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Thursday, 10 February 2011
Page: 411

Senator MARSHALL (9:31 AM) —I think we have to clearly understand what the Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010  is about. It is simply an attempt by the coalition to sabotage this government’s fiscal program to bring the budget back into surplus. We know that.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator MARSHALL —You laugh, but let me just say to you that last year, as a result of negotiations agreed with the coalition, a bill was passed here that accommodated the issues. If I get an opportunity I will quote what Senator Mason said in this chamber about this being the result of an agreement. Then we had an election. Did the coalition actually say to the Australian people, ‘In addition to what we agreed last year, we are going to add another $300 billion to the budget and do what this bill says it is going to do today’? No, they did not. You did not fund it. It was not in your funding. You had a $10.6 billion black hole. You did not fund it in your program. You misrepresented everything to the Australian people through your election campaign and now you come in here and because you did not win the election you say, ‘That does not matter; we will simply appropriate from this chamber $300 billion to initiate an agenda,’ which you would not even have done yourself.

Let me be very clear. If you were in government now, you would not be putting this bill up because you have not funded it. You do not know where you are getting the money from and it cuts across all the ridiculous savings that Mr Abbott has been trying to find and his attempts to justify why he is not going to support the flood levy this week. He did not say to people, ‘We are trying to find some cuts here and we are trying to find some cuts there.’ He did not say to the Australian people, ‘But on Thursday we are going to debate a bill in this chamber which actually adds another $300 billion.’ This is fiscal irresponsibility and it is simply an attempt to sabotage the fiscal program of this government and sabotage us from returning the budget back to surplus. That is what it is about. It is about you using your numbers in here to do what should not happen. I think that is the reason why the Constitution does not allow bills that appropriate—

Senator Williams —Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: did I hear Senator Marshall say that this is going to cost government another $300 billion? Is that what I heard, because I think that is wrong and misleading?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Moore)—That is not a point of order.

Senator MARSHALL —If that is what you have heard, then you have heard incorrectly. If that is what I said, then I apologise. I was saying $300 million and I think I have referred to that figure on a number of occasions. The $300 million which you seek to appropriate in this chamber through a private senator’s bill is something which you would not have done if you were in government because you did not have the money. You had no plan to find the money to spend. This is not the only bill that you are doing this with. The Australian public will see through this. This is simply an attempt to try to sabotage the government’s fiscal responsibility.

This issue has been around for a long time. It is about reforms that we needed as a result of improving the equity of assistance to students across Australia. There has been an enormous take-up rate and improvements have been made resulting from the Bradley review. Consequently, the bill that was passed last year was a result of an agreement between the parties. Let me just quote what Senator Mason said at the time:

The bill currently before the Senate represents a result of negotiations undertaken between the government and the coalition. It embodies what I believe is the best deal achievable by all the parties under the circumstances.

That is what Senator Mason said—‘the best deal achievable by all the parties under the circumstances’. That is what he said at the time. Then the opposition voted for the bill and it went through. Yet, after the election, they did not say to the Australian people as part of their election platform that they would find $300 million. It was not costed. You did not cost it.

Senator Mason interjecting—

Senator MARSHALL —That’s absolute nonsense, and you know it’s nonsense, Senator Mason.

Senator Mason interjecting—

Senator MARSHALL —Oh! Now you have to ask the Nationals whether that is right! What absolute nonsense. They come into this place and they say: ‘We’re going to push through a bill which appropriates $300 million in this chamber’—which is unconstitutional—‘but we’ve got no idea where we are going to get the savings from.’ We did not hear Mr Abbott this week say, ‘Oh, by the way, we’ll find another $300 million to pay for the bill we are going to push through the Senate on Thursday, that is going to add $300 million to the bottom line’. We did not hear him say that; he was silent about that. He is scrambling around trying to find a dollar here, trying to find a dollar there, with no idea about funding this. He simply says, ‘I might have the numbers in the Senate; let’s just appropriate from this chamber $300 billion—

Senator Williams —Millions. You’ve done it again!

Senator MARSHALL —Sorry, I did do it again! I apologise: $300 million.

Senator Williams —Millions or billions?

Senator Nash —Squillions?

Senator Cameron —The Nationals shouldn’t go there!

Senator MARSHALL —That’s right, Senator Cameron. So $300 million, appropriated from this chamber, and not a clue how to fund it. It is inappropriate that a private senator’s bill should do this. It is inappropriate that the Senate chamber should do this. There is a government in place that has a program. It is a responsible program and they are dealing with an incredibly tight budget, incredibly difficult circumstances. We are the ones, the government are the ones, who have to make the budget balance. We are the ones who are bringing the budget back to surplus three years earlier than originally planned. We have an economic plan to do that, and it does not include this whim of a bill, a private senator’s bill, simply being introduced in this place, hoping to get the support of the chamber, which will appropriate $300 million—with no plan of where the savings should come from; simply leaving the government holding that baby. That is what they want to do. And this chamber should reject it on that basis alone.

The reason this bill is here is unnecessary too. We have gone through a comprehensive reform program on this issue of income support for tertiary education. We have negotiated that with the opposition. Last year a bill came before this place which the opposition agreed with. And, as I quoted earlier, Senator Mason agreed that this was the best deal achievable under the circumstances—and he acknowledged that it was the result of negotiations. That is what they did. Now, after the election, they come back and say, ‘Oh, but we want another $300 million; we don’t care where you find it—it doesn’t really matter if it affects the bottom line, doesn’t matter if it throws the government’s program out; we simply want it because we think it’s a good idea and it would be nice to have.’ It is that sort of irresponsibility that we do not need in these economic times. It is that sort of economic irresponsibility that is another reason why you will find yourselves in opposition for a long, long time. You cannot come into this place and say, ‘We want to introduce and pass through this chamber a bill that is going to add $300 million to the bottom line, but we have no idea where we are going to get the money from.’ There have been no negotiations about that, but it just does not matter. And there will be more and more of those bills, mark my words. We will see more bills like this that seek to appropriate money from this chamber, through the mechanism of private senators’ bills, that are simply designed to sabotage the government’s fiscal and economic program. That is what they are doing. Everyone listening should watch: after this bill I bet you we see more bills doing exactly the same thing.

Senator McEwen —Today!

Senator MARSHALL —I am just told it is already happening today: more such bills are coming our way. If that is not evidence that this is simply an irresponsible attack on the government’s economic strategy, sabotaging this government’s economic strategy, I do not know what could be. It is absolutely irresponsible. You are not the government. We have a government. We have a government that is responsible for putting forward a whole package of measures, a whole package of bills, a whole package of reforms—and we have to fund them. You cannot simply sit over that side of the chamber and say, ‘It doesn’t matter; we’ll just appropriate the money—it’ll be the government’s problem; the government will have to worry about it.’ That is absolute irresponsibility. You have shirked any responsibility you have, and this is simply an attack on this government’s economic strategy. You should be ashamed of yourself and you should withdraw it. I simply hope that the chamber does not fall for this underhanded attack on the government’s credibility.