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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26865

Mr RIPOLL (1:16 PM) —I am very pleased to be speaking on the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001 and cognate bills. I know that there is unanimous support for this measure in the parliament, and there would be great support out in the community. We have heard already many speakers talking about the great hardship and the rate of death of prisoners of war under the Japanese regime. It certainly was a very sad period in our history. Those prisoners of war who are still alive today—those Australians who did make the sacrifice, who did serve and who experienced those harsh conditions—do deserve this $25,000 that the government is giving to them as a form of compensation.

I would also like to put on the record my surprise at a number of the comments that have been made and one in particular from the member for Forrest who, while he gave a stirring speech with I am sure all good intentions and is very supportive of this money, sounded to me as though he was saying that other prisoners of war may not be as deserving of compensation. I want to put on the record that I think there are other prisoners of war—those who served in Greece and Crete, just to name two theatres of war on this their 60th anniversary—who would be just as deserving of some compensation. Each individual has a harrowing story to tell, and probably it is true that one could find none more harrowing than from those under the Japanese regime. Yet other prisoners of war were in theatres and experienced regimes that were just as bad.

While these are very emotive issues—and I know people listen very carefully to what is said on these matters—it needs to be understood how the government got around to putting this $25,000 into the budget. It did not do that willingly; it went there dragged kicking and screaming all the way. Members may have witnessed an unfortunate incident in the House yesterday when the member for Grayndler actually made a comment that was further commented on by Minister Scott. The reality is that Minister Scott thought that this compensation was not necessary. The member for Grayndler at that point said that the minister thought that it was a stupid idea, but I know that he corrected this in the House earlier. It is a welcome part of the budget. It certainly will be well received in the community and, in particular, in the veteran community. I am sure that other POWs will look closely at the measure and how the government came to that position.

On the matter of the budget itself and the issues contained within the bills before us today, I want to make it very clear that people should not be fooled. Do not be fooled by this budget. Do not be fooled by what this government attempts to do in all that it gives out with one hand and takes with the other. This measure of $300 compensation for pensioners and self-funded retirees is not something that this government willingly wanted to do. It is something that the government has done, dragged kicking and screaming all the way with gritted teeth and a smirky grin. What this does, though, is reinforce one very important fact about the GST and about this government's approach to that particular group in our community, and that is that the GST is hurting them and hurting them very badly—otherwise we would not need to have a compensatory measure.

This is a very substantial measure in terms of the overall cost—$300 in itself may not seem a lot of money but I know that to pensioners and self-funded retirees it is a substantial sum of money. Overall, this represents a huge chunk of the budget. Why has the government done this? Why has it introduced this measure? Why $300 to start with? It is quite simply this: pensioners and self-funded retirees are not going to vote for the government, and the government has finally got the message. So what does the government do? It flicks out a $300 cheque. In doing that it has to come to the conclusion—everybody in the community has already come to the conclusion—that this pay-off money is to buy votes, but it buys votes in a very cynical way.

We are still talking about a one-off payment of $300, which will disappear very quickly with the increased cost of living under the GST, but GST is for life. People should never forget that. Three hundred dollars is a very small measure when balanced against GST for life. The government might say, `What about the $1,000?' That is a good question. Where is it? Thirty per cent of people who were promised the $1,000 compensation measure did not receive anything— they got zero. They got nothing. The problem with the $300 is again in the fine print. People should look at the eligibility criteria. They should have a look at who is really going to get it.

Let us have a close look at those who will be the winners and those who will be the losers. There certainly are some winners in this. Those who are wealthy enough in the first place—and good on them for receiving the full $1,000 each—will also get the $300. So, thank you very much, there will be $1,300 for those who already have substantial savings and already have some money. Those who did not receive $1,000, those who got nothing, get $300. They are still $700 short. Where is the $700? When is the government going to come up with what it promised? I am not asking the government to do more than it promised. Everyone heard the radio interviews. Everyone knows what was promised. Certainly the pensioners and self-funded retirees know what was promised to them. They were promised $1,000. Some of them are still $700 short. So they will be saying, `Thanks very much; I will pocket the money, but I will not forget.' I know that those people out in the community will not forget either. This budget measure is not about helping pensioners and self-funded retirees; it is about winning votes.

There are a number of other issues in terms of clawback, for example. This $300 does very little to compensate those people who are more than affected by the two per cent. Where is the two per cent? Why is that not in the budget? This government has quite cleverly taken money off people through the GST and through other measures. Members should not forget that measures relating to free dental and free hearing aids have gone. They should not forget all of that other money that was ripped out—the $750 million. This does not even come close to compensating those people for those things.

One thing remains; that is, the damage that is being done by the GST not only to those people but also to all families across Australia. Regardless of the statistics, the clever accounting and the figures we read, we should go and talk to people at the checkouts. We should talk to those families who go shopping and who have seen their bills jump not 10 per cent, and not even 20 per cent; people are telling me that their bills have gone up by 25 per cent and 30 per cent. They used to do weekly shopping for $150 a week—very conservative shopping. I am talking about people who are doing it tough on low incomes—pensioners. Now they are saying that their bills are more than $200 a week. And it is the same shopping. It is not as if they are becoming extravagant and buying bottles of champagne at Woolies. They are just buying what they used to buy. In fact, they are trying to be a little more miserly and they are paying a lot more. There is nothing much in this that actually delivers much more to these people. Three hundred dollars will be gone quickly, but the GST will remain with them forever.

Not only has this government given back very little to buy votes; it has also done a number of backflips—backflips on BAS, backflips on beer. The Labor Party will not have to introduce a roll-back program because the government will have achieved it before we get into government. This budget is very clever. It is not clever for what it purports to put back into the community or for what it is going to give to people; it is very clever in the way it gives with one hand and takes with the other. It gives $300 on one side but reaps a whole heap more—huge windfalls of money through the GST. Although it talks cleverly about interest rates being lower now so families are better off by $300 a month, I ask: better off than what? Better off than if they did not have the GST? Better off than what? These are the questions, and they are not being answered by this government.

It has been caught red-handed pickpocketing people in the street. When it has been caught, the government has said, `No, but we will give it back.' Of course, it does not give it all back; it just gives some of it back and then expects a pat on the back and the community to say, `Good job, well done.' People are not that silly. People know what this is about. This is not a miracle budget. There is a lot of spending. This is a big-spending government, there is no doubt, but it is also the biggest spending government since Federation.

So while on the one hand we have this government hailing the biggest tax reform in 100 years, the GST does not get a mention in the budget speech. That goes silent. In fact, when the Treasurer began his budget speech, I checked some of my documents from the last budget speech, because I actually thought that he was reading the last one. It was not until he was about five minutes into it that I had realised that this was the new speech, not the old speech. So there was not really that much difference in it. Sure, they have lifted the tax-free threshold. Again, this is a good move and will be well appreciated by those who receive it. But, again, the eligibility is what people need to look at, and they need to look at it very closely.

At the end of the day, this government is mean, tricky and out of touch. I love that, because we did not coin that phrase. We did not say it, we did not write it; the Liberal Party did. It was their own party that said that about their own Treasurer, about their own leadership—that it is mean, tricky and out of touch. They said it because it is true. It is as simple as that.

This budget is a tricky budget. It is a mean budget. It puts back a little bit where it took away a lot and says, `Aren't we good.' What this budget attempts to do is to say to people, `Look, we are going to be coming up to an election.' We are running out of time for an election, because we have to remember that we have probably now been running the longest re-election campaign in history. Some time since last year this government has been mooting that possibly we will be going to an election. I can tell members that out in the community people are saying, `Give us some certainty,' and I know that business is saying that to me—`Tell us what your real intentions are. Don't masquerade and hide behind the budget. Don't masquerade and hide behind little handouts as compared to what you are reaping in through the GST.'

In the minute that I have got left, I just want to make a couple of comments about how this government manages to squeeze the community in terms of Centrelink and the Job Network. Where it really should be paying some attention and delivering some real services, some dollars, some resources and some training, it is doing the very opposite. What it is doing is putting in place very complicated sets of systems and networks that nobody understands. If members talk to any Centrelink officer or any Job Network officer anywhere and ask the same question of three different people, they would get three different answers. Why? Because if you can wade through the mountain of documentation that changes so regularly that no-one knows which one is the latest, then you might be able to get through it and get one answer. But if you are the poor punter who comes in off the street and has to fill out all the forms that are so complicated and then find that you are actually being accused of all sorts of things like fraud and other things, then you are the one who suffers. It is those people out there who suffer. This government will be remembered in this budget for being mean, tricky and completely out of touch.