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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2576


Senator BILYK (Tasmania) (16:48): The big four banks aren't very popular amongst the Australian people at the moment. At the banking royal commission—the one that Mr Turnbull spent years opposing because he knew of the damage it would cause his mates in the banking sector—we have heard damning evidence of dodgy and downright illegal behaviour. What's the reward from the government for such a gross breach of Australia's trust? Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison will give them $17 billion in tax breaks—$17 billion to banks that have been ripping off customers, falsifying documents and acting in a fraudulent or dishonest way. On current calculations, one dollar in four from a company tax cut will go into the pockets of big banks. Could there be a stranger public policy than rewarding the banking sector with a multibillion dollar tax cut at the same time the sector is going through its biggest shake-out in a generation?

We know that $17 billion is also the amount of money that the government has ripped away from schools. Bank profits are being paid for with classroom supplies and teachers' resources. Australia's parents should remember, every time their child's school cannot afford something, that money was ripped from their schools to inflate bank profits. The government should be utterly ashamed of itself. The Treasurer wants us all to think he's a great guy because he's giving a small tax cut to individuals. Regular Australian families will receive a so-called sandwich-and-milkshake tax cut, while Mr Turnbull's banker mates will get billions of dollars extra each year. In fact, it's probably not a sandwich-and-milkshake tax cut; it's probably a sandwich-or-milkshake tax cut.

All this is coming at a time when workers have being facing the lowest wage growth in decades, while bank profits are again at record highs. While the banks are the main beneficiaries, big business as a whole, including multinationals, will benefit to the tune of $80 billion, because the government has to reward its big business mates for their donations and their public support of the government. This tax break for multinationals is funded from money that will be ripped out of Australian schools and Australian hospitals and taken away from infrastructure and other important projects. The services that everyday Australians rely on are being gutted to pay for these corporate tax cuts.

The Liberal Party spin would have you believe that this tax cut will create more jobs and fatter pay packets, but managers have said that tax cuts will be more likely to go to share buybacks and paying down corporate debt. Only seven per cent of firms said they would grow employment, and just four per cent said they would increase wages. If you don't pay Australian tax in the first place, lowering the statutory rate won't make you invest more anyway. Mr Turnbull's failure to properly crack down on multinational tax avoidance has allowed billions of dollars to slip out of the revenue system, and the end result of this largesse to the government's business mates is fewer resources for schools and fewer resources for our hospitals.

Rather than racing to the bottom on company taxes, wouldn't the nation be better off investing in better schools and hospitals, building the infrastructure that our congested cities require and keeping taxes lower for middle Australians? When it comes to boosting corporate investment, a far more efficient approach is Labor's Australian investment guarantee. According to experts at Victoria University, the investment subsidy is between two and three times more effective as a stimulus to investment than the company tax rate cut. The government has already cut $715 million from Australian hospitals. Mr Turnbull and Mr Hunt face four key tests in this health portfolio in tonight's budget. First of all they must reverse their $715 million in cuts to public hospitals. Then they should drop their entire Medicare rebate freeze immediately, fix the private health insurance affordability crisis and scrap the tampon tax once and for all.

Mr Turnbull can find $80 billion to give big business a tax handout but he can't properly fund Australia's health system. The Liberals' hospital cuts are doing real damage across Australia, surgeries are being delayed, emergency department waiting times are blowing out and doctors, nurses and hospital staff are under ever-increasing pressure. Mr Turnbull's cuts will see $11 million less going to public hospitals in my home state of Tasmania from 2017 to 2020. Surgeries will be delayed, nurses and doctors numbers will decline and emergency department wait times will increase as a result of Mr Turnbull's cuts. These cuts to Tasmania's public hospitals are equivalent to 16,000 emergency department visits, 3,055 cataract operations and 1,825 deliveries. It says it all about Mr Turnbull's priorities that he's happy to give big business a tax handout but won't properly fund our public hospitals and give Australians the health care they need and that they deserve.

In 2016-17, Tasmania's emergency departments saw a record number of people, with 156,000 presentations. This is an increasing problem, as there are 8,045 more presentations a year to Tasmania's emergency departments than before the federal Liberals were elected. When you or your loved one gets sick or is unwell, the last thing you want or need is to be turned away because your local hospital doesn't have enough staff or beds to give you the care you need. Every dollar cut from our public hospitals is a dollar cut from our sickest and most vulnerable patients. Access to health care, as we've said many times on this side, should be determined by your Medicare card, not by your credit card. But while Mr Turnbull's priorities defend big business and while he keeps siding with private health insurers, our public hospitals continue to be put last. Australians know that Labor will always invest more money in public hospitals and in the system than the Liberals, who want nothing more than to privatise and Americanise our world-class healthcare system.

We've got to talk about the education cuts in the short time I've got left. They're happening right now and we're seeing our kids being disadvantaged because of the wrong choices of this government. Mr Turnbull talks a big game in education but he doesn't play well at all. He's long on rhetoric and he's short on action. Mr Turnbull has the opportunity to reverse $17 billion worth of cuts to school funding over the next 10 years, but this budget will have a direct effect on the cost of education and the resources that are going to go to students in the next couple of years. We want to see this government not only be more constructive but reverse some of the positively unhelpful decisions they have made in education.

Once again, tonight's budget is a chance for Mr Turnbull to wake up to himself and choose our schools and our kids' education over giving corporate tax cuts to the big banks. The budget is also a great opportunity for the government to get rid of its plans to cut the energy supplements for seniors. It's time for Mr Turnbull to stand up for pensioners instead of the dodgy bankers by dropping his cuts to the energy supplement and by abandoning his plan to increase the pension age to 70.

Axing the energy supplement to two million Australians, including 400,000 aged pensioners, will mean a cut to new pensioners of $365 a year for singles and $550 a year for couples. This cut was first proposed by Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison in the 2016 budget but they still haven't been able to get it through the Senate because it's just not credible. Then there's the government's plan to increase the pension age to 70. As we heard earlier today, that means Australia would have an older pensioner age than the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand. In the first four years alone, around 375,000 Australians will have to work longer before they can access the pension. It has been almost four years since Joe Hockey first announced the plan to increase the pension age to 70 and, in a flight of fiscal fantasy, Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison are still booking a $3.6 billion save to the budget bottom line, despite the measure not even being introduced in this term of the parliament.

But the Prime Minister still has time. There are still a few hours before the Treasurer's budget speech. He can reverse his cuts to schools, reverse his cuts to hospitals, reverse his tax cuts to the big banks and his big business mates, and start governing in the interests of all Australians.