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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15904

Mr HATTON (8:41 PM) —I think I had better pinch myself and try and work out exactly where I am. As far as I know, I am in room 2R3, in the Main Committee of the parliament of Australia.

Mr Georgiou —You are.

Mr HATTON —I really do not think I am in the Victorian parliament. Yet, having listened to the member for Deakin for the whole 20 minutes, apart from a couple of digressions, we might as well have been in the parliament of Victoria, because it was the state government budget that was discussed here. What was discussed were the appropriations of state governments, not this bill that I see before me now: Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 of the federal government of Australia. We should be talking about Commonwealth appropriations not only for general government departments but also for our own parliamentary departments. I would think that would be of some interest to all Australians, including the constituents I have in Blaxland and the constituents the member for Deakin has in his electorate. I would think it would be more pertinent, in coming to deal with these Commonwealth appropriations, that members actually made speeches about Commonwealth matters rather than state government programs.

But when pinching myself and recognising that we are in the Main Committee—and I have had some substantiation from the member for Kooyong—that we are in Canberra and that we are supposed to be here, with the Commonwealth crest in front of us, speaking about these federal government appropriations, I start to wonder. When you combine the member for Deakin's speech with the series of questions we have had this week that elicited answers from the minister for transport and aviation, I wonder who is who in this zoo. If you add to that the answers from the Treasurer earlier this week, you would think: what have they been elected to? Do they actually understand that a Commonwealth parliament is responsible for Commonwealth matters?

I thought the Treasurer earlier this week had been transformed into the state Treasurer of Victoria, but obviously there is one possible explanation: the written orders going out at the start of the week or at the start of the two-week sitting. The orders are going out to all good Liberal members, telling them what the lines for the week are, what the key things are that they have to say—those things that Mark Textor, their essential tool of government, their opinion assayer, has said are the core things they should be pumping out. In speech after speech, you can tell that the running notes they have been given are being pumped out.

I was in the past privileged—very privileged, I suppose—to be the recipient of those notes to Liberal members. It went on for some considerable period of time. In fact I was very privileged to be emailed, sitting week after sitting week, what all of their plans were for those particular sitting weeks. I could see a pattern of concentration not on federal appropriations as we are dealing with here but on state matters. We know that in 1996 the then opposition campaigned not on the federal economy and federal matters but on state issues and council issues. There was no difference between them and the existing Labor government on the core issues of the day. The campaign had an American Republican focus on soft social issues and on matters other than those that are their responsibility.

I can see them coming into campaigning mode again. This week we have had them campaigning on the basis of the fact that they are not state Labor governments. They were not elected to be. The Liberals are not in state government anywhere in Australia. We know what their record has been in those various jurisdictions. We know that is the reason that there are state Labor governments in all of those jurisdictions. But the appropriations for this House and the responsibilities of a federal government are not to simply campaign on the basis of state issues.

The government had to deal with appropriations for the five government departments that are dealt with in these bills before us, and what is covered in the Bills Digest here. About 30 per cent of appropriations are made to cover the normal business of government across most departments. We know that federal budgets are of declining significance, despite the chiming in from the member for Deakin together with his compatriots about what a dreadful, terrible time the Treasurer has had. They wring their hands and say, `Isn't it terrible: he's had eight budgets to put down and it's been such a terrible drawing experience.' Get real.

We know that the significant challenges in terms of remaking the Australian economy were undertaken and faced by Labor in government, with Paul Keating as Treasurer. Those essential things that needed to be done, as the member for Kooyong would know, were never done during the period when the member for Bennelong was Treasurer. The key changes that made Australia into a modern, sophisticated, open, diversified economy laid the foundation for the low inflation economy that we have today—an economy with the strength and the resilience to withstand the inroads that have been made through a series of crises. That stability rests on the essential foundations that we laid and which we can still readily lay claim to.

Since 1996, though, this is expressed in the strangest set of budget papers I have come across from this government. If you look at their composition and what they intended to do, it is extraordinarily reactive. But there is a set of reasons for the budget to have been composed in this way. We know that there are a couple of main headers, a couple of key issues. The Prime Minister has wanted to push the question of Medicare and what should happen to it in his point of view. The government has pushed it forward in such a way as to deal with the problem it has had with the AMA, a medical association which is the most successful trade union organisation in the country.

Mr HATTON —I have not got a problem with people forming associations, Petro. I never have, whether they are trade unions or associations. The problem I have with the interjection from the member for Kooyong is that there is no recognition from this government that people can properly and readily form associations. Whether they form associations of workers, bosses or those people who see themselves as being independent professionals, it is actually not a criminal act to indulge in that activity in order to try to, one, protect their interests or, two, advance those interests. It is the job of governments to make determinations as to how to deal with what is put forward.

It is obvious that the campaign the doctors ran over more than a year, arguing they needed a better deal from the federal government over the moneys coming back to them, has had two completely different responses. We have seen the response of the government, which is effectively to muddy the waters. The Prime Minister is trying to say it will be easier to make your Medicare payments and that, cross his heart and hope to die, he is really not against Medicare. We know on this side that the determined campaign during the Fraser years is being mirrored by the step-by-step campaign of this Prime Minister to knock bulk-billing on the head and ensure that Medicare is effectively gutted.

The stark difference between the approach of the government and the opposition to this was outlined in the reply from the Leader of the Opposition on the Thursday after the Treasurer spoke. There is an enormous gulf. What was posited in our approach to Medicare upon coming to government was that Labor would save and restore bulk-billing and Medicare by putting $1.9 billion worth of funding into renovating, renewing and reinvigorating that most important Australian invention and institution. Medicare was invented by a Labor government, pulled apart by a Liberal government and put back again by a Labor government. In the process of the dismantling of Medicare by this government, we will save it and put it back together.

The key determinant in the area of health at the next election will be the different approaches taken by government and opposition to this issue. Our determination in terms of the importance of that is underlined by the fact that we have allocated almost $2 billion to that task. We have done that, as we have indicated, by saying that our priorities are different to those of the government. This is no surprise, but it may come as a surprise to members of the government at times because they think it is irrelevant or not right to criticise anything they have done or not done—the expectation is that we will sign up to all that they have proposed.

We have said that their priorities are wrong in relation to superannuation and superannuation tax. Their priorities have been wrong not only in terms of superannuation but also in terms of the grudging way in which a tax cut of $4 a week—which will come up later on in another bill as a specific provision of the budget—was given. We had an extraordinary statement from this Treasurer. The Treasurer said that this government will look to surpluses and attempt to just roll up the surpluses one after the other. He went on to talk about providing services as well. I thought, `Is this the same government which since 1996 in the National Commission of Audit has said that the only proper things for a Commonwealth government to do were benchmark and audit, not deliver any direct services?' The report of the National Commission of Audit was a large document, but that document's outcome was predicated on the instructions given to the people who wrote it.

That fundamental viewpoint was what was expressed in the report of the National Commission of Audit. That is why the member for Deakin was able to go into auditing and benchmarking mode with respect to the real deliverers of major services—that is, the state governments. They are major administrative units. Their whole function and purpose is directed towards service delivery. He seemed to get onto that point, except that he thought the federal government did a great deal more. They have since 1996 pared that back as much as they have been able to. We are told that the priorities of this government are to: (1) make sure there is a surplus; (2) have those surpluses continue to run on and on; and (3) give money back where possible. Count the budgets. We have had eight. How many budgets have there been up until now in which the excess or the surplus has been sliced off and some of the money has gone back to people? We have the smallest tax cuts in the history of the Commonwealth—four bucks a week—and they have been readily eaten up not because of the normal expenditures but because of the fact that this is a government of levies.

While the Treasurer today in question time attacked the states in terms of their charges and the member for Deakin just attacked the states in terms of levies and charges that they impose, this is a government which has had a levy for just about everything that opens and shuts. We have had a levy of 11c a litre imposed in order to try and save the dairy industry; we have had a levy for the Iraq war; we have had a levy for Timor. It is a bit like the three by three. When is a levy not really part of the taxation system?

I want to make an excursion into the state arena. When Nick Greiner was Premier of New South Wales, he brought down what was called the three by three: 3c a litre for three years. Every Liberal government in New South Wales after Nick Greiner kept that three by three and every Labor government kept it as well. It is still 3c by three years. Even though they have gone to four year campaigns and four year parliaments, they are still knocking up that as money coming to the government. It is a bit precious to argue that only state governments do that. We have instance after instance where this government has not called a tax by its right and correct name—a levy or a charge or an excise. This is a government that will not own up to the fact that it collects the GST and that the GST is a Commonwealth government tax.

As a result of the uniform income tax act of 1942, the Commonwealth has levied and taken in all income taxes in Australia since 1942. It is still constitutionally possible for states to choose to impose their own taxes. I am not being threatening with this, but they have chosen not to do it when it has come to a matter of real decision. In exactly the same way as the Commonwealth takes in all income tax, it takes in all customs and excise. Since a case a few years ago in relation to the tobacco excise, the Commonwealth was forced to properly take on that role again. In exactly the same way, the GST revenues are revenues that are taken in by the Commonwealth and disbursed to the states for their own proper purposes.

What we see here, though, is a government that gave four bucks a week but has no imagination, not only in terms of how it gave part of bracket creep back but also in terms of the problems it has had with over-expenditure. It bought its way into the last election; it spent $20 billion in six months to pay its way through. It had no imagination with a series of other expenditures, including what it has done in terms of the war in Iraq and the problems it has had in terms of the so-called Pacific solution—that goes to this budget and also to the last budget.

We see some savings within this budget, although not in these background papers, because the expected moneys to be expended by the department of immigration have in fact been pared back. It has cost less in this last year than it did in the previous one to fund the so-called Pacific solution. Part of that has been effected because people who were never supposed to come to Australia have in fact come to Australia and are now permanent residents—something in the order of more than 300 from Nauru and other places.

But you get an indication of just how much the world has changed in terms of this Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 for the parliamentary departments. All up, there is $167 million of it. If you look at how that is to be expended, you see that there is a cut of almost $4 million for the Department of the Parliamentary Reporting Staff; they are down $3.843 million. The Department of the Parliamentary Library is down $135,000. The Joint House Department is down by about $43,000. Yet the Senate and the House of Representatives departments have had increases.

While the government denies that there has been a direct effect on Australia in terms of changed circumstances post Bali and post September 11 and also in relation to the adventure in Iraq, you can actually see, despite what the government has said, that in these appropriation bills there are specific appropriations for the changes that have occurred in this building. As I said at the start, I am pinching myself over the fact that we are in 2R3 in the parliament of Australia—here in the central part—and not in the House of Representatives itself. If you go to page 3 of the background paper provided by the Parliamentary Library—even though they have actually had their funding cut for the next year in these appropriations—what we see is that:

The Government is providing additional funding of $25.5 million over four years, starting in 2003-2004, to upgrade physical security in Parliament House, to employ more security staff, and to enhance security-related management and the professional capacity of security staff in Parliament House.

It is pointed out in this budget year that the extra amount of money will be shared equally between the two chamber departments and that the government is providing $6.8 million. What happens in the out years with regard to this? The rest of the $25½ million is to be found from savings to be made by all of the parliamentary departments. We have only five of them. If the Podger review goes through, as is intimated within these background notes, there may be savings—but they would want to be some pretty decent savings. If you take $6.8 million—that is almost $7 million—away from $25½ million, what are you left with? About $18 million worth of savings.

Year on year we have had savings and cutbacks in the parliamentary departments. I do not know what job losses there will be, what paring back of services there will be or what diminution of the services to the parliament and to the people of Australia there will be from the departments we in this place depend on to do our jobs. But it is part of the pattern. There cannot be a denial of the realities we face—that is, increased security threats and the extra funds we will need to deal with them—but this is a totally penny-pinching approach to the fundamental services that this government is unable to get out of providing. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Main Committee adjourned at 9.02 p.m.