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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5663


Senator CAROL BROWN (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. Can the minister inform the Senate why changes to the Medicare levy surcharge thresholds are necessary?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Carol Brown for her question. I know she has an interest in the Medicare levy surcharge more broadly. Yesterday the opposition demonstrated that they were not going to stand up for working families and that they were going to send a clear message to all those hardworking Australians that the opposition did not agree that they should have tax break. The Rudd government proposed a new Medicare levy surcharge threshold of $75,000 for singles while retaining our original proposal for couples of $150,000 to deliver immediate tax relief in the order of 330,000 Australians. The tax cut that those opposite opposed is worth up to $1,500 for each and every family. Today I am asking senators on the other side, those Liberals—


Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I bring to your attention standing order 193, which says:

A senator shall not reflect on any vote of the Senate ...

This minister is reflecting upon the vote the Senate made yesterday on the Medicare levy bill. I ask you to tell him to desist or to sit him down.


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, on the point of order: Senator Ludwig was addressing the general issue of the Medicare threshold and the issues surrounding it, and the bill is not before the Senate. That is not reflecting on the vote; it is reflecting on the issues at stake. Of course the question of votes in the parliament has been in the media and well canvassed. The senator is in order in discussing the broad issue of the Medicare levy surcharge and the issues pertaining to it.


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.


Senator LUDWIG —Thank you, Mr President. What those opposite have failed to understand is that they do not support working families. They do not want to ensure that there is a tax break of $1,500 for families. What they want to do is ensure that the same system continues. I find it odd really—it is either that the Liberals are hanging—

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator LUDWIG —Thank you, Mr President. What I find odd is that those opposite, those Liberals, are hanging on to an outdated threshold without turning their minds to how they can provide relief for working families. Really, there are probably only three reasons that could descend upon them. The first option could be that those opposite, those Liberals, might have a simple justification for sticking to their outmoded position on this issue, and that could be a scientific justification. They may say that the original thresholds are there, they should not cavil with them or change them and they should leave them fixed. That is one option that those opposite could have taken. I remind senators of what former Minister Wooldridge said when he finally came clean about how those thresholds were set. I wonder whether or not that could be a real scientific justification, because the former minister said, ‘I think the numbers in the end were negotiated with Senator Harradine over a bottle of Jameson Whiskey late at night.’ I really think that puts paid to the scientific justification for it.

Another option of course could be that the original thresholds were set in such a way that they would somehow magically become relevant in 10 years time, even though they were not relevant to begin with. Dr Wooldridge had something to say on that matter as well. What he said was: ‘We were happy to successfully get through the 12 months let alone worry about a problem in 10 years time or more’—so much for the magic trick about that. Those two options were not really there.

Option three—let us be fair about this—is that they may be so convinced that $50,000 is a high income that they think people earning $50,000 just do not deserve a tax cut. That would be a sad and sorry day if they thought that was the case. When you look at the remarks of Senator Birmingham with respect to this, Senator Birmingham conceded that $50,000 was not a high salary. And it certainly is not a high salary when you look at it. (Time expired)