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Family First Senator discusses Budget; petrol excise; the mainland as a migration exclusion zone; and kids in detention.

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Thursday, 11 May 2006


FRAN KELLY:  As Michelle mentioned, Kim Beazley will give his Budget Reply in the parliament tonight but he’s not the only one. Family First will also give its Budget Reply Speech tonight and Senator Steven Fielding isn’t too impressed with the Treasurer’s so-called ‘family-friendly Budget’. He says, in fact, families have been short-changed.


Senator Fielding joins us now from Canberra. Senator, good morning.


STEVE FIELDING:  Good morning, Fran.


FRAN KELLY:  Now, you say this budget doesn’t put families first but Peter Costello says it’s a budget for families. What’s missing in your view?


STEVE FIELDING:  Look, before we come to that, I’d just like to say that the big news this week was the Beaconsfield, and just seeing a community and families come together down there. And our thoughts are still with the families and obviously Larry and his family. We send our condolences down there. But it was good and I think one of the key points that came out of that was one of the miners were saying that there’s one thing that’s most important to all of us and that is family. And that’s a good link back into the budget.


This budget is a budget for the top end of town and, quite clearly, when you look at the facts of the matter, a single person earning $100,000 a year with no children gets twice as much out of this budget as a two-income family earning the same amount with two children. Now, quite clearly, that shows that there is, obviously, a skew to the top end of town. So I would say that if you are going to put families first, let’s make sure that we look at the average family and make sure the budget could work for them.


FRAN KELLY:  But just on that, Senator, the Treasurer disputes that claim because he says when you factor in the family tax benefit—as he told us on Breakfast yesterday—families with ... those middle-income earning families, $60,000 around there, with three kids, they’ll be around $30 to $40 a week better off. You don’t just take in the tax cut.


STEVE FIELDING: ...fully understand that. That example that I gave includes everything in the budget. A single person earning $100,000 a year with no children gets twice as much as a two-income family earning the same amount with two children. That’s the facts of the matter, including everything. So quite clearly, regardless of the spin that the government would put on there, we need to be making sure that, realistically, we’ve taken everything into account and we’re not putting spin on it. That is the facts.


Now, the other thing is: the idea of families with three children, the third child, you’ll get $5 extra a week. Do you know how much it costs to actually have another child and how much it costs each year? I’ve got three kids ....


FRAN KELLY:  I know it costs a lot more than $5 a week.


STEVE FIELDING:  So so much for really giving a boost in that area. As I’ve said before, by all means giving dollars in the pockets of families is a good thing. The question is: is it skewed to the top end and, secondly, is there or was there a better way of doing it? Now, Family First made it quite clear to the government—right up-front—the biggest issue facing families is the petrol pain. Go out and talk to people in the suburbs or in the regional and rural areas—they are being crippled under the petrol pain, the spiralling petrol pain. Now, Family First has repeatedly called for a cut in the petrol tax of 10c a litre.


FRAN KELLY:  Just on that, though, yes ...


STEVE FIELDING:  This is an important issue, though, Fran.




STEVE FIELDING:  If you consider a two-income family with two children, one wage earner is on $60,000 and the other on $20,000. They have two cars: a Commodore and a Corolla and fill up the tank each week with petrol once a week. If the government had adopted Family First plan to cut the petrol tax by 10c a litre, this family would have saved $13 a week in its petrol bill alone. Now, that would have cost the government totally $3.8 billion. Now, instead of doing that, the government has decided to give tax cuts in other areas which will give about $16 a week in tax cuts—yes, they’re $3 more—but however, under Family First plan, it would have cost only $3.8 billion. We could have had $5 billion left over for other tax cuts; would have made families better off.


Now, the secondary issue here is ...


FRAN KELLY:  But Senator, let me interrupt you there, because the Prime Minister’s response to that argument for cuts in petrol excise is always that it’s alright in the first instance but, of course, the cost of petrol keeps rising, what happens when it gets out to $2 a litre, that 10 per cent cut won’t be noticed. It’ll just be sort of disappeared.


STEVE FIELDING:  I’ll tell you who won’t notice it: politicians. Politicians do not pay for their petrol. They do not feel the petrol pain. I can tell you when you go out there. Now, the issue is that the other benefit of cutting the fuel excise—and I’ve got to say this—over 50c a litre; I’ll say it again: over 50c a litre goes in government taxes on petrol. It’s obscene. It’s absolutely obscene and when the government says that there’s nothing they can do and take 50c a litre out, it’s just crazy.


Now, the second thing is that petrol prices are inflationary. That is what the Prime Minister said and I believe it, and you know what, people out there also believe it. Petrol prices flow on to all the goods and even services. So what’s going to happen is, by giving tax cuts, by not cutting the fuel excise, you could actually push inflation up further, whereas if you cut the fuel tax, the petrol tax, you relieve families’ budget—you help them—but you also take pressure off interest rates, which is what we need to do and so there is a double benefit here.


FRAN KELLY:  Alright, Senator, I think we can see the themes of your speech tonight emerging. Can I just switch topics for a moment because in the Senate today, which of course is where you sit, the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone will introduce a bill to excise the Australian mainland as a migration exclusion zone, which will mean asylum seekers who arrive here illegally—and their children—will be locked up offshore and that will mean kids in detention again. Will you support that legislation?


STEVE FIELDING:  The issue here, Fran, is I haven’t even seen the legislation, which is unreal, and here we are ... I just can’t believe this. It costs somewhere about ... I think about $1 million or even more per year for each senator. There’s 76 senators and I haven’t even seen the bill. Can you believe that? And we’re going to be debating it today. Is that plain disregard for what ... Fran, I just find it amazing that the ....


FRAN KELLY:  I think you might get a couple of weeks by the time it’s introduced—a couple of weeks to take a look at it. But the point is: your vote on this could be crucial if, as threatened, any government senator crosses the floor on this. Are you actively, or will you actively use that potential balance of power that you have to press the government over this?


STEVE FIELDING:  Look, the issue here when Family First has looked at this issue each time: first of all, it is crazy to have people kept in detention for five, six, seven years. It is just ludicrous. We need to continually make sure that we’re doing something there.


I think the second point is: families of Australia want to feel safe and secure, and we’ve got that safety and security issue and we need to make sure that that’s not being compromised.


And the third thing is that Australia, quite clearly—and people of Australia—are very compassionate and do care for one another and do care for others. And I think that those three things need to be balanced. I will look at the bill, once I’ve seen it, and I’ll weight it up on those three issues and then we’ll work from there.


FRAN KELLY:  Okay, but kids in detention generally?


S TEVE FIELDING:  Look, I don’t think that there’s anything that would say that’s a good idea. I think children are a special case and we need to think very carefully about that. Reports have shown that most of the people held in detention have got severe problems years beyond.


FRAN KELLY:  Okay, Steve Fielding, thank you very much for joining us.


STEVE FIELDING:  Thanks, Fran.


FRAN KELLY:  That’s Senator Steven Fielding, Family First senator, of course.