Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (09:59): It is my great pleasure to follow the member for Rankin, who had some insightful things to say about this legislation before the House and the context in which we debate the bill. I would like to add to that. Before the election the Prime Minister had this to say:
I will say what I mean and do what I say.
He tried to paint himself as the patron saint of political honesty. How quickly this self-styled patron saint has fallen. It is not that the halo has slipped; it is the fact that it has been completely extinguished! This is a budget which is built on deceit. They say one thing before the election and then after the election they go and do the complete opposite.
The Abbott government is slapping themselves on the back for halving a budget deficit that they themselves only two months ago doubled. They did this by introducing an unaffordable Paid Parental Leave scheme, by giving tax cuts to mining companies, a $9-billion gift to the reserve bank, and scrapping the only Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme which is likely to work. If there was a real budget emergency, why has the deficit doubled under this government and why are they taking longer to pay it down? If there was a real budget emergency, why would the international credit rating agencies still give us a AAA credit rating. It is because of this deceit that the Australian people are asking themselves: 'What's gone on here. Why is the government asking us'—through measures like this before the House today—'to pay for this deceit?' Before the election in March 2012 the Prime Minister was quite clear:
What you'll get under us are tax cuts without new taxes.
He went on again in February 2013:
I absolutely guaranteed to the Australian people, absolutely guaranteed to the Australian people, that the tax burden will be less under a Coalition Government.
Again, in August 2013:
No country has ever taxed its way to prosperity.
Further, in his book, Real Solutions:
We pledge to the families of Australia we will never make your lives harder by imposing needless new taxes.
Against this backdrop you would have to ask yourself, 'Why is this legislation before the House at all?'
The debt levy bill seeks to amend a whole raft of tax acts. It will slap Australians with a three-year increase on the taxable incomes, starting 1 July. Before the introduction of these bills you could see the spin doctors on the other side of the House rifling through the pages of their political thesaurus trying to come up with another word to describe what the Treasurer himself has had to concede, after being backed into a corner—he tried to call it a rabbit, he tried to cause a whole range of other things!—but he has had to concede that these are new taxes.
But it is more than a tax increase—it is much more than that; it is a $600 million smokescreen to try to detract attention from what is really going on in this budget. It is a feeble attempt to let those members on the other side of the house try and look their constituents in the eye and say: 'I know before the election we said that we weren't going to do this. I know we told you that we weren't going to do this. But we are going to try to spread the burden evenly.' The truth is something very, very different. They are not going to be able to look their constituents in the eye and make that claim, because the truth is something very different. They are hitting low- and middle-income earners much harder than hitting the big end of town.
You do not have to take our word for this, Deputy Speaker Mitchell. The member for Rankin outlined this in his address before the House. He told us that just last week the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling published its analysis, which found that the poorest 20 per cent of Australian families would pay $1.1 billion more than the richest households as a result of this budget. That is $1.1 billion more as a result of this budget from the poorest families in Australia. These are families with $35,000 or less in disposable annual income. They will forego $2.9 billion over four years thanks to the changes to the family benefits pensions and other payments. We stand here and we can look out constituents in the iron and we can say, 'We will not support those changes.'
By contrast, let's look at the big end of town. Let us look at the wealthiest 20 per cent of households. They will be paying $1.78 billion. That is 40 per cent less than the lowest income families. So how can the Prime Minister, let alone every backbench member who has been given their pep up speech in their party room meeting a few days ago, how can everyone of those backbench members go back to their electorates and say, 'I know we lie to you, but for give us because we're spreading the pain evenly.' The truth is they are not and they cannot make that claim to their constituents.
Let us look at the case of single parents. For every dollar a single parent loses someone on $500,000 a year is only paying 20c. For every one dollar a single parent is losing, somebody on half a million dollars a year is paying 20c. You have got to ask yourself, 'Is that fair?' It is not the first hit this government has made it is very short nine-month history on low-income earners. It comes on top of the coalition scrapping the low-income superannuation contribution, hitting those same workers, the same households that I have just spoken about, with a 15 per cent super tax. This will leave more than 45,000 workers in my region in the Illawarra up to $500 a year worse off. These are not millionaires; they are retail workers, cleaners, shopkeepers and hospitality workers. They are definitely not the big end of town. They say that a budget is a demonstration of the government's priorities. You can see the government's priorities on display with measures like this.
I will talk about the government's proposed changes to higher education, because that is the context in which we are debating these taxation bills before the House today. If you look at their proposed changes to higher education you can see that at the heart of it there is a snobbery. They think that our graduation halls are somehow overcrowded with uncouth and undeserving kids.
When Chris Pyne, the Minister for Education, closes his eyes he imagines a perfect world of higher education that is full of strapping lads in boaters and blazers, sipping their Pimm's and lemonade before they go off to their university lectures. He cannot stand the idea that there might be precocious kids from the suburbs and the regions darkening the halls of the hallowed sandstone institutions. His proposal is to put roadblocks and barriers in the way of kids from regions like mine and like yours, Deputy Speaker Mitchell, entering those universities.
He tells us that it is the only way that Australia can ever aspire to have its own version of an Oxford or a Yale University. I have no problems with Australia having its own version of an Oxford or a Yale, but the minister is going about this the wrong way. We are for excellence. There are over 190,000 more students enrolled in universities today because of the reforms put in place by the former Labor government. We believe students should exceed on the basis of their abilities, and not on the basis of the wealth and privilege of their families. This is a government that went to the last election saying there would be no change to university funding arrangements. Now we are staring down the barrel of a policy that will double interest rates on university loans and significantly increase university fees. The problem with this government is that they cannot see the difference between excellence and elitism. We are for excellence; they are for elitism.
These changes are going to hit women the hardest. We can look at some recent modelling that was published this week by the National Tertiary Education Union. The cost of a three-year accountancy degree is currently a little over $30,000 a year. With no interest payments other than those to keep up with inflation this will rise to around $75,000 a year. For graduates who take time off to have children, raise a family and work part time, the total repayments could rise to around $120,000 a year. Compare the figures: $30,000 versus $120,000 for one bachelor's degree. The interest alone is over $45,000, taking 36 years to pay off.
Only a bloke who has no understanding of what it is like to juggle work, study and family could dream up such a plan. Only a bloke who has no idea what real life is like for those people—particularly women—could dream up such a plan. We know that when women leave university their wage expectations are much lower than those of a male and they have periods of interrupted work. Only a bloke who has no concept of that could dream up such a plan.
This proposal has attracted a lot of criticism and a lot of concern. In my own region the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong, Paul Wellings, says that international student fees are the yardstick for what our domestic students could pay. He has some experience of this because he was the Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University in 2010, when the United Kingdom brought in changes similar to these, allowing university fees to triple. He has this to say:
I expect we will see fee rises across the country. This will drive the level of HECS debt and I’m sure that will be a concern for students and their families.
You can say that again! If we follow the UK experience with the tripling of university fees it is going to hit hard in a region such as mine.
I would like to say a few words about the men and women who staff the buildings and offices around this town in particular, and in just about every region around the country—the men and women of the Australian Public Service. The people on the other side of the chamber like to refer to them in denigrating terms as bureaucrats but I like to refer to them as the people who serve the public. I see the member for Fraser alongside me in the chamber. I am sure he will agree with these words, because he has had a lot of experience and he has been a strong advocate for the men and women who work in the Public Service in his constituency. You would think that, after working hard to ensure that the change of government went as smoothly as possible—working around the clock to deliver the work that enables the Treasurer to stand at the dispatch box and deliver his first budget—the people in the Public Service could expect the Treasurer to have a bit a greater appreciation of the work that is done within the Australian Public Service than the appreciation that was on display on budget night. Nobody says thank you to the men and women of the Australian Public Service like the coalition and the Treasurer. There have been 16,500 cuts in the first year alone. That is a fine way to say thank you to people who have worked around the clock helping the government deliver their budget. It is an absolute disgrace.
Those on the other side of the chamber, particularly the new backbenchers, are nervously awaiting returning to their electorates. They stand in this place and demand that we vote for something that they did not have the courage to put to the Australian people and let the Australian people vote on. It is a bit rich! I heard them on the airwaves this morning demanding that the member for Fairfax do the very same thing, and that all his members in the Senate do the very same thing. It is a bit rich to stand here and demand that we vote for something that they did not have the guts to let the Australian people vote for just nine months ago. That is a bit rich.
So if those on the other side of the chamber have problems when they go back to their electorates trying to sell what those on their own side are calling a dead carcass, they can only have themselves to blame. We will not be supporting these harsh measures. We on this side of the chamber will be standing up for Medicare. We on this side of the chamber will be standing up for a fair higher education system. We on this side of the chamber will be standing up for the men and women who work in the Australian Public Service. We will be standing up for a responsible budget that does the right thing by the Australian people and does the right thing by the economy, not the reckless, harsh, mean and deceitful cuts that this government has brought to this House and is demanding we vote for.