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Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Page: 29170

Mr SWAN (3:30 PM) —If Australian families did not have the vote, they would never get a red cent out of the Howard government—the Howard-Costello-Ander-son government. There is no philosophical or practical purpose, or reasoning, behind the family payment changes in this budget, bar one: shovel the cash out of the Treasury as quickly as possible—any way, any how—and hang all of the consequences. There is no long-term plan for reform so that families can get their payments regularly and accurately. That remains a pipedream for over a third of Australian families—600,000 Australian families with debts, on average, of $900, all deliberately put under tremendous financial pressure by the actions of this government.

We know the government have not been too worried about the plight of those families. We know, going back three years, the Prime Minister said that work and family were a priority. He said the issue was a barbecue stopper. But now with the budget people have reacted badly to the government's record because basically what they are serving up is sausages that taste funny. They are not real. There is a stench about this budget, and Australian families have picked it for what it is.

That is what you see demonstrated on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald today. A Herald poll shows that something like 47 per cent believe the Prime Minister will retire this term; 56 per cent of those polled want to vote Labor so that he goes altogether. What do you then see? Forty-one per cent would be less likely to vote for the coalition if the Treasurer were leader. We saw a performance from the Treasurer in the House today and, no matter what other people might think of him, we absolutely know that the Treasurer fascinates himself, which is why he sat the member for Richmond down yesterday, too embarrassed that the member for Richmond would not be able to explain how there were any benefits to families—and there were not. He could not do that because he was sat down by the Treasurer.

The truth is that this government has been deliberately sitting on reforms, and the failure to implement them has been putting families under financial pressure. We have all been there before. Everyone in this chamber will remember the last election, when the government offered those with family payment debts a $1,000 waiver. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the minister for families came into the House and said: `It won't be a problem in a few years time; it will go away; a bit of a communications campaign. We'll finetune the system. It's a one-off thing; don't worry.' What occurred in the following three years was huge debt. A third of families each year continued to accumulate debts, on average, of around $1,000 each year for three years—debts totalling $1.6 billion or $1.7 billion.

That brings us back to the poll today, because, Minister, the public are onto you. They are not going to buy another smelly bag of fish from you, your Prime Minister or your Treasurer, because it has all happened before. They know that you give with one hand before the election, as you have done, pretending to be family friendly—and of course you will ease the financial pressure on some families through that first $600 payment, but many families with debts will simply have it swallowed up. And the second $600 payment you have put in, the really mean and tricky one which you have said only applies upon reconciliation, will certainly be swallowed up for a third of all families.

I do not believe that Australian families believe you anymore, and that is why we have these poll results today. They are absolutely aware that the government have been sitting on changes which have been recommended to you by the Prime Minister's department and by the Department of Family and Community Services. Just take this cabinet submission from last year: this is where the Prime Minister was recommending to his ministry significant changes to the family payments system, significant changes in the provision of child care places and significant changes in terms of family friendly workplaces. Did anything emerge after that? Did anything emerge between August last year and now?

Nine months ago the government had a whole program ready to go, but they deliberately took the decision to sit on these measures, putting all of those families under financial pressure, not just because of the family payment system but because they could not get out-of-school care, because they were struggling to find a place in family day care and because they were battling in the workplace, trying to be good parents and good workers. The government took a deliberate decision—with all of this advance work done, all of these programs ready to go—to sit on the measures for nine months, for some tawdry political purpose. For three years, including the last nine months, there have been no advance proposals before the public. So what has this denied the public over those three years? Let us take Labor's baby care payment or the government's maternity payment. If the government had implemented the baby care payment that we proposed and that they have tried to copy, more than half a million parents would have had baby care payments by now. But they have gone without because of this government's cynical political approach.

This government think that they can get away with cancelling Christmas two years in a row—no Christmas at all—then suddenly turn up just before the election and pretend that they are Santa Claus. They cannot get away with it, and that is what this poll shows. The public are revolted by the government's preparedness to deny people child care places, to deny them family friendly workplaces and to deny them timely and accurate family payments. We had a real insight into this last Sunday week, when the Prime Minister did an interview with the News Ltd group. In that interview he was asked what was the price of a loaf of bread. What is it, Minister? What is the price of a loaf of bread? Do you have any idea?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Order! The minister does not have to reply to the member for Lilley.

Mr SWAN —The Prime Minister said that it was 90c. He thought that you could get a loaf of bread for 90c at the supermarket. How long ago was a loaf of bread in this country 90c at the supermarket? Do we have any bids? How long ago was it? Was it 10 years ago or 20 years ago? Twenty years ago a loaf of bread was 90c at the supermarket. No fact demonstrates better than that that we have a Prime Minister who is out of time and absolutely out of touch.

That is why the Prime Minister is prepared to tolerate the ongoing punishment that his family payment system deals to Australian families. This government does not believe in a community. It actually thinks it is governing a corporation. There is no sense of community, so it has constructed a family payment system that works on a yearly basis. At the end of the year families have to go down to their auditor or their accountant and say: `Have I fed my kids too much this year? Have they eaten enough or have they eaten too little?' Then they might get a rebate or they might get some of it taken back. The mentality is that somehow families live like a corporation—they do not need their payments on a fortnightly basis, their feet do not grow and they do not need new clothes. That is the whole philosophy behind the creation of this family payment system, which puts so many families under financial pressure.

But it is worse than that. These people pretend to be Liberals—they pretend to believe in the individual, in hard work and in incentive. But they do not. Look at the interaction between the family payment system and the taxation system. What sort of tax rates are people paying? If you are moving from welfare to work you pay 90c in every additional dollar—$90 out of every $100 that you earn will go to Mr Anthony from Richmond. He will take it away. If you are a 1½-income family on around $40,000 with a secondary income earner, they will slog you up to 80c of every additional dollar—$80 out of every $100 that you earn. I will demonstrate this in a minute, Minister. Before this election is over, you will be completely embarrassed by the huge gap between your claims about this system and what this system actually does.

We have had to bear the embarrassment—I could not believe it; I nearly fell off the front bench—of the Treasurer in his budget speech saying that he was announcing a huge spending budget. I said: `Hang on a minute. Is he on the wrong side of the House? Aren't all the big spenders, according to them, over here?' He called it a huge spending budget. How is it that they have a huge spending budget with something like $52 billion of additional expenditure and get the results that they get? The Australian people are pretty clever and they have seen right through this government.

If Labor had walked into this House and presented a budget which had $52 billion in increased expenditure, including $19 billion in increased family payments expenditure, the right wing in this country would have been baying for blood and howling at the moon. They would have said, `This is fiscally irresponsible; how dare they give them all these one-off payments.' What is going on? I will tell you what is going on: this is a very cynical and desperate government which the people can see through, and they are doing it very intelligently.

The following facts explain a lot about the reaction to the budget. Since this ranked system of family payments was introduced three years ago, there have been 1.639 million overpayments totalling $1.417 billion—that corrects the figure I used earlier. In all, the government have made almost three million incorrect payments to families since they changed the rules, and around 57 per cent of all payments made to families have been incorrect. That is $2.5 billion worth of incorrect payments. In my book, if you are getting less than 50 per cent right, you are doing pretty badly. Getting less than 50 per cent is a fail in anyone's book. It is certainly a very big fail in the minds of the families of Australia. Families have spent three years, Minister, negotiating your flawed family payment system, including 4½ thousand families in your electorate—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Lilley will address his comments through the chair.

Mr SWAN —and they know that, if the current Prime Minister and the Treasurer—God help all of us—are re-elected, next year the $600 payment that comes before 30 June and the second one that comes after 30 June, at some time in the never-never, will always be offset against debt. The government have got this so wrong. The truth is that there is no heart and soul in this government. There are no core human values or understanding. There is just a deeply entrenched moral and policy sterility at the heart of this government, and it stands out in everything they do. It stands out in the fact that during the reconstruction of the tax system they promised $2.4 billion extra in family payments and delivered $1 billion less. That is why there are so many families out there who are under financial pressure and believe they are a lot worse off than before the GST was introduced. They are worse off; the minister's figures prove it.

Those families also know that the propaganda that came from the government on budget night was absolutely incorrect. I have here a table that is damning of the government. They have claimed benefits on 1 July that are two and three times what an average family will be getting in the hand on 1 July. They have factored in a set of tax cuts which do not start for a year but make it look like they are factored in from 1 July, they have factored in their super arrangements and they have factored in the second $600 payment as if it is being delivered on a fortnightly basis, which of course it is not.

This document more than any other exposes the lies at the heart of this government's budget and why this government is so morally bankrupt—they are prepared to mislead people into thinking they will have money in the hand which they will actually not have on 1 July. Perhaps that explains more than anything else why they have been considering rushing to the polls. They want to rush to the polls on the back of the first $600 per child payment, hoping that families do not notice the clawback that will come into effect after 1 July and the huge gap that exists between what they have claimed families will get and what they will actually get on 1 July.

That brings us to their claims about having done something about work incentives, because here they have failed again. They have not really done anything substantial about work incentives. Some people will be slightly better off, but a lot of people are going to face fairly horrendous work incentives. Last week we asked the Treasurer about a family earning $50,000 with a secondary income earner. Basically, that family are going to have a 40 per cent hike in their effective marginal tax rate.

Then there were the questions we asked about the baby care payment—the payment that the government copied off Labor because we were so far out in front. Who remembers the Prime Minister going to Western Australia in January to ape and follow the Leader of the Opposition in being family friendly? There he was in that child-care centre, down on the floor with his arms all scrunched up at his side and his knees up around his neck. As John Hewson said, he looked like an abandoned lunch box. And isn't that the truth, because the truth is that the baby care or the maternity payment ought to be paid on a fortnightly basis. It is paid maternity leave and it is paid that way—(Time expired)