Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Fringe Benefits Tax Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Income Tax Rates Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Superannuation (Excess Non-concessional Contributions Tax) Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Superannuation (Excess Untaxed Roll-over Amounts Tax) Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Income Tax (TFN Withholding Tax (ESS)) Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Family Trust Distribution Tax (Primary Liability) Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Taxation (Trustee Beneficiary Non-disclosure Tax) (No. 1) Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Taxation (Trustee Beneficiary Non-disclosure Tax) (No. 2) Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Treasury Laws Amendment (Untainting Tax) (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Nation-building Funds Repeal (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017; Second Reading
Given we're about to head into the summing up and then amendments and then votes on this bill, I just wanted to briefly place on the record that the member for Mayo intends to vote with the government on these bills but has requested, and I've agreed, that she and I would seek to be paired, effectively, on the votes; that I would be voting with the opposition on the amendments and the bill; and that she would be taken as voting with the government. This is, of course, an informal arrangement. Pairs are an informal arrangement, and reached as such, but they are usually between the government and the opposition, but, in this case, crossbenchers are having to do it ourselves. So I wanted to place on the record that that is our stance in relation to the amendments and these bills. I'm not sure of the process. I would hope that that could be recorded in some way, in the Hansard or in the Votes and Proceedings, but I just wanted to place that matter on the record. With respect to the substance of the issues, that is something that our portfolio holders will prosecute more fully when the matter comes to the Senate.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for McMahon has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.
In summing up the debate I firstly thank all those members who have contributed to this debate. This is a very sensitive issue. Many members of this place have their own personal experience of either directly living with disability or having family members, friends or colleagues who are affected by disability. As I observed in this debate earlier, when introducing these bills, in my own case there is my brother-in-law Gary. It's understandable and it's appropriate that this House reflect on the personal experiences. I think it has been the deep personal commitment of people in this place on both sides of this House that led to the bipartisan introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
This House is committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and what I've sought to do in this budget—what the government has sought to do in this budget—is to ensure that we can provide certainty for the National Disability Insurance Scheme by providing the funding that is needed to guarantee its future and to lock that funding up, to create a pipeline from the Medicare levy directly into the National Disability Insurance Scheme to ensure that never again, based on the forward program of the NDIS, should it be found wanting for funds.
These bills will secure the essential funding required for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, giving Australians with permanent and significant disability and their families and carers certainty that this vital service will be there for them into the future. A responsible government looks after those most in need, and everyone in this place knows that Australians with a disability deserve support to fully participate in the life of this nation, which is what the NDIS does. That is why we backed the establishment of the NDIS, so that individuals could get essential help based on their needs and not where they live.
It is one thing, however, to set up a scheme like the NDIS, but it is meaningless if it is not funded, if it's not secured, if it's not protected and if its funding is not protected into the future. Governments will lower taxes like the Turnbull government has and will continue to seek to do. Other governments, if they're elected, will raise taxes as Labor have done in the past. That's a matter for them. But, as a result of any of those general decisions taken on tax measures in this country, the National Disability Insurance Scheme should be unaffected by those decisions. The NDIS should have its own secure source of funding to provide for its future and its present, and the mechanism that we have sought to do that with is the Medicare levy and the measures that are proposed in this series of bills.
There's a fundamental difference between the Labor Party and the government when it comes to this issue. The Labor Party do not believe, despite all of the evidence, that there is a $55.7 billion hole in funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. They're wrong about that, and that has been demonstrated by the testimony and evidence of Treasury and others. It's clear there's a $55.7 billion hole in the funding for the NDIS. They claim there were savings that they spent four times, some of which never appeared and some of which they even voted against when we sought to take those savings through this House.
We endeavoured, prior to this budget, to secure savings that would have been put into a special-purpose account to ensure that that was a locked box for the funding of the NDIS. We sought to do it through savings. That was rejected by the Labor Party and it was rejected by the Senate. That's the will of the parliament. We accept that. We understand that. But what we can't walk back from is addressing the fundamental problem of the massive hole in funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. So we put forward in the budget a way to achieve that. It was a way that absolutely and completely mirrored the initial increase in the Medicare levy that the Labor Party had introduced when they were in government to contribute towards the funding costs of the NDIS. They had received the support of the opposition in the Liberal and National parties and they were able to move forward. We have simply brought through their exact same mechanism to deal with this problem, and we have not secured the support of the Labor Party to achieve that.
I give Julia Gillard credit for her significant role in introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme—and she deserves it. I believe she should be disappointed by the behaviour of those who followed her, who could be acting to secure the future of the NDIS by supporting this bill. When she was Prime Minister she said:
… the Medicare levy does not pay for all our Medicare or health care expenditure but the fundamental principle of the Medicare levy is we all put in and we all take out …
She also said:
… it would be terrific to see the half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy pass with bipartisan support.
That would give security for the future around the half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy.
The former Treasurer, now the member for Lilley, said:
… we are asking Australians to make a small contribution that will make a big difference to the lives of over 460,000 people with disability …
When Labor were proposing exactly the same thing, the now Leader of the Opposition said:
These bills will change lives.
Change the dimension of hope in every community.
No longer do we fill this place with empty rhetoric on this issue. We now put our money on the table. And we ask: what is the price of an ordinary life?
That is what the Leader of the Opposition said when, in government, he was supporting bills to do exactly this. What is the price of an ordinary life to the member for Maribyrnong? Well, he's clearly not prepared to stump up or take his party with him to live up to the ideals and standards that Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister, was able to draw from the Labor Party when she introduced this scheme and introduced as like a measure as you could find. And there's a reason for that, which is that they don't believe there's a funding hole. They want to live in budgetary denial, as they did in government, and just pretend the problem isn't there.
What I find quite puzzling about the Labor Party's position on this is: if they really think there's no funding hole with the NDIS, then why are they supporting the increase in the levy at all? As the shadow Treasurer said, if the Labor Party were in government, not one cent of the increase in the Medicare levy that they're prepared to support would go to funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme—not one cent. So why are they supporting that element of it? For them, it's just another tax. For them, it's just another impost on working Australians. I'm joined now by the member for Hughes, who has a deep personal understanding of this issue. For those on this side of the House it's an insurance levy to pay for an insurance scheme that makes a big difference to families and people living with disabilities in this country. That's the only reason we're doing it. If there were no funding hole, we would not be doing this. But we must do it; we must fill this hole. We must ensure that we live up to the principles of those who actually brought this scheme into this parliament and were able to achieve bipartisan support.
I believe the way the Labor Party have responded to this is a great disappointment. If there were any issue we could agree on, if there were any opportunity to actually reach across the aisle, surely it would be for this. Members of the opposition should be ashamed of the level of conflict-dominated politics they have pursued on this issue. If they didn't believe there was a funding hole, then why would they want to increase the Medicare levy at all? They are seeking to take the cynical opportunity of this bill to go and spend money on any number of other things that mount up day by day. They're not doing this—even one cent of it—to support those with disabilities. They're just doing it to fund their addiction to higher spending on anything that comes across their desk.
During the course of this debate, we heard some tremendous testimonies about the courage of Australians living with disabilities. The member for Ryan, the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services, spoke of the 11-year-old boy who as a result of his NDIS package has received consistent coordinated support. This means that his relationship with his family has improved, he is learning better and he has a real hope for an independent life. The member for Gilmore spoke of Brad Rossiter, who has prosthetic legs, as well as having kidney and pancreas transplants. He's an advocate for kidney health awareness and organ donation registration. He's an Australian hero!
The member for Brisbane spoke on Monday of the outstanding work of Youngcare, providing accommodation for young people so that they are not forced to live in aged-care facilities. We heard of people like Shevaune Conry, who has MS—like my brother-in-law Gary—and Nick, who is confined to a wheelchair, who now receive the care they need. Their quality of life has improved immeasurably through the work of Youngcare and the support of the NDIS.
I highlight them simply to make the point that it's not too late for the opposition to make the right choice—to back the government's plan to provide secure funding for the NDIS. The way this bill has been structured with the others is to ensure that the increase in the Medicare levy goes directly, and is secured, to support the NDIS. It can't be siphoned off; it can't be sent off to subsidise or pay for other adventures by the Labor Party. It's there for Shevaune, it's there for Brad, it's there for Gary and it's there for the many other Australians that each and every one of us in this House can name, whom we love and care for. We want to see them have a quality of life that is unimpeded by things that we can do something about through the NDIS.
But the NDIS is a hollow promise if it is not funded, and that's what these bills rightly seek to do. So I would encourage the Labor Party to at least put down this sword—at least this one—and join with the government to provide for every person with a disability and every carer, every friend, every colleague and every passing stranger who has walked past and offered some kindness or support to them, demonstrating their commitment to their fellow Australians who suffer with disabilities. Get on board with this; put an end to the mindless opposition to this for political purposes.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for McMahon has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question before us now is that the amendment be agreed to.