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Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Page: 78


Mr LYONS (Bass) (19:08): I rise in the House to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support Bonus) Bill 2012. The introduction of the supplementary allowance to be called the income support bonus was announced in the 2012-13 budget to help lower income Australians meet the cost of essential bills. The new income support bonus provides $210 a year to single recipients, $350 a year for most couples where both partners are eligible, and $420 in the case of eligible illness- and respite-separated couples.

Households that rely on Newstart allowance and similar payments as their main source of income do struggle when unexpected costs arise. These costs might include urgent repairs to household appliances or the family car, bills that are higher than expected, unforeseeable medical and dental costs, other emergencies, and general day-to-day expenses. The twice-yearly income support bonus is intended to assist recipients and their families by providing additional support to help them manage and be more resilient to unanticipated financial pressures.

The outlay over four years on the income support bonus is $1.1 billion. I know this support will be warmly welcomed in my electorate of Bass. The payment will be indexed to the consumer price index twice a year, starting in September 2013, and is tax free. Over one million eligible Australians can look forward to receiving their initial payment with their first income support payment after 20 March 2013. They will not have to apply to receive the income support bonus; the payment will be made automatically to those eligible.

The Gillard government understand that those on fixed incomes are doing it tough, and we are responding. The income support bonus will help disadvantaged Australians on income support to better manage the costs of unexpected living expenses, and this payment is another example of the Labor government looking after those most vulnerable and in the most need. Only Labor has a plan to help families with the cost of living and to build a stronger economy by spreading the benefits of the mining boom. Our economy is strong but it is not everyone's boom. Australians are worried about the cost of living—electricity, rent, school uniforms, groceries; even a simple family outing feels beyond the reach of many people. That is why Labor has put in place a package of measures to help people make ends meet.

We, the Gillard government, are looking after sections of our economy that need assistance. Families—for example, in my electorate of Bass—have been very appreciative of the schoolkids bonus, which has made this time of the year, usually very damaging to the family purse, much easier. Buying school uniforms, shoes, stationery, books and other back-to-school essentials was made a bit easier this year because of the Gillard Labor government. More than 6,900 families in my electorate have already received the January payment. Without doubt, those families will be worse off under a Liberal coalition government, because they have said that they will slash this payment. It is clear that opposition leader Mr Abbott and the Liberals do not support Australian families. Families in Bass certainly cannot trust those opposite. Job seekers and pensioners cannot trust them. The only people that will benefit from a Liberal coalition government are Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and the big end of town.

We are preparing Australia for the future and delivering on Labor values by investing in aged care, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, dental care, skills, and infrastructure such as the NBN, roads and ports. We have an outstanding record of significant achievement, secured in the most closely divided parliament in decades. Our economy is healthy and growing. It is the envy of the world's advanced economies. Yet, if one were to believe everything in the media, this is not the impression one would get. That is not to say that there are not many people struggling.

As a government we have made our choices. We stand for supporting working Australians with a package of policies that will help them get through, get working people a fair share of the resources boom and make the hard decisions that will build a new Australian economy and get us ready for the future. We are managing the economy for working people, and fighting for jobs—as we did during the global financial crisis.

Tasmania is a state at risk if those opposite win the 14 September poll. As a start, Tasmanian families would be stripped of their schoolkids bonus. This is in addition to the plans by the Liberals to slash the Household Assistance Package, which includes additional increases for family payments and tax cuts for workers on low and middle incomes. The Liberal Party's economic policies are a danger to the wellbeing of Tasmanian families and a threat to Tasmanian jobs and services. Whilst we, the Gillard Labor government, have doubled the investment in schools and education, upgraded facilities at every school and provided more information for parents than ever before, those opposite plan to slash and burn, just like Premier Campbell Newman has done in Queensland.

We, the Gillard Labor government, are delivering the skills and training required for the jobs of the future through the $3 billion jobs and skills package. An additional 150,000 students are now attending university. This is not an agenda that those opposite share. If they had their way, the only people to attend university would be those born into a family fortunate enough to be able to pay the up-front fees.

I ask those sitting opposite to come clean on their plans for Australian families—to tell the Australian people what their plans are and what assistance to the vulnerable they plan to take away to give to the big end of town. They now have no excuse, given the recent announcement of the election date by Prime Minister Gillard, to keep their policies and their detailed costings hidden from the Australian public.

There are no easy solutions to the challenges we face as a nation—just hard work and attention to detail. Real solutions require real policies and detailed costings. But we know that the shadow Treasurer has had many issues with costings in the past. It is an issue which has dogged him for quite some time. On 11 August 2011, leaked internal coalition documents showed that the Liberals would have to make $70 billion in budget cuts over four years to pay for their promises. The Liberals want to make savage cuts to services so they can give billions of dollars to some of Australia's biggest polluters. They also want to give back the mining tax to some of the world's most profitable mining companies—and in the process stop an increase in retirement savings for Australian workers. Cuts of $70 billion would be the equivalent of stopping family tax benefit payments for three years or cutting the age pension for two years.

Leadership is about more than glossy pamphlets. It is more than spin. It is more than being seen in all the right places in a fluoro jacket. The Leader of the Opposition has claimed that he wanted this year to be about positivity and policies. Given this, he needs to provide some answers to the Australian people about his plans for Australia. When will they reveal their workplace relations agenda? When will they tell us which tax cuts, pension increases and benefits they will scrap? When will they come clean on the scrapping of the schoolkids bonus and the household assistance package? These are things all Australians have the right to know before they cast their votes on September 14.

No wonder the former boss of the Leader of the Opposition had this to say:

Tony is genuinely innumerate. He has no interest in economics and no feel for it.

That was John Hewson in the Australian Financial Review on 24 May 2010. Those who know the Leader of the Opposition best know that he is out of his depth. That view is shared by Peter Costello, a former ministerial colleague of the opposition leader. Just recently, the Leader of the Opposition claimed that the coalition could fully duplicate Tasmania's Midland Highway for $400 million. That would maybe get you from Brighton to Kempton—

Mr Chester: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker: he should make some attempt to be relevant to the bill before the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): I ask the member for Bass to address his remarks to the substance of the bill.

Mr LYONS: We will always manage the budget to support growth and jobs. We have a good record of managing the budget responsibly and in a balanced way, making savings while supporting growth and jobs. That makes our budget one of the strongest in the developed world and has allowed the Reserve Bank to repeatedly cut interest rates. We will continue to exercise spending restraint even though global factors, commodity prices and a high dollar have weighed more heavily on tax revenues than expected.

Australian families and pensioners are getting extra payments to help with their utility bills. Since July, we have given working families a tax cut so they get more money in their fortnightly pay cheques. Tripling the tax-free threshold has freed up to one million people from having to lodge a tax return. These people will not pay any tax out of their take-home pay.

The world is changing and Australia faces many challenges and big opportunities in the years ahead—an ageing population, increased global competition, environmental degradation, keeping the economy strong beyond the mining boom, the future of manufacturing, rapidly developing new technologies and the Asian century. To meet these challenges, Labor is pursuing the policies Australia needs for the future—putting a price on carbon, building the NBN, sharing the benefits of the mining boom, increasing retirement savings through superannuation reforms and making the aged-care system fairer and more sustainable.

We stand for jobs. We stand up for working families. We represent the people who have little or no voice. These are the values I hold as a member of the Australian Labor Party. That is how I go about making decisions. Improving living standards for this and future generations of Australians means making the right decisions now so Australia can continue to be a winner in this Asian century.

We, the Gillard Labor government, believe that the benefits and dignity of work should be extended to more Australians. Our economy needs more workers and many Australians need work. We have seen more than 800,000 jobs created since our election, but more than 200,000 Australians are not working when they could be. We believe that individuals need to take more responsibility for themselves and that those who can work should work. It is not fair to ask taxpayers to help pay the way of people who should be able to support themselves. To end the cycle of successive generations of families being left to languish on welfare, strong requirements will ensure that opportunities for training and work experience are taken. New incentives mean people can keep more as they earn. I look forward to the Gillard Labor government continuing its good work in this area. I am pleased that many residents in my electorate of Bass will be the recipients of this new payment.

I know we are making the right decisions. We know where we are heading as a government, and I implore the Australian public to hold those opposite to account and to find out exactly what their plans are.