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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4268

Mr IRONS (Swan) (11:21): I rise to speak on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012. I would like to acknowledge the previous speakers, including the member for Cowan, another West Australian, who I know has a deep interest in education, particularly as he has two young girls that he is extremely proud of. His interest in their education is shown by the way he delivered his speech on this particular bill. We also heard from the member for Aston, who spoke about this bill being all about a carbon tax compensation, and the member for Bradfield, who spoke about this bill as being just politics. Last night the government announced their planned budget for the coming year. It was a confusing message from the Treasurer, and it seems that this government continues to lack any sort of narrative that appeals to the Australian public and deals with the economic challenges which Australians face. If we had taken Labor's rhetoric at face value, we would have expected a tough budget with a coherent economic strategy to deliver stronger growth and higher productivity. Instead, we got more Labor handouts, money shuffles and a pretend surplus.

The surplus is an illusion. The planned increases in national debt next year and over the forward estimates will continue to rise. Those who watched the budget last night might ask themselves: 'How can the government deliver a surplus while simultaneously increasing national debt? Surely there's something the Treasurer isn't telling us.' The bill currently before the House is yet another example of the government not being upfront with the Australian people. Labor has decided to dump the education tax rebate, a targeted program that provided genuine assistance to relieve education costs for parents. Instead, it is giving out handfuls of taxpayers' money in a desperate bid to improve its electoral stocks.

The new handouts bring back memories of the $900 cash handouts that former Prime Minister Rudd sent out in the early days of the government. Consistent with this government's usual practices, waste occurred on a massive scale, with payments going overseas and to dead people. I recall during the Rudd period a talkback caller to 6PR in Perth whose name, if my memory serves me right, was Charlie. He won the title of talkback caller of the day. The subject he spoke about was what he had spent his $900 of stimulus money on. He had spent it on brothels. There was no accountability for the $900, so, instead of helping him out—

Mr Baldwin interjecting

Mr IRONS: It seems to be an acceptable practice.

Mr Baldwin: At least it was his own money!

Mr IRONS: He thanked the government for the good time he got out of the $900.

Mr Baldwin: That's cheap compared to Thomson!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): I am sure that the member for Swan can have his contribution by himself, without your assistance.

Mr IRONS: The education tax refund—the ETR—was designed to help with the cost of educating primary and secondary school children. Eligible parents, carers, legal guardians and independent students were able to get money back on education expenses. These included items such as computers, educational software, textbooks and stationery. Under the education tax refund system you may have got 50 per cent of your money back. If you got family tax benefit part A, you were probably eligible for the ETR. There were also some payments which prevented your receiving FTB part A but still entitled you to receive the refund.

This new legislation has abandoned any pretence of being about offsetting education costs; it is simply a sugar hit to create a diversion from the increased bills and costs that will occur as a result of the carbon tax while families go about their everyday lives. Labor are recklessly promoting this measure by saying that families will be eligible for the money even if they lose their receipts, but they have failed to explain that every eligible family will get the money regardless of whether they keep their receipts and that they can spend the money on anything they like. It is funny that the government stood up a few weeks ago talking about how much they support small business and then gave away the one per cent tax cut they talked about while the ATO and this government insist on businesses keeping receipts and everything being accountable. A business in my electorate went under because the ATO pursued it for not having proof that payments out of the company went to superannuation funds and the people it had employed were not able to give back to the company proof that the money had gone into their accounts. The business was treated as having given a distribution and was forced into liquidation by the ATO because it did not keep receipts. The ETR was all about accountability: if you wanted to get the ETR, you had to be accountable and keep receipts. But under the new legislation you will not need to keep receipts, and that means that you will be able to spend the money on anything you like—it does not have to go to education. It can be spent on TVs—it can go to the Taiwanese economy as the $900 handouts did. The Taiwanese economy was the main beneficiary of the $900 handouts through people's purchases of TVs.

Under the ETR you needed to keep records to help you or your tax agent prepare your tax return or claim. You also needed receipts to ensure that you were able to prove your claim for expenses if you were asked by the tax office to do so. Eligible education expenses had to be listed separately on invoices. Under the ETR the eligible expenses included the cost of buying, establishing, repairing and maintaining any of the following items: home computers and laptops; computer-related equipment such as printers, USB flash drives and disability aids to assist in the use of computer equipment by students with special needs; computer repairs; home internet connections; computer software for educational use; school textbooks and other printed learning material, including prescribed textbooks, associated learning materials, study guides and stationery; and prescribed trade tools for secondary school trade courses. This system ensured that the money went to specific and important areas and was not wasted. Labor's bill will remove the cash incentive for parents to invest in their children's schooling needs. This bill put forward by the government is one of the most blatant attempts at cooking this year's budget books in order to allow Labor to protect its unofficial surplus in the next financial year, as the refund will be paid out before the end of this financial year. The education tax refund system was a regime that ensured taxpayers' money was given only to families who actually spent money on education costs. The coalition, which supports the ETR, took a policy to the last election that vastly expanded the number of school expense items that were eligible and also increased the rebate amounts. The coalition's plan would have provided a rebate to families of $1,000 for each secondary school aged child and $500 for each primary school aged child. By contrast, Labor's scheme provides only $820 for secondary school aged children and $410 for primary school aged children, leaving a family with two children—one secondary and one primary—some $270 per year worse off.

The coalition's policy at the last election delivered more money, was better targeted and went straight to those families who needed it most. While some families might benefit this year under this bill, Labor continues to borrow money and it will be the children of these families who will have to repay Labor's debt for years into the future. An eligible family with an 18-year-old in year 12 may get a sugar hit, but that will not last long, as the student will then get slammed with hundreds of dollars in compulsory student union fees—which is a topic I have spoken on at length in this place and is one of the numerous new taxes or tax increases introduced by this government.

What more and more Australians are realising about this government is that, despite all the lofty rhetoric we hear from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer day by day, this confused government continues to raise taxes and grow our national debt. Australians know that this new legislation is simply designed to distract from the carbon tax hit to families, which will go up every year. Labor is once again playing at divisive, class based politics. This is not a battlers' budget in the way that the Howard and Costello budgets were. Labor has proven time and time again that it supports recklessly throwing money away to give a handout and not a hand-up to hardworking Australians. Under this government the focus has been on dividing the Australian people as opposed to being aspirational. This government have shown time and time again that they are not behind the average aspirational Australian family. Instead, they are focused on dragging down those families who attempt to support their children with high-quality education. On this issue, Labor's track record is telling. In the 2008 budget, Labor means-tested the family tax benefit so that any family where the main income earner has income of more than $150,000 lost the benefit. In the same budget, Labor introduced a means test on the baby bonus, which meant that the baby bonus went only to families with an adjusted taxable income of $75,000 or less in the six months after the birth of a baby. This is the equivalent of an adjusted taxable income of $150,000 a year or less. I think we can all agree that a family earning this much is not rich by any standard. An income such as this translates to the combined income of a nurse and a police officer, or a teacher and a public servant. These are the people that this Labor government has shown they are willing to abandon.

I now draw the attention of the House to the numerous attacks on middle Australia from this government. In the 2009 budget, Labor attacked middle Australia by freezing the indexation for the full payment of family tax benefits A and B, the baby bonus and the dependent spouse rebate. The people who benefit from these payments are not extraordinarily rich. They are the majority of aspirational Australian families—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): Order! I remind the honourable member that the House is debating the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012 and I would ask him to keep his remarks relevant to that bill.

Mr IRONS: It is a pity that you were not in the chair before, Mr Deputy Speaker Leigh, when members on the other side of the House strayed very far and distant from the subject as well.

In the 2011 budget, the narrative was exactly the same. Labor froze the indexation for family tax benefits A and B and supplement payments. This is a blatant attack on every Australian, as is this legislation. In the 2012 budget, Labor cut the age of eligibility for family tax benefit part A to families with children who are 18 years of age, meaning that families with children aged 19 to 21 will no longer receive assistance through the family tax benefit, even though many children of this age remain classified as dependants and still have the same, if not higher, costs for education.

While this Labor government are unwilling to assist families to educate their children, they are more than happy to take through an ever-increasing tax and levy system. The flood levy introduced by this government unashamedly relied on these families. Those earning over $100,000 pay 0.5 per cent of taxable income in excess of $50,000 and one per cent of taxable income in excess of $100,000. Labor have demonstrated that they do not care for productive, well-targeted payments that really do benefit families.

From the December quarter of 2007 to the December quarter of 2011, Labor's economic mismanagement has led to price increases which have impacted on every family. That demonstrates to this House again that this bill is impacting on the economic management of this country. Electricity prices have increased by an average of 61 per cent across Australia. Gas prices have increased by an average of 37 per cent across Australia. Water and sewerage rates have increased by an average of 58 per cent across Australia. Health costs have increased by an average of 20 per cent, education costs have increased by an average of 24 per cent, the cost of food overall has increased by 13 per cent, and the amount of rent people are paying has increased by 25 per cent across Australia. This payment will not help to curb these constantly rising costs. Childcare costs are also continuing to rise because of Labor inattentiveness.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to comments made by George Megalogenis in today's Australian newspaper. He notes that the razor-and-handout approach taken by this reckless government has taken us back us back to stimulus levels in terms of cash handouts—hardly the tough budget the Treasurer has claimed. There is no doubt that all families were better off under the coalition. The Australian article noted:

Family payments were 12.1 per cent of spending at the end of the Howard era in 2007-08 … By 2015-16, family payments will be less than 10 per cent of the budget for the first time on record.

This is not sensible spending. It is reckless spending by a desperate government, designed to make Australian people forget the toxic carbon tax which will hit everyone and increase already rising living costs. This bill is not intended to fairly assist families; it is intended to cushion a failed budget full of toxic taxes. The coalition supported the ETR but we do not support this, because this is bad policy.