Coalition Government providing strong economic leadership

In life, in business or in government, one of the most difficult things to do is to admit that you have a problem, particularly when you did not create the problem in the first place. Then once you have admitted that you have a problem and have then thought through and planned what you need to do to fix that problem, the second most difficult thing to do is to take that first often tough and confronting step to fixing the problem. This is exactly what Labor when in government and now in opposition have failed to do. They failed to admit they had created a problem and are now failing to be part of the solution. This is why the Australian economy needs strong leadership after six years of failed fiscal Labor policy.

Let’s take a look at the legacy of those years of economic failure. The last five years saw cumulative deficits of $191 billion. Uncontrolled and irresponsible spending by Labor saw gross debt blow out to $360 billion and net debt pass $200 billion. This debt left to the government by Labor will cost us $12 billion in interest—that is, nearly $1 billion a month in interest being borrowed or $33 million a day being borrowed to pay interest or $1.4 million an hour. In fact, for the duration of my short address alone, the interest bill being paid by the Australian government is $347,000. We are borrowing every cent of this. It really does make you think about where the nation was heading.

We were heading, if we were to endure another Labor government after the September election, for even bigger deficits, a projected $123 billion in the next four years. We were also heading for record increases in debt projected to peak at an astounding $667 billion dollars of gross debt. Double the debt and double the interest cost. Labor would be paying that interest, how? By more borrowing—talk about paying off your mortgage with your credit card. Labor was planning to just keep on with reckless uncontrolled spending at unprecedented levels. As the IMF and PBO stated, Labor’s spending trajectory was the highest in the OECD, a 16 per cent increase in government spending. We know that even Iceland, with all of its challenges, has lower spending increases of just six per cent. If debt was allowed to spiral out of control to the levels predicted under more Labor government, it would take generations to pay back, leaving our children and grandchildren to pay back the current Labor legacy of debt. What a legacy to leave. That is what will happen if we in government as the coalition do not take serious action.

The National Commission of Audit identified that, if left unchecked, government expenditure would explode from $409 billion to $700 billion within a decade. If anyone here inherited a private business with this set of books, what would you do? You have just got to look at it as it is and face it. You have no choice but to take action. And the coalition government is doing exactly that. We could have taken the easy Labor way out. We could have just floated along like Labor has for the past six years, literally throw taxpayers’ money around like confetti and spend it without a care in the world.

With Labor members clearly it is one of two things: either they believe that there is no problem with continuous spiralling debt and deficit or—and this is the other Labor option—they are simply taking the easy political popular option of pretending that there is no problem, keeping their heads in the sand like ostriches and simply wishing that the problem would just go away. Perhaps they all share the views of the Labor Treasurer, the member for Lilley, whose response, when asked what he was going to do about the debt limit, was: ‘Well, that will be someone else’s problem.’ That is the Labor way: rack up billions in debt and deficit and simply expect the coalition to fix it. After all, they are repeat offenders—remember the 1996 debt and deficits? Once again, we will make the necessary decisions. The Australian people know that we will make those tough decisions. We have done it before and that is what we are doing now.

We are reducing the deficits projected through to 2017-18 by $43.8 billion. We are reducing gross debt from the predicted Labor outcome of $667 billion by nearly $300 billion. This is not easy to do, and this is a tough budget. But we refuse—we simply refuse—to just pass on that debt and burden to the next generations, as Labor is clearly so determined to do. We will make the tough decisions and, as I said, this is what Australians have come to expect from us. They know that when Labor comes to power they can expect uncontrolled spending to be covered by debt, and they know that they will need a coalition government to fix the problem. This is a continual cycle of government in Australia. Labor repeatedly makes a financial mess and the coalition has to clean it up.

The coalition government has, in the budget, presented a plan for the future, in which everybody has to contribute to balancing the budget. And no-one should doubt our resolve, because, firstly, we did pay back Labor’s debt and deficits in 1996, and we also put the nation in a very strong position, and, secondly, we have said we would stop the boats and we are well on the way to delivering this. These are just examples of how we do what we say we will do. It is the same with the carbon tax and the same with the commitments to delivering infrastructure to drive productivity in this country. We know that higher income earners will contribute through a three-year increase in the top marginal rate of tax paid by those earning over $180,000. Parliamentarians and senior public servants will have their wages frozen for a year. And everybody has to take responsibility for Labor’s debt crisis, and everybody will have to contribute, because that is what Labor has left us with. Labor has cast everybody in these roles. We have no choice but to share in the cost of their debt and deficit. The public sector will see a reduction in staff in offices and will have to find further efficiencies. Businesses will see cuts to industry assistance programs. As to pensioners, the Labor government was moving to increase the pension access age to 67 by 2023; this will now be extended to 70 by 2035 and pensions will be indexed to CPI. However, pensions will continue to rise twice each year. States and territories will also have to contribute. And of course it is true that blurred lines of authority and action between state and federal departments have caused unnecessary and costly duplication. Having areas of responsibility clearly delineated and funding attributed accordingly is an obvious step towards efficiency in the federation.

But this budget also identifies growth and productivity priorities. This is a key part of the answer to some of our problems. The infrastructure growth package will take the government’s transport investment to $50 billion by 2019-20, and, as a result, total infrastructure investment from Commonwealth, state and local governments, as well as the private sector, will build to over $125 billion by 2019-20. Major infrastructure projects in Western Australia such as the Gateway WA, Swan Valley bypass and Great Northern Highway projects are important, but I was particularly pleased to see additional investment in road safety under the Roads to Recovery and Black Spot programs. Increased funding in both of these programs with an additional $550 million in total will contribute to road safety around the nation and will be of great value in the electorate of Forrest.

The government will also create the world’s largest medical research endowment fund, the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. Contributions will come from a new patient contribution to health services and from other health savings. This endowment fund, when mature, will double current direct medical research funding, with an additional $1 billion a year. How on earth could anyone be opposed to improved health research and health outcomes?

I am also glad to see the government taking the issue of farming and agricultural research seriously. The budget contains $100 million in election commitment to new funding for rural research and development. This is critical for the long-term future of farming and the contribution it can and will make to Australia’s economy. It has also allocated $20 million to improve and enhance our biosecurity and quarantine system. This long-overdue investment is one I am particularly proud of, having spoken often in this House on this issue. On top of this, the budget provides $15 million to help small exporters with their export costs. It also provides $8 million to improve farmers’ access to the products they need to grow food for the world.

In another area I have worked on for many years, the government is honouring its election commitment to provide $10 million to enhance online safety for children. This funding will be spread over four years to support the government’s policy to enhance online safety for children. The budget provides $2.4 million to establish and operate the office of the children’s e-safety commissioner. The commissioner is to take a leadership role in online safety. Having a coordinated and centralised approach to cybersafety is long overdue. It will also provide $100,000 to support Australian based research and information campaigns to online safety.

However, I was especially pleased to see $7.5 million to assist schools to access accredited online safety programs. I am particularly pleased that children’s online safety is a priority for this government. I know the risks our young people are facing online only too well. For years I have personally delivered online safety sessions to students in schools, for parents, for community groups and for businesses throughout the Forrest electorate. These number well in excess of 150. This is where I get the information: nothing highlights for me the risks more than listening to our young people talking about the issues they face online. Yes, the internet is the most fabulous tool, and I know they will be using it forever. However, I also know that we need to do more to protect our young people online—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Proceedings suspended from 11 : 43 to 11 : 50

Ms MARINO: Recent research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority indicates that around 21 per cent of 14- and 15-year-olds report being cyberbullied. I believe, based on my discussions with young people, that this is an extremely conservative estimate. In my view, this is just those who have reported the bullying, not necessarily all those who have been bullied online.

Many parents and schools feel ill-equipped to respond to the challenges of protecting children from online dangers. The e-safety commissioner will administer the funding of $7.5 million for online safety programs in schools and $100,000 to support Australian based research and information campaigns about online safety. The commissioner will also be responsible for improved coordination of the content and messages provided to Australian children, families, schools and child protection agencies. This is a great outcome for students and parents, and I am very proud to be part of a government that takes cybersafety seriously.

I will finish by saying that one of the greatest concerns I have when I meet these wonderful young people using what is a fabulous tool, the internet—and it will be their highway it will be what they use for the rest of their lives—is the number of young people who will actively admit that they have physically gone to meet people in person that they have only met online. The children who often admit this to me are primary-school age. So the e-safety commissioner in my view is a really important one-stop shop type approach, a central point, in relation to online safety.

In looking at the challenges ahead and the opportunities ahead, yes, this is a very serious and tough budget. But that is what we were elected to do; that is what people in my electorate were saying to me in the run-up to the election and since. They understand very graphically the serious situation Australia finds itself in. They will not necessarily agree with every single thing we do, but they understand the need to make tough decisions. And that as a government is what we are here to do.