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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5673

Senator CAROL BROWN (3:19 PM) —I would like to remind the Senate that when the Medicare levy surcharge was first introduced by the former Howard government in 1997, it was intended to apply to high-income earners, or roughly around eight per cent of single taxpayers. This measure, after 11 long years of wilful neglect by the former government, will see the levy once again applied to around about the same percentage of taxpayers for whom it was intended. This means bringing an end to the pressure placed on average-income earners in Australia by the former Howard government.

I will also take the opportunity to again remind the Senate of what Senator Ludwig said earlier today in question time. It was a statement made by Senator Simon Birmingham who has conceded that $50,000 was not a high salary. I quote: ‘It’s certainly not a high salary.’ Indeed, it is a working salary. So the thresholds which the Liberals are determined to uphold were not logical, not designed with any thought for the consequences that are now hitting people who even the Liberals admit are on working salaries.

I would also like to draw the chamber’s attention to the comments made in August 2006 by the new shadow minister for health when the then Assistant Treasurer, Mr Dutton, revealed the numbers of taxpayers who were hit by the Medicare levy surcharge and revealed that they had doubled since the introduction of the new measure in 1997. Last Wednesday, the new Leader of the Opposition also made the argument for us. In his first press conference, Mr Turnbull said:

I know what it is like to be very short of money ... I know Australians are doing it tough and some Australians, even in the years of greatest prosperity, will always do it tough.

There is a simple question to be answered here today. Do the Liberals—and we know that some do not—agree that people on $50,000 deserve a tax cut? We know some members of the parliamentary Liberal Party understand that $50,000 is an average wage and they are not the people that this levy was designed to capture. Dr Wooldridge, the former federal health minister, said that when he introduced this levy. They are not the people that this levy was supposed to apply to. The whole of the opposition in the Senate know that.

The Rudd Labor government is trying to give some tax relief to those Australians who have been caught up in the system; the Liberal Party is playing politics once again. We have seen it on the pensions and we see it now with the Medicare levy surcharge.

Senator Cormann —Do you think that pensioners do not take out health insurance?

Senator CAROL BROWN —We have seen you play politics on pensions—

Senator Wong —On a point of order, Mr Deputy President: Senator Cormann seems to feel it is necessary to consistently and continually interject while Senator Brown is on her feet—

Senator Cormann —It is a very important issue.

Senator Wong —and is interjecting now even when I am on my feet on the point of order. I would ask you to call him to order to accord Senator Brown the courtesy she should be accorded.

Senator Minchin —On the point of order, Mr Deputy President: it is a reasonable proposition but it does rely on the proponents of such a proposition behaving accordingly themselves. I regret to say that is not a mark of the behaviour of the Labor Party when coalition senators are speaking. We are happy to oblige Senator Wong’s request on the understanding and observation that the same rules will apply to Labor senators when coalition senators are speaking.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —On the point of order, interjections are disorderly, as part of standing orders, but I do recall that earlier in this debate there were some robust interjections, particularly from this side, and there were some from my left as well. When I thought it got too unruly, I brought interjectors to order. I did call Senator Cormann to order just before Senator Wong took her point of order and I am not sure that he did ignore me. I remind senators that those who are on their feet have a right to be heard in silence.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. What I was attempting to say is that the opposition are playing politics with not only this issue but the issue of pensions. I think senators opposite know that is exactly what I was attempting to say. They are playing politics with the pension issue. They did not do anything in the 11½ years they were in government—actually, that is not true; they voted against it in the cabinet. I am not sure how many people raised it in their caucus but they did vote against a rise in their cabinet.

The Rudd Labor government is trying to give some relief to those Australians who are caught up in the system and the Liberal Party is playing politics. You have to ask yourself why they hate working families. Why do they not want to support a tax cut? If the Leader of the Opposition really believed in a bipartisan approach to economic responsibility, he would join us in the Senate. We have listened to what stakeholders and senators have to say and we have— (Time expired)