17 August 2017
Speech - #2017020, 2017

Second Reading Speech, Medicare Levy Amendment Bill 2017 (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding)

Check against delivery

Thank you Mr Speaker. I move that this Bill be now read a second time.

In moving that this Bill be read a second time, I would like to dedicate this Bill and its associated Bills to my brother-in-law, Gary Warren, who—as I remarked at the National Press Club earlier this year, when I referred to him and his wife, Michelle—has been suffering from multiple sclerosis for many years, and a finer man I don't know, here in this country or anywhere else. He is an extraordinary individual, and his wife and family are everything I think Australian families would aspire to be. It was with him particularly in mind that these measures have been brought forward by me as Treasurer in this year's Budget and that these Bills now find their way into this House.

With this Bill, this Government is instituting landmark reform to protect Australians in need through fully funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).  This Government does not just talk big when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable, but delivers decisively for the benefit of future and current Australian generations.

Sustainably funding our most important programs—such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme—is real, tangible change, not just an empty promise or hot air. It's real, and it will be real to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Australians who will be impacted by this scheme in a positive way.

We also know that Australians support this change because they believe in looking after their mates. No matter what their own individual means or circumstances are. When we look after each other as a country, we don't look to our own means to see how much we can do; we look to the need of the person we are trying to help. That is an intrinsic Australian character, and it is that character upon which this bill is based. It is that character that I have seen demonstrated around the country in response to our call for Australians to support their mates who live with a disability and the families who live with those Australians, and care for them, along with their workmates, their friends, their associates and those they randomly come in contact with on the street and in public transport. It is about the empathy and the care and the passion that Australians feel for their mates, particularly those who suffer with a disability. It was my brother-in-law Gary who said, 'It's not flash being disabled, but, if there's anything good about it, it's that your disabled in Australia’. That says a lot about the character of Australians. As I said, it is that character which is called upon in this Bill.

Australians place great faith in our government's range of essential services. However, the burden is still too great on those living with a disability or caring for a family member. No-one can truly prepare for the hardship or cost of these responsibilities—which they bear through no fault of their own, through the cruel circumstances of life's fate.

By funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme, we are working to lighten their load, to ease their burden and provide a quality of care that they deserve; to give Australians living with a disability the absolute certainty that high-quality care will be provided for them, both now and into the future.

It is not just about easing their physical burden but easing the strain, the anxiety and the uncertainty that they also carry. This Bill is about alleviating that pain, that burden, by delivering that certainty and by ensuring we focus on nothing else but them. This Bill is about them. It's not about any other debate, it's not about any other issue, as meaningful or relevant as any of all those other issues might be that others may wish to raise, and indeed have sought to raise, in the course of this debate. But nothing is more important than those Australians to whom this bill is addressed. If this parliament cannot put them first, above every other issue in considering this Bill, then members of this Parliament who fail to do that, would have failed the Australian people.

This is about properly caring for people with disabilities. It has nothing to do with the politics of envy or debates about inequality. Such debates should not be an excuse to do the wrong thing here, which is what Labor—as the opposition—have sadly committed themselves to. I pray that they will change their view and reconsider the position that they are taking. As clearly, in their own internal discussions, it has been reported they have harboured great doubts about the path they have embarked upon. I would hope that the better angels of the Opposition would prevail when it comes to considering this bill, and that they put Australians living with a disability, and their families, first.

This would simply mean that they would follow the same practice that they followed, when they first, as the Government rightly acknowledges, when the Labor Party were in power under Prime Minister Julia Gillard they brought this scheme into being. They brought this measure into the parliament, and they brought the measure in with an increase in the Medicare levy to help pay for it.

Sadly, it didn't pay for all of it. But they gained the full support of the entire Parliament. When this went through as an increase in the Medicare levy last time, no-one opposed it. No one opposed it. Everyone supported it. What I can't understand My Speaker, is what has changed. Are Australians living with a disability finding it easier to do so than they were when this was first considered? Are their strains and pressures and anxieties any less? They're not. Will that be different 10 years from now, or 20 years from now? They will have to be dealing with it in the same way. For those of us who haven't been so unkindly touched with the hand of fate, we will go on with our lives, but they will have to labour under the burden that they will have to labour under. So, what I can't understand is what has changed? These measures are put in place not for just the next two years or four years. In fact, the measures in the Bill don't come into effect until 2019-20. They are put in place to ensure that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is funded to its full capacity, full-time, over decades and decades.

So, I urge the parliament to lift themselves out of the day-to-day morass of political debate and think about the long term. How many times has this chamber and the other, and politicians in general, been accused of focusing only on short-term political interests? I'm not a fan of increasing levies. This does not come naturally to me or those on this side of the House. But I am a fan of sticking up for your mates and I am a fan of supporting Australians living with a disability, not just today but three decades from now. So I would urge this Parliament to rise above the ruck, to consider the long-term benefit and change that this Bill provides, to give people, who have had a pretty difficult lot in life, the encouragement of this Parliament by saying: 'We get it. We're going to put all of our other fights and all of our other nonsense aside. We're going to focus on you today and make sure, at the very least, that we do this’.

With this Bill, the Government is protecting essential disability support that Australians rely on.  With this Bill, the Government is providing certainty. Certainty for people with a disability. Certainty for their families and carers. And certainty to all Australians who may find themselves in a situation that requires these services. Certainty that the National Disability Insurance Scheme will be fully funded for the long term.

Today, we can give that assurance to all Australians with permanent and significant disability and those who care for them that this vital service will be there for them into the future.

Let me now turn to the detail of the Bill Mr Speaker. The Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill is part of a package of measures to secure the Commonwealth's contribution to funding the NDIS.

This Bill will increase the Medicare levy rate by half a percentage point, from 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent, from 1 July 2019. The Levy doesn’t come in, until the bills come in. That’s how this has been designed.

Following this increase in the Medicare Levy rate, one-fifth of the revenue raised by the Medicare Levy will be credited to the NDIS Savings Fund Special Account. The NDIS Savings Fund Special Account will also hold NDIS underspends, selected saves across the government, and uncommitted funds from the Building Australia Fund and the Education Investment Fund, putting all that money into a lockbox for people with disabilities so never again can there be an any questions that the NDIS is not fully funded.

Along with the Commonwealth's share of the Disability Care Australia Fund and the repurposing of existing Commonwealth disability-related expenditure, all this meets the Commonwealth's contribution to the NDIS. Low-income earners will continue to receive relief from the Medicare levy through the low-income thresholds for singles, families, seniors and pensioners.

People who are exempt from the Medicare levy, such as blind pensioners and people who are entitled to full free medical treatment for all conditions under Defence Force arrangements or Veterans' Affairs repatriations health card (gold card), will continue to be exempt.

A number of other tax rates that are linked to the top marginal rate and the Medicare levy will also increase in line with this change, and these include increases in the rate of fringe benefits tax and superannuation excess non-concessional contributions tax.

In these Bills, Mt Speaker, the same exemptions, the same carve-outs, the same protections for vulnerable Australians that exist for the Medicare levy, exist for the increase in the Medicare levy to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Now, if there are those who believe that those carve-outs, those protections for vulnerable Australians, are not strong enough, then I don't understand how that applies to a half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy but doesn't apply to the whole Medicare levy at all. It does puzzle me, the lack of consistency in that argument. The Medicare Guarantee Levy provides carve-outs existing for vulnerable Australians—the same carve-outs that were endorsed and approved as being sufficient when the Medicare Levy was last increased to support the National Disability Insurance Scheme. They were good enough then. They're apparently not good enough now. And you've got to wonder what's changed, other than the politics?

Bills to give effect to these amendments will also be introduced today and further details of these consequential increases are set out in the explanatory memorandum. With the decision to increase the Medicare levy rate from 1 July 2019, this Government is asking Australians to contribute—according to their capacity—to funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme and ensure it is guaranteed and secure for current and future generations. The more people earn, the more people will pay under this Levy. This is an insurance levy. Everyone who is putting in is also someone who may rely on it to take out. And those millions of Australians who are not affected by this Levy will also benefit from this competitive scheme.

A few years ago, the Leader of the Opposition asked Australians, as I referred to earlier, to do the same that were asking this parliament to do now and contribute to the NDIS through a half a per cent increase in the Medicare levy. The Opposition Leader voted yes then, and now he wants to vote no, pitting Australians against Australians over something that we should all be united about. When this Government was in opposition, we understood and we came to the table. We met in the middle and we all voted on the same side.

When Labor left office in 2013, it is true that they left a $55.7 billion funding shortfall for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Now is the time to finally rectify that shortfall. This is why I now appeal to all in this Parliament to put aside these squabbles on politics about funding, and do the right thing by our most vulnerable fellow Australians now.

By fully funding the NDIS, Australians with permanent and significant disability can be assured of access to vital care and support. Let us not forget that the NDIS has had bipartisan support from the very beginning. Together, the Commonwealth and the states and territories are committed to delivering the NDIS across the country and the NDIS is on track to be fully rolled out from 2020. But it is a big job, and the Government needs to focus on delivering the NDIS, not squabbling with the opposition about how it's funded. We need to get past this debate and allow the focus of all efforts in this chamber and the other to focus on delivering the National Disability Insurance Scheme. There can be no turning back from that commitment. There must be no more playing politics with disability. Now is the time to fully fund the NDIS once and for all, and, with this Bill, we will finally achieve that objective.

There will be an ensuing debate on this and the related bills. There will. And we will hear the arguments, we will hear the excuses from the Opposition as to why they will not support people with disabilities now. They will only confirm in the minds of Australians, in making that point, that the Labor Party that had the courage to bring forward the National Disability Insurance Scheme and, more importantly, had the heart to do it, and to put the politics aside, is not the Labor Party that sits opposite us now. That's what's changed. The politics of cynicism, the politics of division, the politics of negativity have overtaken their commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and that is a disappointing thing to have to say in this House.

This is one of the few things where I thought we would have agreement. I had hoped for agreement. I had hoped for the support to be forthcoming from the opposition, given their authorship of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and our acknowledgement of that authorship, of which Prime Minister Gillard should be truly proud. Her successors who sit on the opposition benches are letting her down, as well as all of those she worked with to bring this scheme into being. And I would ask them to reconsider their position, as clearly many in their number are urging their cynical leadership to do.

Full details of the measure Mr Speaker, are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

And again I move than this Bill now be moved a second time.