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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2973

Senator ANNING (Queensland) (20:53): I rise to respond to the 2018 Commonwealth budget. Again, it's not my first speech. Many of those who have spoken about the budget today have taken the opportunity to try to take cheap shots at the government and have claimed they could do so much better if somehow they were in charge.

To be honest, a great deal of what we have heard from those outside the government is total rubbish. First, those who have spoken the loudest will never be burdened with the responsibility of having to form a government and so have the luxury of being able to promise the moon and stars in an effort to con mug punters into voting for them. Second, those in the opposition who will eventually wind up on the treasury bench know full well that they can promise anything now and then renege on their promises later just like they have done so many times in the past. The fact is that, in the words of the late, great President Ronald Reagan, 'Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.'

In reality, this is on the whole a pretty good budget—maybe even better than we might have hoped for. The government has offered tax relief to the low- and middle-income earners, which I've called for in the past. This is a vital and overdue measure, countering the bracket creep that has pushed even lower income earners into unreasonably high tax levels. It also complements the government's proposed corporate tax cuts, which are vital in allowing Australian businesses the ability to expand their operations and hire more staff. Prior to the budget, I called for this, and although I would have preferred the government had adopted my proposal of cutting the $37,000 to $87,000 marginal income tax rate from 32.5 per cent to 28 per cent immediately, saving taxpayers around $580 from 1 July, the government's proposal is still good.

The budget includes commitments to new and important infrastructure developments, including the Bruce Highway upgrade, the funding for which, despite it being a slow and painful process, is much more welcome, although, as I shall explain later, the actual proposals are far too modest. The budget also includes funding of $123.6 million over four years to increase the number of bachelor places at regional universities. Although this is positive, I would have liked to have seen more places created in regional areas such as the James Cook University in Cairns or Townsville, as opposed to them being allocated to northern metropolitan Brisbane. And though I am pleased to see the continuing funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program, which has provided care and support for countless students, their families and, in many cases, staff, the government has failed our nation's students.

Educating our future leaders should be a priority, and I'm bitterly disappointed to see the lack of funding allocated to many of the 11 recommendations put forward in the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education, coupled with the government's failure in inexplicably committing to mark II of Labor's Gonski plan—pure socialism which sees wealth redistribution rather than education quality as the answer to our kids' learning needs. The government has swallowed this rubbish, hook, line and sinker, adopting the recommendations without any indications as to the cost. As someone who attended a low-fee Catholic school myself, I am very concerned at the adverse effect of 'Comrade' Gonski's five-year plan on smaller independent schools. Parents like my own, who sought an affordable Catholic education, are now faced with uncertainty over the coming financial years. I cannot understand why the government would penalise the children of its own supporters.

I was very pleased to see that the government is increasing the waiting time for migrants to access welfare to four years. However, this still fails to address the ability of so-called refugees who just want to jump on the welfare gravy train. This is a major pull factor in encouraging illegal immigration, as we have seen in Europe, where over a million Syrian Muslims trekked through one safe European country after another, all the way to Germany, in search of not asylum but the best deal in handouts. Free welfare and public housing attracts the very worst type of migrants: transnational parasites who travel not in search of opportunity, but in search of a free ride at everyone else's expense. It's no coincidence that 56 per cent of Australia's working age Muslims are not in the labour force, with over 75 per cent of illegal arrivals under the Rudd-Gillard government settling down to a life of permanent handouts. According to research by the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU, refugees are four times more likely to be on welfare than is the average Australian. Immigration by anyone who doesn't want to work is a net cost to this nation that we should not have to pay. We need to ban all immigrants, including so-called asylum seekers, from accessing welfare and public housing for four years after arrival.

The government has clearly listened to the voices of the road freight transport industry in its commitment to close the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme and transition to national registration. However, in the future I would like to see registration based on kilometres travelled, as opposed to a fixed cost per vehicle, because many companies and individuals will have to front additional costs if they have multiple trucks and only use one or two at a time while the others sit in the parking lot.

In an initiative very close to my heart as a former publican, I am pleased to see the government is increasing the alcohol excise refund scheme cap to $100,000 per year, and extending the concessional draught beer excise rates to eight-litre or greater kegs from 1 July 2019, which is beneficial for craft breweries and allows them to compete with the larger beer companies that transport their beer in 50-litre kegs.

Another aspect of this budget that I feel very strongly about is the funding our national veterans receive. Although there is still a very long way to go before we have fixed the issues veterans face when dealing with DVA, including setting the bar for the proof-of-service injuries at an unacceptably high level, I was pleased to see the government allocate $13.5 million to improving the processing of rehabilitation compensation income support claims. As a nation, we have asked our men and women in Defence to make innumerable sacrifices, and in some cases, tragically, the ultimate sacrifice. As such, it is imperative we invest in their rehabilitation when they come home. The government should be applauded for its commitment in this budget to ensuring the ongoing support for the wellbeing of our veterans. Its commitment of $9.1 million for a veterans' workforce participation pilot is welcome in helping transition veterans after their service into work. There will be $33.5 million spent to expand the range of mental health conditions current and former Defence members can seek treatment for on a non-liability basis. And though it is a good start, with the allocation of another $9.1 million for supporting veterans' mental health services and preventing suicide, we need to ensure ongoing programs are effective and look to future budgets for increases in their funding.

However, despite being largely positive, the elephant in the room continues to be the government's chronic failure to rein in spending—particularly on working age income replacement welfare; on socialist, unfunded, zeppelin-sized thought bubbles like the $30-plus billion NDIS; and on absurd vanity projects like the $60 billion submarine program. Although around 20 per cent of the working age population is on income replacement welfare, the government only proposes to tinker with benefits and refuses to address the growing problem of working age pensions, which are growing at a rapid rate.

Despite improvements in the bottom line, the usual optimistic predictions of magical future surpluses—which we have been hearing about at every budget since the end of the Howard era—continue to dangle just out of our reach. This is now the seventh consecutive year that treasurers have predicted a return to surplus without ever getting one. The national debt continues to increase. It is more than $560 billion, representing over 41.7 per cent of GDP, and is above last year's confident prediction of $537 billion for this financial year. This means that interest payments alone are now more than $17 billion a year, or one per cent of GDP, leaving us all with a very real question of how long we can hold onto the string of this ever-rising debt balloon.

The federal government, like its Labor state counterparts, continues to fritter $2.3 billion subsidising solar and wind power. Their unreliability and huge expense means that they are not alternative power sources, but a child's fantasy. Australia is now the sixth-largest country for new investment in so-called renewable industry. The hip pockets of everyday Aussies are being hurt by this zealous march to a green utopia. Historically, our competitive advantage as nation lay in abundant, low-cost raw materials and energy. Thanks to the left-wing inspired policies, this advantage has been lost. The sooner this and every other government realise the only current, genuine alternative is nuclear power, the better off we'll all be.

Housing affordability is another major area of failure by this government. According to the ABS, in 2014-15 alone, over 17 per cent of all new residential properties in New South Wales and over 15 per cent in Victoria were bought by foreign—mainly Chinese—buyers. As these were concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne, this means that around 30 to 40 per cent of all new properties in these cities are now bought by foreigners. Never mind negative gearing—it is clearly foreign Chinese property speculators, together with the flood of new immigrants, that are pushing up house prices and locking Aussies out of buying a home. Yet, prior to Kevin Rudd changing the foreign investment rules nine years ago to allow open-slather buying up of Australian properties by foreigners, this was heavily restricted. We need to ensure that Australians are given preference when purchasing property in a housing market that is squeezing out our sons and daughters. A simple ban of foreigners from purchasing residential property in Australia, coupled with a drastic reduction in the rate of immigration, would go a long way to solving the current housing crisis. If Chinese investors complain, they need only look to their own government, which does exactly the same. You and I can't buy property on mainland China, so why should we let the Chinese snap up all our properties here?

Rural and regional infrastructure continues to be severely neglected compared to our urban centres. While much of this is the fault of urban-centric Labor state governments, the Commonwealth could have a much greater role to play by giving tied grants and borrowing guarantees. The fact is that much of Australia isn't viable agricultural land with low rainfall; it's a desert where it just rains occasionally. Water is the key to transforming this continent, yet it continues to be neglected by governments at every level. The lack of concrete action on this is, for me, the greatest disappointment with this budget. Dam construction, the length and breadth of this nation, needs to be an absolute national priority. Our nation needs water diversion schemes to send water inland instead of out to sea. For example, by building Hells Gates dam, raising the Burdekin weir wall and finishing the Tully-Millstream project we could irrigate hundreds of thousands of acres of prime land in Queensland. Agricultural production in Queensland could massively increase, with thousands of jobs created, and the west could be permanently droughtproof, saving millions in stock losses. The best drought relief we can give our farmers is water.

One Nation has previously called for our raw materials as a nation to be treated as a national asset and taxed for the benefit of the Australian people, and I strongly support this. Giant foreign corporations make vast profits extracting raw materials, such as gas and oil, from our national resources endowment, and yet they pay little or no tax. This must end. A new Commonwealth resources tax of even 10 per cent on all raw materials mined and extracted would deliver hundreds of billions of dollars in extra revenue over the life of existing resource extractions to the national coffers and would easily fund major infrastructure projects that we need. The best part of this is that most of this would not be paid by Aussies. Together with cuts to working age income replacement welfare, such a Commonwealth resource tax could also fully fund the age pension and help pay off the national debt.

In conclusion, the government has delivered a good budget—as good a budget as might be hoped for—and deserves credit for many measures that will benefit us as a nation, but what is missing is any real sense of vision. Where is a clear perspective reflected in government budgetary decisions of who we are to be as nation and how we get there? A sense of where we are trying to go as a nation has never been more lacking than it is today. Insofar as the budget fails to point the way forward, it is a symptom, not a cause.

This budget fails to address the structural mismanagement of the Rudd-Gillard years—the uncontrolled spending, the growing dependence on welfare, the ever-growing role of the state in every aspect of our lives, and the ideological bankruptcy that has infected every public institution. It is a reflection of the fact that government and opposition continue to drink each other's postsocialist Kool Aid.

Once there was a national consensus that united government and opposition, country and city, rich and poor. It was a shared perspective of who we were and where we were going; of the limits of state power and the rights of ordinary, decent people. It was a vision of what Australia was and what it was going to be. But, when this is the best budget that we can reasonably hope for, it has never been clearer to me that it is a vision we have lost.