Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Fifield. In last night's budget, the Treasurer delivered a once-off energy payment which left out thousands of Australians who rely on Abstudy, Austudy, double orphan pension, Newstart allowance, parenting payment, partnered parent allowance, sickness allowance, special benefit widow allowance, wife pension, youth allowance and veteran payment. On what basis did the government think those receiving these government payments were not deserving of support?
The government is aware of the financial pressures that are placed on households, which do make it harder for many Australians to pay their bills, especially those receiving income support payments. The government has taken the decision that around five million income support recipients will receive this energy payment, including those on the age pension and the disability support pension, as well as other working-age benefits, including Newstart and youth allowance. We are in the position to offer this support because of strong economic management.
This is indeed an example of the fact that pursuing good, strong economic management and a responsible approach to the budget is not an end in and of itself. It has meaning as far as it provides the opportunity for government to assist members of the community who need it. The government absolutely puts its hand up and acknowledges that we have taken a conscious decision to make this payment available for those on Newstart as well.
I don't know if you answered my first question. But on radio this morning, less than 24 hours after he delivered his budget, the Treasurer caved in to pressure from Labor and backflipped, saying that Australians on Newstart would now receive an energy payment. Can the minister confirm that this change was agreed in a crisis meeting between the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and finance minister last night? When was the minister first advised of the change—before or after the budget speech?
The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the finance minister don't have crisis meetings. They conduct the administration of government in an orderly way and on a methodical basis, as you would expect. What we wanted to ensure was that this measure secured swift passage through the parliament so that—
I'm happy to continue, Mr President. As I was saying, we wanted to ensure that this important measure would have swift passage through both chambers. We did not want to allow those opposite a reason, a rationale, to delay or prevent the passage of this measure. So, through the decision the government has taken, there will be more support, and I'm confident that this chamber will support the passage of this legislation.
Can the minister confirm that the government's backflip, less than 24 hours after delivering the budget, has blown an $80 million hole in it? Isn't it clear that, with the budget unravelling, this is a government in crisis, continuing a sixth year of chaos and division?
What I can absolutely confirm is that what this government has done is deliver a budget that will see a surplus for the first time since—well, we'd have to go back to when Mr Costello was the Treasurer of this country. There used to be a rule, I'll call it the Costello rule, where the former Treasurer said that, for each year of bad Labor government, you would actually need three years of good coalition government to undo the damage. What this government has demonstrated—
As I was saying, this government has demonstrated that within six years you can actually repair six years of damage done by Labor. We have got the budget back in balance. Obviously there's still the work to do to pay down the debt of those opposite, and we will.
My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Cormann. How does the Liberal-National government's plan for a stronger economy, as set out in the 2019-20 budget, provide the opportunity for hardworking Australians to get ahead?
I think it's time to remind the chamber again that, when we came into government in September 2013, the economy was weakening, unemployment was rising and the budget position was rapidly deteriorating. Today, the economy is stronger, employment growth is much stronger, the unemployment rate has got a 4 in front of it and, of course, we've got the budget back in a strong and improving position—in fact, we've got the budget back in the black. What a stronger economy delivers is better opportunities for families to get ahead and the opportunity to get a job and to get a better job. It also means, as more people are employed, that government collects more personal income tax revenue without the need to increase taxes. More people paying tax means more revenue for government without the need to increase taxes. Do you know what the government can do in that circumstance? We can cut taxes. We can provide income tax relief to encourage and reward and incentivise hardworking families across Australia, as well as fund all of the essential services across health, education—you name it—that Australians rely on.
Of course, when Labor were last in government, they made such a mess of the budget in the context of a weakening economy, rising unemployment and a rapidly deteriorating budget position. Do you know what happened under Labor? They stopped listing essential medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. In our period in government, on the back of a stronger economy, on the back of more effective expenditure control and on the back of managing the budget better, we have actually been able to invest in providing affordable access to high-quality medicines for all patients across Australia. Two thousand medicines have been listed during our period in government, at a cost of about $10 billion. These are the sorts of things that a good government that manages the economy properly and manages the budget properly can do. This is not the time to change direction and go back to the discredited Labor way of the past.
As I was just indicating, our economic plan has made it possible to deliver more and better services Australians deserve: more medicines on the PBS, more access to quality health care, secure defences, less congested roads, a new Inland Rail network for eastern Australia and a new Western Sydney Airport, breaking a deadlock that had eluded successive governments for decades.
But we're not complacent about the need to continue to build a stronger economy, which is why we have a plan for stronger growth, with another one and a quarter million new jobs over the next five years. It's a plan that will drive stronger wages growth across the economy. It's a plan that is based on rewarding aspiration, enterprise and effort. That is why in last night's budget the government also announced more tax relief for small- and medium-sized businesses. We want small businesses to prosper. We want them to employ even more Australians and pay them better wages. That is why we need to ensure that they can be as successful as they possibly can be. (Time expired)
The impact of alternative economic approaches is entirely predictable. There is no question that if Mr Shorten was successful at the election it would make our economy weaker, make our country weaker and make Australians poorer. A Shorten Labor government would take us backward with higher unemployment, weaker growth, lower living standards and a budget mess. Mr Shorten sneers at those who want to get ahead and only promises them a higher tax burden. He's already said that aspirational middle-class Australians do not deserve tax breaks. That is what Mr Shorten says. If you buy an investment property to secure your family's economic future, the Labor Party will have their hands in your pocket. If you buy some shares for your retirement, the Labor Party will have their hands in your pocket. If you try to build a nest egg to pass on to your kids, the Labor Party will have their hands in your pocket. The Labor Party does not know how to manage money. When they run out of money, they come after yours. That is the message to the Australian people. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Fifield. In the 2018-19 financial year, the coalition government oversaw a $3.4 billion underspend in the NDIS. In last night's budget it was revealed that in the 2019-20 financial year the Morrison government is banking a $1.6 billion underspend in the NDIS. Can the minister confirm that this means that 77,000 people will miss out on the NDIS this year alone?
Can I say, as a former minister for disabilities, how disappointed I am that those opposite, who know full well how the NDIS operates, are seeking to create a problem that does not exist. The NDIS is operating under this government exactly as it would operate under those opposite. The NDIS is fully funded under this government and will continue to be fully funded under this government. Funding for the NDIS is like many programs within government: it is a demand-driven program. The NDIS estimates are updated up or down at every budget, as they would be under those opposite. The NDIS estimates are updated up or down at every MYEFO, as they would be under those opposite. The NDIS estimates are updated up or down at every final budget outcome, as they would be under those opposite.
The NDIS is a program which is in transition. We are transferring from a state based system to a national system. People are progressively moving from their state based arrangements to the NDIS. I would hope all colleagues would be pleased to acknowledge that more than 250,000 Australians who have a disability are now benefiting from the NDIS, and 78,000 of those are people who are receiving supports for the very first time. Everyone who is eligible for the NDIS and who has transitioned to the NDIS will get the support that they are entitled to. They will get the support that they deserve. For those opposite to portray the usual process of estimates being adjusted as something strange and unusual is quite, quite wrong.
In response to the revelations, Kirsten Deane of Every Australian Counts has said, 'It is completely unacceptable to leave people with disability waiting two years for a wheelchair while you bolster the budget bottom line.' Is Ms Deane wrong?
I know Ms Deane very well. She has done an outstanding job advocating for Australians with disability. I think many colleagues in this place have worked with Kirsten Deane. But it is completely and utterly wrong for those opposite to contend and purport that there has been funding cut from the NDIS. That is not true. All funding that is needed by NDIS participants will be forthcoming. There will not be anyone who requires support under the NDIS who does not receive that support. Every person eligible for the NDIS will receive the support to which they are entitled. Those opposite should know better than to seek to cause fear and distress among people with disabilities by misrepresenting the way the budget works. (Time expired)
Everything that Senator Brown just said is wrong. I had hoped that, if there were one area of policy where bipartisanship could be maintained as we head into an election, it would be the NDIS. I would have hoped that those opposite, rather than seeking to cause fear where there is no reason for fear, would be part of helping to explain the way the budget process operates and helping to explain to Australians with disability, their families and their carers that there's nothing to worry about, that the NDIS is fully funded and that everyone who is entitled to an NDIS package will receive their full package without any deviation. It is extremely disappointing that those opposite can't raise their sights on this issue.