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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3621

Mr NEUMANN (9:48 AM) —I speak in support of the Social Security and Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. It is important to be honest with the Australian people, and that is what we are. Those opposite talk about slashing and burning and cutting. Their alternative would have to be, if they were really honest, that they would dismantle Commonwealth departments in relation to, say, education or health or they would raise taxes. And just what budget deficit would they have? They are never really honest with the Australian public. We believe it is important to be fair dinkum with the Australian people, and that is why we take them into our confidence and tell them what we are going to do. That is why we were upfront about what our plans were before the last election. That is why in this difficult time, when government revenue has been slashed by $210 billion across this year and in the forward estimates, we are upfront with the Australian people and tell them just what challenges we face in the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Those opposite are not fair dinkum about this, and we will hear what the Leader of the Opposition has to say about it in a couple of days time.

I would like to outline to the Australian parliament and to my electorate of Blair in Queensland just what we are doing for pensioners and carers. That is the substance of this bill, not the rantings and ravings of the member for Warringah. Of course, he is a frustrated man. We know he wants to be in a more prominent position. We know he really does not want to be talking about these types of bills. We know he wants to be the shadow Treasurer or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition or, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition. We know he is frustrated in this portfolio, and he made that very plain.

This bill is about helping carers. We need to look at some history of what the Rudd government has done in this area. The Rudd government has a good record on caring for carers, particularly in my electorate of Blair as well as nationally. Let us look at what we are doing here. For year after year after year, carers had to worry, to be anxious and concerned, about what governments would do in the budgets and what assistance they might get. Is it a one-off I am going to receive? What sort of payment am I going to get? Am I going to be given anything for the self-sacrifice I make for those whom I love? What we are doing here is giving certainty and sustainability to carers. We are providing for them, recognising social inclusion and social capital and recognising their love, affection and commitment to those they look after. These are the unsung heroes of our community. These are the people who every day, 24/7, look after someone in need. They deserve our respect, our support and our financial assistance, to the extent we can give it in these difficult times. Let us look at what the Rudd government has done for those in need—pensioners, carers and people on disability support. Let us look at what we have done since we came to sit on this side of the House, as opposed to what those opposite have done. We have put support for carers on a sustainable footing in this budget, we have helped them in the past and we will continue to do so in the future.

In the 2008 budget we acted decisively to ease the pressures on the people who look after our most vulnerable, weakest, often disabled and challenged people in our community. We paid a lump-sum seniors bonus of $500. We increased the utilities allowance from $107.20 to $500 per annum. We increased the telephone allowance from $88 to $132 per annum for those with an internet connection. As part of our Economic Security Strategy, we announced a $4.9 million payment leading to a comprehensive reform of the pension system, and that is what we are seeing here: the most far-reaching and comprehensive changes we have ever seen to the pension system in this country. As part of our $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy, we provided lump-sum payments of $1,400 to single pensioners and $2,100 to couple pensioners.

We provided for carers, including the many carers in my electorate. Nearly 43,700 people in my electorate received payments from the Rudd government last year to ease the pressure on them. We have an enormous number of people who are veterans and people who care for disabled people. For example, there were 2,921 people in my electorate who received payments—1,222 single carer allowance, 841 carer payment couple and 395 carer payment single. And we have a very large veterans community in my electorate. Looking after those people who are caring for those in greatest need in our community is a noble thing to do and it is the right thing to do. It is the decent thing. It is the honourable and just thing to do if we say we are a compassionate society.

In our Nation Building and Jobs Plan, many families on low incomes and people on pensions who are also earning some form of income received assistance. We saw 12,553 families in my electorate of Blair receive the back-to-school bonus of $900 to help with the costs of their children returning to school. And we saw farmers also receive assistance—people in need, people doing it tough on the land. One hundred and nineteen farming families received that assistance.

Our care for our community and for the people in greatest need shows what sort of society we aspire to be. It is true that as a country our spending on family payments is the third highest in the OECD at 2.2 per cent of our GDP, well above the average of 1.3 per cent, but we need to make sure that our payment system is sustainable in the long term. We need to make sure that we have reforms which will provide future security and certainty.

As has been said before, we have maintained the higher income threshold for family payments at their current level for three years, and that is a savings measure, but we are providing support for low- and middle-income families with the costs of raising children, particularly if they are carers. We are promoting workforce participation and inclusion, and we have provided significant assistance to low-income earners. Witness, for example, the increase in the low-income tax offset and the introduction of paid maternity leave. That will make such a great difference in my electorate, which is full of young families.

The benefits we have provided in terms of our education tax refund, the Medicare Teen Dental Plan and the 50 per cent childcare tax rebate are all great Labor initiatives that make a big difference in the lives of families, particularly those with young children and others in need for whom they care. We have put forward an ambitious goal and we have set aside the funding for it. We are providing $4 billion of additional assistance to low- and middle-income families over the next four years. That is a wonderful statement of Labor’s commitment to those in greatest need. A further example is the assistance we are giving to veterans, including those in my electorate.

The Amberley air base is the biggest RAAF base and perhaps the biggest military base in the country. We think it is a super base and we are spending in excess of $1.1 billion to make it the greatest base in the country. We have 9 FSB and we are getting another construction battalion there as well, in Ipswich, and we warmly welcome them. They are part of our community. They attend our schools, they worship in our churches and they play sport with us. We even have RAAF sporting teams. Ipswich has warmly welcomed the military since 1860—but of course there were not planes back in those days. It was only when we purchased the land in about 1938, and the RAAF Base Amberley was formed thereafter, that we saw aircraft in Ipswich. We hear those flights across Ipswich as the price of freedom, and we warmly welcome the military in our community. We will have approximately 6,000 people living in Ipswich who are associated with the military base. In fact, I have made the comment on many occasions that, until I was in my 30s, in the various houses I had lived in I had always lived beside people who were in the military or were former members of the military, because Ipswich and the military go hand in glove.

We are providing a tremendous amount of assistance through the particular payments under this piece of legislation for veterans and those in the military, and those who have suffered and those in need. About 500,000 carers across Australia will receive a new, permanent carer supplement, and that will help their security and their sustainability in the future. Knowing that you have got an income, knowing that you have got money coming into your family every week, is important. How can you pay your mortgage or your rent, how can you put food on the table and how can you care for your kids and educate them if you do not know you have got money coming in?

I know that the 140,000 carers who receive carer payment or related income support will receive these pension increases with welcoming arms and be very grateful for the assistance that this government is providing. From 20 September this year, we will see increases in the carer payment of $32.49 per week for singles on the full rate and $10.14 per week combined for couples on the full rate. The new, annual carer supplement of $600 will be paid to people who receive the carer payment, both wife pension and carer allowance, both Department of Veterans’ Affairs partner service pension and carer allowance, and the DVA carer service pension. That is why literally thousands of people in my electorate who are associated with the military will receive these payments. In my electorate, 23,500 families will receive support as a result of the budget measures that we handed down last night. That is an enormous number of people in my electorate. I have got about 155,000 people in my electorate, about 92½ thousand voters. This new supplement then will help so many people in my electorate.

The new supplement will provide about 450,000 recipients of carer allowance with $600 for each person they care for. The first payment of the new carer supplement will be made to carers before July 2009 and regular payments will be made from 1 July 2010 onwards. So carers know with certainty that they are getting the money. They do not have to watch the Treasurer, whoever he or she may be standing at that dispatch box, and worry whether they are going to get that additional assistance. They will know that it is in the budget. As I said, it builds on the 2008 extension of the utilities allowance to carer payment recipients, which is now valued at $518 per year.

The reforms here are vital. We need to ensure that our carers are included not just in the life of their families but also in the life of the communities. We would like to see their compassion and their understanding replicated out in the community. So many carers do not have the time or the resources or the money to be involved in community life because they are so wrapped up in caring for those in need whom they love. This is vital work they do. They provide untold and incalculable assistance to our community by caring for those they care for. So, generally speaking, they are doing the work that we really should be doing at a broader level. The importance of this legislation cannot be underestimated. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of Australians now getting the kind of assistance they deserve and need.

This is a piece of legislation of which the Rudd government is particularly proud and which I am particularly proud to vote for. Not every time we vote in this House do we vote for things that we are particularly enamoured with. But we vote for lots of things that we think are necessary for the good of the community and the country. There are many pieces of legislation that the average person would think are particularly uninteresting but that we believe are necessary, so both sides of politics often vote for them. But the truth of the matter is that this particular bill will make an appreciable difference in the lives of people who live in the streets, in the suburbs, in the rural communities and in the cities of our electorates across the country, and for that I am very grateful and I commend the bill to the House.