Tuesday, 23 June 2015
Matters of Public Importance
Health and Education Funding
It is hard to imagine many matters more important than the matter proposed today by the Leader of the Opposition—the sustainability of our public education and public hospital systems. There is surely very little more central to Australia's social contract than the idea that Australians will wake up every morning confident that their governments—Liberal or Labor—will deliver a free universal, secular public education system for their children and a free public hospital system for every Australian when they become sick, but we saw this morning and yesterday morning as this Federation green paper leaked, this secret plan leaked, the Prime Minister shaping up for the biggest smash and grab on Australia's school and public hospital systems in our nation's history.
Surely, as we head to the winter break, this must be the last nail in the coffin of this Prime Minister's credibility because everyone remembers what he said before the last election—no cuts to health and no cuts to education. Australian voters know that this man has form. They remembered that a lot of the things we were seeing in the budget last year, with the $80 billion of cuts, and the Federation green paper over the last couple of days are the same trick he pulled on the Australian people when he was health minister in 2004—a mean, tricky change to indexation systems that results in cuts to public hospitals of billions and billions of dollars over years. That is why he was at pains to put a hand on his heart, because he knew that the Australian people remembered his time as Australia's health minister. Hand on heart, he said there would be no cuts to health and no cuts to education.
On education, as public support for the Gonski plan was building real momentum, the Prime Minister came out and said that the Liberal Party was on a unity ticket with Labor on schools funding. They rolled out bunting across polling booths throughout Australia, promising that there would not be a single dollar's difference in the funding for every one of the 9,500 schools in Australia under a Liberal government or a Labor government. But immediately we saw cuts to education. We saw the trades training centre program go. Then, in the 2014 budget, we saw $80 billion of cuts to schools and hospitals.
Today there were all sorts of points of order taken, seeking to deny the $80 billion that was proudly framed in the 2014 budget glossy. But we know that it is there. Treasury officials have testified to it being there in Senate estimates hearing after hearing. Thirty billion dollars of those cuts are to schools—cuts that the Liberal Party Treasurer of New South Wales said only this week meant that schools funding was simply not sustainable. Fifty-seven billion dollars of the cuts are to public hospitals. The AMA said earlier this year that this resulted in a huge black hole in public hospital funding. The Prime Minister said today in question time: 'That's all right. Money's sort of important, but the morale of public hospitals matters more.' So, when your family is sick and rocks into the emergency department of your local public hospital—one of the 750 great public hospitals in Australia—they will just try to fix you by hooking you up to an IV of morale! An IV of morale will help everything!
These crippling cuts can only result from one of two motives. One is a complete lack of care for public hospitals and public education. I do not even ascribe that to this Prime Minister, because we know what he really wanted the premiers to do in the face of these cuts was to beg him to increase the GST and broaden the base of the GST to cover food, health and education. Now we see over the last 48 hours, in this leaked green paper, the most extraordinary attacks on schools and public hospitals that have ever been seen in this nation, placing state governments in an invidious position where they will simply have to look at alternative ways of raising funds to run schools, including the schools tax that is included as an option in the leaked green paper put together by the Prime Minister's own department.
As the Leader of the Opposition said, we are committed to that social contract—a universal, secular, free public education system and a universal public hospital system for all Australians—and we will fight this government every step of the way to the next election on that.