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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26872

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (1:51 PM) —I am delighted to speak to this Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001 and very pleased at last night's announcement in the budget. This is a budget that lays a foundation for the future. It rewards those who have done the hard yards not only in building the nation but in supporting the government, through what has been a difficult time, to redress the budget deficit that we were left by the Labor Party.

Can I talk firstly about laying a foundation for the future. In the budget document, I note that there will be 1,800 undergraduate student places in regional higher education institutions from 2002. That is an excellent initiative to offer opportunities for education to those outside the major centres. There is a range of other initiatives, which I will not dwell on because they have received understandably sound coverage in the press. Can I just say that, for all Australians, laying a foundation for the future essentially means responsible government and ensuring that there is a surplus in the budget that will assist interest rates to remain low.

We have repaid $60 billion worth of Labor's $80 billion debt. Every year as a result of that, we save on our interest bill $4 billion a year. That is very welcome news. A saving of $4 billion a year is money that can go to those who have done the hard yards. We will be cutting taxes by $5 billion. Those people on average weekly earnings—and there are many Australians who raise a family, who work hard on average weekly earnings— would have been paying under the Labor Party 43 cents in the dollar. Thanks to our changes in the tax reform package, they are now paying 30 cents in the dollar. Australian truckies are paying 27c less per litre on fuel.

But it is those who have done the hard yards, those who have built this nation, those who have raised a family, those who essentially should be enjoying a dignified and comfortable older age that the government has turned its attention to, and rightly so. For pensioners, there is a non-taxed lump sum of $300—2.2 million Australians will receive that payment. The income level for eligibility for a seniors health card, which enables people to obtain pharmaceutical benefits after 52 scripts for only $3.50 per script, will go to $50,000 for singles and $80,000 for couples, with assistance for telephone and associated matters. For independent retirees—those people who have worked hard, put aside a nest egg and live on their own resources— the tax-free threshold is being raised, and I am very pleased to hear that. It is a significant recognition that, while we care for those who have nowhere else to turn—and appropriately so—there are those who have worked hard to put aside provision for their own retirement. It is appropriate that that sacrifice be recognised. For them, the tax-free threshold will be increased for a single independent retiree from $20,000 to $32,612, and there is the Medicare levy exemption.

What this means is that, for an independent retiree who is earning $20,000, they would have paid, had this measure not been brought in, $2,688 in tax. They will now pay none—no tax up to $20,000. For a couple on $20,000 each as an income, they would have paid tax of $6,140 as a couple. They will now pay a total of $2,179. I am very pleased with the initiatives for those in Australia who have done the hard yards.

I would like to turn to some of the comments that have been made by those on the other side. I note that the member for Oxley said that they are ready for an election. Nobody on this side is talking about an election, and nor should we. There is more work to be done—a great deal more work to be done. But the member for Oxley is very keen to go to an election. He has, in fact, called it the longest running campaign.

Mr Kerr —Her capacity to keep a straight face is astounding.

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —Your capacity to talk about l-a-w law cuts is astounding, too. We remember the Labor Party's promises. I just want to refer to an article by Jim Dickens in the Telegraph on 22 May. He noted that Labor has made more than 50 election statements. The government has made none, and that is appropriately so. Labor, he goes on to say, has failed to release any firm details about how much it plans to spend. But it gets more interesting. I refer to an article by Ian Henderson in the Australian. He states:

But the focus must then quickly shift to Beazley and his Labor team, and whether they are willing and able to show how their policies will fit into the fiscal framework they have fashioned ...

But comments over the weekend both by Beazley's deputy and Treasury spokesman, Simon Crean, and by his shadow finance minister, Lindsay Tanner, make it clear that the opposition has a responsibility to accelerate that process. Crean has previously pledged a Beazley Labor government to the seemingly impossible. This is where Australians need to be very cautious, and I quote from the article in the Australian:

... simultaneously delivering more spending, a smaller tax take and a stronger budget bottom line than Howard and Costello.

You cannot deliver more in spending, take less in tax revenue and deliver a stronger budget bottom line unless you are going to do something else, and that is what the article says Labor is planning. Labor is prepared to ditch or modify Howard government policies if and when it comes to office. I would like to know from the opposition what it is that it plans to ditch or remove. Is it the $25,000 for prisoners of war? Is it the change in the tax-free threshold for independent retirees? Is it the changes in tax for pensioners? Are they going to affect the seniors health card? What about Work for the Dole? The reality is that you cannot do it all. Labor is going to ditch some of the government's policies, and it is time to tell the Australian people which ones they are.

You cannot go to an election with promises like those the Labor Party has had in the past: l-a-w law tax cuts, `We won't sell the Commonwealth Bank' and `We won't sell Qantas'. The reality is that you cannot do, as Mr Henderson in his article so clearly lays out, the seemingly impossible. You cannot deliver more spending, you cannot have a smaller tax take and then have a stronger budget bottom line. The only way to do that is to cut some of the programs. It is time the Labor Party came out, since it is ready for an election, so it says, and told the Australian people what it plans to do.

The government's policies are out there. Their initiatives are there. We have been totally honest with the Australian people.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —Oh yes, we have, but you have not. It is all here. It is all in the budget speech. Where is yours?

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —There they are. In fact, we have just had a complaint that we are pushing those through the parliament now. That is exactly right: we are pushing those initiatives through the parliament now so that older Australians and POWs can have their payments immediately. Why? Because we know that Labor is going to ditch some of those programs. You have to be honest with the Australian people.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I interrupt the member for Dawson and remind her of her obligations under the standing orders to address her remarks through the chair. It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member for Dawson will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.