MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Abbott Government – 24 Mar 2014

I rise today to speak on this matter of public importance, ‘the failure of the Abbott government to release recommendations of the Commission of Audit and reveal its program of savage cuts to the Australian people’.

It has become obvious for all to see that those on the other side, on the Liberal-National government benches, do not wish to tell the Australian people what their real policies are. It has become obvious for all to see that Mr Abbott’s government wish to hide behind a so called ‘independent panel’—the nasty, petty cuts that they always wanted to make. They did not tell the Australian people of the cuts that they plan to make, because they are not in our nation’s interest, nor in the interest of most Australians. These cuts are in the interests of the Abbott government’s mates in business. These cuts are in the interests of the Abbott government’s ideological masters, who are so petty that they wish to take from the least well-off in our society, while they themselves get rich from unfair tax concessions.

The Australian people deserve the truth about what exactly this government has planned to cut, the truth they did not get told before the September election. Surely, the people of Western Australia deserve to know what is in Tony Abbott’s Commission of Audit report before the WA Senate election, so Western Australians know what his government has in store for them.

Mr Hockey has had the 900 pages of the draft report, the 900 pages of cuts, since mid-February. Mr Abbott must release the report before 5 April—and well before then; he has a couple of weeks—so that the good people of Australia and the good people of Western Australia can see what he is going to cut.

And why shouldn’t he release this report? If these cuts are really about Mr Abbott showing what a great economic manager he is, he should proudly reveal these cuts to the Western Australian people so that they can judge him. But he will not tell anyone before the Senate election, because he knows these cuts are going to hurt Australian families. These cuts will hurt the elderly. These cuts will hurt veterans, and their children—like Mr Abbott’s stated plans to cut payments to children of ADF veterans who have been killed or injured, including children who have been orphaned. What a disgrace.

Mr Abbott and those on the Liberal-National government benches should be ashamed not only for their attacks on the most vulnerable in our society, but also for the fact that they do not even have the courage to come forward and tell the truth about which vulnerable Australians they are going to hurt and how they are going to hurt them. They should be deeply ashamed.

We, in this place, have a responsibility to govern for all Australians—not just for millionaires, not just for our mates, but for all Australians. The senators of this place, and the members of the other place, must make laws in accordance with the values held by the Australian people. Australians are a generous and caring people. We help others in need. We work hard and want to build better communities. We enjoy our weekends with friends and family, our annual leave and our sick leave. We believe everyone should have the right to high-quality health care and high-quality education—not just the rich, not just those that can afford to pay for it, but everyone—no ifs, no buts, no maybes.

This Liberal-National government believes in nothing but entrenching wealth and privilege. They want to destroy the basic social safety net that all Australians hold dear. They want to cut penalty rates, remove overtime, and hack at other basic conditions to drive down wages so their mates in business can profit further. They want to get rid of universal education and health care so those that have succeeded in society do not have to make a fair contribution back to the society they owe their success to. Unless you are rich enough to make a donation to the LNP, they do not care about you.

So what will these cuts entail? As those in the government refuse to tell us, we can only speculate. It has been reported by the Brisbane Times that the Commission of Audit has told the government to tackle the cost of the seniors card, which allows self-funded retirees to access discounts for medicines and GP visits, regardless of super income. Is this government really so heartless that they want to attack health benefits for seniors? Unfortunately they are.

The commissioners have also clearly said they are investigating the privatisation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Before the federal election, the Liberal Party said they were lock-step with the then Labor government on the NDIS, a scheme which has taken decades of hard work to develop—and now they are looking at privatising it! There was talk before the Griffith by-election in Queensland of the Liberal-National government introducing a $6 GP tax for every visit to the doctor. This mysteriously went away during the by-election and in the lead-up to the Tasmanian and South Australian elections, but I am willing to bet it will come back after the WA Senate election.

The Liberal and National parties do not believe in universal health care and they will do everything they can to undermine it. Senator Cormann says the government have no plans to sell off state assets apart from health insurer Medibank Private, although the Commission of Audit may recommend other such sales. It seems to me that the Commission of Audit is just a convenient cover for a fire sale of government assets without the Liberal-National government openly admitting that this is what they planned to do all along. Australians deserve to know what other assets will be sold.

While we can only speculate on what will be cut and what will be sold, I can tell you what the cuts will not entail. Dale Boccabella, Associate Professor of Taxation Law at the Australian School of Business at University of New South Wales, explains in his article on The Conversation website what will not be looked at by the Commission of Audit. He explains:

… there is no express reference to tax expenditures, and secretariat Peter Crone has confirmed that it will not deal with them.

… the generous tax treatment of discretionary trusts (family trusts) is not included in the tax expenditure statement… The negative gearing loss on rental properties and share investments is not included either. For 2012-13, the Commonwealth has around 280 tax expenditures … worth around $100 billion. This is around 6% of GDP. Direct expenditure of the Commonwealth for the same period was around $360 billion, which is around 24% of GDP.

The terms of reference mean that the so-called Commission of Audit will not look at $100 billion of generous tax concessions, while cutting from the least well off.

This Commission of Audit is a sham—and we have known that all along. This is nothing but a commission of cuts and should be exposed for exactly what it is. The Australian people expect and deserve fairness from their government. They expect that, if the government are looking to cut funding to schools, to sell off Medibank Private and to install a GP tax to undermine our Medicare system, they would at least look at $100 billion of generous tax concessions that are cross-subsidised by low-income Australians.

The Australian people deserve to know why the government should give a tax offset to people wishing to minimise their tax through a family trust, while hospital services are cut. The Australian people deserve to know why none of these excessively generous tax concessions are under consideration but the Liberal-National government are ripping money away from orphans of veterans. If the government were genuine about governing for all Australians, these tax concessions would be included in the Commission of Audit’s terms of reference. They were not, and the government are refusing to be open about their planned cuts.

The government are scared to tell the Australian people prior to the Western Australian Senate election what they plan to cut, because they know it will significantly reduce their vote. They did not tell them before the federal election, they did not tell Tasmanians or South Australians before those state elections, and they are not going to tell the people of Western Australia before the Western Australian election. When Western Australians go to the polls to elect their six senators, they should ask themselves one simple question: what they are voting for? Are they voting for cuts for the most vulnerable? Are they voting to begin the dismantlement of Medicare? Are they voting for the privatisation of the NDIS? If the voters of Western Australia do not know the answers to these questions—if the Liberal-National government will not tell them the answers to these questions—they should not vote for the Liberal-Nationals. It is that simple.

As I said, it has become obvious to all of us that those on the other side do not want to tell the Australian people what their real policies are. We saw that in question time here today when we could not get straight answers out of Senator Nash, and we have seen it continually in the failure of the Prime Minister to explain the Commission of Audit report and let people see what is in it. We know that the government do not want people to see what is in it, because we know that they know that if people know what is coming they will lose votes in the Western Australia Senate election. So the government are simply seeking to keep the details hidden until after that date.