Welcome to the latest edition of Clark Matters, my monthly email newsletter to help keep you abreast of federal politics and what I’ve been up to.
The Federal Budget goes some way to improving the situation in a myriad of important areas like Jobseeker, Parenting Payment, energy bill relief, aged care and Commonwealth Rent Assistance. The $498m to address vaping and smoking is especially welcome considering the sky rocketing rate of deadly vaping in schools and colleges.
The Budget’s welfare and health investments are especially important for Tasmania because, regrettably, we remain the country’s sickest, oldest and most disadvantaged state population. Also welcome is the inclusion of funding for Hobart Airport.
But the Budget forward estimates also reflect the enormous festering sore that is the planned Stage 3 personal income tax cuts. Unfathomably the Government remains firmly committed to the cuts, due to start in the 2024-25 financial year, despite them being such an outrageous handout to Australia’s most wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Remember the Stage 3 tax cuts will cost the Budget more than $20bn in the first year, rising to $31bn by 2030 and increasing indefinitely beyond then. And the most junior federal parliamentarian will pocket some $9,000 in their pay packet alone. That’s unconscionable.
The Budget also contains funding for Tasmania’s Macquarie Point AFL stadium despite it being opposed by state Labor, federal Liberal, Greens, Jacqui Lambie Network, Independents and the vast majority of the community.
The scandalous wastage on the tax cuts and AFL stadium, not to mention other potential savings, would go some very considerable way to increasing government pensions and payments to more effective levels. For example, even with the increases announced in the Budget, Jobseeker is still way below the poverty line and Commonwealth Rent Assistance remains woefully inadequate, especially in places like Hobart which holds the unenviable title of Australia’s least affordable rental market. Moreover the GP Medicare rebate is languishing at half its real value compared to when it was introduced, ensuring that Australia’s chronic shortage of GPs will continue for the foreseeable future.
I was proud to stand beside Stella Assange in Parliament House to call for the Australian Government to ramp up its support for her husband Julian Assange, who is currently incarcerated in Belmarsh Prison and facing the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars in a United States prison, simply for exposing hard evidence of US war crimes, corruption and human rights abuses. The political persecution of Julian strikes at the very heart of media freedom, as his extradition would set a frightening precedent for all journalists that they too are at risk of being locked up, just for doing their job.
There has been growing support for Julian in Australia, and that was highlighted with politicians from all parties attending a briefing from Stella and Julian’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson. They agree that the persecution of Julian has gone on too long and must be brought to an end.
In Question Time, I asked Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to meet with Stella to discuss what can be done to bring Julian home. Disappointingly he didn’t agree to a meeting, but it was heartening to hear him once again express his concern that Julian’s incarceration has gone on long enough.
Like many in the community, I am concerned about the skyrocketing HECS-HELP indexation charges. The Federal Government has seriously misjudged this issue by refusing to act, as it is clear urgent intervention is needed.
I was among the first to raise this issue with the Government, asking a question to the Minister for Education, Jason Clare, last year. He committed to have the Universities Accord Panel look at the issue of indexation, but now we have debts set to rise further by a record 7.1 per cent. So it’s disappointing to hear Minister Clare say the Government won’t consider reform until the Universities Accord Final Report is released when I put the question to him again last week in Parliament.
This will affect many people who are already struggling with the cost of living crisis. At the very least the Government must implement an immediate freeze on the indexation.