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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5645


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (11:09): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012 and cognate bills. Families are at the very centre of our society. Helping families stay together, supporting their communities and ensuring that families can give children the best start in life are not aspirational goals; they are fundamental responsibilities for the parliament and for the government. Over the past 30 years, family policy in Australia has evolved. Family support has developed and to date both sides of politics have generally been supportive. Labor have to their credit kept in step with the coalition, but now, regrettably, things have changed. While Labor are in government, the Greens are in power. Senator Brown has his weekly meetings with the Prime Minister, who calls his party extremists yet remains in a formal alliance with them. The Greens are ideologically opposed to providing real support to families. They would rather pursue their radical agenda of social reform than participate in the continued development of sound family policy. What we have now seen over the past two successive budgets is an unparalleled attack on families. The Labor-Green alliance is undoing the work of the coalition government both economically and socially.

Regarding the cuts to family services, the well-received coalition government's family relationship centres and initiatives have been targeted by a government starved of funds after a spending binge. Labor have stripped $50 million from family relationship services, including ripping $4.5 million from marriage counselling services and snatching $43.9 million from the family relationship centres. These centres are designed to help families experiencing difficulties. They help families stay together. At a time when cost-of-living pressures are hurting families and placing couples under growing stress, these services are designed to offer some assistance and yet they are being targeted with cuts in the government's budget.

The government have decided not to replace for Family Court judges. So family relationship centres will be under even more pressure, unable to provide the same level of support and, at the same time, family law cases will take even longer to be finalised. Indeed, family service agency personnel are reporting that there are waiting lists and growing waiting lists for people wanting to use their services and saying that they will continue to grow as a result of these changes and indeed many couples may not even get to have the services provided which they desperately need. On top of this, the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which suffered a cut of 10 per cent in its total appropriation in last year's budget, is now facing even more cuts.

Family tax benefit indexation has been frozen. The plan to freeze until 2014 indexation of the family tax benefit part A supplement, which is $726.35, and the part B supplement, which is $354.05, will mean that the recipients of FTB A, which is approximately 1.7 million Australian families, and the recipients of FTB B, which is approximately 1.4 million families, will all will be worse off. By freezing the supplement payments for families for both FTB A and FTB B for three years until July 2014, the value of the payment will be eroded over time due to inflation. Recent payment rates over the past three financial years demonstrate this. Without indexation, FTB A recipients will be $81.28 worse off per child by 2014-15 while FTB B recipients will be $39.62 worse off per family by 2014-15. We are now learning that the plan to freeze family benefits was devised by the government before the federal election. This is yet another deception from a Prime Minister whose directionless government will be long remembered as perpetrating a deception on the Australian people in the days prior to the 2010 poll. This budget does little to address the cost-of-living pressures facing Australian families. Across Australia, from the December quarter 2007 when Labor was elected to government at the national level to the March quarter 2011, a number of things are quite evident. Electricity prices have increased by an average of 51 per cent; gas prices have increased by an average of 30 per cent; water and sewerage rates have increased by an average of 46 per cent; health costs—that is, hospital, optical, dental, and pharmaceutical costs—have increased by an average of 20 per cent, and this is not even considering Labor's proposed changes to the private health insurance rebate; education costs—school fees and the other education costs that parents have to meet on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis around Australia—have increased by an average of 24 per cent; interest rates have increased seven times since September 2009, increasing repayments on the average mortgage by over $500 per month—that is an increase of $500 per month in a little under 18 months; the price of bread has gone up by 11 per cent and the cost of fruit has gone up by 28 per cent—the cost of food overall has gone up by 13 per cent; and the amount of rent that people are now paying has increased by 20 per cent. This is a substantial, a significant and a very real slug to the cost of living for ordinary Australians families.

Since 2007, Labor has announced 14 new or increased taxes, including the alcopops tax on mixed spirit drinks, an increase in the luxury car tax, the mining tax, the flood levy, the LPG excise increase, a new tax on Australians working overseas, a cut in the amount Australians can put into superannuation that is tax free, new restrictions on business losses claimable for tax purposes, changes to the employee share scheme, ethanol tax increases, tighter restrictions on tax claims for medical expenses, fringe benefit tax changes announced in the 2011-12 budget and, of course, the carbon tax. This is the tax that this government is gung ho on introducing for all Australians, yet it is not even covered, not even mentioned and does not have a place in the budget. The most substantial tax that possibly any government has proposed to introduce in Australia and which is proposed for the coming financial year—and the appropriation bills which we are now debating in this parliament deal with government expenditure and government revenue—this most significant tax which the government talks about every day and which it is trying to convince Australians will be good for them, is not even in the budget.

Ms Grierson interjecting

Mr ANDREWS: The honourable member opposite says, 'Because it is cost neutral.' We had Professor Garnaut out yesterday with his latest report suggesting that families should be compensated—what?—55 per cent of the amount which is raised by the tax. Try and tell ordinary Australian families that taking away $1 from them and giving them back 55c is going to be cost neutral. And what did Professor Garnaut also say? There is a suggestion in his report that the level at which compensation should cut out is $80,000. Try and tell ordinary Australian families that have got two parents in the workforce who would be earning in the vicinity of—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11:19 to 11:34

Mr ANDREWS: Prior to the break for the division in the House, I was responding to the interjection by the honourable member for Newcastle, who said that the reason the carbon tax is not included in this year's budget, in these appropriation bills that we are debating, is that it would be revenue neutral. Even if we assume, for a moment, that that is true—and I will come to why I do not believe most Australians believe it to be true—there are administrative costs associated with the new tax. Costs are set out in the budget for expenditure relating to each department—as to what it is actually going to cost. That ought to be in the appropriation bill, even if it is a revenue neutral measure. But, of course, we do not see that whatsoever.

The reality is that the government's idea of revenue neutral, from what we have learned to date from Professor Garnaut's report, is that for every dollar that this government will take by way of tax—tax which will ultimately be paid by Australians—just 55c will be returned by way of some sort of compensation. I do not think Australian families believe that taking a dollar and giving back 55c—even 60c or 65c—is in any way revenue neutral. The reality is that this is a great big new tax on ordinary Australian families, who will be paying for it on top of all the other mismanagement by this government they have to pay for. Indeed, since assuming office, Labor has managed to do what it does best. It has turned a $20 billion surplus into a $50 billion deficit. It has turned $70 billion of net assets into $107 billion of net debt. It took a decade to pay back Labor's previous $96 billion debt. Now we have gone from having net assets of $70 billion to having $107 billion worth of net debt, and that has been achieved in just four years under this Labor administration—this Labor maladministration—of Australia.

If you look at the carbon tax, you will see that it is going to hit household budgets on top of all the other increases in the cost of living that people are already suffering. Let us take the widely touted figure of $26 per tonne. A $26 per tonne carbon tax would add 25 per cent more to electricity bills. I said earlier that Australians face electricity bills that have gone up by an average of 51 per cent over the last four years. Here we go again with further increases, because the carbon tax will further increase their electricity bills by 25 per cent. Every time you go to the petrol bowser to fill up your car to take the kids to school, to go shopping, to drive to work or to drive home from work, let alone use it for any recreational purpose, it will cost you 6.5c or more per litre for your fuel bill. I say to ordinary Australians: when you go to the bowser next and think about filling up, how much it is costing and how petrol prices have gone up, just think that, when the carbon tax comes in, you will not be paying the $1.28, the $1.32, or the $1.40 or whatever it might be from day to day or week to week in various parts of Australia. Add 6½c a litre to that, and that will give you some sense of just one cost which will flow to you as a result of this tax.

We know that $26 a tonne is only a starting point. That is before the price automatically begins to increase by at least four per cent each year—and that is if $26 a tonne is the starting point. We have already heard from the Greens that they want a starting point of between $40 a tonne and $100 a tonne. The compensation will drop out over time. Even if the compensation were maintained at the same level, the result of inflation means that the real valuation of that compensation would decrease, just like the real value of family payments has decreased because of the freeze that has been put upon them by this Labor government. The working families of Kevin Rudd's 2007 have become Julia Gillard's forgotten families of 2011. On top of that, this tax will cost jobs. Some 45,000 jobs will disappear from industries such as steel, aluminium, cement, glass, chemicals and motor vehicles, and some 23,000 mining jobs will be lost. Once again, that is just the beginning.

This budget has delivered nothing new for families. Well, that is not quite true. It has delivered something new for families: more costs. What is not in the budget, the great big fiscal elephant that is sitting in the middle of the room—namely the carbon tax—is going to deliver even more significant costs for Australian families. It will hurt families, it will hit household budgets and it will put families who are already under pressure under even more pressure. The Labor government has no mandate to pursue this antifamily agenda and it has no mandate to introduce a carbon tax. It is time that Labor kicked its Greens habit. It is time that Labor stood up for Australian families. It is time that Labor called an election to get a mandate, if it proposes to introduce this antifamily carbon tax.