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Thursday, 15 May 2003
Page: 11245

Senator CONROY (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked today relating to the 2003-04 Budget.

What we have seen again today is another pathetic attempt to rewrite history. Forty-eight hours after the budget, it is an orphan. You have already had the Treasurer stand up and say, `We know this one's not much cop, but there will be more tax cuts next year.' It has taken less than 48 hours for them to roll over and acknowledge that Senator Vanstone was dead right. We have had Senator Alston stand in this chamber today and mislead the Australian public. He talked about giving back all of the bracket creep. Let me quote Mr Peter McDonald of the Taxpayers Association of Australia. He has said that the latest tax cuts would be eroded again as soon as inflation pushed wages higher. Until then, he said, `any claim bracket creep has been paid back is a lie'. It is `a lie'—that is from Peter McDonald from the Taxpayers Association of Australia. He says that the Treasurer, Peter Costello, was forced to lift the tax rate thresholds because of the coalition's 1996 election promises. He says:

When Mr Costello introduced the New Tax System, he said the average Australian would never pay more than 30 cents in the dollar in tax.

What have we got? The big claim that 80 per cent of Australians would be in that 30 cents in the dollar category. What has happened? On the Treasurer's own admission, it is down to 75 per cent now and it is going lower. That is what the Treasurer knows, that is what Senator Minchin acknowledged yesterday and that is what Senator Alston is trying to cover up.

This is a budget that is designed to try and distract the Australian public, by waving a measly $4 in front of them, from what the government are trying to do with Medicare and education. They are describing them as reforms. These changes that are being put forward by the government represent John Howard's ideological obsession with transferring the cost of health and education from the government to families. The government's Medicare package will destroy Medicare and put an end to bulk-billing for families. Under the changes, doctors will be allowed to bulk-bill concession card holders, but they will be given the green light to impose a copayment for everyone else and charge what they like. That is the hidden agenda; that is what is really going on here. Two out of every three Australians who do not have a concession card can say goodbye to bulk-billing. That is what is going on here; that is what the government are trying to distract you from. These changes mean just one thing: Australian families will pay more for a visit to the doctor. The $4 a week tax cut will be swallowed over a year by just five visits to a doctor who does not bulk-bill—just five visits.

Australians will also pay more for their children's education. Families will face a difficult choice—pay more in HECS or take out loans to pay for their children's education. Families face up to a $32 per week increase in HECS debt or up to $125 a week in loan repayments. Australians already owe more than they earn. Household debt to household income has risen to 130 per cent under this government as families struggle to make ends meet. Higher loan repayments will add to the debt burden on Australian families. The government wants to slug these same Australian families an extra $5.50 each every time they buy essential medicines. These same families will on average get $400 less in family benefits this financial year due to the government's benefit clawback—one of those other little horrors this government keeps trying to hide. These higher costs for families, imposed by any one of these changes, will far outweigh benefits from the tax cuts, even before they were described as the milkshake and sandwich tax cuts.

This budget is also remarkable for the supposed reform priorities that have been ignored. The Treasurer previously has said, `Superannuation needs to be reformed.' Yet, after eight budgets, he has done nothing about it. Back in 2000 he said that the system was too complicated—too many rules, too many different taxation regimes. Three years later, there is no reform package. The government has also offered talk instead of reform in the area of water. Just recently, Mr Howard claimed there are few more important issues to our nation than water reform. What was in the budget? Nothing on water reform. (Time expired)