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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26847

Mr BILLSON (11:38 AM) — We are used to the member for Lilley demeaning himself, but he has demeaned the parliament today and he has demeaned the 15,000 senior citizens in my electorate of Dunkley with what can only be described as more of the diatribe that people expect from the member for Lilley—diatribe that he has been pushing right around this country. But did you hear anything about what the Labor Party would do? Not a thing. There was a time in this place when the opposition stood up and had something to say, when they were not pretending that this parliament was a branch meeting of the Labor Party at which they could run around with these half-baked stories and untruths and substitute them for considered policy input. There was a time when people like Bill Hayden would stand up and make their point. They would have a proposition, they would have an alternative. They would not smirk and slip out like the member for Lilley is doing after his atrocious contribution, which demeaned this parliament. It demeaned him—we expect that—but it also demeaned those senior Australians we are discussing in the debate on the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001 and cognate bills before the parliament today.

Let me run through some of the issues. You heard him say, `The government is going to backdate some of these measures. Well, they've always been backdated.' What the people listening might not realise is that the budget used to come down in August. When the budget came down in August and the measures started for that financial year, it went back to July. That was because the budget came down in August. We now do budgets in May, which means that if we are backdating something it is backdated the whole year—not a couple of months to the start of the financial year to which the budget relates. So that is another crystal clear example of how the member for Lilley operates. Either he is completely incompetent or he sets out to deceive and mislead Australians.

Mr Slipper —Both.

Mr BILLSON —It is probably both. He stood up and he talked about food prices and the GST grocery bag. For those that do not come here very often or do not listen to the parliament very often—probably because the member for Lilley demeans this institution with his contributions—we have heard about his `Lilley Watch' where he has gone around and looked at supermarket prices. Do you know what has happened? They are not published anymore because they showed savings at the supermarket checkout as a result of tax reform. You do not hear about them anymore. He talked about the price of food. He did not mention the floods in New South Wales and what that does to the price of food. He failed to mention that food is not taxed. There is no GST on food; we have actually taken input taxes, wholesale sales taxes, off the production of food. He comes in here again trying to mislead the Australian people as a substitute for policy contribution. These guys sit over there and they smirk amongst themselves. They are so triumphant about their incredibly committed and obvious transition to government at the next election, for which they do not have to do anything. They fight amongst themselves about the spoils of potential victory and they offer zip—absolutely zip.

In that diatribe from the member for Lilley, you would have heard him say on three occasions that they actually support what we are doing.

Mr Slipper —Strongly support.

Mr BILLSON —Strongly support, enthusiastically support—and then off he goes with this drivel. I am surprised that the House of Representatives staff have not had to clean the podium—it was just appalling. He says, `We're going to support it.' He says it very quietly so that when people ask, when people out there are confused by what sounded a lot like opposition, he can actually say, `No, no—we support these measures.'

Let me talk about some other issues that the member for Lilley touched on. He was saying that the tax reforms have done unspeakable damage to senior Australians. Isn't that an interesting thought? He talked about the pension adjustments. He did not mention the fact that they were adjustments paid in advance. Forecasting the impact of the changes, the government said, `There is an impact here. Let us compensate those people in advance.' In advance—not like the normal pension adjustments that occur after price increases have been recorded so that there is a period during which people have had to accommodate the price increases and then they are compensated for it down the track. That is what the Labor Party used to do. With this package, we were compensating people in advance, forecasting the impact. You did not hear him mention that, did you?

You did not hear him talk about that Dawkins budget where every wholesale sales tax rate went up by two per cent. Petrol taxes went through the roof. This word `compensation' is new to the Labor Party. When they slugged every Australian—particularly low income Australians, who buy most of the products that have wholesale sales taxes on them—when those wholesale sales taxes were put up by the Labor Party, this word `compensation' was not even in the Labor Party vocabulary. They just slugged the people with those tax increases, and there was no compensation. And they come into this place saying, `Isn't this horrendous! This compensation package—that's right, that's something we never did when we were in government—was paid in advance; oh, that's something else that we never did when we were in government.' This compensation package included a buffer of two per cent to make sure that, even if our forecasts were wrong, pensioners and low income earners and people on income support were not going to be disadvantaged—another thing the Labor Party did not do when they were in office. They say, `Oh, isn't this terrible!' What a nonsense! The member for Lilley demeans this place; he demeans this parliament.

Here is another example. He was talking about the tax treatment for self-funded retirees. When the Howard government was elected, self-funded retirees started paying tax on the first dollar after $5,400. That was not the case for pensioners, though. The pensioners had an extended tax-free threshold. Our first measure was: let us not discriminate against those people that have provided for their own retirement by having a tax regime which has greater impositions on them than it would had they not provided for their own retirement and were receiving the pension. Our idea was a straightforward idea: let us not discriminate to the disadvantage of those people who have provided for their own retirement; let us at least make sure that self-funded retirees are taxed in the same way as pensioners and part-pensioners. So we fixed that—instalment No. 1.

What was the member for Lilley's next criticism? That we are actually extending that so there is further incentive for those people who provided for their own retirement. And his big killer punch is, `Now there is $20,000.' Gee, that is not a huge increase! The subtext: you guys have already done so much to improve this in the past. That is his big killer punch. Because we have recognised the disadvantage the tax system imposed upon self-funded retirees and have done something about it, he is arguing that this additional benefit is not as great as it would have been. What a nonsense. He is right to say, though, that if the Labor Party were still in government self-funded retirees of pensionable age would still be paying tax on their 5,401st dollar. Now they will pay tax after 20 grand. That is almost $15,000 extra income that self-funded retirees can earn as individuals before they start paying tax, compared to where they were when the Labor was in power, and the member for Lilley stands up and says, `Gee, this benefit is not as big as it could have been, because you guys have adjusted this on the way through.' What a nonsense. The member for Lilley demeans this parliament, he demeans himself and he demeans the 15,603 senior Australians living in my electorate.

Let us talk a little bit more, though, about what is actually in this package. In the explanation of how the member for Lilley has sought to deceive the Australian people I have illustrated some of the advantages in this budget. This is a budget of targeted spending that responds to specific local concerns I have been happy to raise with the government on behalf of my constituents, but it also makes a further investment in the longer term plans and strategies of our country that will strengthen our social fabric. Is that not a purposeful budget? You have heard people stand up and say, `Hey, this is a pre-election budget.' I do not think that is fair, because you would have to compare it with the pre-election budget in 1995-96 when the Keating government were trying to save their skins. What did they do? They had an absolute spending spree. They went to the Commonwealth Bankcard and spent $10.3 billion more trying to save their sorry hides in that last year—$10.3 billion more than they had raised to pay for it.

Mr Slipper —And we had to fix it.

Mr BILLSON —And we had to fix it. Thank you. A $10.3 billion spending spree, throwing money around to save your sorry hides that someone else has to pay for down the track—that sounds like a Labor Party election budget. What have we got here with the Liberal-National Party budget? Not only are all of these things paid for—there is no bouncing the bankcard here—but also we are in fact paying off more of that Labor Party debt: $60 billion of the $80 billion the Labor government racked up when it was in office last time. It is a thought that will give a lot of people sleeping problems, if it ever got back. We have paid that off. We are paying more off here. That does not sound like recklessness. That sounds like responsible government; that sounds like sound economic management delivering us the capacity to do targeted things that matter to our nation not only today but into the future.

Mr Slipper —Health and education.

Mr BILLSON —Health and education, the innovation statement and further investment in education. We are looking at five new targeted programs for the family health initiative. This is a great budget. We are rebuilding our defence forces and paying for it not on the Visa card but as we go, with a budget surplus and paying off Labor debt— and over there they have got the hide to talk about this being some sort of election budget. This is sensible, responsible government in action.

Mr BILLSON —And we are even fixing Kim Beazley's dodgy subs. The Labor Party have a go at us about the Australians Working Together package, the welfare reform package. What is wrong with investing $1.7 billion over the next four years to make sure that those people who at the moment are not fully engaged in the work force in our community are given every opportunity to do so? What is wrong with that? That is a moral obligation of responsible budgeting. What does the member for Lilley propose? He said nothing. I suppose he just wants these 800,000 Australians to be written off from our community—to sit over there and receive their income support—and to not make any effort whatsoever to help those people re-engage in our nation. Is that his plan?

Mr Hardgrave —He wants to scare them to death.

Mr BILLSON —That is what he does. He is a bulldust creator and a dusk kicker, and he is going around trying to terrify Australians, when we are saying to these people: `We know all Australians have a capacity. Let us work with you.'

I have been asked to wrap up in a hurry. I will. Thank you, Mr Whip. But I would like to make one point, and I would like to dedicate it to Bill Coventry, Ray Wheeler and all of the prisoners of war. What a horrendous experience to have been interned by the Japanese during the war, either as a civilian or as service personnel. In my community alone I know of 20 prisoners of war. I know that their mortality rate is six to seven times higher than any other person interned during a conflict. The brutality and the suffering they endured has seen them find places in their souls and question humanity in ways that I cannot even imagine. I cannot even imagine what they have been through. Some of the dearest friends I have try to explain that to me and it is too difficult for them, so we do not go there.

But where we are going today is saying: `We understand that. For you—the war widows, the civilian detainees—we are going to recognise your suffering, and we are going to make sure that everyone understands what you have done and the contribution you have made to this great country.' That is in the budget as well, and I think that is a terrific way of showing the Australian community that sound financial management creates possibilities for good policy. There are bucket loads of good policy in this budget. I am delighted to support these bills before the House and the budget and the Howard government, because they are doing good things for our country.