Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2016-2017, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2016-2017 Second Reading

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (17:18): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks, for your protection; I am sure I need it. This government came to power on a promise to fix everything and cut nothing, and they have broken both promises. They have fixed nothing and cut everything. This is the government that came to power—we will never forget that pre-2013 press conference with the then Opposition Leader, then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, promising that there would be no changes to Medicare, no cuts to pensions, no cuts to the ABC and no cuts to the SBS. Of course, they broke each and every one of those promises in their first budget, and things never got any better from there.

This is a bill about money, about appropriations and about how the government appropriates more money into the general expenditure account so that it can be spent on government programs. Labor will not block supply—we do not do that. We think that our job is to hold the government to account for the promises it makes. But we will not block supply, because we have seen the devastating impacts that that has on our democracy.

A money bill is all about the priorities of the government, and, over a long period of time, from the earliest days of the Abbott government to the shaky days of the Turnbull government, we have seen a government that has got its priorities all wrong. I want to take you back to those early days after the 2013 election when, in one of its very first acts, the government thought it was going to be a good idea to give some tax concessions in superannuation. You would think a government would have an eye to the importance of creating more equality in this country, and an eye to ensuring that we could encourage those people who most needed to, to put some more money away for their superannuation so as to have a dignified retirement, and that those would be the people the government was trying to encourage, at the same time as not making it any worse overall for all taxpayers. Well, it did exactly the opposite. In one of its very first acts, the government gave a superannuation tax concession to some of the wealthiest Australians—people with over $2 million in their superannuation accounts. I can guarantee you that the majority of people who work in my electorate do not have $2 million in their superannuation balance. But these people got a tax cut. And, in the same decision, the government had a tax increase for people earning under $38,000 a year. You might find that hard to believe, but that is exactly what the Abbott government did: it gave a tax concession to some of the wealthiest Australians at the very same time as removing the low-income superannuation tax offset for people earning under $38,000 a year, thereby penalising the people who needed tax assistance the very most. It did not end there. Of course, famously, the government, at the same time as crying poor, wrote a $6 billion cheque to the Reserve Bank of Australia. Shortly thereafter, it was cutting benefits and floating a whole range of proposals that I will go through shortly.

You would think that the government might have learnt from the backlash that it got in the immediate response to the 2014 budget, but that has not been the case. We understand the challenge of budget repair, and Labor will work constructively with the government on the task of budget repair, ensuring that it is fair. We must ensure that, as we are going about the task of bringing the budget back to balance, we do not hurt the most vulnerable Australians—those people who look to people in parliament in Canberra, and look to people on the Labor side of parliament, I have got to say, to ensure that we do not make life harder for them, and that is exactly what we will do. We in Labor demonstrated our bona fides by negotiating with the government to secure around $6.3 billion in budget savings—more savings than the government initially put forward in their first omnibus bill—and, in doing so, we managed to protect a few things in the national interest, such as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Last year's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook showed that the Turnbull government was still committed to many of the unfair Abbott-Hockey-era measures that I have criticised at the outset—measures such as increasing the qualification age for the age pension to 70, meaning that Australia would have the oldest qualifying age for the age pension in the developed world. You have got to shake your head at this. I mean, only a bloke who has worked in an office all of his life would think that you could work until the age of 70 and still have your body functioning in the way it did when you were aged 35. But, when I get around my electorate and talk to people who have worked in physical labour for the majority of their life, I hear that, by the time they are hitting their mid-60s, their backs are starting to give way, their knees are starting to give way and arthritis has set in, not to mention the problems with skin cancers and all the rest of it, and the people in this group shake their heads and go, 'This government simply just does not get it.' But this is still a proposition that is seriously put forward by the Turnbull government.

The Medicare freeze, which is wreaking havoc upon general practices around this country, is an initiative which had a devastating impact on the fortunes of the government at the 2016 election. The Medicare rebate freeze is forcing doctors to do something the parliament has refused to do, and that is increase the cost of medical consultations between a patient and their GP.

The government could have improved the budget and locked in Australia's prized AAA credit rating at MYEFO by doing two things—and not only would we have supported them; we would have come out and congratulated them. The first thing they could have done is axe their ridiculous, reckless and unaffordable $50 billion tax giveaway to big business and to banks, which will do nothing for growth but is going to cost Australians dearly. They should have ditched that and we would have supported them—no, we would have congratulated them. The second thing they could have done is adopt Labor's sensible negative gearing proposals and the proposed changes to capital gains tax. These are changes that not only would have improved the budget bottom line; they would have made a big difference to people who are struggling to buy their first home and struggling to get into the housing market. It would have made a contribution to the federal government's effort to make housing more affordable for struggling Australian families. They failed on both fronts.

Not only did they fail to introduce these initiatives but the debt and deficit are increasing. Every government speaker has got up in this debate and said that they are treating the issue of budget repair seriously and are working hard to deal with debt and deficit. Those very same government members have failed to point out that, on their watch, the deficit has more than tripled. Far from bringing the budget deficit down, on their very watch the budget deficit has tripled.

A government member interjecting—

Mr STEPHEN JONES: I hear the honourable member opposite saying to me that we opposed a number of their measures—not all of them but a number of their measures. The answer to his interjection is this: we will not help you break your election promises. Those measures that we opposed were the very same measures that you promised not to do, and we will not help you break the promises that you made to your constituents when you went into the last two elections. We will simply not help you do it. We have given our support to the government on measures that are fair and reasonable, including on more than $6.3 billion worth of budget savings. We have offered additional savings to the government, but they refuse to take them up. But we will not help the government take an axe to the benefits of the most vulnerable Australians and we will not help the government break their election commitments.

Since the MYEFO, the Turnbull government has again reheated or rehashed unfair cuts from previous budgets in its latest omnibus bill. These include cuts to family payments, whereby one million families will be worse off. A typical family on $75,000 a year will be around $1,000 a year worse off. In addition to this, through cuts to parental leave, over 70,000 new mums will be worse off—many of those in your electorate, I dare say, Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks, and in mine. I see the member for Lindsay in the chamber. A lot of them will be in her electorate as well. On the subject of pensions, let us not forget that sacred promise that was made by the former Prime Minister and repeated by the current Prime Minister that they would not cut pensions, and yet this very same government is proposing to cut pension payments by up to $21 a fortnight, leaving pensioner couples up to $550 a year worse off. They are cutting pensions for single pensioners by $14.10 a fortnight, leaving them $365 a year worse off. This is a direct breach of a promise given by the coalition parties before the election, yet here they are today criticising us for failing to support it. I say again: we will not help you break your election commitments.

Budgets are about priorities. Instead of protecting the AAA credit rating and supporting families, supporting the most vulnerable in our communities, the Turnbull government is siding with multinational corporations and big banks. New figures released by the member for Rankin and our finance spokesperson have revealed a startling fact. This centrepiece of the government's economic plan—or, at least, last week's centrepiece—a $50 billion tax cut to big business, is going to cost Australians around $4 billion in additional interest charges.

Think about that for a moment. This equates to $162 for every man, woman and child in the country. This $50 billion tax cut is not only unfair it is going to cost every man, woman and child in this country $162. Can you imagine that? It will cost $162 to give the biggest companies in this country a $50 billion tax cut. Is there any wonder people in this country are shaking their heads and saying, 'This Prime Minister just doesn't get us'? I do not know where he lives. I do not know what planet he is coming from. But it is not the place we are coming from. He simply does not get what we are on about.

If ever you were in a situation of uncertainty about this, Deputy Speaker, I ask you to remember this one backflip. A week ago we had the Treasurer of this country—sometimes a comical character—stand up, look the cameras in the eye and say, quite seriously, that his No. 1 priority was to try and get wage-earners a wage increase. He had suddenly cottoned onto the fact that the very flat rate of wage growth in this country, under this government's watch, is creating a drag on economic growth and unless workers have more money in their pockets they have less money to spend in the shops and the businesses, so everybody is suffering. It has taken him a while but he has finally cottoned onto the fact that workers need a pay rise.

Unfortunately for him, he, his Prime Minister and his entire government—and all of these backbenchers here—voted against a bill that would have protected workers wages today. Far from putting in place initiatives that will give workers a pay increase, he is voting against a proposition that will protect workers' penalty rates. He says one week, 'Our No. 1 priority is to give workers a pay rise,' and the next week he comes into this place and votes for legislation that will ensure they get a pay cut.

This is a government that cannot keep an economic priority from one week to the next, and they certainly cannot be trusted to put in place the sacred promises they put before the Australian people. That is why this government has to change and that is why we have to ensure that we change the priorities of this government.