As most people in this chamber know, one of my previous occupations was as an early childhood educator. As such, I am familiar with the excitement that a child feels when they learn a new word. Listening to the Treasurer on budget night, I could not help but come to the conclusion that he was just like a small boy who had learnt a new word—that word was ‘fairness’—and he was trying to use it at every opportunity. And it was clear to the Australian people that, like a small boy, he did not really understand the meaning of it, because this Treasurer still needs to learn that just saying something is fair does not make it so.
This appropriation bills debate that we are having today, despite the convention not to block supply, is perhaps the most important of the parliamentary year. It is important because it allows us to outline the values that we feel should be used to allocate funding and it allows us to spotlight the values that the government has used in this budget and raise objections to decisions that the government has made—and the values of this government are very, very wrong. They are not aligned with the values of the Australian people. Australia is a nation of intelligent, caring, egalitarian people. We battle for the underdog. We help out a mate. We believe in the fair go. The Australian people know that, despite the budget’s mask of fairness, it contains cruel cuts and is built on last year’s budget attack on the least well off in our community. There are cruel cuts to health, cruel cuts to education, cruel cuts to pensions and further unnecessary cuts to the ABC, SBS and the arts. The Abbott government is killing the fair go.
Inequality in Australia is now at a 75-year high. It did not rise during the period 2007-2013. However, we are now in a situation where, compared to a generation ago, the top one per cent share of income has doubled and the top 0.01 per cent share has tripled. Earnings have gone up three times as fast for the top as they have for the bottom, and the wealthiest three Australians now earn more than the poorest one million Australians.
This budget does nothing about reducing inequality, and in fact it increases it. NATSEM modelling found that the poorest 20 per cent of households would lose up to seven per cent of their total annual disposable income by 2018-19, and that is when you take all the budget measures into account. This is a huge hit to 2.5 million of Australia’s least well-off families. The modelling also shows that some higher-income families will be better off. The analysis shows that a sole parent with an income of $55,000, with two kids, one in primary school and one in high school, will be more than $20,000 worse off in total by 2018-19. This is absolutely shameful. It is a shameful attack on single parents and it is completely unwarranted.
As members of this place know, a great way to reduce inequality is through education, and Australians value education. Australian parents know that education is the means through which their children will build a better life. Parents understand that a quality education is vital for getting a job. They work hard to ensure their kids have the resources they need to get the best education they can. And, of course, in last year’s budget we saw $30 billion cut from schools over 10 years.
I was absolutely shocked by reports over the weekend that part of the green paper on Federation reform would see funding adjusted for student need and the ability of families to make a contribution. In other words, this government is now putting forward an idea to charge parents for sending their children to primary school. This is from a government that had the great idea to provide $75,000, non-means-tested, to millionaire mums. There is no good reason to charge parents to send their children to public schools. Free public education is the right of every citizen in this country. Mr Abbott has walked away from a commitment to universal public education. He said recently:
Whether state or territory governments choose to change the way schools are funded in their states and territories is absolutely a matter for them.
We don’t have any role at all.
I would like to say, Mr Abbott: you do have a role, or your government does. You provide the states with the majority of their funding. If the Commonwealth does not provide the states with enough revenue to provide basic services, it is your fault if they have to introduce the education co-payment model outlined in the green paper. It would be Mr Abbott’s fault, as the idea was raised in the Abbott government’s own green paper.
Universal education was introduced in the 19th century and it is a value held by everyone in the country. It has been clear for some time that this government is out of touch and that its values are decades out of date, but I did not think they would be centuries out of date. There is absolutely no justification to make this fundamental shift in the right of Australian children to access free education.
The government have shown that they are also opposed to the principle of universal health care. Recently, we saw the 40th anniversary of Medicare. Medicare is a fantastic success story. It has been a central part of the Australian health system, except for the brief period in which it was axed under the Fraser Liberal government. But we saw in last year’s budget that those opposite are opposed to universal health care. According to those opposite, universal access to health care is not an inalienable right but something that must be paid for. We saw this through their successive of policy positions on the GP tax. Whether the tax is $7, $5, $20 or, now, $80, it is a bad idea. They failed to sell this policy to the Australian people last year and they have failed to sell this policy to the Australian people this year. Why are they again trying to bring it back in through an effective $8 dollar GP tax in the budget through the MBS indexation freeze? This is a cut of more than $2 million from Medicare over the forward estimates that will have a serious impact on bulk-billing rates, out-of-pocket costs and the level of access vulnerable patients have to general practitioners.
We know from an analysis published in The Medical Journal of Australia that the government has put a GP tax of $8 into the budget by stealth. They have cut $2 million out of health again, and some of it in an incredibly petty way—for example, when you look at the cut to support for those with inborn errors of metabolism.
The government just wants to attack the most vulnerable in our community. In particular, they attack young people to shift the blame to them for the government’s own failings. The rate of youth unemployment is far too high at 13.4 per cent, and long-term unemployment is at its highest rate in 16 years. The government has shown no interest in fixing this issue and no ability to do so. Consequently, they want to blame young job seekers. Rather than work positively to provide opportunities for young job seekers, they wish to punish them instead by ensuring they get no income support for a month.
Labor will not support a measure which pushes young people into poverty and hardship. How could this possibly help anyone? Why does the government think this cruelty will help? This government shows no concern for the vulnerable in our society, and its overtly harsh policies reflect the selfishness of liberal ideology. This government does not care about providing opportunity for all; it believes that if you do not have opportunity, it is your fault for not having rich parents.
While we are discussing unemployment, the budget figures themselves forecast an increase in unemployment over the course of the next year. Not only is this government failing to find work for those who are unemployed now, the situation is going to become worse in the future. It is all very well for the Treasurer to tell people to get a good job and a well-paid job—nearly 800,000 Australians are having trouble getting any job at all. For those Australians, the future is looking bleak, and that is why the government needs to do more. This government needs to articulate a jobs plan for this nation.
The ABC and SBS are exemplars of quality public broadcasting. Despite the assertions of members in Mr Abbott’s government, they provide independent, unbiased and quality news. They are regularly rated as being trusted by the Australian people to a significantly higher degree than other parts of the mainstream media. This government, with its continued cuts to the ABC and SBS, shows that it does not value independent, unbiased media. Unfortunately, it is clear that the attacks on SBS and ABC are a payback to the Liberal and National Party mates for the support that they provided in the lead-up to the federal election.
It is pretty dangerous for a country to be without a free and fair media, because an independent, unbiased media is vital for questioning government policy. It is looking like this government is trying to hinder scrutiny of its actions wherever it can, because they are finding it hard to govern. It is hard to govern when all you have are three-word slogans and no real policies. It is hard to govern when the Prime Minister cares only about saving his own skin rather than governing for the benefit of the nation. It is hard to govern when you try to force all your policies through a narrow ideological vision that the Australian people do not subscribe to and that does not match reality.
Perhaps the minister who is most out of touch is the besieged Attorney-General and Minister for the Arts, Senator Brandis. Unfortunately the minister brings nothing to this government except arrogance and a lack of political judgement—and a small book of poetry to read at estimates when he should be doing his job. Minister Brandis has again mismanaged a portfolio responsibility. This budget saw an unwarranted and unprecedented attack on the arts. The Australia Council does a fantastic job of allocating funding independently, fairly and to arts organisations that are worthy. But Minister Brandis does not believe in the independent allocation of arts funding. He seems to believe that everyone has the right to be a bigot, as he has previously told this place; and, ironically for a man so enamoured with free speech, he believes that the allocation of arts funding should be under direct government control—namely, his own control. Presumably this is to reduce funding to projects or organisations that create art which the minister does not personally believe in.
The Liberal government’s budget is once again leaving those on lower incomes worse off. The budget also unfairly attacks families. Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison’s families package will leave almost half of Australian families worse off. New analysis by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling shows that 44 per cent of families, or over 1.4 million families, will be worse off. Tony Abbott’s second budget is just as unfair as his first and will hit low- and middle-income families the hardest. Eighty per cent of families with children earning below $75,000 will lose out over all. Six in seven families who receive family tax benefits will be worse off because of the government’s child care changes and family tax benefit cuts. One in 10 families receiving family tax benefit will be over $4,000 a year worse off.
This budget is a disaster. The government has even failed the test it set for itself. In this budget, spending is up, tax is up, deficits are up and unemployment is up. The government has broken its promise to save as much as it spends: spending initiatives are greater than actual savings. Mr Hockey has doubled the deficit in one year—from $17.1 billion to $35.1 billion. Mr Abbott has broken his promise for no new taxes—this budget contains around 17 new taxes—and tax is at its highest level since the last budget of the Howard government. As I said previously, this government is completely out of touch. It is out of touch with the values of the Australian people. It is out of touch with the way the world operates. This government has failed to meet its own expectations and has completely failed the Australian people.
This budget is mean. It attacks those on low incomes—single parents, pensioners and others that face disadvantage. This budget is vindictive. It attacks arts companies that the government does not agree with. This budget is visionless. It fails to see the value of investing in education and training. And this budget is cruel. It denies access to health care for those who can least afford it. The Abbott government cannot see a better Australia for all and has no plans to improve Australia. This is not a budget for Australia’s future. It is last year’s budget repackaged and ready for an election. I believe Australians deserve better government.