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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4283

Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (12:29): I rise today to speak on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus) Bill 2012 because I believe that we should be redefining the education tax rebate system rather than handing out taxpayer money as a cash bonus.

It is obvious that Labor's announcement to dump that education tax rebate and to give out handfuls of taxpayer money is a desperate bid to win votes—nothing more; nothing less. If I did not know any better it would sound like cash for votes to me! It has taken the broader community less than 24 hours after the budget announcement to work this out.

This ploy will not work with the people of Macarthur, who understood the importance of the education tax rebate, a targeted program that provided genuine assistance to relieve education costs for parents. If this government was serious about supporting parents in Macarthur they would not be dumping this rebate and replacing it with a sugar-coated payment to try and win votes. We all know that this new program is designed to distract from the carbon tax hit to the cost of living, which will go up and up every year. Residents in Macarthur are not stupid; they know that prices will continue to rise as a result of the carbon tax, and a cash payment before July this year just is not going to cut it.

Labor's new policy is a bad policy. It is not about offsetting education costs; it is simply a sugar hit for families to create a diversion from increased bills and costs, which will rise come 1 July. Labor is recklessly promoting this measure but they do not spruik the fact that parents do not have to spend this payment on their children's education. They can spend it on anything they like; there is no accountability.

How can the government genuinely claim that this cash splash will be spent on the educational needs of our children? They cannot. How can they guarantee that the money will be spent for the purpose it was given? They cannot. I have heard a number of members speak today. Some of them are in dreamland or away with the pixies. Some of the members were talking about low socio-economic backgrounds and money being put upfront for people to spend on their children's education. Have a look at the last cash splash leading up to the last election. Go around and ask the publicans and the clubs how much their profits went up for that period of time. There is no guarantee that this money will be spent on each child's educational needs. A number of members have mentioned a number of issues in relation to alcohol and drugs and many other things. I am sure that a significant amount of this money will be wasted and not spent for the purpose it was given.

As part of its plan Labor has removed the cash incentive for parents to invest in their children's schooling needs. Ultimately, this will be counterproductive for our schoolkids. Yes, parents in Macarthur are struggling and need all the help they can get but the carbon tax is going to hit them hard, and a lump sum sugar payment will not sweeten the deal.

And why do you think this payment is being made before 30 June this year? This is one of the most blatant attempts to cook this year's budget books in order to allow Labor to protect its artificial surplus next financial year, because the refund will be paid out before the end of this financial year. The coalition knows that families with school-aged children have large costs, and Macarthur families are no different. But the best way to ensure money is spent on our kids is through the now abolished education tax refund system. This was a regime that ensured taxpayer money was given only to families who actually spent money on education costs and the needs of their children.

The coalition took a policy to the last election that vastly expanded the number of school expense items that were eligible through the rebate, and increased the rebate amounts. We did this because we know that parents need better assistance. The coalition's plan would have provided a rebate to families of $1,000 for each secondary school-aged child and $500 for each primary school-aged child. By contrast, Labor's scheme provides much less—only $820 for secondary school-aged children and $410 for primary school-aged children—leaving a family with two children some $270 per year worse off than our policy.

Perhaps this government should have paid attention to the coalition's policy, which was for more money, better targeted to go straight to those families who needed it most. If, as the government suggests, people are slipping through the cracks and not claiming their education tax refund we should simplify the system and promote an awareness program through the schools and possibly the P&C organisations. It is not too hard to put out a few newsletters at the start of the year, the middle of the year and at the end of the year, to notify parents how they can claim the rebate for the educational needs of their children. It would be simple, one would think. What about school newsletters, as I mentioned, at the beginning of the year and just before tax time?

Families need to know that they could receive just as much money, if not more, under coalition policy, by claiming the education tax rebate. Not only is the money accountable; it ensures that the education needs of our children are addressed. Labor says it is supporting our families and their children but who do we think will be repaying their debt in the future? I cannot just sit by as Labor continues to borrow more money, because while some parents might benefit this year, it will be their children who will have to repay Labor's debt for years into the future, and that is not right.

I brought up my two daughters in Macarthur. My wife and I worked hard to support our family, and I can tell you that a long-term plan like the education tax rebate system would have been much more of a helping hand than this sugar coated payment followed by a hike in all of our bills due to the carbon tax. The people of Macarthur will not be fooled by this sugar hit. It is a senseless cash splash for more votes. Residents in my electorate know that this Prime Minister is not interested in helping local families; she is only interested in keeping her own job.

Macarthur parents supporting students studying for the HSC need to know that while they may get a sugar hit in June that will not last long, because their child will then get slammed by hundreds of dollars in compulsory student union fees. If you ask me, this is just another example of Labor attacking middle Australia. The Schoolkids Bonus is not about helping local families; it is about throwing money at people before they get hit with the world's biggest carbon tax. It is merely a distraction: a quick, short-term sugar hit to distract people from a carbon tax that will keep on hitting them time and time again. Labor's claim that they support Australian families is farcical. Just take a look back through history. In the 2008 budget Labor introduced a means test on the baby bonus which limited the baby bonus to families with an adjusted taxable income of $75,000 or less in the six months after the birth of a baby. This is the equivalent of an adjusted taxable income of $150,000 a year or less.

In the 2009 budget, Labor froze indexation for the full payment of family tax benefits A and B, the baby bonus and the dependant spouse rebate. Labor also announced that from the 1 July 2009 the income test for the Commonwealth seniors health card would include income from superannuation streams with a taxed source and salary that are sacrificed to superannuation. They subsequently backed down after community outrage. In the 2011 budget, Labor froze indexation for family tax benefits A and B supplement payments. In MYEFO Labor cut the baby bonus from $5,400 to $5,000 and froze indexation of the payment for three years.

In the 2012 budget Labor cut the eligibility for family tax benefit part A to families with children who are 18 years, meaning families with children aged 19 to 21 will no longer receive assistance through the family tax benefit. And what about the flood levy? Those earning over $100,000 were forced to pay 0.5 per cent of taxable income in excess of $50,000 and one per cent of taxable income in excess of $100,000.

In my electorate, a retiring police officer was forced to remain in the workforce to avoid a $6,500 hit to his superannuation because of this tax as he was receiving a lump sum payment in that financial year. He was unwell and wanted to retire but was already paying $90,000 in tax on his super so he remained in the workforce to avoid another $6,500 loss. How is this looking after hard-working families?

And do not think that residents in Macarthur have not noticed the increase in the cost of living under this government. How can you claim to be supporting Australian families when so many of them cannot afford to pay their electricity bills? There are people in my electorate on low incomes or in the welfare system who are waiting up to three months for $30 vouchers to assist them with their electricity bills.

Let us look at Labor's record from the December quarter of 2007 to the December quarter of 2011. Electricity prices have increased by an average of 61 per cent across Australia. Gas prices have increased by an average of 37 per cent across Australia. Water and sewerage rates have increased by an average of 58 per cent across Australia. Health costs have increased by an average of 20 per cent across Australia. Education costs have increased by an average of 24 per cent across Australia. The cost of food overall has gone up by 13 per cent across Australia. The amount of rent people are now paying has increased by 25 per cent across Australia. When is this government going to realise that the people of this country are not stupid? They can see through the smoke and mirrors. They can see through the financial trickery.

We have a government saying that they are saving money, controlling their spending and reducing debt. What sort of message are they really sending to the people of Australia when they are increasing their borrowing ceiling from $250 billion to $300 billion? There are plenty of people in the community asking that question. This government just keep on spending and keep on taxing. The people of Macarthur know that this is a 'cook-the-books' budget, with the artificial surplus based on fiddled figures and money shuffles.

The Treasurer lives in Wayne's World. It does not exist; it is only in his mind. The $1.5 billion surplus is a mirage—the closer you look, you realise it does not exist. Local families know that a cash payment on 30 June is not going take away the carbon tax pain that begins on 1 July.

The education rebate tax should not have been dumped by this government. It was a silly mistake. Spending taxpayers' money on these payments with no accountability of how the money is spent is not fair to the hard-working people of Australia who pay their taxes on a daily basis. If the money is to be spent on the education of our children then redefining the education tax rebate would have been a much more effective way to do it than these lump sum payments that will only plunge this country further into debt.

We are currently paying $8 billion interest each year on our national debt. This could easily pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme the people of Australia are waiting for. The people of Macarthur can see what is happening here. They can see that this cash payment is nothing but an attempt to distract them from the carbon tax and the painful price hikes that it will cause. And while this government claims to be supporting Australian families, it will be the future generations of this country that will have to repay the billions of dollars in debt caused by this government's wasteful spending and incompetence.