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Tuesday, 20 June 2000
Page: 17788

Mr JENKINS (9:34 PM) —I think that the honourable member for Kennedy's contribution has been a very courageous contribution given the actions of the present government. No doubt I understand that the honourable member for Kennedy would perhaps not have been in great agreement with some of the things that the Hawke-Keating years produced. But, looking at Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2000-2001, certainly some of the items that the honourable member for Kennedy has highlighted are not addressed in this year's budget and they are areas that are worthy of address.

He is quite right to highlight the problem of our current account and the comments that have been made over time by different political figures. He is quite right to highlight the importance of the construction of dams in his area, a belief that he has held for a long time. He then went on to speak of roads. That really is in the context of the provision of infrastructure. I think it is one of the great challenges that Australia confronts. But can I suggest that what we really need to do in the overall policy framework—and sometimes this is not met with great positiveness—is make these decisions in the context of a population policy. And once having decided upon that population policy we should then look at the issues that the honourable member for Kennedy talked about—the way we put together our trade effort, whether we are to have that trade effort with a concentration on expanding primary industries, especially agriculture, and in the case of the honourable member for Kennedy's suggestion, food production. That is the way we have to go.

If we were in a position where we had a well thought-out population policy that often is only raised in the context of the way in which we put in place our immigration policy and the way in which we use our resources, it is then proper to think of a population policy in the context of what is sustainable given our economy, which is the major issue that the honourable member for Kennedy is talking about. He is concerned that the statistics that he has quoted indicate that in economic terms a number of things are going backwards because we have not thought of a way in which we can sustain that economic activity.

I did not think that I would be in the position of talking tonight in that vein because usually what I say is that in the sustainability stakes we are not looking at the best way we use our resources, and we do not look at the best way that we protect our environment. But at the end of the day my message is always that they are important issues and they need to be seen in the context of setting economic policy and setting our environmental policy, which then has an effect on the way in which we are able to provide social policies that the community expects, whether by way of safety net or encouragement for people to take greater control of their own lives. As is usual, the contributions of the honourable member for Kennedy are well worth a second glance and well worth great thought. They jog peoples' minds about the way in which our policy directions should proceed.

The difficulty with the budget this year is that it very quickly disappeared with little trace. The honourable member for the Northern Territory and I have had experience where, when in government, you hoped your budget disappears because that means it does not really have many nasties. If it cannot be positive, you do not want it to be negative. But what I have said about this budget in any other public comment I have made is that it was a budget of lost opportunity. There was great potential for the government to set in place a scenario that meant that we could go forward. But the lost opportunity has been that this was the budget in preparation for the introduction of what the government describes as a new tax system but which predominantly means the introduction of a goods and services tax.

The other disappointing aspect about the budget is that the government when first elected made a virtue of the fact that they had put in place a charter of budget honesty. And whilst they have legislated in the terms of a charter of budget honesty, at the same time we have seen a move towards accrual accounting for the budget documents. This is not a criticism of accrual accounting as such, it is a criticism of what that has meant to the amount of information that is available within the budget documents. I think we are failing. Under the guise of the introduction of accrual accounting we have put in place budget documents that, because of their complexity, have fast lost the degree of transparency that was within them, and so we are not in a good position to be able to plot and follow what is happening in the budget.

The other problem with this set of budget papers and the appropriation bill that we are discussing is that some of the figures just do not add up. Let me quote from an organisation that I only very occasionally quote from—Taxpayers Australia. Their editorial following this year's budget was headlined `The Great “Rip-off” Budget!' Why did Taxpayers Australia say that? They believed that the way in which the figures had been presented distorted the true facts. The editorial said:

The bottom line of the Budget is that the total tax take will be approximately $183 billion—not the projected $168,000,000 included in the Budget papers.

The editorial goes on to say:

That represents a 9% increase in Federal taxes, not the claimed 5.5% decrease. The net effect is a massive 27.4% of GDP—not the claimed 23%.

This is really a problem about the way in which these figures have been produced and the lack of clear public understanding of what their impact is. That is really something that should be avoided.

The other thing is that if you start to look at the way in which the budget impacts on electorates—and I look at the way that the government and this budget have impacted upon an electorate like Scullin—it really is a tale of services being continually wound back and other things continuing to be made more difficult for people, such as the people who live in an electorate like Scullin. For instance, take education. The very first budget of the Howard government slashed funding for universities and TAFEs by over $1 billion. This, coupled with the changes to the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, was a huge disincentive for people from electorates like Scullin to pursue further education. This has resulted in applications for undergraduate places falling by 3.3 per cent in 1997 and then 3.1 per cent in 1998.

We then have the revelations on the way in which the inflation figures are actually going to be used for HECS purposes. The real problem there is that the inflation figure, including the effect of GST increases, will be used as the upwards inflator on the amount of HECS that is owing. But the government has decided to use an index that does not include the GST impact—that is, a lower inflation figure for the increase in the threshold. At the end of the day that means that, whilst a student's debt under HECS will go up by the higher amount, including in the next 12 months the inflation figure with the GST impact, that student will actually have started to pay off the HECS at a lower level because the threshold goes up at a slower rate than the CPI. This will place pressure on people early in their careers.

Already we have to understand that, whilst HECS has had some effect on the number of places, it has not really had the effect of giving opportunities to the types of students coming out of secondary schools in areas like the areas that I represent. That is a difficulty. That was something that I challenged then Minister Dawkins with when this was first put in place, because he went down into the House and used to use the figures for electorates like Kooyong, compared with electorates like Scullin. I think that Scullin happened to have the lowest percentage of students at that time under the boundaries as it was then.

The belief was that by producing additional funding through HECS all of a sudden things were going to change. The facts show that it has not changed in that way. When at times there have been increased numbers of places made available, those places go in proportion to what the percentages were before. If we really want to face the challenge of how we get students coming out of schools in areas like the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney and other places like that, or even the Northern Territory, we have to realise that it is not just the number of places that is crucial. As I said from the outset, we now see that there is a downturn in the demand because of the difficulties. We really should be looking at other aspects of our education system that enable students from the schools in electorates like mine to be better prepared to compete for the places that are being made available. We owe it as a Commonwealth government to enter into that in partnership with the states that have the basic responsibility for the way in which primary and secondary education is put in place.

I understand that perhaps I have to be a little less eloquent in this speech because of time. I perhaps will take opportunities on other occasions to speak about other areas in which there has been impact, not only as a result of measures imposed by this set of budget papers but also by the actions of the government over time, on my electorate. A number of the items that are outlined in the opposition's second reading amendment to this appropriation bill are areas that the government need to look at. They need to have an understanding that there are concerns about the way in which the papers are put in place. There are concerns about the lack of investment in a number of areas such as education and health. There is, of course, the continuing problem, and I conclude on this final thing: I have a little bit of mirth when part 3 of our second reading amendment quotes the misuse of over $360 million of taxpayers' money on the government's politically partisan GST advertising campaign. That figure, I think, was stale before the ink dried on the amendment and I am so confused now about where that figure has got to. It must be up around the half a billion mark. I think that is the latest figure but it could be even more.

As I said, we face in a couple of weeks time the putting in place of the goods and services tax. There is concern that it is going to have a dramatic effect on the way in which people's lives are affected. I do not think that some of the claims that are being made by the government will in fact come true. I note with some incredulity that a minister can get out on a program on Sunday and start quoting what he thinks is the figure that can be saved from the black economy when in fact the experience in overseas countries about whether a goods and services tax or a value-added tax actually does defeat the black economy has not been seen to be the case. I well and truly support the second reading amendment and, giving peace of mind to the member for Northern Territory, conclude my remarks.