Budget delivering for Ryan residents
Thursday, 28 May 2015
Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan)
(10:16): I rise today on behalf of the people of Ryan
to speak about fairness—indeed, the word du jour. In the five years I have been
the member for Ryan I have had the opportunity to meet many thousands of
residents in our pocket of suburban Brisbane and to communicate with tens of
thousands more. Ryan is a hardworking, community-minded constituency. The
people of Ryan look out for each other. They are self-reliant, in the sense
that they would rather support themselves and help each other than go cap in
hand to the government at the first sign of hardship. In return, what they
expect from government is that it does not unnecessarily inhibit their lives,
that businesses are not drowned in costly red tape, that mothers who wish to
return to the workforce are not financially penalised for doing so and that
older Australians, who have worked hard all their lives to save for their
retirement, are not burdened with extra tax obligations for which they have not
had the opportunity to prepare. What they hope for from government is that it
works with them, not against them, that it sets a budget framework that
encourages them to work hard, build their businesses, raise their families and
save for their retirement. In short, the residents of Ryan want a government
and a budget that is measured, reasonable and, above all, fair.
With this budget the coalition government has demonstrated
that it understands the concept of fairness. We have heard loudly and clearly
the voice of the electorate. For example, small businesses are already
benefiting from economic trade agreements with South Korea and Japan, signed
off by this government, and the agreement signed with China is in the process
of being implemented. However, small businesses have been telling us that times
are still tough and they are struggling to invest in the expansion of their
business at a time of potential new markets. For small businesses wanting to
invest in much-needed capital equipment to grow their business, the budget
offers the ability to claim an immediate tax deduction for each and every asset
purchased, up to $20,000. And small businesses can apply this $20,000 rule to
as many individual items as they wish until 30 June 2017.
In this budget we have lowered the company tax rate for
incorporated small businesses with an annual turnover under $2 million, from 30
per cent to 28.5 per cent. As a result of this budget, small businesses will
have the lowest company tax rate in almost 50 years. For unincorporated small
businesses we have offered a five per cent tax discount, up to $1,000 a year. And
to encourage start-up businesses, the budget will allow for professional
expenses incurred in the establishment of the business, such as legal expenses,
to be immediately deducted rather than being written off over five years.
These initiatives are being very well received by the many
small businesses in my electorate of Ryan. The coalition government believes it
is only fair that small businesses should be given every opportunity to grow,
to employ and to succeed. This concept of fairness extends to the family unit.
After all, it is reasonable that parents who want to return to paid employment
should not face insurmountable cost barriers in so doing. This not only is fair
but is also common sense.
The Treasurer has recently led public debate about the challenges posed by an ageing population that was so clearly identified in the most recent Intergenerational report. One of these challenges will be the need to grow our workforce to provide a sufficient tax base to support the large increase in the number of Australians over the age of 65 expected in future decades. Thankfully we already have a skilled base of workers, mainly women, who are not currently in the workforce or who are underemployed and want to work more. They have the skills, they want to work but they are prevented from doing so by the lack of access to affordable and suitable child care. The government has listened. From 1 July 2017 the new and simpler childcare subsidy will commence. The net effect of this policy will be that working families with household incomes between $65,000 and $170,000 will be about $30 a week better off. For working families on incomes up to approximately $65,000, the subsidy will cover approximately 85 per cent of their childcare fees.
From 1 July 2016 we will end the arrangement whereby parents were able to receive employer-funded paid parental leave and still receive the full Commonwealth paid parental leave. Parents accessing employer schemes will now receive only a partial payment from the Commonwealth, sufficient to bring their overall payments in line with the Commonwealth scheme. While the practice of claiming both payments in full was perfectly legal, it arbitrarily disadvantaged those parents who did not have access to a generous private scheme. The government has restored fairness and equity to these arrangements.
The budget also contained measures to provide equity of access to child care. We all know that for many people work is not nine to five, Monday to Friday. Despite this it is difficult to find childcare providers opening outside normal working hours. For doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, cleaners and other shiftworkers this means that they do not currently enjoy the same access to child care as people working standard office hours. To address this issue the government has committed $246 million to a two-year pilot program to extend subsidy support to home care services provided by nannies. The program is designed to extend services to those mothers who are unable to access current services. In addition to shiftworkers, it will also benefit families in some rural and regional areas as well as parents of children with special needs for which mainstream child care services are unable to cater. This policy is about providing choice. The government believes it is important that if mothers choose to return to the workforce then they should be supported. At the same time we respect the decision of many mothers to take time out of the workforce to look after their children. There is certainly no intention to force women into the workforce. This policy merely ensures that women who wish to work but who are required to work outside standard business hours are not disadvantaged in accessing government support.
Another group deserving of support are older Australians—those who have worked, raised families and paid taxes all their lives. They rarely ask much of government and they represent generations who have always valued hard work and self-sufficiency rather than going cap in hand to government. Most self-funded retirees are reliant on fixed incomes, having spent a lifetime scraping and saving to fund a decent retirement. Unlike Labor, the coalition government respects those who save for their own retirement and we will not increase taxes on superannuation. Let me repeat that: the coalition government will not increase taxes on superannuation. Pensioners can be assured that the age pension will continue to increase twice a year and continue to increase at the highest available indexation rate. A coalition government will continue to exclude the family home from the pension assets test.
In order to ensure that the age pension provides the most benefit to the people who need it most, some changes to the assets test will come into affect from 1 January 2017. For 90 per cent of pensioners this will mean no change in pensions or, in the case of 170,000 pensioners with modest assets, an increase in payments of an average of $30 a fortnight from 1 January 2017. Under the changes proposed in the budget it will no longer be possible for retired couples who own their own home and have additional assets of $1 million or more to claim a part pension.
It is reasonable to expect that such couples have the means to fund themselves without needing a pension top-up. The threshold has been reduced to $823,000. Importantly, people who now no longer qualify for the pension, due to the change in threshold, will continue to be eligible for the Commonwealth seniors health card, which enables access to cheaper PBS medicines.
I turn my attention now to aid for our near neighbours. Australia remains a generous aid donor by international standards. Australia will continue to provide around $4 billion in total official development assistance in 2015-16. This makes us the 13th largest donor in the OECD, broadly proportionate to the size of our economy. This year's budget continues the transition of the focus of our program to our near neighbours, particularly in the Pacific region. Members will know of my strong interest in the development challenges facing our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, which has become the largest recipient of Australian aid. Australian aid will continue to fund vital programs, assisting in the delivery of services across government, including health, education, law and justice, governance, transport and important gender equality. Across our foreign-aid program we are continuing our policy of requiring more than 80 per cent of aid to effectively address gender issues.
Aid expressed in dollar terms is only part of the story. Aid should really be seen as an investment, and the government is keen to maximise the effectiveness of our aid investments. One particularly effective measure, launched last year—with continuing funding in this budget—is the New Colombo Plan. This is an innovative scholarship scheme that supports and encourages Australian students to undertake study and internships with many of our near neighbours in the Indo-Pacific. Following a successful pilot in 2014, this year it has been expanded from four to 35 locations, expanding from eastern Pacific-island states to Pakistan in the west, with more than 3,100 students participating. I have no doubt they will all gain an enhanced understanding of our near neighbours and forge networks and friendships that will last a lifetime and serve our country in the decades to come.
I return to the concept of fairness. The coalition's view of fairness is to provide support to those who need it so that we can all build wealth and prosperity. Labor's idea of fairness is to take from all those people who have worked all their lives to build wealth and prosperity and to tax that wealth into oblivion. That is the difference between the government and the opposition. We see prosperity as a reward for effort. Those opposite see it as a cash cow to target, to boost government coffers.
Labor's priorities are all wrong. While the current government must still borrow $96 million a day to pay for Labor's budget blow-outs, the member for Sydney and Labor would have us borrow another $18 billion to send overseas as foreign aid. Even Labor's foreign affairs minister, Bob Carr, said: 'You can't borrow money to spend on aid.' Today's Labor just does not understand responsible financial management. It shirks difficult reform, preferring to block $5 billion of its own savings measures, in the Senate, putting partisan politics ahead of the national interest.
I was delighted when the Leader of the Opposition anointed 2015 as Labor's year of ideas—after all, that is what this place is supposed to be about: a genuine contest of ideas about how to make Australia better. In his budget reply speech the Leader of the Opposition had a chance to step forward and announce his platform of great ideas. What did we get, instead?—sadly, more of the same old politics of spite backed up by costings that were not worth the paper they were written on.
Take the re-announcement of their previously failed policy—which they tried and scrapped in government—the writing-off of HECS debt for 100,000 STEM students. On budget reply night the Leader of the Opposition claimed his HECS-debt policy would cost $353 million. The next day, Labor said it would cost $45 million. They eventually settled on a figure of $1.4 billion over 10 years. You would think that with no fewer than three different figures in the mix at least one of them might be right or at least close to the mark. Wrong. The Department of Education has estimated the cost to taxpayers, of the policy, will be upwards of $2.25 billion.
No-one should be surprised. This is the same Leader of the Opposition who continues to peddle falsehoods about non-existent $30 billion cuts to the education budget when a simple glance at the budget papers would show that the education budget continues to increase year after year. It is this combination of reheated failed policies, financial innumeracy and lazy rhetoric that demonstrates why Labor and the Leader of the Opposition are not ready to govern.