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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 3951


Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (12:24): It is my pleasure to follow my colleague the member for Fraser, who is right to point out that these supply bills are about funding the ordinary course of government for a few more months while the nation makes a big decision about who is to govern it in the three years ahead. It is worth noting though that this is a highly unusual thing to be asked to do—to pass these interim supply bills so that the government does not go broke in this period of uncertainty. It is an unusual thing to do. It might be about funding the ordinary course of government, but it is still an unusual thing for the House to be asked to consider.

It is an illustration, a symbol, of the dysfunctional way that those opposite have been going about this budget in an election year. It has been a complete shambles from go to woe, the way that this budget has been put together. This is the sort of thing that you are required to do when you do things like move the date of a budget without telling the Treasurer. These are the sorts of things that you have to do when you create all this uncertainty in the economic policy machinery in this country. These bills are about keeping the wheels of government turning while the people of Australia make their choice at the election in 61 days time, while the Australian people make their choice between a Liberal agenda, which is written and authorised by the top end of town, or positive Labor policies, which, as my colleague the member for Fraser said, underwrite health and education and improve people's lives in this country.

Tomorrow, the Treasurer will stand right there and announce—or reannounce—a grab bag of Abbott-era cuts. He will announce a whole series of agendas written and authorised by big business, and he will announce some policies that his party intends to copy from the Labor Party, after of course spending the best part of three years going around the country saying how damaging those policies are. We have some indications that some of those policies will be copied. So while it will be a grab bag of those three different types of policies, there will be a hole in the middle of the budget. The hole in the middle of the budget will be the economic leadership that the Prime Minister of this country promised when he took over from the member for Warringah. At the time he said the whole reason for it was that we needed to supply and provide economic leadership in this country. That was his whole rationale for knocking over the member for Warringah. And all indications so far, in the months and months that have passed since then and on the day before the budget is handed down at that dispatch box over there, are that that economic leadership will be sorely lacking from this budget.

It is fair to say that when it comes to economic policy, the Prime Minister, as he is known to do, promised so much and delivered so little. This is one of the reasons why the regard for the Prime Minister out in the community is fizzling out. It is one of the reasons why people are so disappointed, because they believed him when he said, 'I will provide economic leadership in this country.' They were prepared to give him a chance and their hopes have been dashed by the Prime Minister's performance.

This is precisely the wrong time for people in this building to vacate the field of economic policy leadership. Australia's remarkable quarter-century of continuous growth is in jeopardy unless we give more of our people a chance to benefit from the big changes in our economy and our society by giving people a genuine stake in that economy, by teaching and training them for the jobs of the future, giving them the tools to succeed, getting the technological infrastructure right, getting the energy mix right—not by encouraging the accumulation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands and attacking schools and hospitals, which seems to be the agenda of those opposite.

I will take a moment, as the member for Fraser did, to salute the member for Jagajaga, who is here in the House, for the terrific work that she has done, along with senior colleagues on our side of the parliament, in really highlighting the dangers of an agenda where wealth is accumulated in fewer hands and an agenda that does not invest in people—that does not try and get as many people as possible into the workforce and does not invest in their skills and capacity to play a genuine role in the Australian economy in the years ahead. So, as many members of this House have done, I mark, acknowledge and pay tribute to the work of the member for Jagajaga in that respect.

The bills before us keep the wheels of government turning, as I said, but they also carry over so much of the damaging agenda of the Abbott era that has been picked up now by Prime Minister Turnbull and the Turnbull cabinet. There is a direct line between the 2014 budget, what we are discussing today and what will be in the budget tomorrow. For example, still in the budget, still on the books, are those big cuts to family payments, big cuts to paid parental leave, $100,000 degrees, cuts to the guarantee of employee entitlements, cuts to Medicare, cuts to the pensions of 190,000 elderly migrants who want to visit family overseas and, of course, increasing the pension age to 70. That is just a flavour of the sorts of things that we are talking about today and that we will be talking about tomorrow, of course—the direct line that can be drawn from the member for Warringah's 2014 budget to the member for Wentworth's 2016 budget.

Unfortunately, tomorrow we will see more damage done to the aspirations of middle Australia by a budget where the highest priority is placed on tax cuts for big business and for the wealthiest among us, at a time when others are told to tighten their belts or accept inferior schools and hospitals. That is what makes people in our community so livid about the approach of those opposite. They are lectured time and time again about how they have to accept an inferior version of Medicare, billions of dollars being ripped out of local schools and billions of dollars ripped out of hospitals all in the name of budget repair, at the same time as those opposite contemplate giving money to the wealthiest people amongst us and giving tax cuts to big corporations. It does not square away with the way that Australians think of their own country. This is not the country that people want to live in—the type of country that is promoted and encouraged by those opposite. That is why there is such a sense of disappointment in the community about where this government is headed.

This will be a budget by the top end of town, of the top end of town, for the top end of town. In recent days, in the papers, a shabby, cynical attempt has been made, by dropping stories into the papers over the last couple of days, to make the Australian people believe that all a sudden the government care about low-income earners. Today's example was superannuation. After 2½ years of freezing the superannuation guarantee and smashing the low-income superannuation contribution, there it is on the front page of the Fin. Review. All of a sudden, 61 days out from the election, they want people to believe that they care about women and super and that they care about low-income earners and super. It is cynical and it is offensive that they think they can get away with that at five minutes to midnight in an election year.

There are many examples of the government trying to pretend they are something that they are not. They pretend to care about the average Australian out there, working hard, doing their best for their families, at the same time as they go out of their way to diminish people's aspirations and attack their ability to make ends meet. For 2½, almost three, years now, that has been the agenda of those opposite. Now they want us to believe, 61 days out from an election, that they are different. I think Australians will see through them. I think Australians are onto them. I think they know that the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, will never, ever govern in the interests of low- and middle-income earners in this country, and I think that is well accepted in the Australian community.

With all the damage done by the government—all the cuts to schools, hospitals and Medicare; all the attacks on low- and middle-income earners—you would think that they could at least get budget repair right. Their reason for being was supposed to be to fix the budget bottom line. They cannot even keep that promise. There has been a substantial deterioration on their watch. They are still repeating all the tired old slogans from 2013 about how we have this serious budget situation. They should concede, they should fess up to the Australian people, that the budget has deteriorated substantially since they took over. Whatever they say about the position of the budget in 2013, the facts in their own budget papers will show tomorrow night that there has been a substantial deterioration in this country's budget position since those opposite took over.

Nine weeks before the last election, at this exact time in the electoral cycle, all they would talk about was budget repair. It was their whole reason for being. They promised lower taxes, no cuts to education and health, and a surplus of one per cent by 2023-24. It is clear now that all those promises have been broken. Much worse than that, as at the midyear update, this year's budget deficit has blown out by $33 billion—$33 billion in one year—and, next year, net debt is expected to be $100 billion higher than it was at the last election.

The inevitable result, the predictable result, of all this is that the AAA credit rating that Labor earned while in office—for the first time, from all three major credit ratings agencies, and it was stable—is at real risk. Just a couple of weeks ago, Moody's absolutely humiliated the Treasurer when they warned that our credit rating is at risk unless we address both the spending and the revenue side of the budget. That is at the same time as the Treasurer has been running around the country saying that there is nothing that needs to be done on the revenue side of the budget. No wonder the Treasurer of this country is not taken seriously anymore when it comes to economic policy or, more specifically, budget policy. So many things have been ruled in and then out, ruled in and then out again, such as capital gains tax on super, and negative gearing—the excesses in negative gearing that he conceded not that long ago, but now they say they will not touch it.

I was very pleased to see the member for Bennelong in the last couple of days having what I described this morning as his 'Kelly O'Dwyer moment'. He said that negative gearing is part of the problem when it comes to housing affordability. That is now two members of Mr Turnbull's government who have come out with the truth about house prices and negative gearing in this country. I commend the member for Bennelong for his honesty in saying that. It is very embarrassing for the Treasurer and for the Prime Minister.

There are too many examples. In the three minutes remaining to me to speak, there are too many things to go through all the things that the Treasurer has ruled in and out, in and out, in and out, as he stumbles around in a sort of haze of economic policy confusion, not knowing if he is for or against an issue from one day to the next.

While the Prime Minister and the Treasurer dither, Labor has been working hard to offer the Australian people a real alternative. The member for Fraser, who spoke before me, did a terrific job of running through the many positive policies that Labor has out there on the table. For at least 20 years or more, in people's recent memory, this opposition has done more policy work than oppositions in the last, at least, couple of decades to put out their early, fully costed, fully considered and well thought out policies well in advance of an election. We say to the Australian people, 'Hey, this is where we stand,' so that you know where we stand, and you can compare that against the policies of the government.

We have been taking the lead on this side of the House when it comes to economic policy in this country. We will stand up for middle-income families and working-class families with our positive policies for the future, whether it be in schools with our 'Your Child. Our Future' program, the most significant improvement in school education in Australia for two generations; real and meaningful action on climate change ensuring that at least 50 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable energy by 2030; or productivity enhancing infrastructure, including that notorious southbound M1 Gateway merge in my electorate, which has $168 million of federal money promised by Labor and $42 million from the state government. Let's get that fixed.

I notice that the Treasurer put into The Courier Mail today that he intended to fix the Ipswich Motorway. He said nothing about the M1 Gateway merge southbound, so the people who live in the member for Forde's electorate, and certainly the people who live in my electorate and further south, will be very troubled to see the M1 Gateway merge missing from that list of things dropped into The Courier Mail by the Treasurer today.

We will also stand up for better paid and protected jobs, supporting TAFE and penalty rates. The list of our properly funded and costed policies goes on and on. On top of that, we will fund $100 billion worth of budget improvements to fund these policies and improve the budget position over the medium term. There are a whole range of savings measures and, yes, some revenue measures as well.

The choice at the election will be pretty clear. These supply bills are a symbol of that choice. The choice is between better paid and protected jobs, our policies versus cuts to penalty rates, better schools and better teachers versus cuts to schools and $100,000 degrees, health care that people need and deserve versus cuts to Medicare and hospitals, and a Shorten-Labor government that puts people first versus a Liberal government that prioritises the top end of town—fronted by a Prime Minister who dithers but does not deliver.

These are the issues at the very core of these bills we are discussing today. They will be at the very core of the budget that the Treasurer hands down tomorrow, and they will be at the very core of the election campaign in 61 days time.