Thursday, 28 October 2010
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. Since Labor came to office, electricity prices are up by 42 per cent, gas prices are up by 27 per cent, water prices are up by 46 per cent, health costs are up by 17 per cent, education costs are up by 17 per cent and rent is up by 18 per cent. Why is the Prime Minister trying to impose a great big new tax on families struggling with cost-of-living pressures? When will she start listening to the concerns of real people?
I have another problem with the question in that the description of programs in an argumentative way is to be avoided. I think the preamble to the question was couched in a different way from the question yesterday but, without checking, I cannot be absolutely sure of that. I think that the argumentative way that we have lapsed into of describing programs or proposals is outside of the standing orders. I would hope that the Leader of the Opposition and other members will take recognition of that in the future.
In answer to the Leader of the Opposition’s question, I understand, and the government understands, that Australian families are struggling with cost-of-living pressures. We do understand that and we understand that a contributor to those cost-of living-pressures is electricity prices. When the Leader of the Opposition asked me a similar question yesterday, I did explain to him and to the House that pressure on electricity prices arises in part from underinvestment in electricity generation capacity and that, in order to get certainty into the market to facilitate investment, particularly in long-term baseload power, businesses and the electricity sector are asking us for certainty about carbon pricing.
On the general cost-of-living issues I reiterate the points that I made yesterday. I understand that it is a struggle for families. The government understands that and that is why we have done things like introduce the Fair Work Act so that people have security as to their pay packets and living standards—something they did not enjoy under Work Choices when, on any day, they could have had an Australian workplace agreement shoved into their hand and had their pay and conditions reduced.
We have acted to assist families with cost-of-living pressures when it comes to education. We understand that there are costs involved in getting the kids back to school, which is why we introduced the education tax rebate and will add to it by enabling the deductibility of costs related to school uniforms. We understand that for families with young children, particularly in circumstances where the partner providing the care—usually the mother—wants to return to work, that occasions childcare costs. Consequently, we increased the child care tax rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent and we will move to fortnightly payments.
We also understand that families with teenagers have particular pressures. Teenagers are not cheaper to support than younger children, and that is why we will move in this parliament to increase the family tax benefit arrangements for families with teenagers. For families on the maximum range, that will be a benefit of more than $4,000 a year. Indeed, to assist families with cost-of-living pressures, that is why we have also been pleased and proud to provide tax cuts for three years in a row to assist families with those pressures. As I said to the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, and I am happy to repeat it today, we want to make sure we are working with families for their long-term security. Doing that does require us to work through the difficult question of carbon pricing to give certainty to the electricity generation sector to facilitate long-term investments.
Mr Speaker, I have listened carefully to the Prime Minister’s answer. I do wish to ask a supplementary question and I ask her to explain how it is possible to reduce the price of electricity by increasing the tax on it.
Can I say to the Leader of the Opposition that, once again, in his search for a cheap line against profound reform he is distorting the nature of this argument and debate to the Australian community.
Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I listened to your admonition of the argument in the Leader of the Opposition’s first question and I simply ask you: if the questions have to be devoid of argument, how can the Prime Minister’s answer be relevant when she starts by a slag and bag on the Leader of the Opposition?
First of all, I will make the observation and add comment that, regrettably, the standing order with regard to answers was not changed in that manner. I hope that at some stage it will be. I have tried to apply to answers similar standards that are in the standing order relating to questions. I will listen carefully to the response of the Prime Minister. I have to admit that I was distracted by other things, which I will make a comment about later. I will listen carefully to the Prime Minister.
Of course, what the Leader of the Opposition is seeking to distort is the nature of this debate. The reason that you put a price on carbon is to create incentives to engage in economic activity and, when engaging in that economic activity, to not produce the same level of carbon emissions—that is, you want to create an incentive structure so that people reduce emissions. Let me adopt the words of Marius Kloppers to explain this to the Leader of the Opposition, because I think he put it elegantly:
… carbon emissions need to have a cost impact in order to cause the consumer to change behaviour and favour low-carbon alternatives.
Marius Kloppers, the head of BHP, goes on:
We also believe that such a global initiative will eventually come, and when it does Australia will need to have acted ahead of it to maintain its competitiveness.
On the question of electricity and carbon pricing and industry calling out for certainty, I would refer the Leader of the Opposition to the words of Richard McIndoe, Managing Director of TRUenergy, who said:
We all would like a price on carbon.
… … …
If it’s not done in this government and if this uncertainty continues, not for two to three years, but four to five years, and nobody is building, then you will have power shortages and insufficient capacity.
Words that I would recommend the Leader of the Opposition think about. If the Leader of the Opposition has not found that persuasive then I would refer him to the editorial of the Australian Financial Review where it says:
If the Coalition wants to play in this game, it will have to abandon its opposition to “a great big new tax”, acknowledge that a carbon price is inevitable and desirable, and lend its weight to the effort to find the best formula. There is opposition and there is opposition for opposition’s sake, but this is a necessary reform that the Coalition should support.
Across this week the debate in this parliament has been focused on those who support economic reform and strengthening our nation for the future. To those that believe in opposition for opposition’s sake and simply wrecking reform, and clearly the Leader of the Opposition does, I would say it comes at the ultimate cost of the strength of this nation and the future of Australian families.
Before giving the call to the member for Cunningham and without being a killjoy, I wish to note that the gesture the member Denison, the member for O’Connor and the member for Lyne are making is in support of National Bandanna Day tomorrow. I note that the member for Chisholm seems to have got away, as she is able to, because of something that is not quite equal in the chamber and I probably could not say that her dress is out of order. I note that the member for Dunkley has been rather innovative and flamboyant in the way that he is wearing his bandanna as a kerchief in his suit pocket. I note that other people are resplendent in red ties and special scarves. I also note that others have ribbons. The scarves are for the Daniel Morcombe Foundation and the ribbons are for Brain Tumour Day. Having made their support and solidarity for the National Bandanna Day known, I ask the three members to remove their bandanas to better conform to the standards of dress.
I thank the member for Cunningham for her question. She represents in this place a region that has gone through a fundamental economic transformation and she knows that, as hard as it is, economic reform needs to be dealt with if people are going to have a prosperous future. As I have already said to the parliament during this question time, the debate of the last week has been a debate about who has the courage and conviction to deliver economic reform and who will shirk that task even though it is so important for the nation’s future. It is apparent that the government’s economic reform agenda will be resisted at all costs by the opposition, and that is to be deeply regretted because our nation needs to keep reforming if it is to be prosperous for the future. We need to keep reforming if we are going to give Australians the benefit of opportunity. We need to keep reforming if we are going to ensure that our nation can hold its competitive place in the world.
Central to that reform is ensuring that we have the infrastructure of the future—roads, rail and ports, as well as the National Broadband Network. Central to that reform is our human capital agenda to make sure that Australians have the skills and capacities they need to compete in the world. Central to that reform are participation reforms to ensure that we have Australians of working age with the capacity to be in the labour market and assisting us, particularly as our society is ageing and we will see an increase in the dependency ratio. Stumping up to reform in health care is also pivotal to the future of Australians and making sure that they will have the healthcare system they need there sustainably for the long term. Of course, for our environment and our economic future we need to address the difficult reforms of pricing carbon and dealing with water.
I am not someone who has over the course of my political life much agreed with John Howard, but I did agree with him yesterday when he told an anecdote that stood out for me. He said:
… in 1995 when the last Budget of the Keating Government was brought down on the afternoon of Budget day, Kim Beazley rang me, he was Finance Minister. He rang me and said “John, you still in favour of the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank?” Because that had been our policy for years I said “Yes”. “We’re going to propose it in the Budget” and I said “We’ll vote for it”. We’d have been total hypocrites to have voted against that …
Those words are, I think, wise words, because in the parliament this week it has become apparent that the Leader of the Opposition is shaping up to vote against healthcare reform that when he was health minister he would have advocated. So I would refer him to the words of John Howard and to, most particularly, that last sentence referring to ‘total hypocrites’.
But there does seem to be a bit of a fightback on in the opposition against things like the shadow Treasurer’s plan to reregulate interest rates. I note that the members for Wentworth and Goldstein, amongst others, are being painted as the ones responsible for the leak, part of their fightback presumably against this economic Hansonism. I also note today’s newspapers say the shadow cabinet has concluded, as has also been suggested, that policy approaches be fully thought out next time before they are flagged. We can have bipartisanship on that.