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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2887


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (20:35): I rise tonight to give my opinion, and the opinion of the Democratic Labor Party, on the federal budget handed down only two days ago.I donot deny that the state of the global economy at this point in time makes it difficult for any government to deliver a budget which will satisfy everyone and keep the books in the black. But you would have hoped that, because of the huge number of promises given by the government to keep the budget in surplus, a better budget could have been delivered.

As a small business owner and a family man, I have always tried to live within my means. If you do n o t have the money for something you need, you cut down on other expenses. You trim the fat, tighten your belt and redirect funds from luxuries to life's necessities. That i s what Australians have had to do already as a result of the intro duction of the c arbon tax , which increased power costs around the country. Sadly, f amilies around the country are , given the measures delivered in this budget, going to have to get better and better at cutting their own spending. The T reasurer and this government have removed incentives, funding and bonuses from the Australian people in this budget. What they have not done is curb their spending elsewhere . I n fact , spending has increased in areas I believe should be cut.

While I am forced to admit that the likelihood of a DLP government being elected in September is remote , I do believe the Democratic Labor Party will have much to contribute in coming years. T he purpose of a budget reply is not only to point out where the current budget succeeds or fails but also to say where we in the DLP believe it could have been improved. There a re a number of things I will talk about very briefly. They are subjects I hope to bring up in more detail over the coming months and with whichever party forms the next government .

Families are among the worst hit by this budget , with the abolition of the baby bonus and the reduction of eligibility for this payment for stay-at-home mums. But it is worse , much worse. Add to this the cuts imposed on single mothers and it is worse still. This budget removes any remote recognition by government that children are an investment in the nation's future. Children have been reduced to a commodity for which the user pays. ' If you can ' t afford them , don't have them. We don't care. ' That is the message this budget gives to families.

Once upon a time , in the bad old days of Menzies and Whitlam , there existed something called 'horizontal equity' in taxation for families. Figures show that back then the average family did not pay tax until they earned 150 per cent of average weekly earnings. The tax system took into account the numbe r of dependa nts that the wage earner provided for before taxing them. The government recognised that supporting families was an investment in the future —n ot anymore.

John Howard, as Treasurer in the Fraser g overnment , changed the system. The introduction of the family allowance paved the way for families to be seen not as custodians of future citizens but as welfare recipients and drains on the public purse. We saw campaigns suggesting family tax benefits were ways of funding 'middle-class' welfare. Yuppies were the only ones entitled to a decent standard of living. It was just tough luck if you were supporting children . Now each wage earner is treated as an independent individual with no dependants —a triumph of rampant individualism. Having children makes you an economic basket case. It is your choice. User pays. Suffer little children. Scrooge controls the purse strings.

The D LP believes our economy is best served by looking after the families and communities first. They are the top of our totem pole , not corporations. In the coming months the DLP will release a number of policies we hope can be taken up by the government in the hope of assisting the families and communities of Australia .

For workers , the DLP will seek support for a national portable leave scheme that will ensure all workers, especially those in unskilled or less secure employment, can accumulate sick leave that can be carried from job to job, ensuring they are secure in periods of illness and employers are able to employ temporary staff during their absence.

We hope to provide legislative assistance for small business in a number of areas. For example, small business suffers greatly from a diminished cash flow when larger corporations hold up or withhold payments for goods or services provided. The DLP will introduce legislation aimed at giving small business greater confidence in their ability to receive monthly payments promptly.

Every year we find it harder and harder for f irst home buyers to achieve that dream of homeownership. The F irst Home Owners Grant, recently altered, was usually seen as an incentive for developers to increase the price of the home by the amount of the grant. This budget offer ed little assistance for the first home buyer. The DLP will seek to introduce legislation to allow a modest percentage of superannuation to be made available as a deposit for first home buyers.

T he incoming NDIS is welcomed and will enjoy the full support of the DLP. It is an initiative whose time is well ove rdue and I am pleased to see bi partisan support, for the most part. During the last year I have brought up with the government and the opposition an issue that I believe is of overwhelming importance to the health of all Australians as well as the health of our economy. I am disappointed that nothing has been done to address this issue in this budget and nothing appears likely to happen in the near future. This health issue has a direct cost to our economy of some $5 billion a year and an indirect cost of over $31 billion. It affects every Australian to varying degrees , and I can guarantee that it affects many of my fellow s enators and the members of the other place. The issue is s leep disorders and s leep deprivation.

The Australian Sleep Health Foundation has commissioned an extremely detailed report showing just how much this problem affects this nation. The c hairman of the f oundation, Professor David Hillman , of the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, has devoted an enormous amount of his time and resources to this problem. The work of the Department of Pulmonary Physiology and Sleep Medicine, in Perth, of which he is the head, is something of which the people of Western Australia should be justly proud. It is the hope of the Australian Sleep Health Foundation, and of Prof essor Hillman, that s leep disorders and sleep deprivation can become the fourth arm of the National Preventative Health Strategy alongside obesity, alcohol and tobacco. This is a hope I and the D LP will try hard to fulfil , and I welcome any interest from the major parties

Every day, countless thousands of Australians give all of their time to care for relatives on a full- time basis. Because of their selfless service , our h ealth system saves billions of dollars. However, when their caring is completed, either at the loss of the loved one being cared for or simply because they also have become too frail to provide constant care, there is no reward for their years of devotion. The D LP believes the government should implement a c arer s ' superannuation scheme to provide for a basic level of comfort for the people who have given so much and who have saved the Australian taxpayer countless billions of dollars. We will work with the next government to achieve this result.

Lastly , I would like to discuss an aspect of this budget that has me deeply concerned. I find it interesting that there has been little analysis of the foreign aid section of the budget, apart from the outcry that Australia has once again delayed its commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goal s . I believe that Australia is in a good position to help the world's poor. But I also believe that we have a duty to the world's poor and to the tax payers funding this aid to ensure that every single dollar is going to the most worthy causes. The foreign minister's statement contained in the budget booklet , Australia's International Development Assistance Program , subtitled Effective aid: helping the world's poor , contains the line ' It is important that aid funds are spent wisely and well . ' I could n o t agree more with this sentiment. Australians are a generous people. We will always come to the aid of those less fortunate than us , especially a neighbour in need. However, it is clear that the foreign minister and I would disagree strongly on the definition of the words 'wisely' and 'well'. This particular line from the book caught my eye :

The Australia-Indonesia Partnership Country Strategy 2008-14 aligns Australian development assistance with Indonesia’s priorities and reflects the determination of the two countries to tackle poverty and promote a prosperous, democratic and secure Indonesia.

Australia gives more money to Indonesia than it does to any other single country. What I take from this statement is that this money is given to assist the priorities of the Indonesian government, not the priorities that most Australians would place at the top of their list for aid.

I have said on a number of occasions that it beggars belief that we can justify tripling our economic aid to Indonesia over a six-year period while they can afford to triple their military spending over the same period. Now we have given them an additional $105 million, increasing aid to $646 million a year. This year Indonesia has the third fastest moving stock market in the entire region, beaten only by Japan and the Philippines, and has enjoyed economic growth of over six per cent a year for four of the past five years. This is hardly a country in economic distress. I am not suggesting that the majority of people in Indonesia enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, but how much of that is a result of the incredible economic inequality and wealth disparity between the rich and the poor or because of the culture of corruption that is still endemic in its government, departments and institutions?

Government priorities come and go, but the problems facing the world's poor will remain. In the past fortnight we have heard the Indonesian President proclaim proudly that the aim of his government is to have a military that is bigger and better than that of Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. I have no problem with that. A sovereign nation has a right and a duty to establish and maintain an adequate defence force. However laudable the Indonesian President's statement is, he forgot to add, ' and we thank the Australian foreign aid budget for helping us attain that goal'.

If you can afford to build a military to rival Australia's then you can afford to build schools, extend health care and improve the levels of equality within your own country. You would think that, based on the statement by the Indonesian President and these figures alone, a review of Australia's large foreign aid each year to Indonesia would be prudent. However, it appears we have not taken the figures into consideration. In fact, as I said earlier, we have increased our aid to Indonesia by $105.2 million a year to a staggering $646.8 million.

I have brought to the attention of senators in this place the atrocities that are occurring in West Papua at the hands of the Indonesians. In doing so, according to the foreign minister, I have shown myself to be a reckless, unthinking Australian. At least he lets me keep my citizenship. The foreign minister cited a number of projects being conducted in Indonesia with the help of Australian aid money, and I agree these are great achievements. But I question why we have brought about increasing Australian aid by $500 million in six years when they can afford to increase their military spending by $6 billion in the same period. Pardon my cynicism, but to put it plainly, this just does not add up.

I am not asking for the foreign aid budget to be cut but that it be used, in the minister's own words, 'wisely and well'. I can think of a number of projects that are sorely needed in Timor-Leste, mainly because of the rampant destruction caused by the Indonesian military as it reluctantly left. These could be easily completed with a portion of the aid currently being given to Indonesia. Maybe it is the methods used to determine how we spend our aid that need to be looked at. Surely helping Indonesia extend its military is slightly less important than helping the East Timorese establish a proper sewerage system, or an education system that allows for fewer than 60 children to a classroom, or a road system that includes actual roads.

I think the thing that bothers most Australians about this is that, however much the government says it has not seen any evidence of the recent atrocities and human rights abuses in West Papua, the international outcry is growing and, after East Timor, they simply will not accept a government's word for it. If the government wants to deny years of mounting evidence they can do so, but they should not be surprised when the average Australian, reckless and unthinking though they may be, is outraged that their tax dollars are assisting these atrocities. I do not believe that our foreign aid budget is being spent wisely and well. Either we spend it wisely or we should spend it at home.

A country is what a country makes. I remind the government and the opposition that you cannot continue to import more than you export. We as a nation need to manufacture more world-class products for domestic and foreign consumption, and we need to produce more world-class food for home and abroad. Ultimately, if we do not support and encourage our manufacturers and our farmers Australia's standard of living will continue to fall.

Many aspects of this budget are positive—a feat not easy to achieve with the size of the deficit we now face. However, I believe many opportunities have been missed to improve the lives of ordinary Australians. I can only hope that the next government, whether ALP or coalition, can look to the workers, the families and the communities of Australia and recognise that it is in them that the basis of all solid economic policy begins.