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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26852

Mr HARDGRAVE (12:02 PM) —I am happy to support the range of measures that has been introduced in the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001 and related bills in connection with this year's budget—the sixth budget of this government and the fifth consecutive cash surplus. In other words, we are in a position where a responsible government using economic policy is able to pay for its commitments to the Australian people and not borrow against the future, which was, of course, the hallmark of the failed Hawke-Keating years. This is a government which has been listening—and continues to listen—over its time in office. Moreover, it is not just listening but also acting on the genuine concerns within the community and addressing some of the great wrongs of the past, the great inadequacies in compensation to people who were prisoners of war, to provide those who helped build this nation over its first 100 years of nationhood with a symbolic gesture of thanks, a gesture of understanding and a gesture of support from the great body of us taxpayers who were not part of those generations that struggled and that now find themselves in their later years of life.

Of course, a budget is not the entire process of a government's activity. A budget each year is a line in the sand, it is a signal of intent, it is part of the process of running the country in a proper way. When we look at some of the commentary that has occurred overnight and this morning amongst the media gallery, it is important to note that we are, as a government, being judged by the standards expected of governments under the previous Labor government. This is certainly a government that cannot be judged by Labor's own poor standards. The Australian Labor Party was a group in government that used to say many things before elections and then proceed to ignore all of those things after elections—the l-a-w tax cuts were certainly examples of that. This government, I believe, has a hallmark which, very simply, is that it says what it intends to do before an election and commits itself to its execution after that election. It delivers on what it has said, in other words—the Senate notwithstanding. In fact, in the legislation that is before us this morning we are delivering on things before an election and introducing measures that will make it possible for certain things to happen in a retrospective way in the current taxation year. Certain things are in fact going to be improved for older Australians in the current taxation year. How can we do that? How can we afford that? Why is it different from last year's budget? Now we have the numbers in on what the new taxation system generates, we can, through proper economic management, afford the things in this package of bills that we are considering. We as a nation can make the payments to effect this legislation today. We are not borrowing, we are not saying, `Vote for us and it will happen in a year or two'; we are in fact making the payments available today.

The people of Australia should have a great deal of faith in an administration that in fact has achieved this against the background of Labor's $80 billion deficit—that is, borrowing more over a series of budgets, over a series of years, clocking up debt, not repaying that debt and making others pay. Guess what? The taxpayers of today are paying for the Hawke-Keating years of the 1980s and early 1990s. The taxpayers of today are meeting the reckoning of still repaying the debt that was clocked up last time the Australian Labor Party was in government.

To the great shame of those opposite, as this government has attempted to bring in a lot of different measures over its time in office, the Australian Labor Party has set out to sabotage, at every juncture, every worthwhile measure that we have brought forward. In fact, on matters as diverse as the new tax system, everything I have ever had anybody complain to me about has come because the Labor Party and the Democrat alliance over in the other place has perverted the government's promise to the people of Australia. The things we promised before the last election that could not be delivered during this time in office have come about as a result of the changes in the other place.

Mr Slipper —They took away simplicity.

Mr HARDGRAVE —They did take away simplicity. The parliamentary secretary is quite right. All the difficulties that are in the tax system today can be sheeted home quite rightly to the trickery of those opposite who have embarked upon a deliberate process of sabotage of good policy outcome in this country—even down to matters such as unfair dismissal. There are 50,000 Australians who do not have a job today because the Australian Labor Party has followed its union masters on 10 occasions and voted down that legislation.

Today, the Australian Labor Party have signalled that they will pass these measures and will give the government the support it needs to ensure a quick passage of these bills and to ensure that these right measures contained in the overall budget can be delivered before the end of the current financial year. In other words, we are going to see instant action for many Australians.

With regard to the $25,000 payment to Australians who were Japanese prisoners of war, I am of a generation that has never gone to war. In my youth, as a young subteen I was affected by the Vietnam War. The concept of facing conscription later in life really loomed large in my psyche. I was pleased to see the end of the compulsory utilisation of our youth in the defence of our country because, as a subteen, I was fairly frightened of the prospect. I do not mind confessing that because I am in total awe of and feel an absolute sense of great obligation to those who have served this country. The many veterans in my community I think understand that—I certainly hope they do. There are still living in the electorate of Moreton only a couple of dozen people who were prisoners of war and I know that there are fewer than 100 widows of former prisoners of war. For those people, I am delighted with what this budget has brought forward. It is not the big things that matter in this job; it is the little things, and each individual person is so important.

The $25,000 payment to Australians who were Japanese prisoners of war is something that the RSL has sought for some time and the government has responded. It is a one-off payment, it will be non-taxable, it is exempted from the income test applied to the service pension or any other Centrelink income support payment and it will not be affected by the assets test. If the money is put into the bank and interest is earned, that may have an impact on those sorts of pensions. That would be understandable because it would be new income, but the $25,000 is theirs. It is not much. It is probably far too little too late. When you consider a lifetime of suffering and, in the case of widows of those prisoners of war, a lifetime of putting up with all the stresses and strains and, as the member for Dunkley said, the things that we really do not want to visit as far as the way prisoners of war may have reacted to their time of internment, $25,000 is not much, but at least it is an acknowledgment of their contribution, albeit very late in the piece. It is a great shame that both sides of politics did not deal with this 50 years ago.

With regard to the lump sum payment of $300 to all of those people who are on an age pension or part pension, this is an acknowledgment from the government that they too need to be thanked and acknowledged, that they too need to feel a sense of dividend, a return on the investment they have put into this country, in particular over the last couple of years as the government have worked hard to repay the Australian Labor Party's debt and to cut deep into budget matters in order to afford the repayment of this big debt. During our time in office, the government have taken things from a point where the interest repayment on our debt position as a government was equal to the defence budget. There was a payment of $10.5 billion or thereabouts each year in the form of interest, as a result of the way those opposite ran the country. We have now managed to reduce debt from $80 billion down to $20 billion and we have been able to reduce that debt interest repayment factor in the budget. So it is good to pay a dividend to people who have paid part of the cost of meeting those achievements.

This is not a government that is working on figures on the bottom line alone; this is a government that is dealing with individuals, is listening and acting and understands those who have saved for their retirement. Self-funded retirees in my community should be able to take away some of the pressure of financial management in later life. We have increased the effective income tax free threshold for self-funded retirees and pensioners to $20,000 for a single person and $32,612 for a couple, effective immediately. They are in so many ways the unsung heroes of our society. They are the ones who make it easier for government to provide for those who have not been able to save for their retirement. It is only right that self-funded retirees be given that recognition and that sort of assistance by the government.

We have also increased the Medicare levy threshold to the same amount, which means that, until they have $20,000 in income, not only are they not paying tax but also they are not paying the Medicare levy, which is a marvellous achievement from a government which understands the importance of reward for effort. I would like to think that, in the next term of this government, we will look to extending that style of reward for effort through further modification of the personal income tax system so that more people can understand that they are getting greater reward for effort and paying less government tax. I would like to think that that is one of the things we will be aspiring to do. Certainly one of the things I will be advocating will be to increase that tax free threshold for all Australians to a higher level, because it is important.

More Australians are going to get the seniors health card. The threshold for singles is now $50,000 and $80,000 for couples. That means an extra 50,000 Australians will be able to obtain the seniors health card and there will be a telephone allowance of $17.20 per quarter. If you contrast that with what those opposite left—a tax free threshold of $5,400 under Labor and $20,000 under the coalition—that is a good example to self-funded retirees that we care, we listen and we act. It is a fantastic example to all Australians that, in the next term of this government, we will be focusing on providing a similar style of dividend to them. I commend the bills to the House.