16 May 2014

Post-Budget Address to LNP Queensland



Check against delivery

This is a transcript of the Treasurer's address to the Queensland branch of the LNP. The main topic discussed was the Governments 2014-15 Budget priorities.

To my good mate, and I hope he is still my good mate, Tim Nicholls, Treasurer of Queensland, and to all of you ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour to be here in Brisbane. You know, I was looking at that video and it tells the story of what we're about to do, what we're about to undertake and it really is very much part of the journey that you would expect of a new team that comes in and wants to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.

I want you all to know that the Budget that we presented to the Australian people on Tuesday night is based on a set of values that I think embody the very best of the Australian community. The values include self-reliance, aspiration, and a determination to present opportunity not just today but for the future, and values that include, a determination to ensure that those most vulnerable in the community are protected – the most frail are assisted. They're the values that I think as a community Australians want to see in public policy. Now, it's not always easy. We know that. For some in the community it will be a challenge but our first duty is to ensure that tomorrow is better than today. Our great duty is to ensure that we do not pass on to the next generation a lesser quality of life but in fact we give them a better quality of life and our first duty is also to ensure that we take responsibility for our actions today so that our tomorrow is better.

This Budget started at the point where we had to deal with the legacy of the past. I know to my good friends in the Queensland Government, they had a similar challenge. A spend-thrift Government left the economy weakened and hard decisions need to be made to repair the Budget to strengthen the economy. We were left with a situation where we had rising unemployment, falling terms of trade, Budget deficits of $123 billion in four years and never getting to surplus, debt rising to $667 billion, interest rates inevitably to rise to what are deemed to be so-called normal levels from their so-called emergency levels at this current point, and of course what is quite the structural challenge and that is the mining industry which has done so much heavy lifting over the last decade for our nation through massive new construction investment; a mining industry that represents 10 per cent of our economy but 2 per cent of employment and yet has done so much over the last decade to lift the economy. The mining industry is going from its construction phase to its production phase and export phase and in doing so, the jobs are not there. The engineering jobs, the logistics jobs, the support jobs from electricians and builders to truck drivers, the jobs have been lost and now we've got to lift the other 90 per cent of the Australian economy. The economy that covers services like tourism and financial services, manufacturing, also primary industry.

We need to lift the rest of the Australian economy in order to maintain our quality of life and ensure that we don't have unemployment rise to the sorts of levels that will cause community dislocation. That's why we had that video, that's why we had that money – $125 billion. And it's not over 15 or 20 years, it is over the next seven years. $50 billion upfront and why? Because we must stimulate the rest of the economy. We have to lift the tide so that all boats rise. To do that we need to build the infrastructure. Now, you'd say, "Well, come on, guys, you're reducing Government expenditure but you're spending money on this infrastructure. We are doing it because we must if we are going to build a stronger economy. We are doing it because we must. If we are going to be able to compete with the rest of the world over the next decade and beyond.

This Budget was built on the future, on what we've got to do to strengthen our nation too, build a stronger economy, to build a more cohesive society. Everything has a purpose. It's not just about numbers. Numbers are important but everything has a purpose. And if you look at it in three key areas you can see that purpose. In health - let's start in health - we are asking Australians to contribute $7 when they go to see the doctor. Bulk billing is still alive; we're still increasing the funding for hospitals in Australia, significantly increasing the funding for hospitals in Australia. We're still running the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme; we've still got a generous Medicare safety net. We've got all the safety nets but we are asking people to contribute $7 when they go to the doctor and why? Because not only does it illustrate the fact that you can't provide a service that is free, you need to have a price point and Paul Keating said that when he introduced the co-payment in 1990 on the PBS which Labor seems to have forgotten about. But there's more, there's a purpose to it. We are building the biggest medical research endowment fund in the world in six years because the only way you are going to truly deliver a health system that meets the needs of the population in 10, 20, 40, 50 years is to start looking for the cures, for the discoveries and the treatments for the diseases and afflictions that are destroying our population over time. Cancer affects so many people -every family's had some affliction with it - or Alzheimer's or heart disease or mental health issues. And Australia's great strength in this area is medical research. Howard Florey helped to develop Penicillin, saved 80 million lives or an Ian Frazer, great Queenslander, or Fiona Stanley, the West Australian, or Gus Nossell, the list goes on and we did that and they've done that on a comparatively, on the smell of an oily rag, and now we're saying we are prepared to double, forever, the funding for medical research that will provide the opportunity for clinical trials but will provide the opportunity to get product to market, provide the opportunity to discover the cures for the diseases of the century.

This is about us investing in our own quality of life, investing in our own health care, and my great fear as a member of parliament is someone who has been in public service since 1996 is that one day, one day, it would be a situation where a Government says, "Sorry, we can't afford to fund a drug," that might save my child or someone else's child. So now we've got to act. We must start investing now and if we invest now we'll get the benefit, not in the 20 or 30 years, the money out of this fund that is created by the co-payment starts flowing in less than two years. It starts going into medical research in less than two years. This is about investing in ourselves and our families so that is significant reform in health but it's also so obvious that it needs to be done.

And in education we need to invest to compete with the rest of the world. Massive new universities coming up in Asia, tremendous amount of money behind them buying the best academic instructors in the world, whether they be lecturers or professors, whatever the case might be, the best in the world. They are competing not just for our student, but they're competing for our exports because, after all, higher education is the fourth biggest individual export in Australia, education. So now is the time for us to aspire to have a university in the top 20 in the world. We're in the top 20 in the world in so many disciplines and yet we haven't got a university in the top 20 in the world. And why? Because they're shackled by this heavy regulation.

Well, now is the time to lift. Now is the time to aspire so that we can have the best university system in the world and we can start to have more universities in the top 100 and certainly one in the top 20. But how important it is, to have better education and greater accessibility to education and that's why when it comes to education, out of the university changes, $1 in every $5 that are saved by the universities are going to go into scholarships for the most disadvantaged people in the community and no student will pay $1 upfront because they have concessional loans so they don't have to start repaying until they earn more than $50 000 a year. So they get the best degrees, the best education, the best qualifications, that gives them the best opportunity for a job and we're going to extend that Concessional Loan Scheme to students who are studying diploma courses or sub-bachelor degrees because they've never had the advantage of being able to go and learn and have the Government help to fund them. So if you go to university you're likely to earn a million dollars more over your career and taxpayers help to fund that, so now we're offering concessional loans to those people that want to study a diploma so they have the same opportunity.

We're giving apprentices the same opportunity with trade support loans that my friend Ian Macfarlane is rolling out the program; $20 000 to stay in apprenticeships for four years so that apprentices can too, get the opportunity to improve themselves; to give them the opportunity to enhance their capability.

So we are giving everyone the opportunity to be better with our higher education reforms but we also want to be the best in higher education. When it comes to welfare and social security, we are spending more on welfare; it is by far the single biggest area of government expenditure. We spent more on welfare than we spend on health care as a Federal Government. We spend more money on welfare than we spend on education or defence. And the fact is, if we are going to be a compassionate nation, we need to ensure that our welfare system is sustainable. And the hugely important part of the welfare system is, it's got to help those most vulnerable but it also needs to be a safety net and not a cargo net. That is so important for the culture of the nation and the aspirations for the future and work force participation is hugely important if we're going to lift the economy. We should be proud of the fact that we are living longer. It's highly likely of every three children born today; one's going to live to 100. And that's terrific. But we've also got to make sure that we can sustain that with a quality of life that we'd hope that our children would have.

So we are making changes to the welfare system. And I know some of those changes are difficult. But if we don't undertake those changes, the system will break. The system will break. And it's focused on participation. And the hardest measure is to say to someone whose youngest child turns six and goes to school that we can no longer pay you to choose to stay at home if you are capable of work. You still get family payments. You still probably get family payments Part A. But you're not going to get this particular family payment Part B when your youngest child turns six because another taxpayer cannot afford to pay you to choose to stay at home. We need you to go to work and yes, we would - I think the hardest job on earth is being a mum. That's why I'm at work all the time. I don't know how they do it, I really don't. But I tell you what, to be the Treasurer of Australia, I am asking Australians if they have the capacity to work, we need you to work. To go into the work force, to continue your career. So for those aged between 30 and 50, we're saying yes, we need you to participate, we've got a Paid Parental Leave scheme that is going to try to keep you engaged with the work force, but we need all hands on deck for the challenges that lie ahead.

And if you're over 50, life doesn't come to an end. And we're not going to allow to you fall on to Newstart or a disability support pension but we've got to change the culture of business so the government announced on Tuesday night the Restart Program, where we'll put $10 000 on the table for a business that employs an Australian over the age of 50 who has been on unemployment benefits for six months or a disability support pension for six months. And so the payment is not abused we'll stagger it over two years. Maybe you can pay to retrain them. Maybe you can pay for reskilling them.

But the thing is, we want you to contribute. We need you to contribute. And that's got to be a partnership between the business community and every potential worker. So what does this all mean? Why are we doing this? Because we've got to start to live within our means as a nation; $667 billion of debt. If we do all of this, we can wipe away $16 billion of interest each year, each year. That's the equivalent of 15 brand new teaching hospitals to be built every year. We can reduce our debt by nearly $300 billion. We're not wiping it out, we're just reducing it. In 10 years' time and we start to inch closer to delivering a sustainable surplus Budget which means that we can stop borrowing money.

Now last night we all listened very closely to the Leader of the Opposition. It's a very interesting speech because I can't recall a Leader of the Opposition ever giving an address in reply to the budget, and not saying anything. I mean that's a first, to have not a single policy announcement. Every year I can remember in the years that I've been in Parliament, I can remember a Leader of the Opposition having a policy announcement but there was none. It was all politics last night, all politics. Accusations and politics, not a single policy. And I thought we caught a little bit of a glimpse of regret about the legacy. I mean the Leader of the Opposition didn't say that he left a mess; he says there is a budget task, a budget task. Well, on a scale of 1 to 10 they've left a 9 as a budget task but what's more is, they've also decided to make it harder for us to address that budget task.

Currently the Labor Party is opposing $20 billion of the savings that we took to the last election. What's more hypocritical is they're opposing $5 billion of the savings that they took to the last election. So they're not only trying to get us to break our promises, they want us to break their promises as well. And on top of that last night, he said we're going to oppose $18.5 billion of additional savings over the next four years and by the way, we're going to reverse $80 billion of further savings down the track. But don't worry we're the great defenders of the nation; we just don't know how to pay for it.

It was reckless writ large from Bill Shorten. Because ultimately, someone has to pick up the pieces and whether it is the LNP or whether it is Labor or the Greens or Palmer, someone has to pick up the pieces because at the end of the day it's all of you, the Australian people, the taxpayers, and it comes down to the quality of life you have. It comes down to the legacy that you leave for your children. So either someone does the yards now or the pain associated with budget and economic repair in 10 years' time is going to be far greater. Either we accept responsibility now, and as a nation we contribute or else it is going to be so much harder in the future. There's no easy mountain climb here, there's no easy mountain climb. We can either do it properly or do it in a rush.

The thing is that our political opponents, whoever they may be, would have you believe that there is no problem. Well they're just dead wrong, they're just dead wrong. There can be no recovery from this. Action needs to be taken now and we need you to help. We need you to speak to your family, to speak to your fellow workers, to speak to your local community, to help to understand if we all contribute something now, not only can we address the problems that we have but we can actually ensure that the legacy we leave over the years ahead is a better quality of life for Australia, a stronger economy with more jobs and the opportunity for our families to be able to compete, at least on a level playing field, with the emerging competition out of Asia and a the rest of the world. So that's what we do. We contribute and we build. And that's what we're focused on, and that's what we need your help with, after last Tuesday's budget.

Thank you very much.