Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Questions without Notice
Firstly I would like to congratulate Minister McKenzie on the initiatives outlined in the budget last night on Living Longer Living Better. Further to that, I now have a question in relation to Living Longer Living Better. My question is to Senator Fierravanti-Wells, the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services. Can the minister advise how this government is supporting older Australians in the budget?
I thank Senator Reynolds for the question. Last night, the Treasurer announced a budget that delivers for older Australians.
The budget includes $258 million for initiatives to support the incomes of those in retirement. The Treasurer said that this year's budget would guarantee essential services that Australians rely on, like Medicare, hospitals, schools and caring for older Australians. The Pension Loans Scheme will be open to all older Australians, including full-rate pensioners and self-funded retirees, so that they can boost their retirement income by up to $17,800 for a couple without impacting on their eligibility for the pension or other benefits.
We will support older Australians to stay in the workforce by providing wage subsidies of up to $10,000 for employers who employ older Australians. We will expand the Entrepreneurship Facilitators program and create a new skills and training incentive to provide mature-age workers with the opportunity to update their skills. And, to support the choice of older Australians who wish to stay at home, the government will increase the number of home care places by 14,000 over four years at a cost of $1.6 billion.
We will help Australians plan for a longer and healthier life with new online skills and health checks at ages 45 and 65 years linked to programs that can help them better prepare. We will fund targeted programs run by local sporting organisations and community groups to encourage older Australians to remain physically active for longer. And, of course, we will oppose unfair tax grabs on retirees and pensioners by enabling everyone who has invested in Australian companies that issue franked dividends to keep their tax refunds, unlike those opposite who are raiding the pockets, the purses and the bank accounts of those hardworking Australians who have been saving all of their lives.
Since the coalition was elected, pensions have increased by $99 per fortnight for singles and by $149 per fortnight for couples combined. Last night's budget continues our strong commitment to support them.
This includes changes to improve the pension work bonus by increasing the bonus by $50 a fortnight to $300 a fortnight and extending the work bonus to include earnings from self-employment. Currently, the first $250 of employment income a fortnight is not counted in the pension income test and the work bonus does not currently apply to earnings from self-employment. Increasing the work bonus to $300 per fortnight will mean eligible pensioners get more benefit from working. The current bonus was set at $250 per fortnight when introduced in 2011 and has not been increased since.
The government believes that people who work hard should be rewarded, particularly those who work for themselves, and that if you want to contribute you should not be punished for doing so. By giving pensioners the ability to work for themselves to get the pensioner work bonus rewards those people who want to work more. It means that those who want to stay in the workforce can, particularly if they are retiring from being a self-employed worker. The government will not punish those who make a contribution—those who work for themselves. We want to reward that attitude and ensure that pensioners have a range of options in their retirement.
My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Last night's budget cut a further $270 million from TAFE and apprenticeships. Given that funding was to be matched by state and territory governments, can the minister confirm that the Turnbull government's decision will see over half a billion dollars ripped out of Australian Apprenticeships?
No, I cannot, because Senator Cameron is wrong, as is usual. He is dead wrong, as is quite customary. It wouldn't surprise anybody on this side of the chamber to know that Senator Cameron frequently comes into this chamber and makes stuff-ups, essentially, because for Senator Cameron it's all just one long diatribe. One long diatribe with occasional bursts of intermission is what we get from Senator Doug Cameron.
The truth is that the Turnbull government stands committed to the $1.5 billion Skilling Australians Fund. The Skilling Australians Fund is being implemented to make sure we get accountability from states and territories to boost the number of apprenticeships and to overcome the decline in apprenticeships that came about following the 2012 budget decisions of the previous Labor government. They precipitated a decline in apprenticeship commencements and therefore the decline we have had ever since in apprenticeships being undertaken and, ultimately, apprenticeship completions.
What the Turnbull government did last night was to make sure that there was some additional funding attached to the Skilling Australians Fund and to support the states and territories in relation to apprenticeships to address the fact that there had been some revisions in the estimates of what the levy would raise. That is because we are committed to making sure that the promise we gave last year of $1½ billion to support the Skilling Australians Fund will be delivered—and it will be delivered. It's clearly in the budget, and it's still $1.5 billion. Senator Cameron can make up whatever he might like to make up, and I have no doubt—let me make a bold prediction—he will move to take note after question time. I bet we'll get a five-minute diatribe from Senator Cameron, the likes of which we're all used to hearing. Of course, there'll be all the usual class war rhetoric from Senator Cameron and more lies and misinformation. But we are committed to delivering the $1½ billion Skilling Australians Fund to create more apprenticeship opportunities for young Australians.
The government has presided over cuts of more than $3 billion from vocational education and training and the loss of over 140,000 apprenticeships. How many apprenticeships will be lost as a result of the Turnbull government's decision, which will see half a billion dollars ripped out of vocational education?
Once again, more lies and more misleading information. Senator Cameron tries to dress up alleged cuts as being the types of reform we've made to fix the rorts and rip-offs of Labor's VET FEE-HELP scheme. When we fixed the billions of dollars going out the door every year into the pockets of providers who weren't providing any training and weren't getting any completions but were just ripping off the taxpayer, he was apparently quite happy to claim that it was a cut. No, Senator Cameron, what we put in place through the new VET Student Loans program was the better targeting of taxpayers' dollars so that they only went to reputable providers so that we were only funding courses with high employment outcomes. Ultimately, those providers will be judged not on how much they can rake in from the taxpayer but on whether their students are completing a qualification and getting a job out of it. Our focus is always on ensuring taxpayers' money is used well and that in education and training it leads to skills that lead to jobs.
Given that last night's budget locks in a $17 billion cut to Australian schools, locks in a $2.2 billion cut to Australian universities and cuts a further $270 million from TAFE and apprenticeships while handing $80 billion to big business, isn't it clear the Turnbull government is more interested in helping out the big end of town than ensuring every Australian can access a quality education?
Let's deal with the facts of life—lies, damn lies; statistics; Senator Doug Cameron and the Australian Labor Party. What we have here, of course, is that they fail to recognise school funding is at a record level and will grow every year into the future by around $1 billion extra—
Opposition senators: Not one dollar less!
$1 billion extra year on year. University funding is at a record level, and last night in the budget we announced $1.9 billion for research infrastructure that will of course drive and spur more innovation.
Senator Cameron comes in here and wants to run his class war rhetoric, talking about tax cuts for Australian businesses. We make no apologies for the fact that we want to keep spurring investment by Australian businesses, because investment created more than 400,000 jobs in Australia last year. Do you know who gets those jobs? Australian students, when they leave university, when they leave vocational education, when they leave school—more jobs for Australian students from their quality education.