfolios, from the member for Watson introducing game-changing legislation to ensure that gig workers can get a fair day's wage to the member for Franklin making record investments in housing so all Australians can live with a roof over their head. And there's the work of my own portfolio of health, where the minister has ensured that bulk-billing is no longer in freefall and is making sure that women can get access to the health care they need.

Since day 1, our No. 1 priority has been addressing the cost-of-living pressures and inflation. Yes—the Albanese Labor government is responding to the real, everyday concerns of Australian people, because we are a government that listens. We're a government that listens when people told us they were concerned about the cost of living as they were buying Christmas presents for their kids last year. We're a government that listened when pensioners and students said they were struggling to find a bulk-billed health service. We're a government that listened when parents were saying they struggled to buy school lunches as prices at the supermarkets kept going up. And we're a government that listened when people told us their weekly budgets were just not going as far as they used to.

Labor is a government that listens and responds. We started by delivering $23 billion in targeted relief to help address all of those concerns, and we did this without adding to inflation. We've made medicines cheaper by allowing people to buy two scripts for the cost of one. We've made it easier and cheaper to see a doctor, making the biggest investment in bulk-billing in Medicare's history. We've provided energy bill relief through rebates and capping the prices of resources. We made child care cheaper. We expanded paid parental leave. We're building more social and affordable homes and making the biggest increase in rent assistance in 30 years. Despite the global pressures at play right now, we've maintained a primary focus on the cost of living, keeping people well, getting wages moving, creating jobs and building a stronger economy for all Australians. That is the Labor way.

That is why Labor's tax plan is so important. The plan is responding to the concerns of every single Australian, not just a select few, as was proposed by the former government. Tax cuts are part of a major suite of cost-of-living policies that we know are making a huge difference to people's lives. The changes were a direct response to the concerns of Australians, showing they have a Prime Minister that listens, responds and will do the right thing, even if that thing is hard. He's done the right thing by families, by all workers—young workers, middle-aged workers, older workers—and for women, including single women, who are often forgotten when it comes to fiscal policy and who struggle in a world designed for dual-income households.

You know, Deputy Speaker, I have dedicated a lot of my working life, as you have, to fighting for the rights of others. As a former president of the ACTU, fighting for workers was a priority, and it's why I was proud to see that the ACTU have come out in support of Labor's tax plan. They know that workers will be better off. In fact, the average weekly wage-earner will be nearly $1,500 better off. This is targeted, practical cost-of-living relief. We want people to earn more and to keep more of what they earn. This isn't about politics; it's about doing what's right for the right reasons.

There's a particular part of Labor's tax plan that I wanted to highlight. Unlike those opposite, Labor knows that the gender pay gap is real. Labor knows that women in highly feminised industries need cost-of-living relief, and it's why, under Labor's plan, 98 per cent of those women employed in highly feminised industries will get a better deal. That means teachers, nurses, childcare workers, cleaners and aged- and disability-care workers will all be better off under Labor's plan. Hardworking women who may have returned to work part time while they juggle the duties of caring for children will be better off under Labor's tax plan. Hardworking women, often in low- and middle-income jobs, deserve more to assist them to make ends meet. Single women and single mothers will fare better. Under our tax plan, women, on average, will get a tax cut of $1,649 each year. Some people, maybe those opposite, will not think this is a lot, but Labor knows that this will genuinely make a difference at a time when action is needed the most. When I asked my daughter, a 36-year-old teacher with two kids, what she knew about the new tax cuts—I often ask my kids, as bellwethers on how policies are going—her answer was simple. She said: 'Mum, this is about me. It will help me.' That made me so happy.

Labor is committed to achieving true gender equality, to promoting better working conditions and outcomes for women and to closing the gender pay gap. The changes from what those opposite wanted, with no regard for low- and middle-income earners, are a welcome addition to all that we are doing for the women of Australia. In my own portfolio, Labor is working to shine a spotlight on women's health. The health and wellbeing of women and girls is something I'm incredibly passionate about and will continue to advocate for in this building. As a nurse for more than 20 years, as a woman, as a grandmother and now as Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, I have seen firsthand the difficulties women face with their healthcare needs. Poor care means time out of the workforce, less career advancement or sometimes having to give up work altogether. Loss of income is a reality for many women because we are letting them down healthcare-wise.

Ensuring Australians receive the care and support they need regardless of their class, race or cultural background is a high priority for this Labor government—for all Labor governments. We are fortunate in this country to have a world-class health system supported by so many wonderful nurses, doctors and other health professionals, but it needs a reboot when it comes to addressing women's and girls' health issues. I'm pleased to say that this government has already begun that reboot. We've invested more than $65 million in targeted support for the health and wellbeing of Australia's women and girls. We have Australia's first endometriosis and pelvic pain clinics, and they're opening across all states and territories. There are 22 clinics nationally. We're subsidising the freezing of embryos for women with cancer and other health issues. We have established the National Women's Health Advisory Council, which I'm very proud to chair. It will give me particular advice about how we can improve the health system for women. We have added hour-long consults to the MBS so that doctors can spend the time they need with women to sort out often complex health issues. This is keeping women healthy. This is improving their lives. This means they can contribute to the economy and, indeed, their own budgets and bottom lines.

All of these things complement the savings women will enjoy from the new tax plan. Childcare workers, very low paid workers, will enjoy around an extra $1,000. This will change their lives. Those who rely on child care can add the extra income they will get from Labor's tax plan to the savings they've made because we introduced cheaper child care. Aged-care workers got a 15 per cent pay rise, and they now will enjoy a tax cut of around $1,000. Nurses, who we know from research work, on average, a fortnight of unpaid overtime every year, will definitely welcome the $1,500 to $2,000 extra they will get in their pocket due to Labor's tax plan. Nurses, who work damn hard all the time, will definitely appreciate this. Teachers, like my kids, now feel seen, feel heard and actually feel cared about by a government that is offering them an income bonus of around $2,000 thanks to this tax plan.

I haven't even mentioned the savings that disability workers, shop assistants, hospitality workers and other low-paid workers will garner from our tax plan, but you can rest assured that they now know they have a government, a Labor government, that has listened, has responded and has taken action to make their lives better. This is a Labor government that works for all Australians.


No comments