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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3525


Ms KATE ELLIS (AdelaideMinister for Employment Participation and Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare) (15:31): I am delighted with this opportunity to respond to the very real ways that the budget of this government is assisting with the cost-of-living pressures on Australian families. In doing so, I will do something that you did not hear once out of the 15-minute rant we just heard from the member opposite. That is to actually talk about some real measures, some real policies, some real costings and some real funded responses to benefit Australian families.

Did anyone hear one single policy from those opposite that would assist Australians with their cost-of-living pressures? Not one single idea, not one single real funded policy at all was put forward on a day when we are meant, according to the Leader of the Opposition, to hear a detailed plan from those opposite outlining what they would do in a budget put in place today to assist Australians with cost-of-living concerns.

I am going to start with one very simple principle that has led this government since our very first day. That is that one of the very best ways to address cost-of-living pressures for families is to foster an environment that provides jobs for families and that is exactly what this government have done. As a result, since we came to government more than a 950,000 jobs have been created. That is 490 jobs per day created since we were elected in 2007, whilst around the world we saw millions join unemployment queues. Around the developed world nations todays are still dealing with unemployment rates double, triple and more than what we have here in Australia. We were not prepared to sit back on our hands during the GFC as those opposite would have had us do and see Australia slip into recession. We know that the best support we can give for Australian families is an economy that supports jobs and support growth. So we are proud to be presiding over an unemployment rate right now that stands at 5.5 per cent, one of the lowest in the industrialised world. In this budget we have kept our commitment to helping Australians to get and keep jobs, real commitment unlike the uncosted lack of policies and rants from those opposite.

Through funding in this budget, the great work of our local employment coordinators will continue in 20 regions that are doing it the toughest in this country. There we will work at the grassroots and stand shoulder to shoulder with the communities that are not sharing in our prosperity. This is a great program. It is a program that has been singled out by the OECD as a best practice example of helping people get into jobs. Regions right around Australia will benefit from the $10.7 million announced in this week's budget for investment in local projects and partnerships. Communities in Ballarat, Bendigo, Bundaberg, Cairns, south-east Melbourne, south-west Perth, the Tweed and Clarence Valley and in northern Adelaide will benefit.

The program also includes support for more jobs and skills expos, something that this government has been incredibly proud to put on in places right around Australia that were hit hardest during the GFC. These have been incredibly successful. What we are talking about is real results and real support for Australian families and we know that, through the jobs expos we have already held, over 26,000 Australians have been placed in jobs. That is a real support not just to those individuals but to their families and their local communities and local economies. This is something that we are proud to continue to support in the budget that the Treasurer outlined this week.

We know that throughout the GFC we have focused on keeping people in jobs, in creating new apprenticeships and on maintaining economic growth. Our responsible budget strategy has seen Australia achieve the AAA credit rating from all three global ratings agencies for the first time in our history, something that the Liberals could not achieve in over 11 years in office. When it comes to our responsible strategy, the proof is in the pudding. In the worst economic conditions in 80 years, our economy is 13 per cent larger. We have had solid growth and we have had contained inflation. We are the 12th biggest economy in the world, up from 15th. With Labor, our economy has grown more than six times faster then the economies of Germany and the United States. This is how we assist Australians with cost-of-living pressures, this is how we budget to make sure that Australians who would be left behind under the control of those opposite are supported by their government.

But if we want to talk about some more specific facts-and we did not hear a single one of from those opposite—let's put some on the table. Let's talk about some of the other supports that we have in place through this budget for families with their cost-of-living pressures

Perhaps we could talk about the lower taxes, the three consecutive rounds of tax cuts in addition to tripling the tax-free threshold, and the one million fewer people who are paying income tax—anyone on $50,000 is paying $2,000 less in tax. That is a very real measure, one that we are proud to have put in place. We could talk about the schoolkids bonus giving eligible families with two kids—one in primary school and one in secondary school—over $1,200 a year. The schoolkids bonus is one of the few measures we have heard those opposite actually outline. They would scrap it and rip it away from those families who need it the most, making their cost of living issues even harder. We could talk about the historic increase to the age pension. Single pensioners on the maximum rate are now $5,300 a year better off. We know we are a government that wants to support those who are most vulnerable in our community, who wants to ensure that people do not get left behind and that recognises that older Australians, who worked their guts out for decades to build this country, should be looked after in their older age.

DisabilityCare Australia, the NDIS, is now law and will support hundreds of thousands of Australians with a disability in their families. We know that, in terms of cost of living, bulk billing rates have never been higher than under this government, reaching a record high last year with an average of 81.7 per cent of GP services bulk billed. This is a stark contrast to when Tony Abbott was health minister, when the bulk billing rates hit rock bottom at just 67 per cent.

Before I get to specific measures—and measures which were mentioned by those opposite interjecting earlier—in my portfolio area, around childcare in particular, I want to talk about a couple of other budget decisions which will be incredibly important for those who have been struggling with cost of living issues. Perhaps in the budget from 20 March next year we could look at lifting the income-free area for Newstart and other allowances from $62 to $100 a fortnight. We will also be making study more rewarding for single parents on Newstart by allowing them to keep the pensioner education supplement. Finally, we will also let single parents who are transitioning from the parenting payment and off income support to keep their pensioner concession card for 12 weeks instead of two. All of these are real supports. All of these will assist Australians and their families with their cost of living issues. All of these stand in stark contrast to the policy-free zone that we see opposite us in this parliament, just months out from a national election, where they do not have a single policy to help Australians with these critical issues. There is our $1.1 billion income support bonus from this week's budget being rolled out. That is more than $210 for singles and $350 for couples, a permanent increase to payments paid for by this government—something that the coalition voted against. These are all facts, something that those opposite seem to be allergic to.

I would like to particularly focus on an area where I know it can be really hard for families: the area of childcare fees. That is an additional burden on their budget, and we have provided extra in that regard. In this area, our government and those opposite are absolutely worlds apart. In fact, what we saw in this week's budget is that we have more than tripled the investment in early childhood education and care from the level that those opposite were happy to see it stand at when they were in government. We do this because we know that these are the most critical years in a child's life. We also do it because we know it is incredibly important for parents to have some fee assistance when they are juggling the costs of this. We know that this is a record investment to improve access to quality care.

In a time that is a tough budget environment, in a time where we have found $48 billion in savings, we have increased our assistance in this vital area for Australian families. We have already increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. We have already increased the cap from $4,354, where it stood under those opposite, up to $7,500 per child per year. In this budget, we have made a number of key choices around this. We know that it is vital for families to have assistance when it comes to childcare. We have decided that the rebate is not reduced; it stays at 50 per cent of the total cost for families. The cap on that rebate is not lowered; it stays at $7,500 per child per year. There are an unlimited number of childcare places that we will continue to fund. These payments are not means tested and are available for parents right across Australia so that we can assist them with their cost of living pressures and their move back into the workplace.

But let's talk about choices. We know that those opposite would put all of these vital childcare payments for Australian families under threat, because, rather than having a policy, rather than confirming that they will not cut, means test or reduce the cap on the childcare rebate back to where in was when they were in government, they say to the Australian public, 'We'll do a review after the election and then we'll tell you what we are going to do your childcare assistance.' They say to the Australian public: 'Just trust us. We're not telling you that we won't means test it; we're not telling you that we won't cut it; but we will let you know after the election how much childcare fee assistance we will give you.'

I say to the Australian public that we have seen this before. We have seen this from state governments right around the country—and we know what this means. This means, 'We will cut your assistance, we will cut your programs and we will not tell you until after the election.' Every time those opposite say: 'We'll review childcare payments. We'll send it to the Productivity Commission to do an inquiry and report back to us and we won't give any assurances about what will or will not remain in place,' I would just remind people of one thing: every time we have asked the Productivity Commission to look at childcare, they have come back with the same recommendations. The recommendations are that we roll it into a single payment and that we introduce means testing. That is what they have said previously and that is what those opposite have refused to rule out doing after the election. I believe that cost of living pressures are incredibly important for Australian families. I believe that childcare fee assistance is incredibly important to Australian families. I believe that Australian families deserve to know what sort of fee assistance they would get under those opposite and I believe that tonight, in the budget reply, those opposite should come clean about what their plans are for childcare fee assistance and stop hiding under a post-election review.

But, of course, we know it is not just about childcare. It is right across the board. They have already outlined that they will follow the pattern laid out by state governments around Australia. They will look at an audit post the election. They will look at what they can slash and what they can cut just like their state colleagues have done.

And, of course, when talking about the cost of living, we are hearing more and more about their real plans on industrial relations. We have heard more and more over the last few days. When it comes to cost-of-living support what Australian families need to know is that they have real penalty rates. They need to know that their wages are safe. They need to know that their conditions at work are not under threat. We know that it is in the DNA of those opposite—and we have heard it over the last few days and again today from Peter Reith—that they cannot be trusted. The party of Work Choices was and always will be the party that will be looking to strip wages and conditions from Australian workers.

I am very proud to talk about the real supports that we have put forward in our budget. The core principle of giving everyone a fair go and constantly striving to ensure that no-one gets left behind is in Labor's DNA. We know that it is in our DNA to put in place new and real measures to assist with the cost of living. That why this is a budget which protects those measures, which introduces real supports and which has funded policies and plans—which stands in stark contrast to those opposite, who say nothing except, 'Trust us; we will tell you what we are going to do after the election.' Today is the day that we all say that that is not good enough.

Tonight is the opportunity for the Leader of the Opposition to spell out exactly how he would assist Australian families with cost-of-living pressures, exactly how those policies will be funded and exactly what will be cut to the bone in order to support their ideology and the measures that we are seeing right across Australia. If anyone out there wants to see what this Liberal Party would look like if they came to federal government I would say to them that they should look to Queensland. Look to Campbell Newman. Look to the job cuts. Look to the programs that have been slashed. Look at what they are doing, in stark contrast to the assistance we are giving Australian families.