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Monday, 23 October 2017
Page: 11550


Mr WALLACE (Fisher) (16:12): I rise this afternoon to support the Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017. We must, in this place, look beyond partisan politics and think about whom it is that this bill will help. This bill is about putting Australians with a disability and their families first. The scheme will transform the lives of around 460,000 Australians who are living with disability, and their families.

Before I get into an exegesis of the bill, I want to send a huge shout-out to the Wide Bay Swimming Association athletes who represented Wide Bay at the New South Wales multi-class swimming championships. Keasha Wilson, who is an S14, got one personal best, two silvers and one bronze, and she got a Queensland record for the 50-metre butterfly. Jackson Hughes got one personal best, four golds and one silver. He's also an S14. My own daughter Sarah Wallace—she's an S7 swimmer—got four PBs, three golds and two silvers. I want to give a shout-out to their carers: Keasha's carer, Carol Holmes; Jackson's carer, Danny Hughes; and Sarah's carer, Leonie Wallace. I congratulate the Wide Bay Swimming Association for their inclusive swimming policy. It's the first time that the Wide Bay Swimming Association has sent a team to a multi-class swimming competition anywhere in Australia and they should be congratulated. It is people like those who make up the Wide Bay Swimming Association, and the Keashas, Jacksons and Sarahs of the world and their carers, that this bill is all about.

I'm also a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and, in that role, I have seen the difference that the NDIS has made in the regions where it has been rolled out and the eagerness with which regions, such as the Sunshine Coast, are waiting for it to be rolled out. I've heard in particular about the impact the NDIS rollout is having on the mental health care of many of its recipients and also the families who look after them.

Disability does not discriminate by postcode, occupation, health or wealth. This bill is about fairness. It is about the NDIS as an insurance scheme. All benefit, so all can contribute. Those who earn more can pay more.

Making a significant and dignified difference for nearly half a million Australians and their families will come at a substantial cost. The Commonwealth expenditure on the NDIS for 2017-18 is $5.3 billion and it's projected to reach $10.8 billion when the NDIS reaches its full rollout by 2019-20.

Labor failed to meet that full cost. When Labor left office in 2013, they left a $55.7 billion funding shortfall for the NDIS, beginning with a shortfall of $3.8 billion in the 2019-20 year alone. Labor themselves admitted the shortfall. The then disability minister, the member for Jagajaga, said, in May 2013:

… around 40 per cent of the $5.4 billion will need to be found and we'll need to find that in our Budget.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said, also in May 2013:

Now I do want to be clear, the amount raised from the additional Medicare levy will not fund the full cost of DisabilityCare when it's in full operation.

We now need to fix the black hole and give Australians with permanent and significant disability and their families and carers certainty that this vital service will be there for them into the future. So we are now asking all Australians to contribute.

As announced in the 2017-18 budget, the government will increase the Medicare levy rate by half a percentage point from two per cent to 2.5 per cent of taxable income from 1 July 2019, to ensure that the NDIS is fully funded. This measure is estimated to have a revenue gain of $8. 2 billion over the forward estimates to 2020-21. The government will use all revenue generated by the Medicare levy to support the NDIS and to guarantee Medicare. In particular, the government will credit $9.1 billion over the forward estimates period to the NDIS Savings Fund Special Account when it is established.

The government is committed to fairness and will ensure that the Medicare levy increase is fair. The general principle will be that all of us benefit from the NDIS as an insurance scheme, so all of us should contribute. However, for vulnerable Australians, this government will ensure that they are not impacted by the change. The following people will continue to be exempt from the Medicare levy, in part or in full, depending on their particular circumstances—namely: people who are entitled to full, free, medical treatment for all conditions under Defence Force arrangements or the Veterans' Affairs repatriation health card, the gold card; blind pensioners and sick allowance recipients; low-income earners; nonresidents for tax purposes; and Medicare exemption certificate recipients. The current low-income threshold means that no Medicare levy will be payable for individual taxpayers with incomes under $21,655.

The government has separately increased the Medicare levy low-income threshold for the 2016-17 income year to take into account movements in the consumer price index so that low-income taxpayers continue to be exempt from the Medicare levy. For single individuals with no dependants, the full Medicare levy rate would apply if their income exceeds $27,068. Couples and families will not be liable if their combined income is less than $36,541. The thresholds for couples and families go up by $3,356 for each dependent child. For example, if a couple has three children and is not eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset, they would not need to pay any Medicare levy if their combined income is less than $46,609. Couples and families eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset will not be liable to pay the Medicare levy if their combined income is less than $47,670.

It is clearly absolute bunkum that the government is not protecting the lowest income earners and most disadvantaged in our community by protecting them from having to pay this additional Medicare levy. Labor used to support an increase in the Medicare levy to pay for this vital insurance. A joint media release from the then Prime Minister, Treasurer and Minister for Disability Reform in May 2013 stated, 'A modest increase in the Medicare levy, $1 a day for the average earner, will ensure we can deliver and sustainably fund disability care in Australia.' At a press conference on the same day, they made a wonderfully clear statement of the principle on which this bill is based. They said, 'We all contribute and we all share. That is what the Medicare levy is all about.'

However, Labor are now opposing the same policy to fix their multibillion dollar black hole. In their usual practice, exactly what Labor's current policy is is not clear, but it seems they support an increase to the Medicare levy rate by 0.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent of taxable income only for individuals on taxable incomes above $87,000. If, as they seem to suggest, the Medicare levy increase were to apply to a taxpayer's entire income once income exceeds $87,000, it would lead to significant effective marginal tax rates immediately above the $87,000 threshold. A taxpayer may incur an additional tax liability of $435 on the first dollar earnt above $87,000.

The government's decision to increase the Medicare levy from 1 July 2019 reflects the fact that Australians have a role to play in accordance with their capacity to ensure this important program is secure for current and future generations. It is about putting Australians with a disability and their families first. This bill is about fairness and about protecting our most vulnerable people. The Labor Party claim to stand up for society's most vulnerable. It is regrettable that they are now opposing this measure. I call upon those opposite and the Leader of the Opposition in particular, as a father of a child with a disability, to put the politics aside. This is not something that we should even be debating or arguing about. This is something that we need to really get behind to provide assistance to our most disadvantaged children and their families and also adults who are suffering from a disability. This is something that is above partisan politics. I urge those opposite to do the right thing—because it is the right thing. If it was good enough for those opposite to increase the Medicare levy previously to initially get this NDIS scheme off the ground, surely it is good enough now to properly fund it into the years ahead. I support the bill and I commend it to the House.