Tuesday, 23 June 2015
Matters of Public Importance
Health and Education Funding
This is not a fairy tale; it is a nightmare, and your team are writing it:
The Commonwealth would no longer provide funding for public hospital services and would have no role in setting operational targets for public hospitals …
Did we hear that right? Australians will hear this. Labor will take this right across the country, when this parliament rises, and warn all Australians that this government considers that sort of proposal sensible and mature—and we heard the Prime Minister own it time and time again today.
What are the consequences of no longer providing funding for public hospitals? The paper goes on, on page 8: 'This option risks entrenching the existing incentives for governments to shift costs and to blame other parts of the system. It also does not on its own improve access to primary care or address fragmentation between public hospitals and primary care.' Australians are on notice. This is a government proposing to cut $50 billion from public hospitals, as much as it denies it. They now wish to go further and have 'a mature and sensible conversation' about defunding the state system. This is not a sensible idea. It is a radical, right-wing idea, and it has no place in the firmament of Australian policy. The Prime Minister thinks that coming up with stupid ideas somehow polishes his reform credentials—no, it does not.
On schools, option 1 is: 'States have to fund all schools with no Commonwealth funding.' Option 2 is: 'Commonwealth only funds non-government schools.' This is a disaster. This is a repudiation of the concept of free education which was set up in colonial Australia. Labor understand how the education system works. We do not need a discussion paper to tell us something is a dumb idea when we see it. We do not need to have our public servants consulting other public servants about an inappropriate idea which will damage the future of all Australians.
It only gets worse. On preschools, page 21 of this federation paper says, about walking away from the funding of the commitment to preschool hours for four-year-olds, 'It will mean some families miss out on a preschool program, particularly the children of working parents.' This is a government that is out of control.
But when we ask the Prime Minister about these plans to walk away, as a number of opposition members and journalists have asked today, he bangs on that he has no plan. But today, time and time again, he actually accepts that somehow, if we do not talk about these ridiculous ideas and embrace the discussion of them, we are somehow anti-reform. This government's proposals are not reforms; they are a dreadful setback to the Australian people.
When I hear the government say, and they will rush to say this again, 'No, no, that was a rogue public servant' or 'That was an authorised discussion' or 'That does not exist' or 'We want to see your birth certificate before you can ask the question'—whatever this government says—I am reminded of what the Prime Minister did before the last election when he wanted your vote. He said nine times before the election, 'No cuts to health and no cuts to education.' What did we get? We got a $30 billion cut from schools and $50 billion cut from hospitals. So when this Prime Minister says, 'There will be no cuts to hospitals', we know that is not true, and when he says that there will be no cuts schools, we know that is not true.
I think Australians are getting a trifle tired of the Prime Minister's argument, where he says on the one hand, somewhat disingenuously, 'States run schools', and, on the other hand, 'The Commonwealth funds the states to run schools.' What the Prime Minister tries to do is say that, because the state governments are in charge of the administration of state schools, somehow that absolves his responsibility for any cuts he makes to the funding of state schools. We are onto that fraud.
And he has got form on ruling out measures. He ruled out the GP tax. On 1 February, before the Griffith by-election, when we elected the remarkable Terri Butler, Michelle Grattan asked Mr Abbott, 'Can you guarantee there won't be a Medicare co-payment?' The Prime Minister said, 'Michelle, nothing is being considered, nothing has been proposed, nothing is planned.' Then we dial forward to 6 February and the famous victory. Just before that election, Steve Austin asked the Prime Minister, 'Are you actively considering a GP tax?' The Prime Minister said, 'No, we are not. Nothing has been proposed and nothing is being considered.' He said it was just part of a Labor scare campaign. Indeed, on 25 February, before the Senate by-election, when the member for Perth asked the Prime Minister, 'Will you guarantee that the GP tax will not increase emergency waiting times in WA?', the Prime Minister said, 'I am happy to say that there is no such tax planned.'
The story of the GP tax is the story of the threat to education. What are the common factors? A promise before an election, Tony Abbott is the one making it and it is just not true. We know that these are plans for massive cuts. We know that the Prime Minister of this country does not see an active role for the Commonwealth in schools and hospitals. We know this government, with $80 billion worth of cuts, has a plan to move away from the proper funding of schools and hospitals, to say that it is all a state problem, to walk away from what the Prime Minister wrote in his own book and to walk away from 50 years of Commonwealth policy on both sides of politics—shame, shame, shame! We will take this issue right across the electorate in the winter break, and you will retreat on this as you retreat on every other bad idea. (Time expired)