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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5887


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (18:12): I rise to speak on these appropriation bills with a sense of dismay that can only be placated by a sense of humour. When going through the budget papers presented by the Treasurer a few weeks ago, sanity could only be retained through the exercising of the need to laugh. But budgets should not be a joke. Many years ago, Dean Martin had a hit called Welcome To My World. In this romantic piece of fiction, the words 'Miracles, I guess, still happen now and then' may have provided the source of inspiration for this year's budget from the Treasurer. This budget welcomed us to 'Wayne's world'.

There are many parts of the budget that deserve analysis, some of which have received considerable treatment already by my colleagues the members for North Sydney and Goldstein. Within the time constraints of this speech, I shall focus on a couple of others. The first thing that strikes a reader of the budget is that this is a Labor budget—a deception; an attempt to present a good story yet hidden beneath the surface is the bad news. The beauty of this budget is indeed skin deep, a very thin and transparent veneer. The fundamental deception is the movement of money from one financial year to another in order to create the perception of an artificial surplus. The Australian people are smarter than this government gives them credit for and they understand that a surplus built on the foundations of a $44 billion deficit in the preceding year is truly a surplus barely worthy of the paper it is written on. This budget is a political document, not an economic plan for our nation's future. The government focuses attention on what it is good at: vote buying. They showed in last year's budget, when the members for Lyne and New England were specifically named five times as recipients of the generosity of our money—government bought with our money. Of course, the government does not always pay the price they say they will; the member for Denison would attest to this. They take delivery of the goods but do not always pay the bill. Are these the qualities that we expect in our leadership? Are these the foundations on which we can build our future economic security?

As the shadow minister for families, housing and human services so eloquently stated, this is more of a 'fudge it' than a budget. A striking example of this deception and vote-buying is the government's proud announcement of the so-called 'schoolkids bonus'—a prime example of the type of creative accounting undertaken by this government to try to buy votes. The government's decision to dump the Education Tax Rebate, a targeted program that provided genuine assistance to relieve the costs of education for parents, was covered up by the announcement that they are generously giving away handfuls of taxpayers' money, yet again, just like under the member for Griffith, in a desperate bid to improve their electoral stocks. Yet another example of when something is working well, like our immigration policies, and yet changed for political reasons that end in an economic disaster. It seems that the government that was accused, after making their deal with the Independents, as being 'the best government money can buy' has now focused its attention towards 'the most votes money can buy'. Yes, Mr Treasurer, I agree that 'this is a Labor budget down to its boot straps': replacing a targeted program of reimbursement that provided certainty that the nation's money would be spent on our nation's schoolchildren, to a traditional Labor program that invites bad spending compounded by waste. This is the same DNA as school halls and pink batts. Now everyone in this country knows that the new scheme is a cobbled together desperate act to distract voters from the carbon tax hit to their cost of living, which will start in five weeks and then keep going up and up year after year.

Our government often promises transparency and now after a few semesters at the college of Labor it is easy now to see through their words to gain clear insight to their real policy purpose: policies solely designed to survive the moment, policies that will inevitably attract greater economic hardship. The government claim that these budget measures are about helping people who are doing it tough—a noble sentiment from our nation's Treasurer. However, I must ask the question on everyone's lips: if you really care about the cost of living, about people doing it tough, why are you introducing the world's biggest carbon tax that will have the single biggest effect on the cost of living for all Australians and bring about no improvement to the environment?

The schoolkids bonus has actually abandoned any pretence of being about offsetting education costs—it is simply a sugar hit for families to create a diversion from increased bills and costs that will rise just for going about their everyday lives. This is Kevin from Heaven's $900 gifts all over, mark 2. However, the real mark 2 was a fine Jaguar; this cash is for a clunker. Labor members are recklessly promoting this measure by saying that families will be eligible 'even if they lose their receipts'. This means every eligible family will get this cash handout, whether they have spent or even intend to spend the money on their child's education. They can spend this so-called schoolkids bonus on anything they like. Does this sound familiar? Remember the $900 handouts, commonly known as the plasma television grant? This was paid to dead people, pets and Australians living overseas and only 14 per cent of that money went to positive causes. What we are seeing here is a removal of the cash incentive for parents to invest in their children's schooling needs, instead buying parents off with the sugar hit. Ultimately this will not assist our school kids. This policy treats the parents like spoilt children: 'Darling, don't worry if you lose your receipts or if you didn't even spend the money or don't intend to spend the money, you can spend it any way you like. There, there!' This takes away the demand for responsible behaviour and replaces that demand with temptation. As Mae West famously said: 'I can resist anything but temptation.' This country needs a government who will govern in the best interests of the nation, not govern in the hope of a budget bounce in the polls. It is that short-term governing for the sake of self-interests and faceless powerbrokers that we saw in New South Wales and Queensland. Australians would have hoped by now that Labor had learned the lesson that sugar hits do not work. Just like when you give lollies to your kids, they may have a quick burst of energy, but that decision will come back to hurt you later.

This government is treating the electorate like children and then becoming confused when the voters have a tantrum. This policy rollout offers many similarities to last year's disastrous response to live cattle exports when we saw the farcical situation of a government suspending a major export activity to one of our region's most important partners, with no consultation. Why? Because of an episode of a current-affairs show. Is this really the way to implement policy? This poorly thought through knee-jerk reaction resulted in cattle being forced to suffer whilst stuck in the sun and heat of the Darwin docks and diplomatic relations with our closest neighbour being further strained.

Pages 8 to 12 of Budget Paper No. 1 commence 16 pages of the government's unquantifiable liabilities. One of these states:

The Australian Government may become liable for compensation following the decision by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to suspend the export of livestock to Indonesia for a period of 1 month in 2011. A potential class action has been received from a law firm on behalf of 21 clients.

So the government has very effectively punished a local industry, caused untold suffering to our cattle, damaged diplomatic relations, and is now likely to impact our collective back pockets as the subject of a class action from our own farmers! You can only conclude that it is not just this issue, or the other 16 pages of issues, but it is this government that is an unquantifiable liability.

As so many residents of Bennelong and voters from across the country have told us, the sooner we can get rid of this unquantifiable liability, the sooner we can get our nation back on track. This will happen through better policies, through strategies that are thought through, that are based on consultation and experience to ensure the best-quality outcome for all involved. With live exports this would be through partnership with Indonesia to provide assistance and support to implement the animal welfare standards that we aspire to, so that those standards can be applied not just to Australian cattle but to all of God's creatures that are processed in Indonesia. This is not the policy of a quick headline but the policy for a genuine and quantifiable result.

Another area where this government has chosen spin over substance is its refusal to say the words 'carbon tax'. Instead we have a price on carbon, as if that will lessen the injury caused by this tax. And I purposely use the word 'injury' as it is only for the causing of injury that one needs to pay compensation—a word this government seems very willing to promote. So I thought for a moment that I would follow the government's logic: the price on carbon will be an everyday financial impost, much like the price on goods and services, also known as the goods and services tax. You will pay for this after you have paid a price on income, commonly known as income tax. Or if you wish to help out those less fortunate you can make a donation to a price-deductible gift recipient and therefore reduce your price on income. Of course, if it all gets too much and you need to sell your house you may also need to pay a price on capital gains. Perhaps next budget the government should develop a price on spin. Now that would keep the bean counters in Treasury very, very busy.

But they are used to being busy. After all, in this budget the government announced that this year's budget deficit—or perhaps they will now call it a 'nonsurplus'—has sky-rocketed from $12 billion to over $44 billion. This is purely and simply a result of poor economic management and an attempt to cook the books to make next year's numbers look less sickly. If this kind of creative accounting occurred in the private sector, there would be some serious questions asked.

To top it off, this government is increasing the nation's credit card limit by a lazy $50 billion. I ask members of this government to sit down at any kitchen table in the country and try to explain to families that increasing your annual expenses by a factor of four and increasing your credit card limit to avoid maxing it out is quite okay as long as the next year you come out just ahead—the fact that $100 million is being paid out every single day in interest is, of course, irrelevant!

Governing our country should be carried out with the highest levels of integrity and honesty to gain for Australians the highest degree of economic security that can be achieved. Cheap tricks and hastily moving payments to this year to achieve a better result next year only achieve a deeper loss of trust in the integrity and honesty of this government. Our leader often reminds us of the need to be the adults in the room; here we need to be the adults who have become responsible parents.

Families know that increasing the credit card limit to an all-time high and piling more money onto the credit card do not make for good balancing of a budget. Australians will not be fooled by this budget. They know that the Prime Minister is not interested in helping families and is only interested in keeping her job. She is the keeper of our nation's unquantifiable liability, and one can only give her an F for fail—or, if you want to keep your sanity, just laugh.

Debate interrupted.