Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2015


Community Affairs References Committee

6:23 pm

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

I want to make some remarks following the tabling of the Community Affairs References Committee's report on its inquiry into out-of-home care. The reason I want to make a contribution tonight is that yet again this week we have unfortunately had the Turnbull government refuse to rule out an increase in the GST to 15 per cent. They have also failed to take off the table that they are going to apply the GST to those people who are most vulnerable in our community, among them our older Australians. Aged care and out-of-home care services will be affected by an increase in the GST. This is going to have a significant disadvantage for older Australians in this country.

When we were in government we brought about many changes to make ageing and aged care better with the Living Longer, Living Better policy which set the framework for the next decade in this country. As I have said many times in this chamber, it is unfortunate that the assistant minister was unable to even oversee the rollout of that policy. With that, what we asked for was that older Australians who could afford to make a contribution to their care do so. At that time, we believed that was necessary for the Australian economy and to ensure that we kept having the world's best facilities and services. But we never foresaw an increase of up to 15 per cent in the GST.

Mr Turnbull talks about being Prime Minister of a government of the 21st century and being nimble and innovative. He has fallen for the old trap: 'Let's tax working families. Let's increase the GST so it has an impact on fresh food.' Everyday Australians are going to be far worse off. But when it comes to aged care and out-of-home care, this is a really serious issue. It is very unfortunate that, for some reason, those on the government benches do not like older Australians. It is quite clear that they do not like older Australians. They do not want to provide those services. They have done nothing in terms of ensuring that our policy was rolled out in a timely fashion.

The assistant minister, as I said, took his eye off the ball completely. We have seen what they have done with the rollout of the NBN since the Prime Minister was the Minister for Communications. We put into practice very good social policy when it comes to aged care and ageing. For their first two years in government, they did not even have a minister with responsibility for ageing and aged care. And now they have a Minister for Health who has responsibility for aged care but does not even want to enter the debate about the increase in the GST and including that on fresh food such as vegetable and fruit. She does not want to 'muddy the waters'. I find it quite astonishing that a health minister does not want to make any contribution to the current debate about increasing the GST to 15 per cent. We should be doing all we can as legislators to ensure that we have the healthiest population we can. We know there has been an increase in obesity—and this is the health minister! When all else fails, those on the other side slug the worker; they slug those who are the most vulnerable in our community. It is amazing. It is astonishing.

We have seen the Liberal government's idea of economic leadership time and time again and it is not a pretty picture. People are contacting my office. They are contacting not only the senators on this side of the chamber; I am sure the crossbenchers would be getting it and if those on the other side were honest—let alone the people in the other place—they would also admit that constituents are raising their concerns with them. The big policy direction the Prime Minister has taken is to increase the GST to 15 per cent, to jack up the GST.

Those on the other side come in here saying current Labor premiers support an increase in the GST. Heavens above, who has ever known a leader of a state or territory who would not want to have more money going into their coffers! Who wouldn't want more money coming into their state! As the government knows, as we on this side know and as the Australian community knows, the only reason the states would be welcoming any increase is that this government has cut funding to health and education and is trying to put the squeeze on those states to force them to come out in support of an increase in the GST.

The government say, 'We will compensate people.' Let's be realistic: the government are not going to increase the GST or continue to tax Australians so that they can collect less money. They are doing it because they want to shift money from the states, out of their responsibility, so that they can say, 'You're getting more revenue from the GST'—but let's not worry about the everyday Australians who is going to be affected by this.

We have seen in the media today another issue that affects older Australians. I understand from the shadow minister for local government, that the issue is that this government will not rule out an increase of 15 per cent of GST on local government rates. That is a big issue. We know through other cuts that have been made by this government that the assistance that many states used to be able to give to pensioners and those people on low incomes has had to be cut because the states do not have enough money or they provided that on a temporary basis. This GST issue will affect not only those people living at home and needing out-of-home services but also those people who, through an increase in costs, need to go into residential care.

We have had a lot of changes in the area of aged care, and we have experienced the government's failure and the failure of the former assistant minister for aged care to actually explain to and work and consult with the sector to ensure that older Australians were not unduly concerned and confused about the changes that were being rolled out. That job was not done, because the assistant minister had taken his eye off the ball. Quite frankly, health is a huge portfolio, but the government do not have anyone who is focused on ageing. Ageing is an enormous area of responsibility. We can be so much more innovative when it comes to how we assist older Australians to stay engaged and how we provide services to them.

We talk about the benefits of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I am digressing here, but there are some good opportunities. In this country, we provide very good aged-care services, and there will be opportunities for those in the sector to sell their skills—which is a good thing. I acknowledge that we have some fantastic people working in the sector, but it disappoints me that those people working in the sector do not have any career paths and there are no opportunities—because the government have failed that test as well. They have failed the test. So it is disappointing that they have to grapple for some sort of policy and some sort of vision—because they are so nimble and innovative in their 21st-century government!—but they have failed, because all they are about is taxing those who can least afford it. This is a government of unfairness.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Polley, your time has expired.

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

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.