The Australian people are looking at the government they elected just last September and are suffering the largest collective buyers’ remorse this country has ever seen. Australians are opposed to this unfair and unjust budget. It is not what they were promised, and they are angry. Australians believe in a fair go. They believe in not kicking people when they are down, but this is precisely what this budget does. It is completely and utterly un-Australian. The people of this country are thankful that the Senate is here to prevent some of the most cruel and heartless cuts, because they did not vote for those broken promises, they did not vote for those attacks on the most vulnerable in our community and they did not vote for the destruction of the principle of universal health care. They did not vote for higher university fees, to leave young jobless people destitute, to cut pensions, to slash jobs at the ABC and CSIRO, to cut superannuation for low-income earners and to promote hate speech. The people are vehemently unhappy that the coalition lied its way into government and it is serving the narrow self-interest of its friends rather than concentrating on what is best for the Australian people.
The Prime Minister and those opposite should be utterly ashamed. All of us in this place remember Mr Abbott’s promise live on SBS before the election that there would be ‘No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions, no changes to GST, no cuts to the ABC or SBS under any government I lead’. The words are pretty clear and unambiguous but they are now seen to be hollow and worthless. The cuts to health are remarkable in not only their scope but also their lack of foresight. The Parliamentary Budget Office has confirmed the Abbott government is ripping another $23.3 billion out of health over the next decade with its GP tax, cuts to Medicare rebates and hikes in medicine prices. This is on top of the more than $50 billion the Abbott government has already ripped out of public hospitals, taking its total health cuts over the next decade to around $75 billion.
Unfortunately Mr Abbott’s $7 GP tax is going to affect people in my home state of Tasmania the most. The President of the AMA recently said in answers to my questioning during a Senate inquiry:
We know that Tasmania has a higher burden of chronic disease, has higher smoking rates, and we need to do more to encourage preventative health care and chronic disease management. And that’s why I think the co-payment will affect Tasmanians more than it affects people in other jurisdictions.
These changes will lead to poorer health outcomes and increased waiting lists and time spent in emergency departments, and they will ultimately cost the hospital system significantly more money. This is not what the Tasmanian people were promised. Mr Hutchinson, the member for Lyons in the other place, did not tell Tasmanians before the election that $1.1 billion would be ripped out of the state’s hospitals over the next decade. Mr Hutchinson did not tell Tasmanians that $9.9 million would be ripped away from training nursing and allied health students in Tasmania. It is disappointing that Mr Hutchinson, Mr Nikolic, Mr Whiteley and the Tasmanian Liberal senators in this place have failed to stand up for health services in their state. Unfortunately the only public statement of note Mr Whiteley has made lately is his suggestion that Tasmanians should sell the Hydro—a beloved Tasmanian government asset that gave Tasmanians a dividend of almost $200 million last year.
Australian parents, particularly in Tasmania, are extremely disappointed with this Abbott government. Despite promising a unity ticket with Labor on school funding before the election, Tony Abbott’s budget failed to fund the vital fifth and sixth years of the Gonski reforms. Tasmanian schools will lose $682 million, the biggest ever funding cut to education in Tasmania. Every school will suffer and be dragged backwards at a time when parents, teachers and students were promised improvements. These savage cuts will leave the average school $3.2 million worse off, and rob every student of $1,000 in individual support per year. This will particularly hurt small rural schools, particularly in the electorate of Lyons. They have also repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to axe the schoolkids bonus, which would further hurt around 33,000 families in Tasmania with more than 57,000 school-aged children.
The Abbott government have also broken their promise on the ABC, because they have cut $35 million over four years from the ABC over the forward estimates as well as axing the Australia Network. In addition, they have cut $8 million over four years from SBS. Members of the coalition are calling for the ABC to be sold. I am sure that is because having public broadcasters that act independently and truthfully does not suit the interests of the coalition. Or are they seen as a threat to the media moguls that supported Mr Abbott getting into government?
Mr Abbott repeatedly promised the Australian people that a coalition government would not increase taxes. However, they have already passed tax increases—sorry, ‘temporary budget repair levies’—and now they want to increase the fuel tax, a regressive tax measure that will once again hurt those that are least well-off in our society.
What is even worse than their cruel and unfair budget is the disastrous way that they are trying to sell it—not only to the Australian people but also to this place. The claim by the Treasurer, Mr Hockey, a couple of weeks ago that the ‘poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far’ just goes to show how out of touch this government is. People on low incomes are highly dependent on their cars. Their vehicles are often aging, and need more maintenance, but they are vital for people on low incomes to get to their jobs, do their shopping and go to the doctor. Statistics show that on average those on lower incomes need to travel further by private vehicle to get to their jobs, both in the city and particularly in regional Australia, which has poorer public transport and lower incomes. In rural and regional Tasmania there is often no bus service at all. Even in the urban centres of Tasmania, there are limited services at night and on weekends and public holidays. Maybe coalition senators, particularly the Nationals, need to explain to the elitist Sydney North Shore Treasurer what life in regional Australia is like—or even where regional Australia is. The coalition have arrogantly tried to force this budget through this place. Having failed with that strategy, they sent Mr Hockey on a trip through the country to gain the support of crossbenchers. We all know what limited success he had. Just this weekend, Senator Cormann threatened the Australian people with more tax hikes as ‘the only alternative to balance the books’.
We all know that the coalition’s priorities are absolutely twisted. Nowhere—absolutely nowhere—did this government say before the election that they would cut Newstart for six months for people under 30. At a time when there are five job applicants for every vacancy, not only do they want to shift the blame onto the unemployed for not having a job but they want them to starve, lose their home and not actually have the physical means to apply for jobs or to enter training. While they are consigning a generation of Australia’s youth to poverty, they want to give millionaires on large incomes $50,000 to have children. You really have to wonder whether they even understand how the real world works. What are tens or hundreds of thousands of young people meant to do when they cannot afford to pay their rent or buy their food? I ask those on the other side whether they thought about this at all. Not everyone has the luxury of moving back in with their parents on Sydney’s North Shore or Melbourne’s inner east, or of using their mates to get jobs for their children.
This government is out of touch and out of control. It keeps attacking those on low incomes while providing increased support to those on high incomes. This budget disproportionately affects those on lower incomes. The combined effect of this budget is that an average low-income family loses $844 per year in disposable income, while middle-income earners forgo $492 and a high-income family is down by $517. Not only are lower income families paying more in absolute terms; it represents an extremely significant loss of disposable income, which will drive families to the wall. This government is a train wreck. It is completely out of control.