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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5389


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (11:40): It gives me great pleasure to take this opportunity to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-13 and associated bills. Governments are best judged by the relationship they build with the people they represent. Good governments are those that have earned the trust of the electorate. Good governments are those that do what they say. Good governments are those that put the interests of the nation ahead of politics of the day. On every available test, this government fails.

This government has lost the trust of the Australian people. This government is pathologically incapable of implementing what it promises—and even when it tries it gets things wrong. If there is a choice between principle and short-term political advantage, this government will pick political expediency and spin every time. There is no better example of this government's failings than the budget that is before us today. Make no mistake, this is one of the worst budgets this nation has ever seen. Driven by cheap politics, this budget has been drafted like an advertising campaign for a discount warehouse. Forget the economics but find the 10-second grab. Forget the interests of the nation but find a simplistic plausible message—right or wrong.

Lo and behold, this Treasurer and this Prime Minister have come up with 'a surplus'. Sounds good. The focus groups will like it. But they made it happen by creative accounting: bring forward handouts here; defer a submariner defence project there—and throw in some free steak knives for good measure. No messy principles to get in the way of this budget. Just focus groups and spin. This government has all the direction of a runaway train and all the integrity of a former HSU official.

It would be entertaining from our side of Australia's political debate if not for the simple fact that it is our country we are talking about. I echo the words of the member for Goldstein: this federal budget has sunk like a stone with the people of Australia. For the people of Australia and the constituents of Ryan, this budget is one of cooked books, broken promises and direct attacks on the fiscal bottom line of all Australians. They are not bothering to investigate the details of this unbelievable budget because they do not want to know the extent to which this budget will impact upon them.

Australians have disengaged with this budget because this Gillard Labor government stopped engaging with them many years ago. They stopped listening to Australians, and with the formation of the minority government in 2010 they stopped listening even to themselves. When the Prime Minister said: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' Australians took her words at face value. Unfortunately from 1 July 2012 Australians will be lumped with the world's biggest carbon tax, the world's only economy-wide carbon tax and a deceit of the highest magnitude. Apart from the many calls my office has received from constituents expressing their hopes of a replication of the Queensland election result at a federal level, my office has received only one call—one call—from someone inquiring about the actual details of a budget proposal announced on 8 May.

The main issue with these appropriation bills is that the facts, figures and forecasts announced by the Treasurer are inexact. The current Gillard-Swan government has predicted a manufactured surplus out of thin air. As many members on this side of the House have noted, they have completely cooked the books and have created what many commentators have called the fudge-it budget. I ask the government: why is the true cost of what you plan not revealed in the budget estimates? Why has the government not truly accounted for the $50 billion-plus cost of the National Broadband Network? Why has the government not truly accounted for the $10 billion they plan to spend on the Clean Energy Fund? Where is the funding for the many billions of dollars they plan to spend on new submarines? Why, instead of truly cracking down on spending, have they merely deferred spending into the forward estimates, which will in turn increase the cost of these projects?

The only way the Treasurer has been able to claim a budget surplus for next year is by omitting the accurate operational costs of the NBN and by bringing forward two programs into the 2011-12 year—the 'back to school' payments and Commonwealth grants to local government—which would cancel the Treasurer's $1.5 billion surplus completely.

Similarly, if as Mr Swan claims this is to be his first budget surplus of many—a laughable claim—why did the Gillard government announce that it will increase Australia's debt ceiling from $250 billion to $300 billion, a debt ceiling four times higher than it was in 2008, only four years ago? The government's estimated deficit for 2011-12 from 18 months ago has blown out from $12 billion to $44 billion—and, somehow, they expect Australians to believe that a government spending $100 billion more per year than it was four years ago, a government borrowing more than $100 million per day and a government that has accrued the highest ever net debt of $145 billion will magically achieve a forecast surplus for the 2012-13 year.

These are the questions that must be answered openly and honestly by the Treasurer so that Australian families can be confident of the stability of the Australian economy and how it will affect their future. Australian families can rely on strong economic management from the coalition, unlike the bribes and deceitful creative accounting that we get from the Treasurer.

Fundamentally, it is the individual that must make his own way while knowing that he is supported by the rest of his community and, indeed, supported by his government. This is why we have important safety nets to support those in need, from Medicare to free state education, and that is why we believe in vocational and tertiary education to support the long-term Australian economy.

The Labor Party try to claim that they are the friends and defenders of workers. They may claim that, but what they cannot claim is that they are the friends and defenders of the aspirational class. They do not support those Australians who dream of bigger and better things, of working hard at their job, of being successful and of one day achieving their dreams for themselves and their families. The coalition believes in a hand up, not a hand out. May I remind the Labor Party that it is the aspirational 'class' of Australians who are being attacked in this budget. If you are successful in the mining industry, you are slugged with a tax. If you are fortunate enough to be able to save the taxpayer money by taking out private health insurance, they are taking away your rebate. And, if you suffer from a disability, the government does not have the resolve or the empathy to support you.

The Productivity Commission recommended that, over the forward estimates, the federal government should commit $4 billion to the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Instead, they have only allocated $1 billion, and they have not indicated where the bulk of those funds will come from. The coalition is a big supporter of the NDIS and we, like all Australians, understand that if you refuse to properly fund your promises it is as good as breaking your word. Sounds familiar!

Every member of this House recognises that Australia has an ageing population and that we must devise an appropriate policy that deals with the consequences of such an ageing population. Australians will require more and more funds to ensure that they will have a comfortable retirement. Let me remind this government: Australians do not retire at 50; they do not stop planning for their retirement at 50. Yet this budget has no relief for seniors over 50 who do want to do the right thing and plan for their ultimate retirement. In particular, it will now be more difficult for self-funded retirees because this Labor government is reducing the higher tax concession for contributions of high-income earners and deferring higher concessional contributions caps for the over-50s with less than $500,000 in superannuation. Therefore, the cap for concession contributions will be $25,000 and there will be no relief given for seniors over 50.

The Treasurer has been very quiet about the other ways this budget neglects older Australians. Not only does this budget penalise Australians who are in fact planning for their retirement; it also penalises seniors who are trying to get back into the workforce. Successive governments have identified the inherent discrimination against older Australians evident in the Australian labour market, yet this Gillard government is abandoning the mature age worker tax offset. This measure previously supported mature age workers to remain in the workforce in the form of a $500 tax offset, but unfortunately it is now being phased out from 1 July 2012. The Treasurer has also broken another election promise by abandoning More Help for Mature Age Workers and is transferring $66.9 million in lip-service funding. The government have tried to focus on the $1,000 that they plan to give to employers who take on a mature-age worker over 50 years of age for just three months, but they plan to give these funds to only 10,000 businesses, meaning only 10,000 employees and only a $10 million bandaid solution to endemic problems in the labour market. On the other hand, the coalition has a policy that is truly designed to move older Australians from welfare to work. The coalition will pay $3,250 to an employer who takes on a mature-age worker who is on an existing welfare payment so long as they employ that person for more than six months. With $10 million that is supposed to be directed at employing older Australians, how do the government propose to spend the other $56.9 million? Well, $4.7 million will be used to operate the Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing so that they are able to conduct another talkfest—another discussion about legislation. Clearly this money has been allocated to talking about the problem of discrimination, not fixing the problem.

The Gillard government attempts to claim by evidencing policies including the carbon tax that it is a forward-looking government and that it is worried about devising policies for the benefit of future generations of Australians. Well, there is one elephant in the room that the government is not talking about and that demonstrates why this government is failing in this regard: the lack of commitment to research funding. Last year around this time the Treasurer tried to gauge the opinion of Australians about a $400 million cut to medical research before budget time. Australia was fortunate that the Gillard government, for the first time, listened to the incensed reaction from the medical community. I spoke in the House on 21 May of the enormous benefits that even a $26 million annual increase in funding for dementia research could have for the future health of Australians. This would be a small budget item.

Australians need a government that takes responsible action. We do not need more taxes and we do not deserve more empty promises and political tricks. This budget for 2012-13 is one of the most heinous political tricks that Australian families have ever seen—a budget designed to cover up gross economic mismanagement and attempt to hide the disastrous effect of the many taxes they have introduced and plan to introduce in the future. The main message from the budget is: never, ever underestimate the incompetence of the Australian Labor Party.

Nobel-Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once said:

Most of the energy of political work is devoted to correcting the effects of mismanagement of government.

Should the coalition be elected by Australians at the next federal election, this will certainly ring true as we try to unravel the damage that the Labor Party has inflicted on Australians. The Australian people know that the coalition will leave them in a better position. They know which party will leave families better off. When it comes to sensible economic management and market reform, the coalition has a track record of achievement—a track record built upon by the shadow Treasurer and a track record which gives hope, reward and opportunity to Australian families who have been so badly let down by this sad and tired Labor government. Many, many Australians looked to this government with hope and expectation. Many, many Australians voted for the members opposite. Yet the tragedy for those people and for all Australians is that this government has let them down so badly. I am not someone who believes that this government deliberately lied during the last election. However, I do believe, as so many Australians believe, that this government sees promises as mere words. It sees integrity as an obstacle and the national interest as subservient to its political interest. Yet it seems genuinely at a loss to understand why Australians get angry when they are treated so shabbily. So is it too much to expect honesty and integrity from the government of this nation?