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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2349


Mr TUDGE (Aston) (17:11): I rise also to speak on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill which is before us. This bill enacts a number of measures, but there are two in particular that I would like to speak on. The first is immunisation requirements and the second concerns the baby bonus. This bill, if enacted, will make family tax benefit A and B conditional on a child meeting the immunisation requirements. This is a good measure, which fits within a general principle that should be applied more broadly—that is, that family entitlements and welfare payments are not just rights; they also come with responsibilities.

We should also be looking more broadly at what other responsibilities should be attached to welfare payments. For too long, people have seen welfare payments as being a right which comes unencumbered, as free cash for individuals, rather than saying that this is something which the Australian taxpayer provides to those individuals and that those individuals have responsibilities in exchange for receiving that welfare assistance. That principle is being rolled out in some Indigenous communities across Australia as we speak. For example, in the communities of Cape York, which I know well, there are now four conditions attached to welfare payments. There are conditions around sending your child to school, around being free from police orders, around looking after your public house and there is also a fourth condition in relation to violence. I think they are good conditions. They fit within that broad principle and this measure in front of us fits within that principle as well.

Let me turn to the baby bonus, which is the other provision in this bill and which I would like to refer to. This measure will reduce the baby bonus to $5,000 and it will also remove any indexation of the baby bonus—that is, the bonus will be reducing in real terms from now on. I do not want to comment this afternoon on the merits of the baby bonus, nor do I stand here necessarily opposing this particular provision. But I would like to use the opportunity to point out that this measure is just another hit for young families, who are doing it particularly tough at the moment from a cost-of-living perspective. If this were the only measure that the Labor government was putting into place which would hurt young families then that would be one thing, but it is not. In fact, this measure comes on top of measure after measure which hit young families and increase the cost of living for them. I would like to go through some of those with you.

Members on this side of the chamber are fully aware that cost-of-living pressures for young families is one of the top issues. They raise it with us when we are in churches, at school fetes, at the local football grounds et cetera. Everyone is saying that the cost of living is going up well in excess of their wages and well in excess of the CPI. They point out that it is not the luxuries which are going up most rapidly. It is actually the bare essentials, such as electricity, water, education and child care, which are going up most rapidly, well in excess of their wages. If you look at the official statistics you will see that they bear out this anecdotal evidence which I certainly hear and other members on this side of the chamber also hear. Water, for example, has gone up 46 per cent since 2008. Electricity prices have gone up 50 per cent since 2008. Gas has gone up 30 per cent since 2008. Medical expenses have gone up 20 per cent since 2008. And I could go on.

There are many reasons why prices go up. Of course there are supply and demand issues which contribute to prices of everyday goods going up over time. But my critique of this government is that it is their policy settings which are having a significant contribution to increasing those prices for everyday Australians and everyday families. To start with, their macro policy setting is having an impact because, when you run an enormous budget deficit, as this government has been doing, that puts upward pressure on prices and upward pressure on interest rates. We now have had budget deficits of well over $50 billion in the last couple of years. This year it is forecast to be $37 billion, although what the final figure will be when we come to 30 June remains to be seen. We now have a net debt figure of $136 billion. This fiscal strategy of running a massive budget deficit, the biggest budget deficit in Australian political history, puts upward pressure on prices and interest rates, which makes it harder for young families. That is at the macro level.

Now let us look at the particular measures which make it more difficult for young families. Let us look at some of the particular policy measures. I have mentioned electricity prices before. Some of their 'inefficient' energy renewable schemes are contributing to the increase in electricity prices. But we all know what is coming, which they have put in place and which starts on 1 July of this year—and that is the carbon tax. That will increase electricity prices by 10 per cent in the first year alone according to the government's own figures. If you listen to the electricity suppliers they will tell you that they will go up by 20 per cent in the first year alone. And then the carbon tax is legislated to increase every single year thereafter. It is legislated to increase. So while we might be starting with a 10 or 20 per cent increase in electricity prices, it will then go up even more in subsequent years. Let us look at gas. Gas is another essential service which many parents are saying is going up. Gas prices are due to increase by nine per cent due to the carbon tax.

I have talked about child care in this chamber before. It is something which many young families need, particularly if both parents are attempting to work. This government last year put through measures which are forcing up childcare expenses for young families. A measure which they put through mandated that the ratio for childcare centres must be four children to one staff member rather than five to one, which it is currently. All that will do is increase the cost of child care. There is no research or evidence which says that is necessarily better for the children. Even if there were, why does the government have to intervene in this regard? Why can't parents and childcare centres themselves agree that five to one is okay. The Productivity Commission have looked into this particular issue and they are telling us that childcare prices will go up by 15 per cent due to this measure. That is often $50 or $60 per week for someone who is putting their child into care. I have a childcare centre in one of the poorer areas of my electorate where it has gone up by 21 per cent.

Health care is another area where the government's measures will mean prices will go up. Their changes to the private health insurance will put up the price of private health insurance across the board by 10 per cent, according to Deloitte, and higher for many families who are more directly impacted by the changes.

I talked about school costs before. With the Gonski review in place and the failure of the government to guarantee that they will maintain the indexation rate for school funding, that will mean that school funding may decline for many schools and that fees will have to go up—another hit for families who are struggling with cost-of-living pressures. I have talked about the macro level and I have talked about the individual initiatives which are putting up prices for everyday families. On top of that, it is reducing benefits. The member for Menzies went through some of the benefits which the government has targeted in recent years. They include the changes to family tax benefit parts A and B, which have been frozen for many families. In my electorate alone they affect about 10,000 households. There have also been tax increases. I believe that this government has put in place 21 tax increases since it was elected. We know about the alcopops tax, we know about the cigarettes tax and we know about the carbon tax, but there are even measures such as that getting rid of the entrepreneurs tax offset, which provided a little bit of tax relief for those individual entrepreneurs earning less than $75,000.

If you look across the board at what this government is doing to the cost of living for families, you will see that (a) it has not got its macro settings right, which puts upward pressure on all prices and on interest rates; (b) it is putting in place individual measures which in many cases are increasing costs for health, child care, electricity, gas and other things; (c) it is reducing benefits for families—the measure in front of us today is another one of those benefits which has been reduced; and (d) it is increasing taxes on things which people enjoy, such as cigarettes and booze and on small businesses that are struggling to make ends meet.

This government has scored the quadrella of hitting young families. The measure in front of us is just another one of those things which go towards making it more difficult for young families who are struggling with cost of living pressures today. We will not be opposing this bill, but it is worth pointing out that this government is making it tougher for young families. It needs to do exactly the reverse and make it easier for young families, to take the pressure off so that families can get on with things and improve their quality of life.