Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Questions without Notice
I thank the member for Longman for his question. I am sure that everybody on this side of the House will be very interested to hear of the investments that the Rudd Labor government is making in shaping a health system for the future. It is interesting that the members opposite do not want to hear about investments that are being made across the health sector—across the public and private sectors—because when they were in government they neglected the public health sector. The previous government did not accept that in a modern Australia the modern health system that we need needs a strong public and a strong private health system. That is what our budget has delivered, and after 11 years of neglect by the previous government we have started the important work of rebuilding the health system.
We are investing $3.2 billion in a range of health programs which I will take you through, but that $3.2 billion will bring health expenditure next year, for the first time ever, to over the $50 billion in one year threshold. It is something that we are very proud of. When we add the $10 billion Health and Hospitals Fund announced last night by the Treasurer—the single biggest investment in health infrastructure ever made by a Commonwealth government in the history of the country—we are very proud that we are spending and investing in our future and in the health needs of the country. This fund is going to support the future health infrastructure priorities which will include health and hospitals facilities and equipment, medical technology and equipment, and major medical research facilities and equipment, including projects and facilities which will support links between hospital based clinical research and high-quality clinical practice. In short, this is a major step towards building a modern health system for the future.
What I think is also important to announce today—and I am sure that, even if the members opposite are not interested, the members on this side will be—is that, despite the very difficult circumstances in which the Treasurer framed this budget, I am very proud to announce that for the first time ever a Commonwealth government, the Rudd Labor government, will be providing funding for insulin pumps for type 1 diabetes in children. For the first time ever, up to $2,500—
The shadow minister just comes right in after 11 years of doing nothing. All that the previous government can say is that they promised it. They never delivered it. All they did was promise it.
It might not have been a point of order, but it was right. We are delivering when you did not. That is the difference. You had 11 years, and we are delivering in our first budget up to $2,500 for children who have type 1 diabetes. This is an important initiative. I would be very surprised if the member for Flinders does not think it is a good idea to support children with type 1 diabetes but, if he does not, that is fine. He will probably stand alone as the one person in this House who does not think that this is a good idea.
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I do find those remarks offensive. I have walked 500 kilometres around my electorate to raise funds for juvenile diabetes, and if the minister bothers to do the same then I would be happy for her to make those remarks.
Again, because of the interruptions of others and the general hubbub, I am unclear as to what it is that the member for Flinders is wishing to have withdrawn but, if it caused him offence, on this occasion I will ask for it to be withdrawn only so that we can get on with proceedings.
I withdraw. I am pleased that the member for Flinders and other members on the other side of the House support our initiative to fund insulin pumps for people with type 1 diabetes.
What I am sure that many members in this House will also be relieved to know is that an extra $1 billion is flowing to our state hospitals, our public hospital system, an area neglected year after year after year by the previous government. We add to that $600 million for elective surgery, $780 million for dental care, $275 million for GP superclinics in local communities and, as I said, bring to an absolute historic high Commonwealth funding for health and ageing, topping $50 billion for the first time in the coming financial year—something we are very proud of.
My question is to the Treasurer. I refer the Treasurer to his budget statement last night, in particular that rural Australia has been going through the worst drought in 100 years. I further refer the Treasurer to his radio interview this morning in Melbourne on 3LO. When asked about interest rate assistance for drought-stricken farmers the Treasurer replied: ‘I can’t give you the exact answer. I’ll go and look it up.’ Treasurer, if you do not have confidence in your own ability to understand something as important to this country as farmers and drought, how can Australian families have confidence in you to manage their home loans, let alone a $1 trillion economy?
I do welcome that question because it is a partial reading of the transcript, which is what you always get from the Leader of the Opposition. What I said was that the exceptional circumstances were continuing—that is what I said. Interest rate relief is part of exceptional circumstances. And I said I would get further detail—a perfectly reasonable and responsible thing to do.
If the Leader of the Opposition wants to talk about transcripts, let’s have a look at the transcript that he issued last night at 9.30 pm—a transcript which was actually doctored from earlier in the day.
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Treasurer was asked a question about his own words on radio this morning where he did not know the answer to a question about his own budget.
Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat. She can seek the call if she has a different point of order to the member for North Sydney; otherwise, I am listening carefully to where the Treasurer is going with his response.
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The question was about the Treasurer’s transcript this morning and the fact that he did not know his own budget. He is continuing to defy your ruling and refer to other transcripts at other times which are not his.
The member for Mayo can go and have his cup of tea for an hour under 94(a). Off you go. The question went on to query the Treasurer’s ability to run the trillion-dollar budget, and I guess that the Treasurer is now going to make some comments about varying abilities to run a trillion-dollar economy.
The member for Mayo then left the chamber.
At 9 pm last night the Leader of the Opposition issued a transcript which said: ‘Our economic analysis is that one quarter of one per cent will be added to the consumer price index.’ Then at 9.30 pm he issued a revised transcript which said: ‘Our economic analysis is that 0.4 per cent will be added to the consumer price index’—a doctored transcript from the Leader of the Opposition.
My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. How will the government’s plans for the Building Australia Fund help prepare Australia for its long-term future and change the way that the Commonwealth has approached infrastructure coordination? How will the government be tackling urban congestion and planning for the future?
I thank the member for Brisbane for that question. The creation of the Building Australia Fund announced last night, together with the establishment of Infrastructure Australia, once again reaffirms that it is Labor that is the nation-building party for this country. It is an unprecedented overhaul of the way that we think about infrastructure coordination for the nation. The Commonwealth government is back—we are back—in the business of nation building. We are setting about repairing years of neglect by those opposite. We all know that capacity constraints at our ports, on our roads and in our rail lines all add to inflationary pressures in the economy. Congested roads and rail lines add to the cost of moving freight from the farm gate to the kitchen table and from the mines to the ports. It adds to the cost of doing business.
That is why the business community, including the Business Council of Australia, ACCI even and other organisations such as Engineers Australia, have all applauded the Building Australia Fund, just as they all supported the creation of Infrastructure Australia—because they know that the previous government did not invest for the future, did not build for the future and did not plan for the future. The only thing they had a plan for was the next election. Of course, the infrastructure failure of those opposite does not have just an economic cost; there is a social cost. Urban congestion means that many working families spend more time in their cars commuting to and from work than they spend at home with their kids.
Last night, the Rudd government proudly began the long process of reversing 12 years of neglect. By establishing Infrastructure Australia, we established the way forward. Yesterday we provided the means to back up that commitment. The $20 billion Building Australia Fund will secure investment in Australia’s infrastructure. It will enable the Commonwealth to attack infrastructure bottlenecks in regional Australia that are restricting our export potential. It is also a loud announcement that the Commonwealth is back in the business of our cities and that we will engage in infrastructure in our cities, including public transport. It comes on top of the establishment two weeks ago, as we announced, of the Major Cities Unit, which will work with Infrastructure Australia.
But we are not sitting back waiting for the $20 billion to come online. We are investing $75 million, as announced last night, to do the planning now on important projects for Australia’s future. As part of our commitment to end the blame game, the states will kick in a further $57½ million dollars, bringing the total to $132.5 million. In Melbourne, we will look at improving the east-west road and rail connections through the recommendations of the Eddington report, and we are looking at advancing planning for the Western Ring Road. In Brisbane, we are planning the Gateway Motorway missing links. In north and Far North Queensland, we are planning for the $2.2 billion that we have committed to fix up the Bruce Highway—improvements in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Gladstone. In Sydney, we are looking at the western metro line, a visionary urban public transport plan that would not have been touched by those opposite. There is the M5 duplication, which will assist in getting trucks to the port and off our urban roads. In Adelaide, there is a transport sustainability study. In Perth, we are looking at the airport transport master plan, including a rail link.
Doing this work now means that we will be ready to go when the $20 billion fund comes online. This comes on top of the government’s commitment to invest $25.8 billion between now and 2013-14 under AusLink. It was also added to in the budget last night by bringing forward $560 million in funding to get early starts on our election commitments: the Ballina bypass, the new Perth to Bunbury Highway, the Northern Expressway in Adelaide and the Townsville port access road. We are getting on with the job.
But those opposite continue to criticise this plan for infrastructure, and maybe there is a hint as to why they do that in the Leader of the Opposition’s comments on ABC radio in Queensland last month. Those comments highlight a big difference between the Labor approach and the approach of the Liberal and National parties, because this is what the Leader of the Opposition said:
In terms of infrastructure the Federal Government is primarily responsible for airport infrastructure. That’s it.
That is their approach to nation building and infrastructure. The Rudd government will end the neglect that occurred under those opposite over 12 years. It is no wonder that the business community has been unanimous in its support for the plan announced by the Treasurer in last night’s budget. (Time expired)
My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister confirm that he will spend not just the earnings but also the capital from the $40 billion in slush funds set up in last night’s high-taxing budget? Why isn’t the Prime Minister trying to lock in the benefits of the mining boom rather than squandering all the income to prop up failed state Labor governments?
Here we have the once great National Party deserting the people of rural and regional Australia yet again—because, if you travel through rural and regional Australia, what is lacking most? Effective infrastructure. And where does the lack of infrastructure start? It lies in the absolute lack of effective broadband services right across rural and regional Australia. For 12 long years, those opposite had an opportunity to address that constituency’s need for broadband services, and they did practically absolutely nothing. All we had was one fund after another, with nothing really happening. As a consequence, there are second-rate, third-rate or fourth-rate services out there for rural and regional Australia, and they are unacceptable.
If you go to rural and regional Australia, you find the other thing that those there legitimately object to is the state of many of the roads. When you look at major roads for which there is a particular responsibility here, including the Bruce Highway, the response that we get from people in rural and regional Australia is, ‘Where is an effective long-term plan for dealing with these critical infrastructure and road transport needs?’ It is for these reasons that this government has decided: ‘Enough of the buck-passing; enough of the blame game. Let us get on with the business of building the nation.’ That is why we have established a Building Australia Fund, as the minister for infrastructure was just outlining in response to the previous question. We believe the national government has a responsibility to lead.
When I look at those opposite, particularly those representing that once great National Party—the party of Jack McEwen, the party of Doug Anthony and now the failed rump that it has become—it is time they stood up for the requirements—
My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. What steps has the government taken to reduce spending growth in the budget? What is the government’s response to claims that this is a high-spending, high-taxing budget?
I thank the member for Deakin for his question. The budget last night delivered in full on the Prime Minister’s January commitments to macroeconomic management. It delivered a surplus of 1.8 per cent of GDP—$21.7 billion—over 1.5 per cent of which was not reliant upon a minor revenue surge; $3.8 billion in spending cuts, on top of the $1.6 billion in spending cuts that were projected prior to the election during the campaign; and $1.9 billion in revenue measures, totalling savings of approximately $7.3 billion. Government spending growth has gone from about five per cent in real terms in the financial year that is about to end to one per cent in real terms, a significant contraction of fiscal policy in order to assist the Reserve Bank and to put downward pressure on inflation and interest rates.
Honourable members may have noticed that Budget Paper No. 2 this year—which, of course, is the statement of all the measures in the budget—is a little bit thicker than it usually is. It is actually quite a bit longer than it usually is. In fact, it is 104 pages longer than last year’s Budget Paper No. 2. There is a simple explanation for that, and that is that there are 106 pages of savings measures in the budget in Budget Paper No. 2. The reason why the two figures are almost exactly the same is that there were virtually no savings measures at all in the 2007 budget—and, in fact, in the last four budgets there were virtually no savings measures at all.
The government has done the hard yards not done by the previous government. But, inevitably, some commentators say that we should have done more. To be fair, some of those people have been consistent in this message over a number of years. But imagine my surprise last night when, casually watching The 7.30 Report, I saw that they had been joined belatedly by the member for Wentworth, who described this budget as ‘a high-taxing, high-spending budget’. As I was watching this I asked myself, ‘Is this the same member for Wentworth who, on Meet the Press only 10 days earlier, said that there was no need to cut government spending, that inflation is not a problem and that inflation is merely a fairytale?’ Somehow, within the space of 10 days, the member for Wentworth has moved seamlessly and shamelessly from saying, ‘Don’t do anything,’ to saying, ‘You haven’t done anything.’ Somehow or other, he has slipped from one to the other with nothing in between. This, of course, is a great mystery to me. I have racked my brains for an explanation for this blatant contradiction. The only explanation I have been able to come up with is that somehow the member for Wentworth has managed to clone himself and that there are actually two Malcolm Turnbulls out there. He has managed to clone himself—and there is no truth in the rumour that he used his ego as the stem cell either, by the way.
It would appear that, commenting on the budget, out there we have somewhere a soft Malcolm and a hard Malcolm. We have got two Malcolms: one is out there with his leader feeling everybody’s pain, protecting the millionaires’ baby bonuses and ensuring that every child gets a prize; and then there is hard Malcolm, off with the big end of town, off with his mates, hurrumphing about middle-class welfare, demanding big cuts in spending on poor people and promising big tax breaks for the wealthy. No doubt this comes in useful in his manoeuvrings within the Liberal Party, because soft Malcolm can have dinner with the wets and hard Malcolm can have dinner with the dries both at the same time.
Order! The member who asked the question—a very well-crafted question—asked about alternative comments that have been made about the budget. This is a response in the tradition of responses that cater to the standing order of relevance. It is bordering on debate, and I am not happy as an occupant of this chair that answers do go into debate, but that might be something that the new Standing Committee on Procedure might look at and might get agreement from both sides of the chamber to change. But I suggest to the minister that he return to the dispatch box and conclude his answer.
I will conclude with an observation about a specific budget matter that the opposition has commented on and criticised the government on, claiming that we are high taxing, notwithstanding the fact that, of course, all the data shows the contrary. That is that yesterday the opposition managed to put out two different calculations of the implications of tax changes in the budget—two different figures. On the basis of what we have had from the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Wentworth, it is absolutely clear that they cannot even add up. They cannot even add up their own assessments of the tax impact of the budget, because they put out two different figures.
The true picture is that government spending for the forthcoming year will be one per cent lower as a proportion of the total economy than it was in 2007-08. It will be the lowest that it has been for nearly 20 years and, importantly, it stays significantly lower—substantially lower—than in the previous financial year across the forward estimates, and broadly the same thing has happened on the tax front as well. There is a substantial reduction in the tax take as a proportion of the overall economy, and that is broadly preserved over the forward estimates.
Whichever Malcolm was on The 7.30 Report last night, it is clear he had not read the budget papers, because the Rudd government’s budget has delivered a substantially bigger surplus, substantially larger savings and a much tougher fiscal positioning in order to put the budget in the right position to put downward pressure on inflation and interest rates and protect the working people of this country.
My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the government’s Centrelink website, which states: ‘If you are not eligible for the childcare benefit, you will not get the childcare rebate.’ Can the Prime Minister confirm that last night’s budget means that eligibility for the childcare benefit has been capped to families earning less than $110,000 a year? Does this change mean that parents earning more than $110,000 will not be eligible for the 50 per cent childcare tax rebate? I ask: why has the government imposed what looks like a stealth means test on the working families of Australia?
Based on my advice, the answer to the honourable member’s question is no. On the changes to the childcare tax rebate, I would have thought that all working families in Australia would welcome the fact that we have increased that rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, helping working families under financial pressure.
I will endeavour to ask my question without breaking anything! My question is to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. What support is available for working families?
I thank the member for Ballarat for her question. This budget is delivering a $55 billion package for working families, implementing our election commitments and investing for the future. Working families know that these are very, very challenging economic times, putting families under very significant financial pressure. Whether it is increasing mortgages, increasing prices or other cost of living pressures, families know that inflation is their No. 1 enemy. That is why this budget is, at its heart, about fighting inflation.
By contrast, the opposition really do not seem to have any idea. I certainly cannot figure out what it is that they believe in on these issues. The member for Warringah just a little while ago instructed the government to—
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order, relating to relevance. I did not hear the question go to alternative policies; I thought it was just directed to the government’s budget. So I raise the question of relevance, Mr Speaker.
The opposition does not have any policies, so there would not be any point in asking that. What we certainly know is that the opposition cannot figure out whether they are for or against making cuts in this budget. What the government is about is targeting support—
Going to the specifics of the benefits that this budget is delivering for working families, first and foremost it is delivering more than $46 billion of tax cuts to working families over the next four years to really help take the financial pressure off family budgets. We are delivering to working families with assistance with child care, which certainly is something that so many working families facing increasing costs of child care will welcome. We are going to increase the childcare tax rebate from the current level of 30 per cent to 50 per cent—so half of working families’ out-of-pocket childcare costs will be met as a result of this budget.
We are going to double the Commonwealth financial counselling scheme to provide more assistance for those families who get into financial difficulty. The Minister for Health and Ageing has delivered for working families a new teen dental health plan, something that so many working families will benefit from as their children grow older. The education tax rebate is something else that will help working families with the increasing costs of education.
The Minister for Housing, of course, has delivered for working families with a $2.2 billion package of housing affordability measures that will help with the very serious pressures that families are facing with the cost of housing. Most importantly from my point of view, for 19,000 carers who are really doing it hard we are delivering almost $300 million to help carers of profoundly disabled children. The eligibility rules for carer payments at the moment are far too restrictive and insensitive, and under this government they will change.
Unlike the former government, this government is about making sure that it delivers the support and certainty that families need and making sure that funding is responsibly targeted to those who need it. That is why we are also introducing as key measures in the government’s fight against inflation two new income tests, one to family tax benefit part B and the other to the baby bonus, making sure that these benefits go to those families who need it most. What is important is that these measures alone deliver $900 million of savings over the next four years to help in this government’s fight against inflation.