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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6122


Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (13:17): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 representing the people of Macarthur on what can only be described as a bad budget. The people of Macarthur are honest, hardworking people who want nothing but the best for their children and future generations of our community. They have high hopes for a strong economy which will provide more jobs and opportunities for all Australians. While they are working hard to pay off their mortgages and balance the family budget, they are becoming fed up with a government that continues with its wasteful spending and incompetence.

While the people of Macarthur are trying to decrease their debt and reduce their credit limits, this government has increased the nation's credit card by $50 billion—from $250 billion to $300 billion. It has been only five short years since Labor came to office in 2007 inheriting a debt of zero. It is no wonder the people of Macarthur are fed up with a government which has continued to borrow more than $100 million a day. In 18 months, the government's estimated deficit for 2011-12 has blown out from $12 billion to $44 billion—and the year is not even over yet. This is the fourth Labor deficit in four years. Together, Labor's deficits total $174 billion. Interest payments on Labor's debt are set to reach an alarming $8 billion per year—that is $22 million a day on interest payments alone. Who do they think is going to pay off this debt? The debt will be there for our children and future generations of Australians to pay off. It is just not good enough.

The people of Macarthur can see through the spin surrounding this budget—a budget which includes the world's biggest carbon tax, cynical bribes to soften the impact of a tax, broken promises on corporate tax cuts, higher unemployment, blow-outs in the cost of border protection, an underfunded NDIS, and equity funding for the NBN which has been kept off budget. In headline cash terms, the Gillard government will spend $8.7 billion more than it earns in 2012-13. The government continues to spend on projects such as the NBN, which has been taken off budget. If this government was honest and included the NBN expenditure, the budget would show deficits over the next three years. To put it simply, there would be no surplus if the NBN was on the books.

In fact, by bringing forward just two programs—the back-to-school payment and the Commonwealth grants to local government—the government artificially saves more than $1.5 billion in 2012-13. Honest budget treatment of these two programs alone would wipe out the Treasurer's wafer-thin surplus. When will this government learn that cooking the books is no substitute for good, solid economic management? Let us face it, the Treasurer lives in 'Wayne's world'. His forecast of a $1.5 billion surplus is a mirage. The harder you look at it, the more you realise it just does not exist. Even if the Treasurer does deliver on his razor-thin surplus, Australia will need more than 93 years of the Treasurer's surpluses to repay all the waste and mismanagement created by this Treasurer. It is the families in my electorate who are feeling the pinch from this government's waste and mismanagement. The rising cost of living is a major factor affecting families, pensioners, self-funded retirees, small businesses and homeowners in Macarthur. Many have contacted my office concerned about the impacts of the carbon tax on electricity and grocery bills. Things will only get worse with the world's biggest carbon tax set to hit families, jobs and investment very soon. The budget papers confirm that, despite falling international prices, the carbon tax will go up to $29 a tonne in just three years, and an additional $36 million will be spent on taxpayer funded carbon tax advertising over the next two years. This tax will affect the entire economy. The price of everything will go up and up. Families will be hit hard. Small businesses, which are the engine room of our economy, will receive no compensation for the carbon tax.

The people of Macarthur are against this tax. They are unsure and anxious about its effect on their weekly bills, and they are angry after being misled by the Prime Minister, who said days before the last election that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. The Treasurer did not mention the carbon tax once in his budget speech or indeed in the budget papers. He makes a glib passing reference to a carbon price but tells people not to worry about it, that it is no big deal—a tax with the single greatest impost on the family budget of every household in Macarthur. Even the Prime Minister's initial compensation package did not make a dent in the angst felt by the community.

Families in Macarthur are already paying for the highest electricity prices in the world. Now that we are heading into winter, this government will be forcing older residents on fixed incomes to spend their evenings in the dark and cold because they will not be able to afford to use their heaters or to turn on the lights. What would the Treasurer say to 60-year-old Mrs Schuit, who contacted my office last week? Mrs Schuit survives week to week by eating once a day, cooking once a week and showering every second day to keep her electricity and water bills down. Come 1 July, Mrs Schuit will be hit by the carbon tax, stretching what little finances she has even further. I would like to know: when did electricity become a luxury in this country, and when did having hot water suddenly become aspirational? People on fixed incomes, such as pensioners like Mrs Schuit, self-funded retirees, single mothers and people with a disability will be the hardest hit of all by the carbon tax. The base carbon price will continue to rise, but their compensation will not.

Now the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have resorted to desperately buying back votes from mums and dads with their schoolkids bonus sugar hit, a vain attempt to hide the true effects of the carbon tax. The Treasurer has pushed this payment into the 2011-12 financial year to protect his wafer-thin surplus. This is treating Australian families with contempt—throwing cash to them with one hand and taking away even more with the other. All seniors, students, couples and pensioners will miss out on this new cash splash, and families are not the only ones who will do it tough as a result of this budget.

This budget offers nothing more to 800 small businesses in Macarthur who will also be hit with the world's biggest carbon tax. The government has offered nothing new in this budget to provide immediate relief to struggling businesses. The sector is seeing a 48 per cent increase in insolvencies. I have met with many small-business owners in Macarthur recently who are fed up with all the broken promises, because every one of the government's broken promises will affect their livelihoods. First there was the broken promise not to introduce a carbon tax, and now there is a broken promise to cut the company tax rate.

Carbon tax related sweeteners in the form of accelerated depreciation allowances are not fooling anyone. These allowances are going to rely on small businesses having ready cash to spend on new capital items. The government's abolition of the entrepreneurs tax offset has increased tax for nearly 370,000 of our smallest businesses, including micro, home based, independent contractor and start-up businesses with incomes of less than $70,000 or $80,000 year. The local corner shop in Macarthur is not only going to have to deal with an increase in the cost of supplies and electricity but also going to have pressure from consumers looking for a bargain as the cost of living increases and unemployment rises, as forecast at in the budget.

Last year's budget promised 500,000 new jobs over two years, but the government now expects to miss its target by 300,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is forecast to increase to 5.5 per cent while the government is cutting $200 million of job services programs. Even the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:

The decision to abandon the company tax cut is dripping with politics and a low blow to the business sector …

The chamber also said that this budget lacks vision for the broader economy.

I hold grave concerns for the future of small business in Macarthur. These local mums and dads will be hit the hardest because their costs will go up and up when the carbon price goes up and up. They will not receive a single cent in compensation. The coalition has a clear roadmap to restore hope, reward and opportunity for small business by scrapping the carbon tax and getting out of the way of business by slashing $1 billion worth of red tape. We believe in a hand up, not a hand out and in rewarding those who work hard to earn a living and support their families. While the much needed infrastructure projects in Macarthur do not rate a mention in this budget, the Treasurer does manage to promise preliminary economic, social and environmental studies into the sustainability of Wilton as a site for a second Sydney airport. The prospect of a second Sydney airport has been brewing in the background of Australian politics for well over 30 years, and the people of Badgerys Creek and Wilton have fought against it time and time again, and for good reason. The member for Throsby has been quoted in the Illawarra Mercury as saying:

While … there are environmental challenges—

and that is a huge understatement—

with the Wilton site, I can also see enormous economic benefits for our region.

It sounds like code for 'I support an airport at Wilton' to me. I dare say that any economic benefits would be entirely negated by the massive cost for both the federal and New South Wales governments if Sydney's water supply were contaminated. The 1985 Kinhill Stearns report clearly ruled out Wilton as a possible site for an airport because of the highly sensitive nature of the water catchment area. The development of an airport at Wilton would pose an extremely serious threat to the long-term quality and integrity of Sydney's drinking water supply. As the New South Wales state member for Wollondilly, Jai Rowell, said, what is spilt on the ground in Wilton ends up in our water supplies. The March 2012 Joint study on aviation capacity for the Sydney region identified that:

… the Wilton site … appears to have a partial overlap with a designated Mine Subsidence District and all these sites are underlain by coal measures which are actively being mined …

So questions need to be asked: why would the infrastructure minister decide to place an airport on land affected by mine subsidence, and where will Sydney get its drinking water if Warragamba Dam, Nepean Dam, Avon Dam and Cordeaux Dam are compromised?

The people of Macarthur have also been short-changed when it comes to the promised National Disability Insurance Scheme. While I understand that progress has been made with the NDIS, the government has allocated only $1 billion over four years when the Productivity Commission has said that in that time frame $3.9 billion is needed. That is $2.9 billion less than what is needed for the start-up years of the NDIS. I find it concerning and disappointing, and I think a lot of people living with a disability in Macarthur and their families will be feeling short-changed. The Productivity Commission also proposed that the NDIS would cover 400,000 Australians. The government's budget announced that it would only extend to 20,000 Australians. Based on the budget figures, full implementation of the scheme by the Productivity Commission's target date of 2018 will not happen. This budget has let down the residents of Macarthur who are living with a disability, and their families and carers. The government will be spending more each financial year—$8 billion—on debt and interest costs than it will spend in total over the next four years on the NDIS. The government has already rejected the coalition's offer to develop a joint parliamentary committee chaired by both the coalition and Labor Party spokespeople on disabilities. This would ensure that the NDIS is kept above politics so it can survive through the three election cycles it will take to be fully implemented.

I would also like to talk about the seniors in my electorate, who are forgotten in this budget. In this budget self-funded retirees will not receive a single cent of compensation to assist with the imposed damage of the carbon tax. In fact, this budget makes life much more difficult for self-funded retirees by reducing the higher tax concessions for super contributions of higher income earners. It also defers a higher concessional contributions cap for over-50s with less than $500,000 in superannuation. This government has also made it difficult for self-funded retirees to meet their medical costs by introducing means testing of the medical expenses tax offset. The incentive for mature age workers to remain in the workforce has also been removed by phasing out the $500 mature age worker tax offset. Of the $66.9 million allocated to the new Economic Potential of Senior Australians program, only $10 million is set aside to assist mature age workers to gain employment in the workforce. This program pays $1,000 to an employer who takes on a mature age worker for three months, compared to the coalition's policy, which would pay $3,250 to an employer who takes on a mature age worker from the welfare system and employs them for a minimum of six months. The remaining $56.9 million has been allocated to talking about the problem of discrimination, not fixing it, with things like an advisory panel to discuss legislation for positive ageing.

This is just another example of this government's waste and mismanagement, but the waste is nothing new to this government. A local newspaper in my electorate has labelled the National Broadband Network a 'flop' for the people of Macarthur. The NBN, which the Treasurer has left off the books this year, has become the laughing-stock of the developed world. People will be paying three times as much for their internet to use speeds that a majority of the population are not going to need, and no thought has been given to prioritising areas that either do not have broadband or have inadequate services. On top of this, the government will spend $20 million on a propaganda campaign about the NBN to paint over the waste and mismanagement of the $50 billion project—that is, if it does cost $50 billion to complete. Some are estimating that it could cost between $60 billion and $80 billion. To make matters worse, this week the Australian newspaper reported that foreign controlled companies have been awarded 82c in every dollar's worth of contracts struck for Labor's National Broadband Network, sparking warnings that local industry is being bypassed in Australia's biggest infrastructure project. Shame. The coalition will continue to hold the government to account on the NBN. We will also continue to develop our alternative broadband policy, which will improve the quality and availability of broadband for all Australians.

The coalition also has great plans for Australian school students and will revive foreign languages in schools to help unlock the potential offered by the Asian century. Within a decade, we want to see 40 per cent of all year 12 students in Macarthur and across Australia studying a foreign language. The proportion of year 12 students studying a foreign language has dropped from about 40 per cent in the 1960s to around 12 per cent today. Knowing the language of our major trading partners—China, Japan, Korea and India—is essential to unlocking the potential of the Asian century for Australia. We believe that, starting in preschool, every student should have an exposure to foreign languages. This is part of the coalition's positive plan for our economy, and I am looking forward to working with students and schools in Macarthur to ensure that this plan to revitalise foreign languages in schools becomes a reality.

I am proud to be part of a coalition that has an alternative to this Labor incompetency. We will restore hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians, we will restore good economic management and we will end the waste. We will repeal the carbon tax and stop Labor's attack on the family budget. Only in a growing economy is it possible to have lower taxes, better services and a stronger budget bottom line, as Australians discovered during the Howard era. Under a coalition government, there will be tax cuts without a carbon tax but we will find the savings to pay for them. From an economic perspective, the worst aspect of this budget is that there is no plan for economic growth, and nothing whatsoever to promote investment or employment. The coalition will ensure Australia has a vigorous five-pillar economy, strong manufacturing, vibrant agriculture, growing knowledge based industries and resilient service sectors as well as a mining industry. We will restore Australia to its rightful place in the world.

I join my colleagues here today who are disappointed in this government and its budget. Like the people of Macarthur, I am frustrated because I know there is a better way. I have seen it before—a strong economy which supports all Australians. But to achieve this we need an election so that a coalition government can put policy in place that will see our country and its peoples prosper. The coalition will reward innovation, not punish those Australians who contribute so greatly to our nation. We will restore opportunity for all Australians, young and old, and we will restore hope in our nation's future. The people of Macarthur have a bright future ahead of them under a coalition government. That is something I am very sure of. (Time expired)