Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Answers to Questions
That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today relating to the 2018-19 Budget.
The budget that we saw last night had that distinct whiff of an election about it. In fact, just about everything about this budget has that odour—that odious odour—of a government desperate to restore its political fortunes through a crass attempt to rebuild its political stocks. It's not about the long-term economic future of Australia; it's about the short-term political interests of the Turnbull government.
In the lead-up to this year's budget we saw—and it has been the case over the last five years, but this year it has been at an accelerated rate—a series of highly selective leaks provided to the media. It was so-called information provided on a selective basis, a misleading picture presented as to what was to be in the budget. These stories were about key infrastructure projects; they were about aged care; they were about taxation matters, either corporate or personal. After many years of austerity, the government was able to assert—in its very selective way—that we're now looking at a situation where the government was investing in the nation once again.
Of course, what we saw in the budget was very different, a very different picture entirely. What we saw was anything but a nation-building budget. What we saw, for instance, was that on infrastructure projects there was not one new funding announcement—not one! Every single infrastructure project that the government brought forward in its glossy brochure was about measures that had already been announced and funded by previous allocations. The first tranche of so-called income tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners were there—to operate from 1 July this year, aimed squarely at an election timetable, an election framework—but with no explanation whatsoever as to what the cost of the higher levels of benefit would be. The Prime Minister this morning, on ABC Radio, was not able to come anywhere near providing really basic information about what the cost of these measures would be in the medium term. And today, again, the Leader of the Government in the Senate was not able to provide basic information to this Senate about the cost of the government's corporate taxation arrangements. Yet there's an expectation that this government will call upon the Senate to move immediately to carry these propositions into effect.
What we know is that this is a government that, essentially, is seeking to provide immediate sugar hits in a range of areas without regard to the longer term consequences, and is hoping that it can escape scrutiny and escape any proper attention. If you look at the science and research area, for instance, the government's taking away $2½ billion over four years out of the research and development funding arrangements, but providing only $600 million in terms of additional support. Yet today the education minister talks about a funding package of $1.9 billion. What he forgets to point out is that it's over 12 years. So these sleights of hand are constantly being put forward. What we've got is a rhetorical illusion being presented—an attempt to try to present something that's different from the reality. We've got a Prime Minister who is focused on electoral fortunes, not on the nation's fortunes—a Prime Minister who really is concentrating on trying to revive this government. In fact, this morning's effort, I thought, was an attempt to repair the damage of some of the manic performances of the government's Treasury spokesman on these matters.
What we are seeing time and time again is statements, for instance, around these special leaks, provided in very secret circumstances to selected journalists. For instance, look at the space agency. We were told in these special leaks that $50 million would come about for seed funding for an Australian space agency. What's the reality in the budget? $26 million. We see this happening again and again and again. What this budget does is actually lock in cuts. It locks in the $17 billion in cuts to schools, the $700 million in cuts to hospitals, the freezes to the Medicare rebate. It raises the pension age to 70, there is the energy supplement to pensioners and the $80 billion handout in tax cuts to large corporations. This is a test that the government's failed yet again in terms of fairness and in terms of social justice. It really is all about preserving the political interests of the Liberal Party and the National Party rather than the interests of ordinary Australians and defending the long-term interests of Australia. (Time expired)
I'd like to take note of the ministers' comments, but, first of all, I'd like to congratulate the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance on an outstanding budget that, as the Treasurer said today, is all about the future that not only we will live in; it is the economy that our children will inherit and live with.
Nowhere is the importance of this budget seen more clearly than in the measures for my own home state—and our home state, Senator Cormann—of Western Australia. Clearly, the measures in this budget assist the Western Australian economy to change and adopt new infrastructure and new jobs. The government's plan for a stronger economy will support more jobs for Western Australian families and their children, and it sets up Western Australia for the future in a number of new industries. Already in Western Australia, as a result of these measures, there are 20,200 more people in work since the coalition was elected. Clearly, the unemployment rate in Western Australia is still far too high and we have more work to do. Again, that is work that this budget wholeheartedly endorses.
The Commonwealth government is working with Western Australia to provide $9.8 billion of vital infrastructure projects, including $2.8 billion for new major projects such as the $1.1 billion for METRONET, which I'm very glad to see is fully funding the Thornlie to Cockburn rail link, something I've been advocating for a long time, because it's very important to get people in our eastern suburbs to jobs in the south of the city. There is the $944 million Perth congestion package, which includes $581 million for the Tonkin Highway extension to alleviate traffic problems that many of us experience every day. The list goes on and on.
I would like to also congratulate and acknowledge the support that this government is providing to Defence in Western Australia. Western Australia continues to play an important part in the defence of our nation, as very clearly outlined in this budget. Very clearly, this government's priority is the safety and security of Australia and its people. Western Australia is already home to nearly 6,000 Defence personnel and to a number of key operational and support bases. Under this budget, Defence will expend over $1.5 billion in the Western Australian economy upgrading these bases. I understand that up to 80 per cent of those contracts that have already been let are going directly to local businesses in Western Australia. So, of 185 infrastructure subcontracts let, with more still to be let under this budget, 88 per cent are, in fact, going to local businesses in Western Australia, which, again, will provide very important jobs for Western Australians to support the defence efforts in Western Australia. These are all important opportunities for local Western Australian businesses, whether it be in Rockingham around Fleet Base West or at our bases in the north. There are now millions of dollars going into our regions, not just into facilities in and around Perth.
The government is now also commencing work, which has been confirmed in the budget, on final planning for the facilities and infrastructure to be built at HMAS Stirling to support the basing of the two new offshore patrol vessels and also for the creation of 'Ship Zero' as part of the government's regeneration of the Royal Australian Navy. I was very happy to be able to host the Western Australian Labor Minister for Defence Issues here in Canberra yesterday to meet with Christopher Pyne, because work now has to commence on plans for the upgrade of the Henderson facilities not just for the Navy but also for our civilian shipbuilding capabilities and to take advantage of the opportunities Western Australia now has to develop its shipbuilding capability in the commercial sectors.
It was a very productive meeting. Off the back of this budget, at that meeting yesterday the federal and the state government agreed to work together on a master plan for the Henderson region, which the state government is leading with the support of the federal government. Work will also commence together on a plan for Western Australia and the defence industry more generally. Again, none of that would be possible without the provision of the funding in this budget. So I thank Minister Papalia for coming to Canberra yesterday to discuss these important initiatives on how we leverage off this budget to make sure that we provide infrastructure and support for WA industry. (Time expired)
We're now looking at another budget. Another year's gone by, and the normal process happens. It's not at all surprising that we had the government come in and talk about how great the budget is and all the great things that are going to happen to the community while people who are not in the government raise issues about why things could be done better and how it could be different. But, as I've said many times in this place: it's not just the people who are in this chamber that the government needs to convince about the probity, the integrity and the positive nature of their budget; it's actually the people in the wider community. We've now seen the arguments start. We've seen the media coverage—the pages talking about 'winners' and 'losers' in the budget. And everyone rumbles through the media to try and find out where their particular circumstances are, where they fit, what will happen to them and their families and their futures.
But it's all not as clear as it could be when it first happens because you have to go to the detail, and that's part of the job of this place—to actually look at the detail of the budget, to ask the questions to find out exactly where the costs will be, what the impacts will be and, in fact, what all those pages of explanation and tables mean. That will lead us in a couple of weeks' time to something that many people enjoy—and some people question—the Senate estimates process, which is an invaluable tool that we have in this place to look in great detail at what is happening in various forms of government expenditure. We were asking questions today about the impact on pensioners, about the impact on people who are unemployed, about what is going to happen. The Senate estimates process allows us to get that detail to then share with the public.
I want to talk briefly about something that gave me real hope today when I met with two groups of young people who are here to look at what's in the budget, to raise their concerns and talk to parliamentarians about what the budget means—in fact, doing their job in the community and talking about what's important to them. One is the National Union of Students, who have built their own paper around building a better budget. What should the budget be for people who work in universities, who are studying and who are building their futures? What should happen out of this budget process? They're having some trouble finding answers about that in this budget. Nonetheless, they see it as part of their role to continue to raise these questions to ensure that their co-students, the people who rely on universities for employment and the people who are building their plans for the future will not only know about what expenditure is going to be put into the higher education sector—and how curriculum will be affected during the whole schooling process—but also what should be a fair way to provide education in our communities.
Only this morning, I had the real pleasure of meeting with another group of young people from Micah, who gathered together outside in the cold this morning right beside where all the big people were talking about what was in the budget. They laid out a banquet table on the lawns outside our parliament to show that there is room for everyone at the table, and the way that we spend our budget dollars in this place can be scrutinised to see exactly how that goodwill—how that expenditure—will be shared at the table by everyone.
Micah were particularly raising issues around international development and the future of international development. This year with the budget we had time and opportunity—because many elements of this budget were leaked to the media in the weeks beforehand, it was quite interesting to see what else was going to be in the budget last night. I know only some people actually survived the whole of the Treasurer's speech. It's at the end of the speech that you get all the papers and can see what is really in there. These young people took that opportunity to look at international development in the budget after the budget speech last night. They could not find the increase; they could not find the things in the budget that were going to benefit our people, our neighbours and people across the world who are so vulnerable.
We will continue to take this opportunity in the parliament, through Senate estimates, to raise issues around the budget and to see whether, in fact, the largesse that has been spoken about by the government will be shared with the wider community. We will be able to see who exactly will be the winners and the losers. The hope is that the community will understand effectively who's won and who's lost.
I rise to take note of the answers in question time today, but I do so with great enthusiasm for the work that has been done by the Liberal-National Party government in bringing forward a budget that is going to deliver tax relief for all Australians, encourage and reward working Australians, and reduce the cost pressures that their households face.
Everyone faces the price of higher taxes. It weakens the economy across the board. It costs jobs, especially for those who are most vulnerable to poverty. It makes it so much harder for people who are disadvantaged to get into work when we have a weak economy, and that is why this government and its plans so firmly support all Australians to work hard and to get ahead.
I'm proud to see that our team, as a first step, has put together a budget that will deliver tax relief of up to $530 for middle- and low-income earners and that is being delivered right now. The second step is that Australians will have protection for what they earn from the scourge of bracket creep—making sure that when they get a pay rise, when they earn overtime or when they work more hours they get the benefit in their own pockets, rather than having it gobbled up by bracket creep. The third step is that this government is working hard to make sure more Australians pay less tax by making personal income taxes simpler.
The best part about all of this is that it is affordable, and the reason it's affordable is that this government has worked so hard to build the economy from the position it was in when it came to government. They have generated so many more jobs. In fact, there are 1,000 or more new jobs created every day in this country now, and that means that we have the lowest number of people receiving welfare from the Commonwealth government that we have seen in 20 years. This is a remarkable achievement. Not only does it reduce the expenses that the Australian people face, but it also means that we have a greater revenue flow. We have more people who not only have the dignity and purpose of work but also are contributing to revenue by paying income tax themselves. This is very exciting, because it frees up this country to invest in its future. I'm particularly excited to see the investments in infrastructure that are being made by this government in Queensland, my home state. This budget is doing so much for Australians, and it is going to keep feeding the economic growth—
I'm so glad to hear that Labor is interested in where this money is coming from. It is quite exciting, because the revenue has increased more and more, as more Australians get into work, because we are committed to building business. We are committed to giving them every reason to invest in more jobs and every reason to build their investment in Australia. And every time that happens we find that more company taxes are paid and more income taxes are paid, and we have the ability to guarantee the essential services that Australians depend upon. It is terribly exciting, and I am so proud to be a part of a team that has achieved so much.
In infrastructure, Queensland will benefit economically, and will get home sooner and safer, from the investments that are being made. There will be $3.3 billion in investment into continued upgrades for the Bruce Highway, including $880 million for the Pine River to Caloundra corridor upgrade, $800 million for the Cooroy to Curra section D upgrade and $2 million for additional safety works. That's not all. There's also $1 billion allocated to upgrading the M1—that important artery for the Gold Coast—and $390 million for the Beerburrum to Nambour rail upgrade. There's $300 million for the Brisbane Metro and $170 million for the Cunningham Highway—so much opportunity for this country. We are just so proud to be delivering for all Australians.
I so want to come into to this chamber and believe what I'm hearing from the other side, because I know that people listening to this and people here in the chamber think they're actually going to get the truth. But we've been hearing this government come in after the budget and do this little dance every single year for the last five years. And every single time, as soon as you start to shine the light on what they tell you they're doing, you actually find out that the truth is very, very different. Once again, we revisit the same old pattern of behaviour from this government, setting out from day one of the budget to deceive the Australian public.
Last night this government had the chance to fix five years of unfairness in what I hope will be the very last budget that we see from this government. Sadly, they didn't take up that opportunity. And there is one group that I want to make some comments about. People have read the headlines in recent days about how this government is going to come in and fix up aged care. Right across this country today, as we have this debate in the parliament, 100,000 great Australians are seeking aged-care packages. They were promised in headlines generated by leaks from this government that this was going to be the budget to fix this big problem. But when we look at the detail, what have we got from this government over here, who are excited and proud about what they're doing? We've got 14,000 aged-care packages and a massive waiting list—and to deliver that miserly 14,000 packages they've cut the funding from residential places.
This is not a government that cares about aged people in Australia. This is not a government that could care a jot about the impact of needing a level 4 aged-care package and being delivered a level 1 package—because that's what this government is willing to give you as an ageing Australian. No, this government comes in here and it's going to try to force through—and it has already pushed it into the House of Representatives this morning—a plan to dud tens of thousands of Australian aged-care residents in this country who need a bit of help. The government is coming in to dud them and is going to give $80 billion worth of tax cuts to the big companies instead, many of whom don't even pay tax. That's what they want to do. That's their choice. Those are their values. That's what they decided to do last night.
Of that $80 billion, let's be clear about where a great big chunk of it's going: $17 billion to the banks of this country, who right now are under the scrutiny—at last—of a royal commission that this government voted against 25 times and held up for two years. The government are cosying up with their mates at the top end of town. Make no mistake: this is not a budget for battlers. This is not a budget that's in the interest of the nation. This is a budget that's in the interest of their big friends at the top end of town. And the great shame of it is that 100,000 ageing Australians and their families, right now, are sitting waiting. And they will continue to wait, because this government simply don't understand their responsibility to look after the vulnerable in our community. That is not their way. They don't stand up for ordinary Australians. They don't care. They care much more about their relationships with the top end of town, and they continue to put out this—I think the term used by Senator Carr this afternoon was—'rhetorical illusion'. This rhetorical illusion tries to hide that, in their budget, anything that looks like something they might have given is spread out over 10 years. They are a government on their last legs. They've got a year, at best, to deliver what they're saying is in the budget. Their promises are out to 10 years!
You can't trust a single thing they say. Go back to the night before the 2013 election: 'No cuts to the ABC. No cuts to the SBS.' What did we get again last night in this budget? Another $125 million worth of cuts to the ABC. Everywhere you look—on every page in the budget that the government put out last night—you will see falsehoods that simply will not match the rhetoric that we'll get in this place. Anyone who supports what the government are attempting to do to the Australian aged population really deserves to hang their head in shame. (Time expired)
Question agreed to.