Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading
I also rise to make some comments on the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016. This is a piece of proposed legislation in our parliament, worked on across the government and the opposition, that has, indeed, led to a much better outcome than if we had accepted the government's original proposals in this omnibus bill. The fact that we have taken some time—some weeks—and worked constructively to find not just the savings that the government initially proposed but larger savings than the savings that the government proposed shows that, with cooperation and constructive engagement, we can not only find measures to repair the budget but do it in a fairer way that is in line with Labor values.
We know that it is important to find savings over time and to reduce spending. This government have added $100 billion to net debt. They have tripled the deficit. We are at risk of losing our AAA credit rating, which affects our ability to invest in the things that we care about in the future—in health, in education, in infrastructure and in all of the things that make our society and our economy stronger. I want to pay tribute to our shadow Treasurer, our current shadow finance spokesperson and our former shadow spokesperson—Chris Bowen, Jim Chalmers and Tony Burke—for the very disciplined and methodical way they have gone about finding savings here.
But I want to spend a minute also talking about our spokesperson for family and community services, the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin, who, during her time in government and in opposition, has had probably the biggest impact on social policy in this country of any person in the last century or this century, with the new programs she has constructed like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the funding that she has found to support those programs and, most particularly, in recent weeks, the fact that she has managed to find savings that protect the poorest and most vulnerable people—those going onto Newstart, pensions, age pensions, disability payments and other allowances—to protect them from the cuts that this government proposed. These are people who are just making it now. The idea that we would actually cut support for these people in the future is a sign of how heartless this government is. I am proud to be a colleague of the member for Jagajaga and proud of the work that she has done methodically over many months to find a better, fairer package of savings.
I also want to pay particular tribute to our health shadow, Catherine King, who has managed to fight off the attack on the Child Dental Benefits Schedule. This is an appalling policy from the government. The Minister for Health and Aged Care says that this is an under-utilised scheme. I would like to ask her: what advertising and promotion of this scheme has she ever done? It is like the secret scheme that the government does not want your children to find out about. The shadow health minister has done a fantastic job of ensuring that this is not included in our program.
I just want to make a few very brief comments about the higher education measures in this omnibus bill. We did take some difficult decisions before the last election as part of our budget repair strategy. We did that in the context of Labor investing an extra $13 billion in higher education. We will always oppose $100,000 university degrees, we will always oppose deregulation of the university sector and we will continue to oppose the more than $3 billion of zombie measures that are still there from the 2014 budget because we believe a stronger and better-funded higher education sector is not just critical for our individual students but is absolutely critical for the wealth, the productivity, the economic strength and the growth of our nation. So we will continue to fight $100,000 degrees and we will continue to fight the cuts that are still there—the 20 per cent cuts that the government continues to propose which are left over from the 2014 budget. That is an important thing to remember.
I want to finish by saying that as well as protecting the most vulnerable people in this omnibus bill, we have also protected something else that is fundamental to our values set, and that is our commitment to reducing carbon pollution and reducing carbon emissions. Mark Butler, our shadow environment and energy spokesperson, should be proud of the fact that he is the man who saved ARENA.