Senate debates

Thursday, 26 June 2014



4:23 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Moore, I move:

That the Senate notes the Government's Budget is an affront to Australians' sense of fairness.

Mr Acting Deputy President Furner, can I also make note of the fact that this is your last session in the chair. I commend you on the way in which you have conducted yourself in the chair, which has been with humility and a sense of humour. I congratulate you. I know that I share with others in this chamber when I say that we will miss your contribution.

I rise today to reflect on what this current Abbott government is doing to this country and how the coalition's 'budget of broken promises' is hurting Australians who are already under significant cost of living pressures. Those on this side, those opposite and the Australian people know that Tony Abbott's vision for this country is built on a web of deceit, lies and policies which hurt low-income people, families, pensioners, students and job seekers.

Unfortunately of late, this place has become a political plaything for the current government. The Abbott government continues to try to pass legislation which is detrimental to Australians—more specifically, low-income families and low-income earners and, more recently, small business and industry. The coalition continues to spin lies to the Australian people about the financial strength and economic resilience of this country. However, the Australian people see through this. The Australian people understand the strength and resilience of the Australian economy and they know in their hearts that the coalition lied their way into government and that they fabricated the sense of a crisis. It was a shameful and deceitful way to seek to govern this country. Those lies have continued and are continually rolled out on a daily basis in this chamber.

The first Abbott-Hockey budget will go down in our country's history as a budget which tried to prosecute a shift in the Australian way of life—a shift in the very nature of how our country operates. It is a budget which attacks the very principle which makes this country the greatest country on earth—egalitarianism. The principle of egalitarianism permeates our culture, but this principle was hung, drawn and quartered in the first Abbott-Hockey budget. It was undoubtedly treated as a principle of insignificance by those opposite. It was tossed aside with blatant disregard, and those opposite cannot hide from this fact. They have done very little to try to defend this heartless budget.

We are the party which will defend the principle of egalitarianism, because Labor understands its importance to our history and our society. It is who we are; it is who we will always be. We will always be governed by the principle of egalitarianism because we understand it to be a principle which has served our country well. We as Australians understand that we should not leave our neighbours behind. Over the last 100 years, a social contract has been shaped in this country. It is a contract of principles which conducts the Australian way of life: access to universal healthcare and education; a fair and secure pension system; support for people who cannot work due to disability or caring responsibilities; and support that helps to get people into work. Over the last 100 years, Australians have fought for these principles and defended them at all costs. Successive Labor governments have stood by these principles because we believe they are fundamentally right. We have strengthened these principles to ensure that Australia is a place of fairness and that there is prosperity for all. Australians are rightly proud of a society which cherishes these principles.

Since it entered office, this government has failed in its responsibility to maintain and further strengthen these principles of the Australian way of life. Those opposite have engaged in a determined effort to change the way in which Australians see each other—that is what they are trying to do. They are determined to tear away at the fabric of what makes this country so great. This does not serve our country, it does not serve our society and it certainly does not serve our democracy. This government's attempts to do this will be resisted, because we on this side of the chamber will stand up for the principles of equity and fairness in our community.

Labor is working hard here in the Senate and in the other place to fight against the budget cuts to schools, universities, hospitals, pensions and family benefits. These cuts are not only deeply unfair; they represent reckless economic policy, because education and health are critical to Australia's future prosperity. As I have said on numerous occasions, we must invest in health and education because these are the bedrock of Australia's future security. And what does this government do? It rips away $80 billion in education and health funding and leaves the states out in the cold to wither away and die a very slow death

I am sure that those opposite have been keeping tabs on the media in relation to the effect this budget is having on their state colleagues in Victoria.

This Abbott government has engaged in wilful conduct to hurt low-income families, pensioners, students and job seekers. And Australians are aware of this. They are alert to the deceit and destruction by those opposite. They are standing as one in their condemnation of the first Abbott-Hockey budget. Australians are protesting across the country against this budget. Yet another protest will be held in my home state on Saturday, because the Tasmanian community have already felt the impact of this budget, let alone what will be theirs to endure when finally the state Liberal government brings down its budget in August.

The amount of correspondence to my office alone is unprecedented. And it would be no different for my colleagues on this side of the chamber. People are writing to us and contacting us through all mediums to enlighten us about how they are feeling about the impact of this harsh and heartless budget. Australians loathe this budget because they will be affected dramatically by its measures.

Let me start by reviewing the coalition's attack on pensioners and families. The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill 2014 and the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014 are perhaps the most significant legislation in Australia's history, because they represent a direct attack on families and pensioners. Both legislative instruments are built on Liberal lies and will push up the cost of living for all Australians. These bills betray Australia's 3.2 million pensioners, who were promised by the Prime Minister before the election that there would be no changes to their pensions. They are hateful measures which will impair the living standards of age pensioners, disability support pensioners, veterans and carers.

Hundreds of thousands of senior Australians, who have worked their entire life, will have their payments cut. These bills also include a cut of $1.1 billion through the abolition of the seniors supplement for older Australians. This payment of $876 to people who receive the Commonwealth seniors health card will be gone. Further, the government is cutting $1.3 billion in pensioner and Commonwealth seniors health card holder concessions that help pay for their water and electricity bills and their rates and public transport. And, Mr Acting Deputy President, as you well know, that is not all. I wish it was, but it is not. Further pension cuts will follow. They may not be tomorrow, but they are coming. These bills also seek to increase the pension age to 70.

These bills are disastrous for all Australians who believe in a fair and caring society. And why are these measures necessary? Because the Prime Minister wants to pay $50,000 to wealthy women to take six months off work to have a baby through his $22 billion unfair and unaffordable Paid Parental Leave scheme.

These bills represent a total of $7.5 billion in cuts to family payments. Those opposite are tearing down family payments. And low-income families will be the worst off under this budget. Family tax benefits will be frozen by those opposite. A freeze to the low-income free area for FTB A alone will see more than 370,000 Australian families around $750 a year worse off in 2016-17. Further, the Department of Social Services has revealed that 700,000 families will lose their FTB B if the government gets its way and kicks families off the payment when their youngest child turns six years of age.

These vicious cuts have been brought down by an arrogant government. They will hurt these families and will hit my home state of Tasmania extremely hard. That is not all. The Prime Minister is trying to abolish the schoolkids bonus. Families will lose $410 per year per primary-aged child and $820 a year per secondary-aged child. A single income family on $65,000 with two school-aged children will be around $6,000 worse off each year by 2016 because of those opposite. Do those opposite care? Clearly they do not, or they would not be condemning these families and hurting these families in the manner in which this budget is doing.

Further to these attacks on families, the coalition wants to attack every other citizen of this country with the new $7 GP tax and $5 tax on prescriptions. I can assure the Australian people that Labor will vote against these new taxes when these bills are voted on in this place.

Now, I am not finished. This budget has more broken promises and twisted priorities, which continue with a further attack on the cost of living, with a 'great big new tax' which pushes up prices on everything. The increased petrol excise tax will not only hurt individual motorists; it will cripple small businesses across the country. Labor will vote against the government's plans to increase fuel excise, because of the cost-of-living impact on low- and middle-income earners, which will be so detrimental to their budgets.

You must be thinking: 'Who else could this government hurt?' Who else could they slug with cuts or a new tax?' Students. Students are just starting out in life. They are looking to better themselves and want to contribute to the prosperity of this country, and Tony Abbott sees them as an easy target. Increasing university fees and student debt—

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Polley, you should refer to the Prime Minister in the correct title.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Tony Abbott sees them as an easy target. It does not matter whether we call him Mr Abbott or the Prime Minister. He is attacking the most vulnerable in our community in this budget.

Students and those going to university will not go without being scarred by this budget. These students will leave university and graduate with a second mortgage which will hurt any hope that they have of being able to buy a house and having a housing mortgage. Every student will be hurt. Again, I can assure you that Labor will vote against these measures. While the government is bullying the new crossbench senators to vote for cuts and a tax on families, pensioners, students and jobseekers, Labor's Senate team will work with the crossbench to oppose the budget's unfair cuts.

Before this election, Mr Abbott promised a fair go for families. I do not think those opposite know the meaning of those words. Let us now reflect on the aged-care policy. As you would know, it is an area that I have some responsibility in. It is an area that I know most Australian families have an interest in. Right now, we have an aged baby boomer population entering retirement, so we need to take some serious action. What did we see in this place today from a government, who, when they were last in government and sitting on the government benches, did not have the vision or the fortitude to address the needs, changes and reforms that were needed in aged care? They did not have the foresight or the vision to do that. It was up to the Labor government. When we came in, we developed the Living Longer. Living Better. aged-care policy. We took on the issue that needed to be done.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Yes, that is quite right, Senator Bilyk. How many did they have? I cannot recall now. Was it six? Was it eight ministers when they bothered to have a Minister for Aged Care when they were under the Howard government? Now, they do not even have a Minister for Aged Care.

They have a government and a minister who is totally out of touch with aged care. On the last day of sitting before the new Senate, what did we have? An announcement by Senator Fifield in relation to the Dementia Supplement, which has been dumped. What did the people sitting on the government benches do? They tried to blame, yet again, the previous Labor government for an issue that we tried to address, because we understand that not only do we have an ageing population but the rate of people with dementia is increasing exponentially. What did we do in government? We introduced a Dementia Supplement. What did those on the opposite side do? Senator Fifield stood up in the Senate in question time today to announce he is axing the Dementia and Severe Behaviours Supplement, because of a larger than expected uptake of the supplement, and he tried to blame Labor for this situation. The aged-care sector and the minister's department knew this was an issue late last year and had every opportunity to act before it reached this level and before the budget was announced. What did he do? He did nothing. He was sitting back, waiting to see whether he should take his head out of the sand, just as they did under the Howard government when they failed to do the heavy lifting when it came to aged care. Senator Fifield had the audacity to claim the supplement had been bad policy when he had spent the previous nine months avoiding the issue and doing nothing. Why was he doing nothing? Because he has no plans for aged care.

They have no plans when it comes to education. They have no plans when it comes to real investment in infrastructure. The only plan that they have is to raise taxes and to cut funding. We know that, in aged care, they already took the $1.1 billion away from those who work in the sector and from those that do the heavy lifting day in, day out by looking after older Australians. Our senior citizens deserve better from this government. What they really need is a minister for ageing, because it is quite blatantly obvious that those that have the responsibility currently for aged care do not have the vision, the strength or the convictions to ensure that the aged-care sector goes forward. They have no answers or vision for those challenges facing that sector going forward over the next 20 and 30 years. They do not consult with the sector, because, if they did, they would not know better. Those people that are suffering from dementia, those people who happen to look after them and those families deserve better from this government. (Time expired)

4:43 pm

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As should always be the case, when there are two parties—I do not mean political parties but two parties generally—who are not agreed on a topic, a subject matter, a fact or an opinion, every effort should be made by those parties in the beginning of a debate to find and agree upon those issues. I open by saying that I doubt that there is anybody on this side of the Senate chamber or amongst the majority of Australians who would agree with the statement that the government's budget this year was an affront to an Australian's sense of fairness.

In endeavouring to touch upon those things that I believe we can agree on with our colleagues in the opposition, I suggest that we all here in this place and, indeed, in the government and, I expect, in all walks of life in Australia want equality for all. There is no contest between us in relation to that ideal. We want to see the application of fairness and equity in our decision making, particularly when it applies to public policy and the introduction of initiatives that will affect all Australians. We all want to see the following generations have access, as did I, to affordable education and affordable health services. In fact, we want that education and those health services to be cutting edge, best-practice education and health services that compete significantly with those provided generally in the developed world.

I am sure colleagues from the other side would agree that we want to do whatever we can to help Australians, large and small, no matter what their circumstances, to realise their full potential. For some, that may be that they want to invest in small business. For others, it might be a technical or low-skilled career. Indeed, it could be any of the professions that are available in Australia—professions that are highly regarded when having cognizance of our skills base here compared to other parts of the world. We agree on the ideals of home ownership or, at least, housing markets that allow people access to affordable accommodation if their circumstances do not allow them to afford their own property. I suspect all of us in this place are agreed on the ideal of sustainability in agriculture and primary production to the best extent that we can, given our circumstances, in nurturing one of our greatest resources, the nation of Australia, as it feeds us and contributes to our economy and provides food and fibre for other parts of our region and, indeed, the world, particularly those in developing areas who are themselves striving to an ideal of a middle class.

So the ideal of having an egalitarian society is one that I think is fairly shared by us all, but I can say that all of the things that I have spoken about—all of those ideals and objectives that I am sure colleagues across this chamber agree upon—cannot be achieved without an economic capacity. I have now been in business for a very long period of time. My family have been blessed in business. This nation and, indeed, my state of Queensland have nourished us wonderfully. For that, I am particular grateful. But I learnt very, very early in my business career that you simply have to have more income than expenditure if it is your intention to have a successful business over a long period of time. In fact, before I went into business, along with my dear late wife I learnt very early in my married career that, unless your income exceeded your expenditure patterns, there were difficulties. Oftentimes the gap could only be filled with debt.

We look at patterns that occurred between the fifties and the sixties in household budgets, prior to the onset of the ready availability of credit and then the very ready availability of credit cards and the ability to access money through so many mediums to make purchases, where our society became somewhat insulated from the cost of what it was doing, and we see household debts and, in many instances, business debts levels—as per the asset capacity of businesses and private homes—increasing by hundreds and hundreds of per cent over those couple of decades.

There really are only a few ways that a long-term budget can function and, when a budget comes out of balance, you have to make productivity gains to cut back on your expenditure, cut spending full stop or increase income. In the case of governments, with the increasing of income, that can generally only happen through taxes and charges.

Governments are not immune from our basic principle that either budgets have to balance or borrowings have to be invested only in projects, particularly infrastructure, that will promote increased productivity that will of course, in turn, affect increases in the broad tax base that a nation, and particularly Australia, relies upon.

On the question of an Australian's sense of fairness, I think that statement would be challenged when one has regard to the fact that the previous government incurred five budget deficits in a row, leaving the coalition with a legacy of over $100 billion that was projected, if there were no fundamental structural changes to the economy, to rise to some $667 billion within a decade. These are the figures of the Treasury; they are not the workings of the coalition.

As a result of the coalition's Economic Action Strategy, which I suggest would appeal to an Australian's sense of fairness, the debt in 2023-24, as a result of the measures taken in the recent budget, will be $300 billion lower, at $389 billion, as opposed to the aforementioned projected $667 billion.

The International Monetary Fund warned that, without policy change, Australia would record the fastest spending growth of the top 17 surveyed advanced economies in the world. I promise you that, over time, one of those things that is present in almost every failed business enterprise that has been within my scope of knowledge is where you borrow money to fund increased spending growth within your business, where there is no plan to address the debt and no plan to address the deficits in your business. Ultimately, the music stops. And, when the music stops, there is often no chair to sit on.

The Monetary Fund also indicated that, between 2012 and 2018, we as a nation had the third largest increase in net debt as a share of the economy. I listen to commentary in this space, I listen to the criticisms and I listen to the ideas that are shared across this chamber as to what we ought now do post budget and one of the features I note with every suggestion put to the coalition is: we need to continue to spend money that we do not have.

I can tell you, with some certainty, that that will be seen as an affront to an Australian's sense of fairness. Australians have become aware of the potential of a perilous economic situation if debt is not reined in and if we do not do something to deal with the progressive structural deficits that are now presenting.

Again, not the politician but the businessman in me tells you that this will not be solved by spending more money, in particular, spending more money that the country does not have. That indeed would offend an Australian's sense of fairness.

If these deficits had been allowed to continue, they would have been the longest stretch of deficits since the Second World War. This year's interest bill alone could build a world-class teaching hospital in every capital city in Australia or, indeed, applying it to the circumstances in my home state of Queensland, it could duplicate the Pacific Highway, from Coolangatta through to Cairns and beyond—a project that would, if we could afford to do it and if we did not have to devote that money to debt servicing, generate one of the largest stimulations to this nation's economy that has ever been seen.

Figures of the type that we speak about, if broken down and returned to each federal electorate, would result in each member of the House of Representatives being able to take back to their constituents $80 million during their term of this parliament alone. The impact of these things permeates across all aspects of government spending. Indeed, during the term of the previous government we saw investment in defence fall to 1.56 per cent of GDP in the fiscal year 2012-13, the lowest level of defence spending since 1938.

We saw a 10.5 per cent cut in the 2012 budget, which was the biggest cut since the Korean conflict. That, I think, would offend the sense of fairness of many Australians. I want to be very cautious here. I am not laying this statement at the feet of anybody; I am just stating a fact. But many Australian families have made a very large investment in the defence of our nation and I think they are entitled to see, as a minimum, able defence and properly funded defence as one of the focuses of any government of any persuasion. And so it is in the context of referring to Australia's sense of fairness that I make that observation.

During the previous government—whilst we are on the subject of fairness—household health costs increased by 35 per cent. I think that would fail the test of fairness. Education costs increased by 39 per cent. I think that would fail the test of sense of fairness. Indeed, whilst talking about education and health, one of the things that everybody in this place needs to do is to be honest and open with the Australian people when they refer to free health and education systems. The two things in our society today which governments are largely responsible for delivering, health and education, are a long way from being free.

They may be free for some who have made their way through life either not making a contribution because of their circumstances or because they are simply indolent, but I promise you, someone pays for health and education. I am proud to say that I have made my contribution along with many in my family and I promise you it is not free. Therefore I think that if Australians take the time, when the dust settles and some of the white noise disappears around this budget—and I see evidence that that is happening—they will understand that it is with a sense of fairness that all Australians, no matter what their circumstances are or what for many will be a minor way, will contribute to ensuring that we continue to provide affordable health services, some of the most affordable in the world.

I want to close by simply saying to those who would criticise the budget and those who would make the case that it is an affront to Australia's sense of fairness, that they should probably travel a little bit more to some other points of the earth. Again, through my business interests I am well travelled and I promise you that even if a fraction of what we are able to deliver to our people in Australia, which I think meets our Australian sense of fairness and equity, were delivered to some of the developing nations in our region and across the world, they would be delighted. Of the 25 million Australians, if there are some who are affronted by the sense of fairness of budgets that will maintain our standard of living, I recommend they buy themselves a ticket. (Time expired)

5:03 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, rise to speak on the general business motion. Since Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey handed down their first budget we have spoken a lot about broken promises. We have, of course, the Prime Minister's promise that there would be no cuts to pensions, no cuts to health and no cuts to education. Mr Abbott told the Australian people that it was an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not, and must not, say one thing before an election and do another thing after the election. What we have seen is this government and this Prime Minister doing exactly that.

So of course, in order to break the promises they made to the Australian people, and the Australian people accepted in good faith, they have had to manufacture a budget emergency. We heard quite a lot of that in Senator O'Sullivan's contribution. I would like to put on the record here today in the words of our shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, that the Charter of Budget Honesty makes it harder for the new Treasurer to engage in these tricks. So Mr Hockey has gone to extraordinary lengths in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, making an unwarranted and unasked for grant to the Reserve Bank and changing economic parameters and assumptions to double the forecast budget deficit by adding $68 billion to it since the election for the base political purpose of both demonising the record of the previous government and providing an alibi for cuts he always intended to make.

This budget is cruel and it is harsh. It is an attack on the long-held value of fairness—a fair-go for all Australians. It is an affront to Australia's sense of fairness. The measures in this budget are not fair for millions of Australians who will struggle to survive, and be condemned to a life of despair and poverty. It breaks the promise of hope, of fairness, of a future that sits at the heart of our great country. We will not support measures that destroy the fair-go that Australia has been built on and of which we are all justifiably proud—a kind and caring country where people look after each other.

The character of a government is best reflected by its budget. A government's budget tells more about its character, about its priorities and about what drives it than any slogan or glossy brochure ever could. And what this budget tells us about the Abbott government is stark. This is a government that offers no hope, no plans for growth, a government that offers only inequality and unfairness.

In his budget speech Mr Hockey said that the budget 'must always be about people'—about people. This is a galling statement by the Treasurer. This budget is not about people. This budget is not even about debt or deficit or the budget bottom lines. Rather, it is about the twisted values and flawed ideology of the Abbott government. In his budget reply speech the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, said that we, Labor:

still believe in an Australia that includes everyone, that helps everyone, that lets everyone be their best, that leaves no-one behind.

This is the Australia that I know, that I work for and that those opposite so easily forget and cast aside. This is the Australia with a sense of fairness and equality at its heart that Labor will always fight for.

In his book Battlelines Mr Abbott writes:

… conservative side of politics normally has to overcome the popular impression that the Labor Party believes in fairness while the Liberal Party just believes in good economic management. In my experience, the Liberals are hardly less passionate about fairness than members of the Labor Party.

On the contrary, Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott's first budget shows that he and his government are hardly passionate about fairness. This budget is not fair, and people are worried. The government knows that people are worried. I am sure that they are receiving the same emails, the same constituent calls, the same letters talking to them asking them to reconsider some of the harsher measures in their budget.

This budget is not fair, and it will leave millions of Australians worse off. The budget is not fair, and that is why people who speak to me are outraged and fearful, and that is why Labor will fight measures in this budget to ensure that we preserve a fair go for everyone. Those opposite argue that the draconian budget measures are necessary because we are living beyond our means. And that is not true. We know that under Labor there was low inflation, low interest rates and around a million new jobs created. We had low debt by world standards when Labor left office. Our net government debt was around 12 per cent of GDP, when other advanced economies around the world averaged 74.9 per cent.

Labor supports responsible savings, and this is what we did in office. In looking at savings measures, Labor always weighs up two considerations: the impact on long-term fiscal sustainability, and fairness. That is because on this side we do not believe that we need to choose between economic development and fairness. Unlike those opposite, we do not think our nation has to choose between growth and being fair. We know that budgets necessarily involve choices. But this is not a choice that we believe has to be made, because it is a false choice. Those opposite have set up this false choice on the basis of false claims, including claims that we are spending too much on welfare. These claims do not stand up. We spend less on welfare than any other country across the OECD except Iceland. If government expenditure is a problem, why would the Prime Minister want to pay wealthy women $50,000 to have a baby—a paid parental scheme that will cost $22 billion? Is that fair?

The Tasmanians I speak to do not believe it is fair. They are worried and scared about what their future and their children's future holds because of the Abbott government's budget. People are shocked by the government's decision to make $80 billion in savage cuts to schools and hospitals. Others are deeply concerned by the vicious cuts to family payments. One mother wrote to me that she feared she would not be able to pay her rent because she would lose $100 a fortnight under the changes to Family Tax Benefit Part B. She is distressed that she may not be able to provide a home for her two children, and she knows she will never be able to afford to pay for braces for her teenage daughter. A retired lady emailed me to tell me how the removal of the concessions will affect her and her husband. She gets a part pension and already lives very frugally. She rightly points out that the real impact of this budget is hidden in the detail. She says that the removal of the concessions will be, in her words, 'devastating'.

Perhaps most telling are the letters and emails I have received from Tasmanians saying that while they will not be adversely affected by the budget, because they are on high incomes, they are upset about the treatment of low-income earners and people who rely on a helping hand from the government to survive. They know this is not fair; it is not the Australian way. Those already struggling will bear the brunt of this budget. They will do the Treasurer's heavy lifting. Sick people will have to find an extra $7 for the GP tax every time they go to the doctor. But of course we know that the GP tax payment is not going towards the so-called budget deficit; it is going to the Future Fund. They argue this case, they manufacture a debt emergency, but then they put in extreme, harsh measures that will affect the sick and those who can little afford it, and it is not even going towards the budget deficit. It does not make sense. It can only be because of an ideologically driven meanness; that is all it can be.

So, people ask how they can afford to take their children to the doctor and, if they have to have a prescription to fill, how they will afford the extra $5 for that. Mr Hockey's attempts to dismiss the impact of the $7 GP tax demonstrates just how out of touch this government really is. They show callous disregard for the financial pressures facing average Australian families. One pensioner wrote to me about the impact of the $7 GP tax. She said she had recently been to the doctor, who sent her for a blood test and then called her back to discuss the results. This led to new blood tests and an ultrasound and another visit to the doctor to get the results. This pensioner said she would have been $42 out of pocket in two weeks. This is what she said:

I would not have spent the $42 on beer or cigarettes. It would probably go towards my power bill or food. I am, however, more concerned that children will not receive the medical care they need because some parents must decide between food and medical treatment.

The GP tax is not fair. Surely the lucky country can do better than this. There should be no choice for parents as to whether they feed their children or take them to the doctor.

It is not just pensioners and people on low incomes who are worried about the GP tax. The Australian Medical Association, which supports some co-payments is emphatic about the $7 GP tax. The AMA president, neurosurgeon Brian Owler, said of the tax:

The co-payment is unfair and unnecessary. Ideology has pushed this proposal too far. The Prime Minister should step in and scrap this policy.

So, to be very clear, the peak doctors body, the AMA, says 'no' to the GP tax because it is unfair.

The budget is unfair in so many ways because it targets those who can least afford it. People will be faced with difficult decisions that could have a huge impact on their ability to engage in work and education, their health and the opportunities they have to go out and have a meaningful life.

Parents are not telling me that they are going to have to give up a takeaway coffee, but they are worried about being able to buy fresh food, meat and vegetables for their children. People are telling me that going to the doctor or filling a script will come at the expense of other essentials—petrol for the car or money for rent or the power bill. Pensioners are telling me that they will no longer be able to afford a bus ticket to go to the shops or to their neighbourhood centre or to visit friends or relatives. Families are telling me that their children will not be able to participate in school activities and sports. We are talking about people becoming socially excluded from their communities.

Services that provide food and emergency relief are telling me they do not know how they will meet the expected increase in demand for support. It is pensioners who tell me they are going hungry because they cannot afford to buy food as well as pay the rent and have a heater on. We know that pensioners and seniors have nothing to celebrate from this budget.

This budget will slash the current indexation system, which helps pensions keep pace with the cost of living. Had Mr Abbott's new indexation system been in place for the last four years, a single pensioner on the maximum rate would be around $1,500 a year worse off than they are today. Mr Abbott's decision to increase the pension age to 70 by 2035 will mean Australians will have to work longer, and their pension will be significantly reduced when they finally do get to retire. I know many people, especially blue-collar workers, low-income workers and women, will simply not be able to work until they are 70.

When Labor increased the pension age to 67 our decision was supported by a comprehensive review into Australia's pension system. This government has provided no evidence to support an increase in the age pension age to 70. We know that increasing the age pension age to 70 will mean Australia has the highest pension age across the OECD. This budget also abolishes the Pensioner Education Supplement, from 1 January 2015, which is currently $62.40 or $31.20 a fortnight for pensioners undertaking approved study. Seniors who have accumulated modest savings to support themselves in retirement will also be hit by the abolition of the Seniors Supplement for holders of the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, after the June 2014 payment. None of these budget changes are good for pensioners or seniors or anyone looking to retire.

Those setting out to start their careers will also be hit unfairly by this budget. In my home state of Tasmania, the changes in this budget to tertiary education hit the University of Tasmania with a massive $30 million cut. A massive cut. Many parents and students have contacted me to say that they will not now be able to go to university, because they simply will not be able to afford it. We know that more than $172 million will be cut from equity funding for low-income students attending university. This will do nothing to help students from low- and middle-income families from fulfilling their ambition to go to university. They will be discouraged from studying because they will be faced with crippling debts.

This makes a mockery of Tony Abbott's learn or earn mantra. Young Tasmanians already struggle to get a job. Access to higher education not only benefits students but is also important for the development of a more vibrant economy. Without equitable access to higher education, Tasmania will not be able to build a strong and smart economy in the 21st century. Mature age students who want to improve their skills and chances of getting a job will also be faced with higher fees and possible cuts to the subjects being offered. I have had young Tasmanians write to me, including several who already have university degrees but cannot get a job.

Other young people have asked me what happens if they are retrenched. The Newstart arrangements in the Budget have people very worried. They are very unfair and harsh on all job seekers under the age of 30. They expect young job seekers under the age of 30 to have no support whatsoever when they look for work. A person aged under 30 who loses their job through no fault of their own will get nothing from this government for six months. They will not receive one cent. At the same time, the government is asking for the same job seekers, who receive no support whatsoever, to look for 40 jobs a month. They get no support and no money—not one cent. So how will they survive? What will they live on? Where will they live? How will they afford to prepare job applications or even get a job interview? Not everyone has a family who can support them for six months.

Contrary to the government's view, young people in Tasmania are not unemployed because they lack skills, qualifications or motivation to find work. There simply are not enough jobs. In parts of my home state, youth unemployment is as high as 20 per cent. That is one in five young Tasmanians who do not have a job. People who are living from fortnight to fortnight are already struggling with the cost of living, and these are the people who are hit the hardest by this budget. It is very difficult to find anyone who does not suffer because of the budget—unless you are wealthy. The budget pain for many has come from the decision to scrap the low-income superannuation contribution. This will mean 3.6 million low-paid workers will lose a yearly tax refund of up to $500. How on earth anyone in the government can say this is a fair budget is beyond me. It is an unfair budget. It is an affront to Australians. (Time expired)

5:23 pm

Photo of Alan EgglestonAlan Eggleston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The subject of this debate is that the government budget is an affront to the Australian sense of fairness. What a nonsensical proposition that is, if ever there was one! This government, the Abbott government, is committed to fairness and equity for all Australians. But on coming to office, the government found that the Labor government had left a projected deficit of $667 billion. I will just repeat it so you can think about it: $667,000 million. That is an enormous amount of money. After the Keating government left office they left a deficit of $70 billion—another large amount in the money of that time. It took the Howard government its entire period of office to pay off that $70 billion debt. But here we have this absolutely extraordinary debt of $667 billion left by the Rudd-Gillard government. It is almost beyond belief. What is the reason for this? How did this happen after the Howard government brought our budget back into balance? It is because the Labor governments under Gillard and Rudd had been up to their old tricks of living beyond the national means.

The national budget is very much like a family budget. You cannot live beyond your means without having consequences. Families who live off their credit cards and keep on getting more cards eventually come to a point where the credit card debt has got to be repaid. When the credit card debt cannot be repaid, the banks move in. They foreclose the mortgage on the house. They come and seize the car and other property. It is very sad to see it when it happens. But there is no basic difference, as I have said, between a family budget and a government budget. The Labor government was like a very irresponsible family that lost all sense of proportion in running up the credit card debt, and that is where the problem lay for the incoming Abbott government. We had this enormous debt to deal with, and the only answer to that is a stringent budget so that we can be responsible in spending and do everything possible to reduce debt. That is really the long and short of the story of this budget.

For the opposition to claim that the budget and its measures are an affront to the Australian sense of fairness totally misrepresents the facts. The Australian government is acting with a sense of responsibility—which means fairness, in my view—to the citizens of Australia to ensure that their currency value is maintained and that this country is living within its means. For the ALP senators to claim today that the responsible approach taken by the coalition is somehow wrong and shows a lack of sense of fairness is just bizarre, in my view. It is crazy. It is nonsensical to take that point of view. Is it fair, I might ask in response, for a family to put their home in jeopardy, to put in jeopardy their ability to feed themselves and their children and to put in jeopardy their ability to look after their family when they are ill? Is any of that fair? Well, of course it is not because a family that does that is acting irresponsibly in spending beyond its means and running everything up on credit cards.

There is nothing fair about putting families in financial jeopardy, and that is what Labor has consistently done in the years since Paul Keating came to office. It took the Howard government the term of its office to bring the budget back into balance and, again, we find that, after the Rudd-Gillard government, we have this unbelievable debt of $667 billion. That is massive, so tough measures are needed. It is kind toughness. This government is not an unfair government. This government is not putting people's lives or health or welfare in jeopardy. It is going to maintain services but it has also got to reduce debt, and that is what this budget is really all about. It is just total nonsense for the ALP to claim in this chamber that it shows that the government does not care and that it is breaching the Australian sense of fairness. It would be terribly unfair to have people put in a position where they could not feed their families, look after their kids or pay off their mortgages.

This budget is a key component of the Abbott government's economic action strategy that will build a stronger, more prosperous, safer and more secure Australia. The key message of this budget has been that Australia must contribute and build. This budget calls on everyone and every business to contribute, to join or grow the workforce, to boost productivity and to help build a stronger economy with more investment. The budget redirects taxpayers' dollars from unaffordable consumption today to productive investment for tomorrow. It does this while supporting the most vulnerable in the community—exactly the opposite of what this rather odd motion says it does—and takes significant steps towards ensuring that the government can live within its means. The Abbott government has reduced the Labor deficits by $43.8 billion through to 2017-18. Gross government debt is also forecast to be $389 billion—in other words, more or less half of what it is now—in the 2023-24 budget, compared with the $667,000 million debt that Labor left. The forecast includes providing for future tax relief to address bracket creep.

The signature budget reforms in the Hockey-Abbott budget mean that essentially the days of borrow and spend must come to an end and the time to contribute and build has begun. The infrastructure growth package will take the government's transport investment to $50 billion by 2019-20 and, as a result, total infrastructure investment from Commonwealth, state and local governments, as well as the private sector, will build to well over $125 billion by 2019-20. There will be full deregulation of the higher education sector, which will remove fee caps for universities and higher education providers and expand the demand-driven system to bachelor and sub-bachelor courses at all accredited higher education providers. Australian universities will be able to compete with the best in the world by having the freedom to innovate, a greater ability to invest in world-class research and the capacity to respond to the needs of students and businesses. Some fees may go up, but other fees are expected to fall.

The government will create the world's largest medical research endowment fund, the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, and contributions to the fund will come from a new patient contribution to health services and from other health savings from the budget. The endowment fund, when mature, will double the current direct medical research funding, with an additional $1 billion per year.

Young people with a work capacity will be required to be earning, learning or participating in Work for the Dole. Businesses will receive up to $10,000 for employing workers older than 50 who have been on income support for six months or more, meaning there will be stronger incentives to hire older workers.

Most importantly of all, the budget takes steps to ensure the government is living within its means and to rein in the age of entitlement. The government will reform the age pension to make it sustainable. That includes gradually increasing the pension age to 70 by 2035 and linking pension indexation to CPI movements from September 2017. Family payments will also be changed to target payments to those who need it most. Eligibility will be tightened on family tax benefit part B. Low-income single parents will be able to access new assistance of $750 per annum for each child aged between six and 12. All payment eligibility thresholds will be maintained for three years from 1 July 2014, for non-pension payments and allowances like Newstart, and from 1 July 2015 for private health insurance and so on.

This budget is very far from an affront to fairness, as the Labor Party claims that it is. This budget is going to look after the needy in our community, while practising fiscal responsibility. So we might ask: what is the overarching message of reforms to welfare and social services? Why is the government doing these things and how does this fit within our budget message? The government recognises there will be periods during people's lives when they will be unable or not expected to participate in the workforce, such as when they are raising a family, caring and so on. During these periods, the government will support those people who need to be supported. However, we think as a society we need to question whether we have made it too easy for people to not work or study when they have the capacity to do so.

And what about social security and welfare expenses, you might ask—what is the government going to do there? Is this going to be an affront to fairness, as the Labor Party claims it will be? Of course it is not. The Commonwealth social security and welfare expenses make up 35 per cent of the budget, or around $146 billion of expenses in 2014-15. This is a slight increase since 2013-14, when expenses were expected to be $144 billion. The reforms to social services and welfare which the Abbott government has introduced will reduce the medium-term growth in expenditure, and those medium-term projections show that payments in the 2023-24 budget year are now expected to be around $20 billion lower than the estimates at the 2013-14 MYEFO.

Yes, there will be change to pension payments and pensions, but again this is not an affront to fairness. It is responsible financial management. The government promised before the election there would be no cuts or changes to pensions during this term of government and the budget confirms this commitment. The government is making some long-term changes to pensions which include indexing the pension base rate to CPI from 2017-18, freezing the income and assets tests threshold for three years from 2017-18, resetting the deeming thresholds from 2017-18 and increasing the age to be eligible for the age pension to 70 by 2035. Is this reasonable, it might be asked. People are living most longer now and people are able to work for longer periods because they are fitter and healthier. Let us face it, if people are not out there doing something, working, then they often waste away or pass away. So in increasing the pension age to 70 we are recognising the reality of the greying of Australia, the so-called increasing age of the Australian population and the fact that most people in the population want to keep on doing things and if possible have a regular job because working gives people a sense of dignity and a sense of place and provides meaning to their lives. But, you might ask, since Labor has put up this terrible motion about an affront to the sense of fairness of Australians with this budget, what about current pensioners? Will they be affronted and feel that they are being dealt with unfairly? I think not, because in fact there will be no cuts or changes to pensions during this term of government. Changes, including the increase of the pension age, occur gradually and allow plenty of time for retirement planning.

Another issue that people worry about, having been scared by the ALP, is will any pension payments decrease per fortnight under the Abbott budget. The truth of the matter is that current pensioners who are still eligible for a pension from 1 July 2017 will not experience a decrease in their pension payment as a result of changes to indexation of thresholds and rates. The government is changing the way the pension payments increase. Pension payments will continue to increase after the changes come in. The changes to payment amounts represent forgone gains, not a reduction in dollar benefits, and payments will still go up, just by a little less than they might have otherwise. Resetting the deeming thresholds may result in a small number of pensioners receiving a lower rate due to being wrongly assessed as having more income than they actually did.

So how much, you might ask, will this to save over the forward estimates in the medium term? These changes to pensions will achieve savings of about $1.2 billion over the forward estimates. This saving comes in after the next election anyway. According to Treasury medium-term projections, savings in old age and service pensions are estimated to cost around $30 billion nominally over the 2018-19 to 2024-25 budgets. So it is long way away and it will be very gradual.

How does this compare with the previous arrangements? Previously the pension was indexed to the higher male total average weekly earnings pensioner and beneficiary living cost index. The government will achieve savings of around $1.5 billion over four years from 2014-15 by maintaining indexation of eligibility thresholds for Commonwealth payments for three years from 1 July 2014. A further saving of around $450 million over the same period will be generated by indexing pensions and equivalent payments and parenting payments for a single person by the consumer price index, or the CPI. According to Treasury medium-term projections, savings in age and service pensions are estimated at around $30 billion. Again it is a responsible approach being taken by the Abbott government.

I have sat in my office and listened to some of the really quite silly and outrageous claims made this afternoon by members of the ALP in the Senate about the total unfairness of this budget. I find it very disappointing that people who are responsible senators should be scaremongering in that way and seeking to frighten the Australian people when what the Abbott government is doing is acting in a very sensible, restrained and measured way to do something about bringing this $667,000 million deficit under control, reducing it so that Australia has some room to do new and innovative things, to introduce new government programs rather than being crippled by what must be one of the biggest debts in any nation's history when compared to our gross national product. It is quite ridiculous that otherwise sensible people who belong to the ALP should be putting forward such absolute nonsense. I can only say that I am completely mystified by their motivation when they know full well that the Abbott government budget is a very fiscally sound and totally responsible budget.

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Eggleston, for your contribution to this and many prior debates.

5:44 pm

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to make a contribution in respect to this notice of motion of the government's budget being an affront with Australia's sense of fairness. In doing so I would like to respond to Senator Eggleston's remarks in some regard. I do wish him well in his future; he has been in the Senate for a long period of time and is a very learned senator from Western Australia. I would like some explanation around the age of entitlement. We keep hearing of this value, or this reported position, that the government puts forward in respect to having a need to bring down a budget that affects virtually everyone in some way, shape or form. I am yet to hear the reasons behind why there is a need to harm and cast pain upon many, many people in society when they find out about the tax and the cuts that they will be presented with as a result of this Abbott-Hockey budget. It is not just us on this side that have been aerating those concerned; it is also the public. You would think that it is only the Labor Party presenting this argument, but it is not.

I get out, like most Queensland senators do, and talk to our constituents. Of late I have been in particular areas in some of my duty seats and have heard from people firsthand, on their doorsteps, about the concerns they express in regard to how this budget will affect them. I also ventured into some of the universities, and shortly I will get to the concerns they have expressed to me about how this budget will affect university fees and higher education. I would like to read an email, which I received today, into Hansard. It says: 'Senator, I am writing to you in an attempt to request that you do not pass the proposed Abbott government's budget for 2014. Mr Hockey has designed a budget that takes from the most vulnerable and supports big business. As a taxpayer for almost 40 years I am appalled at the callousness of the Hockey-Abbott budget. The friends I have spoken to, even the Liberal voters, are also disgusted with the unfair and brutal proposals in the current budget. I appeal to your humanity and urge you not to accept the budget that would severely disadvantage those Australian citizens who are already financially challenged. On behalf the people who feel most powerless I believe you have an obligation as an elected member of the Senate to vote accordingly. Allow Australians to live with a dignity all of us deserve.' That is from a constituent of mine who believes that the Hockey-Abbott budget has gone too far, that it is callous, and that it is attacking those who are most vulnerable.

We know that it is the budget that will affect GP payments. There will be a $7 GP fee for x-rays, blood tests and visits. There will be extra charges for medicines and an increase of $5 per prescription. That is factual; it is not a scare campaign. The public of Australia get this; they understand it. They realise that, should these measures be introduced,—measures that we will block in this chamber—it will be difficult to make ends meet. We know it will be difficult for those that are so vulnerable to make ends meet in many areas.

Everyone will be touched across the board by the new fuel excise. Not only will it affect motorists, but it will affect small businesses and people in aftermarket sales that sell goods and services in car marketing, car parts and sales. People will be looking at other measures to make ends meet. I know for a fact, through previously being an organiser with the Transport Workers Union, what people do when it becomes tough in terms of whether they put fuel in their car or truck and whether they can look at making cuts elsewhere. It is not good. If you look at truckies, they know they have to put fuel in their trucks. A person on a low income knows they need to put fuel in their car. The next thing that happens is that they start cutting the servicing needs of the vehicle—whether it be the tyres, the maintenance or parts—and that then affects the running of that particular vehicle. So, equally, the concern is not only the affordability of those parts, the servicing and the tyres, but it is also the condition of our roads and highways throughout this nation. We know that it has a long-term affect as a result, not just of paying for the increase in the fuel, but also of making our roads more and more unsafe.

As we know the pension age has been increased from 67 to 70. I am pretty certain there was some polling done on this recently when up to approximately 70 per cent of the nation opposed having the pension increased to that age. In addition we know the indexation for pensions from MTAWE, which is the current measure, to the CPI figure will alter the mechanism of increases to the actual pension. I heard Senator Eggleston indicate that that is not going to change the outcome as a result of the indexation of the actual pension increase. Well, no-one can give any guarantee on that. Once again, relying on my past experience in industrial agreements, once you alter the mechanism on the indexation of a wage or on a cost-of-living increase, you alter the mechanism of the outcome of what the earning is. I know that the CPI, over a period of time, has decreased since it has been a measure. I can recall periods when the CPI is handed down quarterly where the CPI has delivered zero increase. It has not accumulated, it has not decreased and it has delivered zero output. If you use that example of where the CPI has been handed down in a particular period of time, we know for a fact that the pension increase will have a zero effect.

The current system, which we introduced, the MTAWE, the male total average weekly earnings, is a fair and reasonable proposition and mechanism to allow pension rates to increase. Certainly over our period of time in government we were very proud to have one of the highest increases in pension outcomes as our Labor government handed down pension increases throughout the nation.

In addition there will be cuts to health and education worth $80 billion, and I mention briefly the $7 fee for GP visits. In addition there will be increases to university fees and there will be higher HECS debts for students. There will also be changes to the unemployment arrangements, where an imposition will be placed on those who are most vulnerable, and they will not be receiving any payment for six months at a period of time when they probably need that payment the most. These are people who are most vulnerable in our society who will be placed in a situation where they cannot make ends meet.

I want to focus on higher education and indicate that we as an opposition will fight the Abbott government's extraordinary war on science and the CSIRO. I believe today there has been a national day of protest against the Abbott government's savage budget cuts to science.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

As I indicated earlier, I have been visiting some of the universities; in fact, up around Senator Macdonald's area in Cairns not long ago I visited the JCU. It is always a privilege to visit some of these establishments and to be shown the good work they do and the good outcomes that can be achieved by funding universities and higher education and ensuring that we are in a situation where we can provide better science and better outcomes—not just in our country but also overseas.

The funding cuts to the CSIRO and other science agencies do have the potential to treble the cost of a science degree, and the attitudes that drive this government amount to an extraordinary attack on science. The Abbott government has cut $878 million from science and research agencies, including almost $115 million from the CSIRO. Nearly 900 scientists will lose their jobs, and at least 500 jobs will go from the CSIRO. There is a CSIRO not far from where I live, out in the Samford Valley. I wonder what will happen to that establishment should these cuts go through and affect the CSIRO in the Samford Valley.

Ninety-six jobs will be cut from Geoscience Australia, 64 from ANSTO and 58 from the Bureau of Meteorology. The government says it wants to find a cure for cancer; so do I. I indicated last night in my final speech that for several years I have been working with Relay for Life and Cancer Council Queensland. My team has raised over $120,000 to hopefully one day find a cure for that insidious disease, cancer. But how does the government propose to do deal with that or with the other great challenges that confront us—whether in health, agriculture or energy—by sacking scientists? We will not get an outcome. We will not see a situation where one day hopefully we will find a cure for cancer. Labor values the work of the CSIRO and Australian researchers and we will keep fighting for them. Once again I reflect back on my visits to JCU, and I also reflect on the fact that I have a son studying for a Bachelor of Science degree at the JCU. His costs currently at JCU Cairns amount to $25,000 over 13 years. Should these changes be introduced and go through the Senate, those costs will increase to $56,022 and will take up to 22 years to pay off. Unfortunately, the situation will arise where my son will not be in a position to further his studies as a result of this insidious attack on university students and on universities throughout this country.

During my visits to the JCU it has been such a pleasure to see some of the initiatives they have in place. For example, the TropWater program monitors sea grass, and it was important to hear from them about the Abbot Point port up near Bowen and the outcomes that they identified in making sure that they have thorough and concise information to provide to the public about what it would mean to dredge that particular harbour. In some respects it refutes some of the things that some of the extreme groups are saying could happen as a result of dredging that area. I was pleased to hear firsthand from them about the results that they delivered. That is why it is important to have organisations and universities to deliver concise, thorough, ethical information based on science.

The other important area that JCU highlighted in their presentations was their concerns about what might happen in asset sales proposed by the Queensland LNP government. There is no real science on this, of course, but you can imagine there would be issues around limitations to ports as they are handed over to private enterprise. No doubt once you hand government entities over to private entities certain limitations apply in respect of entry, examination and research in their particular areas.

It was also amazing to go to the herbarium area and look at some plant samples. They are on the cusp of finding new flora samples around our state. Up in the savannah area—and Senator Macdonald would know that area better than I do—they are finding new species of flora that may possibly lead to the cure of some particular illness or disease, and it is important that the funding to the herbarium continues.

In addition, we went to the aquarium, where they study the reef in an amazing atmosphere and surrounds. You would swear, if you could put your blinkers on, that you were actually out on the reef having a look at a shark or a fish going past. It is important that their funding continues to be provided. They currently rely on documentaries, like those produced by David Attenborough, for funding.

On my last visit to JCU I went to the Eliminate Dengue Program, which is completely funded by Bill Gates. This sort of funding is not affected by the cruel cuts of the Hockey-Abbott budget.

Debate interrupted.