Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Matters of Public Importance
Cost of Living
Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The urgent need for the Government to address the cost of living pressures on Australian families.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
Haven't we seen an extraordinary spectacle from the Prime Minister and government ministers today in question time. Every time members of the coalition asked the government about the extraordinary increase in power prices due to the carbon tax, government ministers, led by the Prime Minister, have laughed. That is what they have been doing. They have laughed off this hit on the cost of living of decent Australian families. And doesn't that just prove: every time your power bill goes up the Prime Minister has a smile on her face, because that is just the carbon tax doing its job. The whole point of the carbon tax is to increase the cost of living for Australian families.
We did have a truly extraordinary performance from the Prime Minister today. She said today, in answer to the first or second question she got: businesses knew a carbon price was coming.
An opposition member: How?
How? Did they read the chicken entrails? Did they read the tea leaves? Because if they had listened to the Prime Minister what would they have heard?
Opposition members: 'No carbon tax under the government I lead'!
No carbon tax! No emissions trading scheme! Nothing whatsoever until—
Opposition members: 'A deep and lasting consensus'—
was achieved. So how this Prime Minister could attribute some kind of ESP to the businesses of Australia—particularly to BHP, which is on the verge, it seems, of announcing the cancellation of the Olympic Dam mine expansion—is just utterly beyond comprehension. The Prime Minister today liked to talk about something that might have been said in the 2007 election. Well, this Prime Minister and this government have dudded the Australian people not once but twice. They said at the 2007 election there would be an emissions trading scheme; they did not deliver it. They said at the 2010 election there would be no carbon tax, and they did. What a fraudulent display from this Prime Minister.
Then of course we had the Prime Minister claiming that the coalition would keep the carbon tax if we formed a government, and the minister for families saying we would claw back the assistance if we formed a government. Well, they cannot even get their scare right; they cannot even get their smear right, which shows what an extraordinary government we have got.
I went back to the record of August 2010, election month, and on no fewer than five separate occasions we had this Prime Minister saying that her whole objective was to help families with cost-of-living pressures. She does not say that anymore, does she? She cannot say it anymore because no government that took the pressure on families seriously and wanted to relieve it would hit every single Australian family with a carbon tax.
Members opposite never stopped talking about working families. Remember that phrase that rung around this chamber, day in and day out, back in 2007 and 2008? They never talk about working families anymore because they are precisely the people who are being hit by the toxic carbon tax.
Let us have a look at what has happened to the cost-of-living pressures on working families since members opposite formed a government. Since December 2007, power prices are up 64 per cent; water prices are up 60 per cent; utilities prices are up 58 per cent; gas 42 per cent; insurance 35 per cent; education 31 per cent; health 33 per cent; and rent 27 per cent. What do they want to do? Make it all so much worse by adding to all of the price rises that have occurred up till now the greatest hit of all: the world's biggest carbon tax at the worst possible time.
Let us look at the economic situation that this government has created when it comes to ordinary families. Employment has risen very, very little. In fact, 2011 was the first year since the early 1990s when no net new jobs were created. GDP growth per person was 2¼ per cent a year between 1996 and 2007 under the Howard government, and just half a per cent a year under the current government. No wonder the families of Australia are feeling under pressure. No wonder the Howard era looks like a golden age of prosperity, now lost because of the bumbling and the new taxes of members opposite.
Consumer confidence is down. Manufacturing output is down. Employment growth is slow. Productivity growth is poor. Economic growth is fragile and confidence is almost non-existent in many sectors of our economy. So what is this government doing? They have got the answer! 'We have the answer,' they say. What is it? A carbon tax. Oh, great! What geniuses! Look at their own modelling. Members opposite like to say that the coalition is engaged in a scare campaign. Let us engage in a fact campaign by looking at the government's own modelling. On the government's own modelling, steel production under a carbon tax: down 21 per cent. Aluminium production under a carbon tax: down 61 per cent. Coal-fired power generation absent carbon capture and storage: down from over 70 per cent to just 10 per cent of Australia's total.
But there's more. Gross national income per head—that is, the real wealth of Australians—by 2050, will be $5,000 a year less under a carbon tax than without a carbon tax. Our cumulative GDP with a carbon tax is $1 trillion less than it would be without a carbon tax. This is on the government's own figures. It is as if this country were to stop working for a whole year. That is the wrecking ball that is going to swing through our economy as a result of this government's carbon tax.
And the tragedy is that it is not even going to reduce emissions. Again, look at the government's own modelling. Our domestic emissions do not go down by five per cent; they go up. That is right; they go up by eight per cent from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes in 2020, despite a carbon tax that by then will be $37 a tonne. We only get the five per cent emissions reduction that the government is committed to, and that we support, because Australian businesses have got to buy $3½ billion worth of carbon licences from foreign traders.
Who do government ministers think are ultimately going to pay for those carbon licences?—Australian consumers, Australian families. But it just gets worse. In 2050, when we are supposed to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in our emissions—in fact, the reduction in domestic emissions is more like three per cent—we only achieve the much boasted reduction in emissions because in that year alone Australian families have to pay for $58 billion worth of carbon credits being bought abroad. We will spend 1½ per cent of our gross domestic product buying carbon credits from foreign carbon traders. We will spend more buying carbon credits than we will on defence, as a percentage of GDP. Shame!
It is no wonder that members opposite want to talk about anything but the carbon tax. They would rather talk about the member for Dobell than about the carbon tax, because this is utterly toxic to their standing with the families of Australia.
Let's look at the burdens that this government is placing on the families of Australia. Taxes are going up and up and up, because spending is going up and up and up. Let's contrast the record. The last four budgets of Peter Costello delivered the four biggest surpluses in Australian history.
The first four budgets of the member for Lilley, the current Treasurer, delivered the four biggest deficits in Australian history. He wants to be known as Surplus Swan; he will forever be known as Wasteful Wayne.
This budget—the budget that he is so proud of, where he thinks we might achieve a surplus so small as to be invisible to the naked eye—is achieved by cooking the books and moving $6 billion of national broadband network spending off budget. Honest accounting—even as things stood at budget time—would have produced a deficit of at least $12 billion, not the microsurplus that he is promising.
As I said, taxes just go up and up, and they are all ultimately paid by the struggling families of this country—the forgotten families of Australia. There is the alcopops tax, the extra tax on employee share schemes, the cigarette tax, the LPG tax, the flood levy, the private health insurance tax, the mining tax and the carbon tax. Then there is the means test that they put on the family tax benefit part B, against a clear election promise. There is the means test that they whacked on the baby bonus—again, a clear broken election promise. There is the freeze in indexation for the family tax benefits and the baby bonus—again, an absolute rip-off of the forgotten families, the working families that Labor said they were here to represent. And, coming in 2014—safely, just after the election—there will be massive additional charges on people going into aged care.
This is a government which has ripped off the working families of Australia. The working families of Australia want change and they want change for the better. Briefly in the time left to me let me give you 10 important areas where there will be change for the better—because, yes, change will come. There will be no carbon tax, because we do not believe in hurting the economy for no environmental gain. There will be no mining tax, because we do not believe in penalising our most successful sector. We will have stronger borders because we will implement not just one, but all three of the Howard government's policies that worked.
There will be higher productivity because, amongst many other things, we will restore in full the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which gave that sector $5 billion a year in productivity improvements. There will be higher participation because there will be a proper paid parental leave scheme at long last—and aren't we in the coalition so proud to be giving the women and the families of Australia this long-overdue benefit! There will be less red tape because there will be $1 billion worth of savings for small business. There will be a cleaner environment because a green army, 15,000 strong, will be going to the rescue of our Landcare groups. We will have modern infrastructure, including the M4 East, the CityLink in Melbourne and the Gateway extension in Brisbane.
We will have better services from community controlled public hospitals and from independent public schools. Finally, there will be greater engagement with Asia through more language training in our schools, and a two-way street Colombo Plan.
This is a great country. We are a great people. We have been tragically let down by our very bad government. The message which the Australian people are coming to understand is that there is nothing wrong with this great country of ours that a change of government would not substantially improve.
As each day goes by this parliament becomes more astonishing. After question time, coalition frontbenchers stood up and made personal explanations, including the Leader of the Opposition, who denied that he has a policy to increase company tax. Then he went straight into the matter of public importance where he reaffirmed that the coalition would, indeed, have a paid parental leave scheme over and above that which has already been implemented. Either the coalition has just announced that it will not increase company tax by 1½ per cent, which was their pre-election commitment—and that is the basis of the personal explanation that the opposition leader gave—or they have just increased their $70 billion black hole by another $3 billion.
Where do I get the $3 billion figure? I get it from the 2010 coalition election policy. It is actually $3 billion a year, which would make it $12 billion over the period of the forward estimates. So $70 billion just grew to $82 billion. The coalition now has an $82 billion black hole, because the Leader of the Opposition stood up and gave a personal explanation saying there is no proposal to increase company tax. That is news to the member for Indi, who has said on Q&A, 'It is a small levy on a small number of businesses.' They are reaffirming what they said at the last election, that there will be a 1½ per cent increase in company tax for larger companies. The opposition leader said that is not true anymore. He took a personal explanation and the $70 billion black hole just grew to $82 billion.
While they were parading their righteous indignation by taking personal explanations, the shadow Treasurer—when he took a personal explanation—said that he had never mentioned a $70 billion funding problem. But the shadow Treasurer said:
Therefore finding 50, 60 or 70 billion is about identifying waste and identifying areas where you do not need to proceed with programs.
He made no apologies for that. The shadow Treasurer said that on the Sunrise program on 12 August 2011, but just took a personal explanation and said he has never talked about a $70 billion funding hole.
Your coalition frontbench colleague the shadow finance minister said:
The $70 billion is an estimate of the sort of challenge that we will have.
That was on ABC News Radio, 16 August 2011. That was four days after the shadow Treasurer made the same admission. The member for Goldstein said:
The $70 billion is an indicative figure of the challenge that we've got.
Paul Kelly asked him if it was a furphy. Robb said:
No, it's not a furphy. We came out with the figure, right?
That was on Meet the Press, on 4 September 2011. And they have the temerity to stand up here and say that this is a Labor fabrication, that the $70 billion was made up by Labor. In fact, that is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition said on 25 August as they were rolling through and trying to backtrack on the $70 billion:
Well, this $70 billion figure is a fanciful figure. It's plucked from the air by government ministers and I'm surprised you're re-telling it to me.
It came from the mouths of babes: it came from the mouths of the shadow finance minister and the shadow Treasurer. The leader of the opposition thought: 'God! The cat's out of the bag! I'll have to say that Labor made it up.' And then he came in today and said the same thing.
Who has been doctoring your transcripts? That is what I have to ask the Leader of the Opposition. This is not a Labor myth—this is truth. This is an admission of truth by the coalition that it has a $70 billion black hole which just grew by $12 billion today because the Leader of the Opposition, in righteous indignation, got up and said, 'We have never proposed a company tax increase to pay for the paid parental leave scheme.' He reaffirmed that today. The member for Indi told the ABC's Q&A, 'Of course there's a company tax increase.' You cannot hide from a million viewers, and that is what the member for Indi and the shadow industry minister said.
During the discourse across the table, we reiterated that the coalition was the highest-taxing government in Australia's history. Across the table, the shadow Treasurer again said: 'Rubbish! It's not true.' But it is in the budget papers! Do they think that the Treasury is part of a one-world government conspiracy? Do they think that it doctors the figures with the Australian Bureau of Statistics? They are out there at Tidbinbilla in a huddle! They are the people who were involved in faking the moon landing all those years ago! The ABS, the Treasury, Tidbinbilla Tracking Reserve, the radio telescope at Parkes—it's all part of this one-world government conspiracy! 'It ain't true,' they say. 'No, no, it never happened. We weren't the highest taxing government in Australia's history.'
Then the opposition leader went on with this: in criticising the Labor government he said, 'They've done this terrible thing. It includes means testing family tax benefits. It includes means testing the baby bonus.' He said these were really bad things. They forced up the cost of living and made it harder for people. But we just added to the $82 billion. Is that what has happened? Is the Leader of the Opposition, in saying that they do not support the means testing of the family tax benefits or of the baby bonus, saying that they have just gone from $70 billion to $82 billion?
It has been an expensive day at the office, hasn't it—and it's going through the roof! A hundred billion dollars, here we come.
We were talking about one source of cost-of-living increases: electricity prices. We pointed out that the bulk of electricity price increases have come from factors other than putting a price on carbon. The opposition said this was a fabrication by the Prime Minister, an absolute furphy. That was on 9 August. On 20 August, much more recently, the Leader of the Opposition said it is true the carbon price is not the only factor in the dramatic rise in power prices. Well, let me tell you: in New South Wales, over the last four years, there has been an almost 70 per cent increase, less than nine per cent of which was from the carbon price. In Queensland it was a 42 per cent increase—11 per cent from the carbon price. In Western Australia, it was almost a 63 per cent increase—nine per cent from the carbon price.
We are saying there does need to be reform in the electricity sector. The opposition leader said there is no problem; there is no gold plating. He said it was a furphy, something the Prime Minister made up. He has had to admit there is a problem. But we are struggling to get any cooperation from the opposition, because they believe there are two types of electricity price rises: one is associated with a carbon price, for which there is compensation—that is the bad one; and the other is the good one, a much bigger electricity price increase over the last four years from state governments, with no compensation.
They are saying that is all right. If it goes through the roof and there is no compensation, but it is done by a state government, it is fine. If there is an electricity price increase associated with the carbon price for which there is compensation, with the average increase in household bills being $3.30 a week and compensation on average being $10.10, that is a bad one. But the uncompensated ones are good ones. The fact of the matter is the opposition leader will not repeal the carbon price. That is the fact. I know that he has already created for himself an escape clause.
That escape clause is in an opinion piece. Opinion pieces are very considered—they are written down; they are gospel truth. This is what the Leader of the Opposition said in an opinion piece:
Opposition by contrast tends to be a permanent debating society because even the most final decisions can sometimes be revisited in office.
He is saying: 'We'll make a final decision. We'll announce that we're not going to repeal the carbon price; even that can be revisited in office'. It is just like the 'rock-solid', 'iron-clad' promise the Leader of the Opposition made—when he was heath minister before the 2004 election—not to tamper with the Medicare Safety Net. One of the first things the coalition did when they were re-elected was tamper with that Medicare Safety Net.
If a 'rock-solid', 'iron-clad' promise is not actually rock solid and is not iron clad—and is broken—then anything that the Leader of the Opposition says about the future amounts to a hill of beans—if that! Maybe half a hill of beans or a can of beans. That is about it, because this opposition leader said even the most final decisions arrived at in opposition can be revisited in government. And revisit they would if you saw what was going on in Victoria, if you saw what was going on in New South Wales with Liberal governments and if you saw what was going on in Queensland with can-do cuts—he is cutting everything—and he is doing it through an audit commission. These are policies that have been revealed after an election.
They got Peter Costello, the former Treasurer, to go up there in a very, they would say, unbiased way. He had a look at the books and went, 'Oh my God, the cupboard is bare! We'll have to cut the place to pieces.' They are cutting BoysTown; they are cutting support for child protection. For goodness sake! They cut a program that tries to get women out of jail and keep them out of jail. That is expensive stuff, having women—and anyone else—in jail. They cut that program: $70,000 a year. They have some sort of white picnic thing, where they all go and dress up to the nines. It's called a 'posh picnic'. They can afford a posh picnic but they reckon they have to cut these programs and cut tens of thousands of jobs.
When I saw that audit commission announcement by Mr Newman—can-do-cut Newman—I thought, 'I've heard that idea of an audit commission somewhere before.' And there it is. It was not so long ago. It was Friday, 9 March 2012. Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, said:
Today, I announce a further commitment to reduce the cost and complexity of government through the swift establishment of a commission of audit that will examine the detail of what the Commonwealth government does and whether it could be done better and more cost-effectively.
This is just straight out of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. 'Don't worry about it, we're just going to have this cute little audit commission. It won't be a problem.'
This is the device that Campbell Newman has used to slash services, to attack the most vulnerable people in this country. It is the device that the Leader of the Opposition—if ever he were to become Prime Minister—would use to slash programs and jobs and avoid announcing them before an election. That is exactly what the shadow finance minister told a business group recently. He said, 'We are not going to reveal all the details of our cuts.' He criticised the Hewson Fightback! program, which he said was an 800-page suicide note because it did detail all the cuts. At least it was honest.
We have the shadow finance minister saying: 'We wouldn't do that. What we would have instead is the commission for audit.' You know what? They would be cheered on by the former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. The Weekend Australian of 4 to 5 August said:
FORMER Victorian premier Jeff Kennett has backed Campbell Newman's cuts to Queensland's public service and taxpayer-funded social services, calling for Tony Abbott to adopt a similar program if he wins the next federal election.
Jeff Kennett said that the cuts should be 'savage'. This is the LNP way.
What we are seeing in Queensland is a dress rehearsal for an Abbott government—a dress rehearsal to cut services and jobs. And they have the temerity to talk about cost-of-living increases! Do you know who they would bring back to help? They would bring back none other than Godwin Grech. Godwin Grech rides again! Godwin Grech is available. Godwin Grech has told the Sydney Morning Herald:
The good news is there is reason to hope that the wounds will be cauterised as the Rudd-Gillard government meets its end at the ballot box within 12 months. If the Coalition is to improve the way we are governed, it must provide solid leadership, a healthy respect for due process and a much more accountable public service.
And you know what he recommends? That they sack the entire senior executive service—that they sack the public servants—put Godwin Grech back in the saddle, Godwin Grech riding through the Treasury, working on the commission of audit, working with other Liberals, who have the audit going, rolling away working out how to slash services for the most vulnerable, how to slash those 12,000 jobs that they have already announced—let alone all those jobs that they have not announced.
So what we have here is a government where, indisputably, the consumer price index, which is a measure of the cost of living, is at its lowest level in 13 years. Nevertheless, there are cost-of-living increases associated with electricity prices—and the coalition ought to get in there and report some of these programs instead of just criticising and cutting. (Time expired)
Okay, I want to make a confession—just between us here.
An honourable member: No, don't!
I kind-of like Emmo.
Government members interjecting—
I know, I know, I kind-of like him because he reminds me of that character—I don't know if you remember during the Iraq war: Baghdad Bob or Comical Ali. Everything is on fire, but find him and he says, 'Everything's okay here in Baghdad! It's all under control; move on—there's nothing happening here!' And every time he pops up on Sky News there he is saying, 'The government's during a great job; it's there fighting for the workers'—and out there, the workers are telling us a very different story. They are not happy.
Yes, that's right: when in trouble, break glass labelled 'Work Choices'—that is what Labor does. Let's just go through a key of the few reasons why the workers of Australia and their families are not too happy with this government. Starting point No. 1 is that this government just doesn't get it. You see, if you increase taxes then it increases the cost of living. So when you introduce an alcopops tax, the price of alcohol goes up. When you introduce higher cigarette taxes, cigarette prices go up. When you introduce taxes on company cars—
If you cut the subsidy or support for private health insurance then private health insurance premiums for everyday Australians go up. If you increase the taxes on luxury cars, the cost of luxury cars goes up. It goes on and on: ethanol taxes go up, LPG taxes go up—you see, the Labor Party does not get it. Bob Hawke used to say, 'That Craig Emerson; he's a smart guy.' Bob! What the hell has happened? He's not that smart, because he does not understand that when you introduce taxes, someone has to pay—and it is the same person out there: the worker, the battler, who has to pay the higher taxes, and nothing illustrates that better than the carbon tax. The carbon tax increases the cost of everything.
And in a female impersonation of Comical Ali, the Prime Minister stands before us in this place and says solemnly, 'Oh, only a few hundred people pay the carbon tax.' She just does not get it. Now this government are addicted to a new wave of spending. They are announcing from that great money tree—that great money tree that sits in the Prime Minister's courtyard out the back of Parliament House—that this government is going to deliver bigger surpluses. They are going to deliver their first surplus, they claim. And it is going to do that by spending more money! How are they going to do that? It is quite a wonderful formula that would deliver that. The starting point is that the government are going to spend up to $8 billion, maybe $10 billion, a year on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But they will not tell us where the money is coming from.
The government now have a $2.1 billion blow-out on trying to hold back asylum seekers coming on boats, but they will not tell us where the money is coming from. The government are planning to deliver $26 billion more for schools in Australia, but the government will not tell us where the money is coming from. The government are going to build 12 homemade submarines in Adelaide. They claim they can do that. That is $36 billion, but they will not tell us where the money is coming from.
Well, before the last election, they did not tell us where the money was coming from. They did not tell us about the carbon tax—the tax that dare not speak its name before the election. In fact it was denied. And now we know why: because that is what Labor does. It dresses mutton up as lamb. It claims things are savings when in fact they are higher taxes, and higher taxes means that everyday Australians have less money in their pocket to meet the needs of their families. And now we have the Treasurer and the Prime Minister playing this rather cute game. They are saying, 'We will find the savings through our massive new promises'. As they define the term 'savings' it means higher taxes. The Treasurer was on Radio National yesterday and he claimed that they found $33 billion of savings in the budget. It just so happens that $16 billion of that $33 billion was increased tax to about 20 taxes. That is what the Labor Party call savings: increasing taxes or introducing new taxes; and of course they would define the carbon tax as the greatest saving of all!
This is a government that is running out of money, and it is going to come to an ugly end. We know they are digging deep not only into the pockets of Australians now, with a carbon tax and a mining tax—oh, that mining tax, let us not forget. The intention of the original mining tax was to slow down the mining boom. And it is working. BHP announced today that they will not proceed with a full-scale Olympic Dam in South Australia.
So this government's mining tax is at work, this government's mining tax is doing its job: it is slowing down investment in mining in Australia. And the carbon tax will obviously have a significant role to play in helping to increase the cost of mining in Australia, because they are—by their own admission and the admission of the government—significant carbon dioxide emitters.
Not only are the government taxing today, not only are they taxing tomorrow, but they are also engaging in retrospective taxing. In the last few weeks, the Labor Party have introduced retrospective tax legislation on transfer pricing, with a value of $1.9 billion, and in relation to company consolidations, worth $6 billion. They are trying to go back and tax yesterday—taxing yesterday, when people were legitimately complying with the law as it stood at that time and as it stands today. The government are taxing today, taxing tomorrow and now taxing yesterday. Why? Because they are a wasteful government. There is no money.
Dr Martin Parkinson, the government's own Treasury secretary, warned only a few days ago:
… the days of large surpluses being delivered by buoyant tax receipts are behind us.
Yet the government are still making big spending announcements. The previous Secretary of the Treasury, Dr Henry, said in the last few days:
… the Australian tax base simply will not deliver what people expect of it …
You don't want to put yourself on a burning platform.
Well, these are the pyromaniacs of spending! They are the ones going out there with new spending promises, desperate to build up the primary vote of the Labor Party and save the Prime Minister's leadership. They are doing it with big spending announcements, but they are not prepared to be upfront with the Australian people about how they are going to pay for it.
And why would the Australian people give them $1 extra of tax, after we have had blow-outs on everything? The National Broadband Network was meant to cost $4.7 billion, as they said at the 2007 election. It is now closer to $50 billion. And you know what? It is passing six homes a day. Dick Adams and I could doorknock faster than that! The NBN is going at a rate of six homes a day. There were the pink batts, where $2.4 billion was wasted. There were the $900 cheques, where they sent 16,000 cheques to dead people—to stimulate the Australian economy. Go figure. I don't think sending 16,000 cheques for $900 to dead people was particularly stimulating! But they outdid themselves by sending 27,000 cheques for $900 to people overseas to try and stimulate the Australian economy. No wonder John Key said to me that that was the best thing he had had happen to New Zealand for a while. The government have had an $850 million blow-out on solar panels and $300 million wasted on the Green Loans Program. They spent $4.7 billion try to stop the boats and now they want an extra $2.1 billion. They had a billion-dollar blow-out on computers in schools, a $1.7 billion blow-out on school halls, and now they want $26 billion extra for schools. They are saying they can do it all. They can spend the money. They do not have to raise taxes—well, it is more that they do not have to tell you about the new taxes.
This government will be judged at the next election not just on its dishonesty but also on its honesty. And there is no honesty in this government. It is a government that is bereft of principles. It is a government that is wicked and malevolent towards everyday Australians. It is a government that is indifferent to the plight of the families and workers of Australia. And it is a government that will be thrown out because, when it comes to trust and honesty, this government gets a fail. (Time expired)
Yes, Your Honour! If you listened to the shadow Treasurer's speech or read it later, you will know that what he is doing is belling the cat in terms of what the coalition's program is—what the opposition plan on doing to this economy if they get into government. The reality of this MPI, 'the urgent need for the government to address the cost-of-living pressures on Australian families', is a complete distraction. It is a distraction from their own failures, from the $70 billion black hole in what they have promised to fund. On one hand, they are saying they are going to provide more; on the other hand, they are saying they are going to make savings. If you add the two together, it makes for a very big funding black hole, and that is exactly what they have got.
The MPI also highlights the fact that the opposition are in popularity mode: 'What's out there? What group can we please? What group will just side with us, on the basis that we'll promise to do or say anything to garner a few votes?' Unfortunately, that is not how you run an economy and it is not how you run a country, and it should not be how you run a political party either. Their strategy right now is just to frighten people—families, small business, everyone they can find. They particularly want to frighten schoolkids. Their latest rant and rave is about cutting, slashing and burning funding for schools as well.
But if we need to be serious about cost-of-living pressures, if there is an 'urgent need' for government to address those issues, then let's talk about that. Let's talk about the government's record. What has this Gillard government done? It has done quite a lot, actually. Sometimes it is easy to forget just how much you have put into an area and how difficult it was to do so in tough economic times—unlike in the glory days, when the opposition were in government for nearly 12 long years, when the 'rivers of gold' used to run into Canberra. Revenue was so large, so indiscriminate, they could not spend it all. They had trouble even estimating how much the surplus would be because they did not have a clue. No matter how hard they tried to spend, no matter how much they raised taxes—the highest taxing government in Australian history—there was always plenty of spare money because we had a very strong economy.
But, in these much more difficult times, we also have a strong economy because we are doing the heavy lifting, the hard work, the hard yards, and making the tough decisions—not always the popular decisions but the right decisions, the decisions that are required to run this country properly, to ensure this economy continues to provide jobs and keeps the numbers strong. And no-one can question the numbers. This is the fallacy coming from those on the other side. They talk about the economy as though we were Spain or some other country where there are in fact some very disturbing numbers related to where their economy is going. Instead, in Australia we see an economy that is running with inflation well under control, with interest rates at the lowest they have been in a very long time, with the total government tax take lower than it has been in 20 years and with unemployment at around five per cent. In my state of Queensland, we also have a really strong economy, with $500 billion worth of projects in the pipeline, about $150 billion of which are well advanced. These are advanced projects.
Look, there will always be this issue of debt. Who doesn't understand borrowing for a house? I think most Australians get that. They understand that, sometimes, to build really good things you need to borrow. But you need to do it responsibly, and that is exactly what we have done, with one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world, a debt that can be easily managed by the government.
Let us talk about what we know about the coalition. What are the facts? We know about Work Choices—and it has never been more real and it has never been more violent. There is one thing workers in this country understand—that is, the reality. It is a rolled gold guarantee. The Leader of the Opposition wants to slash the Public Service—whether with you need it or not, you are just going to have to cop it. The opposition want to cut funding to schools. It is really clear now that not only do the opposition have a hit list on schools but, in the view of Tony Abbott, public schools have too much fun. He did not say it just once. In case you did not hear the Leader of the Opposition, he repeated himself.
Mr Ewen Jones interjecting—
He said twice that it is just too much money. How can any credible Leader of the Opposition say that there is too much money in the public school system? Not only do they oppose our investment at a really important time in the economy for school infrastructure, but also they say there are too many teachers, that we should cut one in seven. The shadow education minister said that there are too many teachers and that none of them are good enough so let us start by cutting one in seven, that class sizes do not matter. In which part of the world do they not matter? The opposition is clearly setting out a slash and burn agenda and it is a rolled gold guarantee.
Let us look at the lived experience. What are people experiencing right now? I will give you a really good example—let us just go to Queensland. You want to talk about frightened people not just in the public sector but right across the economy? People are genuinely scared because they are seeing a government with an enormous unprecedented majority out of control to the point where they are having really big fights internally over the cutting, slashing and burning of the Australian economy. They are trying to have it both ways. On one hand the Queensland government is saying that it is so bad in Queensland that they will be the next Spain, that there is a collapse imminent. At the same time, the Queensland Treasurer is going overseas and lauding it to the rest of the world that we have the best economy in the world because we have such great numbers and opportunities.
Let us turn now to the living experience of the really good things we have done. We have the schoolkids bonus to help families educate their kids. We understand that families are doing it tough and we are doing something about cost-of-living pressures. It is urgent and we have a $3.6 billion cost-of-living package for families under pressure. The beauty about us is that we got this package through a hung parliament, in difficult circumstances, but the opposition opposed it every step of the way because they do not want families to get relief from those cost-of-living pressures. I agree: there are cost-of-living pressures and the opposition make them more difficult by not supporting any measures to ameliorate them.
Not only have we made a commitment to increase the tax-free threshold but also we have tripled it to $18,000, which means that more than one million working Australians will no longer have to fill out a tax return. This is something people dreamt about two decades. I do not know how many times constituents would come into my office and say, 'Why can't you lift the tax-free threshold from $5,000 or $6,000 up to maybe $10,000?' We took it to $18,000 and we did it in a tough economic climate. We did not just do it when it was easy, when anybody could have been a good Treasurer and you literally just had to turn up for work and you did a good job; we did it in tough times when you have to manage an economy, to make hard decisions, to make savings in the right areas, to spend in the right areas, to invest in schools and education, to invest in health, to reform parts of the economy and to make big structural changes including a new carbon economy in step with what the rest of the world is doing.
The Climate Commission has come out with its report which says we are now in step with the middle of the pack when it comes to our policies on climate change and carbon pricing because the world has a number of schemes in place. There is one thing clear about that report and that is, if we do not do something now, we will be left behind and it will cost 10 times as much. That is the lived experience. That is what happens in real life.
What else is happening right now? Since we got into government we have lowered taxes. If you are on $50,000 a year, which is a fairly basic wage, you are now paying $1,750 less tax than you were in 2007-08—that is, 18 per cent less tax. Under a Labor government you pay less tax and the total tax take from government is a figure which cannot be disputed. You cannot just accept a figure when it suits you and then not accept it when it does not suit you. In fact, all taxpayers with incomes up to $80,000 get a tax cut. That is the lived experience. That is what we are doing as a government to make cost-of-living pressures come down. We understand cost-of-living pressures are real. We do not just oppose them, bleat about them and frighten parents about their kids' education. We put more money in and that is how to deal with it.
Family payments will increase by $1.8 billion from1 July next year. That is on top of the increases we have already put in place. We understand families are doing it tough because we had a GFC and one of the worst natural disasters in Australian history. The Queensland floods had a bigger impact on this economy, a whole percentage point on GDP, than the GFC. We responded. We took action to make sure that the economy did not suffer. What did that mean? People did not lose their jobs. The economy is still going. It means that people can still go to a hospital. They can still send the kids to school. It means they still have a job to pay the mortgage. The best thing you can do to reduce cost-of-living pressures is keep people in jobs.(Time expired)
I rise to speak on the urgent need for the government to address the cost-of-living pressures on Australian families. I know the member for Oxley gave us a very colourful insight and, coming from Brisbane, I am sure he talks to different families from those I talk to. Everywhere I go—to information booths or in my office—I find there is a great deal of hurt out there and the cost-of-living pressures across the board are great, and the feedback is that is being felt very strongly by all in the community. Whether they are young professionals, students, pensioners or forgotten families, Australians are all feeling the pain and the squeeze at this very moment.
In fact, according to the latest ranking of 130 cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit, all five Australian mainland state capital cities are more expensive than any major international city, such as Los Angeles, Berlin, Beijing and Shanghai. Sydney came seventh; Melbourne was closely behind in eighth position; followed by Perth, as the 12th most expensive; and Brisbane in the 13th spot. Brisbane's ranking was two spots higher than its 15th position in the previous year. So it is now much more expensive to live in Brisbane.
So you would think that the national government, with all of these cost-of-living pressures on the rise, would be taking action to ease the cost burden on Australians. However, what are we seeing from the Gillard government? We are seeing exactly the opposite. Why make it harder for people? That is exactly what they are doing; they are making it harder each and every day.
If there is one thing that this government can do, it is to take the cost-of-living pressures off Australian families by repealing the carbon tax. As we know, the carbon tax is based on a deliberate mistruth to the Australian people. We remember those hollow words, spoken to the Australian people prior to the last election: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.'
Mrs D'Ath interjecting—
The member for Petrie can well interject, but her Prime Minister uttered those words days before the election and her Prime Minister misled the Australian people. Yet we now have exactly that: a carbon tax that is slowly starting to filter through to the Australian economy. It is hurting families; it is hurting consumers. We have seen numerous examples all week during question time of the massive increases in electricity bills to businesses and families.
And let's face it: the whole point of a carbon tax is to raise electricity prices and it is doing that beautifully. If the carbon tax did not raise electricity prices, it would not be doing its job.
Mrs D'Ath interjecting—
Mr Mitchell interjecting—
Members opposite can interject, but the wholesale price of power has doubled because of the carbon tax. The retail price has increased by an average of 10 per cent or more. I gave the example today of the memorial swimming pool in the electorate of Moreton. Their electricity price has actually increased by 15 per cent. Many families are suffering.
Mr Mitchell interjecting—
The member opposite spoke about the wonderful compensation that he and his government are giving to families. It will not be helpful. It will provide minimal relief because of these huge price increases, and any direct compensation from the Gillard government to offset household power bills will not assist the flow-on effect to households. Every business in Australia will have increased electricity prices, and the price of every good and commodity will be passed on to Australian consumers and families.
On the government's own figures, millions of Australian families will be worse off and, clearly, its compensation package will not assist with these massive cost increases. Those flow-on costs and the passing down of increased costs to consumers will hurt everyday families.
Mr Mitchell interjecting—
The member interjects about GST. GST is a fixed amount. Your carbon price will continue to grow year after year and will continue to inflict pain year after year.
Mr Mitchell interjecting—
The member refers to economics. I think he needs a lesson in Economics 101 himself. I have spoken in this House many times about local sporting groups, such as the Wilston Grange Gorillas, an AFL club in my electorate. They, like many other sporting clubs, predominately train of an evening. In Queensland we have got the added impost because we have daylight saving, which means our electricity bills are a bit higher than those of the southern states. Clubs have to train—
Mrs D'Ath interjecting—
Mr Mitchell interjecting—
Members opposite can laugh and they can be ridiculous but the players have to train and because of daylight saving most parents are in the dark longer and that is just a fact. Because of the training schedules of all the players and because of work and school commitments they have to have lighting on the fields, which uses a lot of electricity. The club's monthly electricity bill, following the introduction of a carbon tax, has increased by more than 15 per cent. Over the financial year, this will equate to approximately a $5,000 increase due to the carbon tax. That is a massive amount of dollars for a volunteer sporting organisation, and it is the mums and dads who will wear that increase through higher sporting fees.
Then, to add insult to injury, the government has named Brisbane City Council as one of Australia's top 500 polluters. So the carbon tax will cost the Brisbane City Council $65 million over four years, after the Gillard Labor government branded it as one of the top polluters in the country. I do not know what the logic is of this. The council has purchased 100 per cent green power for its buildings; it has offset its carbon emissions from its public transport and vehicle fleets; it has planted two million trees; and it has protected more than 500 hectares of bushland from development over the past four years by bringing that land into public ownership. So the decision to slug the Brisbane City Council with a carbon tax is a slap in the face for struggling households, because that cost has only one way to go—it has to be passed on to the ratepayers. The 40 per cent rate increase in this year's council budget is because of the government's carbon tax.
The general manager of Communify, Karen Dare, a community organisation based in Bardon in my electorate, recently told me about the increasing number of people coming into their organisation because of the rising cost of living. She has seen a huge number of people coming into their organisation because the cost of rent, power, food and transport has gone up.
Power bills are particularly devastating for people on pensions. They have risen over 20 per cent, but there is no corresponding rise in the pension. In addition, pensioners are particularly vulnerable because they have no opportunity to increase their income. So they are doing it particularly tough. Rising rents, because of increased council rates and utility rates, have led to many people falling behind. Tenants either go without food to pay rent or fall behind and are faced with eviction. Or they end up relying on emergency services or become homeless. The government must do something to address the rising costs of living. The first thing that they can do is remove this toxic carbon tax.
I move on to the private health insurance rebate which, again, has been another area that has been slashed by this government and that is hurting families. In my electorate of Brisbane, 89,920 people are covered by some form of private health insurance. That equates to 72 per cent of the voting population, which is 20 per cent above the national average. Yet this government says these people are rich. Under tier 1, the rebate is slashed by 10 per cent for singles earning $80,000 and for couples earning $160,000 per annum.
Let's get this right: that is a teacher married to a policeman. They are hardworking, forgotten Australians aspiring to success and now their household costs have increased because of the increase in private health insurance premiums through the action of this government.
Another issue which is causing great concern in my electorate is the cuts to occasional child care. This government cut $12.6 million from limited childcare funding in 2010 and the state governments carried the Commonwealth's share. However, due to the poor financial state of the Queensland budget, this cannot continue beyond December 2012. So, unfortunately, childcare centres like Kitchener Road in my electorate are going to have to increase fees to parents.
In conclusion, the coalition is committed to reducing the cost of living for Australians. We will repeal the carbon tax, taking the pressure off electricity prices. We will reintroduce the private health insurance rebate. We are committed to a Productivity Commission inquiry to look at ways to offer more affordable child care. This government continues to hurt Australian families. Australian families are facing increased living costs because of this government's toxic carbon tax. The coalition can offer real relief to families. (Time expired)
It is a pleasure to follow the member for Brisbane, who reminds us that it was a Liberal government that reduced the feed-in tariff to families and households—please do not walk out until I am finished, because you will love this—from 32c to 8c. You have actually ripped the guts out of it. Just for the record, I want to clear this up. I know she did not mean to deliberately mislead the House, but Queensland does not have daylight savings. You said they did. You might just want to find out where you live, mate. It is unbelievable.
I tell you what: the biggest joke was the cuts in health insurance that she talked about. What she is saying clearly is that every working family should be subsidising her health insurance, my health insurance and that of everyone else in here. That is an absolute joke.
Mr Dutton interjecting—
Don't you talk, mate. The shadow minister at the table interjects because he has not asked a question all term of the health minister. That is why he has the hashtag 'world's laziest shadow'—because he does not do anything.
Our economy is very strong because this government put in a fiscal policy that has kept us out of recession and kept us the envy of the world. We are the envy of the world because what our government has done is give assistance. We have had the biggest pension increase to pensioners we have seen. It was not under your government—in 11 years there was not a thing. You are running behind. You talk about social housing. There can be nothing clearer than the hatred of old people by those opposite when you listen to Campbell Newman saying, 'Don't live on your own. You should all get into a communal home. You should all be locked down in a little dog box together.' That is what they want. It is absolutely amazing when you listen to those opposite whinge and whine and carp, and they come up with nothing.
The simple facts are that since we have come to office we have created 100,000 jobs. Since we have had Liberal or LNP—or whatever they are calling themselves this week—premiers in different states we have seen job after job being slashed. In my home state of Victoria, over 50,000 jobs have gone. How does that help people with the cost of living?
Mr Tehan interjecting—
The mumbler for Wannon over there was out there supporting Premier Baillieu as he cut the pensioners' winter concession on power and electricity bills. He smiles and he laughs; he thinks it is fun. But it just shows that he is a heartless, empty shell. He is a very empty shell.
Mr Tehan interjecting—
During the GFC we had the opposition leader sitting there and going to sleep. He did not think there was a GFC. He just missed the whole lot because he was snoozing. He was snoozing away in his office, doing nothing, while Treasurer Wayne Swan was getting on with the job of keeping us the strongest economy in the world, delivering things that they can only dream of. We had lower interest rates, lower unemployment, higher job growth—every major factor that you look at when you talk about the economy we had, and they sit there and wallow in their negativity. They cannot find a positive thing. I want to quote Julian Morrow because I reckon his quote was fantastic. He said that the Leader of the Opposition is so negative the only thing he would eat for an entree is an antipasto. I think that was an absolutely amazing and so truthful comment.
We have been working extremely hard to deliver the things that they cannot do. Our net debt is one-tenth that of major advanced economies. We have to tame inflation. We have a budget coming into surplus in 2013. We have done this during the toughest economic times in my lifetime. We have delivered this and we have got on with the job of making sure that we support working families. We support workers. We do that by not cutting their wages and conditions. That is really not going to help them, is it? Lose your wages and conditions and earn less money—that is the Liberal way of thinking. They have voted against every single opportunity to support families across this nation. When our bills come before the parliament, they are gone. They hide away and they keep coming up with this idea of, 'We can do it better. But we can't.' They will not release their policies. The cat was let out of the bag by the shadow minister for finance, Andrew Robb. He said they will do that at a later date because at the last election they went and got their policies audited by an auditing company and, lo and behold, that company was charged and fined for fudging the figures.
Today we learned—because Minister Emerson came out and showed us—that the $70 billion black hole has grown to $84 billion in one day. That is $84 billion that they have to find. Where are they going to find it? They are going to cut workers' jobs. They are going to cut wages and conditions. They are going to cut support to families. It is just rank hypocrisy for them to come in here and say, 'We're here to help look after the families.' The shadow minister, Sophie Mirabella, said on Q&A
the member for Indi. She said that their small-business tax levy is an impost on families. She said: 'It is a small levy on a small number of businesses. I'm assuming businesses will have a cost structure that reflect their costs. So if that modest cost increase directly from the levy is incorporated in their prices then, sure, it is an increase.' She would have to be the only member I have ever seen get booed on the stage during Q&A. That was about the grocery tax that they are going to deliver which will cause the cost of living to increase.
We have seen right across this nation—and I have seen this in my own state of Victoria—that since the Liberal-National parties have come to power they have slugged commuters with fare increases, without delivering on their previous plans to improve public transport.
They have stripped $300 from the household budgets of 100,000 families by axing the school start bonus. At a time when parents need money, when their kids are going to school for the first time, they take the money away. They take it away and what have they delivered? Absolutely nothing.
The report in the Herald Sun today showed just what the LNP think, their big priorities: 'Let's go and see if Victoria has pumas running in the wild.' Fifty thousand jobs are gone. Businesses are closing because 'Premier Faillieu' cannot do anything, and what do they do? 'We're going to go and look for pumas.' It gives you an insight into—you could not say the intelligence of those opposite, but their way of thinking. We also see that they forced up apprenticeship fees by $200 a year by cutting support for apprentices. They cut the school bonuses. They cut the education maintenance allowance for all students, putting schools in the red. That is taking away uniforms, it is taking away equipment and it is taking away excursions.
We have to go back and have a look at how their scare campaign works and how what they say can never, ever be believed. Joe Hockey, the shadow Treasurer, said on 12 March 2008:
I firmly believe we are heading into recession nationally, and this government is taking us down the path at high speed.
That was backed up by the member for Sturt, who said:
… we are definitely—
I should not use a deep voice—
… we are definitely going to be in a recession this year.
That was followed up by Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, who said:
I think what we're going to get is massive debt and a deep recession.
The great Nick Minchin, the great factional warrior—remember him?—said:
… particularly at a time when the economy is … headed for a recession.
Well, where is it? It never eventuated, because what they say and what is actually happening are two different things. They talk about carbon pricing. I tell you what: these are direct quotes from the member for Warringah. When he talked about the Medicare safety net he said it is not the same as a carbon backflip: 'It's not the same. When I said we wouldn't touch it, I meant that.' But straight after the election he said:
I faced changed circumstances. I made a choice and I'm happy to stand by it.
What we know is that circumstances were changed. They won the election, they won control of the Senate and they thumbed their noses at the Australian public. If you want to talk about untruths, you do not have to look any further than the member for Warringah and what he says.
What about this golden oldie from last year? You can imagine sitting at the Liberal Party's national conference and there is the member for Warringah. He sits there and he says: 'Reithie, mate, I'll look after you, old son. You nominate for the Liberal presidency. I'll look after you. You're the man! I'll do the right thing.' Then he turns to his left and says, 'Stockers, mate, here's my vote.' That is a deliberate untruth. He set up Peter Reith—not that I am complaining about that, but you cannot trust a word that comes out of the opposition leader's mouth. He has never ever stood by what he has said. He admits you cannot believe anything he says unless he writes it down. And then what happens? He writes it down and says, 'Oh, well, I didn't really mean that.' This government has delivered the strongest economy that we have seen. We are the envy of the world and we are going to keep delivering for families and keep your hands off the Australian economy.
It is a pleasure to join this matter of public importance debate. It seems that the poor member for McEwen has forgotten where he is. He still seems to be fighting his past battles in Victorian parliament. I will just remind the member for McEwen that he is now in the federal parliament. He actually broached the topic of trust. I am staggered that the member for McEwen would broach the topic of trust, because there are a few things the Australian people expect of us in this place. We come to this place and they expect us to act with honesty. They expect us to act with responsibility. They expect us to act with integrity. They also expect us to act in a way which is in the best interests of all Australians and they expect us to be trustworthy, Member for McEwen. They certainly do not expect us to say one thing before the election, something like—what was it? 'I rule out a carbon tax. There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.'
It is funny you mention that, Member for Wannon. He had not heard that before. The member for McEwen did raise the topic of trust. What Australian families do not expect is for us to make their lives harder, and that is the very essence of the matter of public importance before us today.
Mr Mitchell interjecting—
The member for McEwen wants to bring up the GST. There is a significant difference between the GST and the carbon tax, and I acknowledge that the former Prime Minister did change his mind after an election. The former Prime Minister changed his mind and took it to the Australian people and gave them a chance to vote. He had the guts. He had the courage of his convictions. He went back to the Australian people and said: 'What do you think, Australian people? Would you like the GST?' And they voted for him. Have we had any other Prime Minister do anything like that? Let me think. 'No carbon tax under a government I lead. I rule out a carbon tax.' That was before the election. After the election: 'I changed my mind. Do I go back and get a mandate? No, I won't get a mandate. I'll just scurry around and do deals with the Greens.'
And cling onto power. The families of Australia acknowledge that governments cannot solve all their problems, but they can help. They certainly should not do things to make life harder for Australian people. That brings me to the fundamental issue with a carbon tax. Why make things harder for Australian businesses? Why make things harder for Australian families? This matter of public importance strikes at the very heart of this government's betrayal. It strikes at the very heart of the fundamental breach of trust of the current Prime Minister. Until this Prime Minister deals with that issue, that fundamental breach of trust, no-one will believe a single word she says.
This is a message that I get every day. The member for McEwen can bellow, he can holler, he can protest and he can rant. But he never mentions what the people in his electorate are saying to him. I know some of the people for McEwen. They are not that unusual. They are not that much different, actually, from the people in Gippsland. It is a good rural and regional mix.
Here we go! The member for McEwen says most of his are intelligent. So now the member for McEwen is insulting every Gippslander.
You are a genius, Mensa; you are a genius! Make my job easier, will you! Okay, the people from Gippsland are not as smart people as the people from McEwen. Well done, genius! Good on you, Mensa! That will run well in the election campaign: the member for McEwen says the people in Gippsland are not very smart at all.
Well, the people in Gippsland are smart enough to reject the Labor Party. In the by-election in 2008, the people in Gippsland had the choice of voting for the great Kevin Rudd, the juggernaut at the peak of his powers, but, in a by-election, what did they do to Kevin? They took six per cent off him. At the first chance when he went to an election, they took six per cent off him. And did Kevin front up to another by-election? No, Kevin would not go to another by-election after that. He ran off and hid, and clung to power for as long as he possibly could until Julia got him.
As I was saying, the problem for the member for McEwen—and the problem for the Prime Minister—is that no-one actually believes a word the Prime Minister says. The message that I am getting from the people in Gippsland—and I am sure the member for McEwen is getting the same message—is that they cannot wait to get rid of her. They simply cannot wait to get rid of this Prime Minister. The caucus could do Australians a great favour—they could get rid of this Prime Minister. They have done it once. They could do it twice. The message we get consistently in our electorates is: 'Get rid of her. Why prolong the agony?'
The very nature of this carbon tax and of the matter of public importance that is before us today is—
Don't start—there has been a little bit of encouragement from the member for McEwen! The very nature of the carbon tax—and of the matter of public importance—is that it is meant to be punitive. It has to hurt to work. If it does not hurt, it does not change people's practice, it does not change their consumption of electricity and it does not change their consumption of other goods—if it does not hurt, it does not work. And the Leader of the Opposition is right when he says: 'Every time electricity prices go up, the Prime Minister smiles.' The Prime Minister likes it when prices go up because that is her carbon tax at work—that is what it is meant to do. If it does not hurt, it does not work.
If you do not believe me, look at the comments earlier this year from the Salvation Army when they polled over 1,700 of their clients. Along with pointing out a whole list of things that people on fixed and low incomes were struggling with, Major Bruce Harmer said:
The increased cost of living has clearly meant larger numbers of Australians are now struggling to keep up with rising utility bills. Many are going without things we take for granted like nutritious food or a warm bed. Many are questioning how they will get through the winter months with what appears to be a never ending increase in the cost of living.
He goes on to say:
The ever rising cost of utilities, motor vehicle expenses and running costs, food, medical expenses, etc. is intensifying the struggle and they wonder where it will end.
There is only one place it can end. It can end with the Labor Party getting rid of this Prime Minister, or with the Australian people finally getting the chance to do that in about a year's time. There is not a single problem in this country that cannot be improved with a better government. I take up the comment made by the Leader of the Opposition in his address today—a better government can start working to fix some of the problems that are being faced by families right across our nation.
I have a simple question that I have put to members opposite many times over the last 12 months when they have stood up and said: 'Oh the electricity prices are going up for a range of other reasons. The reason manufacturing is suffering at the moment is because of the high dollar.' I come back to them and ask them just one question: why make it harder? Why make it harder for Australian families? Why make it harder for Australian manufacturers? And the answer I get is the same answer I am getting now: complete silence—not a word. They have no explanation for why it is a good idea to make things harder for Australian people at an already difficult time. They have not a single answer as to why we should make it harder for Australian manufacturers to compete in very difficult world markets. They have no explanation as to why we should make it harder for families struggling with the cost of living—not a single explanation as to why we should make it harder. If the carbon tax is such a good idea, why not double it? If it is so good for Australia, double it! Why don't you double it?
Is that the plan? The Australian people have a very clear choice and that choice is double or nothing. You can double it with the Labor Party, or have nothing with us. We are happy to get rid of the carbon tax.
It is a great pleasure to be here today discussing this issue of the increased cost of living. One of the other great myths—
Yes, the member for Makin has been very good! One of the other great myths of the carbon tax is the Prime Minister's repeated claims that the 500 so-called biggest polluters in Australia will be the only ones who will pay the carbon tax. That statement is every bit as misleading as the Prime Minister's promise that 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. Everyone pays the carbon tax.
Our local football and netball clubs will pay through increased energy costs to run their lights and they will have to pass on those costs to their members. Local aged-care facilities—I am sure other members have been approached by local aged-care facility owners—come to me and say: 'How are we going to meet these extra energy costs? We are going to pass them on to our residents who are on very small or fixed incomes.' I have had hospital board members and chief executives come to me and say, 'Our increase in energy costs for the next financial year is in the order of $200,000 that is directly related to the carbon tax.' United Dairyfarmers of Victoria has indicated that the individual cost per dairy farm is going to be about $5,000 per year and that is a direct, added cost to these farming families, a cost they cannot recoup and they cannot pass on because they are price-takers. What concerns me is that this Prime Minister simply has no answers when it comes to the increased cost of living. I call on members opposite to do the decent thing, put this Prime Minister out of her agony, put the Australian people out of their— (Time expired)
I am pleased to speak on this matter of public importance and to talk about the government's track record of assisting Australian people with living costs. Can I say before I get onto my other remarks that I was just listening to the member for Gippsland—and he spoke for 10 minutes—and he hardly referred to the motion at all. He spent all his time attacking the PM and talking about a carbon tax. There is a lot more to living than the matters that the member for Gippsland was referring to.
Contrary to the assertions of those opposite, the government does care about living costs. Whilst members opposite might selectively refer to matters to try and support their arguments, the fact of the matter is that the cost of living is about a total package of living costs. It is not about any one single item.
What is clear from today's MPI is that the opposition leader came into the chamber and spoke in relation to the MPI as a way of diverting attention away from himself, away from his dismal performance of late and away from the problems that he is undoubtedly facing. This is simply nothing more than an MPI to divert attention from the opposition leader and try to put the spotlight back onto the price of carbon.
If we are going to talk about the cost of living, then, quite frankly, let us stick to the facts. If we stick to the facts we will see an entirely different picture emerge to that that has been portrayed by opposition speakers today. Let me start by talking about inflation. When this government came to office at the end of 2007, headline inflation was three per cent. The last figure I have—June 2012—is 1.2 per cent, which is a significant drop. Inflation is usually the indicator that tells you whether costs are going up or not. Those costs are generally reflected in the cost of living in all sectors.
Let us also look at interest rates. When this government came to office interest rates were 6.75 per cent. A couple of months after the government took office the rates went to over seven per cent. Interest rates today are 3.5 per cent; that is the Reserve Bank cash rate. They are half of what they were when we came to office. Even if you look at the variable rate, it is significantly lower than it was when this government came to office. That, in my view, is doing something for families—bringing interest rates down—because in my electorate, for the 21,600 home owners who have a mortgage—and I assume most mortgages across the country sit at around a couple of hundred thousand dollars—that means something in the order of $6,000 or $7,000 less payments in interest being made each year. That is real money that families had to fork out which they are now able to reduce because interest rates have come down.
Let us also look at tax cuts because tax cuts are all about assisting families with real money in your pocket in order to meet the cost of living. Since this government has come to office, a person on around $50,000 a year is now paying around $2,000 a year less in tax. I put it to the House that that is substantial savings in the amount of tax being paid by wage earners around the country. That $2,000 will go a long way to offsetting some of the costs that householders have to meet. In fact, by increasing the tax threshold from $6,000 to $18,000, it has meant that just about every taxpayer has made a minimum of about $300—simply as a result of that move alone. Today there are about one million taxpayers around the country who do not even have to lodge a tax return—a tax return which, again, probably cost them money because they had to go to a tax accountant in order to lodge it.
One of the most significant areas where this government have acted to assist with the cost of living has been with respect to the support that we have provided pensioners. We have spoken in this House about this matter time and time again. After almost 12 years whilst the opposition were in government they did nothing to assist pensioners around this country. We came to office and have since increased the single pension by about $154 a fortnight and for couples combined by $156. We have increased the utilities allowance by around $400 and, today, a single pensioner gets an income of about $19,600 and couples combined get $29,600. In addition to that, we changed the pensioner cost-of-living index to better reflect the real costs of living—which is the matter we are talking about—for pensioners throughout this country. Further to that we have also increased the amount to $10,400 that pensioners can earn and still claim their maximum pensions.
Let us turn to families and have a look at what we have done. Paid parental leave was brought in by this government. It is all right for the Leader of the Opposition to come in now and say how he is going to do it one better. The reality is that they did nothing about it whilst they were in government and, in fact, my understanding is that the Leader of the Opposition personally opposed the introduction of paid parental leave. This government did bring it in and, today, that means $606 a week for someone who is on paid parental leave. I understand that, to date, about 160,000 families across the country have benefited from the government's 18 weeks of paid parental leave. As from 1 January 2013 there will be a dad and partner pay introduced to assist the partners and dads when children are born.
With respect to the childcare rebate, this is something that members opposite continually harp on about in regard to the fact that we have capped it at $7,500. Can I say that we increased the rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, which is a much larger amount of money that families are entitled to than they ever were under the coalition. That means that families are now entitled to $7,500 in childcare rebate per child, which is almost $3,000 more than they would have been entitled to had this government not been elected.
Then there is the Teen Dental Plan worth $163 or thereabouts to each child to assist with preventive dental checks. These are real costs that real families meet on a regular basis. This government understands that and that is exactly why it has brought in a teen dental plan to assist those families. I understand that there has been something like 1.5 million check-ups funded under this program.
Lastly, in respect to children there is the Schoolkids Bonus; the $410 that we are providing to every primary school child and the $820 to secondary school children. That is real money that goes to the families of this country and will assist with meeting cost-of-living expenses. School fees are cost-of-living expenses and this government has, again, done something very specific about assisting families to meet those costs. In addition to that families have been supported by increasing family support by up to $4,200 per year for each teenager that continues to live at home. From July 2013 there will be $600 per year to family tax benefit part A payments also made available. In addition to that there is the $600 annual carer's supplement boost. I could go on about the payments and support payments that this government has provided since coming to office to assist families with the costs of living that they incur. I want to finish on a couple of other matters and the one I will touch on is jobs.
If you really want to support families, the best thing you can do for them is ensure that people have jobs, because if they have jobs they have income and if they have income they can meet their living costs. This government, since coming to office at a time when we have endured a global economic recession, has been able to create 800,000 new jobs and keep unemployment to just over five per cent. That speaks for itself. In my view, that does more to assist families than anything else I could refer to. At a time when other Western nations in most parts of the world are confronted with double-digit unemployment figures, this country is still on just over five per cent. While people are employed, they have got income and that is the most important thing we could do for them. (Time expired)