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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1292

Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (11:14): May I congratulate the member for La Trobe for recognising the great value of the Roads to Recovery program and the Black Spot Program, instigated by the Howard government. I wish her luck as she contests the next election against Jason Wood, the Liberal candidate, who was actually the member for La Trobe when these programs were introduced! I say to the voters of La Trobe that if they like their Black Spot and Road to Recovery programs they should go to the authentic thing, and that would be Jason Wood.

It would be interesting to see how this budget would be explained in the context of the budget delivered in May of last year. These appropriation bills seek to adjust the services or activities area of the Commonwealth and also the capital work space. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 is presented as a way of redistributing or providing additional expenditure requirements that have arisen since the May budget. There is a range in there that relate to changes in the forecasting of programs, program uptakes and new insights, the timing of payments and the like, and they cover a range of activities including support for the childcare system and the General Employment Entitlement and Redundancy Scheme, or GEERS, system, another measure introduced by the Howard government for employees who had lost their entitlements where their employer became insolvent. There is an allocation of funding for the royal commission—and I hope that goes well—and the synchronisation that is needed with the state based inquiries that are underway.

There is also quite an extraordinary further provision of funding to deal with offshore asylum seeking, and it reminds us of the multiple billions that have had to be spent in border protection as a result of the abandonment of the effective and successful Howard government policies. I remind people in this place that when the Howard government left office there were four people in immigration detention—not 400, not 4,000, but four. Now we look at the thousands in our care as a consequence of Labor's failed border protection policies.

There is some interesting work, particularly in further funding for the tax office targeted compliance activities. This must be of enormous concern for the small-business community—$390 million was announced in MYEFO as a further injection of funding for the tax office to essentially crack down on small business. Small business is doing it hard enough now, and is always inclined to do the right thing in terms of its responsibilities. To see almost $400 million of additional funding to give small business an ever harder time at a time when the economy and government policy are making things very tough anyway must be of concern, particularly on the back of the Inspector-General's report.

That report found that targeted template metrics are used to have a look at BAS returns to identify variations and then trigger some audit and enforcement activity. It saw about 5,791 small businesses targeted through that templating strategy to be issued amended assessments, which the Inspector-General found to be false and unjustified, only to have to pay those amended assessments because they did not have the resources and the capacity to compete with the tax office. Now, on the back of that warning bell from the Inspector-General of Taxation there is another $390 million. Isn't it ironic that in MYEFO the only mention of positive small-business programs was what was being undertaken by the Chinese government to stimulate their economy—that was somehow going to allay concerns about a fall-off in Chinese growth, and that was good for the budget. That was the way MYEFO presented it. But in terms of small business there is $390 million for a further crackdown. There is an allocation in here for that.

In the capital work space, which is Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013, there has been some manoeuvring of funds within portfolios away from programs, and changes, particularly in Defence, in operations areas for new projects. There is also $45 million for ANSTO for detailed engineering designs as an equity injection into a nuclear medicine manufacturing facility. That will certainly be of interest. There is a further $32 million in capital funding to expand the immigration detention network—and I will not repeat my earlier comments.

This is interesting, because we have had MYEFO identifying an enormous deviation from a budget delivered only a couple of months earlier, and here we are doing further shuffling of funding at a time when there is already concern and uncertainty about the reliability of the government's forecasting, particularly when you look at things like the mining tax. When you take away the administrative costs and lost company tax revenue that tax really does not make much of a contribution at all to the revenue of the Commonwealth. We learnt today of a substantial warehousing of more than $1½ billion in credits that can be laid off by major companies against future mining tax liabilities. This is the so-called super profits tax, which is really better characterised as a super disaster in tax formulation that has caused uncertainty and a chill in mining investment and optimism in Australia for very little in terms of additional tax revenue.

What is not explained in these papers, though, is that on the back of record budget deficits, debt blowouts, wasteful spending, cost-of-living pressures and other debacles like those I have mentioned, is how the government is going to fund $120 billion of unfunded spending promises that were revealed by the Australian Financial Review. The government is keen on announcements, we understand that, and they are masters of political spin; but in doing the actual hard work of bringing forward a credible and sober plan to fund and implement these announcements and to then see that what is promised is actually followed through, their record is quite dismal. The Australian public is recognising that as an all-too-familiar characteristic of a divided and dysfunctional government.

The government has walked away from the non-negotiable budget surplus promise. That promise was made hundreds of times, even in writing; and some of the leading government ministers wrote to their constituents telling them it had been delivered, which was extraordinary. The irony is breathtaking. I know that for one the member for Deakin wrote to small businesses in his electorate proclaiming the delivery of a company tax cut which never appeared and, despite what the government would say, has never surfaced for a vote in the parliament. They withdrew that of their own volition and seek to blame others for it. It is interesting that that same letter from the member for Deakin heralded the appointment of the first small business minister, which was, again, wildly inaccurate—but there has been no correction or apology to the electorate or electors of Deakin for that error.

We are still seeing the ramifications of these budget variations washing through the Australian economy. Today, particularly, there was more evidence from the New South Wales Business Chamber about the extraordinarily negative effect the carbon tax is having on small business. It is not difficult to work out. In my own electorate, where about 11 per cent of all jobs are in the manufacturing sector, those small businesses and medium-sized enterprises need to be world-class every day because we know manufacturing is under pressure and we see offshore options rearing their head, at times, at a cheaper price—they undercut our local suppliers because they are free of burdens like the carbon tax. The carbon tax continues to act as a reverse tariff on a big part of our economy. For all those operating within it, it continues to erode confidence, optimism and consumer spending ambitions—prospects for the future that are really hurting small businesses that do not have deep balance sheets or the capacity to ride out a carbon tax that is set to rise and therefore further exacerbate its negative influence on the economy, on consumer and business confidence, and on the outlook for future opportunities and prospects.

Contrast that, in the small business area, with a clear, comprehensive plan to restore small business reward, hope and opportunity. It is actually the centrepiece of our plan Real Solutions for all Australians and I am happy to join my colleagues as I travel around the country explaining and working through that plan at small business forums. People understand that we have practical actions and commitments that will benefit the environment in which they operate and their prospects for the future, and they contrast that with the Gillard government's assurances of more of the same. I am reminded of the census index survey where only six per cent of small businesses thought that deal of government policies are helpful to them—six per cent. Perhaps that might even be kind, but that is the number. Clearly a message that should be going out widely to the Labor strategists in the Gillard government is that the small business community is awake up to them. The fourth minister in 14 months is unlikely to improve their prospects. The neglect of small business in the G20 business advisory group; no mention of small business in the Prime Minister's Press Club speech—these are example after example of disinterest and a lack of commitment to small business.

My community knows that small business is not only the engine room of the national economy, they are the providers of prosperity in communities like mine in the outer metropolitan area of Melbourne. That is why we are so focused on seeing the business back in small businesses and we will implement, if we get the opportunity, a plan that recognises and respects their work and the risks they take—something that this government continually fails to do.

The budget reinforces a number of concerns particularly of the 70,000 people who have private health insurance in my electorate. Various changes will mean the electors of Dunkley with private health insurance are likely to pay around $200 a year more for their private health insurance as a result of premium increases announced by the Minister for Health and other changes to the rebate—the incentive, the modest encouragement that has been available for people who choose from their own discretionary income to provide for their own health needs. Even that incentive is being eroded by this government, and that is of great concern to the nearly 70,000 people who have private health insurance in my electorate. The vast majority of families are on very modest incomes, and they go without so they can have their private health insurance—yet the government tries to portray health insurance as some kind of a plaything for the rich and famous. That is absolutely not the case.

In the private health space, not only is the private health sector important to the health care of the citizens I represent; it is also an important part of the economy. We have a number of private hospitals in my electorate that do outstanding work and community based hospitals like The Bays; I think of Beleura, I think of Peninsula Private Hospital, I think of the Frankston Private Hospital, to name those that are most prominent. At this time I am urging the state government to give clarity to the planning laws surrounding the proposed extension of the Peninsula Private Hospital. The site they are looking at has been identified as an anomaly to the urban growth boundary; there are planning processes in place for that but there is also a local planning scheme amendment that will shortly go to appeal. That process for the Peninsula Private Hospital's to expand its facilities in our electorate will be greatly assisted by clarity in the state planning policy. That is something that I will be encouraging.

It is an interesting picture. These are variations to a budget that has already had a very limited shelf life. It is a budget that caps four of the nation's biggest deficits in history, that have seen accumulated debts and deficits of $172 billion. We see borrowings continue to expand. We have a government that inherited a budget surplus, no net debt and $70 billion dollars in net assets. It has just turned that around as if throwing money around is the solution to every problem; it has not been discerning and disciplined in making sure that outlays are soberly assessed and carefully implemented so as to get full value for money for the taxpayer. It is not just the taxpayers of today—let us remember that debt is a burden that lands on the taxpayers of tomorrow in the form of higher taxes as the debt will be serviced for years to come. Around $7 billion now would be an extraordinary contribution to programs like the NDIS—an opportunity we do not have because we are busily servicing this escalating debt that has been the hallmark of this Labor administration.

I am optimistic that the Australian public will respond to the very clear plan that has been outlined by the Abbott coalition opposition. We are seeking to put forward clear strategies to strengthen the economy and build prosperity, so we have a safe and secure nation and so that individuals are not concerned about their own personal security. Mr Deputy Speaker, you must know about the anxiety people feel, about the uncertainty in the economy being added to by an ill-disciplined and dysfunctional government. That is not what the country needs now. Even the idea of adjusting the deeming rates has been captured with some cynicism by retirees wondering where the government has been for a number of years when there have been variations in the cash rate and the rates of return that people could get on their investments. It has not been adjusted for a long time. We need clear air for this country and a clear plan. Yesterday the Prime Minister's own department said the Prime Minister is focused on day-to-day issues. Nothing could be clearer than that. Where is the plan for the nation's future? That is where the energy should be, not just tactics on day-to-day political issues. (Time expired)