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Thursday, 10 May 2012
Page: 3103


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (12:33): I rise to contribute to this debate, albeit, as we have heard, a very, very short debate because, in true Labor government style, condoned by the government's alliance partner the Greens, the Senate has to consider this important budget bill by 1.50 pm today, the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012—or, as my good friend Senator Macdonald just said, 'Why don't they call it what it is: a bill that is going to be bribing Australian parents?'

The Australian people are not fools. Whilst those on the other side may treat them as though they are mugs and cannot see exactly what this bill is designed to do, Australians know that this bill is nothing more and nothing less than something that you would expect from a desperate government—

Senator Sterle: Would you same the same if you had kids at school?

Senator CASH: a government that in Western Australia is so on the nose that they are likely to have no seats after the next election. The Australian people know that the only reason we are debating this bill today is that on 1 July the greatest political lie ever to be perpetrated on the Australian people is going to commence. And that is the lie that commenced with this, the day before the 2010 election: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' the greatest political lie ever to be perpetrated on the Australian people. This bill confirms what the Australian people know.

Senator Sterle interjecting

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator CASH: We are debating this bill today for one reason and one reason only. Because of Labor's toxic carbon tax, the costs of living that have already risen time and time again under the last four years of this Labor government are going to continue to rise—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Furner ): Order! I ask those senators in the chamber who are not involved in this debate to leave now. Senator Cash has the call.

Senator CASH: The costs of living that are already on the rise and have continued to rise under this Labor government, because of the carbon tax, are going to continue to rise.

Senator Sterle: Will you say the same in Brand? I will be very interested, Michaelia.

Senator CASH: What is worse for the Australian people is this: this policy is just another policy in a long line of Labor failures, which in reality the Australian public are paying for.

Senator Kroger: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I would like to draw your attention to the behaviour of senators on the other side of the chamber who have continued to interject and now have, disgracefully, walked out of the chamber in shame when someone gets up to note their behaviour. It would be appreciated if you could draw their attention to the decorum of this place.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Furner ): Order! Senator Kroger, there have been interjections from both sides of the chamber and, as we know, interjections are disorderly. Senator Cash has the call.

Senator CASH: Labor has learnt nothing from the last four years of continual Labor government failures. Who can forget the $900 cash splash which, in many instances, was proven to be poured straight down the slot of a pokie machine? Who can remember the spectacular failure of the pink batts scheme? Who can remember the spectacular failure of the cash for clunkers scheme? The set-top boxes scheme? The list of Labor failures goes on and on and on. And what do we now have? Another cheap political trick by the Labor Party masquerading as the so-called schoolkids bonus.

The Labor Party have clearly underestimated the capacity of the Australian people to see right through their policy intent. The Australian people know that, despite the Australian Labor Party treating them as if they have no capacity to see through Labor's rhetoric, the bill we are debating today has nothing to do with education. It has nothing to do with the future generation of Australians and their educational needs and everything to do with those on the other side throwing as fast as they can—in fact, by 1.50 pm today—a wad of cash at the mums and dads of Australia who may qualify for this bonus. Labor know that the countdown is on and in but a few weeks those mums and dads are going to be hit with the greatest political lie of all time—the carbon tax.

It is incredible that, after four years of being in government, the Labor Party continues to believe that you can address the rising cost of living simply by giving the Australian people a cash handout. Anybody who has studied basic economics 101 will know that cost-of-living pressures only ever go down when costs of government go down. Based on Labor's record in that regard, it is going to be a very long time before we see the cost of the current government go down.

When considering the bill today we need to put it into context. Why has the government had to rush this particular budget measure through the other place and rush through the Senate in under two hours? Labor can rewrite history but it cannot rewrite the facts. The facts for the Australian people are this: the Gillard-Rudd-Swan Labor governments have delivered the four biggest deficits on record. That is right—the four biggest deficits in Australia's history. Contrast that with the former Howard government. In its last four budgets it delivered the four largest surpluses the Australian people had ever seen, including in its final year a record surplus of $19.7 billion. That was a surplus that was actually delivered, unlike those on the other side who currently claim to have delivered a surplus. They know full well that merely by saying on budget night that you anticipate a certain thing will happen does not mean that over the ensuing financial year it actually will.

The cold hard reality for the mums and dads of Australia is that the Labor Party continues to borrow an extra $100 million each and every day. The cold hard reality for the mums and dads of Australia is that the average Commonwealth budget balance was an $8.1 billion surplus over the Howard government years and under Labor it has managed a record average of a $41.7 billion deficit. The contrast could not be any clearer.

When it comes to budget deficits, this is a government that knows absolutely no bounds. Just look at what they told the Australian people in the lead-up to budget night. The budget deficit for 2011-12 was constantly revised upwards. The government told the people of Australia around 12 months ago that they were heading for a $12 billion deficit. They then realised that with their excessive spending they would need to revise that figure up, and revise it up they did. They revised it up to $23 billion. Again, it still was not enough. With their excessive spending, they had to re-revise the budget deficit up to $37 billion. Was that revision big enough to compensate for their waste and mismanagement? The answer is no.

We know the answer is no because on budget night just passed, the Treasurer, Mr Swan, advised the Australian people that the budget deficit had now exceeded $44 billion. As if that was not bad enough, the Australian people should be extremely alarmed that hidden in these budget bills was the government's announcement that it would seek to increase Australia's debt ceiling to a record $300 billion. Three hundred billion dollars is four times what the ceiling was in 2008. What does that mean? It means the Labor Party yet again is saying to the people of Australia, 'We have abused taxpayers' funds. We are well and truly over the limit on our credit card and yet again we have to sneak into the parliament—not make an announcement to the Australian people—an increase in the debt ceiling of Australia.' Does this government care? Of course it does not. That is why we are debating the bill that we have before us at the moment. What does it do? The government announces a quick political fix and it announces yet another cash splash. This policy measure is, without a doubt, one of the most blatant attempts by a fiscally incompetent government to cook this year's budget books in order to allow Labor to protect their artificial surplus for the next financial year. And why do we say that? Because the refund is going to be paid out before the end of this financial year, which is the sole reason that we commenced the debate at 12.30 today and we are being guillotined at 1.50 today, because Labor have manipulated the books to such an extent that they need to push a whole lot of cash through today to ensure that it is not reflected in next year's figures, to maintain their artificial surplus.

Labor's announcement that they are dumping the education tax rebate to instead give out handfuls of taxpayers' money is a desperate bid to improve their dying electoral chances. Like so many Australians, the coalition does not, and will not, support this improperly named 'schoolkids bonus' for very good reasons. The first is this: the money that is being handed over, that is being thrown at Australians, has absolutely nothing to do with education. Despite the Labor Party's denials of this—and deny it they have—we know this is true because, in the legislation we are currently debating, there is absolutely no requirement at all for the rebadged education tax rebate to actually be spent on a child's education. Under the education tax rebate, you had a rebate which had to be spent—you had to prove you spent the money on a child's education—and what do the Labor Party do? They abolish that and they say, 'If we call it a 'schoolkids bonus', hopefully the Australian public are silly enough to actually believe that in some way it relates to the schoolkids' education. Well, I have news for those on the other side: the Australian people are not mugs and they are not fooled by your rhetoric.

Instead of having a targeted payment, whereby all that parents needed to do was submit receipts that showed that they had expended funds on their children's education, and they would then get that money back, what we have is the Labor Party saying, 'We'll just give you the money; seriously, just take the money'—

Senator Nash: Take the money and run!

Senator CASH: Take the money and run, Senator Nash; that is exactly right. 'And we will have no conditions whatsoever, because we do not believe in making people accountable'—let alone themselves—'for what the money is actually spent on.' So parents can spend the money on whatever they like.

I spoke with a young mother yesterday. She was a single mother and, like so many Australians, she is under a lot of pressure and is battling with the rising cost-of-living pressure. She will qualify for this cash-splash payment. She said to me, 'Do you know what I'm going to do with it, Michaelia? It may well pay my next grocery bill, or maybe I will put it towards my electricity bill—because that keeps rising.' But she admitted she would not be using the money for her child's education. Whilst many parents will do the right thing and will put it towards their child's education, there are so many—like the mother I spoke to yesterday—who are drowning under the rising cost-of-living pressure who will have no real choice but, when given some money by the Labor Party, spend it on something else—and who can actually blame them? You cannot blame them, when they look you in the face and are honest enough with you to say, 'I won't spend it on education, because I'm about to have my electricity turned off because I can't pay my electricity bill.'

On that point, we have learnt today that, in my home state of Western Australia, electricity prices are likely to rise by almost 15 per cent, solely as a result of the federal Labor government's carbon tax and the fact that it is going to have a bigger impact and a bigger effect on bills than was initially expected. It has been confirmed by the WA Treasurer that power prices in WA will need to increase by 9.5 per cent to cover the added cost of producing electricity, solely because of the federal government's carbon tax. If Labor were truly serious about reducing the burdens facing Australian families, the best thing they could do is what the former Premier of New South Wales has told them they should do—that is, former Labor Premier Kristina Keneally. She has at least been honest enough to say, 'I supported the carbon tax because I needed to try and win an election. I now realise that that was wrong', and she is on the record as saying, 'The smartest thing that the current Prime Minister could do is to scrap the carbon tax.'

This new policy that they are introducing today, and the one that we are debating—we have one hour left now; one hour to debate a budget measure—has abandoned any pretence of being about offsetting education costs. It is nothing more and nothing less than a sugar hit for families to create a diversion from increased bills and costs that will happen just because a family goes about undertaking the day-to-day activities that they would normally undertake. Because of those on the other side, this is now going to be a far more expensive exercise.

The coalition understands, without a doubt, that parents in Australia need help with their education costs. We are upfront about that. In fact, we are so upfront about that that the policy we took to the last election was to increase the education tax rebate. Our plan was to increase it so that families would receive $1,000 for each secondary school aged child and $500 for each primary school aged child. Let's contrast that with the cash splash that the Labor government are giving out. One thousand dollars and $500 is what they would have got under the coalition; what are they getting under Labor? Under Labor they will only get $820 for secondary school aged children and $410 for primary school aged children. The Australian public are actually going to be $270 worse off per year under the Labor government. The coalition's policy was more money, it was appropriately targeted and it was directed straight at those families that most needed the financial assistance. But, as Graham Richardson has said time and time again: 'Whatever it takes.' The Labor Party will do whatever it takes to remain on that side of the chamber. The SchoolKids Bonus is the perfect example of Graham Richardson's statement in action. The legislation we are currently debating is about nothing more and nothing less than throwing money at people to compensate for the fact that they are about to be hit by the world's biggest carbon tax. This is about nothing more and nothing less than compensating the Australian people for the fact that over the last four years, under successive Labor governments, the cost of living has risen and risen, and the Australian people know that under Labor there is only one way that the cost of living goes, and that is up.

The coalition will oppose this bad policy. It is bad policy because it is not making a targeted payment. It makes a general cash handout that can be used in any way totally unrelated to education expenses. It is bad policy because it is bringing forward expenditure from next year's financial accounts into this year's in order to give the Treasurer and Labor a so-called surplus. Australia under Labor is now a nation that is saddled with increasing debt. That is the Labor Party's great record: a nation that is saddled with increasing debt.

Bills like the one we are hurriedly debating today prove that Labor's budget is not a nation building budget. It is not a budget to be proud of. It is a nation wrecking budget, a horror budget, and they should at least be up-front with the Australian people about what this cash splash actually is.