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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5103


Mr ANDREWS (4:20 PM) —I say in response to the honourable member for Corangamite’s remarks on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2010-2011 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 that the greatest threat to the people of Corangamite, that part of Victoria south-west of Geelong, would be the re-election of the Rudd government. Two proposals which the Rudd government has would be devastating to the region of Corangamite and to the employment prospects of many people in that region—namely, the emissions trading scheme, which would hit industries in Corangamite, and on top of that the great big new mining tax that is now being proposed by this government. If one or both of those taxes are introduced then the one electorate in Victoria and in Australia that is sure to suffer is in fact Corangamite.

This is another big-taxing, big-spending Labor government with high levels of government debt into the future, no hard decisions and no serious reform. Here we have a situation where in less than three years the Rudd Labor government have taken a $20-plus billion surplus and turned it into a massive $57.1 billion deficit, the biggest deficit since World War II. We have got this amazing turnaround from a substantial surplus, which Mr Rudd and Mr Swan had as Prime Minister and Treasurer when they came to government, into the largest deficit in a budget since the end of the Second World War. It is no wonder that the Treasurer in his budget speech on the night of the delivery of the appropriation bills wanted to talk about three and four years hence, wanted to suggest to the Australian people that we will be back into a billion-dollar surplus some years down the track, as if magically we are going to get from this year’s budget to that period in the future.

Why have we got this major turnaround in the finances of the Commonwealth of Australia? Because we have a government which is unable to deter itself from continuing on a spending spree. Worse than just a spending spree, what we see is a government that has wasted a lot of the money. The coalition did not say that there should be no stimulus funding; we said the stimulus funding should be appropriate to any threat which Australia faced. Australia was in a much better position than almost every other country in the world because the previous Howard-Costello government not only left no debt to Australia but also left a surplus so far as the budget was concerned. The Rudd Labor government has been unable to restrain its own expenditure and it has gone out and wasted money. Take just one totemic program—namely, the Home Insulation Program—where it not only wasted a lot of money but it is now having to pay more money in order to rectify the problems it put there in the first place.

This budget presents no real plan for the economy or for the future of Australia. Instead it is a grab bag of unrelated announcements with few real benefits for most Australians. Significantly, it delivers little for families at a time of increasing cost pressures. One of the pressures that Australians are facing at the present time is in relation to housing affordability. I recall prior to the 2007 election the then opposition spokeswoman, Ms Plibersek, saying that housing prices in Australia had risen to seven times the average wage of Australians. Today they are nine to 10 times the average wage of Australians. There is nothing in this budget that is aimed at improving housing affordability for Australians. The budget lacks any tough decisions because Labor is hoping to put them off until after the next election. There is no doubt that, if this government is returned, there will be many nasty surprises in store. It seems to be the pattern of the way in which the government is operating.

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer should be more upfront with the Australian people before the election about the hard decisions that are needed to protect and secure Australia’s economic future. The budget does not factor in the risks of another serious economic downturn, for example in Europe, or the risks of America not being able to get out of the very significant adverse situation it is in at the present time—or, for that matter, the risks if the building bubble in China were to burst and not be able to be controlled economically by the government of that country.

The lack of a strategic longer term approach in the budget demonstrates that the Rudd government’s core values have evaporated and that it is now making knee-jerk decisions based on day-to-day political survival. Australians have a right to question whether this government believes in anything anymore. A government that believes in nothing will in fact deliver that: just nothing. All we are getting from Labor is knee-jerk policies, just at a time when Australians need certainty. Mr Rudd and Labor’s reckless economic mismanagement is hurting Australian families, and this budget reveals the high price all Australians will pay for the great big spending spree over the last 18 months.

The budget’s suggestion, which some might think fanciful, that we are going to have a return to surplus in a short period of time relies upon as its central core a great big new tax on Australia’s resources sector and not upon tough decisions. The government is taking a massive punt on the mining super tax being fully realised and on it not damaging other parts of the economy. This great big new mining tax is a dagger in the heart of the Australian economy, putting major projects at risk and sending jobs offshore. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer think that they can impose a great big new tax on the mining sector to raise the revenue they need to return the budget to surplus, but they fail to understand that the tax will do enormous damage to the economy in the medium to long term. Imposing a great big new tax on mining will also have significant flow-on effects right across the economy. Whether it is regional small businesses that rely on mining projects, the subcontractors employed at the mines, the suppliers or those industries that use resources like coal and gas, everyone will end up paying.

The illusion that the government wants to create is that this is just about the big miners, that this is only about Rio, BHP and Fortescue Metals, but we know that this tax applies to the local quarry. The Leader of the Opposition was at a local quarry in Queanbeyan—and I see that the member for Eden-Monaro is in the chamber at the present time. What does he say to the quarry owners, to the people whose livelihood is dependent upon being able to provide materials which this new tax is going to apply to in the future? It is not just the Rio Tintos and the BHPs of this world that are affected by this tax; this is a tax that applies right down to the local quarry, which is mining for material which goes into the building of houses and commercial buildings and construction in Australia.

The budget also confirms that the Prime Minister’s original great big new tax on everything, the ETS, as I said earlier, will be coming back after the election. What is the government doing about the day-to-day management of the economy? What is it doing about trying to bring its expenditure under control? We know that this government is having to borrow $700 million a week—not just this week but week in, week out: $700 million. That is $100 million a day, day after day after day, which is being borrowed by this government to fund reckless and wasteful spending which in turn puts upward pressures on interest rates and the cost of living for Australian families. Government debt will be a massive $94 billion in 2012-13, requiring $6.5 billion a year in debt interest payments.

Recall that in 1996, when the Howard government came to office, there was a $96 billion Commonwealth debt and that took a decade to pay off. And here we are again, in a period of less than three years, where we now will have a $94 billion Commonwealth debt in 2012-13. That will require $6.5 billion a year simply to meet the debt interest repayments—$6.5 billion a year that could be going to hospitals or schools or other services within the community in Australia. As I said, it took a decade to pay off $96 billion. The Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and the Treasurer, Mr Swan, have managed to achieve a similar debt in a record short period of time.

The budget also exposes the costs of the Rudd government’s waste, mismanagement and policy failures. The budget includes a $1 billion blow-out as a result of the Prime Minister’s weakening of Australian borders and $1 billion that is being spent to fix Labor’s tragic home insulation mess. That is $2 billion that is being spent simply because of poor, bad policy decisions on the part of this government.

The government will also be wasting $126 million on taxpayer funded political print, radio and television advertising, something which the Prime Minister said was a ‘cancer on democracy’; something which, his hand on his heart, he said was ‘not what we will do when we are in government’. But here we are, turning around and spending $126 million on political print, radio and television advertising. And, despite having no climate change policy for the time being, the Rudd government will spend $30 million for another climate change advertising campaign. If that is not a waste of money, I ask: what is?

They will also spend $38.5 million over two years to advertise the outcomes of the Henry tax review, even though they have only adopted a handful—I think two, maybe three—of the 138 recommendations in the Henry report. And despite having not at this stage passed their legislation for paid parental leave through the parliament, they have committed $12 million to fund advertising of it. The Prime Minister is also proposing a new $29.5 million advertising campaign to sell his health changes, even though Western Australia has not signed on and the new beds will not even be delivered until 2013-14.

Let me turn to some specific matters in the Families portfolio. At estimates recently Professor Alan Hayes, the Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, confirmed that 10 per cent would be cut from the institute’s annual appropriation. This is the only body in Australia that carries out, in an in-depth way and on an ongoing basis, research into the state of families in Australia and the problems and issues that are being faced, whether they relate to family law, child support, poverty or dysfunction within families. This is the institute that was established to do this and that has been supported in the past by governments of both political persuasions. But here we see 10 per cent being cut from their budget.

Then when we look at family relationship services and marriage counselling, we see announced in the budget papers a slash of $4.5 million from marriage counselling services.


Mrs Gash interjecting


Mr ANDREWS —Yes, it is a shame, as the member for Gilmore says. These are services for families that are having marital, financial and other difficulties. They are services to help them wherever possible to reconcile their differences, but if it is not possible to reconcile those differences, to come to some conciliation about the way in which the family will go ahead. In the absence of these services, what will happen is that more people will end up in Family Court proceedings in Australia, which is regrettable. Having fewer people involved in Family Court proceedings, whatever the rights and wrongs of a particular case, is obviously desirable. And yet $4.5 million has been slashed from the marriage counselling program in Australia. So Relationships Australia, Centacare, Anglicare and all the other agencies in the voluntary charitable sector that run those services in almost every electorate within this country are going to find they are not able to deliver services in the way they have been able to do. They are saying: ‘We’ve already got waiting lists. We’re already having difficulty being able to meet the demand from people who have difficulties in these matters.’ So one would expect that these waiting lists will grow longer as a result of these changes.

But what was worse about this budget was that hidden away, not announced, not in the papers, not anywhere that you could look at and, indeed, not disclosed for a couple of days was the fact that a further $43.9 million was being slashed from the Family Relationship Centres. As you would realise, Mr Deputy Speaker, and other colleagues, Family Relationship Centres were established by the previous government as a result of widespread concern in the community—concern which was raised in inquiries in this parliament—in relation to the way in which families could seek help and support when difficulties arose in those relationships.

Part of the reason for establishing the Family Relationship Centres was to have one place where people could go and obtain services and to avoid, as far as possible, people ending up in the costly litigation process of the Family Court. And yet, without announcement, 24 or 48 hours later when inquiries were made by people in the sector, the government then conceded that yes, indeed, $43.9 million had been slashed from the Family Relationship Centres in this budget. When you add that to the cuts to marriage counselling then you can see some indication of the way in which this government, despite its rhetoric in the past of talking about working families, is actually treating families.

In addition to that, there was a decision not to replace four judges in the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court, which again places unnecessary pressure on the judiciary and means that family law matters will now take even longer to get to court, let alone be resolved. This is a government which basically, in terms of these decisions, seems to have given up on providing the type of support that families who are in difficulty require in the community.

In addition, under questioning in a Senate estimates hearing, it has emerged that Centrelink’s rural service officers are also under threat. These officers play an important role to rural Australia but it seems that the bush is again being ignored by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.

I said at the outset of these remarks this is a budget which demonstrates a government which is not able to take hard decisions. This is the worst turn around so far as the budgetary situation of the Commonwealth is concerned since at least the Second World War. A $20 billion plus surplus turned into an almost $50 billion deficit within the space of three years. That is a shame, it is an indictment on the failure of economic management of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, it is an indication of the reckless spending which has been undertaken by this government and it is an indication of the waste and incompetence of this government in terms of the last 2½ years. If Australians want to change that then the opportunity to change this government will come at the next election.

When Malcolm Fraser was asked about the Prime Minister in a television interview some time ago, and said that he was even worse than Gough Whitlam, that was some indication of the way in which Australians are increasingly coming to see the man who occupies the position of Prime Minister of this nation. All rhetoric, overblown rhetoric, great promises made with enormous hyperbole at the time but when it comes to actually delivering programs, when it comes to putting policies in place that are going to do good and make a benefit for the people of Australia then he absolutely fails on every occasion. One could go through the litany of programs and the litany of policies where there has been failure from GroceryWatch to Fuelwatch and right through to the scandal of the Building the Education Revolution, not because there is not a need in some areas for buildings in schools but because of the enormous waste of the program.

Once again, today as each other day, we have the Deputy Prime Minister standing up there with more front than Myer saying, ‘It has got nothing to do with me. I put a task force in place to make sure that these concerns are met.’ Well, hang on a moment, who was actually responsible for putting this program in place? It was the Deputy Prime Minister. This is an incompetent government. This is a government which has been indicated by waste and reckless spending. Nothing in this budget turns this around. Indeed, what we have is a proposal for a great big new tax which will threaten the economic future of this country. This budget and these appropriation bills ought to be condemned.