Stable government and focusing on the needs of all Australians

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Cabinet Secretary) (15:25): This is an MPI which is focused on two things. The first is stable government, and the second is the very important issue of focusing on the needs of all Australians. Let me dispense with the first issue of a stable government. The test of stability in this House is what happens on the floor of this chamber. Despite all the negativity which we saw repeated there again by the Leader of the Opposition, this parliament has passed 482 pieces of legislation through the 43rd parliament, and that includes 33 bills this year. So let us dispense with the issue of stability and focus on the important issue of the needs of all Australians, whether they are from Western Sydney or Western Australia or anywhere in between.

It is important that governments focus on the needs of all Australians, and that is what this government has done. More important than anything else is making sure that we build a strong economy and the jobs that come with a strong economy. On this point the facts speak for themselves. This is a government that has now created almost one million jobs. It is a government that has now been in office for a bit over five years, seeing low unemployment, low inflation and low interest rates. The cash rate is now three per cent and has not been lower in half a century. It was three per cent in 1961 and in April 2009. That makes a difference. It makes a difference in my electorate, and it makes a difference right across the country. It means that if somebody has a mortgage of $300,000 they are now paying $5,000 a year less in repayments than they were under the former government. That is what we have done.

Compare that with what is happening overseas: 8.4 million jobs have been lost in the United States, and Europe has reached the point where 23 million people are unemployed. And in Australia we have had a million jobs created. Since we came to government, the Japanese economy has shrunk by around 1½ per cent, the European economy has contracted by almost two per cent, the US economy has grown by just under 2¼ per cent and the Australian economy has grown by 13 per cent. That is why, when the rest of the world is in turmoil, Australia has for the first time in our history a AAA credit rating from all three global ratings agencies. If the focus of this debate is on making sure that we govern for all Australians and making sure that we have the interests of all Australians at heart, then a strong economy with almost a million jobs created, in spite of everything else that is happening in the world, is evidence of this government’s focus and this government’s commitment.

Off the back of those results you can do things for the people of Australia. A good example of that are the things that we have done to cut income tax. These are figures that are not well known but they are things that we have done and are worth repeating. Because of the changes we have made to the income tax system, someone earning $50,000 a year now pays 20 per cent less income tax than they did when we came to office. Someone who earns $35,000 a year—and there are a lot of those people in my electorate—now pays 40 per cent less income tax. Someone who earns $20,000 a year now pays no income tax at all. That is because of the changes this government has made. It means lower income tax and, because of the changes we have made, it also means higher superannuation for all Australian workers, but most particularly for young people in the workforce now. A 20-year-old person in the workforce today earning $50,000 a year will have an extra $200,000 when they retire, because of the changes we have made to superannuation, boosting superannuation from nine per cent of your income to 12 per cent. It makes a difference for all Australian workers. That is what we are doing in building a strong economy and creating Australian jobs.

We are also focused on making sure we have a better health system. This year we will spend more than $74 billion on health and ageing, compared with the former government’s $48 billion. All up, we have delivered over $65 billion in new health spending since we were elected. A good example of what we are doing next is the dental reform package. From next year this will mean children will have access to government subsidised dental care just as they now have eligibility to funded visits from their GP. It means that in an electorate like mine, Blaxland, 30,000 kids and 16,000 families will get access to this for the first time. Right across Australia three million children will have access to subsidised dental care, just like they get access to Medicare now. These are the sorts of things we are doing as a government that will make a difference for the children of this country. We are also establishing the National Disability Insurance Scheme. In time, this will mean that all Australians can rest assured in the unlikely but terrible event that they find themselves facing the difficulties that come with a severe accident and a disability.

We are also focused on making sure that all Australians get access to a great education. This year we will invest more than $13 billion in our schools. The Howard government they spent $8 billion on education. That is why we built and upgraded school facilities right across the country. We built 3,000 libraries, while the former government built 3,000 flag poles. That is why we have delivered 967,000 computers, one for every student from years 9 to 12. The next stage of this is our response to the Gonski report, the most comprehensive report in almost 40 years into the way schools are funded. Gonski found that we need to spend more in our schools, particularly our public schools. In response to that the government will implement the National Plan for School Improvement, which will mean a new way of funding every school, extra specialist teachers in areas such as literacy and numeracy, extra help for schools to improve their results, greater support for students with higher needs, such as those with disabilities and students from low SES backgrounds, and higher standards and extra training for teachers.

If you want another example of this government’s focus and commitment to all Australians, There is probably no better example than the NBN. This means that all Australian homes, schools and businesses will get access to faster and more reliable broadband. It is something that should have been done a long time ago but was neglected under the former government. We are doing it because we are focused on the needs of all Australians.

We are building a stronger economy, creating more Australian jobs, building a stronger health system, building a better education system, and providing big infrastructure projects such as the NBN. That is the approach this government is taking.

Compare that with what the Liberal Party did when they were in government, where they did not govern for all Australians. There is no better example of that than in my neck of the woods in Western Sydney, and there is no better example than in my electorate of Blaxland. When the former government was elected, in 1996, when John Howard became Prime Minister, this is what happened in my electorate. First, they ripped 640 jobs out of the Australian Tax Office by closing down the tax office in Bankstown. Second, they shut the immigration office, which led to the loss of another 90 jobs. They then closed the Australian Hearing service. The neglect was so severe and so obvious that former Prime Minister John Howard did not even visit my electorate, Blaxland, for over 11 years. That shows you just how focused they were on Western Sydney. It is not as if this is an electorate that does not need help.

Under John Howard, my electorate was the mortgage stress capital of Australia. In 2007, after 10 interest rate rises in a row, one family was having their home repossessed every three days. One family was kicked out, locked out and had their keys taken from them every three days. On top of that, they had Work Choices rammed down their throat. And remember what the Prime Minister of the day was saying while all of this was happening: they had never been better off. Ten interest rate rises in a row, houses taken off people left, right and centre, Work Choices cutting incomes, but you have never been better off.

What does the current Leader of the Opposition think about this? What does he think about what was happening in my electorate back then? I remember the debates in this parliament when I was a backbencher, in 2008. We were talking about this. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Howard years were the golden age of compassion. If he thinks that is compassion you can just imagine what he has in store for us if he wins the next election.

This behaviour, what happened to my electorate under the Howard government, is not unusual. We are seeing the same thing happening now in the form of another Liberal government, the state Liberal government in New South Wales. This is what they are doing right now in my electorate and right across New South Wales. They are cutting the guts out of education in Western Sydney and elsewhere. They are cutting the guts out of health services. And just to show—as if it is needed—just how much they really care about Western Sydney, they are moving a toxic waste dump from Hunters Hill to Kemps Creek. That shows you what the Liberal Party is all about. Western Sydney is not their new heartland; it is their new dumping ground. This is where they want to put toxic waste.

If they really cared about Western Sydney the New South Wales Liberal government would not be cutting $1.7 billion out of education. Education is what changes lives, and it changes lives in a place like Western Sydney. It changed my life. I am the first person in my family to finish school and the first person in my family to go to university. It was public education that gave me that opportunity. We should be investing more in education, not less. As Paul Keating said, education is the key to the kingdom. It matters everywhere. It matters more in a place like Western Sydney than almost anywhere else in the country. Most of the jobs that are going to be created in the next few decades are going to require people to finish school and go on and get TAFE and university qualifications, so we need to boost retention rates and encourage more students to go on to TAFE and to university. Where retention rates are low—like the are in Western Sydney—people are put at an instant disadvantage. This is a challenge in my electorate. It is one that we need to overcome; otherwise, we will just entrench disadvantage.

For years, schools in Western Sydney were underfunded and not properly resourced. This side of the parliament is determined to fix this. The other side of parliament says that the existing funding system is good enough. That of itself should be enough to tell you that the Leader of the Opposition is not focused on the needs of all Australians and does not get Western Sydney. We are hardworking people; we are self-made people. The education system has given us our chance in life. Anyone from Western Sydney understands how important it is to success, how underfunded it has been and how important it is to fix it. The fact that the Liberal Party, led by this Leader of the Opposition, does not understand this tells you everything that you need to know.

Western Sydney is also an expensive place to live. Housing costs are high; average incomes are low. That means that people struggle to make ends meet. It means that things like the Schoolkids Bonus, which means that a family with two kids over the lifetime of their children at school will get an extra $15,000, matter. That $15,000 matters. The opposition say that if they are elected at the next election they will take that $15,000 off Australian families. It means that the increases in the pension matter. It means that the increases in the family payments that we have made really matter.

It means that the changes that we have made to the tax-free threshold really matter. That has now been boosted to $18,000. It means that individuals earning up to $80,000 will see their taxes increase if the Liberal Party is elected, most by $300 a year. That is a lot of money. In total, almost half a million people in Western Sydney will be affected by this. Half a million people in Western Sydney will have their taxes increased, in most cases by up to $300, if the Liberal Party is elected. This tells you everything that you need to know.

The Liberal Party in government cuts jobs, cuts support for families, cuts education and cuts health. They are doing that in government in New South Wales now and promising to do it if they win the next election. That is very different to what this government is doing. We are keeping the economy strong, creating almost a million jobs, investing in health, investing in education, boosting the pension, establishing a National Disability Insurance Scheme, rolling out the NBN and increasing the superannuation of all Australians. That is more than stability; that is a proud record of achievement, a record achieved because of the work of this Prime Minister and this government—and all in spite of the relentless negativity of those opposite.