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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9588


Senator BILYK (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (16:58): I rise to speak on this notice of motion that reads 'that the Senate acknowledges that it has a responsibility to propose and discuss options to cut government spending. Can I just say: it is really lovely to hear from Senator Sinodinos again. We have missed his dulcet tones on this side. He has been quiet for a very long time over there, so welcome back to the fray, Senator Sinodinos. I do not always agree with what you say but it is nice to hear you—

Senator Conroy: Have a quality contribution.

Senator BILYK: That is right: to have a quality contribution and to hear your quality contribution from over there.

It is very important that we bring this motion on for debate, because what we have opposite is a government whose priorities are all wrong. This government's budget strategy is a shambles. This arrogant and out-of-touch government is trying to tell the Senate, and trying to convince the Australian people, that its cruel and unfair budget is some bitter economic pill that everybody needs to swallow; that there are no options but to cut pensions, cut income support for job seekers and families, cut the schoolkids bonus, cut health care and education to the tune of $80 billion, cut ABC and SBS, cut tax concessions for small business and raise taxes for low-income superannuants; and that there is no option but to charge a $7 GP tax every time you visit your doctor. Well, that might be on the cards; it might be off the cards. We could not get a clear answer in question time about that today, so we are not sure where that is going. But I doubt that it has been buried forever. We all know that the $7 GP tax was one which all the evidence has shown would lead to more illness and chronic disease and cost the health system more in the long run. And the Treasurer tries to justify this government's unfair petrol tax, which will see motorists pay another $19 billion more for petrol over the next decade. And what was his claim? That poor people do not drive cars! Wow. The truth is that the poorest 20 per cent of households in Australia spend three times the proportion of their income on petrol that the wealthiest 20 per cent spend.

I agree with Senator Sinodinos that the money needs to come from somewhere. What I do not agree with is that it should be Australia's poorest and most vulnerable who should shoulder the load. While the government is telling ordinary Australians they need to tighten their belts, this same government is giving a tax break to billionaire miners, to big polluters and to people with million-dollar superannuation balances. And, as if this government's priorities were not sick and twisted enough, it wants to spend a massive $20 billion on a paid parental leave scheme that gives $50,000 to millionaires.

So of course the Senate has a responsibility to propose and discuss options to cut government spending, because this government's inflexible head-in-the-sand take-it-or-leave-it approach shows that it is blind to the clear options in front of it—options such as giving tax concessions to small business instead of tax breaks to billionaire miners; options such as restoring the low-income superannuation contribution for 3.6 million Australian workers instead of cutting it to fund a tax break for Australia's wealthiest superannuants; options such as investing in health promotion, prevention and early intervention instead of cutting hospitals and taxing access to primary health care; and options such as investing in services instead of providing profligate wage subsidies to millionaire mums.

There is no better reason for the government to revisit its budget strategy than the damage it has done to the Australian economy. Morgan Stanley has issued a damning assessment of the Abbott government, warning:

The alarmist Budget narrative has damaged animal spirits and the consumer's willingness to dip into high savings, thus missing the opportunity for animal spirits to springboard from the strong housing cycle.

Morgan Stanley has estimated that economic growth will fall below two per cent and that unemployment will reach almost seven per cent next year. Morgan Stanley's report shows that not only is the Abbott government's budget cruel and unfair; it is also damaging to Australia's economy.

The government has launched an attack on household budgets at a time when consumer confidence needs to be strong. This is demonstrated by the Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment, which has dropped 13 per cent since the 2013 federal election. In fact, in just 15 months, the Australian economy has fallen from eighth place to 14th place in the world based on per capita gross domestic product. We have a government that promised to create one million new jobs in five years and two million jobs in 10 years.

Senator Conroy: Geniuses!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Senator Conroy, interjections are disorderly. I hope you learn that soon.

Senator BILYK: I am happy to accept them, Senator Conroy, even though they are disorderly.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I am not.

Senator BILYK: Instead, 40,000 Australians have joined the jobs queue since the budget, and young people are finding it more and more difficult to find work than at any time since the 1990s.

The Liberal Party like to regard themselves as the party of business, but let us have a look at what business thinks of this government's economic performance so far. 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. The majority of directors believe the 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'. Director sentiment has declined by 7.1 points since the last survey, to continue a downward trend since the election in the second half of 2013. Directors have become more pessimistic about the future health of the Australian economy. For the first time in the survey's history, sentiment has become negative regarding the ASX All Ordinaries index, with more directors expecting a fall in the index than expecting a rise. Directors' sentiment regarding the government's understanding of business has declined, with more directors disagreeing than agreeing that the government understands business. A majority of directors claim the abolition of the carbon tax has not affected their business. Thirty-five per cent of directors believe the level of red tape has increased in the last 12 months, while more than a quarter of directors expect an increase in the coming year.

There is definitely a role for the Senate to propose and discuss options for spending cuts, because, when it comes to making decisions about savings, this government needs all the help it can get. After all, despite all this government's rhetoric about Labor's record, it should recognise that we made $250 billion in savings. We made those savings without gutting health and education in the way that this government proposes to do. We did it without taxing people who visit the doctor or forcing young job seekers to go six months without income.

Those opposite constantly accuse us of being obstructionist, of not being willing to play a constructive role. But this is absolute hypocrisy from a government which doubled the deficit immediately after coming to office and continues to engage in waste and throwing money away, while forcing Australia's most vulnerable and disadvantaged to pick up the tab. If you want to see examples of this waste, I will just give you a few. Let us consider the $117,000 that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and his assistant minister paid for media analysis, transcription and clipping services. Let us consider the $45,000 the Minister for Industry paid for an international meeting of industry ministers in a luxury Mexican resort, supposedly connected to the G20 which was held in Brisbane thousands of miles away.

How about the $80,000 that the government spent on rent for an unused ministerial office for the stood-aside Assistant Treasurer? And there are plenty of much bigger examples such as the $8 billion gift they gave to the Reserve Bank, against the advice of their own Treasury department. If they wanted to say 'Happy Christmas' to the Reserve Bank, surely a Christmas card would have done?

There is no better example of wasteful spending than the government's $20 billion paid parental leave scheme, which gives $50,000 per child to millionaires and which the Productivity Commission said would have 'few incremental benefits'.

If this government wants constructive suggestions about alternative savings measures to their cruel and unfair budget, Labor has plenty. But this government needs to stop using economic arguments to take away money from the poor and the vulnerable and to treat those less well-off as commodities that can be put on the scrap heap. How anyone could ever believe that you could live on six months with no salary is absolutely beyond me. It is one of the worst polices I have heard of in my whole life—and I am over half a century old.