BILLS; Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017, Second Reading -

October 23, 2017

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (19:08): I also rise to speak on this cognate debate on the Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017 and related bills. With my colleagues on this side of the House, I declare that we will oppose this package of legislation. This is a package of 11 bills which gives effect to the government's budget measures to increase the Medicare levy from two per cent to 2½ per cent. The Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill directly changes the Medicare levy rate, and the remainder of the bills make consequential changes to other taxation rates in line with the increase in the Medicare levy. As I say, we will oppose this bill. We oppose the notion behind it of having a tax hike on the over seven million Australian workers that are earning less than $87,000 a year.

Looking around the room tonight, I see that, other than perhaps the member for Swan, most of those here are a little younger than me. They may not recall that, when we grew up, we saw very few people with disabilities in our communities. It wasn't because they were healthy in those days or they weren't there. The truth is that kids with disability were kept in somebody's back room. They were kept out of society. They weren't involved in our schools, they weren't involved in our sporting clubs and we didn't see them. Other than the good work that was performed in those days by the organisation known as the Spastic Centre in respect of a number of those people, we just did not see kids with disability. I think that's a reflection on the society.

Now we're in a community that embraces diversity and embraces change. But I think the real challenge for us in parliament is to ensure that our legacy is a situation where we embrace young people and people who live with disability into what we would say is our normal life. The truth of the matter is that, if you look at the distribution of disabilities in our community, it follows the same bell curve as the distribution of intelligence. I know that's not the right way to put it, but disabilities will always be a factor in our community. It is important that we engage with and incorporate into our way of life the way we deal with and work with families and people who live with disability. I can speak from some personal experience in this regard given that I have a grandson on the autism spectrum. I know how this impacts on a family. I love Nathaniel, as does the rest of the family, and I know he's probably going to have a challenging life ahead of him. I want the best for him, as I do for my other 10 grandchildren. I want them to go out and reach their potential in this world and feel that their lives are appreciated.

I'm happy to be part of that Labor government, with the member for Jagajaga and the member of Maribyrnong, which championed the issue of the NDIS. I think that that did show a turning point in the way we look at disabilities. We saw engaging with and providing for the inclusion of people with disabilities as something that we should be doing in a modern society. However, we oppose this legislation. We think that this government has really lost its notion of fairness—particularly after it inherited an NDIS position that was, regardless of what's been said on the other side, fully funded. At a time when utility costs are rising and when the general cost of living is higher than wages growth, the merit of putting additional financial pressure on the most vulnerable households and widening the economic gap is questionable.

Labor understands the significant role Medicare plays in funding our universal health system and what it does in terms of funding the provision of disability services. After all, it was a Labor government, under Prime Minister Hawke, that ensured everyone had access to a doctor and a hospital when needed. We're all beneficiaries of our universal health system, and we contribute through the tax system to the extent that we can afford to do so. That's the important aspect—'to the extent that we can afford to do so'. The approach being adopted by the Liberal government in this respect fails to take into account the ramifications of a one-style-fits-all approach to this pretty significant policy position of funding the NDIS and what it will do to those who cannot afford the additional financial burden.

I think the ACT Council of Social Service got it right when they said:

Regressive measures have the potential to impact on low-income households and the cost of living. Cost of living research commissioned by the ACTCOSS over the past three years has revealed the present and widening gap between income and living costs for individuals and households.

We see this day in and day out, and you don't just have to be in question time to acknowledge this. We have very low wages growth, record high underemployment, high cost-of-living pressures and a government that seems to salivate at the prospect of cutting penalty rates not only for those who are subject to awards in the hospitality and retail industries but for those who have made the point that there's no difference between shiftworkers working on weekends and those working at any other time. For those people, the Treasurer comes in and says, 'We need to reprioritise and we're going to give them a tax hike.'

This is a government that's determined to increase income tax for every Australian earning above $21,000 a year while, at the same time, giving a $65 billion tax cut to millionaires and big business—all those overseas corporations. Some of them, by investing in corporate lawyers, pay little or no tax, despite what they write in the newspapers—his own newspapers, that is. How is that fair? How can we simply afford to do it? There's a simple lesson in this: if you can't afford to do it, don't. Don't do it at the expense of battling and middle-class working families, people who are already suffering from the rising costs of living. To put it into perspective, under this proposal, a worker earning $55,000 would pay an additional $275 a year, while someone earning $80,000 would be forced to pay an extra $400 in tax.

I was reading an interesting article the other day in the Australian Financial Review, and I know my colleagues will hate the fact that I'll have to quote from comments made by none other than President Trump. This is the first time I have ever referred to him, so we'll note the occasion. The article's all about President Trump's view in respect of taxation. He was talking about his new tax plan. This is what he said:

The rich will not be gaining at all with this plan.

…   …   …

If they have to go higher—

this is referring to the taxes—

they'll go higher.

He's certainly taking a different view about the capacity to pay. He's saying that, at the top end of the scale, fair enough, progressive taxation means that they will pay more. What is being advocated in the House today, under the Turnbull government, is, quite frankly, the exact opposite to what is being advocated in the United States on this occasion by President Trump, whom those opposite seem to like to quote pretty often. The Turnbull government proposes increasing tax on vulnerable lower-paid and middle-income wage earners while rewarding those at the top end of the scale. While I don't refer to President Trump's views in this place and I haven't done so previously, that Australian Financial Review article must be food for thought for those opposite. Maybe it says a little bit more about what they appreciate about progressive taxation.

When this bill was first introduced into the House, the Treasurer asserted that the government's position on the Medicare levy meant that it would be following the same practice that was adopted by the Gillard government. What he said was, 'I can't understand what has changed.' Let me tell you what has changed in the fifth year of this government. In 2013, wages growth was at three per cent, whereas now it has flatlined at around 1.9 per cent. We have underemployment and casualisation at an all-time high, stagnation in living standards, a diminishing number of apprenticeships and a housing affordability crisis, and the government's only plan to help battling Australians is to increase their income tax. Those opposite used to lecture us on a budget emergency. Yet, since then, the deficit has gone up by a factor of 10, and the gross national debt is projected to hit three-quarters of a trillion dollars. This is a government that has certainly moved off the notion of budget emergency, and it now wants to give us a new dose of hysteria in respect of an NDIS emergency.

I'm sure that, across the aisle here, they really know in their hearts of hearts that to give corporates, multinationals and big business a $65 billion tax cut with a default position to increase the tax for hardworking Australian families is not the right thing to do. But they are wedded to this notion of trickle-down economics. I suppose that, to some extent, we will wait for election day to work out what the Australian people think about trickle-down economics. It is not that I want to wish those on the other side well, but for the benefit of hardworking Australians and all those that actually need assistance, including low-income workers, I think they should revise their view of trickle-down economics and probably have a look at what Pope Francis had to say about that. He arrived at the conclusion that it has never been proven.

Labor have always taken an approach to fully fund the NDIS. We have a plan that will do that and continue to do that. Under Labor's plan, we will raise $4 billion more than the government proposed tax rise over the next 10 years by increasing the Medicare levy for those earning over $87,000 and by reinstating the deficit levy on those earning more than $180,000. I find it odd that the Prime Minister, when he wants to comment about the deficit levy, calls it a tax on success. I'm not sure what he means for those seven million Australians who would be affected by this bill who earn under $87,000. Does he refer to them just not being successful? Or, going back to a slightly earlier time, are they 'leaners', as Joe Hockey used to refer to them? I remind the government that Labor does not define Australian success by the size of your pay packet or what's in your wallet. A childcare worker, police officers—whom I had the honour of representing—or nurses might not earn $180,000, but they're still pretty successful in my book.

Recent research by the ANU shows that twice as many households will be worse off under the coalition's plan with respect to NDIS funding as under Labor's plan. Labor created the NDIS, and Labor is committed to fully funding the NDIS and supporting families and people with disability. I go back to the position of my grandson Nathaniel. As I said, I want the best outcomes possible for him. I want him to be able to reach his potential, which may be different from other people's views. We owe it to those that live with disabilities to give all the support possible.