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- Start of Business
- FAIRER PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE INCENTIVES BILL 2009
- FAIRER PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE INCENTIVES (MEDICARE LEVY SURCHARGE) BILL 2009
- FAIRER PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE INCENTIVES (MEDICARE LEVY SURCHARGE—FRINGE BENEFITS) BILL 2009
- FAIR WORK (STATE REFERRAL AND CONSEQUENTIAL AND OTHER AMENDMENTS) BILL 2009
- GUARANTEE OF STATE AND TERRITORY BORROWING APPROPRIATION BILL 2009
- TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (2009 BUDGET MEASURES NO. 1) BILL 2009
- COORDINATOR-GENERAL FOR REMOTE INDIGENOUS SERVICES BILL 2009
- SOCIAL SECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (IMPROVED SUPPORT FOR CARERS) (CONSEQUENTIAL AND TRANSITIONAL) BILL 2009
- MIGRATION AMENDMENT (PROTECTION OF IDENTIFYING INFORMATION) BILL 2009
- TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (2009 MEASURES NO. 2) BILL 2009
- FINANCIAL SECTOR LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ENHANCING SUPERVISION AND ENFORCEMENT) BILL 2009
- HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPORT AMENDMENT (VET FEE-HELP AND PROVIDERS) BILL 2009
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- PRIME MINISTER AND TREASURER
- AUNG SAN SUU KYI
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- AUDITOR-GENERAL’S REPORTS
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- HEALTH WORKFORCE AUSTRALIA BILL 2009
- THERAPEUTIC GOODS AMENDMENT (MEDICAL DEVICES AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2008 
- TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (2009 MEASURES NO. 3) BILL 2009
- HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPORT AMENDMENT (VET FEE-HELP AND PROVIDERS) BILL 2009
- CAR DEALERSHIP FINANCING GUARANTEE APPROPRIATION BILL 2009
- Start of Business
- Sir Donald Eckersley
- Bennelong Electorate: Consumer Confidence
- Tangney Electorate: Internet Access
- Deakin Electorate: Ringwood Soccer and Multipurpose Sports Pavilion
- Indi Electorate: General Practice
- Dobell Electorate: Proposed Coalmine
- Swan Electorate: Belmont Medicare Office
- Forde Electorate: Rivermount College
- Workplace Relations
- Sri Lanka
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 1) 2009-2010
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 2) 2009-2010
APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL (NO. 1) 2009-2010
- Baldwin, Robert, MP
- Bevis, Arch, MP
- Jensen, Dennis, MP
- Rishworth, Amanda, MP
- Secker, Patrick, MP
- Sullivan, Jon, MP
- Simpkins, Luke, MP
- Livermore, Kirsten, MP
- Stone, Dr Sharman, MP
- Jackson, Sharryn, MP
- Moylan, Judi, MP
- Bradbury, David, MP
- Schultz, Alby, MP
- Parke, Melissa, MP
- Pyne, Chris, MP
- Sidebottom, Sid, MP
- Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP
- Marles, Richard, MP
- Second Reading
- QUESTIONS IN WRITING
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
Mr BEVIS (11:10 AM) —I rise to support Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2009-2010, the cognate bills and what I think is a fine budget that is genuinely in the national interest. This budget builds on the economic stimulus packages that we saw at the end of last year and earlier this year. Together, and importantly as part of this budget, they protect jobs for Australians now and into the future. They create necessary infrastructure which not only generates many of those jobs but also provides an important base for future growth—and that is an important aspect of this budget. It does help build future growth. It positions Australia so that when this global economic downturn ends we will be able to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented.
I am also very pleased that, in the sound traditions of Labor principles, this budget has also been able in difficult times to provide increased support to some of the most vulnerable in our community. In these difficult economic times, I think it is a great credit to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that a very substantial increase in pensions was also announced as part of this budget. Millions of Australian pensioners—all pensioners: age pensioners, disability pensioners, carers, wife pensioners and veterans income support recipients—will see the single rate of the pension increase by up to $32.49 per week. That is a very significant increase in the pension.
Indeed, I noticed that in the normal lead-up to budget night, when oppositions typically set the benchmark higher than they think a government can jump, the opposition and minor parties in the Senate said that they wanted to see an increase of at least $30. Others said that they wanted to make sure it did not just go to age pensioners. The government met and exceeded what are the usually unrealistic benchmarks and hurdles that oppositions seek to set prior to budget night. Under this budget, couples will also receive an increase of $10.14 per week, and these increases will take effect from 20 September 2009.
These increases, taken together, ensure that the single rate of pension will become two-thirds of the combined couple rate—one of the recommendations of the Harmer review. Importantly for the future, it sets a new benchmark. In the past there has been an expectation and a benchmark set that the pension would reach 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings. This budget increases that to 27.7 per cent and it will be maintained at that level. That is a very substantial real benefit to some of those Australians who struggle the most and in these difficult times deserve additional support.
I also want to highlight one aspect of the budget that I think is very timely—indeed, beyond time. It is a pity that many years ago we did not have governments in this land willing to commit to renewable energy in the way that this government has. The budget before us and the appropriation bills before us provide $1.6 billion to boost investment in solar power in this country. It simply astonishes most people that Australia is not the world leader in solar technology and the commercial application of that technology. That has been neglected for far, far too long. This budget allocation of $1.6 billion to invest in solar power will see up to four new solar generation plants created that together will generate electricity on a scale currently only provided by coal fired power stations. It will represent the generation of power from a renewable source three times the size of the world’s largest current operating solar energy project. We will, as a result of this investment by the Rudd Labor government and this budget, see Australia leapfrog the world not just as one of the premier providers of research in this field but in the implementation of that technology.
I know that much of the comment from those in the Liberal and National parties has focused on the debt. I want to spend a moment or two making some comments about the actual government debt. Most people in this parliament probably do not know, and therefore can be forgiven for not realising, that between World War II and the election of the Howard government there were only ever four surplus budgets delivered in this country by the federal government. There is a very useful table in the 1991-92 budget papers that sets out the outlays, revenue and balance for budgets from 1953-54 through until 1991-92. That tells us that all through those golden years of growth and prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, those glorious days of Liberal Party hedonism with Robert Menzies as Prime Minister, not once did the Liberal Party produce a surplus budget.
I am not standing here criticising that, because the truth is the 1950s and 1960s were very prosperous times in this land and it was not essential for the Commonwealth to run surplus budgets. But the truth of the matter is they did not at any time through those golden years of growth in the postwar development period of the 1950s and 1960s ever return a surplus budget. The first surplus budget occurred in 1987-88, and it was the start of four surplus budgets in a row. The first surplus budgets post World War II in this country were delivered by the Hawke and then Keating Labor governments.
I recommend members look at the 1991-92 budget papers for the details. In 1988-89 the size of that surplus was $5.8 billion, and that is in 1988-89 figures. It was a very substantial surplus. A year later there was an $8 billion surplus. They were very significant surpluses. Indeed, the first surpluses the Commonwealth had returned since World War II were returned by a Labor government.
The government deficit projected in the current budget is, as a percentage of GDP, less than the government deficit in 2000-01 when John Howard was Prime Minister. Let us put the current financial year government debt into proper perspective. We should compare it with what happened historically since World War II and more recently when John Howard was Prime Minister, when the member for Higgins was still the Treasurer and when a number of current members of parliament were already members of parliament.
Every single economist in the world, every government in the world and every national opposition in the world but the one here in Australia has recognised the importance of ensuring stimulus packages of the sort that the Commonwealth has embarked upon in its economic stimulus packages and in this budget. Were it not for that the Australian retail sales and employment figures we have seen over the last four months would be dramatically worse.
That said, clearly difficult decisions have had to be taken as part of this budgetary process. Nobody in politics, irrespective of their colour or brand, likes to take measures that they know will remove money from folk who currently have it. That is never a popular thing to do. But, if we are indeed to build for the future and see our way through these economically difficult times that have been pressed upon us from the global crisis, then there do have to be some changes, and I want to refer to two of those that have been mentioned by some of those opposite.
Firstly, with regard to the changes to the private health insurance rebate there are two huge myths that those opposite have sought to foster. The first is that people in the Labor Party have no interest in, support for or desire to see private health insurance develop or grow and the second is that the private health insurance rebate is critical to the take-up rate of health insurance. Let me address the first. I happen to have had private health insurance cover for my entire working life. I probably know a bit more about it than most people in this chamber because I think I am also the only person who has been on the board of directors of a health insurance company. I spent a decade on the board of directors of a health insurance company in Queensland. To suggest that people on my side of politics do not have an interest in health insurance is, frankly, offensive and wrong. It is not the case. I spent a decade on the board of a health insurance company in Queensland during the period when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister and when Labor governments were in office and I have seen different policies come and go.
One of the things I take an interest in is looking closely at the effects of those different policies. Let us go back to look at the effect of the 30 per cent rebate when it was introduced on 1 January 1999. What was the percentage of the population taking out private health insurance cover prior to the rebate being introduced and after it was introduced? If we go to September 1998, the quarter immediately before the rebate was introduced, the percentage of the Australian population taking out private health cover was 30.4 per cent. If we go to the March 1999 figure—that is, the quarter after the rebate was introduced—what did it stand at? It stood at 30.4 per cent. There was no change at all in the percentage of the population taking out private health insurance cover over the six-month period—from the beginning of the three months before the rebate came in to the end of the three months after. In fact, you can go back to six months before and forward to six months after and get the same result. There was no adjustment over that period. In fact, not only did it not move much in the six months after but you can go to the end of 1999 and even to the start of 2000 and find that there was virtually no adjustment even then.
At the time the rebate was introduced I made a speech in this parliament based on the fact that I had spent a lot of time engaged in private health insurance—10 years on the board. I said that I did not think the rebate was going to make any difference and that the problem was not the cost per se but the churn in the industry—people who take out private health cover for a short time, then leave, then come back, depending on how they see their family circumstances or whether they think they may need to make health insurance claims. The government, in trying to do something about the percentage of Australians with health cover, then hit on a mechanism that does make a difference—the lifetime health rating. If you have a look at the difference with respect to the lifetime health rating, you get a very different picture. If you fast-forward to July 2000, the period immediately before the lifetime rating came in, health insurance had risen to 32.2 per cent. So a year after the rebate had been introduced the total percentage of the population taking out cover had increased by less than two per cent. However, after the lifetime rating was introduced it jumped immediately to 45 per cent. The thing that made a difference in people taking out private health insurance cover was not the rebate; it was the Lifetime Health Cover.
Yes, some people who currently get the rebate will not get the rebate or will get a lower amount and that is politically difficult—a necessary decision in these difficult economic times. Is it likely to make a difference to the total number of Australians taking out health insurance cover? Not based on the introduction of it. Is it likely to make a difference to the scale they take out—that is, will they increase their excess or reduce the sorts of things for which they are covered? Quite possibly. Is it likely to mean that they will leave altogether? Very unlikely. It is, in the circumstances confronted by this government at this time, a very reasonable change. It is about time this debate had a little bit of that fact in it instead of the hyperbole that we hear from people opposite. We just heard the previous speaker, the member for Paterson, talking about the death of health insurance, the massive costs being imposed on people and what effect it is going to have on public health. It is an absolute nonsense and there is not a shred of evidence to support it. Indeed, all the evidence shows otherwise.
I am also aware that the decision that has been taken to increase the age at which Australians can access the age pension was also difficult and there will be some people who are now nearing retiring age—people who are 57, 56 or 55—who will have to wait, in some cases, for six months longer before they can access the age pension. I am aware that that is a difficult decision as well but I happen to think it is also one of those tough decisions that are necessary in the face of the evidence.
Currently, there are around five people of working age to support every single person aged 65 and over. That is going to halve—in fact, more than halve—to 2.4 people by 2047. We actually have to do something to address this problem. If you look back at when the retirement age of 65 was introduced, you will see a very different picture. When the male retiring age of 65 was introduced, the life expectancy of a male then was 11 years in retirement. At the time, around half the male population reached the retirement age. Today, over 85 per cent of the male population reaches retirement age and they can expect now to live a further 19 years, not 11 years. We cannot ignore those facts.
Indeed, those opposite did not ignore them. When the government announced this policy, what was the reaction of the shadow minister, Mr Abbott? The shadow minister actually said: ‘The Labor Party has stolen the Liberal Party’s policy. This is our idea, not the Labor Party’s idea and, what is more, we think it should be done by 2015, not by 2023.’ That is what the shadow minister said when it was announced. Of course, since then, the Leader of the Opposition and those opposite have decided there was a bit of politics they can play with this and so they will come out and say that it is a terrible idea and we should not be doing it at all. Well, the truth is the Liberal Party knows it is the right policy; indeed, the shadow minister complained that we were pinching Liberal policy and not doing it fast enough. The idea is right; it is a change that the demography requires be undertaken. We think our more generous implementation time frame is better than that proposed by the Liberal Party. But the disingenuous comments from those opposite that the Labor Party and this government deserve to be criticised for having done it are really drawing a long bow.
It makes me think of the other things that have happened in this economic debate that has been going on since the global crisis affected this country. We have seen the situation where the Liberal and National parties say they support the new buildings that are being constructed in every primary school and yet they voted against it. The Liberal and National parties say they support the $950 back-to-school bonus Labor provided to families but they voted against that too. The Liberals and Nationals say they support the $900 tax bonus for working Australians but, yep, they voted against that as well. The Liberals and Nationals say they support the building of 803 new defence homes but they voted against that. They say they support 20,000 new social houses and they voted against that as well. The Liberals and Nationals say they support the $1,600 rebate for ceiling insulation but they voted against that too. The Liberals say they support the increase in the solar hot water rebate but they voted against that. Finally, although this is not an exhaustive list, the Liberals say they support the $950 cash bonus to farmers devastated by drought but—would you believe it?—they even voted against that as well.
It is about time the opposition were responsible in this economic debate. These are serious times for our nation confronted with a global economic crisis that is not the creation of anybody in this land, whether they be in government, in business or of any political background. It is time those opposite engaged in it seriously. By and large, I think the government have approached it on that basis. But, given that there has been the odd bit of political banter in this debate, far be it from me to miss the opportunity today to join in.
If you look at the decade just passed, the legacy of those opposite, the legacy of a decade of Howard government, was to leave the Australian people with a goods and services tax and Work Choices legislation. That is about the sum total of what will be remembered from that decade. Their idea of nation building was not new libraries, new assembly halls and investment that we are making in roads, rails and harbours; their idea of nation building was to put a flagpole in every school and to build the RG Menzies Memorial Walk on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin.
That is not nation building. Nation building is the sort of thing we are seeing in this budget and that we have seen in the announcements of the economic stimulus packages. The long list of suburbs and schools in my electorate that are benefiting at the moment from that investment is a testament to that. I have no doubt that the people in Brisbane are strongly supportive of the key initiatives in this budget, including services, infrastructure and other economic measures that the Rudd government are providing.