Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

6:14 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Last night the Treasurer told Australia that we had a plan for a strong economy and a stronger future. That this Government had a plan that delivers cost of living relief now. Today I introduce legislation that delivers on that.

This Bill demonstrates the Morrison Government's continued commitment to addressing cost of living pressures faced by Australians in a responsible, temporary and targeted manner.

Schedule 1 to the Bill increases the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for singles, families, and seniors and pensioners, consistent with increases in the consumer price index.

These changes will ensure that low-income households who did not pay the Medicare levy in the 2020-21 income year will generally continue to be exempt in the 2021-22 income year where their incomes have risen in line with, or by less than, the consumer price index.

The Medicare levy low-income thresholds ensure that people who pay no personal income tax due to their eligibility for structural offsets — such as the low-income tax offset — generally do not incur the Medicare levy.

The increase in thresholds will apply to the 2021-22 income year and future income years.

Schedule 2 to the Bill provides an income tax deduction for individual taxpayers who incur costs for COVID-19 testing expenses required to attend a place of work.

The Government recognises that COVID-19 tests help to mitigate transmission risks and absences from the workplace.

In making these expenses tax deductible, employers will also not incur fringe benefits tax where COVID-19 tests are provided to employees for this purpose.

Schedule 3 to the Bill amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to include the Royal Humane Society of New South Wales Incorporated, Perth Korean War Memorial Committee Incorporated, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Consolidated Trust Cathedral of the Annunciation of our Lady Restoration Fund, The Australian Future Leaders Foundation Limited, Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation, and The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation Limited on the list of deductible gift recipients.

Deductible gift recipient status allows members of the public to receive income tax deductions for donations of $2 or more that they make to these six organisations.

Schedule 4 to the Bill makes it easier for businesses to create employee share schemes by reducing red tape. It reduces the regulatory requirements that apply to employee share schemes and the associated compliance burden.

These reforms also expand access to the regime to cover a broader range of employee share schemes so that more participants can benefit. This includes covering employee share schemes in unlisted companies of unlimited value, provided that participants do not contribute more than $30,000 each year.

These changes make it easier for businesses to attract and reward talent to compete globally. It will also give Australians more opportunities to share in the economic value they create through their hard work.

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Corporations have been notified of the amendments in Schedule 4 to the Bill as required under the Corporations Agreement 2002.

Schedule 5 to the Bill will reduce the Global Domestic Product uplift factor for pay as you go and GST instalments for the 2022-23 income year from the rate calculated by application of the statutory formula to 2 per cent.

This year's statutory instalment rate is not likely to reflect current economic conditions for many small and medium enterprises, particularly those still affected by the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural disasters. The substituted rate will minimise adverse cash flow consequences for small to medium enterprises.

Schedule 6 to the Bill delivers a one-off Cost Of Living Tax Offset to support low and middle income earners facing rising cost of living pressures. The Government is delivering this cost of living tax offset through the tax system by increasing the low and middle income tax offset by $420 for the 2021-22 income year.

The low and middle income tax offset is available to individuals with taxable incomes of less than $126,000, and currently provides a reduction in tax of up to $1,080.

This one-off cost of living tax offset increases the maximum low and middle income tax offset benefit to $1,500 for a single income household and $3,000 for a dual income household.

This benefit will be paid when taxpayers lodge their tax return for the 2021-22 income year.

Over 10 million taxpayers are expected to benefit from the one-off cost of living tax offset for 2021-22.

Overall, the one-off cost of living tax offset will provide $4.1 billion in tax relief to low- and middle-income earners. This is on top of the $7.8 billion in tax relief that the Government delivered through the LMITO for the 2021-22 income year.

Schedule 7 to the Bill ensures all Australians continue to have the best access to the PBS, and that medicines continue to be affordable for all Australians. The amendment will reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme general patient charge by $10.00, from the current amount of $42.50 to the new amount of $32.50, commencing on 1 May 2022.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that all Australians are able to access high quality health care. The PBS provides significant direct assistance to make medicines affordable. This includes the provision of access to subsidised medicines through the PBS.

This measure will provide a significant benefit to the affordability of the PBS listed medicines for general patients by reducing the general PBS co-payment.

General patients will pay no more than $32.50 of out-of-pocket costs (excluding optional charges imposed by manufacturers).

This means that over 3 million Australians will pay less for their medicines each year, with close to 17 million scripts costing patients less.

The indexation arrangements for the general patient co-payment will continue according to the existing indexation arrangements. However, the indexation calculation will now work off a significantly reduced baseline of $32.50, meaning that patients will continue to save for many years into the future.

The Government's commitment to ensuring that Australians can access affordable medicines, when they need them, remains a priority.

Schedule 8 to the Bill will assist Australian households with a one-off Cost of Living Payment of $250, expected to flow to approximately 6 million eligible Australians. This payment will assist eligible recipients with higher cost of living pressures.

Recipients of social security and veterans' payments and holders of certain concession cards will be eligible if they are residing in Australia on the test date of 29 March 2022.

Schedule 9 makes consequential changes to the Product Stewardship (Oil) Regulations 2000 to implement the amendments in the measure contained in the Excise Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022, which I will be introducing shortly.

Full details of the measures are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

6:15 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to table my remarks.

Leave not granted.

Fine. I will read them out. Labor will support these bills, including the Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022. We are fully aware of the cost-of-living pressure being experienced by Australians, and our support for the measures in these bills reflects our commitment before last night's budget to be constructive about cost-of-living relief that the government would bring forward.

There were three defining features of last night's budget: firstly, $1 trillion in debt, with nowhere near enough to show for that incredibly significant addition of debt that has been put on the budget by those opposite; secondly, real wages falling in the budget, with the average worker being $26 a week or $1,315 a year worse off as a consequence of the real wage cuts which were outlined there in black and white in the government's budget last night; and, thirdly, buried on page 49 of Budget Paper No. 2, $3 billion in secret cuts that the government does not want to come clean on on this side of the election, no matter what government members may want to say about the budget papers.

If there is a theme that emerges from this budget, it is that the government has taken a whole bunch of problems and challenges that exist on one side of the election and put them on the other side of the election. It's almost as if the Prime Minister woke up at some point in the last couple of weeks, contacted the Treasurer and said: 'I've got to call an election in the next fortnight or so. Let's get the shovel out, and hopefully we can shovel enough money in people's direction that they will forget that we've spent the best part of a decade going after the wages, job security, pensions and Medicare of ordinary Australians.'

This government has gone after Australians for the best part of a decade, and it's hoping this cash splash will make Australians forget the damage that those opposite have done to Australians' living standards with this almost decade-long campaign of undermining job security, wages growth, the pension and Medicare. However, I think people are seeing through this budget, just as they're seeing through this government. They understand that, even after the relief which was budgeted for last night and which we're looking to pass through the parliament today, people are still way, way behind.

While it's true that there has been significant pressure put on the economy and on prices by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prices didn't start skyrocketing and pressure didn't start being applied to working families when Russia invaded Ukraine. These things started when the coalition started attacking wages and living standards. Nothing in these bills before us today makes up for the damage that those opposite have done to household budgets. They said that stagnant wages were a deliberate design feature of their economic policy. In lots of ways, this is mission accomplished, because we have yet another year of real wages going backwards in the government's own budget.

What we have said consistently for some time is that we won't be standing in the way of some cost-of-living relief, which is made necessary by the government's attacks on wages and the fact that real wages are going backwards. We intend to support the bills which are before this house today and which cover the measures announced last night to provide some cost of living relief for Australians, particularly pensioners and workers on low and middle incomes—and also motorists, with the fuel excise cut.

It is worth mentioning, though—and it is consistent with what I was saying before about taking problems from one side of the election to the other—that what the government will be legislating today is an increase in petrol prices in September and the end of the low- and middle-income tax offset. So, if the government were to change hands in May, whether the election is on 14 or 21 or 7 May, the inheritance for a new government or, frankly, for a re-elected government would be $1 trillion of debt with nothing to show for it; interest rates going up, as the Reserve Bank and others have flagged; petrol prices going up in September; and the end of the low- and middle-income tax offset.

What was missing in this budget was a genuine plan for the future. At the upcoming election, Australians have a real choice. If we want to deal with the skills crisis by providing fee-free TAFE, if we want to reduce energy costs with cheaper and cleaner energy, if we want to increase workforce participation by boosting child care, if we want to modernise the NBN to increase productivity throughout the economy, and if we want to co-invest in advanced manufacturing to create new, secure jobs and new industries to build sovereign capability in Australia, then that's what an Albanese Labor government will deliver, and that's why Australians should vote for an Anthony Albanese Labor government at the coming. election.

6:20 pm

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution to this debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022. This bill provides a one-off payment of $250 to income support recipients and also provides an income tax offset of $420 for the 2021-22 income year. The government is trying to pass off these sweeteners as 'cost-of-living payments' that will 'ease the cost of living pressures'. But Australians won't fall for that. The $420 payment won't go far enough, for families across Australia who are stuck spending half of their income on housing, and the $250 payment would only lift pensioners out of poverty for one week, before sending them back below the poverty line the following week.

We cannot seriously be talking about easing the cost-of-living pressures without talking about housing. We are in a housing crisis in Australia. There are no two ways about that. Too many Australians are struggling to keep their heads above water, and too many of these Australians are women and younger people. Everyone deserves a roof over their heads and a safe place to call home. In a property market that is rigged for wealthy investors and with property prices surging to record highs, buying a home is well out of reach for most people. Decades of governments have rigged private housing markets with tax breaks to favour big developers and rich property speculators. We have a housing affordability crisis, but the Liberal and Labor parties want to wipe their hands of it.

It isn't good enough to just leave this to the market. To fix this mess, we actually need government action and we need it now. Renters in this country are doing it tough. It's too expensive for many people to pay rent and also save for a deposit at the same time. More and more people are renting, but with limited rights—and they can't turn their house into a home. Like so many others across this country I am a single parent, and I know what it's like to live in social housing. For people like us, the housing crisis is not academic. It is our lived reality. And it's time to wake up, because that is what's happening in the real world. It's time to think differently.

In the balance of power, the Greens will push for billionaires and big corporations to actually pay their fair share of tax in this country so we can build affordable housing and tackle the housing crisis head-on. Whether you are renting a home or buying one, a housing system should work for people and not for profit. That's why the Greens will build one million new homes, including 120,000 new homes in my home state of Western Australia, over the next 20 years. These new homes will clear the public housing waiting list and make housing more affordable. They will end homelessness and ensure that everyone has a roof other their heads. We will build and offer—to renters, first home buyers and people locked out of housing—new, good-quality homes in areas people actually want to live in, for $300,000, at cost price. This means renters can become home owners, paying off an affordable home loan—and building equity—rather than the ever-increasing rental payments. Because this means buying a home from the government, the price isn't set by property tycoons trying to turn a massive profit. The shared equity scheme will mean buyers will eventually own three-quarters of the property and be able to live there for the rest of their lives, or sell the property and move into the private property market.

The Greens will give renters the rights they deserve, by strengthening renters' rights and by funding tenancy advocacy services. That's why we will introduce rent control, ban no-grounds evictions and give the option of long-term leases for those who want them. Renters should be able to build the life they want in their home—I know you don't understand that, Senator Scarr—with the right to make minor changes without a landlord's permission. We will stop the blanket ban on pets in leases. We will again pay for this by making the billionaires pay the billionaires tax on their wealth and by winding back unfair tax breaks for people who own two or more properties.

The Greens are the only party who don't take donations from the big banks, the big developers and the property tycoons. We are unlike the other parties, because we don't take big donations and we put people's needs first. The Liberal and Labor parties give billions of dollars in handouts to people who own multiple properties, which just pushes the prices up and locks people out of housing. Both of the major parties want to keep the system rigged for big banks, big developers and property tycoons—all of which donate huge amounts to their party each year. Both parties are beholden to their donors, and it shows. Their policies make it easier for someone to buy their third, fourth or fifth investment property. The Greens will make sure that those people who are locked out of the housing market can own their own home so that we can all have a safe place to call home.

6:26 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022. Schedule 6 includes a one-off $420 pre-election bribe for individuals with a taxable income of less than $126,000. Schedule 8 of this bill includes a one-off $420 pre-election bribe for recipients of social security and veteran payments and for holders of certain concession cards. I say these are bribes because there is no real plan to turn around and deal with the cost of living. You purely turn around and do the important immediate steps of trying to pretend you're dealing with the cost of living. You don't have a plan for the future. You didn't have a plan before these one-off payments. There is nothing in this bill or elsewhere in the budget that grows wages. There is nothing in this bill or elsewhere in the budget to improve job security, which assists in growing wages. There is no long-term plan in this bill or elsewhere to improve the standard of living for Australian people.

This leads me to ask: why is the Prime Minister and the rest of this sorry government so desperate to hold onto power if, when they have power, they don't even try to improve the lives of everyday Australians? Isn't that why we're all here? Australians are being crushed by cost-of-living pressures. We're seeing skyrocketing costs of living and record low wages growth. Of course, they're also being crushed by record levels of high job insecurity. That's the track record of this government.

I listened earlier today, in question time, with some amusement to Senator Birmingham say, 'We have a long-term economic plan.' Guess what? Their long-term economic plan is to decrease your wages as part of an economic design they have put in place to keep wages low. To keep the standard of living low in this country is a design practice of this government. What does that mean for everyday Australians and what does that mean for Australia? It means middle-class jobs are disappearing. It means that, for the first time in the history of this country, this government has been shrinking the middle class. They have not put the plans and processes in place to make sure there is a real difference. There are so many examples of that. People are desperately suffering under this government's watch and under this government's program to make sure that people are not on a liveable wage.

As recently as 23 March this year, it was reported that new modelling shows that an aged-care worker with no partner or dependants has $112 a week left after covering the costs of rent, transport, groceries and health care. If the worker is a single parent, they are $148 behind. About 70 per cent of aged-care staff are qualified personal care workers with a certificate III qualification, and, after tax, they take home $770 a week. Those figures are for a feminised industry—the caring industry, which is so critical to our community and also to our economy. The Australian Aged Care Collaboration, which is a group of six aged-care peak bodies, examined the rising costs of living for affected workers, and that's what they found. This is not some propaganda sheet from some obscure source. This is the employers saying how desperate the situation is for the workers within their industry.

Clearly, you can go into so many more examples of what's occurring in our economy right now. I recall that, when I first started working as a cleaner and then a bar attendant as a full-time job in my late teens, I was working with people who were raising a family. For me, a middle-class job is when you have middle-class pay, and people in those jobs as cleaners and bar attendants were raising families. These day, they're still middle-class jobs, but they don't have middle-class pay. They don't have a government that cares about expanding, developing and supporting the middle class in this country.

Regardless of the rhetoric, let's look at the actual facts. The McKell Institute found that an average worker would be earning $307 more per week if the wages growth achieved under Labor between 2007 and 2013 had been sustained from 2014 to 2021. Almost $16,000 per year has been stolen from everyday Australian workers under this government's watch because they have a low-wage agenda. And, when you look at the low-wage agenda, how low can they go? How far can we turn it around and make sure that workers don't have the opportunities that they should have to earn a decent living? We only have to turn to comments that have been passed regarding workers in what is now our second-largest company, Uber.

There are 120,000 people working for Uber. Thank goodness they have been working, because they were on the front line of the pandemic. But what's their income? Their income is as low as $6.67 an hour. They have no worker's comp and no right to bargain. Wait a second! I did hear from the industrial relations minister who said she supports giving gig workers 'the freedom and flexibility to enter into contracts and negotiate their own rates of pay'. It sounds like digital WorkChoices, doesn't it? It sounds like digital WorkChoices as a design of this government. The person in charge of workplace laws in Australia thinks that an Uber driver getting paid $6.67 an hour can negotiate with the CEO in San Francisco to try to get a decent wage. The consequences are in black and white, from inquiry after inquiry, in report after report. An inquiry into job security went right to the heart of this issue of low wages. Uber drivers cannot negotiate their wages. But, for this government, it's too complicated to give basic rights to a fellow worker who is working in this country.

I know that this doesn't apply to everybody on the other side of this chamber, but it must apply to the people who cop the consequences of what you're doing. When you have industries—whether it be the ag industry, with exploited workers from the Pacific who are doing vital work in this country—where workers are getting as little in take-home pay as $100 a week, when you have Uber drivers getting paid $6.67 an hour and when you have industries that are dominated by people on temporary visas, particularly those where roughly 25 per cent are Australian nationals, it then starts to say that the government doesn't care. It doesn't care about the most vulnerable people within our community. What's clear from the McKell report is that it doesn't care about everyone else who is left, because it is a design practice of this government to turn around and keep our wages low right across the economy.

I'll let you into a little secret: a good economy doesn't create good jobs; good jobs create a good economy. And a good job is a secure job, where you're able to negotiate a decent wage. This government has said quite clearly, quite directly that, as a matter of policy, low wages are a fundamental ambition that it has. Congratulations! You've achieved that.

6:35 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Once again, I've had the privilege of sitting in the chamber as Senator Cox has made a contribution where the Greens have referred to this concept of power sharing. In the event that the Labor Party win the next election, the Greens are all set up. They're mobilised. They're going to share power with the Labor Party. They're going to share power with you, Senator Ciccone and Senator Watt. They're ready. It's going to be delightful.

Senator Watt, you've got such mastery, in terms of negotiation skills. I can see you there. I don't know—are you going to play bad cop or good cop with Senator Ciccone? Senator Ciccone, I think you'll be the good cop. I think Senator Watt is the bad cop.

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

Senator Scarr, I remind you to address your remarks through the chair.

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I do believe that Senator Ciccone would make a good cop, but I think, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that he could turn and become a bad cop, and maybe you'll need to use negotiating tactics like this, in terms of your power-sharing arrangement with the Greens.

But we heard it again this afternoon. We heard it again today from Senator Cox, with her housing policy straight out of the 1940s. Did rent control work in Great Britain? No. Did they abolish it because it didn't work? Yes. Does rent control work in the state of New York? No. Did rent control work in the state of Victoria in the 1940s, during the Second World War and in its aftermath? No. What did rent control lead to? It led to a lack of private dwellings available for rent, because landlords wouldn't invest in them. And they didn't invest in any maintenance of the buildings that they built, because there was rent control. Then, people who had excess capacity, in terms of accommodation, didn't rent it out because they wouldn't have gotten sufficient rent. It was an absolutely disastrous policy.

But I can see Senator Watt and Senator Ciccone spending time, in terms of sharing the power with the Greens, having these debates. I've got some literature upstairs. I've got a book called Basic Economics, which I'll lend you. It has a whole chapter on rent control. It's an introductory text for economics 101, so I'll lend that to you, Senator Ciccone. Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I will lend it to my good friends opposite for when they're engaged in their power-sharing arrangements with the Australian Greens. It's going to be delightful.

I must say that Senator Watt is a person of great humour. From time to time I chuckle at his contributions. Sometimes I can't be too open about it, but I do chuckle from time to time. Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I just wonder how long Senator Watt's good humour is going to last. But, through you Mr Acting Deputy President, whatever happens, my door is always open to Senator Watt and to my good friend Senator Ciccone, if they need some counselling. I've been through difficult negotiations during my corporate career, and if they need some counselling at any time in relation to the negotiation, I've got a book in my library called How to deal with Difficult People. I'm prepared to lend you that book—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President.

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

Senator Scarr, this is a very generous contribution, but I do start to fail to see its relevance to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022.

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, for bringing me back to the topic. You are, in fact, right: I have been thinking aloud in relation to the power sharing, so I will come back to the cost of living. I'm delighted to do so after the budget that was brought down, because there are cost-of-living measures in the budget that was brought down which will make a substantial difference to the good people of Queensland.

Because of the budget that was brought down earlier this week, for the next six months, Australians will save 22 cents a litre every time they fill up their motor vehicle. That makes an outstanding contribution. It is money in the pockets for Queenslanders, a direct contribution for Queenslanders to handle those cost-of-living pressures. And it's fit and proper that, with the international situation as it is, this budget should have cost-of-living measures to provide some assistance to the good people of Queensland and the good people in South Australia, who you represent, Mr Acting Deputy President. These are cost-of-living contributions to assist our constituents, to assist the people of Australia, in relation to the increase in oil prices which arose as a direct result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. So there's cost-of-living measure No. 1.

It's estimated that a family with two cars they fill up once a week could save around $30 a week or around $700 over the next six months—a profound difference in cost of living for those people who need to fill up, who have a family and who have two cars. But there is also a cost-of-living tax offset, which I'm sure Senator Patrick would be interested in. This cost-of-living tax offset provides a new one-off $420 cost-of-living tax offset for more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners. Senator Sheldon in his contribution talked about those middle-income earners and said, 'Where's the plan?' Here's the plan: a $420 cost-of-living tax offset for more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners. The punters, the people out there, are not interested in wild and woolly rhetoric, theoretical plans et cetera. They want to know what it means to their basic living expenses. What does it mean? What does the budget mean as they try to balance their household budgets and provide for their families? That's what they want to know.

Senator Sheldon can talk about the issues in relation to whether a good economy creates good jobs or good jobs create a good economy. I'm not sure that the constituents I speak to in the region where I'm based—the Ipswich regional council area in the good state of Queensland—are interested in those debates. I think they are more interested in what it means for their wallets. What does the budget mean for their wallets in terms of practically managing the cost of living?

Opposition senators interjecting

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

Senator Scarr, resume your seat. Members on my left, standing order 197 says that interruptions are disorderly. Senator Scarr, you have the call.

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In addition to those cost-of-living benefits, there's also, of course, the new one-off $250 cost-of-living payment, delivered within weeks to six million Australians. Pensioners, carers, veterans, jobseekers, eligible self-funded retirees and concession card holders will benefit. Together with existing indexation arrangements, this will see a single pensioner receive more than $500 in additional support over the next six months, just when they need it most. How's that for a plan? It sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

The reason this government can deliver the cost-of-living relief is the responsible way in which this government has managed the budget through one of the most challenging times ever seen by this country. That's why we can deliver this cost-of-living relief to the good constituents of South Australia, who you represent, and to the good constituents of Queensland, who I represent.

At the same time, whilst relieving those cost-of-living pressures, we're also assisting the people of Australia with fulfilling their long-term plan—if we want to talk about plans—to buy a house, because that's the Australian dream. That's the Australia I grew up in: that everyone in this country should have the opportunity, if they work hard and put the effort in, to realise that dream of buying their first home. And this government has delivered in spades in relation to that objective. Over the last year, 160,000 Australians have purchased their first home. That is a terrific record of achievement by this government. We're doubling the Home Guarantee Scheme, to 50,000 places per year. Approximately 10,000 Queenslanders have benefited from that Home Guarantee Scheme—10,000 Queenslanders in their homes, no doubt listening to their senator from Queensland making a contribution to this debate.

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

Senator Scarr, please resume your seat. Senator Patrick, I have asked you previously to respect the standing orders. Interjections are disorderly.

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's 10,000 Queenslanders living in their first home as a direct result of that Home Guarantee Scheme. So that's the plan this government is realising. We're helping the Australian people—Australian families—realise their plan of homeownership, their dream of homeownership, and that's a pretty good plan, I think.

6:46 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank senators for their contributions to the debate today. The bill before us, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022, outlines a number of cost-of-living measures that were announced in last night's budget, delivered by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in the other place.

A number of the schedules in the bill include things like making sure that the Medicare low-income thresholds keep pace with the cost of living; making COVID testing expenses tax-deductible for workers who require testing to attend work; and making it easier for businesses to create employee share schemes, giving more Australians opportunities to share in the economic value that they create through their work. The bill reduces the GDP uplift for GST instalments, saving businesses money. It includes the one-off cost-of-living tax offset, to support low- and middle-income earners, of $420 for the 2021-22 financial year. It increases the low- and middle-income tax offset benefit to $1,500 for singles or $3,000 for couples, provided on assessment of a tax return for this 2021-22 income year. It also increases the affordability of drugs that are on the PBS. In fact, 2,800 new drugs have been listed on the PBS since 2013, when the coalition came to government. It introduces a cost-of-living payment of $250 to pensioners, veterans, carers, jobseekers, concession card holders and eligible self-funded retirees. And, of course, it cuts the excise on petrol by half for the next six months.

These are the cost-of-living measures that we have promised in the budget. They are helping to ease the cost-of-living pressures on ordinary Australians now—cost-of-living pressures that have been caused by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia but also by the global supply chain issues that are a response to COVID-19.

More importantly, the budget last night did not just deal with cost-of-living pressures but also cemented our long-term economic plan that creates more jobs for Australians: lowering taxes; cutting red tape; investing in infrastructure and skills for a future workforce; keeping energy prices low—about eight per cent lower in the last two years alone—while at the same time ensuring that we continue on the journey to net zero by 2050; making Australia a leading, top-10 digital economy and society by 2030; and increasing our sovereign capabilities in modern manufacturing in areas like space, defence, food and beverages, and critical minerals and mining technology. That is the plan for the future.

Most importantly, though, this bill is about reducing the cost of living, right now. I commend this bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.