Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (16:34):
I think the subject of the matter of public importance bears repeating: The Gillard government’s decision in this Budget to be tough on Australian families, rather than tough on itself with a new assault on families that are already struggling under cost of living pressures.
I do not think there has ever been a government that is so reticent to take difficult decisions, that is so timid and so hidebound by its own electoral self-interest, that it does not take the decisions necessary for the national interest. ‘The national interest’ is a phrase that you will hear Labor members and senators use over and over. Any half-baked idea, any act of political self-interest, will always be followed by the phrase ‘because this is in the national interest’, as though those are magic words- you use the phrase ‘national interest’ and it transforms self-interested policies in the eyes of the electorate into worthwhile policies. Whenever we hear those words ‘national interest’ from the Labor Party we know that it is anything but.
The Labor Party used to tell us all the time that they were the party for families. They used to say that they were the party for workers. Then they morphed into the ‘party for families’ and you could not turn on the television in 2007 without hearing a Labor MP drone on about ‘working families’. We care about working families, but for the Labor Party it is a mantra. It is a focus-group tested mantra which they think will convince the voting public. But what has changed between 2007 and now? Labor did profess to care about working families and Labor have now cast away that commitment to working families. There was no mention of working families in the budget. Given the measures in the budget, it was a little too much even for the Labor Party to talk about a commitment to working families-such would be the hypocrisy if they did that.
Indeed, not only has the budget neglected families, it has absolutely potted them, with a raft of measures that are going to make things worse for families. We know that Australian families are facing severe cost-of-living pressures due to Labor’s profligacy and waste. Electricity prices are up 51 per cent since Labor was elected; grocery prices are up by 14 per cent; education and health costs are up by about 20 per cent; and there have been no fewer than seven interest rate rises in a row, increasing average mortgage repayments by over $500 a month.
I am not asserting that every one of those cost-of-living increases is the direct result of Labor policies. Some of them are. Some of those cost-of-living pressureshave been exacerbated by Labor policies. But, surely, it is the job of government firstly, when it comes to the Australian people, to seek to do no harm. This government has exacerbated those cost-of-living pressures and has made it even harder for families to meet those in this budget.
So, instead of trying to fix this problem, Labor’s budget has cut support for families and it has hit them with new and higher taxes. The budget strips $2 billion from families by freezing for three years the indexation of key family tax payments and income thresholds. It also slugs families and businesses with $6 billion of new and increased taxes.
To make matters worse, Australian families are yet to be hit by the Gillard-Brown carbon tax. Instead of taking the opportunity that this budget presented to end months of uncertainty around the carbon tax, the budget fails to give any details of the carbon tax or its impact on living costs or jobs. We know that all the budget forecasts will be thrown out the window when the government finally does get around to releasing the details of the carbon tax. I guess they will have to release some sort of mid-year economic forecast to update all of those effects.
As Tony Abbott has said many, many times, the budget is not worth the paper that it is written on, because it does not include the biggest macroeconomic socalled reform. Not everything a government does is a reform. But this government calls it a ‘reform’; it is a misnomer. The budget does not include that significant macroeconomic reform that they claim. The government’s failure to rein in reckless and wasteful spending is going to lead to high inflation. It is going to put upward pressure on interest rates. That is going to see more interest rate hikes by the Reserve Bank-we know that. But just at the time that families are being slugged by increases in interest rates, they will be in a worse position because there will be the freezing of indexation of key family tax benefits which are usually indexed to the CPI, so it is a double whammy.
The government has also frozen the indexation of the higher income thresholds for family payments for the next three years. These thresholds are usually indexed by the CPI. These thresholds are to be frozen, and they include the $150,000 limit for FTBB, the $75,000 baby bonus eligibility limit for family income, the $150,000 paid parental leave income limit and the higher income threshold for FTBA.
This is also the first budget in eight years that has not provided tax cuts for Australians. Instead, as I have mentioned before, Labor has hit Australian families and the economy with more than $6 billion in new and higher taxes. Labor are still determined to means test the private health insurance rebate to hurt families.
Labor have been tough on families because they have failed to be tough on themselves. I want to evidence that. There is a thread that runs through and joins each Labor budget. There is an unerring constancy and a consistency of approach. They are undoubtedly works of fiction. I have those works of fiction here: the 2008-09 budget, a work of fiction; the 2009-10 budget, a work of fiction; the 2010-11 budget, a work of fiction; and the most recent work of fiction, the 2011-12 budget, another work of fiction.
I want to detail what I mean. Let’s go back to 2008, the first budget by Mr Swan, when he said:We are budgeting for a surplus of $21.7 billion in 2008-09, 1.8 per cent of GDP, the largest budget surplus as a share of GDP in nearly a decade.
An opposition senator: Yeah, right!
Senator FIFIELD: ‘Yeah, right’ indeed! What was the outcome of that budget? It wasn’t a $21.7 billion surplus; it was a $27.079 billion deficit. So, there is another work of fiction. If you look hard in 2009-10 budget, you will not actually find the forecasted deficit, so embarrassed was Mr Swan. The outcome was a $54 billion deficit. In the 2010-11 budget-and these numbers actually get further back in the budget speech as you go-Mr Swan said the budget deficit would be $40.8 billion for 2010-11. It ended up being $49 billion. Now we have the final work of fiction, which says that there will be a deficit for 2011-12 of $22.6 billion. I am guessing it might actually be a bit bigger.
But the government actually did something extremely helpful: they changed the colour of the budget papers, so now it is really easy to work out what is a surplus budget and what is a deficit budget. The last Costello budget, as all the Costello budgets were, is white in colour-a surplus budget. Wayne Swan, very kindly changed the colour of the budget paper to blue so we can now easily tell. Any blue budget paper is a deficit budget. That was very thoughtful, Mr Swan. Thank you for doing that. These are the exhibits to support the case that Labor are not tough on themselves. They are clearly not. They always take the soft option.
I just want to touch on a few comments of Mr Swan over the last few days. He said yesterday that the opposition is set to wreck the surplus. There is no surplus, and any good psychologist will tell you that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. I do not believe there will be a surplus. Mr Swan yesterday said:
I’ve done a lot of things Peter Costello has never done.
He is spot on. Peter Costello: 12 budgets and 10 surpluses; Wayne Swan: four budgets, four deficits and no surpluses. Penny Wong yesterday said this is a typical Labor budget. You bet it is-debt and deficit, with no tough decisions, and at the same time slugging ordinary Australians.
If you listen to Senator Wong, she will tell you that they have really had a lot of bad luck, that overwhelmingly it is revenue shortfalls that have led to these budget deficits. That is not true. The overwhelming majority of the reasons for the budget deficits have been policy decisions by government. If you look at the reasons for the budget deficits, they are policy decisions by government, not revenue shortfalls. But if you listen to Senator Wong and Mr Swan you will believe that no government has ever had such a bad run of luck as this outfit has.
This government, the Labor Party, claimed at the 2007 election that they would be economic conservatives. They have not been. This has been a government of sloth, waste and incompetence. The people who are paying the price for that are the Australian public, and this budget stands as a testament to the fact that the Australian Labor Party are not tough on themselves; they cannot take a tough decision. It is always the Australian people who pay. They are paying again. They are suffering from rising costs of living. This budget will exacerbate those costs of living. Every budget tells the story of deceit. Every budget tells the story that it is the Australian Labor Party, through their bad policy decisions, who are inflicting pain on the Australian people.