THURSDAY, 1 MAY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Commission of Audit Report Release; The Abbott Government’s Twisted Priorities.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: : The Commission of Audit report confirms what I believe most Australians were expecting - that this report is a blueprint of Tony Abbott's broken promises for his Budget.
This is Tony Abbott's plan to put up your taxes and to cut your services. It is a plan for cuts, not a plan for growth. It is a plan to cut the services that families rely on, and to put greater pressure on cost of living. If he gets his way, Tony Abbott will turn the most basic things in life - education, health care, support for older Australians, into a massive every day struggle for working families.
This is a report written exclusively by special powerful interests - and it shows. This is a report written by big business, for big business that will hurt hard-working families. It shows how out of touch this Prime Minister is, how twisted Tony Abbott's priorities are for Australia. Tony Abbott said before the election no cuts to health care, no cuts to education, no change to pensions.
This report is a plan to make sure that families get less, while millionaires get more. This is an attack on health care, make no mistake about it. It is the argument for a new GP tax, a new hospital tax, and more expensive medicines which Australians desperately need. This is cuts to the pension, including raising the use of the family house as part of the asset test. It's a handbrake on the National Disability Insurance Scheme - a disappointment to hundreds of thousands of Australians living with disability, and their carers. This is selling off assets, it's selling off jobs.
I understand that in Budgets tough choices do have to be made, but Tony Abbott is making the wrong choices for our future. Today, hard-working families finally know the truth: Tony Abbott's Budget will cost you more.
I might ask my colleague Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen to add.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thank you very much, Bill. Before the election, thousands of Australians were unsure whether they could trust Tony Abbott when he said there'd be no cuts and no new taxes. Well, Australians now have the answer to that question, and the answer is no.
Now, I note that this report makes a lot of recommendations. The Government's had this report for months. We've had it for hours. The Government says that they will respond to this report in the Budget and we'll look at their response, but we'll look at the response against three key tests: the impact on the Budget - and I note that many of the recommendations have no dollar figures attached to them when it comes to savings for the Budget and no timeline; fairness for Australian families, Australian working families, Australian pensioners, Australians across the board; and the Government's own election commitments. That will be the test that we apply to the Government's Budget proposals.
I just want to say something about two specific things. The Treasurer said in his press conference a short time ago they were meeting all their election commitments and that some of the changes to age pension wouldn't apply until after the next election, therefore, he was not breaching an election commitment. The Treasurer is wrong. If you make a decision today and you build it into the Budget today, you are breaching an election promise today. And that is what the Treasurer of Australia needs to realise, and he needs to be honest with Australia's pensioners that he and Tony Abbott are breaching a solemn commitment. Just finally on the Government's deceit tax, we're seeing more and more people come out against this - big business, small business, Liberal Party MPs. Just as with the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, it appears that Tony Abbott is the last person to work out that this is a bad idea.
This is the biggest increase in the top marginal tax rate since Paul Keating started reducing tax in the mid-1980s. This is a bad idea which should be dropped, not only because it's a breach of an election commitment, because it's very bad policy and is not justified. When Joe Hockey says the Budget's worse than he realised, he's not telling the truth to the Australian people.
This is Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey's voodoo economics from before the election catching up with them. When they said that they could return to surplus with no new taxes and no big spending cuts, they were wrong then and now it's being shown to be a fact.
SHORTEN: Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: It is a broken promise, but would you necessarily want to oppose the deficit deceit tax for that one reason if the burden falls mainly on reasonably highly-paid, well-off workers? Would it not be a reasonably good idea?
SHORTEN: People who earn $100,000 or $80,000 a year are not on Easy Street. They’re working very hard to pay their mortgage, to educate their kids, to make ends meet. Tony Abbott, as Leader of the Opposition, promised no new taxes. This new tax, this new tax increase to income is a crazy, dumb idea which will discourage participation, it’ll lead to tax evasion, it won’t raise very much money.
It’s not a question of just dealing with the budget deficit, there is a broken promise deficit of the Abbott Government. Today’s report shows that this is a blueprint for Tony Abbott’s broken promises. This is a report, prepared by big business for big business, and will hurt ordinary families right across Australia.
JOURNALIST: Do you concede that every Australian needs to do their bit to fix the budget?
SHORTEN: It is clear – I might also ask my colleague to add to this answer – in a budget, there are no easy choices. Labor discovered that when we were in Government. What I recognise here is that Tony Abbott has released today, after the Tasmanian state election, after the South Australian state election, after the Western Australian Senate election, he has now released, just before the budget, a blueprint for their plans for broken promises.
It is important to make hard choices, but it is not right to attack the universal accessibility of our Medicare system. It is not right to just flag to people on the old age pension that this Government is looking to include the family home in an asset test. It is not right to propose to literally tens of thousands of university students and their families that they will go into greater debt if they want to fulfil their dream of going to university.
If they want to make tough decisions, they need to make the tough decision of getting rid of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, which will cost billions of dollars to the bottom line, and stop going after pensioners and carers and people who are battling to make ends meet.
JOURNALIST: If you don’t support a debt levy on people on higher incomes, won’t the Government be then forced to take measures which would hurt those on lower incomes?
SHORTEN: This argument all of a sudden that Tony Abbott wants to tax the rich in some sort of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement is just a fiction. It's a crazy, dumb idea to increase the income tax of people on $80-100,000 a year. The truth of the matter is that most taxpayers will be paying increased income tax if the Government goes ahead with their deceit tax, the Abbott tax on ordinary working people.
The Abbott Government - in Opposition - said on numerous occasions that they're not going to introduce a new tax. This is exactly what they are doing. We see weasel words and shiftiness from the Prime Minister who says that if you only pay a temporary tax increase for each of the next 4 years that somehow that's not a tax increase. Wrong, Mr Abbott. A tax increase is a tax increase is a tax increase, and a broken promise is most certainly a broken promise.
JOURNALIST: Do you concede that Joe Hockey inherited a mess from the previous Government?
BOWEN: This is the Joe Hockey fiction. When Joe Hockey says that the Budget's worse than he thought it was, he's lying. He's lying to the Australian people, because Peter Costello to his credit introduced a Charter of Budget honesty which means that the Treasury and the Department of Finance put out the real picture of the books before the election. Since the election, Joe Hockey has doubled the Budget deficit, adding $68 billion of new spending and changed economic forecasts for his own political purposes and to justify the sorts of cuts we are seeing recommended today. And just to a question before about everybody carrying their fair share. Well Bill's right - of course when he says Budgets are about difficult decisions but it also tells you about the values of the Government, the values of the Government when it comes to who pays the price for their decisions. You’ve got here a Commission of Audit report recommending a further scaling down of their paid parental leave scheme, just yesterday they said the threshold would be $100,000 when they knew that this report recommended reducing it to down to $57,000. But their values tell them that they're going to keep that expensive scheme and that they're going to put a deceit tax on Australian families, a tax on going to the GP, and a tax to pay for the paid parental leave scheme. This is about values, and their values and their priorities are wrong and twisted.
JOURNALIST: Are you implacably opposed to the proposed asset sales particularly Snowy Hydro and the Defence Housing Association?
BOWEN: Well, let the Government come forward with proposals and we'll assess it against the criteria that we outlined before. The Government’s had this report for months, we’ve had it for hours, so with all due respect if the Government can't declare a position after having the report for months, we'll look at proposals but we'll be guided by our values again. Now, some of those organisations, a whole range of organisations that have been mentioned, we would have strong views about many of them; Australian Post, Australian Hearing, Bill and I have both have had exposure to Australian Hearing, the work they do with Indigenous communities across Australia rural and remote areas. We'd need to assess all the recommendations in relation to the proposed asset sales but we'll be guided by our values as we do so.
JOURNALIST: The budget, the report today says specifically the projection is that business as usual, you get to spending $690 billion a year by 23/24, compared to $490 billion today, are you saying that they are wrong in that projection?
BOWEN: Well, Joe Hockey's playing the two card trick here. I mean, he takes out the spending cap in the mid-year economic forecast which is reflected in the documents today and then says last week "I know how I’ll fix the budget, I'll put a spending cap on." So he takes it off and then makes himself look like a genius he thinks by putting it back on. Well, we had a spending cap which we complied with despite the Treasurer and the Finance Minister’s rhetoric a few moments ago, they are wrong, we complied with that spending cap. So any projections which don't include the spending cap which Joe Hockey think he's clever in putting on at the later date are to be seen for the trickery, the political trickery that they are and spin.
JOURNALIST: The recommendations, is a slow drop out for the National Insurance Disability Scheme, [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: First of all, if the Abbott Government, when they were in Opposition, said then that they were going to slow down rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I could have more respect for them at least putting that position forward today - but they didn’t. As late as yesterday the Prime Minister of Australia is at the agency, the opening of the National Disability Insurance Scheme head office and he must have known yesterday what was in this report today. But do you think he had the courage to tell people with disabilities yesterday and their carers that today he's going to release a report which has a blue print for damaging the hopes of people with disabilities? The principle of a National Disability Insurance Scheme is sound. The idea that we can empower people, we can empower their carers, we can give them control over scarce resources and that they will make that a more productive investment than what currently happens, is a good idea. Does anyone seriously think that by slowing down aspects of the National Disability Insurance Scheme that people with disabilities will just miraculously disappear? To wait for the Hockey/Abbott timetable for disability reform? Of course not. It costs money today. It's going to cost money tomorrow and next week. There's no free lunch when it comes to helping people with disabilities and yet you’ve got this Government pretending that somehow what matters is not disability reform or a better deal for the disabled, it's the Budget. If you have a disability, it's there every day. It can't afford to wait until this report which is the blueprint for Tony Abbott's broken promises, which is a report written by big business for big business and which will hurt working families and people with disabilities and their carers.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe there is some need to trim the Budget? I know you've mentioned the paid parental leave scheme, but I mean do you believe there is a need to trim the Budget deficit and how beyond that, I'm not sure, how you would do that?
SHORTEN: I might make just a couple of initial statements and then ask my Shadow Treasurer to respond in detail. Of course tough choices have to be made. But it is important that we make sure that in making these choices that we don't have twisted prioritises and broken promises. It's important not to hurt the people who go to work every day, who pay their taxes and are building our communities. A very simple start and I'm sure many Coalition members know deep down in that part of their being which they don't like to visit because it will upset their Prime Minister, that many Conservatives also recognise that the paid parental leave scheme providing multi-millionaires with $50,000 or $75,000 of money they don't need for paid parental leave, cutting that would be a very sensible first step. I might ask my colleague Chris Bowen to expand.
BOWEN: Thanks Bill. You ask, do we accept that the Budget needs long-term decisions made to ensure its health. Not only do we accept it, we've always felt that's. It's the Liberal Party who are the Johnny-come-lately to this argument. We were taking decisions like means testing the private health insurance rebate, like abolishing the baby bonus. The Liberals oppose the means of testing of the private health insurance rebate which is or was before we took action the I think single fastest growing area of the Commonwealth budget. We dealt with it, they opposed us all the way and it is still their policy to reverse it. So we’re not going to cop a lecture from them about Budget integrity when we made changes to the baby bonus, Joe Hockey called it the one child policy. I mean he's a Johnny-come-lately to the argument about being constructive when it comes to difficult decisions about the long-term health of the Budget. So not only do we accept it, we’ve said it for a long time.
SHORTEN: Last question thank you.
JOURNALIST: I won't go into specifics about the downsizing of Government and the potential asset sales but do you have any in-principle issue with the idea of tightening Government, you know, administration generally?
SHORTEN: Chris outlined some of our approach on Budget night and in the days after the Budget considering what the Government’s proposing. We want to make sure that what the Abbott Government does is fair to ordinary Australian’s and doesn't hurt them. We want to make sure that the Government keeps its promises rather than breaking its promises and of course we want to see, to make sure that what is proposed in the Budget is economically sensible. That will be the frame which we use, the filter we use, what is the national interest in the future of Australia and that is what we will apply to the decisions. But of course you're asking to us speculate on what this Government may or may not do. This is a Government who today has released a report, this report is a blueprint for Tony Abbott's broken promises. This is a report written by big business, for big business which hurts ordinary families. We are most concerned that Tony Abbott's Budget will cost Australians more. Thanks everyone.
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