Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (16:42): I rise to support this government’s budget measures this year. I think it is an outstanding budget. It is an outstanding budget for our nation and it is also an outstanding budget for the future and for our children. It is a particularly good budget for my home state of Western Australia in a number of its measures. One of the reasons I’m most proud of being a senator from Western Australia in this place is that my great friend and colleague Dean Smith and I, coming from Western Australia, know what it takes to generate national wealth and know what it takes to grow the economy. Unlike what we’ve just heard from those opposite, we know that it takes a lot of hard work to generate national money and general income.
Before I go into the benefits of the budget for Western Australia, I would just like to remind those opposite of several facts about the Labor Party and also, in particular, the Greens. What happened to the budget under Labor? When you’re having a look at framing and assessing what those opposite are saying somewhat shrilly today, just remember this: Bill Shorten and the Labor Party want to increase taxes on every Australian so that they get a tax take of more than $200 billion. That is $200 billion, but they have not said a word about how our economy is going to generate that beyond taking money from the economy and from taxpayers. Labor have said how they’re going to do that: they will impose new and increased taxes on electricity, small and family business, incomes, housing, investment and also retirees. This means, from what we already know from Labor—and we know it will have the support of the Greens—that everybody will pay more and be at greater risk. We hear the rhetoric now, but in government Labor racked up six deficits in a row. They inherited government with zero debt and in fact money in the bank, but after six short years of Labor and six deficits we had $240 billion worth of debt. Unemployment was decreasing and the economy was not doing well. They plunged Australia into debt and deficit, despite, as I said, inheriting zero debt and a $20 billion surplus. They squandered the benefits that came from the once-in-a-century mining boom.
I well remember, as would many in this place, that Wayne Swan promised four years of surpluses, but they have not ever delivered a surplus since—how long since they haven’t delivered a surplus, would you say?
A government senator: The never never?
Senator REYNOLDS: It was 1989. The last time the Labor Party delivered a budget surplus was 1989. The bottom line is Labor are addicted to taxing and spending and, at the last election, they actually promised to increase the deficit by $16.5 billion.
Again, we’ve just heard the previous speaker going on ad nauseam about problems we have in Australian society. Those on this side of the chamber, of course, do not deny that. We see the same figures, but what I’m so proud of—being a Liberal member and sitting on this side of the Senate chamber—is that we know that to deliver anything, anything at all, you need to raise the money. We do not, like those opposite, believe you raise money simply by taking it and recycling it amongst taxpayers.
So what are some of the benefits for Western Australia? Western Australia does very well out of this budget because it is a budget tobuild a stronger economy which will create more jobs and pay for more of those services those opposite go on ad nauseam about but never say they’re going to pay for. The government’s plan for a stronger economy will support more jobs for WA families and their children, and it will assist Western Australia to set itself up for the future. Already in Western Australia over 20,000 more people are in work since the coalition was elected, but those of us from Western Australia know we need to do more to develop new industries to create new and more sustainable jobs in Western Australia’s economy.
So what has the Commonwealth government done for Western Australia in this budget? It’s providing $9.8 billion for vital infrastructure projects, including $2.8 billion for new major projects—such as the $1.1 million METRONET rail project, which takes the government’s commitment to more than $3.2 billion for the project and will support $17,000 direct and indirect jobs in Western Australia. I’m particularly delighted that it will include the Thornlie to Cockburn rail link, which is something I’ve been advocating for for a long time because residents of Perth who live in the eastern suburbs need far greater access to jobs in the south metropolitan area.
We’ve heard about the $944 million Perth congestion package, including $581 million for the Tonkin Highway extension. As someone who drives regularly on the Tonkin Highway, I know just how important this is and what a difference it will make to not only industries in the area but also the families who live along that route. There is $560 billion for the Bunbury Outer Ring Road, which is something all of my Liberal colleagues in Western Australia have fought for—and no-one more so than the great Nola Marino. She has fought tirelessly to deliver this essential piece of infrastructure for the South West.
We’ve also provided $220 million for the Great Northern Highway Bindoon bypass as part of the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative. Like my colleague Dean Smith, I regularly travel in that part of northern Perth, and it will make an enormous difference for industries—existing and new industries—to find a new home in the northern parts of Perth.
This budget also guarantees the essential services that Western Australia relies on, with record funding for hospitals and schools, and a comprehensive approach to aged care for older Australians to live healthier, more independent and safer lives. It will also guarantee funding for disability services, which is something that I could not be happier about.
Despite what those opposite say—somewhat untruthfully—under the fully-funded hospitals agreement, public hospitals in Western Australia will receive more than $14.3 billion over the next five years out to 2024-25. The agreement will deliver an additional $3.42 billion in funding compared to the previous five years. That is a funding increase of 32 per cent from the federal government to Western Australian health. Despite, again, the suggestions of those opposite that we are not doing everything we can for primary health care in Western Australia, last financial year there were 3.4 million more bulk-billed GP attendances in WA compared to when Labor were in government. I believe bulk-billing rates in Western Australia are now well over 90 per cent. That has been under a coalition government. Why have we been able to do that? Because we are growing the economy, creating new jobs and creating new national wealth to pay for those resources. At the end of the day, we on this side know that everything in our nation—our lives, what we do and how we do it—rises and falls on a stronger economy. We on this side know that, and that’s what we’ve been working tirelessly for over the last six years.
The security of all Australian jobs, all Australian businesses, all salary earners and all Australian incomes relies on a strong economy. We hear endlessly about essential services from those opposite, as if they’re telling us we somehow don’t realise these are services that are required. Of course we do. Of course we are compassionate. Of course we want our children to get the best education. We want all young people and all Australians who can work to work and to have the opportunity to work. We want to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We want to do all of these things. But we know we have to pay for it. The essential services that I’ve gone through for Western Australia—hospitals, schools, Medicare, disability services, affordable medicines, aged care—have all been funded and delivered because we have a growing economy and we have more people in jobs. One of the many things in this budget I am particularly impressed about is that we are not only funding more of these services that we all want funded and getting nearly one million people into new jobs in this country but also bringing the budget back into balance, and a year earlier than we were expecting.
I listened with some interest, and a great deal of dismay, to those opposite during question time mocking the government and the finance minister for taking a long-term view to economic planning. I almost don’t have the words to describe how ridiculous that is and how much of a difference that shows between the two sides of the Senate. Those opposite mocked the Minister for Finance for not taking a one-year or a four-year planning process for our nation’s economic future. The fact that those opposite thought it was outrageous and funny that this government was committing and planning for the long term filled me with despair. The long term is the world in 10 years that my nieces and my godchildren will be coming out to. I think it is brilliant that this government is being conservative with its figures, and planning for the longer term.
What will the economy be as a result of this budget and the 10-year plan that the government is putting forward? What will it be for students who are currently going into high school or studying at university in their early 20s? What I don’t want is for these children—again, my relatives, my godchildren and others—to come out to the same economy that I came out to in the mid-eighties, when I graduated high school. Times then were very tough, but I was one of the lucky ones who graduated high school and managed to get a job. I started off waiting tables and I sold office supplies. But times were tough; there were few jobs, high interest rates and low wages.
The only way for this generation of students is to graduate, get a great education and know that if they study hard and work hard—and study the right subjects—they will get a job in a growing economy and will not have to do what so many of us had to do when I graduated from university, or high school to start with. It was so difficult to get by and difficult to find a job. Not only do I want to have that future certainty for the next generation of school students but, like all of my coalition colleagues, I also want our small-business owners, young couples planning to have families and older Australians who are preparing for retirement to know that they can have a plan for the next 10 years and beyond with confidence.
Plenty of those opposite think that this tax relief is meaningless. I think they are clearly of touch. As the Treasurer said so aptly yesterday, they’re caught in an almond latte fog. Our tax relief will provide help for those bills to be paid. As we heard from Nicole yesterday in that great video clip, it will allow her family a bit more freedom in budgeting and also allow her to give the kids something extra for what they would like to do. At the end of the day, what we are doing is giving people’s money back for them to spend at their own discretion, with what their priorities are and how they want to spend it. We’re giving them more freedom.
Our seven-year tax plan also runs a sword through bracket creep. What we’ve seen today in the media and in a lot of commentary, uniformly, is that it’s a great thing for Australian families. If those hardworking Australians, whatever age they are, work more hours, do more overtime or get a pay rise, they get to keep more of their own money. It gives them more freedom to spend the money how they see fit with their own families, instead of paying it to the government.
When the second-highest tax bracket is eventually abolished, most Australians earning over $41,000 will never, ever face a higher marginal tax rate in their entire working lives. The fact that those opposite could not think that that was a universally great thing for the majority of Australian working families, again, has me beat. I’ll just say this again, because of the implications for Australian families: when the second-highest tax bracket is abolished, most Australians earning above $41,000 will never, ever in their working lives face a higher marginal tax rate. So they can work more, do more overtime or get pay increases and they will get to keep more of their money for themselves and for their families.
But how has this government managed to do this when it inherited such an enormous debt and a very obstructive Senate in terms of budget reform? We’ve done this because we have single-mindedly worked very hard to grow the economy and to grow new industries and new trade opportunities. And guess what? When businesses, small and large, do well they employ more—they’ve now employed over a million new Australian workers. Again, that is what we aspire to on this side of the chamber. When business does well, employees do well and they earn more. And now, with the government getting rid of bracket creep, hardworking families can actually keep more of their well-earned money.
In summary, this budget is clearly a plan for a stronger economy. Again, it sounds almost self-evident to those on this side of the chamber, but it is the biggest differentiator between us and those opposite. We know, as the great Maggie Thatcher said over 30 years ago, that there is no such thing as government money. There is only the money that comes from taxpayers. If people want increased government expenditure, they pay for it. They either pay for it in taxes or they pay for it as loans to the government, which they pay back in tax. There is no free money; there is no government money.
Under this government we are creating a bigger economy. We’re bringing more money into our economy. We have more money to spend on services. But, most importantly, we are creating jobs and a much stronger future, not only for older Australians in retirement but also for the next generation of students who are looking forward to whatever job, whatever career and whatever future they want. They’ll be able to have it if we have the money for it.
As I said at the beginning, everything in our lives here in Australia relies on our economy. Our lives get better or they get worse according to the strength of our economy. Our economy only ever has strength when we create national wealth and we distribute it fairly, but we do it in a way that does not de-incentivise people to work and does not disempower them in all aspects of their lives.