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Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Page: 209

Senator NASH (12:15 PM) —I rise to make some remarks on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. I am very pleased to speak on this today because it is important that we place very clearly on the record that the coalition are opposed to this legislation. This bill sets the cap for the childcare rebate at $7,500 per annum and completely suspends the indexation of that rebate until 2014. Currently, the cap is set at $7,778. Not only will there be a reduction in the cap; there will also be the associated suspension of the indexation.

As a mother of two children, who are now 18 and 16, of course I remember when they were much younger and when I needed to avail myself of childcare services. What is extraordinary about this legislation is that the government are making it harder, not easier, for families to access child care and to get assistance for childcare fees. To me, that is the antithesis of what this government should be doing for families, particularly families in regional areas. It is quite extraordinary that the government should do this for a savings measure—I think it is predicted to save $86 million over four years. Since when did the working families of this country become the cash cow for this government? We should be assisting families with their childcare expenses not making it harder, as Julia Gillard and this government are proposing. Aren’t we supposed to make sure that the future of this country is in the best possible hands and that families have the best possible assistance to bring up their children from day one, from when they are babies? Extraordinarily, this government seem to be turning their backs on the working families whom they purport to assist.

This childcare rebate is so important to so many families. Many of the people I speak to, particularly in the regional areas, say to me how important it is that they have this financial assistance to assist them with their childcare expenses. But around 20,700 families will be affected by this legislation. Over 20,000 families will face this cap on their childcare rebate, with no chance of any increase whatsoever over the next four years. That is simply wrong. I do not know if the Prime Minister has had a brain snap but that will not assist working families with the costs of child care no matter which way you look at it. It will do exactly the opposite.

It is yet another example of this government saying one thing and doing another thing. It is all about the words. It all about spin. It is all about the political spin for the next day’s media cycle and getting the words out. It is not about the reality of delivering for the Australian people, particularly working families who need the assistance. The government seem to be completely at a loss to come up with any sort of substantive policy or any vision for the future for this country. If part of their vision for the future is to make things tougher for working families and to make it harder with childcare expenses, are they on the right track! Sorry for the sarcasm. They are completely inept. They have absolutely no understanding of what families need out there in our communities, particularly our regional communities. That is very obvious given this legislation before us today. It is quite extraordinary.

They have no ability to think about anything other than getting re-elected. What good is that to the Australian people? Every single day, every waking thought for the Prime Minister and her band of merry men and women is, ‘Gee, what are we going to do today to make sure we get re-elected?’ As my very good colleague Senator Ferguson said earlier, we see an extraordinary arrangement in government at the moment. But that is a conversation for another day. It is all about getting re-elected; it is not about doing the right thing by this country. Colleagues, when did you last hear the word ‘vision’ used by the government? When did you last hear the government talk about their plan for the future of this country? When did you ever hear anything at all from the government about how it wants the country to look in 10 years time, 20 years time or 30 years time? You will not hear any of that, colleagues, because they are a vacuum. This Labor government have absolutely no idea how to govern. They have no idea how to set a path for the Australian people. It is all about spin. It is all about getting the words out. It is all about making sure they get re-elected next time—which might be a little tougher given the current arrangements.

The Australian people are rightly disappointed with this Prime Minister. A lot of them are telling me that she has not been up to scratch. They had much higher expectations of what this Prime Minister would deliver for this country. They are quite rightly very disappointed that the Prime Minister of the country appears to have no vision or ideas for where this country is going to go. It is all just reactionary. It is all just spin. It is all just words. Interestingly enough, I have an intern in my office, Nawaaz Khalfan, who is a very bright young boy about to start his university career, and he said to me: ‘Where is the country going? Where are we headed under this government?’

Senator Conroy —I am sure he appreciated being called a young boy.

Senator NASH —I see that Senator Conroy has woken up. That is very exciting. Perhaps you could wake up enough to have a discussion with your Prime Minister about how making things harder for families when it comes to child care is probably not the best way forward. Perhaps if you took a little bit of time to have that discussion with your leader, Senator Conroy, maybe you can enlighten her about how this is a shocking bit of legislation.

All of those parents out there who are struggling and working hard to make ends meet and need to use childcare facilities are now going to do it that much harder because of Julia Gillard and this Labor government. It is as simple as that. Because of this Labor government families are going to do it tougher than they otherwise would have. I do not think that that is something that the people of Australia want to hear. Yet that is what they are stuck with.

How important is it to this government that we are able to support our children and access childcare facilities and have that financial assistance, recognising how important it is for families? No, not this government, ‘We will just make it a bit tougher.’ There is a really good idea. Like the independent youth allowance, ‘Let’s make that a bit tougher for students as well.’ There is another really good idea! It is anything but a good idea. Again, that is a conversation for a later time.

One has to wonder how much this government really does care about families and the future of Australia. You would have to say, for all intents and purposes, ‘Not very much.’ What have we seen it do? Firstly, and the real biggie, we have seen it completely mismanage the finances of this country. We only have to look at the billions of dollars of waste in the pink batts program and the billions of dollars of waste right across the board. There was the mismanagement of the school halls program.

Let us not forget the $900 cheques—that was a really good idea. I heard a story from north-west New South Wales about the $900 cheques. A farmer up there had a backpacker on his place for a while. I remember when all that happened and the backpacker called him up and said, ‘Can you thank your Prime Minister for me for my $900 cheque?’ while he was sitting in a pub in London. The Australian people deserve better. They deserve a government that has their best interests at heart.

I will move to slightly more recent times. Let us have a look at the flood tax. This government has proposed a tax on the Australian people that will make it even tougher for them to manage. We have rising costs of living and rising electricity prices. Thank you very much, Kristina Keneally, for the great management of the electricity situation in New South Wales.

Senator Bernardi —And John Brumby.

Senator NASH —And John Brumby. It is just extraordinary that the government is now looking to place another tax—the flood tax—on the Australian people. It is interesting that, if the government had not wasted billions and billions of dollars, there would be absolutely no need for the tax. This is a point that the Australian people need to recognise very clearly: this Labor government under Julia Gillard is putting forward a flood tax only because it mismanaged the economy so badly that it simply has no choice but to try to gain some money in any way, shape or form. So it came up with a tax.

If the government had not wasted those billions of dollars on those programs—because it simply cannot manage money—we would not even need to be talking about a tax. As my good colleague in the other place the member for Riverina said recently, ‘The best management for natural disasters is for a government to have a surplus.’ He is absolutely spot-on and that is what we left this government—a $20 billion surplus. The government got rid of that pretty darn quickly, didn’t it? It is true to form. Successive Labor governments have had no understanding of how to manage money or an economy. They just keep spending.

Senator Polley interjecting—

Senator NASH —Senator Polley, I would like to hear your plan for the economic management of the country. I would be happy to hear from you on that. We have a situation now where we are borrowing around $100 million a day. This government is completely inept. The government borrowed $4 billion just last week.

Imagine if we said this to our kids, ‘Okay, we have completely mismanaged the household budget. The debt has racked up to a huge limit. We are completely out of control. By the way, we are going to hop into your little piggy bank for a flood tax, kids. Give us that as well because we have been so bad at managing the money.’ That is the analogy: you are going into the piggy banks of the Australian people because you are so inept and you have not got a single clue about how to manage an economy. That is not fair to the Australian people. When we have a budget of more than $350 billion, it is simply not on for this government to not be able to find savings of $1.8 billion but instead choose to tax the Australian people. They cannot possibly think outside of the box: ‘We are in a bit of a financial situation, what do we do?’ ‘I know, a tax will be the go because that is what we always do and that is what we’re comfortable with. Taxing the Australian people is a really good idea.’

Senator Joyce —That is how we are going to cool the planet.

Senator NASH —Yes, Senator Joyce. Apparently, we are going to cool the planet by yet another one of the government’s taxes—a carbon tax. That is a good idea!

On the flood tax, I could not help but be rather intrigued by the Prime Minister, in the commentary box at one of the cricket games, talking about matching the Australian people’s donations dollar for dollar. Well, guess what: that dollar for dollar matching is still the Australian people’s money. The Prime Minister does not have a bucket of money neatly tied up underneath Parliament House. She was only committing more of the Australian people’s money and what really concerns me is that Australian people are so generous. They are so generous, and they have donated so much through these very difficult times. Now that the government is talking about a flood tax these people are coming to me and saying: ‘Hang on, but I have donated. I was very happy to donate. I really want to help the people around the country who are dealing with such difficult times following these natural disasters. I really want to help them, but now the government is going to whack a tax on me. Why on earth did I bother donating in the first place?’ By all accounts the charities are saying that those generous donations have dried up since the announcement of the flood tax—a tax that we only need because of this government’s bad management and bad decision making.

Senator Williams —A mining tax, a car tax.

Senator NASH —Thank you, I will take that interjection, Senator Williams—the mining tax, the car tax. We did notice that they managed to get rid of the cash for clunkers though, didn’t they, in amongst all of this tax business? Cash for clunkers—there was another brilliant policy idea from the government! All this ties into the bad management and bad policy decisions that are being made by this government. The bill that we are talking about today, the  Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010, is yet another bad policy decision being made by this government. In simple terms, to anybody listening around the country, to anybody that is paying attention right now, this childcare bill is going to make things tougher for working families in Australia, not easier. It is this Labor government that is going to make things tougher for Australian families through this bill. That is just unacceptable. The very people the government should be helping by assisting them with their childcare costs, by helping them with a rebate, have had this government turn its back on them. This government is making it harder.

I would pretty much bet, and I think I am pretty safe in betting this one, that every single family that has children, or a child, in child care is going to look at this legislation and say: ‘What on earth is the government doing? Why are they making it tougher for me?’ It is hard enough with the rising costs of living—electricity prices, fuel costs and the cost of education—particularly in regional areas, where things are much tougher for people in terms of accessing services and where costs are much higher than in the cities. They are going to look at this government and say: ‘What are they doing? Why are they making it harder for us? I need to have my children,’ or my child, ‘in child care. Why are they coming up with this piece of legislation to make it even harder for me?’ Now that is just not on. This government has no idea about the needs of families in this country and this piece of legislation proves it. How can they possibly say with any credibility that they are for working families when a piece of legislation like this is going to hurt those very working families that they say they support? It is just ridiculous. It is yet another case of this government having absolutely no idea of the needs of Australian families. It is about time they started listening to the Australian people, started paying attention. Maybe one-day, colleagues, they could come up with a substantive bit of policy that is not going to hurt Australian families like this piece of legislation is going to do. We do not agree with it. We oppose it. This Labor government should be making things easier for working families and not harder.