House debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019



9:31 am

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move the following motion:

That the House:

(1)notes that:

(a)after six years of cuts and chaos under this Liberal Government, Australians are doing it tough;

(b)in last night's Budget, the Treasurer delivered an energy payment which left out thousands of Australians who rely on Government payments, including: ABSTUDY, Austudy, Double Orphan Pension, Newstart Allowance, Parenting Payment Partnered, Partner Allowance, Sickness Allowance, Special Benefit, Widow Allowance, Wife Pension, Youth Allowance and Veteran Payment;

(c)on radio this morning, less than 24 hours after he delivered his Budget, the Treasurer caved into pressure from Labor and backflipped, saying that Australians on Newstart would now receive an energy payment;

(d)in just a few minutes, the Government will introduce legislation that now extends the payment to all the people that the Government had previously left out in its Budget;

(e)the Government's backflip has already blown an $80 million hole in the Budget; and

(f)the Government's Budget is unravelling less than 24 hours after it was delivered; and

(2)therefore, condemns this government for:

(a)six years of cuts and chaos, which has only continued in the last 24 hours; and

(b)only looking after the top end of town and treating vulnerable Australians as an afterthought.

Leave not granted.

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the member for McMahon moving the following motion immediately:

That the House notes that:

(1) after six years of cuts and chaos under this Liberal government, Australia is doing it tough;

  (b) in last night's budget, the Treasurer delivered an energy payment which left out thousands of Australians who rely on government payments, including Abstudy, Austudy, double orphan pension, Newstart allowance, parenting payment partnered, partner allowance, sickness allowance, special benefit, widow allowance, wife pension, youth allowance and veteran payment;

  (c) on radio this morning, less than 24 hours after he delivered his budget, the Treasurer caved in to pressure from Labor and back flipped, saying that Australians on Newstart will now receive the energy supplement;

  (d) in just a few minutes, the government will introduce legislation that now extends the payment to all the people the government had previously left out in its budget;

  (e) the government's backflip has already blown an $80 million hole in the budget; and

  (f) the government's budget is unravelling less than 24 hours after it was delivered; and

(2) therefore condemns this government for:

  (a) six years of cuts and chaos, which has only continued in the last 24 hours; and

  (b) only looking after the top end of town and treating vulnerable Australians as an afterthought.

Mr Speaker, I've seen some budgets unravel in my time—as you would have in your time here in this House, Mr Speaker—but never before have I seen a budget unravel quite as spectacularly or quickly as this.

I have a copy of the budget here. The ink is a bit smudgy, because the ink is still wet—the ink is not dry on the budget—but it is nevertheless my copy. It says at page 159 of Budget Paper No. 2 that the government will provide $284 million over two years to make a one-off energy assistance payment of $75 for singles and $62.50 for each member of a couple. The budget makes it clear that the qualifying payments are the age pension, the carer payment, the disability support pension—and it goes on. I'll tell you what doesn't appear in the budget delivered last night, a little over 12 hours ago, by the Treasurer. The budget doesn't say Newstart, nor does it say Abstudy or Austudy. This is the explanatory memorandum of a bill that will be introduced to the parliament in a few moments time and it says it will pay a one-off energy assistance payment to recipients of the age pension, the disability support pension, Abstudy, Austudy and Newstart allowance and it says the cost is $365 million over the forward estimates. Last night it was $287. Now it is $365 million. I've heard of inflation, but it is a bit ridiculous. That inflation rate is Venezuelan in its proportions. If that is the budget blowout over the last 12 hours, if they can't keep the budget until the next morning of parliament, God knows what the budget will be like in 2024 when they are promising tax cuts.

They simply forgot some of Australia's most vulnerable people. The Treasurer likes to quote two people. There are two major people he likes to quote—himself, in his main speech, and Robert Menzies, his predecessor as the member for Kooyong. He takes photo shoots next to a polished bust of Robert Menzies and he quotes 'The Forgotten People'. Well, this member of Kooyong has forgotten people as well; he forgot the recipients of Newstart and Austudy and Abstudy. This is a Treasurer who has forgotten the most vulnerable people in Australia. This energy supplement is no small thing. It was the centrepiece of their budget drop on Sunday. It was on the front page of various newspapers around the country as their big pitch for Australians. 'They have learnt the lessons of the last six years of cuts and chaos'—that was their pitch. 'Forget about the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison years; they didn't happen. 'Look at this budget.' The energy supplement was on the front page of the papers, so proud were they of it. They just got it wrong and forgot Australians on Newstart, Austudy, Abstudy and other important payments such as the double orphan pension. These aren't people who you would regard as the top end of town that you are considering whether support is necessary for; these are people who really need the energy supplement. Senator Sinodinos was on Q&A earlier in the week arguing for an increase in Newstart 'if only he knew someone who could do something about it'—but he is a member of a government that can do something about it. But here we have this big reset of the government's narrative and it is falling apart before our eyes.

I have here the budget papers that were printed less than 24 hours ago. I have some advice for the Treasurer. Next time, put the budget in a ring binder and then you can just take pages out. You can bring it in here and table the latest update on an hourly basis!

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Post-it notes!

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. You could put post-it notes on it; you could have post-it note updates to the budget as well; that's another way of dealing with it. The other budget blowout is the cost of pulping the budget. That is going to cost a bit of money. Down the shredder it will go; there will be no shredder in Canberra left turned off over the next 24 hours as they shred the budget and start again! In all seriousness, this says it all about this budget. I confess to the House that I was ready, in my media performances last night and today, to say that there might be some good things in this budget, there might be some changes in this budget, but this won't mean that Australians forget the six years of cuts and chaos. I confess that I had to change my response. I can't say that anymore, because this budget is about cuts and chaos. This budget is about chaos writ large!

Here we have a government which is so chaotic that they have, as the centrepiece of their budget, the energy supplement. This is their big message to Australians: 'We've learnt the lessons. No more cuts under us; no more chaos under us. We've learnt it all; we're all fixed. We're better people than that bad Abbott and that bad Turnbull! Just forget about them.' So chaotic are they that they bugger up the cuts; so chaotic are they that they can't get it right.

Really, Australia deserves better than this. Australia deserves a government which has actually thought about its policies. Australia deserves a government which has a plan for the country. Australia deserves a government which actually recognises that we need to lift people up, that we need to bring people with us on the 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth. We actually need to support those Australians doing it tough, including Australians on Newstart and other payments. We actually need a government for which Australians doing it tough are not an afterthought.

And there's another afterthought in this budget. It's not just about the energy supplement; there's another problem in this budget. What's their other big pitch? 'Oh, we've got double tax cuts,' they say, 'We finally acknowledged that the Labor Party was right 12 months ago when the Leader of the Opposition announced bigger, better tax cuts in his budget reply.' They've caught up with us on bigger, better tax cuts. We welcome that, 326 days too late—

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

It's 326 days too late! Look it up on the internet, Stewie, you might learn something! It's 326 days too late and they still get it wrong! They still get it wrong because they've forgotten some other Australians as well: the more than two million Australians earning $40,000 or less who are better off under our plan.

There's a theme. I detect a theme emerging. I'm just a simple boy from Smithfield, but I detect a theme. The theme is that those Australians who need the support most miss out. Those Australians earning less than $40,000 miss out on the double tax cuts. They get some tax relief, but not as much as those who earn more.

And what of the Australians who earn less than $40,000 a year, many of whom work on Sundays and who have had their penalty rates cut and many of whom are female workers? Many of them are the gender pay gap in daily operation. They're doing their jobs, working hard on Sundays, but are earning low pay and dealing with low wages growth and their penalty rate cuts. And what do they get from this government? An insult of a tax cut! It's an insult because the tax cut is not double what Labor offered last year—nowhere near it.

And then you get the insult that Newstart recipients and Austudy and Abstudy recipients and living allowance recipients are an afterthought. 'Oops!' said the Treasurer this morning. The Labor Party has pointed out that they don't receive the payment. We received advice that we could not move an amendment to put them in. Constitutionally we did not have the power, but we moved a second reading amendment to point out the error of their ways. The government got the second reading amendment and said: 'Oh, dear. That's embarrassing. Whoopsie! We forgot Newstart recipients.' Well, here's a tip for the Treasurer: get your work right in the first place and your budget might not disappear on day 2.

The Prime Minister and Treasurer went out today talking about the budget. What was their line on their budget, their big vision for the country? It was, 'Labor, Shorten, Bowen, Labor, Shorten, Labor.' That was their big defence of their budget! It's no wonder, because their budget is a piece of nonsense.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

9:43 am

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Preventing Family Violence) Share this | | Hansard source

I have great pleasure in seconding this motion. The Treasurer is no Angus Young, and AC/DC would be absolutely mortified that they use that song! Not only do we have cuts, not only do we have chaos, but we actually have confusion, and the new thing is that we have copycats. We have copycats! Yesterday, when I circulated a second reading amendment for this bill to the crossbench proposing the government should expand the payment to those on Newstart, youth allowance and other payments, I never in my wildest dreams anticipated it would be so successful so quickly. Labor called on the government to extend the one-off payment to other people on means-tested income support, including Abstudy, Austudy, double orphan payments, Newstart allowance, parenting payments, partner allowance, sickness allowance, special benefits, widow allowance, wife pension, youth allowance and veterans payments. That's quite a lot to forget, don't you think?

But it seems that even the Treasurer was taken by surprise. When asked directly on 9 News last night about extending the payment to people on Newstart, he didn't say yes. This is what the Treasurer said: 'Well, Newstart does go up twice a year, when it is indexed. But, importantly, the majority of people on Newstart move off Newstart within 12 months. They hopefully go into work, and many have been doing that.' But it was a totally different script this morning. The Treasurer this morning told ABC, 'Well, a couple of things. Firstly, the energy supplement will be extended to people on Newstart.' That was a change from last night. Sabra Lane then asked, 'It will be?' and the Treasurer said 'It will be.' That's a bit of a change. How quickly things have unravelled—the unravelled budget. It is chaos, it is confusion and now you are copycats. It is a desperate tone from a desperate government and Australia will see through it. Seventy-five dollars, six weeks out from an election, will not undo six years of cuts and cruelty. Labor moved to see this payment extended because there is no good reason for people on these payments to be excluded.

Finally, within a bit more than 12 hours—not 24 and not 48—the government realised that they had forgotten quite a few people on several payments. These people face the same costs of living and in many cases they are in fact on lower payments, yet you, in your cruelty, forgot to add them into the energy payment. While Labor supports this payment, make no mistake that after six years of chaos and cruel cuts the Australian people will see right through this cynical and desperate attempt from this government to save its own skin. That's what this is about—saving your own skin. This government must take the Australian people for fools. Well, they are not fools. This incompetence—the fact that within 12 hours there has been a complete unravelling of this budget. There is an $80 million black hole. We are seeing the stature of this government.

While I am on my feet, let me address one other thing: the NDIS underspend. Let us remember that this is about building a surplus on the back of people with disability—$1.6 billion off people who can't use their plans; $1.6 billion off people on disability, people who are disabled. You are building a surplus on that. How cynical. How outrageous. Do you really think people with disability, their advocates and the broader Australian community are going to cop that rubbish? No, they will not. I think we are seeing that very clearly this morning. We are seeing a government that forgot a whole bunch of people and this morning is copying what Labor was going to do. It is just a cynical, outrageous act from this government. The bottom line is that Australians with disability are the ones who are going to pay for Prime Minister Morrison to bolster—

9:48 am

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for the opportunity to rise to speak on this motion. It was very interesting to hear the shadow minister stand up and speak, because before the Labor national conference late last year the shadow minister was busy seeking to give you the impression that she was going to secure a commitment for an increase in Newstart. There she was, out there revving up the stakeholders. There were all kinds of expectations from the shadow minister that she was going to deliver an outcome on Newstart. And didn't she get those expectations revved up. But I'll tell you what: ACOSS were very unhappy with the shadow minister by the end of the Labor national conference at the end of last year, because, after all of those expectations that the shadow minister was keen to rev up with the stakeholders about the increase she was going to deliver in Newstart, what did she deliver at the end of the Labor national conference?

She delivered nothing.

Do you know what Labor's policy on Newstart is? I'll tell you what Labor's policy on Newstart is. Labor's policy is to have a review. Bravely, Labor are going to hit the beach reviewing! We saw in it the years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government: review after review after review. But now the brave new policy from the opposition is that they're going to have a review into Newstart.

You're either fair dinkum or you're not. The numbers are either in your budget or they're not. And you haven't put the numbers in your budget. Labor are walking two sides of the street when it comes to Newstart. Labor like to give out the rhetoric when it comes to Newstart, but what's their promise? Their promise is to have a review. This is classic modern Labor. This is classic Labor. They want to give the impression that they're going to be doing something on Newstart, but they have not committed to do anything more than to have a review. Indeed, what was it that ACOSS said at the end of last year? ACOSS, the Australian Council of Social Service, had this to say about Labor and their discussions of Newstart at the national conference at the end of last year:

ACOSS urges Labor to improve disgracefully inadequate Newstart motion at the ALP Conference …

This is Labor. This is Labor trying to tell a story on Newstart, but the reality is that all they're doing is committing to a review. They have not committed to do anything more than a review.

The shadow Treasurer is desperate to try and mount some kind of attack against a budget which offers a lower taxing future for Australians, which offers a return to surplus, the first time in 12 years—back in black and back on track. That's something that you're never going to see delivered from Labor. Labor simply does not have the capability or the track record of delivering a surplus. He was desperate to make the claim that in some way this was some kind of material change to the budget.

Let's be clear: this is a payment being made in 2018-19. The total cost of the measure that we will be introducing, with legislation to be introduced shortly—and I hope and expect that Labor will be supporting it—is $365 million, almost entirely delivered in the 2018-19 financial year. I make that point again because it is a very important point: almost entirely delivered in the 2018-19 financial year. Despite the shadow Treasurer's attempt to make the argument that this is in some way any kind of change to the budget, the fact is that this is a payment in 2018-19, an incremental change. It's a change that we're pleased to be making. We'll be introducing that legislation very shortly, and I certainly look forward to Labor supporting this. I hope and expect that that is what we will see.

But it's important to look at the question of how best we deal with Australians in poverty. We are very clear on this side of the House that the best way to deal with poverty is to get as many Australians into a job as possible. That is why we have been so focused on delivering almost 1.3 million jobs since we came to government in 2013. We committed that we'd deliver one million; we have well exceeded that commitment, and of course we've now committed to deliver further jobs. That's a commitment made by the Treasurer in the budget last night.

Very importantly, there are now 230,000 fewer Australians of working age—between 16 and 64—who are on the welfare rolls. The percentage of working-age Australians who are on income support payments, now at 14.3 per cent, is at the lowest level it has been in 30 years. Every Australian who moves from welfare to work secures a personal victory—a victory in terms of self-esteem, a victory in terms of a sense of contribution, a victory, of course, in terms of an improved financial position for themselves and their families. We are very firmly focused on our policy of encouraging and assisting Australians to move from welfare into work. You do that by growing the economy. You do that by generating jobs. You do that by introducing measures which stimulate the businesses who employ Australians. Ninety per cent of jobs are in the private sector. That means it is vital to encourage businesses to invest and employ. That's why we've delivered tax reductions for businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million. We've reduced the corporate tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent so that more Australians will be employed. That's why we've committed to spending $75 billion—now increased to $100 billion—on infrastructure, because that is the way that you encourage investment and you encourage employment. It's why we have delivered free trade agreements with China, with Japan, with Korea, with Singapore, with Indonesia. These free trade agreements are about creating more export opportunities, more opportunities for business, more economic growth and, therefore, more employment. In the budget last night we saw a clear and continued focus on lower taxes and stimulating business activity, and, in turn, employment. That is the way we deal with poverty in this country. That is the way we encourage more Australians to get into the workforce. That is the way we assist people to make that transition from welfare to work. Every Australian who makes the transition from welfare to work achieves a personal victory.

It was very instructive to see the way that the shadow Treasurer sought to jump on this issue. Labor know that they are walking two sides of the street on Newstart. Labor know very well that they are claiming to deliver something when, in fact, they have not committed anything in terms of what they're actually going to spend on Newstart. If Labor were fair dinkum about, for example, responding to the ACOSS proposal of $75 a week—that's $3.3 billion a year in additional expenditure. What the shadow Treasurer needs to do is come clean with the Australian people: are you committing to spending an extra $3.3 billion a year? That is what you need to come clean about with the Australian people. You're busy talking about Newstart, but what you have not done is told the Australian people whether you are prepared to commit to $3.3 billion in additional expenditure each year. And what you have not done is told the Australian people, if they do have to find that additional $3.3 billion, how that is going to be paid for. So Labor is walking two sides of the street on Newstart. We have a very clear position about assisting Australians out of welfare into work.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The question is that the motion moved by the member for McMahon be agreed to.

10:10 am

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

For the information of members, that was our first division counted electronically by iPads. So that's a little bit of history for the House.