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Wednesday, 19 June 2002
Page: 3933

Ms JANN McFARLANE (12:10 PM) —I am pleased today to be speaking on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2002-03. Particularly, I want to focus on the second reading amendment moved by our deputy leader, the member for Jagajaga, where we condemned the government for:

(1) its failure to deliver a budget surplus in 2001-02 after a decade of growth;

(2) its failure to deliver a budget surplus in 2002-03 without breaking previous commitments on defence, roads and working credits;

(3) imposing the cost of a pre-election spending spree on families via higher interest rates and cuts in health and welfare spending;

(4) falsely claiming that cuts to health and welfare payments are needed to fund the war against terrorism and border protection;

(5) wasting $5 billion of taxpayers money by gambling in foreign currency markets through cross currency derivatives;

6) wasting almost $3.5 billion by failing to manage currency risk on defence spending despite warnings from the Auditor-General;

(7) wasting $31 million on maintenance services for 40 year old helicopters that are years overdue despite a $800 million downpayment;

(8) its failure to recognise the GST as a Commonwealth tax and this Government as the highest taxing of all time;

(9) its failure to consider the fairer options put forward by the opposition to offset the harsh measures it intends to impose on families, the sick and disabled; and

(10) the failure of its Intergenerational Report to recognise that investment in education, research and development is critical to our future prosperity and our capacity to generate the revenue and wealth required to support an ageing population.

In particular, I want to draw the attention of the Main Committee to the disability rally that is now happening outside the House. The themes of that rally are the need for fair wages for workers in the disability field, and the government's proposal in the budget to increase the copayment for pharmaceuticals and to change the criteria for the disability support pension.

The rally is here because of the community's concerns. I also want to focus a little on the concerns of the people of Stirling, whose voice I am in this House. Their concerns are about the adverse consequences of the government's unfair proposal to increase the costs of essential medicines by almost 30 per cent for the sickest and poorest in the Australian community. Labor do not want to block Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2002-03 but we see that, like all budgets—whether for your office, house, family or business—you have budget priorities. Labor see that we could not proceed with the measures against people on the disability support pension and the measure with the copayment if we trade off a tax cut for the top three per cent of high-income people and do not bring that into this appropriation bill or the budget.

One of the benefits of working in this House is the wonderful resources you have available to you, including the Parliamentary Library. Research Paper No. 10 2001-02 produced by the Department of the Parliamentary Library refers to the budget process. The section on the overview of the budget process states:

The preparation of a Budget involves a large number of participants. The Expenditure Review Committee, a Cabinet committee of senior Ministers chaired by the Prime Minister is primarily responsible for developing the Budget. However, a number of agencies—notably the Department of the Treasury (together with the Australian Taxation Office), the Department of Finance and Administration, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and line agencies—provide advice and support to the Expenditure Review Committee. Broadly, the Department of Finance and Administration coordinates the preparation of the Budget and forward estimates and is responsible for statements on expenses and non-tax revenue. Treasury is responsible for assessments of the economic and fiscal outlook and estimates of tax revenues.

You would think that with so many people and so many skills and abilities put to work they would have come up with some better strategies than they did in relation to changing the criteria for people on the disability support pension and to increase the copayment. The conclusion of the research paper states:

The Budget is the foremost statement of the Government's priorities, which are reflected in the resources allocated to particular activities. With outlays equivalent to almost a quarter of gross domestic product, the Budget is also a major influence over the economy generally and particular activities.

Given this, it is desirable that the Government should be accountable to voters through their representatives in the Parliament, not least because voters' taxes fund spending. Recent changes to the format and content of the Budget Papers and related document are aimed at enhancing accountability. These changes include the move from cash to accrual accounting; from cash budgeting to accrual budgeting; agency reporting in terms of planned outcomes; the presentation of financial statements in accordance with two main accounting standards; the presentation of information to allow assessment of agency performance; and the reporting and other requirements of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and the Charter of Budget Honesty Act 1998.

`Accountability' is the key word. That is what the community expects of us. I call on the community to raise its voice to the coalition government so that they seriously rethink the budget priorities and what is in this appropriation bill and try and get some balance and some fairness and equity back into it. The disability rally would not be happening outside if there had been fairness and equity. On top of that, the measure that is probably the most unfair and unjust is the copayment increase, which will hit our sick, poor and elderly the hardest. Labor understands the value of the copayment: we initiated it and we continued it. What we are concerned about is that, while the copayment was at $2.70 for each prescription when Labor left office in 1996, over seven years it will have increased to $4.60—an increase of 70 per cent. If a PBS increase passes in the parliament we will have seen the cost of essential medicines for pensioners, cardholders and families under financial pressure raised by 70 per cent since the Howard government came into office. I have heard the Treasurer in denial on the radio. In May he was saying:

The change is $1 ... the change for pensioners is $1 ... and we're not hitting pensioners.

It may only be $1 a script, but health department figures show that more than one million pensioners and concession cardholders will reach their safety net limit of 52 scripts this year, making them $52 a year worse off. If this legislation goes through the parliament, more than one million pensioners and concession cardholders on essential medications will be $52 a year worse off. There was no mention of this prior to the election. I will pass on the question that the community is posing to me: when was the Prime Minister on the television promising to raise the cost of medications by over $50 a year for over a million of Australia's pensioners? He was not. He did not talk about this because he knew that he was not being honest about his plans to target the sick and elderly. The Australian people might have come to a different conclusion when they voted at the election if they had known about the use of taxpayers' resources and funding.

The coalition government are supposed to be the good economic managers of Australian politics. Let us then look at some facts. Four years ago, the Treasurer promised that the federal budget would be in surplus by $14.6 billion in 2001-02. Four years later, we discover that the budget is actually in deficit by $3 billion. Somehow the Treasurer has managed to lose $17.6 billion in that time. This does not sound like good economic management to me, and the people of Stirling who have spoken to me about it certainly do not see it as good economic management.

The budget will also mean that families will pay $28.60 for each prescription—up $6.20 per script—and up to a total of $190 extra per year for their essential medicines as the general safety net goes up from $686.40 to $879.90. When Labor left office in 1996, age pensioners were fully compensated through the pension for their pharmaceutical costs. From August they will be $1.70 worse off each time they fill a script, and up to $88.40 worse off each year compared to 1996. My constituents are also telling me that, with the coming in of the GST, their household expenses are higher than they were previously, and the relative benefits of the compensation have not really compensated them for their higher household expenditure.

I would like to read to you some other points. The community expects us to work in a bipartisan way. As I explain regularly to my constituents and groups, we do work in a bipartisan way up to a point; but, when it comes to a policy difference, bipartisanship does not happen. I will read something from a Labor policy paper called `Australian women and their families—women under pressure', following the 2002-03 federal budget:

Labor has health as a priority. Labor is committed to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as a basis for universal access to high quality, public funded health services for all Australians. Labor will act to strengthen the health care system to meet the future challenges associated with our ageing population and advances in technology and biomedical research. Health resources must be allocated on the basis of need so that people are not excluded from necessary services because of their financial circumstances or where they live. Quality health service delivery depends on cooperative working relationships between state and federal governments, professional bodies, community organisations, both public and private sectors and consumers. Labor will work in partnership with all parties to improve the quality of our health services.

That is my appeal to you, Mr Deputy Speaker Lindsay, and to the government. We can work in a bipartisan way on this, we can look at the budget priorities, we can make decisions which will benefit most people, but we will make sure that the budget and the appropriation bills have fairness and equity. An editorial from the Age states:

Prosperity saves the day

According to conventional political wisdom, the first budget after an election is the one in which governments are most likely to make tough cuts in services. On that measure, the Howard Government's 2002-03 budget, which the Treasurer, Peter Costello, brought down last night, is not a conventional document.

That is true, as we are coming to see. An analysis by another journalist, Ross Gittins, states:

On just about all the main measures announced, he's turned 180 degrees from his position last year.

Again this refers to the budget. An Australian editorial states:

Costello gets his priorities all wrong

This is Peter Costello's lost budget, the one that could have stamped him as the forward-looking go-getter to replace John Howard. Instead, the Budget is as much about paying for populist election policies and shirking at the hard decisions as it is about getting the Government's economic credentials and budget priorities back on track. As Mr Costello said: “World events can move dangerously and unpredictably.” His effort yesterday has proved that governments can too, even when the next bout of election fever is three years away.

There is another article, by Dennis Shanahan, which states:

When two masters speak

There is a great contradiction at the heart of Peter Costello and John Howard's seventh Budget. It dwells on borders and is inward looking. The tone is one of fear and the appeal is to remember the war. Yet, we are specifically asked to look to the future.

The people of Stirling also read these articles. They come to me and raise their concerns. Many people, as they age, have a number of health problems; they are often on five, six or seven medications. The modelling done by the health department in relation to the increase of the copayment was done on the assumption that people are on one or two prescriptions, but people coming to me are on a number of prescriptions and they are looking at their household budget expenses blowing out. They are concerned. They implore me to bring their voice into the House and say, `There has got to be a different way of organising the budget. There has got to be a better way of organising it and making it fairer.' A media release by Catholic Health Australia states:

PBS Cuts Unfair

`Low income people, the elderly and the chronically ill have been hit with the equivalent of a new consumer drug tax' ...

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, in budget night media comments about increasing copayments, stated:

This is an overreaction by the Government. It amounts to a major cut to the PBS. It is not merely a measure to contain its growth.

The 30 per cent increase in the cost of medication is unfair. I call on the government and I call on this House to seriously look at these two items: the copayment and the changes to the disability support pension criteria. I encourage everyone to go to the rally outside the House and listen to what the workers who work with people with disabilities and community workers from other community services have to say—hear from them the stories about people's lives and how the changes will have an effect and will diminish their lives, not enhance them. I commend Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2002-03 to the House and I hope the voices of the people will be heard.