Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 24 October 2017
Page: 11795

Ms CATHERINE KING (Ballarat) (17:49): I rise to join my colleagues in speaking on the Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017 and other bills and specifically to support the amendments that Labor has proposed to these bills. We know that politics is all about choices. Every day in this place we are making choices on behalf of our constituents in this place and as well in our local communities. Every now and again, something comes up that makes you reflect on your role in politics, exactly who it is that you're representing and who it is that you're fighting to protect in this community. This bill is one of those examples.

Let me make it abundantly clear: Labor is 100 per cent committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We created it. We know how important it is for families and for people with a disability. That is without question. But when you have a choice on whether to hike taxes for every low-income earner in the country, at the same time as the government is proposing to lower taxes for wealthier Australians and for corporations, you have to ask: is it the right choice? The answer that Labor has to that is: no, it is not. It is a choice that is inconsistent with our values.

You can't see this bill in isolation from all of the other decisions that the government has taken. The government has taken the decision that it believes the best thing it can do in order to get the budget into some balance is to cut billions of dollars out of health care, hospitals, education services and not-for-profit organisations across every single portfolio area. It's then said it wants to put some of the savings that it's made into some other priorities. It's then saying that it wants to literally provide tax cuts to millionaires—$16,400, as we heard from the member's contribution before, for millionaires—and corporate tax cuts amounting to $80 billion worth of impost on the budget. That's what it wants to do. Then it's saying: 'We don't have enough money to fund the NDIS because we've made some other decisions about the money that Labor put aside to fully fund the NDIS. We now need to find some more money, so the people we're going to go to to find that money are all Australians, including those who are on the lowest possible incomes.' So that's the choice this government has made.

We recognise that we have different values to this government. We think that the NDIS is important. It's why we fully funded it. It's why we created it and developed it, because we knew there was a problem in access to services for people with disabilities nationally. It was a fundamental reform that was needed. But we also knew that there were better ways to make savings, without hitting low-income earners. We have announced those plans. It's unusual for an opposition to provide such detailed costings already at this stage of an election cycle, but the fact that our plan raises $4 billion more than the government's plan, without hitting the lowest income earners in this country, says everything about the values of this government.

We oppose this government's proposed increase to the Medicare levy on workers earning less than $87,000, because it is a tax hike on over seven million Australian workers earning less than $87,000 a year. Labor rejects the government's claim that the NDIS is in any way underfunded. When Labor announced the NDIS, it was fully funded. The government's claim that the NDIS is not funded simply does not stack up. But we don't want there to be any second of a doubt about the future of the NDIS, so we've made difficult decisions, including supporting the increase in the Medicare levy on the top two tax brackets and, in effect, making the deficit levy permanent. That is what we have suggested. Labor's plan, as I said, raises $4 billion more than the government's proposed tax hike over 10 years, but it is a fairer plan and it is better for the budget.

I want to touch on the importance of the NDIS and reinforce Labor's support for this scheme. When former Prime Minister Gillard introduced the legislation to establish the NDIS, she said:

The scheme … will transform the lives of people with disability, their families and carers. For the first time they will have their needs met in a way that truly supports them to live with choice and dignity. It will bring an end to the tragedy of services denied or delayed and instead offer people with disability the care and support they need over their lifetimes. This is a complex bill, yet at its heart is a very simple moral insight:

Disability can affect any of us and therefore it affects all of us.

I think that last sentence sums it up incredibly well. We have a shared responsibility to ensure that people with a disability and their families, who carry a significant load, receive proper support. It's all too common for families of people with disability to describe their constant fight to access services and support to ensure that their loved ones are able to reach their full potential. I know that many families feel like they have to fight to get the help that they need, time and time again. For some, navigating the system itself is a full-time job. The NDIS is designed to transform this process, and it's one of the most important achievements in Australian social policy in recent years. It is a fundamental change to the way in which we provide services in this country for people with disabilities. As we created it, we fully funded it.

The government knows the NDIS is fully funded. Otherwise it would not have signed the bilateral agreements with the states and territories on the further rollout of the scheme. In the 2013 budget, Labor increased the Medicare levy by 0.5 per cent. We also made other tough savings measures, including private health insurance rebate reforms, changes to retirement incomes, changes to tobacco excise indexation and changes to import processing charges. Together these savings fully funded the NDIS over 10 years. I respect that the government has made different choices about what it wants to do with those savings. But it can't now come back and say there's no money for the NDIS, that the NDIS is not going to be supported and that the only way we can save it under this government, making different choices, is by increasing the Medicare levy again, in the context of tax cuts to wealthy millionaires and corporations and of taking some different decisions about cuts to other services. That's what this government has done.

After four years of the Liberals, we have seen the budget worsen and the economy, frankly, stuck in neutral. There hasn't been any cost blow-out with the NDIS. Only last Thursday, the Productivity Commission released a report that showed the NDIS is in fact actually on budget. The government is projecting its own fiscal failure onto the NDIS funding and making people on lower incomes pay for it. So it's looking for a way to plug the gap that it has created. It's dumbfounding that, at a time of low wages growth, high cost-of-living pressures and with the government already pursuing a cut in penalty rates for low- and middle-income earners, the Treasurer is prioritising an income tax hike for those same workers, as is represented in this bill. The government's plan to increase the Medicare levy would increase the tax burden on vulnerable Australians earning as little as $21,000 a year. The government's tax increase will mean a worker on $55,000 would pay $275 extra a year in tax, while someone on $80,000 would face an extra $400 in tax. A worker earning $85,000 a year would lose the full benefit of last year's sandwich-and-milkshake tax cut and actually end up paying more in income tax. Stagnant wages, falling living standards and record levels of underemployment all mean that low- and middle-income Australians are less able to pay more tax than they have been in the past. Combine that with increases in the cost of living and increases in energy bills that occurred under this government's policies, and all of those things add up to a sector of the community that is under substantial strain. This bill does nothing to assist them; in fact, it makes it far worse for them.

In contrast, Labor has a plan that is better and fairer overall, both for lower- and middle-income earners and for the budget itself. Labor's plan raises more than $4 billion more than the government's proposed tax rise over 10 years, by increasing the Medicare levy for individuals earning more than $87,000 a year and keeping the deficit levy on those income earners earning more than $180,000. We will move amendments in the Senate to reflect this.

Independent research from the ANU shows that twice as many households would be worse off under this government's proposal than under Labor's plan. Labor created the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We know how important the NDIS is to improving the lives of people with disabilities and their families. We are 100 per cent committed to the successful rollout of the NDIS. The NDIS has been funded by Labor governments. Governments allocated funds to the NDIS in all budgets since 2013 and have signed bilateral agreements with the states that contain the Commonwealth government's commitment to the full funding of the NDIS. Like other items of government expenditure, such as defence, the NDIS has been funded from consolidated revenue and does not require a separate funding arrangement.

I'd like to finish by reiterating the importance of the NDIS and the importance of getting the NDIS rolled out, both on time and in a way that actually benefits the majority of people who are involved in it. People with disability have waited all their lives to get decent services and they don't deserve any more waiting from this government. The Productivity Commission's report last week identified some real issues with the rollout of the scheme under this government. As my colleague, the member for Jagajaga, the shadow minister for social services, said last week, one of the critical issues is that there are not enough staff inside the National Disability Insurance Agency and not enough providers providing the services to meet people's care needs. The reason for this is the government has imposed a cap on the staff at the NDIA, which is severely restricting the capacity of people with a disability to get into the scheme and get the services they need. There has been an absolute mess made by this government with the introduction of the new IT system, which needs to be addressed as a matter of absolute urgency if we are to get this scheme right. Labor has called on the government to fix the IT mess, lift the cap on the number of staff employed at the NDIA and provide much better training so we can make sure the assessments that occur and the very important plans that are made for people who are eligible for the scheme are got right in the first instance.

This scheme has the potential to absolutely change lives. It is fully funded. It was fully funded under Labor, it will be fully funded and it can be fully funded if the government accepts Labor's amendments to this bill. The only question we have before the parliament today is whether it is every low-income Australian who has their tax increased or whether the government finally acknowledges that Labor has a plan that is better and fairer on the budget. People with disabilities, their families and carers understand that Labor designed, funded and delivered the NDIS, and they know that Labor will always protect it. We know how important the NDIS is to improving the lives of people with disability across Australia. If this government takes the decision to accept Labor's amendments to this bill, we can take out any uncertainty around NDIS funding that has been created by the different choices this government made for the savings that Labor made when in government to fully fund the NDIS. We know the government's decisions to cut taxes for millionaires and to cut taxes for corporations amounted to $80 billion worth of tax cuts. This government is deciding it now wants to create a circumstance where low-income Australians have a substantial tax increase. In the context of having low wages growth and higher costs of living, it is fundamentally unfair. We know that is fundamentally unfair and the government needs to accept Labor's amendments either in this House or in the other place as we go forward with this bill. If we're to take this NDIS forward we must make sure that under this government people with disabilities actually get the services they deserve and were promised by this reform.