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Tuesday, 24 October 2017
Page: 11786


Ms TEMPLEMAN (Macquarie) (17:08): The position that Labor has taken on this matter has been really clear: we don't think that low- and middle-income earners should be hit by an increase to the Medicare levy to pay for a National Disability Insurance Scheme that has already been paid for. So we oppose the Turnbull government's proposed increase to the Medicare levy on workers earning less than $87,000. We think that the more than seven million Australian workers earning less than $87,000 each year should be spared this tax hike.

Let's remember what this is about: it's an increase in the Medicare levy of 0.5 per cent, taking it to a rate of 2.5 per cent. Of course, it replaces this government's original plan to do welfare cuts, which they said was to fund the NDIS. Of course, that was blocked, but, again, this is something that has already been funded. Now the government seems to thinks that low- to middle-income earners have money to burn. It does make me wonder what those opposite do in their time away from this place. When I'm out talking to people, whether it's in Bilpin or Bligh Park, Warrimoo or Woodford, they're telling me that things are tough. Their wages are not keeping up with the costs that they face on a day-to-bay basis.

If those opposite were out there talking to normal people—to people who work in shops and hospitals and have their own small businesses—they'd know that right now people are feeling the squeeze. It's the mix of low wages growth, high cost-of-living pressures like electricity bills and the government already pursuing cuts in penalty rates and forcing those sorts of cuts onto low- and middle-income earners. I suppose we should not even wonder with why the Treasurer would stop there; he is also hitting the same group of workers with the income tax hike.

I do think it's interesting that we're talking about an increase in the Medicare levy at the same time as there is some discussion by the Treasurer on the back of the Productivity Commission report about inclusive growth—growth that doesn't leave some people out, growth that doesn't widen the gap between the top and the bottom and is spread across all Australians. It has probably come as a bit of a surprise to this government that the Productivity Commission is saying that the key to Australia's economic growth and productivity is apparently people. Yes, fancy that—people! It will be a shock because this government has presided over non-inclusive growth entirely at the top end of the system.

Productivity has surged 20 per cent but with only six per cent real wage growth. We've got a high degree of casualisation and a high degree of outsourcing to labour-hire companies. It's hard for workers to get a pay rise. And then we have a Treasurer wanting to talk about health reforms when all they really want to do is tear Medicare apart.

Labor long ago appreciated that people are the heart of the economy. They're the reason for the economy. Go back to 2008, and under the Labor government COAG agreed that human capital was the key source of economic growth. That was nearly a decade ago. It's taken those opposite a little while even to hear the phrase 'inclusive growth'. The Commonwealth and the states at that time agreed on how to invest in people, but the Liberals rejected it all in their 2014 budget, cutting health and cutting education, and they continue with that agenda, so they're very late to this party. They want to cut universities. They can't get it through the Senate, but it's what they want to do. They want to invest less than we need in schools, and here in this legislation they want to hit low- and middle-income earners to fund something that is already funded.

We can hope that the Treasurer's rhetoric that echoes the true values of fairness and equity that we in the Labor Party actually believe in is reflected in his policies, but I won't hold my breath, because I think it will take more than a Productivity Commission report for this government to get it. They say they believe in fairness and they say they believe in inclusion, but every piece of law they try to pass, including this one, shows they really believe in the opposite.

It's worth looking at just what a 0.5 per cent increase means to low- and medium-income earners. For a start, it will increase the tax burden on vulnerable Australians earning as little as $21,000 a year. The Prime Minister's tax increase will mean a worker on $55,000 a year will pay $275 extra in tax. Someone on $80,000 will face an extra $400 in tax. Of course, these are not necessarily large amounts to those opposite, but when you are raising a family, running a small business from home or putting together the early part of your career or your profession, they're significant amounts of money. When you get your electricity bill, it barely touches the edges of it. A worker earning $85,000 a year will lose the full benefit of last year's sandwich-and-milkshake tax cut. I'm not going to claim credit for that phrase, but it describes beautifully the value of that tax cut to people. In fact, those earning $85,000 a year will end up paying more in income tax after that tax cut.

We think that workers earning less than $87,000, which is the top figure of the third tax level in the tax table, will be hurt by this increase and they simply don't deserve it. The stagnant wages, the falling living standards and the record levels of underemployment all mean that many Australians are probably less able to pay more tax than they ever have been in the past. It is especially galling that this is happening at a time when big business is getting a $65 billion tax cut. The combination is just staggering.

This piece of legislation is also based on a furphy. The NDIS was funded by Labor in government. I don't think that I can join this discussion about NDIS without pointing out that this government has so poorly rolled out the service for many people in my electorate of Macquarie. We spend hours every week trying to resolve their issues. The government has actually saved money on the NDIS by having a staff member per electorate office working for them, I would guess, as advocates and problem solvers.

In talking about the problems of the NDIS, I have previously spoken in this place about the challenges facing Gretta Serov, who lives in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, one week at a time with each parent. She's 26, in a wheelchair and waiting to be able to use some of her core funding to get to university. What she was allocated in her transport plan does not cover that journey. We're talking about investing in people—in human capital—yet we can't find a way to allow a young person with a disability to get to university. That really is shameful. This is something she has been asking for since November last year. Months and months of promises have not led to a solution for this situation.

Not surprisingly, as Gretta's situation became more widely known in my electorate, Kayla got in touch with me. Kayla lives in Hazelbrook, which is halfway up the Blue Mountains. She has no access to public transport. She uses a power wheelchair, just like Gretta, and is having so many issues regarding transport. Transport is one of the key areas where we are failing recipients of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We have not got this right. I'm trusting there is a commitment on the other side to get it right. There is certainly a commitment on this side of the House that we get this system working.

There are other challenges thwarting people and really giving the NDIS a bad name that need to be addressed. The Australian disability enterprises are finding it particularly challenging. They're concerned there's no support from the NDIS with referrals. In fact, they feel that people have been directed away from disability enterprises which create products, deliver services and employ people with disabilities.

One of the big issues that comes to my electorate office is around the complaints process—perhaps not about the complaints process so much as about the lack of complaints process and the randomness of how a complaint is dealt with by the NDIA. Sometimes it is by email and sometimes by phone call. There is no consistency. You speak to different people and you get different responses. This is the sort of issue that we should not be hearing about.

Inadequacy of funding is obviously something that comes up, and where we notice it most is where there is a request for a review of a plan. There have been poor plans done; there is no doubt about it. There are people who are worse off under this system, and that was never meant to be the case. But getting a review, even for something minor, seems to take forever. The participants feel that the review is just an excuse for there to be a cut to the funding that they get, so there is fear about even requesting a review because there is no guarantee they will even maintain the service level that they have when requesting an improvement in that service level. There are things like discrepancies in plans, such as where the plan states it's for nine months, but the portal says 12 months. That creates confusion with costing—is it meant to last nine months or is it meant to get them through 12 months? And accessing the portal is another issue altogether; it's a piece of technology that was not well thought through. The biggest concern that I hear is around the inordinately long wait for review decisions. I mean, you've got people whose lives are literally on hold while their plan is being reviewed. They're treading water, waiting for decisions, and yet there doesn't seem to be any agreed timeline within which those decisions occur.

One of the other concerns that has come to me from many constituents is that the reviews are sometimes decided without any consultation with the participant or with any of their support workers, or any of the medical specialists who they work with. We also hear this about plans: that plans are approved and people aren't even sure that there's been a proper discussion about it. When there's a review, it is unacceptable that participants have no opportunity to review the plan before it has been finalised, because—guess what, Deputy Speaker Vasta?—that just leads to another review of the plan, so this process can go on and on and on.

To be fair, I have heard of really great outcomes from some participants on the NDIS. There are people who have experienced the benefits that this program was designed to bring. It has changed their life; it has given them more independence; it has given them the capacity to self-determine and make decisions about what their priorities are as an individual. But I have to say there is a long, long way to go before that becomes the norm. I look forward to seeing the quality of plans improve, the processes improve; however, if that doesn't happen then we are really failing the people who expect a lot from this parliament, who received a commitment from both sides of this House to a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

We often get asked, and it's often asked about here in question time on issues, if there are any alternative views? I want to talk about Labor's alternative position on funding the NDIS, because the position we have is better and fairer for the budget. Our plan raises $4 billion more than the government's proposed tax rise over 10 years by increasing the Medicare levy for people earning more than $87,000. Our plan is restricted to those earning more than $87,000 a year, and keeping the deficit levy on those income earners earning more than $180,000 a year. We'll obviously be moving amendments in the Senate on this. Independent research from the Australian National University shows that twice as many households would be worse off under the coalition's plan than under our plan. We think that being able to halve the number of people impacted is a pretty good outcome, particularly because you're ensuring it's not the most vulnerable people who are impacted.

Labor created the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We know how important the NDIS is to improving the lives of people with a disability, and the lives of their friends and families. We are genuinely committed to its successful rollout. Like other items of government expenditure such as Defence—there's a whole array of them—the NDIS is funded from consolidated revenue and does not require separate funding arrangements. (Time expired)