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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8269


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (10:34): That was certainly a theatrical speech. It had words such as 'leftist trifecta' and 'great psychodrama'—really very little to do with what is actually happening here. There are a number of issues to which I feel I should respond. I was asked: why is the government doing this? We are taking the best advice of Australia's and the world's scientists. We are listening to that advice. We are taking and listening to the advice of Australia's best economists and we are acting in accordance with that advice.

I am asked about working Australians and I have to say that sitting on this side of the chamber it is pretty hard to stomach listening to the 'born to rule' pose from the other side, the people who put in place Work Choices and whose response to the Qantas dispute demonstrates that they retain their born to rule perspective, lecturing us about working Australians.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator WONG: Let me just remind you about our government: we have put more into hospitals than any government in previous history. What did you do? There was a billion dollars taken out of public hospitals; that is what Tony Abbott did. What have we done? Understanding that the pension needed to increase, we have put in place a historic increase to the pension for Australians who have worked hard. Twelve years under John Howard did not deliver that. A Labor government delivered that. A Labor government delivered paid parental leave—the first government ever to deliver paid parental leave. In 12 years you never delivered support for working women, working mothers—never. A Labor govern­ment delivered that. We have increased the childcare rebate. We have increased the amount of support that we give to working families through the childcare rebate. It never occurred under you. We put in place the carers supplement. We introduced additional family tax benefits and an education tax refund. And we abolished Work Choices, which you, Senator Mason, were so enthusiastic in supporting—just as all of you have been so enthusiastic to jump on board the bandwagon backing Qantas's right to lock out all its employees.

So do not come in here and talk to us about working Australians, because we have actually delivered for working Australians—and we will continue to, because we do understand who we represent. We under­stand that managing the economy is about managing it for working Australians and their families. That work is never finished, and we will always continue to do that work, unlike those Johnny-come-latelies, who were in here on this side of the chamber telling us how wonderful Work Choices was—and I remember you, Senator Mason—and how wonderful it was for bosses to be able to sack people and for people to be able to have their penalty rates ripped away. Senator Abetz, Senator Mason and all those—

Senator Mason interjecting

Senator WONG: Are you shouting while you are not in your seat?

The CHAIRMAN: Order! If senators wish to participate in the debate they should take their seats.

Senator WONG: I am happy to take the interjection when he is in his seat, Mr Temporary Chairman. All of those who now pretend to be the champions of the working class lined up in the Work Choices debate to say how wonderful it was that this new flexibility would come into place that would enable employers to rip away peoples' entitlements. Give us a break! I think everybody knows, and, clearly, you saw it in the Qantas dispute—

Senator Brandis: What does this have to do with climate change?

Senator WONG: Senator Brandis, I agree with you, but I am responding to the somewhat dramatic contribution—

Senator Brandis: I did not hear it.

Senator WONG: You did not miss much!

Senator Mason interjecting

Senator WONG: When you are finished—

The CHAIRMAN: Order, Senator Mason!

Senator WONG: Chair?

The CHAIRMAN: You have the call, Minister.

Senator WONG: Well, perhaps you might say something to him.

The CHAIRMAN: Minister, I did, and you are reflecting on the chair. You have the call and I have called the senator to order. Will you continue, Senator Wong?

Senator Mason interjecting

Senator WONG: Well, perhaps I will finish when he is finished speaking to me.

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Wong, you have the call.

Senator WONG: I am just waiting to see if he is going to continue, Mr Temporary Chairman, given that you do not wish to—

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Wong, if you have nothing further to say, you can resume your seat, or you have the call.

Senator WONG: Thank you; I have the call. In terms of Labor values, we have brought to this package Labor values. Let us have a look at the assistance package—

Senator Mason interjecting

Senator WONG: I know you do not want to know this, but have a look at the assistance package.

Opposition senators interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: Order!

Senator WONG: Chair?

The CHAIRMAN: Order on my left.

Senator Brandis interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: Order, Senator Brandis. Senator Wong, you have the call.

Senator WONG: Who are the people we have prioritised in the assistance package?

Opposition senators: The Greens.

Senator WONG: It is low-income Australians.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator WONG: Chair, do I get to make any contribution without an interjection?

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Wong, you have the call. When interjections get disorderly, I will bring the Senate to order. You have the call, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Chair, I would ask you to reflect on the fact that Senator Mason was listened to in relative silence. I have yet to have 10 seconds on my feet without the opposition interjecting.

Senator Nash: Stop being so precious.

Senator WONG: Precious? That's a little bit gendered from you, Fiona.

Opposition senators interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: Order! Senator Wong, you have the call.

Senator WONG: Thank you. We have brought Labor values very much to the assistance package before the chamber. In fact, I recall some on the other side talking about this as wealth redistribution.

Senator Bernardi: Hear, hear!

Senator WONG: Yes, hear, hear! I will take that interjection from Senator Bernardi. They do not like working Australians, low-income Australians, getting more. We have given them more of the share of assistance than we have given high-income Australians. Let us have a look at what we are providing: an additional $510 per annum for couples combined on pensions; up to $110 per child under FTBA; up to $69 for FTBB; and additional funding, as I said, for pensions and also for self-funded retirees who held the Commonwealth seniors health card.

We have also put in place as part of this assistance package, tax reform. We will triple the tax-free threshold. That will give a benefit not only to low-income Australians but also to secondary-income earners. This is a very important part of the government's package. It will increase participation and it will give a tax cut to every Australian earning under $80,000 a year. We have unashamedly skewed this assistance to low-income Australia—and the opposition hate that.

Senator Mason interjecting

Senator WONG: They have, Mr Chairman—if I could shout over Senator Mason shouting at me—consistently said things such as, 'We object to the redistribution.' Do you know what they are actually saying? They do not like low-income Australians—pensioners and people earning under 80 grand—getting more of the assistance than high-income Australians. That is what they are actually saying.

So do not come into this chamber and lecture us about low-income Australians. You are the party that in government never provided the sorts of assistance—paid parental leave, increased childcare rebate, increased pensions and ripping away Work Choices—that we have provided. You have never put in place the funding for health and education and the investment in Australian families that we have put in place. We put in place these things because we understand that our job is to manage the economy for the benefit of working families.

Senator Mason: I haven't heard about working families for months.

Senator WONG: I would invite the opposition to move their amendment. I would invite Senator Xenophon to move his amendment. We had four hours on Thursday night on precisely the same type of debate and we now have had for 45 minutes this morning and there has not yet been one discussion about the bill or the amendments before the chamber. There has been a lot of discussion about conspiracies, trifectas and psychodramas. I am not sure what that actually adds to the debate at this point.

The CHAIRMAN: Before I call Senator Xenophon, can I remind senators to address their remarks to the chair and not across the chamber.