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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9577


Senator KETTER (Queensland) (16:12): I am very pleased to support this general business notice of motion and to take up the Minister for Finance's generous offer to listen and consider some constructive suggestions as to spending priorities. Labor understands that there are tough decisions necessary for every budget. Every developed country around the world has pressures on their budget. With pressures on health budgets and pressures on demographic change, of course that is the case. But budgets are always about priorities and values. Here we have a government which is based on twisted priorities and broken promises. On the one hand they say we can afford to do a range of things but on the other hand they are saying they cannot make the bottom line any better. So there are a number of issues that I would like to draw the Minister for Finance's attention to. Of course, we have some constructive suggestions.

Firstly, let us look at the fact that this government introduced a massive new entitlement scheme in paid parental leave, which is non-means tested, effectively paying millionaires welfare to have children. Secondly, the government is giving tax breaks to high-income earners on superannuation. Thirdly, it is reversing Labor's proposed changes to multinational tax evasion and letting money needlessly flow offshore. Fourthly, it is spending billions on paying polluters through its thoroughly discredited and laughably titled Direct Action scheme. There are four initiatives right there which are making—or would make—the budget bottom line worse, not better. Budgets are about priorities and values. We will have a range of policies at the next election based on our values and priorities, but we will seek a mandate for them—unlike this government, which based its entire election campaign on a series of promises it had no intention of honouring.

Proper reform means bringing the community with you, challenging vested interests and making a case for changing the status quo. Proper reform means not doing a dump-and-run with this budget of broken promises. Proper reform means not just bumping up the nearest regressive tax you can get your hands on, or ramming through new taxes by regulation.

So let us just recap on those broken promises. The quote again, from our now Prime Minister: 'There will be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.' And what did we see? We saw, on education, the scrapping of the fifth and sixth years of the previously bipartisan Gonski reforms; on health, $50 billion cut from public hospitals; on pensions, the raising of the pension age to 70, the slashing of their indexation and the cutting of concessions; on the GST, comments yesterday about wanting to broaden the tax and raise the tax. And, as to 'no cuts to the ABC or SBS', we saw a massive backflip last week, crippling an Australian icon.

These cuts will hit Queensland hard, and, as Australia's most decentralised state, the cuts will hit those regions of Queensland outside the capital especially hard. That is all we get from this government; we do not get sensible economic reform and we do not get structural changes that will help long-term budget sustainability. Even worse, many of their alleged reforms are merely cost shifting—robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Local councils in Queensland are being asked to get by on less grant money from the federal government, as Greg Hallam from the Local Government Association of Queensland said in May:

We're deeply concerned that councils in Queensland have had their grants frozen for the next three years. That's around about $200 million over the next three years that won't go to important community projects. For the smaller rural and remote Indigenous councils, they're heavily reliant on these grants. They make up the bulk of their funding. It does come down to projects or staff and this is a tough time going forward.

So there is an improvement to the bottom line, for sure. But the money does not come out of thin air—councils will have to reduce services or raise rates because of this nasty government's dodgy cost shifting.

But let me quote from a Queensland politician on this issue, and we will see if you can guess which progressive figure, someone with an obvious axe to grind against our Prime Minister, this is, and I will inform you at the end of the quote. This figure was quoted as saying:

"You cannot just throw the health and education issues on the states and not give them the money to deal with the problem.

"This will not go away.

"It is not going to be taken lying down and the states and territories will be pursuing this matter."

"This whole thing seems like a wedge to get the states to ask for the GST to be raised," he said.

…   …   …

"The issue is that a fair share of the income tax that Queensland families pay should come back to pay for their hospitals and schools.

"The Federal Government is making the states do the heavy lifting, make the tough decisions in relation to health and education, and they are doing it in a non-transparent and non-upfront way."

So who is this anti-government crusader, this spear-thrower for the left? Actually, it was none other than Campbell Newman, LNP Premier of Queensland. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

'And what do the Liberals spend these cuts on?' you might ask. Well, they certainly do not spend them on the regions, as I am sure the National Party would agree.

Let us ask the IMF about this government's spending. I quote from an article in The Sydney Morning Herald here:

Australia's most needlessly wasteful spending took place under the John Howard-led Coalition government rather than under the Whitlam, Rudd or Gillard … governments, an international study has found.

The International Monetary Fund examined 200 years of government financial records across 55 leading economies.

It identifies only two periods of Australian "fiscal profligacy" in recent years, both during John Howard's term in office—in 2003 at the start of the mining boom and during his final years in office between 2005 and 2007.

The article continues:

The Rudd government's stimulus spending during the financial crisis doesn't rate as profligate because the measure makes allowance for spending needed to stabilise the economy.

So there you have it: Labor spends to save us from economic recession; the Liberals pay millionaires to have children.

The Treasurer's budget is damaging the economy. This government completely misread the state of the economy when handing down its first budget. The government's first budget smashed confidence. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment is down 13 per cent since the election. Company directors around the country, whose decisions drive the continued growth of our economy, are finding it that bit tougher thanks to this unfair budget. The Australian Institute of Company Directors' November survey of company directors found that almost half of directors are claiming the government's performance is affecting their business decision-making negatively, and the majority of directors believe the federal government's performance is negatively affecting consumer confidence, while around half of directors would rate the government's first year in office as 'poor' or 'very poor'. Directors' sentiment regarding the current federal government's understanding of business has declined, with more directors disagreeing than agreeing that the government understands business.

In just 15 months since the election, Australia's economy has fallen rapidly from eighth to 14th in the world, based on GDP per capita. The government's first budget is making it harder for people to find work. Since the budget, more than 40,000 Australians have joined the jobs queue.

The Liberals have no plan or vision for our future; their only plan is to cut and to put more of the burden on states, councils and ordinary Australians.