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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5161


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (19:04): The budget is that time of year when government members talk about how fantastic the budget is and members of the opposition talk about how rubbish it is. It is a bit of a ritual really, but underneath all the heated rhetoric there is a lot to be learnt. I would argue that this is the time of year when the government gets to express its values in a real and practical way. In terms of the vernacular, it is where the government gets to put its money where its mouth is. Spending and savings measures are set out in the budget papers in black and white. It is an obligation upon government, I would say, but it is not an obligation upon members of the opposition. They can say all sorts of things about what they would like, and in the budget debate they can speak for an entire 30 minutes without mentioning any numbers, as we saw a few weeks ago.

Something that really is remarkable about this budget is that it is being delivered in difficult circumstances. We have a patchwork economy and enormous international uncertainty, particularly uncertainty associated with the European debt crisis and how that could lead to contagion around the world, and how it will affect us here, a long way from Europe, but we are still connected to those markets. We have declining tax revenues, which is a matter that is not always picked up by those on the other side. The tax as a percentage of GDP is as low as it has ever been in the last 20 years. Despite these circumstances, the Treasurer has managed to pull off something that is quite remarkable.

We have been able to do this because of the strict fiscal discipline that we have imposed upon ourselves. They include: the budget rules that any new spending must be offset by a commensurate savings; the growth in real spending should be limited to less than two per cent of GDP until the budget returns to surplus over the cycle; and our determination to return the budget to surplus in accordance with the needs of the economy at this point in the cycle. What is remarkable about the budget is that we have been able to deliver what we said we were going to deliver against all of those backgrounds. We have navigated our way through the troubled waters and delivered real benefits to working people—benefits like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a $1 billion investment for the commencement of that scheme, which will make an enormous difference to families in my electorate and families all around the country because no longer will people be discriminated against on the basis of how they acquired their disability. The federal government will say that we have an obligation to assist irrespective of how you obtained that disability.

There is the enormous commitment we have made to backing in the reforms recommended by the Productivity Commission inquiry into the aged-care sector. Over $3 billion, closer to $3.8 billion, is going to be invested to aged-care reform, which includes an additional 40,000 home care places. $290 million is going to be invested into addressing what is the real epidemic of our generation, the epidemic of dementia, and how we deal with the growing occurrence of dementia in our communities. We are providing over 30,000 residential aged-care places with new fairer placement options for people in the aged-care sector. And there is an additional $1.2 billion to build our aged-care workforce.

In addition to that we have delivered a $5 billion package for assistance to families. You will not hear many on the other side of the House, those in opposition, saying much about this, and there is a very good reason for that. They did not support it, they voted against it and, if they ever find their way into the Treasury benches, they will be repealing the benefits. They are benefits like the $1.8 billion increase to the Family Tax Benefit part A which is delivering up to $600 per annum per family. There are also benefits like the $2.1 billion that we are spending for improved assistance for families with schoolkids, the schoolkids bonus. There will be $410 for every primary school child and $820 for every secondary school student. You will not hear support from those on the other side for this. Or maybe we will be surprised about this and maybe you will find some courageous voices that disagree with their leaders and will argue against the abolition of this much-needed money to families.

Of course, that builds on the work that we have already done with the increase in the childcare rebate to 50 per cent and the Paid Parental Leave scheme of 18 weeks paid leave at minimum wage, which is a long overdue reform and introduced by this Labor government because we are committed to it. In addition to these two important areas—assistance to families and assistance to the aged-care sector—there is $1.1 billion in extra spending on supplementary allowance for job seekers and those on youth allowance of $210 for singles and $350 for couples per annum. The member for Forrest talked about needing a tax system which creates incentives to get people to work. Nothing could be more important than that in the reforms to the tax system that we have put in place in this budget. Everybody earning under $80,000 a year will be receiving a tax cut. The thing I am most proud of is the incentives we are putting in place for people who are earning under $18½ thousand. These are part-time workers, single mums, mums returning to work, students who are attempting to support themselves as they make their way through university or higher education. This is typically the group of people doing part-time work and earning less than $18½ thousand a year. We are ensuring that one million people out of our eight-million-strong workforce will be removed from the taxation system. They will not pay tax, and that is a great Labor reform.

There is $500 million for dental health. This is long overdue. Those opposite abolished the Commonwealth dental scheme. We are putting $500 million as the first instalment in our efforts to overhaul and provide Commonwealth assistance under a Commonwealth scheme. The majority of this $500 million is dedicated to an assault on public dental health waiting lists.

For someone like me this is not a sexy issue, but the budget also puts aside funds for bowel screening. If you come from a family with up to four generations who have either had or died from bowel cancer, you would welcome this new initiative whereby we are providing free bowel screening for everybody over the age of 60. It is my sincere hope that we are able in future years to bring that down to at least 55 and even earlier for people in high-risk categories. It is an important Labor reform which adds to our other healthcare reforms.

When you look at all of this and listen to the carping and negativity from those opposite you have to scratch your head. You can imagine if these guys had been guests at the wedding in Cana they would have said to Jesus, 'That water-into-wine trick wasn't too bad, but what's for desert?' The budget contains magnificent reforms, increased benefits for families, tax relief, an injection of funding into the dental health scheme, all on the back of other great Labor reforms, and they are carping and carrying on, looking at the hole and not the doughnut.

The budget initiatives mean a great deal to constituents in my electorate. I mentioned the schoolkids bonus. This is a massive injection into the Illawarra and Southern Highlands economy. I estimate it is a $27 million annual recurrent injection of cash directed at low- to middle-income households. It means a great deal to those families and a great deal to an economy which is struggling in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and a high Australian dollar and what that means for manufacturing and associated industries. I am pleased that there are about 11,000 families in my electorate of Throsby who will receive the additional $600 or $300 from family tax benefit part A increases. There are around 4,700 families with kids turning 16 over the next five years who will get up to $4,200 in extra family tax benefit payments if their kids stay at school. An incentive to keep children at school is good for the households and it is good for the children. We know there is a direct link between children who stay at school and their later life opportunities, their propensity to be in full-time employment once they leave school.

I am pleased that in the 2012-13 budget there is $2.2 million for the Roads to Recovery program which provides funds directly to local governments to work on local road priorities. There is an assignment of $20 million in the budget for the Maldon-Dombarton rail link, to get the engineering work up and ready so that it is shovel-ready. I hope that the money is delivered through the minerals resources rent tax, which those in the opposition parties have voted against—they oppose taxing the superprofits of some of the wealthiest mining companies in this country to provide infrastructure to regional areas like my own and their own, I dare say. What is really good about this budget is that it does not stand alone. It builds on the great economic and social record of this government. Not enough is said about the social record of this government. We aim to build a strong economy, but that is not an end in itself. An economy is not an end in itself. The end in itself is what that delivers to ordinary Australians, to all Australians, in terms of their wellbeing, their standard of living and their lifestyle. When you are in a position to say that in the four years since you have been in government over 800,000 jobs have been created, you can say your priority is creating jobs, and the surest way to lift a family out of poverty is to ensure that people are working and that there are jobs for that family in that region.

We have copped some criticism about the absence of any great narrative within the budget about the carbon price. Let me fill that gap. This is an important reform, a difficult structural reform. But it is one that we have put in place in a Labor way, and that is a way that says, 'We understand that a change is coming down the track.' There are two options. The coalition option is to either deny that climate change exists or go and find yourself the biggest damn bucket of sand and stick your head in that bucket of sand. That is the coalition way—stick your head in that bucket of sand and pretend that this stuff is not happening. We reject that because we understand that that does great damage to the Australian economy and to ordinary working people as well. If you do not prepare yourself for massive economic change—and this is the lesson of the 1970s and early 1980s—the working people of this country will suffer. We are preparing ourselves for that massive economic change and we will be doing it gradually, and providing assistance to households and businesses along the way. The proposition of the coalition is to reject climate change and stick their heads in a bucket of sand but throw a few bucks around to pretend that they are doing something along the way—the few bucks are $1,300 per household per annum. The coalition are literally proposing to tax poor people and redistribute that money to rich people in the name of reducing our carbon pollution. It is absolutely perverse.

I was very interested to hear the member for Forrest and the contributions from many other coalition members in this debate on the importance of infrastructure—courageous contributions, I have to say, from the former government that actually went backwards when it came to spending on infrastructure and that left us with a $42 billion national infrastructure deficit. We have gone a long way to filling that deficit, with over $36 billion in projects around the country. We have rebuilt one-third of the national freight network. We have doubled the spending on roads to $27.9 billion—something for which you never get any credit from the National Party. We are spending more money on roads in National Party seats than they ever did or ever proposed to do. Ours has been a remarkable achievement when it comes to commitments to infrastructure.

We have managed to do all of this at the same time as reducing the tax to GDP ratio. The opposition talk about high-taxing governments, but one of the things that they are very embarrassed to admit is that, in the 12 budgets that were delivered by the coalition, the tax to GDP ratio was 23.4 per cent—whereas, under this government, it is nudging 21 per cent. We are a low-taxing government and have provided great social reforms in the interests of ordinary working people. I can only reiterate what I said earlier: if those opposite had been at the wedding feast at Cana, they would have said, 'Jesus, great trick with the water into wine, but what's for dessert?'