Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Wong, the Minister representing the Treasurer. Given that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer promised a 'come hell or high water' surplus in 2012-13 on more than 500 occasions and that the government is now forecasting a $19 billion deficit, how can anyone believe anything in last night's budget, when we could not believe what was in last year's budget?
It certainly is something that not only the Prime Minister and the Treasurer said; I said it, and I said it in this place. That was based on the best forecasts we had, the forecasts which were prepared by those who prepared the forecasts for Mr Costello and Senator Minchin for 11 and, I think, six years respectively. The facts are, though, that the economic circumstances have changed, and responsible governments have to adjust to those circumstances and do what is right for the country. I accept that I and other economic ministers and the Prime Minister will wear and are wearing some political criticism for that, but I will tell you this, Mr President: this government—
This Labor government will always put jobs and growth first. We will always do that, and that is what we have done, because, when you are faced with the second largest write-down in revenues since the Great Depression, a government has two choices: you can cut to the bone and chase revenue down and ensure unemployment rises and the economy stalls—is that the prescription?—or you can make the decision that we did to defer the return to surplus, because the economy required us to make that decision, delivering a measured return to surplus and taking $43 billion worth of savings to ensure that we can deliver programs like DisabilityCare and the schools reform package. That is the choice this government has made, and we have laid it out. (Time expired)
Given the government's revenue estimates this year are based on a prediction that our terms of trade will remain 15 per cent above the highest level they ever were under the previous coalition government, and the unbelievable prediction that mining tax revenue will increase more than 10 times over the forward estimates and that the carbon price will be at least double the consensus estimate of independent experts in 2015-16, isn't the government still getting its revenue forecasts terribly wrong?
First, in relation to the mining tax: I know Senator Cormann believes he can get away with not telling Australians what he would cut, by trying to create economic fiction. These are the numbers you would have to deal with if you were on this side of the chamber, so grow up and deal with them. Grow up and deal with them, because that is what is required: a mature and responsible approach to these economic circumstances. The senator is waxing—
Senator Cormann interjecting—
Order! Senator Cormann, you are entitled to debate this at the end of question time, but debating it during the time that the minister is answering the question is disorderly. You are entitled to have the answer and the minister is entitled to give it to you in silence.
It is a little like the asylum-seeker issue. The opposition want to pretend that they can fix the budget magically, without telling anybody what they would really cut. In terms of the mining tax, they want to pretend this is an issue only over the mining tax. Let me tell you the economic facts: the mining tax write-down is a fraction of the revenue write-down that is in the federal budget—a fraction. That excuse is not going to work. (Time expired)
The budget is a range of choices around the future and for the future, savings decisions—some of which have already been criticised by those opposite—and a pathway to surplus. I remind those opposite, in the face of their hysteria, that the AAA credit rating on the back of the budget has been reaffirmed by all three credit rating agencies, despite your hyperbole and your saying that the sky is going to fall.
But what I will say is this: we have laid out our plan for the Australian people; where is yours? They come in here and they say, 'We'd fix everything, we'd have bigger surpluses.' Well, what would you cut? What would you cut? Would you cut pensions? Would you cut Medicare? Would you cut the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme? Will you walk away from DisabilityCare? Will you hack into our universities and our research? Tell people what you would cut. Universities have grown 75 per cent under us. There has been a 75 per cent increase under Labor governments. (Time expired)
Mike, stop interrupting! My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong. Can the minister outline to the Senate how last night's budget supports jobs and growth, sets a pathway to surplus and makes smart investments for our future? In particular, how does the budget make our economy stronger, make our nation smarter—pay attention there—and make our society fairer?
The budget that the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister delivered last night was a Labor budget to keep the economy strong, to make the right investments, the smart investments, for our future and to ensure that every Australian gets a fair go. Whilst a government cannot choose all of the economic circumstances it confronts, it can choose its priorities. On this side of the parliament, we chose to support jobs and growth, we chose a stronger economy and we chose to build a smarter nation and a fairer society.
I want to turn first to the strong economic performance of the Australian nation. I know those opposite hate the good news on jobs, don't they? Who would have thought patriotic Australians would actually hate job creation, would actually hate the fact that over 950,000 jobs have been created since this government came to power and would hate the fact that the economy is 13 per cent bigger than when the government was elected? Who would have thought those on the other side would want to go around saying what a dreadful position it is that Australia has one of the strongest economies in the developed world! They do not want to acknowledge that. But even Mr Howard, on Friday, said:
When the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and others tell you that the Australian economy is doing better than most—they are right.
It is amazing. I have not heard John Howard praise the Labor government before and I disagree with almost everything he did, but I will take the recognition—the recognition of the strength of the Australian economy. Of course, overnight we also saw, as I have mentioned, the AAA credit rating reaffirmed by all three credit rating agencies. (Time expired)
As I said, budgets are about choices. They are about what sort of future you want for the Australian nation. We made our priorities very clear last night—first, that we would put jobs and growth first; and, second, that despite the hit to revenues, despite the difficult budget circumstances the nation found itself in, we would make room for two key priorities that are very important reforms that will transform the nation. The first of those is DisabilityCare. It is the next stage of Medicare, it is long overdue and it is ensuring that people with a significant and permanent disability in this country finally get the support and the services that they need.
We are also ensuring we invest in a smarter nation, investing in our schools. We on this side do not believe it is in the spirit of the Australian fair go that too many children get left behind because of their postcodes, and we have made room for that investment. (Time expired)
There is no alternative approach. The only approach that has been outlined by Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey is: 'Just leave it with us and we'll get back to you after the election. We'll tell you after the election just what we will cut.' Well, the reality is this: either those opposite accept the savings measures the government has put on the table or, if they do not want to take them, they tell Australians what else they will cut or they confess that they are actually going to have bigger deficits. Those are the economic facts.
The reality is that we have an opposition leader and an opposition Treasury spokesperson who do not want to let Australians in on the secret, on what their real plans are, on what their real cuts are, on the fact that they would cut to the bone, because that is always what the Liberal Party does, were they to win— (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister for Human Services and the Minister representing the Minister for Disability Reform, Senator McLucas. I refer the minister to page 4 of the budget related paper entitled 'DisabilityCare Australia', in which there is a graph headed 'Meeting the costs of DisabilityCare Australia'. The graph covers the period 2012-13 to 2022-23 and it purports to show full funding of the NDIS over the decade. The so-called savings in this graph include a category called 'Other long-term savings', 'Selected long-term savings from 2013-14 Budget and 2012-13 MYEFO'. Can the minister please disaggregate these unidentified and unquantified savings and advise the Senate what they are?
I thank the senator for the question and for his interest in delivering a national disability insurance scheme to our country. The Australian government is committed to delivering the fundamental change needed to make sure that people with disability get the care and support they need to participate as much as possible in education, in work and in community life. I am so pleased that we now have historic agreements with all states, except Western Australia, to roll out the full scheme. DisabilityCare Australia will give people with disability, their families and their carers the care and support they need over their lifetimes and choice and control over the services they receive.
In our 2013-14 budget the Australian government has invested $14.3 billion in new funding over seven years to move towards full implementation of DisabilityCare Australia, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, by July 2019. The funding will provide funded support and care packages for DisabilityCare Australia and for local area coordinators and assessments. Assistance to people with a disability not eligible for an—
Mr President, a point of order on relevance: I have taken a while and let the clock run down because I was hoping that the minister would get to the substantive answer to my question, which was very specific. It related to the category termed 'Other long-term savings' in the graph on page 4 of the document to which I referred, which has a subcategory 'Selected long-term savings from 2013-14 Budget and 2012-13 MYEFO'. The question to the minister was to disaggregate that particular category. The minister has referred to a headline figure of investment, which I am aware of, but the question was to disaggregate that particular category to which I referred.
Thank you, Mr President. I think the context is important, but I do take your direction. Can I also indicate to the Senate that the 2013-14 budget measures provide funding of $14.3 billion over the seven years to 1 July 2019. The measures include new funding of $1.9 billion for transition to full schemes, $3.8 billion in 2017-18 and $6.2 billion in 2018-19. But the responsible savings that the senator refers to include reforms to the government’s assistance for private health insurance, reforms to retirement incomes and the phase-out of the net medical expenses tax offset as DisabilityCare rolls out, and other long-term savings decisions in the 2013-14 budget. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. At the end of that answer the minister referred to the other long-term savings, which is actually the matter of the primary question. If the minister is unable to disaggregate those other long-term savings, perhaps she could just give me a total figure for the period 2012-13 to 2022-23. Perhaps she could give me that headline figure.
As the Senate will know, in the last two years we have worked very hard with the community of Australia to deliver and design a national disability insurance scheme. I would suggest that the questions the senator is asking are the sorts of questions that we have Senate estimates for, so I encourage him to bring them to the Senate estimates when we convene in a couple of weeks.
I would have thought that question time on the day after the budget was exactly the forum to ask questions of this nature. Let me put it another way to the minister: is it not the case that money, including the so-called saves that I referred to before, is fungible and the only funding that is guaranteed for the NDIS will be the hypothecated levy funds? Is it not also true that the levy funds will cover less than half the required additional Commonwealth funds in the post-launch period?
Our government has a plan for people with disability in this country. Our plan will deliver individualised care packages and personal care and support to every Australian who needs personalised care and support, except unfortunately those currently in Western Australia. We have worked hard to devise the funding that now sits beside the legislation that has passed through this chamber. Tomorrow we hope that we will receive the legislation that will deliver the funding elements that will give families and people with disability the certainty they need that they will have a National Disability Insurance Scheme not for four years but for their lives.