Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (18:45): The budget is an opportunity for the government to send a message to the nation about the things they stand for. The sad thing about this budget is that it sends the wrong message to the nation. It is a very sad message indeed, and it goes something like this: do not get old; do not dream of going to university; for god's sake do not lose your job; and do not get crook. If you are unlucky enough to get sick, make sure you have a credit card, because your Medicare card is not going to be enough for you to see a doctor anymore.
The unfortunate thing is that it did not have to be like this. It did not have to be like this, and Australians were promised it would be very different. We all remember the Prime Minister—the Leader of the Opposition as he then was—telling Australians there would be no cuts to pensions, no changes to Medicare and no cuts to health. That is what Australians voted on but it is not what they got. It did not have to be like this. When they came to office, they inherited an economy with low unemployment rates—one of the lowest in the Western world—and growth. We have been growing at trend growth through some of the toughest economic times in the world's economic history; there is no other nation on earth that can make those sorts of claims. Even through the darkest days of the GFC there was one quarter, and one quarter alone, when the Australian economy did not grow.
That did not happen by accident; it happened because of deliberate decisions by the government—decisions that said that, when the economy is grinding to a halt, the role of government is to support confidence, business, and jobs and keep the economy ticking over. So yes, we did spend money, and we did take the budget from surplus to deficit. We did that because it was the right thing to do. There was an alternative—it was the alternative cheered for by the opposition at the time, the now government, and those policies would have seen over one million people thrown onto the unemployment heap.
So when the government came into power it inherited a very good set of economic circumstances: low unemployment, a growing economy, a triple-A credit rating—they do not in those out like confetti—and low interest rates. You would have thought, with an inheritance like that, they could have kept faith with their pre-election promises. Instead we are seeing in this budget something very different. We are seeing, if the bills associated with this budget find their way through both houses of parliament, that Australia will have the unenviable title of having the oldest retirement age in the world. Increasing the age before you are entitled to a pension is nothing more than a breach of trust.
This picture says it all. This guy is a fellow by the name of Bobby Turner.
A government member interjecting—
Mr STEPHEN JONES: Those people who have never worked with their hands might want to listen to this because it is important, and I will get to the point that the noisy member from the other side of the chamber makes.
This guy started work at the age of 14. By the time Chris Pyne was running around university campuses in Adelaide telling people, at that point in time, that he was in favour of free education because he knew he had to say that get elected, Bobby Turner had already worked eight years. He went to sea at the age of 14 and worked with his hands every day of his life.
You can see that this message says it all. Only a bloke who has worked in an office his whole life would think that you could work until you are 70. It says it all. Little wonder that this photo was seen by over eight million people on Facebook. Over 250,000—about a quarter of a million people—said that they agreed with this and it evoked over 40,000 comments. Sometimes a picture says 1,000 words. Increasing the age of retirement is nothing more than a kick in the guts for millions of Australians who work in physically demanding jobs. There are over 60,000 of them in the Illawarra, my region, and the proposition which is in this budget is completely out of touch with those people.
It will hit regional Australia even harder because these are the areas where people are more likely to be working in that sort of work. These are also the sorts of areas where you have a lower life expectancy.
An opposition member interjecting—
Mr STEPHEN JONES: The noisy member from the other side of the chamber says perhaps this man is only thinking of himself. I know that she does not understand older Australians and that somehow she thinks that Bobby Turner only cares about himself. He knows that these changes are not going to impact upon him but he is one of millions of other Australians who care about more than himself.
An opposition member interjecting—
Mr STEPHEN JONES: The people on that side of the chamber do not get that. They cannot conceive that there are Australians out there who care about others apart from themselves. I can tell you that Bobby Turner is one of them. He is worried about his kids and his grandkids—something that you might want to think about.
This proposition contained within the budget that says that irrespective of the work that you have done for your entire life you now have to wait until age 70 to be able to access the age pension is nothing short of a breach of faith. No changes to pensions, no cuts to entitlements—I tell you that the Bobby Turners of this world and the other 60,000 people who work in similar occupations in my area will remember this in 2½ years time.
This year marks the 30th birthday of Medicare, and I sincerely hope that it has a 35th birthday. Before the election, we heard the Prime Minister say that they would be the best friend that Medicare has ever had. I have got to say, Deputy Speaker, to borrow words from the communications minister, with friends like these you hardly need enemies. The bills before the House propose to slug every Australian a $7 GP tax just for visiting their doctor. The cost in regional and rural communities alone is $1.4 billion—that is right, Deputy Speaker, a $1.4 billion slug to patients in rural and regional Australia.
On top of that, we are seeing an increase in the price of PBS medications, a $5 hike for general patients and a 80c hike for people on concession cards, a hiking up with the safety net—the amount that you spend on PBS items over the course of a year before you can access them for free—around $145 per year increase in the PBS safety net.
Probably one of the harshest measures within this set of bills is the provision which will punish GPs who try to do the right thing by their community. It is hardly believable. After five years when the previous government put a lot of effort into ensuring that we could increase bulk-billing rates for Australians when they visited their GP, as the shadow health minister told the House today around 83 per cent now are able to access bulk-building services, a fact that seemed to surprise the health minister himself. The objective of these proposals is nothing more than trying to kill bulk billing. They say, 'Don't worry about it, because doctors will be able to continue to bulk-bill.' But the AMA has put a stop to that nonsense today. They have made it quite clear that they are going to be financially penalised if they try to do the right thing by patients within their community. It is bizarre. A doctor tries to do the right thing by patients in their community and the Commonwealth turns around and financially penalises them.
There is another good practical sense why these provisions are going to kill bulk-billing. I find this very amusing. Those opposite like to talk about red tape on small businesses. Well, Deputy Speaker, you have never seen a proposal which is going to heap a greater amount of red tape on GP practices in electorates like your own and in electorates like mine—in electorates around the country—than this proposition for a GP co-payment. After years of GP surgeries removing cash and associated items from their front-of-house, can you imagine them reintroducing it to put in place this government's madcap proposal? Imagine: you go to the GP who used to bulk-bill and the GP says, 'I will bulk-bill you for the Medicare rebate, but can I have $7 from you for the remainder? The government says I have to charge you a $7 co-payment.' You say, 'Here is $10' and the doctor says, 'Here is your $3 change.' It simply will not happen. It is an administrative nightmare and it introduces all sorts of security concerns into medical practices that they simply do not need.
What it means is that when you go to a doctor you are not just going to be hit with a $7 co-payment; you are going to be hit with the lot. Whether your doctor charges roughly $38, which is the Medicare Benefits Schedule listed fee for a basic consultation or whether they charge the AMA rate, which is closer to $72, you are going to be hit for the lot. This proposition is going to do exactly what it is designed to do—that is, kill bulk-billing and put the thin edge of a very thick wedge into the national institution known as Medicare. If these were the only two proposals—the breach of faith on pensions and the changes to Medicare—you would say it were bad enough. But everywhere you look with these propositions you find more black art.
If you look at the proposition for unemployment, you would not want to lose your job. I have heard the Prime Minister, the Minister for Social Services and others say: 'We want to change the culture, moving from welfare to work. We want people to be earning or learning. We want to move from a culture of the handout to the hand up.' What they did not say is that the hand held out to you is not a hand up; it is something that is about to give you a clip around the years. If you are unfortunate enough to lose your job—thousands of people do every year—you have no hope of receiving government support for six months.
I have heard the minister pull out the example of fruit and vegie picking in Tasmania. I do not know about members opposite, but I have actually done fruit and vegie picking in my life. I have done a lot of seasonal work. The thing I know about it is this: it does not go all year. Generally speaking you will have a couple of months here or a couple of weeks there and then you move on to the next joint, or maybe that is all you will be lucky enough to get in that particular year. Think about this: every time you lose a job or you are out of work, you are off benefits for six months. A seasonal worker would want to get a damn good pay rate for those three months that he is in work, because he is off benefits for the next six months. If ever there were a provision which removed the incentive for unemployed people to go out and find some casual or seasonal work, this is it, here in one. If employers have difficulty finding seasonal labour now, I can tell you it is going to go through the roof after these provisions are introduced.
There is so much more that could be said about the black arts that are contained within this budget. There are others here who want to speak on it, but let me say this: these are the wrong decisions for Australia. These are the wrong priorities for Australia. A budget is all about your values, and the government have their values all wrong. They inherited an economy which was in a very good position, one of the strongest positions of any of the countries that we ever like to compare ourselves to. They have sent it backwards by increasing the budget deficit themselves and insisting on moving forward with their mad gold-plated maternity leave scheme. This is the wrong budget, the wrong values and the wrong priorities and should be rejected by Australians.