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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 2903

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (12:05): I have a few comments with respect to the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 which I would like to put on the record. They essentially revolve around one of the key elements of this bill, which is reducing the baby bonus for families by almost 10 per cent, or $437. On top of that the government are freezing indexation for the next three years. This directly impacts on families who are already struggling with the cost of living. Those of us who are parents in this place can relate to the high costs associated with having a baby, and the baby bonus is aimed at assisting with those costs. My youngest son, in fact, was born only a matter of minutes before the baby bonus came into effect. I would have been substantially better off had it been the next day, but such is the way of childbirth!

With respect to assisting parents, my concern is that parents are unable to plan or to count on continuity from this government. In last night's budget speech, for example, we were told repeatedly that this was 'spreading the bonus' of the mining boom, that families would be getting assistance and things like that. The problem is that these one-off sugar hits do not give any confidence to families so that they can plan into the future. It leads to the conclusion that many people have come to: that this government really does not care, except for the politics of a particular circumstance. How can this government justify winding back the baby bonus, even in this relatively small measure for families that are already being affected by the cost of living, and yet refuse to deal with the fact that a carbon tax is going to be introduced on 1 July which is going to severely impact on the cost of living for families? How can it justify winding back assistance for families with newborn children and not accept the fact that its Building the Education Revolution was rorted to the tune of billions and billions of dollars? Indeed, what is this government doing winding back assistance for families with newborn children while electricity prices have gone up by 66 per cent since this government was elected? And gas prices are up by 39 per cent. Food and petrol prices have increased by 11 per cent. It is not exactly within the purview of the government to stop price rises, but the price rises are directly related to the financial incompetence and mismanagement that this government has inflicted upon the Australian economy. It is Economics 101, I would remind you—although you need no reminding, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore—

Senator Jacinta Collins: Did you do Economics 101?

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, indeed I did, Senator Collins—and perhaps you will get to that stage at some point in life—

Senator Jacinta Collins: I've already done it!

Senator BERNARDI: I am happy to send you my textbook, if you would like to update yourself on Economics 101—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Moore ): Senators, I remind you to make your comments through the chair.

Senator BERNARDI: Thank you for that, Madam Acting Deputy President. I would say to you, Madam Acting Deputy President, that if Senator Collins did complete Economics 101 she would in fact be finance minister or the Treasurer—because she couldn't do any worse a job than the current Treasurer or the finance minister are actually doing!

But I will put it in a simplified version for the benefit of those opposite: if a government is going to be excessively borrowing money and injecting it into the money supply then, indeed, you are going to have inflationary expectations. There are other dampers that have taken place, of course, but the things we need—the utilities, accommodation et cetera—are all rising in cost exponentially, and that is what is putting the burden on Australian families. The government will talk about headline inflation or the fact that the cost of bananas has come down or gone up or whatever the case may be, but you can opt out of buying bananas; you cannot opt out of having the electricity switched on or needing the gas or needing accommodation.

The other upshot of this is that, as money has been injected into the economy and squandered—and squandered grotesquely, along the lines of the Health Services Union—we are finding that the Reserve Bank has had to have interest rates much higher than they otherwise would be, to stop the economy getting overinflated. That has seen the international money markets chasing the safe haven of the Australian dollar, as a relative of high interest rates, because they can get six per cent on their deposits in this country as opposed to half a per cent or even less in many other comparable nations around the world. That has put our dollar higher and has made our manufacturing exporters less competitive. And it becomes this spiral of economic decay. The government for years denied that this is the case and that they are inflicting this pain on Australian families, until they had some sort of epiphany in which they recognised, 'Gee, excessive government spending does lead to higher interest rates, which does lead to a higher Australian dollar, which leads to less competitive economic factors.' So they have delivered a surplus. But what they have done in the process of delivering this apparent surplus—which I think is right up there with the Loch Ness monster, the surplus to be talked about but never seen—is put a knife through the heart of the Australian economy. They are doing that because there is no talk about productivity, there is no talk about the encouragement of incentive and enterprise. It is more about just throwing handouts to people, and handouts to people are not a good way of allowing people to determine their own future. They are one-off sugar stimulus hits to appease a group of people. That is what concerns me.

We had a structured approach to the baby bonus. It was supported over many years by both sides of parliament because they saw that there was an economic benefit in providing not only for our demographic environment but for the cost of childcare to assist families, particularly early on. When I say child care I do not mean institutional child care, of course; I mean the care for a child when it is brought into the world. The difficulty we have is that that is being replaced now, it is being wound back, under the guise of some efficiency dividend. I reject it. I think it is just another attack on families. The baby bonus has been means-tested since 2008. It is as if some babies are worth more than others. In the budget that same year this government means-tested family tax benefits. In 2009 they froze indexation for a number of benefits: full payment of family tax benefit A and B, the dependent spouse rebate and indeed the baby bonus. Last year they froze indexation for the supplement payments of both family tax benefits A and B. It has been a never-ending assault on families ever since Labor came to office.

The only reason there has needed to be an assault on families, the only reason Labor have had to engage in their historical mantra of class warfare once again, is that they have been unable to manage their own expenditure. The Australian people are taxed plenty; they are taxed too much. I make no bones about that. But this government has proved it is unable to live within its means, and that is one of the fundamental priorities of any government and any family. If a national government cannot live within its means, what sort of example is that setting for families out there in the community?

Australian families are concerned not just because some of the good initiatives of the Howard government are being wound back or shut down or closed off to some of them but they are concerned because they know that every dollar borrowed, every dollar of the $100 million every single week that is borrowed by this government, is going to have to be repaid by children born last year and the year before and the children born tomorrow. We are now facing intergenera¬≠tional debt. In four years the Labor Party have raised $167 billion worth of deficits, the four biggest deficits on record. That compares starkly with the four largest surpluses in the history of this country which were achieved in the final four years of the Howard government. Based on Mr Swan's forecast of running a surplus of $1.5 billion in the next financial year, it will take 100 years of Mr Swan's surpluses to pay back four years of Labor's mismanagement. It is a joke. It is a terrible indictment on the philosophical approach this government is having—unable to control spending, unwilling to make the tough decisions that need to be made to stop the rorts and the waste, unwilling to even demote cabinet ministers who have proven themselves to be incompetent and hopeless. I am not talking about Senator Carr, who was unjustly dumped by Ms Gillard. I am talking about people who were the architects of the carbon tax debacle, about the people who wanted to inflict an emissions trading scheme upon us, about the people who were responsible for the insulation in people's roofs that burned houses down and unfortunately were responsible for a number of deaths of young installers. I am talking about the people who were behind the Building the Education Revolution rorts. I could go on and on. It comes back to the capacity and judgment of this government to determine what is in the national interest.

I do not believe that our Prime Minister in particular and the coterie of people around her propping her up have any capacity to act in the national interest. They have only ever acted in the political interest, anything that can get them through the day. We have seen that with our own Prime Minister, discredited as her words are after she uttered the immortal ones 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead', which was echoed by Mr Swan and a number of other Labor luminaries. I think the Australian public lost interest in what she had to say when she said words to the effect that Mr Thomson was doing a first-rate job and she had full confidence in him. You have to have a nose for scandal to recognise that something very dirty was going on there. No politician with any integrity would put themselves out on a limb like that defending something the process of which was clearly so flawed and that had been in the public domain for a very long time.

So, whilst Australian families are doing it tough, this government do not seem to care. They are doing enormous damage to families for decades to come because every dollar of this debt that has been incurred, every dollar of the $169 billion worth of deficits, will have to be repaid. It can be repaid through inflation, which is really a tax and robbery of those who seek to save. It can be repaid by devaluing and destroying currency, as we are seeing in any number of countries around the world. It can be repaid by reducing services or increasing taxes. Unfortunately, this government is only intent on increasing taxes. It is not willing to make effective cuts to some of its wasteful programs, it simply targets the programs that are providing perhaps the most benefit and the most confidence for Australian families. Just on confidence, this is what is lacking in our economy today, this is what is lacking in our families today. There is no confidence in the ability of this government to do the job they have been elected to do, which is govern in the national interest. There is no confidence in the business community to invest in their businesses or to take on extra staff or to grow their businesses, because they do not know which business, which community, which group is going to be targeted next by this government. We have seen them target any number of people that they think are fair game. We have seen them renationalise our telecommunications industry. We are seeing them increase taxes under the guise of health measures. We are seeing them target the mining industry, the single industry that is keeping the economy afloat. We saw them target truck drivers in last night's budget, with an extra 2c a litre fuel tax. They just look for targets, but they will not examine their own incompetence and hopelessness.

I think that is something that has really shut down the confidence of the Australian community. Everywhere I go, people say they are worried about the future. They are worried because they think they have a government that has no mind for the future; it is only about living in the 24-hour spin cycle, dominating the media cycle, smearing its opponents or making it tougher for families under the guise of helping them.

This bill will hurt families, but there are many other initiatives that will increase the pain for Australian families, not least of all the carbon tax, which comes into being on 1 July, which we were promised by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and others would never happen—unless there was a citizens assembly, I might add, where there was a consensus in the community. We have seen those who have opposed the carbon tax be demonised and attacked, and we have seen the government in complete disarray over a tax that is going to damage our economy, damage Australian families and provide no measurable benefit for the environment.

Deep in their heart of hearts—those that have them in the Labor Party—they know that this is a tax they have no justification for, no mandate for, and they know it is going to be damaging for our economy. But unfortunately, until they replace an intransigent and belligerent leadership team, Australian families will be further disserviced over coming months by a government that, as I said before, has no real interest in the national interest; it is only about self-interest.

We will be letting this bill through, as Senator Fifield said, notwithstanding our grave reservations about the impact that it is going to have on Australian families. It is just another nail in the proverbial coffin of families being able to plan adequately for their own future and determine their own wellbeing.