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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4023


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (13:01): No wonder there were so many leaks before budget night; this budget was never going to hold water! There were no surprises left by budget night; Labor had cynically leaked all sorts of stories so that they could get uncritical media coverage over the week leading up to the budget. Now that the budget is available for public scrutiny, journalists and the public know why Labor wanted free air for its version of what is in the budget. So much of the rhetoric surrounding this budget was simply empty air, Sussex Street spin, overblown statements which were completely over the top and not reflective of what is actually in this budget. Indeed, this is a budget that lacks vision and lacks direction; there is no plan for the future of this country.

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have both said on numerous occasions that this is a true Labor budget that underscores Labor values. I think that statement is actually truthful. All the big taxes, all the cuts in particular areas where Labor has always shown a vendetta, are the true Labor values. With overblown rhetoric, they claim enormous programs when, in fact, there is nothing of substance to back them up. A classic and particularly cruel example is the $2.2 billion announcement on mental health. This announcement of funding actually covered up a cut in mental health spending in the 2011 budget. A cut was sold as a $2.2 billion increase in mental health care. The reality is—and the previous member referred to this—that much of the announced expenditure programs are not even in the forward estimates. And that is true of the mental health initiative. There is very little action provided in this budget. You have to wait until beyond 2015 to get this increase in expenditure. So Labor has produced a big program but has not produced the money that is required.

What about the $1.4 billion regional package? Only $300 million of that is provided in the entire forward estimates of this budget. The Independents, who thought they had achieved some kind of breakthrough for regional Australia, have apparently been bought off with just $300 million over four years. That is less than would have been provided in routine programs for regional areas under the previous government. Regional areas, above all, have been very poorly treated by this government in this budget. The classic example of them all is the $1 billion that the minister for infrastructure announced as new funding for the Pacific Highway. In fact, there is not going to be any road built with that money at all.

This budget has no clear vision and no clear plan. There is $19 billion worth of new expenditure initiatives but there is $22 billion worth of cuts. We are told that that made this government really vicious with the knife, that they were really out there to save money and make cuts that really hurt. But one-third of the much lauded $22 billion in spending cuts is actually new taxes. That is not really a cut at all. What it actually is doing things the Labor way. Labor values higher taxes. And, of course, it is the families that will have to bear this load.

Labor's legacy to Australian families since coming to government is really a tale of shame: electricity prices up 51 per cent, water up 40 per cent, health costs up 20 per cent and grocery prices up 14 per cent. Homeowners have endured seven interest rate rises and we have been told to brace for a couple more before year's end. And, of course, inflation is on the march and shows no sign of abating.

Nothing in this federal budget will ease those pressures on families struggling to pay ever increasing bills—in fact, their plight will get worse. Bracket creep will gouge an extra $11.6 billion from Australian families by 2013-14. By doing nothing in this budget to alter tax rates, Labor will in fact be forcing more families into higher tax brackets. This is the first budget in eight or nine years that contains no tax cuts. That is Labor's values all right, that is a Labor style budget. The effect will be that the percentage of the Australian population paying the highest rate of tax will rise from 18 per cent to 24 per cent by 2013-14. A quarter of all taxpayers will be on the top rate—and that is Labor's vision, Labor's values. There is nothing or creative or innovative about that. It is just an outright tax slug.

Then the changes to family tax benefits A and B mean that middle-income earners are worse off. The flood tax is another chip at middle Australia. There was no need for other governments of both political persuasions to have new taxes for Cyclone Tracy, Cyclone Larry and the 10-year drought. Those events did not need special taxes but, under this Labor government, the flooding in Queensland and other states is another excuse to implement yet another Labor tax.

Means testing of the private health insurance rebate is particularly mean and dumb. It slugs people who take responsibility for their own health care and it will see the public hospital queues overrun. In the end it will cost taxpayers twice as much as Labor hopes to save from the cuts. Deloitte, in its study of the impact of these rebate cuts, has estimated that the government will save about $1.9 billion by reducing the rebate but the cost to the public health system of this change will be $3.8 billion. So a cut to the rebate, forcing more people into the public health system, will actually increase the cost of health care to the taxpayers of Australia by $3.8 billion. I know that this is a goal that Labor has been pursuing ever since they came into office. They hate private health insurance. They hate the private health system and they have been trying to hack away at it. The government has been defeated twice previously in the parliament on this issue and I hope that the Independents and others who have a key influence in this area will realise that the proposition is no better now than when it was defeated on previous occasions. Middle Australia is to be forgiven for feeling under siege by the Gillard government, because, frankly, it is.

While all of this is underway the carbon tax is still to come. The carbon tax is an all-consuming black hole from which there is no escape. It starts on 1 July 2012, like the mining super tax, but there are no details in the budget—except that the government has found $13.7 million to run a publicity campaign to try and ease the public's rightful concern about the fact that this tax will affect them every time they move and every time they seek to do something.

The government has also failed to lift its gaze beyond the urban sprawl, and lacks any vision for regional Australia. People in the bush got some lip service and hollow rhetoric but little by way of new benefits. Take the grand infrastructure claims by Minister Albanese. New funding for flood-proofing Queensland's Bruce Highway might have sounded good as part of the spin but these are exactly the same projects that Labor had canned earlier this year. They just reannounced them and pretended that this, somehow or another, was new money. But the money had been taken from other projects in Queensland. Indeed, two of the most important road-building projects in the whole of the state—Minister Albanese has gone on the public record time and time again advocating their importance—namely, the Ipswich Motorway and the Bruce Highway upgrade from Cooroy to Curra, were canned. Minister Albanese has repeatedly described the Cooroy to Curra section of the Bruce Highway as the most dangerous section of highway in the whole of the state, yet now he is taking $325 million off the reconstruction of this accident prone section of the highway, as well as the Ipswich Motorway. so that he can refund projects he axed only a few months ago.

The Cooroy to Curra section is in my own electorate. In this budget it failed to get the funding it desperately needs so that the project can be continued. Labor has never matched the coalition's commitment to complete this work by 2020; now they have taken money away from a job that is already under construction. This demonstrates clearly that Labor has no commitment to building the infrastructure of Australia; they are just interested in big announcements and big spin. They fail to deliver when it really matters.

The Treasurer told us to expect a billion dollars for the duplication of the Pacific Highway from Sydney to the Queensland border but when you looked at it there was no new money. The billion dollars is made up of $700 million that has been provided previously to the highway and $270 million syphoned from other projects in New South Wales. The minister conceded in his own press release on this billion-dollar announcement that it would not build one centimetre of extra bitumen. If we want some road built the New South Wales government will have to put up the money. There is no duplication; there is just more duplicity from this government.

Then there are the extra 6,000 skilled migrants that will come to regional areas, but that NFF has said that agriculture alone need 80,000 extra skilled positions. But wait: there's less! The Treasurer flagged extra payments to encourage apprentices but neglected to tell us that agricultural and horticultural apprentices are specifically excluded from the training program. That shows how out of touch this government is with regional life. It increased the fringe benefits tax provisions that directly affects regional businesses and farmers. Regional people have to travel longer distances and they will be hit hardest by these changes to the fringe benefits tax rules.

There has not been a budget since Labor came to office that has not taken the razor to the department of agriculture. Again, another $32.8 million has been slashed from its operational budget. In every budget Labor has slashed expenditure for this department, which is now a shell. It has no capabilities to deliver programs for Australian farmers, in spite of the fact that the farm sector drives $155 billion a year in economic production—12 per cent of GDP—and $32 billion a year in exports and supports 1.6 million Australian jobs.

And the budget continues to perpetrate Labor's flawed approach to the Murray-Darling Basin, cutting $400 million from investment in water-saving infrastructure across the basin. They continue with their lazy buy-out approach, which will not deliver the results that can produce a prosperous and effective regional Australia. Labor promised $1.4 billion for the Regional Development Fund, but it took $400 million out for flood recovery and that left just $1 billion. But on budget night the government only outlaid $300 million over four years—with 70 per cent held off until well after the next election. You have to trust Labor, if it does get re-elected, to produce the money for regional development after the next election. Another example of how Labor treats regional Australians with contempt is the knowledge that over half of the $800 million to be provided for projects in regional Australia is going to build roads around Perth airport. It seems Labor defines regional Australia as the roads around Perth airport. I know the roads around Perth airport need upgrading. The coalition intended to provide funding for that project but from the roads budget, not from the regional development budget. We are told that is another example of Labor's values and how it demonstrates its commitment to the regions.

Despite enjoying the most positive terms of trade in 140 years, Labor is taking us all towards a $107 billion debt. Every day, Labor will have to borrow $135 million and pay $18 million in interest just to pay its bills. This is not a budget that delivers for Australia; it is a budget of debt that lacks vision and will place a huge burden on future generations.