BILLS Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost Of Living Tax Cuts) Bill 2024 Second Reading

12 February 2024

Much has been said about our government's revised tax cut policy, with media commentators, a variety of politicians, financial gurus, financial advisers, stockbrokers, bankers, everyone having a say on this. I know that much has been said about whether it is a broken promise or whether the government has moved with the times and decided to do the right thing by the majority of the Australian population. I have been arguing for support for the cost-of-living crisis in my electorate for years. The previous government was happy to see some of the most vulnerable people in our communities suffer under this cost-of-living crisis with very little being done.

I am proud to be part of a government that is offering relief for cost-of-living difficulties that we are all facing to over 90 per cent of the Australian taxpaying population. What we're hearing from those opposite is sophistry; it is a desperate message from a desperate opposition, who have now, after much grandstanding, finally agreed not to get in the way of these tax cuts. It is really quite ridiculous to see the behaviour from the opposition. They are tying themselves in knots trying to criticise a policy that they are going to vote for. It would be amusing if it wasn't so tragic that they are trying to weaponise a policy that will give some relief to the many families, particularly in electorates like mine, Macarthur, from what is a cost-of-living crisis.

I will tell you what the cost-of-living crisis means in my electorate. For young families, it means they can't afford their rent. It means maybe getting evicted. We have families in my electorate living in their cars because they cannot afford the rent. It means that you may not be able to pay for your child's school excursion because you can't afford the costs. It may mean you can't afford decent food to feed your family. We have working families going to support groups in my electorate like St Vincent DePaul, Lifeline et cetera trying to get money to put food on their tables. In a country like Australia, a wealthy country like Australia, that is a living tragedy. We need to recognise that and that is why it has been so urgent to offer these tax cuts and relief to some of those most vulnerable. My office hears this and sees it every day. I have been to the Lifeline credit support centre in my electorate, in Macarthur, and have seen what some families are going through. To me, it is a tragedy. The pressure that this puts on young families who are trying to get ahead in a very difficult world is terrible. We are seeing increased stress on mums and dads and increased mental health difficulties in young people that relate to this cost-of-living crisis.

These are challenging times. We have to remember, when the Morrison government rolled out the stage 3 tax cuts, in 2019, the world and the economic situation was very, very different. No-one had heard of COVID-19. We were yet to experience the horrors of the pandemic, the bushfires in 2019-20, Russia invading Ukraine and the present difficulties in the Middle East. These and many other difficulties have had significant economic impacts on the federal budget, on the world and, in particular, on Australian households.

That's why it's very sensible for us to introduce these overhauled tax cuts, to try to give support to young families who are just trying to get ahead. It was very sensible for us to do this and very important that it was done urgently. These tax cuts are fairer for Australians who are trying to get ahead and they ensure that everyone gets a tax cut, with a bigger cut going to low- and middle-income Australian households, who are often hit the hardest by the effects of global conflicts and resource constraints.

I'm proud of our government's changes. They benefit my electorate greatly, with 90 per cent of Macarthur taxpayers better off under our proposal. That is really important. It means people can afford to go to a doctor and it means people can afford to buy medicines, together with the other important cost-of-living measures that our government has done. It means young mothers can eat properly and have their kids eat properly. It means people can provide school clothes for their kids. Every suburb in my electorate of Macarthur will be better off. It means real relief to some of the households doing it the toughest.

It's even more important for the 28 per cent of Macarthur residents who are on very low incomes, under $45,000 a year, because under the coalition's original stage 3 plans they would have received a tax cut of nothing—zero. Can you imagine trying to live on $45,000 a year? Every cent counts. For them to get nothing in these stage 3 cuts, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, would be terrible. These are individuals, often single parents, students or elderly workers, who would have received nothing under the original plans that those opposite fought so hard for us to retain. Thankfully we didn't take their advice and instead have now rolled out our own overhauls, providing tax cuts to more Australians. For the group I just mentioned, this ranges from cuts of up to $804 for those earning $45,000 per year or less.

Across the nation there will be more Australians—2.9 million, to be specific—who will now receive a tax cut. After all the uproar from those opposite when we announced our overhaul, I ask them: could you tell those taxpayers, all 2.9 million of them, that they are worse off under Labor? You can't do that. They are doing better under Labor and will always do better under us, particularly in this time of cost-of-living difficulties. Should they forget about their tax cuts and focus on a broken promise? I don't think so. I'm sure these individuals are looking forward to receiving their tax cut and putting it into their children's sport or their energy bill or buying some fresh food, because that is what these tax cuts mean. They are fairer and more beneficial for more Australians than those the coalition wanted under their original plans. They are part of Labor's program to provide cost-of-living relief for all Australians. They come together with things like the cheaper medicines policies, the tripling of the Medicare bulk-billing rebate for some of the most disadvantaged, improvements in funding for education, and improved funding for our overall health care and our hospital system.

Of course, women are some of the biggest beneficiaries of our policy, with 90 per cent of female taxpayers getting a bigger tax cut now, which is so important, given that many women, unfortunately, earn less in terms of both salary and superannuation than men do. These things are really important, particularly for young families. They're the ones that I want to support the most. It's not particularly meaningful for taxpayers on very high incomes to get the tax cuts that were originally planned by the coalition. What is meaningful is to be in the low- to middle-income bracket and get these tax cuts from us on 1 July. I thank the Treasurer and the Prime Minister very much for their hard work in this space. They know what it means for families to struggle, and they know how important it is that we provide support for those struggling families.

I'd like to thank all those in our government for their work in addressing the cost of health care and medicines and thank the Minister for Health and Aged Care for his work in advocating for more patient friendly and cost-efficient changes. We are trying to undo some of the pressure that the previous coalition government put on young families. Unfortunately, the coalition defunded Services Australia, so often young families are tying themselves in knots trying to get maternity leave payments or childcare rebates because of the lack of funding for Services Australia. The coalition government damaged young families in Australia, and we are trying to undo some of the mess that they've left them with. We're giving young families extra help. Lifting the low-income Medicare thresholds, which are part of those plans as well, means that more very low income earners get additional tax relief on top of the tax cuts we're providing. This is crucial for my electorate of Macarthur. Not only do we have significant demand for healthcare access and affordability; health care is the largest industry for employment in Macarthur, with over 13,000 people, or just over 15 per cent of the electorate, working in the health sector. They will all get tax cuts. Thank you very much to the health minister for his work in this space.

We've not yet been in government for two years, but our policies are already having very positive effects, with our cheaper medicines, 60-day dispensing and lower PBS co-payment providing over $1.6 million in savings to all Macarthur residents by the end of last year. On top of this, our increase to the bulk-billing incentive has benefited nearly 104,000 Macarthur residents, resulting in better access to GPs and medications. Our urgent care centre is making a significant difference already for access to health care. Just last week I received a letter from someone at a local GP clinic, who wrote to thank our government for taking what they call 'a brave and correct policy decision to triple the Medicare rebate'. They went on to outline in their letter how the 'outlook and engagement of general practitioners has improved significantly as a direct result of this funding increase'. Best of all, may I say, they went on to say:

The objection by GPs to bulk-billing has fallen away, and the focus is back on delivering care to patients—

sometimes the most vulnerable—

rather than seeking to implement private charging.

That is an incredible result and yet another sign of a government that understands cost-of-living pressures, that understands which families and which people are most at risk and that is trying its very best in really difficult times to provide support for those people. The letter closes by saying that the Medicare bulk-billing incentive increase 'is the single biggest lockstep change that I have seen in my time running general practices'. How wonderful it is to hear that our policies are providing real benefit to patients, practitioners and residents in my electorate.

I'm proud of these schemes. I'm proud of these tax-cut changes. They are really important for my constituents. These are policies from a government that listens, understands and is willing to move with the times. More people are getting access to support. More people are getting support with rent and mortgage payments and are benefiting from the changes in health care that this government is providing. Our cheaper childcare policy is benefiting 10,000 Macarthur families. It is vital for the education and social development of our children and is a wise investment in our nation's future. We also have the fee-free TAFE provisions, which have made a huge difference to Macarthur residents.

We know that much more needs to be done. We're not saying that our support for these people and these families has stopped. We need to look at what more can be done to provide cost-of-living relief to households as well as economic and social opportunities for our nation. I look forward to a bright future with a Labor government providing support for some of our most vulnerable, including many of my patients. We have a proud record that we are keeping up in helping these people. I'm proud that our government is aware of the difficulties facing young families and is acting now, not tomorrow. We will continue to advocate for all Australians, not just some. I again thank the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, and the wider cabinet for their work on these very important issues. There is much more to be done, and I think we need to recognise that our population is increasing. We need to encourage young families to have aspirational ideas, and these tax cuts will help in that. I thank the government for their support for my electorate, and I look forward to further improvements in cost-of-living relief for all Australians.