Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Matters of Public Importance


4:06 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today five proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator O'Neill:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The Prime Minister's unfair budget, which gives big business and the banks an $80 billion tax handout and makes Australians pay for it with savage cuts.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate and, with the concurrence of the Senate, I ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:07 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to put on the record my continuing concern at the deception that this government inflicts upon the Australian people with regard to their intentions with this budget. They try to dress it up as a budget for battlers—a budget for ordinary, hardworking Australians—when in reality this is a budget that seeks to continue their cosy arrangement with the top end of town and delivers big, big business benefits to the banks: $80 billion in a tax handout, $17 billion of which goes to the four big banks, which are the subject of the great work that's being done right now by the royal commission that the government continued to oppose for two years after Labor called for it.

Now, we have seen—and I have had the chance to participate in a short debate about this following question time today—the words of the government Senator Carr described today as: 'rhetorical illusion'. That's what they're practised at: rhetorical illusion. They're pretending that they're doing something and speaking as if they're doing something, when in fact they are not doing anything of benefit to the practical realities of ordinary, hardworking Australians.

I want to put on the record the impact—or, sadly, the lack of response—to the needs of the people on the great Central Coast, where I live. There is no better example of the problems with this budget than the government's complete failure to deliver for the people of Robertson on the New South Wales Central Coast. I think the most potent example of this budget's unfair intent is the lack of any new infrastructure money for roads or rail on the Central Coast. This is a pressing issue. Ask any coastie about the state of local roads and they'll tell you that their roads are the worst in New South Wales, especially in the area of the peninsula. Yet we have the local member, Ms Lucy Wicks, taking out full-page ads in the paper after five years, asking people to identify a road that has a problem. If, after five years in the parliament and driving around the Central Coast, Ms Wicks hasn't figured out that we need some road funding, it's a bit late now to be asking the community to identify the problems that she should have known about a long time ago. And it's even later today than it was yesterday, because there was no money in the budget for it, anyway. Not a single dollar in the budget is devoted to fixing a single road in Umina, Terrigal, Avoca, Macmasters Beach, Woy Woy, Bensville, Kincumber, Springfield or Gosford. All of them miss out. There is not a single dollar devoted to fixing the drainage or the kerbing or to building the pedestrian pathways that are so important to people on the Central Coast.

According to the government's own budget papers, they've decided that they want to fix something that matters to them. In addition to giving the $80 billion tax cut to big business and $17 billion to the banks, they've decided that they should invest $26 million in upgrading the Prime Minister's own department. But there is no money to upgrade infrastructure on the Central Coast—zero dollars for roads in Robertson.

There was also no investment in TAFE or job creation on the coast, despite our ongoing unemployment crisis and a doubling of young people's unemployment to over 17 per cent. Since Ms Wicks was elected in 2013 our unemployment rate has skyrocketed, higher than the state average; youth unemployment has doubled; enrolments in local TAFE have dropped by 63 per cent; and 120 TAFE jobs have been cut. This is a disaster for the people of the Central Coast, for young people and their families. This budget demonstrates that Ms Wicks, the current member for Robertson, under this Turnbull government, has absolutely given up on job creation and the fight to fix our local unemployment crisis.

This morning—this very morning—Ms Wicks was patting herself on the back for recycling another laundry list of broken promises that were reprinted in last night's budget. She promised $10 million to help deliver Gosford's long awaited world-class regional performing arts and cultural centre. She promised that in 2013. It's still not delivered. Three budgets ago she promised $7 million towards what was supposed to be an innovation centre. Now she's calling it a regional library. It's $7 million that hasn't been delivered since 2013, and now she's changing the purpose of it. Ms Wicks made another commitment in 2013: continuous mobile coverage on the trains and a New South Wales government business case to investigate faster rail to deliver for our hardworking communities. They are all on the never-never. They're typical of what's going on in this budget, which is for the big end of town and which negatively impacts the lives of Australians.

4:12 pm

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

I, too, rise to talk about the 2018-19 budget, but particularly the budget that builds on the strong performance of the plan that the Turnbull government has brought to Australia.

Senator Cameron interjecting

Senators opposite laugh, but it's no laughing matter when we have record jobs growth in terms of the number of people who have been employed—over 420,000 jobs over the last year, the vast majority of which have been full-time. People criticise that. I've seen some comments saying, 'Ah, yes, but surely there must be jobs lost as well, so the net effect is not good,' but the other fact that is really important to note is that the number of Australians who are on welfare, whose homes depend on welfare, is at its lowest level in 25 years. What that means is that this government not only has been successful in creating the environment where businesses are prepared to invest and create more opportunities but has translated that in real terms to businesses being prepared to employ people, and the very best form of welfare that a person and a family and a home can possibly have is somebody in work.

We are seeing Australians working in record numbers. That's reflected also in the strong economy in terms of the income from taxation. Some people say, 'Surely, that means you're taxing more.' No. What it means is, with fewer people on welfare and more people in work, there are more people contributing to our economic wellbeing as opposed to drawing from it in the safety net that is welfare. That's why the government has been able to make significant investments in other areas.

In my home state of South Australia, for example, public hospitals will receive $7.9 billion over the next five years. Compared to the five years before that, that's an additional $1.31 billion—a 20 per cent increase. That is so important in South Australia as we see the newly elected Marshall government seeking to recover the disastrous planning and construction of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. In the last couple of weeks we've seen documents revealed showing that unions and medical professionals had sought to have input into the design and the construction of that hospital but had been shut out by previous governments that were intent on closing down medical services around the state and centralising them in Adelaide. They even got the new Royal Adelaide Hospital wrong, which was the pinnacle of their investment. The federal government's ability to help state governments and my own state of South Australia by providing adequate funding for hospitals is an example of the kinds of things that you can do when you have a strong economy. You don't have a strong economy by taxing the people who generate wealth.

The progressive tax system that we have brought in, which is providing tax relief to families, is a fair system. It means that those with the lowest income are receiving tax relief in the order of eight per cent. They will receive that as of 1 July this year. That will come into effect if senators in this place vote for those measures. People on higher incomes receive much smaller tax relief, around 0.2 per cent. In some of the middle brackets it is two per cent, and for those on low incomes it is up to eight per cent. That's a system that encourages people to work. It encourages Australians in work, who are delivering a strong economy to Australia, and particularly the small businesses who are providing the employment. In the federal electorate of Makin in my home state of South Australia, for example, there are some 11½ thousand small businesses. They will benefit from the extension of the write-off that's available for small businesses buying capital equipment, and other measures that are looking to help them to grow their businesses and to employ more Australians.

The cost-of-living pressures that people are facing—and they are significant—will be coming down as a result of the investments that this government is making and as a result of the constructive relationships we are seeking to build with state governments to get them on board with things like the National Energy Guarantee, which will for the first time start providing price signals to the market around dispatchability and reliability in conjunction with things like our measures around gas. We're already seeing the price for gas reducing. Therefore, the spot price is reducing and the cost for electricity will start coming down. The forecasts are significant. This government is building a stronger economy because the things that Australians care about—jobs, services, education and health—rely on a coalition government building our economy.

4:17 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I might take up where Senator Fawcett finished off, on the things that Australians care about. Budgets are a really important opportunity for a government to not only outline its vision and its plan for the future of this nation but also what it prioritises and what its values are. If you look at this budget and you ask yourself whether you share the same values as this government, also ask yourself: what are the great challenges of our time and the great crises that we're facing? What do you want the government to do for you in your life?

The Greens, and I think many Australians, deeply care about the climate crisis that this nation and this planet are facing. There is nothing in this budget for tackling dangerous climate change. In fact, over forward estimates, funding around climate change has been slashed. There was a bandaid package around the Great Barrier Reef, which we know is not going to fix the 50 per cent of the reef that has now died through coral bleaching because of global warming and warming ocean temperatures. We're seeing a species extinction crisis in this country. Yet there's no funding to deal with the loss of biodiversity in this country, which is a national shame.

The other great challenge of our time is rising inequality. What has this budget done to tackle rising inequality? Not only has it done nothing but it's a plan and a vision, which reflects this government's values, to lock in inequality—indeed, to accelerate it.

One of the most important tools that we have in the toolbox in this place as a government, and one of the most important weapons we've got against rising inequality, is our tax system. Under a progressive tax system, which this country has had in place for some time now, higher income earners pay a higher rate of tax because they can afford to. That's the simple principle of fairness and equity that's embedded in our tax system. The budget plan last night was nothing short of a frontal assault on this fair and progressive tax system, a frontal assault on a fair go for all Australians.

This government wants to bring in a flat tax structure, a US-style tax structure, that we know will only lock in and increase inequality in this country. This budget might have been fine, if you're a millionaire or someone who earns over $200,000, because you'd get an extra $7,000 a year in tax cuts, if this government gets its way. But what about those Australians who are struggling to get work. Part-time workers, workers on the minimum wage, the unemployed and those on Newstart get nothing at all.

Once again, this budget shows you what this government prioritises. It shows you what its values are and what it cares about. It doesn't care about climate change, in tackling the great crisis of our time. It doesn't care about inequality or the battlers in this country. The only things it cares about, first and foremost, are votes and power to make sure it stays in power. This is a desperate pitch to get votes. It's an unaffordable plan. It's a vision and a pathway that we do not want to see this country going down. There's so much more we could do to tackle inequality, if we just had the backbone to do it.

It also cares about big corporations and their rich mates. There's nothing in here to tax. It's a rigged system—rigged by some of the biggest, wealthiest and most powerful corporations on this planet. There is nothing to fix the petroleum resource rent tax rort. We could have brought in tens of billions of dollars, if we had gotten these companies to pay for the gas that they've extracted—gas and resources owned by the Australian people. There are $240 billion in tax credits sitting there and rising every day, because this government won't fix a broken tax system. There was virtually nothing to tackle multinational tax avoidance across the board. This is a desperate pitch for votes. I hope the Australian people realise that their whole tax system and the fundamental principles of a fair go for all Australians are at risk here, if this plan succeeds. The Greens will fight this plan to the next election. We'll stand up for battlers in Australia.

4:23 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a budget designed to do one thing, and that is to try to get this government back into power after the next election. It's got nothing much to do with good economics. As Senator Whish-Wilson has identified, it's a budget that simply works off the back of a global economic upturn. It's got nothing to do with any great economic expertise by this government, because they've proven they don't have it.

We've heard so much about their plan. Well, look at the plans that this government have had over the last period of time—nearly five years—they've been in government. They had a plan which was about austerity: attacking pensioners, attacking the vulnerable and attacking the weakest in our community. It was about making sure that their mates got looked after. It was about trying to attack welfare recipients. That was their first attempt at a plan—an austerity budget.

Do you remember Senator Cormann sitting there with a big, fat Havana cigar, celebrating cutting back on family tax benefits and every benefit that working-class people in this country had. That's what Senator Cormann did. He got out the bottle of wine and the big, fat Havana cigar and celebrated it. And what did the Prime Minister do? The Prime Minister went on radio and said he supported every aspect of the budget.

We know what the coalition are really about—that is, attacking the poorest, attacking the underprivileged, attacking the weakest people in our country and looking after their big business mates. That was the first plan. The second plan was to make changes to the capital gains tax, and that plan, I think, lasted about one week. Then it was about giving the states taxing powers. I think that lasted a couple of days. So there are three plans that have come and gone, but the first plan is still there because that's what they really want to do—look after their big business mates and attack the vulnerable in our community.

And this plan, trickle-down economics, doesn't work. The government have done this because the people that actually put the money into their election coffers at elections—the Business Council of Australia, the big banks, the finance corporations—are the ones who want this because they'll get $80 billion at least. And you saw Senator Cormann here today—absolutely incapable of telling us what the real cost of this will be over the 10-year period they talk about, running away from the cost that this will deliver.

This is a government that have no economic credibility. They are still cutting the pension by $14 a fortnight, taking the energy supplement off pensioners in this country and giving an $80 billion handout to big business. Retirement at 70 is all right if you're sitting over on the other side as a senator, with your pants getting shiny-arsed. That's okay but, if you do what I did—work as a maintenance fitter in heavy engineering at Liddell power station—at 70 years old, you can't crawl into a confined space and work all day. You can't have a 14-pound hammer and be hanging off the end of that all day. They just don't get it. And the tax cuts—

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thought you were a board director of a super fund.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we've got Senator Hume interjecting—someone who has actually worked in the finance sector and would know much about the finance sector—and supporting the cuts to her mates in the finance sector. You know, it's all right for Senator Hume sitting here on $200,000 a year and ending up with a $6,600 tax cut. It's all right for Senator Hume to be interjecting and saying to ordinary workers, the working class in this country: you've got to stick with 550 bucks a year; by the way, we don't support you having any penalty rates; by the way, we would like to cut family tax benefits from you; by the way, when you're a pensioner, you'll work until you're 70; and, by the way, we really want to change indexation on your pension so that you lose $80 a week. That's what Senator Hume would like to do. She's now being challenged by the real right wing in Victoria because she is not right-wing enough. So it's all right for Senator Hume on $200,000 a year to come in here and defend an $80 billion tax cut to big business.

We saw the performance from Senator Birmingham today. Senator Birmingham actually called me a liar three times, said I was a class warrior. Well, if standing up for the working class in this country makes me a class warrior, I will take that any day because I do want to look after working-class people in this country. And what Senator Birmingham has done—a failed education minister, cutting $17 billion out of schools—is cut another $270 million out of funding for the apprenticeship system in this country, on top of the $3 billion he cut out previously. This is a minister who has failed in his portfolio, who called me a liar three times and said no $270 million was being cut out.

Let me take you back to the budget papers in 2017. The budget papers then were clear that there would be $1.5 billion for the Skilling Australians Fund. The budget papers this year say in Budget Paper 1, part 5-14:

Another component of other taxes is the Skilling Australians Fund levy.

So they recognise it is a tax that they're putting on. It continues:

Since the 2017-18 MYEFO, Skilling Australians Fund levy receipts are forecast to be $465 million lower over the four years to 2021-22. This reflects the measure to expand the Levy refund and exemption provisions, delays in the passage of enabling legislation, as well as decreased demand for temporary work visas.

This is a mob that wants to fund the apprenticeship system and the traineeship system in this country solely through the visa system. When they announced this 12 months ago, Labor said, 'This won't work, because there is no guaranteed funding through to deliver what's needed.' Now they've had to concede that. Now their fund is down and the fund will now be $1.2 billion. For Senator Birmingham's education, that is in 2018-19 Budget Paper No. 2 on page 90. It says:

State and Territory governments will be offered a new agreement which is estimated to provide $1.2 billion over the four years to 30 June 2022.

This budget cuts funding for apprenticeships. We asked how many apprentices would not be employed now because of these cuts—and remember this $270 million the government cut was supposed to be matched by the states. So it is $540 million out of apprenticeships. This is the mob that has destroyed the TAFE system. This is the mob that doesn't understand basic economics. This mob, this rabble of a government, has had so many plans. The Australian says, 'What a great plan this is.' Well, The Australian has said that after every budget this government has brought down, and this government has failed in every budget to deliver proper, reasonable approaches to working-class Australians. It is a disgrace. Its time is up. This is a decaying, dying government; the sooner it kicks the bucket, the better.

4:33 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great enthusiasm that I rise today to speak on this matter of public importance introduced to this place by our parliamentary colleague from the Australian Labor Party Senator O'Neill. Thank you very much to the opposition for the opportunity to respond to this matter of public importance.

I feel quit bad for the opposition here. I almost feel like I should give you an opportunity to withdraw this matter of public importance or at least rephrase it. Forgive my impertinence, but did you submit it yesterday before the budget was brought down? I can't believe that you could possibly have read the budget or heard it or listened to it. Did the papers not land on your desk last night? Did you not read them? Did you not listen to the Treasurer when he outlined the details of budget repair and a return to surplus a year earlier than anticipated and improved economic conditions, which I might remind you are certainly no accident. They are the result of prudent economic management. Did you not listen to the Treasurer when he detailed lower, simpler and fairer personal taxes, short-term relief and long-term vision for the removal of the disincentives of bracket creep? Did you not listen to the Treasurer last night when he detailed a laser focus on the important essential services of aged care, life-transforming medicines, medical research and mental health? Did you not listen to the Treasurer last night when he spoke of the details of congestion-busting infrastructure projects that our cities so desperately need?

I can't understand how you could possibly bring a matter of public importance to this chamber that suggested that you didn't, in fact, listen to the budget, that you didn't read the budget papers. Or did you not read the newspapers or the commentators today? I realise that as of today, because of that pesky section 44 of the Constitution, your ranks and resources are severely depleted, but surely that is no excuse for not understanding the budget or for deliberately misrepresenting it. In this case, if it's simply an oversight, I can assume it is only an oversight and not the opposition being deliberately obtuse. You have certainly given the government a terrific opportunity to enlighten the Senate about the true nature of the coalition's budget for 2018.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

If Senator O'Neill believes this budget is unfair, what on earth would she consider the higher and higher taxes, year after year, promised by Labor to be? I think it was $220 billion at last count. The clock keeps ticking. Taxes on wage earners, on retirees, on investors, on savers—are they fair? Are taxes on homeowners, on wage earners, on retirees and non-investors fair?

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Neill, I have been very indulgent with a large number of increasingly loud interjections. Could you please give Senator Hume the courtesy of being heard in silence.

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What does Senator O'Neill call Labor's squandering of the surplus of the previous coalition government, the endless budget deficit after budget deficit, the record—Labor's record—of shameless profligacy in government that committed the next generation of Australians to debt they don't deserve and can't repay? How can that possibly be fair? What would Senator O'Neill call an NDIS scheme that promised to support those who need it most in our communities that was never funded? Talk about promising the world only to have the atlas thrown at your head! How could an unfunded NDIS possibly be fair?

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hume please resume your seat. Senators on my left and right, I would please ask again that Senator Hume be heard in silence. I could not hear what she was saying over the interjections on both sides. Please accord her the courtesy of being heard in silence.

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me tell you exactly what the chamber can agree on: those policies are not fair. They were never fair. Let me tell you what is fair. Economic responsibility is fair. Prudent fiscal management is fair. Getting the policy levers right to allow businesses to grow, to invest and to employ is fair. Growing the economy is fair. Record numbers of jobs is fair. Record numbers of people moving off welfare and into work is the fairest of fair. Most importantly, lower, simpler, fairer personal taxes—nothing could be fairer than that.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last night my very good friend and colleague the honourable Treasurer Scott Morrison, in the other place, delivered a budget that promised lower taxes, spending on essential services, guaranteeing essential services, and a budget surplus that is well within our grasp and that arrives one year earlier than anticipated. Make no mistake, though, this is absolutely no accident. This is the delivery of a promise, a promise of economic growth, a promise of more jobs and a promise to keep Australians safe.

This budget is the furthest thing from unfair. It's a budget that looks after those who need it the most. It is immediate tax relief for low- and middle-income earners: 4.4 million people who will benefit from a fairer tax system immediately, 4.4 low- and middle-income earners who will keep more of the money they have worked so hard to earn. These are the people who need it the most. The reason this tax relief means so much to those people is very simple. The marginal propensity to consume is almost 100 per cent for low- to middle-income earners.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Senator O'Neill, you don't need to repeat yourself. I ignored you perfectly well the first time.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hume, please resume your seat. I would remind you, Senator Hume, that you should address all comments through the chair. Senator O'Neill, I have given you a number of warnings and been quite indulgent. I cannot hear Senator Hume speaking. Again, could you please allow her to be heard.

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Where is Labor on all of this? It is certainly not in a place that is anywhere near fair. Labor likes to tax those that it hurts the most to pay for their unfunded promises. They take the public for fools. But the Australian public are not fools, and Labor should stop treating them as such. The Australian people read the newspapers too; they can see the job figures.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They know that over 420,000 new jobs—

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Williams.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Acting Deputy President, three or four times now you have asked Senator O'Neill to cease interjecting. I ask that you ask her again so that Senator Hume can be heard in silence, or to invoke stricter regulations on her, please.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Neill, I have been extremely patient. Again and again, you have flouted my very strong request that Senator Hume be heard in silence. It is disorderly, and some of your comments have been inappropriate. I would ask that you allow Senator Hume to be heard in silence for her remaining 3½ minutes.

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor is taking the public for fools. But the Australian public are not fools and they shouldn't be treated as such. They can read the newspapers. They can see those job figures. They know very well that the Turnbull coalition government is the only government that can maintain a strong economy. It is very difficult to dispute the just shy of one million new jobs that we have created since we came to government. Tell me where that isn't fair.

These very same strong economic conditions that we have created have also allowed the Turnbull government to fund Labor's unfunded promises. We are the only government that will fully fund the NDIS. We are providing record levels of funding for public hospitals. We are increasing funding for aged care, life transforming medicines and medical research, and pivotal mental health service. That is fairness.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are the only government that is delivering record funding for education, year on year. We are delivering $24.5 billion in extra school funding over a decade and, more importantly, we are targeting the schools that need funding the most. This is fairness. I am yet to even mention our congestion-busting infrastructure packages. We are delivering $75 billion in infrastructure investment—$24.5 billion this year alone—which will reduce congestion, better connect out regions and improve safety and create jobs. Surely this is fairness.

In this year's budget there are five essential things we must do to strengthen the economy and guarantee those essentials that Australians rely on. We must provide tax relief to encourage and reward working Australians and reduce those cost pressures on households, including lowering electricity prices—because that is fair. We must keep backing businesses to invest and create more jobs, especially small and medium enterprises, by lowering the cost of doing business and lowering the cost of company tax. That is fair. We must guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on—like Medicare, like hospitals, like schools and, most importantly, like caring for older Australians—because that is fair.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We must keep Australians safe, with new investment to secure our borders—because that is fair.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Most importantly, we must ensure—

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hume, could you please resume your seat. I know you only have 25 seconds to go, but could I please ask senators on both sides—in particular, Senator O'Neill, who has consistently flouted my request—to allow Senator Hume to be heard in silence. And the interjections on the right are not helping either. Senator Hume, please continue.

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Most importantly, it is fundamental that we ensure the government lives within its means, keeps spending under control and keeps taxes under control—something that Labor can never do and will never do. This is a sensible budget. This is a fair budget. This is a budget that the coalition and, indeed, all of Australia should be proud of.

4:45 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This is not a fair budget. It is not helping those most in need. It is a complete fraud on the Australian nation for the government to claim that this is a fair budget and that they're helping low-income Australians. Look at what they're actually doing, how that money is being spent and where that money is going—in other words, the big end of town. If you're earning $200,000, you're fine: out of this budget, you're going to make $7,000.

I'll tell you what is not fair: it is not fair that the people on the lowest incomes, those struggling to survive on Newstart and youth allowance, are not getting anything. There is no increase in Newstart. There is no increase in youth allowance. The government should've focused their budget on helping those people who are genuinely on the lowest incomes, who are struggling to survive on less than $40 a day—less than $40 a day! I note that some on the other side of this chamber claim they can live on that amount. If you can live on that, try it—try it properly. I have tried it, and it is virtually impossible. When I tried it, it was less than $38 a day. It is impossible to live on when you take out the cost of accommodation, and it's very hard to find affordable accommodation and when you take out all of the other expenses—absolutely essential services, such as your energy water and available communications, because you have to have a phone to be able to find a job. That is where the government should have been focusing their attention, but, no, they didn't do that because they're still in the land of lifters and leaners—and that is quite clear from this budget. It is quite clear. They don't call them lifters and leaners anymore, but they're still into vilifying and demonising those who are trying to survive on Newstart and youth allowance.

I find it very strange that I am quoting John Howard when it comes to income support—when everybody in this place knows my absolute rejection of Welfare to Work that has so significantly impacted those on Newstart and, particularly, single parents who are worse off now that they're having to survive on the appallingly low Newstart allowance while they're trying to raise their kids. Even John Howard said today that Newstart needs to be increased. Even John Howard, the architect of Welfare to Work, is now saying Newstart has to be increased.

And why would the government listen to academics who are actually quoting the evidence and doing the research that shows that Newstart is so dismal and needs to be increased by at least $75 a week? That doesn't bring it up to the aged-care payment, by the way, which everybody also acknowledges is too low. And then I hear them say, 'But that's because they have to live on it all the time'. People on Newstart have to survive on it for a much longer period than they used to before for a whole variety of reasons.

Not only did the government not raise Newstart; they didn't even enable them to access the same sort of increase in the work bonus as those on the age pension—an increase in the threshold in which you can work before you lose Newstart. They only did that for those on the age pension. That is good for people on the age pension, but where is it for the people trying to survive on the disability support pension? Where is it for the people trying to survive on Newstart? Where is it for those single parents who have kids at home, and who are trying to raise their kids on the appallingly low Newstart? You couldn't even do that. You couldn't even give them that little filler to let them earn just a little bit more before the cut-off to Newstart comes in.

Then, to add insult the injury, all those positive reforms that the government was promising to do to the CDP—the Community Development Program—have been thrown out. From what they said, there's no mention of community wages anymore. Yet, Minister Scullion was at Garma in July promising reform to CDP, including community wages. They're trying to put them onto demerit points through this budget—with people, again, trying to survive on income support in remote communities under the appalling CDP. The government have now made that program worse.

4:50 pm

Photo of Patrick DodsonPatrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the matter of public importance raised by my colleague Senator O'Neill. The budget plans to give an $80 million tax handout to big business, but there is no commitment to addressing the needs of First Nations peoples inherent in Closing the Gap. There is no fiscal commitment for remote housing in the states of South Australia, Queensland or my own home state of Western Australia. This is a slash of $1.5 billion over four years to these states. The consequences for health, education, employment and family safety will be devastating. To reduce family violence, you must reduce overcrowding. The whole sense of this as an imperative to dealing with the Closing the Gap strategy is highlighted by this neglect. It is an absolute indictment on the Turnbull government for not pursuing this.

Yet again, millions of dollars will be lost to Western Australia, especially in the remote regions, with no Commonwealth commitment to build and maintain houses in our communities. Good progress was being made under the national partnership, particularly in Queensland, where the delivery of homes was taking place, employment was increasing, apprenticeships were being undertaken and small businesses were being achieved. All of this is placed at risk because there is no agreement and there are no outlays being made or committed to by this government to the state of Queensland.

There is no vision, as we have heard from Senator Siewert, on the reform of the CDP, the Community Development Program. There may be an improvement for 6,000 people on a new wage subsidy, but the reform does nothing for the 30,000 mostly First Nations peoples who are subject to the scheme. Penalties are still inbuilt in the reduced hours. The poor will be trapped in poverty and will be punished as a consequence of that poverty and for their noncompliance with the drastic rules that the scheme promotes. The cut of $5 million in the 2014 budget has not been restored. The failure of the IAS program remains, and it seems from the budget documents that some $30 million has been cut over the 2018 year from the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio. This will have severe consequences for legal services. It is not clear which of the services will have the responsibility, in addition to the work that they have now, to deal with the civil matters as well as criminal matters.

The budget sends a message to First Nations peoples that we are, in fact, a dying race, worthy only of support in aged care, in suicide prevention and in poor health. It is good that there is new assistance for patients needing renal care and dialysis. But what good is that if you do not have a house to return to? Supply Nation may create some opportunities for selected organisations and Aboriginal businesses; however, there's no clarity about the governance, the employment and the training commitments of those organisations. This budget for First Nations, is for me—listening to the hype that has been around in this chamber—like being a stolen generation child in a foster home on Christmas night, watching the natural children of the foster parents getting all of the presents while the stolen generation child gets to pick up the wrappers. We await the minister entering and putting coloured balloons on the tree, so that we can clap. We are left out, forgotten, neglected and ignored. The government needs to redress this if we are going to do something that provides justice for the First Nations peoples.

4:54 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, it's an interesting debate, as always. The Labor Party and the Greens continue to lie about the impact of the budget, whereas I and, indeed, most Australians are very, very happy with the budget—because, to me, the big thing is that for the first time in almost a decade the government is now living within its means.

All of my constituents in Queensland, if they're in business or they have a family budget, know that they have to make their budget work. They have to balance the bottom line and they can't spend more than they earn. Families know that. Businesses know that. Why doesn't the government know that? For the first time in almost a decade, this government is doing that. Not only are we now living within our means but the deficit has come right down. It'll come down further next year, and the following year there will be a $2.2 billion surplus. I've been here a long time. I used to sit here and listen to Wayne Swan promise a surplus in every budget, and not once did he get a surplus. In fact, every year the deficit went up. We've committed since we've been in government to bring the deficit down, and we are on track for a surplus in a couple of years. That, to me, is the big thing. Once we get into surplus, we can start putting money aside and we can start paying off the $400 billion to $500 billion debt run up by the six years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. That's the exciting thing for me.

The other thing that interests me is the tax cuts. Excuse me, I'll be a bit parochial about Queensland and I'll talk about North Queensland and about the electorates of Herbert and Kennedy, which I look after because they don't have members that have any interest in the people in those areas. I heard the member for Herbert and the member for Kennedy both saying, 'Oh, there's nothing in this for Kennedy; there's nothing in this for Herbert.' Well, I say to the member for Herbert: go and ask the almost 70,000 taxpayers in your electorate—that's almost three-quarters of the voters in your electorate—if they got nothing out of the budget. They will tell you, because you seem to be too incapable of understanding, that they are going to get real tax cuts, real money in their pockets, starting on 1 July this year. In Kennedy, there are almost 60,000 taxpayers, whom Mr Katter obviously has no connection with, who will benefit from this budget. In addition to that, older people will now get increased aged-care packages to stay at home. There will be new places in aged care. In Townsville, the garrison city, I'm very excited about the support for the veterans community. Apparently the member for Herbert, following the Labor mantra and the talking points that come out and say, 'Just criticise everything,' doesn't realise that the Defence community do well. In the north generally, the chaplaincy program is only a little program but is very well received in the north, and the schools up there will be delighted to see that this chaplaincy program is now becoming permanent.

Road funding in the north, and across the board in Queensland, continues to increase. If there's one problem I have with the road funding, it is that I live in Ayr, which is about 100 kilometres south of my office in Townsville, and it very often takes me longer than it should to get from Ayr to Townsville because there is so much roadwork happening. When I drove to Brisbane at Christmas time, it was the same story. There is so much roadwork happening under the coalition government that there are disruptions, but they are building safer and better roads for which the Commonwealth is responsible.

There are hundreds of other initiatives in the budget. The 10 minutes that I have wouldn't allow me to go anywhere near all of them, but I want to respond to some of the previous contributions that have been made. Senator Siewert was talking all about people who haven't got a job. As has been so often said, the best form of welfare is a job, and, thanks to this government, 411,000 new jobs have been created in the last year. That's why we can do good things with the budget, because no longer are we paying those 411,000 people unemployment benefits. They're actually working and we're getting tax from them.

Senator Dodson talked about First Nations people. As I have often said here and elsewhere and to my Indigenous friends up in the north, the best thing that we can do for Indigenous people is treat them like every other Australian, and the sooner we can do that, we will close the gap. We shouldn't separate them, in my view. We should give wealth and advantage where it is appropriate and we are doing that. Senator Scullion is doing marvellous things. But the best thing we can do is treat Indigenous people like every other Australian and not as a separate sub-class, which people on the other side seem to think is needed.

The senator from New South Wales, Senator O'Neill, was going on about the ABC. The ABC gets a billion dollars of taxpayers' money every year. Now, if the ABC can't save because of the pause—$83 million—then they are even worse managers than I thought. Some of the journalists that work at the ABC, particularly in this building, are good journalists. But you get down to Ultimo and you get all the lefties who run the subediting stuff and who really are just mouthpieces for the Labor Party and the Greens. I gave Senator McKim a book earlier about Manus Island. The ABC continue to run the left-wing theme on Manus and Nauru. I should have got the ABC a copy of this wonderful book about the untold story on Manus, the truth on Manus. The ABC could easily find $87 million out of a total budget of $1 billion every year.

But let me say this to the ABC—and I can warn them the government will be closely watching—one of the things the ABC does very, very well, and it has my full support, is the regional service it provides to audiences where there aren't any other providers. You go to Ultimo in Sydney and there are, what, 23 different commercial stations—TV, radio. You've got plenty of choice in Sydney. In the regions, very often there is only one source of information and that's the ABC, and they do a wonderful job. But, if the ABC think that they are going to punish the coalition by cutting services in the country, let me warn them: they will have a real fight on their hands if that happens.

We've been through this before. We do have a better ABC board these days, and I'm sure they will understand that there is a real opportunity to shave the bloated bureaucracy and the subeditors, the left-wing cabal, who are in the back rooms of the ABC, and get onto their main purpose of disseminating real information, not the opinions of some first-year journalist who has been to university and picks up on the sort of rubbish you hear from the unions. Some journalists actually report facts, not their opinions. I'm quite sure the ABC can do that and I'm quite sure they can do it while maintaining a real service in country Australia, which is a service I totally support. I congratulate and thank the ABC people who do actually work in country Australia.

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You can tell by the yelling and screaming from the other side that they don't like what I'm saying because they know, whenever I speak, that I tell the truth. People do actually listen to this on radio, and the Labor Party and Greens are determined to shout me out because unless you agree with them, you're not intended to be heard. But I love it. I love it. It just shows that everything I say is right on the mark.

Debate interrupted.