Labor's 2024 Budget - another austerity budget

Abigail responded to Labor's 2024-25 Budget, which - disappointingly - misses the mark in making any bold change.

Read Abigail's full speech:

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (17:27): 

As The Greens Treasury spokesperson, I contribute to debate on the Appropriation Bill 2024, the Appropriation (Parliament) Bill 2024 and the Revenue Legislation Amendment Bill 2024. In the course of my contribution I will cover areas within my other portfolio responsibilities as well. I flag that each of my colleagues will also contribute to this debate or in the budget take-note debate in relation to their own portfolio responsibilities.

The Hon. Daniel Mookhey: The take note.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: I will not tell my colleagues what to do. They may or may not contribute to this debate or to the budget take-note debate. It is completely up to them to surprise the Treasurer. I thank the Treasurer for his demonstrated track record of transparency and accountability. I do believe that the fiscal concerns of our State are in comparatively safe hands when it comes to the Treasurer and his performance. He has shown himself not only to be supremely capable of the actual job but also to have an ability to apply a rigour and discipline to Treasury matters that now appear to be filtering down through the whole department. It is a relief not to see a continuation of the previous Coalition Government's budget obfuscation and accounting trickery under this new Labor Government, and I hope that continues as we head towards the pointier end of this parliamentary term.

The Greens do have some fundamental differences of opinion on how to run an economy. If I have to read another puff piece about what music the Treasurer is into or how he wears a hoodie to work, my comments will become far less favourable. Of course, the Treasurer is but one person in the Labor Government and not solely responsible for the bigger picture choices it makes between competing interests. The Minns Labor Government has set a certain tone and outlined its priorities, implemented by its Ministers and reflected in the budget. And the end result is, unfortunately, not up to the task of tackling the multiple major challenges that we find ourselves facing today: the rapidly warming planet, the skyrocketing cost of living, the scarcity of housing, the domestic and family violence epidemic, the lack of basic mental health and other support services—the list goes on. This is a steady as we go, status quo budget for circumstances that are anything but ordinary. Now is the time to be making big bold investments and decisions that turn the course of history around, not a little bean counting here and a modest reshuffling of revenue source there.

What is probably the most frustrating part about the budget is the sheer amount of potential revenue that this Government has left out of it. The amount of money left on the table is staggering. Even if Labor just implemented the most modest of tax reforms required to keep pace with other States when it comes to property and luxury vehicle taxes, we could have had a lot more to play with when it comes to meeting the needs of the people of New South Wales. And that is before even looking at the far more ambitious suite of taxes that The Greens have been calling for, targeted at big consulting firms, gig worker platforms, religious institutions, the super-rich, gambling companies and the fossil fuel industry. By asking those most able to afford it to pay their fair share, the budget could have been transformational in providing for those most in need, while still having plenty to spare for supercharging climate action in our State.

As I have said many times, the Government needs to be far more ambitious and creative in rebalancing the State's revenue base. Although not taking us backwards, there is very little in the budget that could be seen as a significant forward step. It is important to list out these revenue-raising opportunities, because they show just how self-imposed the limitations in the budget are. The Greens have been advocating for an entity-neutral approach to taxes like payroll tax, so that large partnerships as well as rideshare, delivery and other gig worker platforms would be required to pay their share and not avoid basic taxes because of the way in which they have chosen to structure their businesses. For example, just asking the partners of the big four consulting firms to pay payroll tax like everyone else on what is essentially a salary could raise one-quarter of a billion dollars over four years.

We have also noted that New South Wales is relatively unusual, nationally, for adopting a basic flat rate for payroll tax with a single marginal rate. A progressive rate would enable more revenue to be obtained from those businesses that can most afford it, without placing additional burdens on smaller and growing businesses. For example, in line with some other States, New South Wales could set a marginal tax rate—say 1 per cent higher for employers with a payroll of over $100 million on amounts over $100 million, 1.5 per cent higher for amounts over $1 billion and so on. Some other States also ensure that the exemption threshold designed to provide a concession for small business is not applicable to larger employers.

In other words, New South Wales could amend the payroll tax rules to ensure that employers with payrolls of over $10 million are also liable to pay tax on the first $1.2 million that would be an exempted amount for smaller businesses. New South Wales also has a relatively flat structure and a lower overall rate compared to other States and Territories in relation to motor vehicle registration duty on passenger cars. Following the lead of some other States and Territories—such as Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory—The Greens have also argued that a lower duty should apply to all electric vehicles in order to incentivise a rapid transition away from petrol cars and more quickly meet our emissions targets.

Religious institutions in Australia benefit from many tax exemptions and concessions despite turning over billions in revenue, owning hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of land and employing thousands of staff. It is clear that not all religious institutions are equally deserving of the generous tax benefits afforded to them. It is also clear that the money the New South Wales Government would collect from these institutions by removing exemptions to our land tax and payroll tax rules would not place a significant financial burden on those institutions, while enabling the New South Wales Government to spend greater resources directly on those in need.

The Greens have long been in favour of increasing the amount of tax and levies imposed on gaming establishments. As part of a broader gambling harm reduction initiative, we took to the 2023 election a proposal to raise the gaming machine tax to a flat rate of 60 per cent across pubs and clubs, raising billions of dollars in additional revenue. We would also recommend Labor investigate imposing taxes or licence fees on those profiting from simulated gaming or internet gaming, as has been introduced in some other States.

These are just a few examples of how we can make changes to taxation schemes in New South Wales that would not only result in significant revenue being raised but would also represent a far fairer distribution of wealth in our State. The Greens also have a detailed plan for a supplementary banking levy that would raise over $600 million in revenue each year that we have taken to successive elections, and I have spoken about it in this place before—not to mention the huge amount of additional revenue we could raise if we were taxing fossil fuel companies properly, ending their subsidies and properly applying a polluter-pays principle to their businesses.

By placing a greater burden on those in our State who should be more fairly paying their share, we can be providing much-needed funds for the benefit of those who need it most. That said, The Greens are not concerned by the continued deficit being run in this year's budget. Again, this is not a time to be putting a brake on spending. The economy needs stimulation right now if we are to propel decarbonisation of our energy network and industry, and there are far too many people doing it tough in our State to be imposing any kind of austerity. The point here is that the budget operates within constraints that this Government has imposed on itself by failing to raise additional revenue in those areas in which it would be equitable and fair to do so.

The so-called centrepiece of the budget was housing. There is no doubt that housing has been the centrepiece of the spin around the budget, but I struggle to see how it is the centrepiece of the actual substance of the budget. When you dig into the details—and I do look forward to budget estimates, when we can dig even further into the details—there is not much to be pleased about if you are a renter, someone trying to buy a home or someone seeking emergency temporary accommodation. The Government has announced $5.1 billion for 8,400 social homes, made up of 6,200 new and 2,200 replacement homes. However, this is over four years.

According to the Infrastructure Statement, that is $1 billion a year for approximately 1,025 genuinely new social homes each year. That is to ease the waitlist for social housing over at least 50,000 families, which is around 80,000 people. I pause with those numbers because there have been slightly different numbers given in different contexts—the budget papers, questions on notice and in speeches. I would love to be corrected on the exact numbers, but we are looking at, I think, around 1,000 genuinely new social homes each year. Again, I compare that figure to the at least 50,000 applications for homes on the waiting list.

I find it hard to get excited about a Government plan to build about 3 per cent each year of what is required to just clear the existing backlog of demand for social housing, especially when the NSW Council of Social Service was calling for 5,000 new social homes each year, which is multiples of what the Labor Government has promised in the budget. Again, I am happy to be corrected if my reading of the budget and infrastructure statement has been misapplied. But my understanding is that at least half of the $1 billion per year being spent there is offset by the Federal housing affordability amount to States that The Greens secured last year during debate on the Housing Australia Future Fund.

The announcement in relation to prioritising domestic and family violence victim-survivors on the waiting list might at first blush look positive but, on a deeper look, is also problematic. During the inquiry that I instigated in 2022 in relation to homelessness amongst older people aged over 55 in New South Wales through the Standing Committee on Social Issues, there was a lot of discussion and evidence received in relation to the categories of priority for the social housing waiting list. Currently priority on the list is given to elderly persons only over the age of 80 or a First Nations person over 55. This Housing Elderly Persons priority group is housed only after those approved for emergency or temporary accommodation, people approved for priority housing, and current tenants requiring transfers. Reasons for priority can include homelessness, medical or disability reasons, being at risk, or other reasons.

A number of stakeholders in that inquiry had argued that it was unfair and cruel to make an elderly person under 80 wait longer than one over 80 for social housing, and that the priority age should be lowered to 55. On the other side of the argument were those saying that, in a scenario where there are 80,000 people on a waiting list, with those applicants already waiting years for a home, prioritising one group over another will always lead to unfairness and cruelty. Because, of course, housing is a human right and every person is entitled to secure an accessible shelter.

It is in this context that I am cautious about the announcement from the Government in the budget to prioritise domestic and family violence victim-survivors over others when it comes to the social housing waiting list in respect of these homes which are to be built in the future. At least 50 per cent of the new homes, presumably about 775 houses each year, are to be prioritised for victim‑survivors. While it is absolutely vital that we provide secure housing for those fleeing domestic and family violence, we are prioritising one group of vulnerable people over other groups of vulnerable people due to the sheer lack of ambition of this Government in choosing to invest in so few social homes, especially in the context of the length of the waiting list and the scale of the wider housing crisis. The phrase "housing hunger games" has been used in the media a lot of late, but it seems particularly pertinent when considering the pitting of one group of vulnerable people against another on our social housing waiting list.

I hope that the Treasurer will drop the line about not wanting to tell the Federal Government what to do in relation to the Federal tax incentives impacting the New South Wales housing market. Quite literally, a core part of his job is advocating for the people of New South Wales and for broader reforms that will assist the State and its people financially. The Government cannot admit, on the one hand, that we are in a housing crisis, but then fail to take all of the necessary steps to fix it. It is not 2019 anymore. If Labor's stance on capital gains and negative gearing ever had anything to do with its 2019 election loss, which I personally view as highly doubtful, people have moved on and so should the Labor Government. If the Treasurer does not want to upset the landlords and property developers in order to provide secure housing for the approximately 15 per cent of households in our State currently in severe housing stress, including around 70 per cent of low-income households, then he should just say so. But he should not hide behind a line about not wanting to tell the Federal Government what to do when he and his colleagues are quite happy to do that in multiple other policy areas. It is not convincing.

In any event, the Treasurer knows that there are tax levers in New South Wales that he could pull to assist in addressing the housing crisis. Ahead of this budget, we submitted some suggestions to the Treasurer for measures to raise revenue that would also be beneficial in addressing the housing crisis. Among the suggestions we made, we recommended that New South Wales consider following Victoria in introducing a rezoning windfall tax. We also recommended that it introduce a tax on residential properties left vacant for more than six months in areas with high levels of housing stress. One initiative The Greens took to the 2023 election was the introduction of a new land tax on high-end residential properties. This "extreme wealth property tax" would require owners of residential owner-occupied properties with a land value of more than $10 million, or an improved value of more than $20 million, to pay a flat 4 per cent land tax.

We also advocate for increasing the rate of land tax payable on non-owner-occupied properties and on land that meets the New South Wales Government premium threshold from 2 per cent to 5 per cent, and for expanding the premium threshold to apply to the investment portfolio value of investors who own more than eight residential properties. Further, we suggest abolishing the build-to-rent 50 per cent land tax concession unless these developments yield at least 30 per cent ongoing social and affordable housing on private land, and 100 per cent on publicly owned land.

Given Federal Labor's failure to discontinue the Federal tax incentives of negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount, The Greens also advocate for the reintroduction of vendor duty in New South Wales for investors that are distorting the property market. Reinstating the previous scheme in New South Wales would place a 2.25 per cent duty on the sale or transfer of all land, other than owner-occupied homes, where the value since purchase has increased by more than 12 per cent. In addition to raising hundreds of millions of dollars of additional revenue each year, the reintroduction of this tax, even at these modest levels, would show that Labor is serious about addressing the housing crisis by ensuring there are more properties available for people who need them as their home. In addition to more public affordable housing needing to be built, and for a greater percentage of social and affordable housing within new developments, we must rebalance the incentives within the housing market to ensure more houses are available for people to use as their home instead of as their second, third or tenth investment property.

In addition to doing his job and advocating for tax changes at a Federal level that will benefit New South Wales, there are a number of direct levers the Treasurer could have pulled in this budget in order to ease the housing crisis. It is notable that he has chosen not to. The Labor Government has also chosen not to implement other basic housing reforms that would make a marked difference to the ease of finding housing for people across our State. New South Wales must sign on to the minimum accessibility standards of the National Construction Code in line with almost every other State and Territory, including the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Queensland. It is a simple measure that will ensure, at the very least, that new builds meet the bare minimum in accessibility standards so that new housing can provide a home for everybody in our community. This is not just an issue for the significant number of people in our State with reduced mobility; it is a measure that will improve the ability of every resident to age in place and to more readily welcome people with mobility issues into their homes. It is not just economically reckless not to have signed on to this code as soon as the Labor Government came into power; it is also cruel and unethical.

So far, the Labor Government's record on acting in the interests of people with disability is just appalling. It is well past time the Government put in place a separate Minister for disability who might actually steer these sorts of decisions towards a more sensible outcome. I have called out the Labor Government's omission of people with disability in the New South Wales schools plan, health planning, employment, transport and in planning for, designing and building accessible housing. There is next to nothing of substance in this budget for people with disability. It was not even mentioned once in the Budget Speech save for a few shreds of money here and there tacked onto the back of larger projects or existing programs.

The $7.1 million allocated for the creation of a cross-agency Disability Reform Taskforce is welcome. However, I put on record that this will be wasted money if it is not led by people with disability and their representatives and followed by robust investment in implementing the necessary reforms out of the disability royal commission. Since the final report of the disability royal commission was handed down last year, The Greens have stood firmly with the disability community in demanding that any and all implementation of recommendations must be not only informed by but also driven by people with disability and their representatives. We are at a crossroads in our society, where our governments are faced with the opportunity to create drastic and lasting change for people with disability. But, unfortunately, so far from the New South Wales Labor Government we have seen nothing but a lack of genuine interest in implementing and funding the changes we need.

The budget includes $1 billion for school maintenance and minor upgrades for projects that have been promised to schools already but have yet to be delivered. It was announced in the media last week that $150 million of that will be directed toward disability accessibility, but in the budget papers there is no commitment of this allocation of funds or any details of the accessibility upgrades it will include. Tacking $150 million for disability accessibility onto a package of $850 million for general, overdue minor works that benefit everybody, not just people with disability, is disgraceful. It sends a clear message to people with disability in this State that the Government does not care to properly invest in making our schools truly accessible and inclusive.

It appears that the only additional money in this budget that will directly impact people with disability in our State is the additional $1 million for the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme, which provides subsidies for eligible New South Wales residents who cannot use public transport because of a severe and permanent disability. While this is not unwelcome, I am once again struck by the severe lack of ambition by the Labor Government when it comes to actually making our society accessible, safe and inclusive. After lazily merging the Transport Access Program with the Commuter Car Park Program in last year's budget, Labor has once again failed to bring us in line to finally meet our transport accessibility targets that we are woefully decades behind on.

Perhaps most disappointing of all is the ignorance of this Government when it comes to the omission of accessible housing. Labor has branded this budget as delivering major wins for housing by "building better homes" for the people of New South Wales. This budget completely leaves out people with disability, older people and anyone with mobility limitations who require accessible housing. It also makes a joke out of the actual, long‑running Building Better Homes campaign, which is the very campaign that has championed the right for every Australian to live in an accessible home. People with Disability Australia [PWDA] has also called this out. Its president, Marayke Jonkers, said of this budget:

The failure to commit NSW to the Livable Housing Design Standards means we are denying disabled people the right to safe and affordable homes. Unless the 3,100 homes earmarked for women and children fleeing violence are fully accessible, women and children with disability will continue to have nowhere to go.

Ahead of this budget, PWDA called for $1.8 million over five years to continue delivery of the PWDA Building Access project to all New South Wales domestic and family violence services. But, of course, not only does this vital project continue to be underfunded by the Government but there is also a complete omission of targeted support for victim-survivors with disability. Also missing from this budget is any increase in funding for the Ageing and Disability Commission or the Official Community Visitors scheme, despite the former commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald, having persistently called for the Government to dramatically increase funding for the commission on a demand-based model.

I get so frustrated and tired of saying it, but I note this Labor Government's lack of attention to people with disability. I was so upset with the previous Coalition Government, which also did not give people with disability due attention, but to see the lack of inclusion by the Labor Government of people with disability in every policy area may even be worse. So far, going through the budget documents, I have only found 73¢ of extra funding to services for each person with disability in this State. That is woefully insufficient and insulting. I will keep going through the budget papers, as there is a lot to digest, and hope to find more

In the budget take-note debate in this place the Minister for Agriculture said a whole four sentences about Labor's so-called "record investment" in animal welfare. The Minister affirmed that animal welfare is a priority for this Government, which is incredibly rich coming from a government that has yet to follow through on a single animal welfare commitment 15 months into its governance. What is this record spend? It is a measly $21 million, to be shared between reviewing our animal welfare laws, the supposed establishment of an independent office of animal welfare and additional funding for approved charitable organisations [ACOs]. Yesterday in question time I asked the Minister for Agriculture to confirm exactly how much of this $21 million is going to the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League. The Minister could not even provide a simple explanation. She had the audacity to not only obfuscate but also insist that this really is a "record investment" for animal welfare.

It is absurd that I have to stand in this Chamber and state that this Labor Government is genuinely worse than the former Coalition Government when it comes to animal welfare. At least under the Coalition Government we had an agriculture Minister who had some sort of idea of the functions of our animal welfare laws and invested some amount of funding in our ACOs. In the absence of recurrent funding, ACOs have for years been forced to significantly reduce their workforce and operational response, preventing them from carrying out their work in enforcing our State's animal welfare laws.

Ahead of this budget, the RSPCA called for at least $23.4 million—but ideally $31.1 million—to properly meet demand and sustain the shelters and programs they operate, including emergency health care, Indigenous and regional community care, animal transport services, telehealth services and the Keeping Cats Safe at Home campaign. It is still unclear how much of the $21 million earmarked for animal welfare will actually go to our ACOs, or whether those organisations will be forced to let go of any of their critical animal welfare inspectors. To make matters worse, once again community‑led animal welfare organisations have received a whopping zero dollars in this budget.

These organisations are the backbone of animal welfare on the front line—carrying out vital frontline work every day for animals through rescue, recovery, veterinary care, release, rehoming, research and community engagement. Yet the Labor Government is steadfast in providing zero core funding for these critical organisations, forcing them to rely entirely on unsustainable funding through fundraising, ad hoc pools of grant funding from different levels of government, and generous community volunteers.

It makes me and so many others incredibly disappointed to see Labor's leadership vacuum on climate and energy, which has allowed the Federal Coalition to again so easily saunter into the so‑called climate wars. Yes, both Federal and State Labor have done something towards acting on climate. But in the context of the climate emergency we find ourselves in and the urgency with which we need to act in order to address it, we can be forgiven for wondering whether Labor is taking the issue at all seriously.

While signing the State up for hundreds of millions of dollars by extending the life of power stations, allowing big polluters not to pay for the environmental and health harm they are causing, refusing to stop our native forests from being logged, and continuing to permit new coal and gas projects in our State—which it knows full well can only make the climate crisis worse—Labor is also moving far too slowly when it comes to rolling out renewables and aiding the transition of communities previously reliant on coal. Labor is failing us by not providing for a much quicker establishment of local transition authorities and a quicker release of funding for those communities, like the Hunter, that are already well up the curve on transition planning and are being held back by a lack of funding.

NSW Labor is failing to lead, or even follow the lead of Victoria, in not implementing a series of measures to enable households to be more energy efficient and assist with removing gas from homes. In addition to facilitating a quicker transition away from fossil fuels, these measures would be beneficial in reducing household energy bills. Again The Greens call on NSW Labor to treat climate like the actual threat to our existence it is. If nothing else, looking at this from purely a budget and economics perspective, the consequences of more frequent and severe weather events from runaway climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic.

Domestic violence is a problem right across the State, and so too is the underfunding of frontline services. We need an enormous and uniform uplift in baseline funding to all specialist sexual, domestic and family violence services in New South Wales, with longer term funding agreements so that services can plan and prepare for the future and workers can take jobs with the confidence that funding for their roles will not be slashed year to year. In addition to the so-called emergency funding of $230 million announced in May this year, the budget contains only $15.6 million in additional funding: $10 million for men's behaviour‑change programs and an additional $5.6 million for Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service workers.

The Greens welcome any additional funding for domestic and family violence prevention and response. However, the total amount being delivered by the New South Wales Government remains woefully inadequate given the scale of the problem it is seeking to address. It is still less than two‑thirds of the amount spent in Victoria. There is a dire need for additional funding to be put into existing domestic and family violence shelters and emergency accommodation. The Core and Cluster initiative of the previous Government was not requested by the sector. While it is welcome in terms of providing a greater number of beds in the future, it did not remove the immediate need for upgrading and extending existing refuges. The domestic and family violence sector has consistently made this call for over a decade and it needs to be urgently addressed.

Under the previous Government, many of our vital community services were left to operate with insufficient and precarious funding. Well‑funded domestic and family violence services; disability services; community legal centres; neighbourhood centres; women's health services; specialist services for First Nations people, migrants, LGBQTIA+ people, people with disability and at‑risk children; and a range of other non‑profit services are vital to ensuring healthy and resilient communities across our State. The Greens understand that funding these services well will not only increase wellbeing across the State but also, in turn, that this increased wellbeing and resilience will result in fewer people ending up in our hospitals and prisons, lower rates of domestic and family violence, and other benefits. Again, while it should not necessarily be the motivation for funding these vital services, it is widely accepted that the money invested in these services will save the State money in the long run.

The Greens welcome the Labor Government's work so far to increase wages for public sector workers, as well as its efforts to transition more workers to permanent roles. Perhaps I can educate the Leader of the Opposition on what a union is, in the hope that he might became a union man. When money is given out of a budget for additional wages to public sector workers, who are represented by unions, that money does not go to the unions; it goes to the workers. While unions represent those workers and campaign for higher wages, when that money is allocated in the budget it goes into the pockets of workers.

I am sure the Leader of the Opposition actually knows that, yet he states in this Chamber that somehow this money is going to unions or union bosses—whatever his words were. At the same time, he talks about the way the cost‑of‑living is hitting people across the State, as though putting money in the pockets of the workers of the biggest employer in New South Wales is not also addressing the cost-of-living crisis. I do not know if he said it just for the lines in a speech, but obviously it is not the case that this money is going to the unions. It is being paid to workers to ensure they are paid a fair wage. The Greens will never allow workers to see their pay go backwards or not have the best fair pay and conditions.

The Greens also welcome the first steps towards reforming our workers compensation system and implementing industrial manslaughter laws. Today I was genuinely pleased to have a Labor government when the House passed those industrial manslaughter laws. It is a clear sign of why we were all so pleased to see Labor replace the Coalition in the first place. We were also pleased to see modest funding in this year's budget for more SafeWork NSW inspections around the ban on manufactured stone. We are greatly concerned that there is still a huge number of precarious and vulnerable workers in our State yet to see any relief since Labor took office. We are encouraged by the first steps towards pooling leave entitlements for precarious workers—again, that was another good day—but would like to see action taken much more quickly to implement Labor's election promises around the gig economy.

Our suggestions in this regard include bringing the State's cleaners back into government employment; providing full workers compensation benefits to on‑demand platform workers; implementing presumptive post‑traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] for frontline workers and first responders; extending and improving presumptive cancer legislation for firefighters; including psychosocial harm within upcoming industrial manslaughter laws; ensuring longer term contracts for workers in those community services granted a longer duration of funding; and mandating the presence of the highest levels of workers' and union rights on all worksites where public money is being expended, including the mandatory presence of an enterprise agreement on projects over a certain value. This whole speech is to say that we are all very relieved to have escaped the grasps of the reckless and feckless Coalition Government's approach to the budget, but this State is doing it tough right now. We are also on the cusp of some really exciting and important changes that we need leadership from this Government on. A steady‑as‑she‑goes approach will simply not be adequate in the face of these challenges.

See Hansard for the full Budget reply debate.

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