Tuesday, 23 June 2015
Matters of Public Importance
Health and Education Funding
I thought I might open the debate on this matter of public importance with a reading from 'the book of Tony'. It is the updated 2013 election version. Any good remainder bin will have one! It says, on page 133:
Commonwealth spending on health and education now approaches $90 billion a year …
It goes on to say:
Most of it is not directly authorised by the constitution other than via specific-purpose grants … Still, any withdrawal of Commonwealth involvement or spending in these areas would rightly be seen as a cop out.
My question to the government is: what have you done with the author of Battlelines and where is he? What we are witness to today with the Federation green paper is what the leader of the government would say is 'a cop out'. We would actually say it is something more. We do not call it 'a mature and sensible conversation'.
I think you could hear the sound of jaws dropping right across the nation today when the Prime Minister, in defence of his proposals, said that no public dollars, no Commonwealth dollars, going to public hospitals was an option. That was a proposal for the hospital systems of Australia: no Commonwealth money. You could have heard a pin drop when the Prime Minister said that. We thought to ourselves: did we really hear the leader of Australia, the author of Battlelineshe is still probably getting royalties from it—not only confirm that that idea has come from his own department but also, in that trademark stubbornness, not rule it out? On the contrary, he said, 'What's wrong with the opposition? Don't they want to have a sensible and mature conversation?' Prime Minister, we are always up for a sensible and mature conversation; we just think this idea is plain crazy. Who has dreamt up the idea that cutting the funding for and walking away from responsibilities to health and education is a good idea for the Federation of Australia? It is a rewriting of the contract which was initiated, in the case of schools and education, by none other than Robert Menzies, former Liberal Prime Minister of Australia.
The interesting fact is that these Federation green-paper proposals to means-test parents to send their children to public schools and to take away all the funding of hospitals are based on the trend of the last two years: the government persisting in the myth that they are not cutting funding—$80 billion worth of funding—to hospitals and schools.
One of our members of parliament, the member for Wakefield, tried to offer in question time today the budget papers where there is a graph which clearly spells out that there is $80 billion less over the next 10 years for hospitals and schools. But this government is in such denial that it would not even admit who drew up the graph. They would not even admit that it is in their own budget papers, when it has the logo of the Commonwealth on it. It would be funny if it were not so serious.
This is a war being waged by the government on Australia's teachers and students, parents, nurses, doctors and patients, a war on families, with a $30 billion cut to schools and $50 billion cut to hospitals—and we have found out this is just the beginning. Now we see the Liberals talking about cutting hospitals loose and cutting schools loose. Today we have also discovered that their meanness does not extend just to this radical agenda to cut billions of dollars from schools and hospitals; they have even decided to go after preschools. No Labor propaganda-writing unit could have ever dreamed up that this government would turn its back on its pledge to provide four-year-olds with 15 hours a week of preschool. What on earth did the children in the preschools and kindergartens of Australia, or their parents, do to be the government's latest target? I will be honest. I thought the government would rush to rule this out but, impressively, they have owned it! At least they have owned it. They are saying that this is part of a 'mature and sensible conversation'. No, Prime Minister, this is not sensible or mature. The green paper actually says what we are saying.
Mr Chester interjecting—
On page 7—that would be after page 6, Member for Gippsland!—the Commonwealth said, about hospitals:
The Commonwealth would no longer provide funding for public hospital services and would have no role in setting operational targets for public hospitals …
I repeat that—