Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (09:42): I rise in the House to pay tribute to and recognise a fine public service career not here in Canberra but in local government in the electorate of Casey, which I have the honour of representing here, in our federal parliament. I speak of Alison Cran who recently retired from the Yarra Ranges Council after nearly 13 years of dedicated service as the Director of Social and Economic Development. Before this she had a career in other areas of local government. I am pretty sure that Alison did not and does not agree with me on every issue but I am certain of the most important thing: Alison always acted in the finest traditions of the public service—professional, hardworking, dedicated, passionate, prepared to deal with the difficult issues and prepared to look to the long term.
At a recent farewell function for her, the Chief Executive Officer of Yarra Ranges Council, Glenn Patterson, spoke of Alison's compassion, commitment, conviction and her leadership. He spoke of her no-nonsense style and her commitment to excellence, blended with humour and a generosity of spirit for those in need. Her leadership role in the response to Black Saturday exemplified Alison's capacity and commitment. The Yarra Ranges Council staff and the wider Yarra Ranges community will of course miss her. Yes, they will be poorer for her leaving, but of course her achievements and her legacy will remain and stand out as a standard for those staff who worked with her to try to live up to. She was a mentor for so many staff at the Yarra Ranges Council. I wish her and her family very well in her retirement and wish all the best for her partner, Greg, and for her boys. I think it is appropriate in this parliament to pay tribute to a public servant who has done so much for the community that I represent.
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (18:30): I rise on behalf of the shadow Treasurer, the member for North Sydney, to speak on the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013. The coalition will be supporting this legislation—necessary legislation to amend the government's own recently passed bill to clean-up yet another mess created by this chaotic government. The bill before the House now seeks to amend the government's own policy that was announced late last year—a policy motivated by this Treasurer's waxing desperation in the face of his then waning budget surplus.
The government's evaporating surplus late last year sent it, as we all remember, into a feverish quest for savings, some of which were announced in MYEFO December 2012—actually it was earlier than December. This search for every dollar and cent it could find led it to announce an array of changes relating to unclaimed moneys in bank accounts, life insurance accounts, superannuation accounts and corporations. The changes, as many members will recall, sought to shorten the time period before money can be considered lost or unclaimed. That is precisely what the government's announced policy and legislation did sometime ago. For bank accounts, the time period was reduced from seven to three years. For life insurance, it was likewise cut from seven to three years. For superannuation accounts, the inactivity period was slashed from five years to just 12 months, after which superannuation accounts of unidentifiable members are transferred to the Australian Taxation Office. Superannuation accounts with balances of less than $2,000 and accounts of unidentifiable members that were inactive for 12 months were required to be transferred to the commissioner. Any unclaimed property of corporations was to be counted as part of the Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue Fund upon receipt by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which we all know as ASIC, not the companies and unclaimed moneys special account.
This was all designed with one purpose in mind: for the government to boost their underlying cash position. It was the desperate grab for money that led the government to consider these changes which it had never considered in any of its previous years. Indeed, the measures that were announced, we were told, were expected to net the government nearly $900 million over the four-year period to 2015-16.
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (16:58): In the remaining minute or so, I just wanted to recognise 11 local primary schools in the Upper Yarra that conducted a post-Anzac Day service on Wednesday, 8 May. Naturally many of the local schoolchildren attended Anzac Day services on the day itself, but this was an opportunity for 11 schools to combine and hold their own service, which was conducted entirely by themselves.
The schools all sent their grade 6 students along. The service was MCd by the Launching Place Primary School this year, by principal Steve Shaw and students Tanisha and Mitchell. I also want to recognise each of the schools that attended: Millwarra, Woori Yallock, Warburton, Gladysdale, Wesburn, Yarra Junction, Don Valley, Hoddles Creek, Yellingbo and St Joseph's.
During the service the students placed wreaths made with the assistance of the Upper Yarra Museum, and I want to recognise Rhonda O'Meara for her great work, and more than 230 wooden crosses were prepared by the great team at Ben's Shed in Yarra Junction. The students researched a member of their family and included their history on the crosses. I also recognise Shelley Grey from the Upper Yarra RSL, who coordinated the event, and the Upper Yarra RSL President, Rob Worlley, and the Secretary, Lorraine Green.
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (19:29): As this parliament nears its end, I rise to give what will surely be my final adjournment speech before the coming election. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the electorate I am so honoured to represent in this House of Representatives—the electorate of Casey; to talk about what it is, what it could be and what it should be.
Casey encompasses around 2,500 square kilometres, ranging from the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne through the bulk of the Yarra Valley: from Steels Creek and Dixons Creek, Healesville and Yarra Glen in the north to Mount Dandenong, Kalorama, Olinda, Monbulk and The Patch in the south; from the edge of Croydon through Mooroolbark, Bayswater North, Kilsyth, Monbulk and Lilydale and out eastwards along the Warburton Highway beyond the historic town after which that road is named.
The Casey electorate is quintessential middle Australia that includes suburban neighbourhoods and country towns. It is a part of the country where the combination of aspiration and perspiration has produced a determination to build a better life. Much of the region was settled more than a century ago by pioneers who sought nothing more than an opportunity to determine their own fate and their own future. They tilled the fields and built homes and businesses—people like the Chapmans, who founded Chappies fruits, or the Flemings, who established Flemings Nurseries.
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (16:55): It is a sad day in the parliament when you witness, as this House just has, such a rambling, incoherent speech—I was about to say 'contribution' but I corrected myself; that would be an exaggeration—from a chaotic Assistant Treasurer. I want to start by apologising to the Assistant Treasurer. Yesterday in the Federation Chamber, I accused the Assistant Treasurer of deliberately, coldly and in a calculated way, knowingly deceiving his electors, when he issued a newsletter this time last year declaring that the budget had been returned to surplus.
Mr Ewen Jones: It already had.
Mr TONY SMITH: On hearing the Assistant Treasurer's 15 minutes of rambling, I am starting to wonder whether he believed it or not; perhaps he had been told it and he did not know the difference. Perhaps I ascribed to him a motive that would have required competence, because what we have just heard, in summation, is a litany of personal attacks on the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Higgins—a list of inventions across the policy spectrum—and the basic message: 'Everything is fine. What are you complaining about?'
He tried to speak a bit about history. Just before the 1996 election, as net debt was approaching $96 billion—but we did not know the extent of it then, because Labor used to conceal the figures before the Charter of Budget Honesty—former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who I have to say was a lot more articulate than the current Assistant Treasurer, let fly on radio one day and said, 'What are people going on about?' That would sum up the Treasurer's approach and this Assistant Treasurer's speech that we have just heard in this chamber. He said the budget is all fine. He said that debt is fine and the economy is completely fine. As the shadow Treasurer said, Wayne Swan prides himself on mediocrity. If you listened to the Treasurer's press conference today, you would think that the figures that were released made his day.
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (09:30): On Thursday, 23 May I had the pleasure of attending two Biggest Morning Teas, where dedicated members of the local community in the electorate of Casey raised money for the Cancer Council. The first was at Arrabri Community House, in Bayswater North, where Jackie Warren and the team from the house worked very hard selling tickets as well as cookbooks from the centre. The guests there included David Watt, the senior manager of the Mount Evelyn Community Bank; Councillor Tony Dib; and former councillor and mayor Peter Gurr.
Later in the morning I attended the Biggest Morning Tea in Mount Evelyn, which has grown steadily in the last two years. They raised a little over $4,000. That takes their total fundraising for the Cancer Council to a little over $10,000 over the past three years. They not only raised lots of money on the day; they also did so by holding two sausage sizzles on the Saturdays leading up to the morning tea on Thursday. I want to pay tribute to the fundraising team at Mount Evelyn: Kathie Freeman from the Mount Evelyn Chamber of Commerce; Meaghan Hicks and Garrick Hicks from the Functional Beverage Co and Yarra Valley Tea Company; Leanne Vaytauer, the branch manager at the Mount Evelyn Community Bank; and Glen Booth and hospitality students from Ranges TEC, who baked over 400 scones and came along on the day to serve Devonshire teas.
There were many local businesses who not only supported the morning teas on the day but donated many prizes for the raffle. There are too many to list but I would like to say once again in this House what a great job they do for their local community. This was another sign of the strong community spirit in Mount Evelyn. I pay tribute to the organisers and everyone who was involved at both morning teas in Bayswater North and Mount Evelyn.
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (17:25): I want to begin this contribution by asking some questions of the Assistant Treasurer with respect to finance. It goes to the heart of the government's transparency or lack thereof in the presentation of the budget.
I would like to draw the Assistant Treasurer's attention to the persistence in the budget of the Treasurer himself and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation in defining savings not only as expenditure reductions, which everyone out in the Australian community understands, but also tax rises. This is something that has not been commented on a lot.
I draw the Assistant Treasurer's attention to not just the budget papers but the press release issued in his name on budget night that talks about new savings a number of times on tax issues. The point is quite obvious. This is a deliberate deception conceived by this government. In fact, it is not something it has slipped in to; it was conceived in the very first budget in 2008 where this new definition was adopted for the first time.
As you would appreciate, Deputy Speaker Symon, in everyday households if they are planning their family budgets and they want to save some money, they have to spend less on something they are spending on. They have to spend less, they have to reduce spending or they have to eliminate something entirely. No household, no small business, no business counts an increase in revenue as a saving. But that is exactly what this government does and it does it deliberately because it wants to try and con the public into thinking that it has made greater expenditure reductions than it has and it wants to try and conceal its tax increases.
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (16:47): As we begin on the Treasury portfolio I note, having watched the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness deal with his set of estimates in this place, that he took the questions for 45 minutes and did not seek to have the time taken up by any of his colleagues to come along and waste time. I certainly hope that the Assistant Treasurer will be following the practice of the minister for trade. As you know, Deputy Speaker, it has been a tradition in this place that these estimates take place so the opposition can ask questions of the minister. The Assistant Treasurer has allotted, I think, just 30 minutes of the one hour, and we sincerely hope that he is not going to seek to avoid scrutiny by having his own backbenchers waste half of that time and provide only 15 minutes. We would commend to him the approach of the minister for trade, who did not arrange for any of his colleagues to come in and waste his time.
I would like to take the Assistant Treasurer to the budget bottom line. He would be well aware, of course, from helping put together these budgets, that after posting a budget deficit of nearly $44 billion in the 2011-12 year the Treasurer announced that the budget would return to surplus within one year. I would direct the Assistant Treasurer to the fact that he went further: when we had these estimates last year, he was in the process of sending out a newsletter to his electorate where he said, 'We've delivered a surplus on time as promised.'
What I want to know from the Assistant Treasurer is—assuming he knows that was a completely false statement, because you cannot say you have delivered anything until the end of the financial year—what action he has taken since then and whether he is taking any action in his post-budget newsletter this year on that very issue. Within that same newsletter, as well as talking about a number of other budget issues, he talked about increased family payments through family tax A. Can I ask whether he has informed his constituents that that promise was broken and it has not gone ahead in the budget? But could he firstly answer why he—we assume intentionally—put out a false statement, paid for by taxpayers' money, saying that a surplus had been delivered when he knew full well that that was not the case?
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (17:14): This debate on the appropriation bills provides each member with an opportunity to give their views not just on the budget but on any aspect of government policy. Of course, it is right and proper that each member of parliament who speaks on these bills focuses, to a large extent, on the government's budget. With a budget the government tells the nation its priorities and the public in turn can judge it on its capacity, on its competence and on its priorities. In this very Federation Chamber last year we had this debate and if we could go back to that moment in time we had those opposite pledging, and in some cases announcing, that they had achieved a budget surplus. As I reflect on each of our current Treasurer's budgets, they all have one underlying theme: with each budget there are grand promises that are always followed by broken promises, nasty surprises and, frankly, incompetent government. The Australian people have been paying the price for that over the last five or six years.
In my contribution I want to look at this government's track record, because it is the best and the only indication of their future capability. Last year we had those in government telling the opposition they had returned the budget to surplus. The Australian public were meant to believe that a Treasurer who had missed each of his previous budget targets would miraculously take a budget deficit of some $40 billion and return it to surplus in one year. In fact, together with the Prime Minister, the Treasurer pledged on 500 occasions to return the budget to surplus this year. As it got closer to the budget and even as it became more obvious that the Treasurer was going to miss his target by a long way they kept making that pledge. As a corollary, for those opposite who spoke last year on the budget surplus that has not occurred this year, that will not occur next year or the year after. If you believe the Treasurer it will be near balance the year after that and then a small surplus.
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (12:12): Let me say at the outset the coalition will not oppose these bills, even though they contain a tax increase on superannuation. The coalition made it clear in response to Labor's budget that while many of its measures are objectionable, the coalition reserves the right to implement Labor's measures if needed as part of our pathway back to surplus. Australia cannot keep running up record debt and deficits. There is a fundamental difference between the coalition and Labor. We believe that governments, like families and businesses, have to live within their means. We will have a commission of audit so that government is only as big as it needs to be to do what people cannot do for themselves. At least for the first term, until we are on an honest path of not just a surplus but repaying debt, an incoming coalition government will resist new spending commitments that are not fully funded—nearly always by offsetting expenditure reductions. Our funding commitments stand in contrast to Labor's record of broken promises to Australian families.
These bills contain a tax increase on superannuation that the coalition would not wish to see in place, but due to years of mismanagement we have been left with little choice. The bill also makes technical changes to the low-income super contribution, a payment this government cannot afford because they have linked it to the failed mining tax that has not raised any meaningful revenue. The original resource superprofits tax was estimated to bring in $37 billion over a four-year period; the minerals resource rent tax was estimated to bring in $22.5 billion over the same period. These estimates were then revised down further in both the 2012-13 budget to $13.4 billion, then the 2012-13 MYEFO to $9.1 billion over the same four-year period. Now, in the latest budget, the government's revised estimates of mining tax receipts are down even further to just $3.3 billion over the same four-year period. This tax has gone from collecting, supposedly, $37 billion to collecting just $3.3 billion over a four-year period—a $33.7 billion write-down. As I said, the coalition will not oppose these bills based on the budget emergency, which our nation faces.
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