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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4713


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (17:02): Member for Brisbane: I rise today to also speak to the appropriation bills. Every day, we hear of the increases in the cost of living—electricity, gas, petrol, housing and health—and it is a sad indictment of the Labor Party that their carbon tax, the universal slug on all Australians, will make everyday living much more difficult for everyday families.

This budget confirms just how out of touch the government is with Australian families. There is nothing in this budget for Australian families doing it tough. All the budget does is deliver more deficit, more debt and more pain. The government's failure to rein in its wasteful and reckless spending will lead to higher inflation and higher interest rates. Because of the budget's avoidance of the elephant in the room, Labor's great new carbon tax, this budget is not worth the paper it is written on. The government's claim to deliver a surplus in 2012 and 2013 cannot be taken seriously. The carbon tax is not fair. But the budget is certainly carbonated. It is just all fizz. Strong leadership provides certainty. This government is weak, unstable and directionless; it lacks the leadership to do what is right for Australian families and businesses.

This year's budget deficit has soared to $49.4 billion. The forecast deficit in 2011-12 has blown out from $9.6 billion to $22.6 billion. Net government debt has climbed to a record $107 billion in 2011-12 and is forecast to remain above $100 billion over the forward estimates. This amounts to more than $4,700 for every Australian. Again, we have seen a typical Labor budget that is very big on taxes and big on spending but it fails to help households battling higher costs of living in terms of petrol, electricity, gas, groceries, health costs and home repayments. The government is launching a $2 billion assault on families by freezing the indexation of key family tax payments and income thresholds for three years. This measure will have a profound effect on many people in the electorate of Brisbane.

Small business is another area that has been slugged. Having owned and operated in various small- and medium-size enterprises over my career, I think I know a little bit about how to plan for the future, how to run a tight balance sheet and how to keep the cash flowing through the till—a concept that seems to have been lost on those on the other side of the House. The new arrangements for taxing company cars will slug small-business operators and tradespeople and will increase costs at a time when they are already doing it tough. Business today continues to be swamped—and swamped is the word—by tax and by red tape. The claimed cash-flow benefit resulting from the instant write-off of the first $5,000 of a new work vehicle requires a small business to spend nearly $34,000 to receive an extra tax benefit of $1,275 in the year of purchase, according to the example promoted by the Treasurer. It is a lot to spend to get a little, but the measure comes at the expense of over 400,000 of Australia's smallest businesses and self-employed who are set to lose up to $2,500 by the scrapping of the entrepreneurs tax offset.

Changes to vehicle fringe benefits tax, and particularly the rules governing that, risk leaving small businesses that provide employees with vehicles, and themselves, up to $3,000 worse off in increased tax as a result of this government's caving in to the Greens on changes to fringe benefits tax. I was at the Holy Cross fete on Saturday of last week and a couple of disturbed and upset business people came up and talked to me about this particular measure and how it was going to impact on their small business when they are already doing it tough.

The business people I speak to across the Brisbane electorate inform me that their major issue over the last operating year has been dealing with unnecessary forms, the lack of access to credit for business development and a sense that both federal and state Labor governments are not listening to their concerns and have no answers. Without this consideration, the government has begun making poor and illogical decisions that are now going to affect business. For instance, the plan to scrap the entrepreneurs tax offset and replace it with a $5,000 tax incentive for a new car purchase has not been thought through very well. The offset was a tax incentive for people to set up their own business and it seemed to be making a worthwhile contribution. More than 400,000 start-ups and microbusinesses have utilised this offset.

Not only are the government punishing small business by scrapping of the entrepreneurs tax offset but they are taxing our small-business operators in flood ravaged suburbs in Brisbane through the flood levy. From day one of the flood tax announcement, I fielded calls from small businesses in Rosalie, Paddington, Albion and the city who were struggling to clean out the mud and rebuild their lives, only to find out that their wallets had been cleaned out by the Treasurer. Fancy their dismay to hear Mr Swan was going to tax the very people whose lives and livelihoods are under significant stress. These businesses deserve better.

Perhaps the greatest failure in this budget is in relation to families and the cost of living. As reported yesterday by ABC Radio and also in the print media, a new report by the Queensland Council of Social Service, QCOS, said that the increased cost of living pressures means that at least a third of all Queenslanders are living in poverty or dangerously close to it. A third—that is inconceivable. This figure, in a nation that is as prosperous as Australia, is both shameful and alarming. The report says that electricity, gas and water costs are up more than 60 per cent and that rent is up 35 per cent. Public transport costs rose nearly 50 per cent.

Families today in Queensland are going without fresh fruit and vegetables just to provide extracurricular activities for their children. We have seen reports of families having to default on the cost of childcare fees. The sector estimates that roughly 11 per cent of families are struggling to pay childcare fees. It is important that we support the family sector, and the budget that was meant to help these people does nothing to help them in this regard. Over 6,000 families in Brisbane will be impacted by the changes to family tax benefit part A, and 5,000 families will be impacted by the changes to tax benefit B.

The increasing cost of living is making the great Australian dream of owning a home a nightmare for many, and it is not just struggling families feeling the pain. The many people I speak to in my electorate, when I go around and visit shopping centres and do community corners, are telling me that they have great concern about making a home purchase because they feel very uncertain about the economy and what the future will bring. The prospect of the added burden of a carbon tax and its flow-on effects to living costs will no doubt cause further and greater harm to the housing sector.

The higher education needs and costs to families are also front of mind for many of my electors in the Brisbane area. Almost immediately after the government leaked its intention to cut the HECS discount in the 2011-12 federal budget, I began to receive correspondence from many of my constituents, who were only too keen to voice their overwhelming concerns. Whilst coming from many different people from many different backgrounds and suburbs, the overall tone of the complaints they made for me was very clear: this was yet another blatant attack on the middle class and working families. I would like to read just one email that was sent to me regarding this issue. One particular constituent wrote to me, saying:

… our two daughters have paid their HECS through sheer hard work and determination, not because we are a rich family. Now we can expect an even harder financial road for our son when he finishes year 12.

These are just ordinary families who have been frugal, who have saved, who have tried to help their children, and they have been severely disadvantaged by the cuts to the HECS discount. This sentiment is true of all families, and indeed students, who will be hit very hard by this government—families who have worked hard all their lives, parents who go without life's luxuries to provide for their children, families who are given no assistance. Families in the Brisbane electorate are tired of working hard, only to keep having one arm tied behind their backs. Amazingly, in this budget, the Treasurer has managed to hurt just about every sector with these proposals, including the phase-out of the dependent spouse offset.

Health is a very important issue and, for many years in this House—previously as the member for Petrie and currently as the member for Brisbane—I have been an advocate for health issues, medical research and continued, appropriate paediatric care in Brisbane. I believe we need a health system that concentrates on preserving wellness; a system that puts patients first; a system that values and supports its workforce; and a system that gets hospitals and services right. This budget fails all these tests.

I have stated before that the people of Brisbane and all other citizens across Australia need and should demand a world-class healthcare system. This would necessarily involve appropriately funded medical research centres and specialised treatment facilities in our major hospitals. With this in mind, the budget is genuinely shameful. There was widespread aggravation and concern from directors of health research institutes and from the community at large over the attitude of the Labor government towards the health sector in the lead-up to the budget. I have met with each and every one of the directors of health research institutes in my electorate, and I join them in protesting the severe, mooted cuts that have occurred. Thank goodness the government had the sense not to proceed with the cuts to a very valuable sector that provides not only investment but also life-saving discoveries and cures. The government should also be ashamed of their scant regard to expert advice regarding crucial new drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Those with chronic disabling pain, schizophrenia, lung disease or blood clots will either go without new drugs or pay hundreds of dollars for drugs rather than the PBS co-payment of $34.20. As Medicines Australia has said, the government is penny-pinching to get a budget surplus and they are using people, they are using patients' medicines, to do it. This government's financial mismanagement has a direct and costly and painful result for all Australians. It is a government that is prepared to hurt its own people.

Across Brisbane, people are telling me that they will leave their private insurance provider if there are dramatic changes to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate. All Australians want a health-care system that puts the patient first. Part of putting the patient first is addressing waiting times for surgery and access to specialist services. Means-testing private health insurance rebates will ensure that our waiting times are longer. We are being asked to change the incentive for people earning over $80,000 per annum, but the long-serving school teachers, nurses and police officers in my electorate are fuming that they are considered high-income earners when the cost of living is skyrocketing. The coalition will not support any changes to means-testing private health insurance.

Mental health reform has been very important to me and the electors of Brisbane, so I was pleased to see that many of the initiatives that the coalition had led the way on in mental health funding, particularly in 2006 with a $1.9 billion investment, were continuing, but then I looked at the budget papers and saw that there had been merely a reallocation and that, sadly, the government had done this by ripping $580 million from GP's mental health services and allied health treatments. So there is a little bit of creative shuffling and, again, it will hurt the very people who really need to see a GP and it is their first point of call.

It is a sad fact that Labor is borrowing $135 million each and every day. Our net government debt will climb to a record $107 billion in 2011-12, which is more than $4,700 for every Australian family. This is an economy-destroying budget.