House debates

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Matters of Public Importance

Health and Education Funding

3:29 pm

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government cutting funding for health and education.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:30 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

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—

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

This is one long fairy tale.

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

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)

3:40 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I could tell that the Leader of the Opposition's heart was not in it today. He kept talking about a sensible and mature conversation, and it was the theme that ran through question time, but the only people without sense and without maturity today are the Labor Party. I wonder whose benefit this is all for, because everyone inside this chamber knows, and knew throughout question time, that this was all just a mess of confected outrage. The member for Sydney was brandishing charts and shrieking about the AMA but conveniently had forgotten that when she was health minister she said, 'Those doctors earn enough. They can afford a rebate freeze.' She was not at all worried about the cost to patients. The outrageous member for Throsby harnessed the real and genuine need of the sick children of Australia to his pointless political opportunism by juxtaposing children at emergency with an options paper on the Federation, which again I come back to. Everyone in this place knows that this is not a real argument. So for whose benefit is this all being carried out?

I know that the Leader of the Opposition is in the thrall of all of the unions who elect all of the members on his front bench. We had no better reminder today than my colleague, the Minister for Social Services, talking about a subject that I was familiar with and was very interested in as the spokesperson on child care in opposition, and that is the Early Years Quality Fund. Today it is about the patients and it is about the schoolchildren. Then it was about the children in child care. That was the argument that Labor brought to this place. What did we see? What was revealed today? The real truth of the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Early Years Quality Fund—$300 million. It was not about the workers and not about the children. It was only ever about the union. We saw that today when the Minister for Social Services revealed that United Voice, one of the unions that elects more than one member on the front bench, gave a donation of $1½ million to the Labor Party in the year that Julia Gillard rolled out the fund. When you look at the forces at work in determining what this Labor Party says, what it does and what it pretends to believe in, you do not have to dig very deep.

But the subject matter of today is the Federation white paper. We are talking about Labor playing politics, and they are playing politics with the Federation. The Federation is, as we all know, the arrangement that the Commonwealth makes with the states, and that includes funding agreements. Today we had a scare campaign about an options paper.

Ms Chesters interjecting

The member for Bendigo, as one of the United Voice members in this parliament, might have some concerns about her involvement in the Early Years Quality Fund.

The scare campaign that Labor jumped up and down about today was about an options paper that will appear on a website tonight—an options paper that, shock horror, many of us have actually seen—and has been the subject of conversations between the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the premiers' departments in the different states. When we start an agreement that finishes with a discussion at COAG, Council of Australian Governments, involving the Prime Minister and the premiers, those discussions are worked up through state and federal bureaucracies. People might be getting bored because you talk about what gets worked up through state and federal bureaucracies. Some of it is fantastic, some of it is interesting and some of it will never see the light of day. But we are talking about a discussion paper. We are talking about options and we are talking about ideas. While the Leader of the Opposition said in one breath that he is very, very happy to have a sensible and mature conversation about the Federation, he turned around and, in another breath, said, 'How could you possibly suggest these things?' Apart from the fact that we, the government, are not suggesting any of these things, we want to come back to the core business, which is to work on a white paper for the reform of the Federation.

If I come to my own area of health, the important point I want to make is that this is going to be a constructive piece of policy work. It really is. I have raised it twice with state and territory ministers because as we approach a new funding agreement with the states we have to work out how we can act together in the interests of patients—not how we can act in the interests of the unions who elect us and not how we can act in our own interests but how we can act in the interests of patients. We build the health system for patients and we build the school system for children and their families.

We know that over time the burden of chronic and complex disease in Australia is falling on an ever-increasing cohort of the population. Once upon a time there were episodes of care—and they might have been in primary care and might have involved hospital care—but now we see more than ever the transition from general practice to hospital, back to community care, to step-down care and often back to hospital again. Mr Deputy Speaker, as a rural member like me who is interested in these things you might be interested to know that the cost of avoidable hospital admissions in Australia has been estimated at $3 billion. That was part of the work that went into this options paper. It is a sensible statistic. It tells us—me as the Commonwealth health minister and the state minister—that there is $3 billion that between us we could save. Wouldn't it be good if we did that? It would be good for our budgets and, most of all, it would be good for patients.

It would be good for those patients who go to hospital because their blood sugar is out of control, their asthma plan has not worked, they have a cardiac arrest because of mismanaged coronary heart disease or their depression puts them in a desperate place and they come to emergency. I accept that for state governments that presentation at emergency is something they cannot turn away, but between us we can work out how we can avoid those hospital admissions, save our budgets money and look after patients.

We fund 40 per cent of the cost of the public hospital system. That is well known. Over time we and the states have shared the cost of the public hospital system. That presents its own challenges, particularly with the increasing burden of chronic disease. It presents its own challenges because where there are clear lines of funding there are clear lines of responsibility but those lines of responsibility do not map across a patient's life experience and they do not necessarily mean that the two arms of government work together in the interests of patients.

Labor have been talking about an amount of money that they seem to think we have taken away from schools and hospitals. Again today we heard $80 million. The Prime Minister very clearly asked: 'If that is what you believe the system is missing out on, what will you do? Will you put it back?' There was dead silence. In fact, there has been dead silence from Labor on every aspect of their policy in health. As the health minister I have sat here and listened and tried to understand and I have asked the odd question, gone to conferences and read transcripts but I have not heard any of the spokespeople for Labor on health talk about a policy. I have actually heard some good policies from other members of the crossbench. I have heard some interesting policies from the Greens. The leader of the Greens, being a doctor, and I have had some good conversations. So it is possible to have conversations with your political opponents, but it is not possible for the Labor Party to come up with a single policy—not one.

The Prime Minister asked the Leader of the Opposition today: 'If you think all this money has gone missing from hospitals and schools, what will you do? Will you put it back?' There was dead silence. In fact, the only thing we have ever got from Labor is a sort of tacit admission that savings need to be made—'We understand that no area will be exempt.' The opposition spokesperson said on Sky News on 22 February:

… the opposition would be kidding itself if it didn't recognise there were challenges in the budget and that savings needed to be found.

There is no area that is going to be exempt. We have to look across the board.

I get the admission, but what is the Labor Party going to do? What are your policies? We have released a budget that is absolutely full of new initiatives: reform of the MBS, reform of the PBS—the legislation passed the Senate a couple of hours ago; strategic agreements around the supply of medicine—and fixed up Labor's e-health mess—$485 million over four years to build an electronic health record that works for patients.

I come back to the Prime Minister's comments that Labor did in its term in government add more money—all of that money borrowed—but did it make a difference? Unfortunately, it made very little difference to the health of Australians. Its agreements with the states were all about free money. The responsibility on the part of the states to do something that in the interests of their emergency presentations, their elective surgery waiting lists and so on actually did not even occur. So we are here saddled with Labor's debt but nevertheless working on positive, proactive policies for the future. The whole question time was wasted with this nonsense. Again, everyone in here knew it was just a piece of confected outrage designed to score a political point and to construct more smokescreen around the Leader of the Opposition's unfortunate circumstances at the moment.

3:50 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Port Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

3:55 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

You have to give the member for Port Adelaide some credit—10 out of 10 for effort. He tried to whip himself into a frenzy. He started with six members here listening. It was so important! This was the most important issue of the day! He managed to have six members of his own team here for a while. Then they raced up to 10, and finally they had 12. Twelve thought it was so important; the rest raced over for a coffee. This is your MPI. We know what it is. We know it is just a massive scare campaign. So I feel sorry for the member for Port Adelaide. This poor man is the incoming President of the Australian Labor Party. What has happened to your once great party?

I am very pleased to be here, enjoying the matter of public importance debate, to reassure the Australian people that the government is not cutting funding for health and education. All we have seen is an irresponsible scare campaign by those opposite, scaring students, teachers and families. That is so typical of this modern Labor Party—never let the facts get in the way of a good story, hey? Budget figures tell the story. Do the numbers go up in the budget? I am just checking. Oh, there is silence over there. The numbers go up in the budget every year. The funding increases every year.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! We won't have those documents.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I am surprised at the member for Maribyrnong, who is always so good with numbers. He is very good with numbers, the member for Maribyrnong. He is really good with numbers. Just ask Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. He is good with numbers. I am surprised he had trouble reading those numbers. It used to be said when we were at school that a cockroach could survive the fallout from a nuclear explosion. I am afraid the member for Maribyrnong is in danger of becoming the cockroach of the Australian Labor Party. He has survived the fallout from two Labor leadership explosions.

Photo of Jenny MacklinJenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order, that really is unparliamentary language, and I ask the member to withdraw.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

He is in danger of becoming the cockroach of the Australian Labor Party.

Photo of Jenny MacklinJenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

Withdraw. Don't repeat it—withdraw.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Jagajaga will resume her seat. The member for Gippsland would assist the chamber if he would withdraw that comment.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

If it would assist the chamber. I did not know the member for Jagajaga had become so sensitive.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

No, no.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

But I would be sensitive as well if I knew what was coming up tonight on the ABC. I would be sensitive if I were you as well, because probably the best thing that has happened to the ABC ratings in living memory is the next episode of The Killing Season.

Speaking of the ABC, I know those opposite do not like facts, but they do like their ABC. But what did the ABC Fact Check have to say about Labor's claims of a $30 billion cut to the education budget? This is on the 2014 budget, almost a year ago, and this is what came about.

On May 22, Opposition education spokeswoman Kate Ellis told the media that "Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne, rather than improving Australian schools, have announced $30 billion in cuts to our schools".

That is the claim that has been made. So ABC Fact Check had a look at what the budget actually says about school funding:

Funding will be increasing in accordance with the existing Labor plan until 2018.

The verdict from ABC Fact Check was:

The Government did not cut $30 billion from schools in the May budget.

They have gone quiet all of a sudden. Hang on—ABC Fact Check's verdict was:

The Government did not cut $30 billion from schools in the May budget.

ABC Fact Check went on:

… in reality there is just too much uncertainty for this long-term estimate to be used as a reliable measure for cuts or savings.

Ms Ellis is spouting rubbery figures.

Fancy that! Your scare campaign has been exposed for what it is. It is one long scare campaign based on rubbery figures. Members opposite know it and the Australian people know it.

Let's move forward to the 2015 budget, look at this year's budget figures and again consider some facts. I know that those opposite do not like the facts, but the 2015-16 budget delivers a record 15.7 billion in funding for all schools across Australia. And $69.5 billion in funding over the forward estimates will be provided for both government and non-government schools in all states and territories. Total Commonwealth funding for all schools will increase by $4.1 billion, a 27.9 per cent increase from 2014-15 to 2018-19.

It is all starting to go horribly wrong for those opposite. The bitter irony is just starting to sink in. Kevin Rudd, the bloke they sacked and then brought back to try to save the furniture, has put in place rules that actually protect the member for Maribyrnong. They cannot sack him—the guy who sacked two prime ministers—and the bitter irony is starting to sink in for them. They cannot sack him. Those opposite never trusted him, the Australian people will never trust him, and as long as he leads this once-great party— (Time expired)

4:00 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you would not support the massive cuts that are proposed here in health and education. The Prime Minister was saying at question time that it does not matter what goes in; what matters is what comes out. What we know is that with these reports—the audit commission report and the new green paper on the federation—what goes in is a lot of crazy rhetoric, a lot of ideology, a lot of user pays and cuts to health and education ideology, and what comes out are funding cuts. We saw with the Commission of Audit a long list of ideas that everybody thought were terribly far-fetched. Where did they turn up? They turned up in this government's first budget. We expect that all the crazy ideas in this green paper—the user pays, the cuts to health and education—will turn up in the next budget.

Before the last election, this Prime Minister said nine times that there would be no change to pensions, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC and SBS, no change to pensions and no new taxes. Every single one of those promises has been broken. So when this Prime Minister says, 'Oh, no, how could you possibly think that what is in the federation green paper is actually going to happen in real life?' we look at what he promised before the last election and what happened after that election. We know that you cannot hold this Prime Minister at his word. You can almost guarantee that if he says it is not going to happen, it will happen. He said: 'no cuts to health' and we saw cuts to health; he said, 'no cuts to education' and we saw cuts to education; he said, 'no cuts to the ABC and SBS' and we saw those cuts; he said, 'no new taxes' and we have got 17 new taxes—the highest rate of tax to GDP that we have had since the Howard years.

Now we hear denials that this government will cut more than $18 billion from hospitals every single year. It is called 'hypothetical'. In question time we heard government members talking about it being hypothetical. Here is says, on page 7 of this 'hypothetical' document, 'The Commonwealth would no longer provide funding for public hospital services and would have no role in setting operational targets for public hospitals'. That is pretty hypothetical isn't it? That is page 7 of a document in black and white—a document that is going to be released this afternoon. Wow, that is pretty hypothetical. This is a document that is released by the Prime Minister's own department. I have been responsible for a green paper and white paper process—

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

That went well!

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, it did go very well, thank you very much. It went very well because I knew all that was included in the green paper. I knew every word in that green paper, I knew what it stood for and I knew that I would be responsible for delivering the promises that were made in the green paper and white paper process.

What we have is state governments around the country alarmed, beside themselves, about the cuts that have already been made. I just love it when those opposite talk about these cuts as also apparently being hypothetical. It says in their budget overview, 'These measures will achieve cumulative savings of over $80 billion by 2024-25.' That is pretty hypothetical too, isn't it?

State governments are beside themselves. The New South Wales Treasurer says that these cuts are unsustainable. State treasurers around the country are trying to work out how they are going to fill these enormous black holes. In fact, it is not just Labor who calls these 'enormous black holes' in the health and education system. The AMA called this a 'gaping hole' in hospital funding. What we have seen is the largest cuts to the forward health budget of any government. We have seen $50 billion cut in the first budget, up to $57 billion in the following budget and another $3 billion cut from other health programs. That is a $60 billion cut from the health budget. That means that hospitals will not be able to meet their targets for emergency waiting times and elective surgery waiting times. So what does the government do in response to that? They dump the targets. They do not increase the funding, they do not increase the support; they actually dump the targets so that hospitals will no longer be held to account for treating patients properly. We see a growth in hospital funding that will be halved over the next decade, from a growth rate of 3.6 per cent to a growth rate of 1.7 per cent over the next decade. The AMA's most recent report card says that hospitals are not keeping pace with population growth and demand, and this green paper suggestion will just be the final nail in the coffin.

4:05 pm

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Could I start by speaking about what a green paper is. A green paper is a list of options. When it came to the north of Australia, one of the options was to dam every river. The other option, at the other end of the scheme, was to not dam anything. The answer is going to lie somewhere in the middle. So when we are looking at the federation white paper and it comes to education and health, one option is: we move out of it completely; we cede the area completely. The other end of the scale is that we take it over.

As I move around this country, the thing that gets me is that a lot of people come up to me and say, 'I don't understand why we have eight education ministers, eight transport ministers, eight health ministers, eight ministers for this, eight ministers for that. Why don't we centralise these things?' First and foremost, the federal government does not run programs. The federal government does not run these things really well. I think we have shown that with things like pink batts and school halls. Federal governments are good at handing the money to the states. The states are good on the ground with these things; this is what they are there for: implementation.

One option is that we pull out of funding the health and education systems entirely. The other option is what Kevin Rudd actually took to the 2007 election. He said, 'We owe it to the Australian people to have a compact with the Australian people that, if the health system does not work, we will take it over.' So that is at one end of the system, and what did he do? He squibbed it, and we still ended up with a mishmash of systems here. We still end up with 50-50/60-40 and enough room to blame absolutely everyone and not blame anyone, and we all walk away from it. This is what happens when you do these things. So a green paper is about a list of options.

Secondly, I will talk about the cuts. To cut something, there must be something there to cut. I will make a prediction and clear it all up now. I will commit this government in the financial year 2035-36 to deliver $27 trillion in today's money that financial year. There we go; it is all sorted. Is that believable? I do not think so. When these guys came out and did Gonski—because I tell you these guys wear Gonski like a badge of honour but what they delivered was nothing like Gonski—they loaded up the expenditure way out past the forward estimates in years five and six. What they did in the front was the same as the NDIS and health. They pushed it all out the back there where they did not have the control. All that money was pushed out there.

When we came to the 2013 election—I was there—we said we were in lock-step with these people up until the end of the forward estimates. Of course, we broke our word straight away because the Labor Party had pulled $1.2 billion out of the PEFO. Christopher Pyne had to break his word, and we were no longer in lock-step with the Labor Party. We had to find $1.2 billion to put back into the education system. There was $795 million extra for the state of Queensland that the previous, Labor government had pulled from the education system.

You can only commit to the forward estimates. You can have aspirational things out there, but Labor had no plan to fund this stuff way out beyond the forward estimates. They had no plan and they had no money. You cannot cut what is not there. You can get your scissors out, but you cannot cut air, and that is what these guys are trying to do. It just does not make sense. You have to have the funding.

When it comes to the shrill attack that we are seeing here, it really does say a lot to me about where we are as a parliament. It really does say a lot to me about where awe are as a nation that, when someone comes up with a list of options, that is suddenly seized upon. I know Labor is looking for a distraction for tonight and to try to deflect from what is going to be on television tonight and I know they are not going real well, but to the member for Gellibrand and Hotham: it is okay. I have been over that side of the parliament. It is so easy in opposition just to sit there and say, 'Just vote us in, and we'll fix it all.' Once you have been in government—ask the member for Swan—it is not easy to come up with options. Sometimes you cannot deliver what you say you can—or most of the time, as the member for Swan did not deliver what he said he could—

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think you mean the member for Lilley.

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If we were to have all that stuff here, we would have been in surplus.

4:10 pm

Photo of Wayne SwanWayne Swan (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What we are debating here today is the Liberal Party's smash and grab on health and education—$80 billion out of health and education in last year's budget papers, in this year's budget papers. Of course, what we know is that the stench of unfairness that was in last year's budget remains in this year's budget, and today the cat was let out of the bag. Suddenly we find out that, with that cut of $80 billion hitting health, hitting education across the states, it is now going to be made up by a tax on state schools. That is where the gap comes from.

This says something about the ideals and the approach of those opposite. Those opposite believe in trickle-down economics. They think that, if you give everything to everybody at the top, take away services and tax working people more, that somehow gives you growth. When you look at these cuts to health and education, what you actually see are their priorities. In their ideal world, if you have money, you can have the best; and, if you do not have money, you can go without. That is what sums up these federation papers which build on this $80 billion cut. Their aim here is to dismantle quality, affordable health and education that have made Australia one of the fairest nations on earth and given us one of the highest levels of social mobility of any developed democracy. Underpinning that, admired around the world, the envy of other developed economies, is Australia's approach to quality health and education delivered to people irrespective of their means—universally available, the whole basis of Medicare, the whole basis of our future prosperity in education.

In their ideal world, if you have the money, you get the best; if you do not have the money, you can do without. If you cannot afford to send your kids to a private school, you do not deserve the best education in this Liberal trickle-down world. What we are seeing here is the survival of the fittest ideology that dominates everything this crew opposite do. They had in last year's budget a proposal to knock off unemployment benefits for six months for unemployed young Australians when unemployment was at six per cent and youth unemployment was at 13 per cent. What does that say about their priorities?

What is missing from this year's budget—and it is true that there is something that is not in this year's budget that was in last year's budget—is the language of 'lifters and leaners' because there is now a pretence that somehow this year's budget is fair. What blows that away is the fact that the $80 billion cut to health and education is in this year's budget as well as being in last year's budget. And why is it there? Because those opposite actually believe that inequality is good for us. When you scratch the Treasurer, when you hear the Prime Minister talk, when you hear those trickle-down economics people opposite talk, what they really believe is that inequality is good for us. They believe that we should not have intervened during the global financial crisis to support Australians. They believe in the cleansing power of recession.

The truth is that, in the Asian century, no country can afford to leave any student behind in the education system. If we have learnt anything about the future of our country in the Asian century, it is that we have to build up the capabilities of our citizens, and nowhere is that more important than in education. So a proposal which says, 'Not only are we going to junk Gonski but we're also going to vacate the field of Commonwealth funding in education,' is a recipe for making Australia a backwater in the Asian century, falling behind the increasing educational achievement that is happening in all of our major trading partners.

But I do not think we should be surprised by this approach, because, after all, one of the first actions of those opposite was to rip up the Asian century white paper and put it in the rubbish bin, precisely at the time we needed forward policies and forward funding to make ourselves the best-educated developed country in the region. This $80 billion worth of cuts is not only going to happen in education; it is going to happen in health. And we are increasingly understanding that the health of your population, along with the education of your population, is the key to prosperity. (Time expired)

4:16 pm

Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is certainly a privilege for humble me to offer some words of wisdom in this matter of public importance discussion after hearing from 'Australia's greatest Treasurer'! There is a saying by Winston Churchill:

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

What we have here really is a lie—the opposition trying to tell the Australian people that the federal government is seriously considering walking away from funding health and education. That is just a nonsense. This MPI should actually be about the previous government cutting funding for health and education, not the current government. I will explain why. A nation is healthy when its balance sheet is healthy. You need to understand that, when we have a strong economy, then we have the ability to build a society that we want to live in. If you look at countries across the world that have strong economies, you see life expectancy that is longer and you see better opportunities for their children. It is simply ignorant of the real world to not have that basic understanding.

A strong economy does certainly invest in education. A strong economy does certainly invest in our children. But a strong economy also understands the different levels of government and how to best make those interact. I look at health—and I have an area that I represent that does have some poorer health outcomes—and I see that our government has made some significant advances in immunisation and trying to get the Australian population immunised. I see that Headspace has been opened up, in the area of mental health, to help our young teenagers as they walk through the struggle of life. I see preventative health initiatives, encouraging people to eat some of the fresh food that Australian farmers grow. It saddens me that we have not educated our population more about how to eat healthily. I see reforms, where we have moved away from Medicare Locals into Primary Health Networks, which are going to deliver better outcomes in our communities. I see medicines—and this government has not walked away from pharmacists but has actually delivered a very good outcome for pharmacists so that they can provide medicines for our population. I look at our aged-care facilities and I look at our Medical Research Future Fund. We understand that there are big challenges to face as we address an ageing population. We understand that these challenges have to be tackled and they have to be discussed intellectually, not with grandstanding over white papers and grandstanding over hypothecation.

We are only 12 months out, perhaps, from an election, and yet the opposition are not providing an alternative government to the Australian people. They need to do the legwork if they expect to be a legitimate challenger come the next election. I look at education, and it is not just a case of chucking money at it. If you talk to people in schools, you will realise that there are three things that are important to a strong education. One is the home life. If the parents take an interest in a child's education, it is a big advancement for them. Another is the culture of the school. I have got country schools that are struggling to have great buildings but they have a strong culture. The third thing is the facilities. When we look at education, it is more holistic than simply throwing money at it. But we do need to have a strong economy so we can build a stronger society.

Labor in this instance are failing to take the opportunity for leadership. The MPI should be a chance for them, this close out from an election, to start to lay out their vision so that they can prove to the Australian people that they are an alternative government. What we are saying is: the Federation in its current form is broken. If you go into my electorate, nothing frustrates people more than to hear state governments blaming federal governments, and federal governments blaming local governments. They just want to see service delivered. The first premise is: the closer you are to the delivery of the service, the more efficient the spend. If our state governments can administer hospitals, if our state governments can administer policing, if our state governments can deliver health and if our local governments can deliver local roads, and the federal government can provide the strategy and the defence, then this is what a good Federation should be made up of. This government is prepared to tackle the hard questions. That is why the Australian people will vote for us again. You guys are missing an opportunity in this MPI to put your vision forward.

4:21 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Sir Humphrey Appleby used to explain to the Prime Minister's private secretary the meanings of what the Prime Minister said as he went about the process of governing. It was, after all, from Yes, Prime Minister that we learnt the meaning of the expression 'courageous decision' and the mystery behind polling. I can imagine Bernard's confused expression when Sir Humphrey explained to him the meaning of Prime Minister Abbott's line 'Nothing is being considered, nothing has been proposed and nothing is being planned.' It means, Sir Humphrey would have patiently explained, that the policy has been signed and sealed and is just awaiting the right time for delivery.

Of course, we are talking about the circulation of a document by the Prime Minister's department of a proposed green paper which the member for Warringah described during question time as a 'sensible debate'. In fact he was talking about cutting hospitals loose and cutting education loose.

In February 2014 the Prime Minister used that line to dismiss talk of a GP tax. He then announced a GP tax. He used similar lines before the election to dismiss talk of a cut to pensions. Now he has made a second attempt to cut pensions, this time to part pensioners, this time with the support of the Greens political party. He tried vainly to cut back on pensioners in the previous budget with a sneaky downward movement in the indexation of pensions. I am very proud to have heard the words of the member for Maribyrnong in his initial remarks that we fought this very successfully, we will fight the change on pensions and we will fight this green paper and its crazy ideas as well. The Prime Minister used the same sorts of words to pull the wool over people's eyes about health and education prior to the last election. Nine times before 2013 he repeated 'no cuts to health, no cuts to education'.

Of course universal access to health and education are, as the member for Lilley said, two of the Commonwealth's most important responsibilities and what distinguish Australia from some other advanced democracies. This government cut $80 billion from schools and hospitals in its first two budgets and is now looking to wash its hands of them altogether. According to the leaked green paper, the government is considering stripping more than $18 billion from hospitals every year. This shows that the $50 billion cut to health in last year's budget was just the beginning. I am an empiricist. I like to see the tables and add them up myself. The chart relating to hospital spending seems roughly to confirm these figures. It shows savings beginning in 2016-17, reaching about $5 billion a year in 2020-21 and rising to about $15 billion in 2024-25.

The leaked green paper from the Prime Minister's office, which he insisted at question time was a 'sensible debate', also canvasses the possibility, disgracefully, of this government walking away from funding preschools and kindergartens. If it did so, fees would rise by 70 per cent, putting unsustainable pressure on all the families that make use of child care, especially in that fourth year that they made such a big fuss about providing to people. Since Labor introduced federal funding for preschools and kindergartens, the proportion of children accessing 15 hours of early education has climbed from 23 per cent in 2009 to 82 per cent today. Mr Abbott's 'sensible debate' canvassed during question time would reverse this.

Sir Humphrey often told Prime Minister Hacker:

… although [what he had said] was indeed simple, clear and straightforward … the precise correlation between the information [he had] communicated and the facts … is such as to cause epistemological problems of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be requested to bear.

In short:

You told a lie.

The Australian people will see through the lies of this government. They will see this green paper for what it is. As the member for Lilley said so passionately just a minute ago, this government is characterised by social Darwinism and by trickle-down economics. The $80 billion cut proposed by this green paper would just confirm the reputation that this government already has.

4:25 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This government is not cutting funding for health and education. The amount of money that we spend on health and education will continue to rise. Every year the amount spent will rise. So what is this motion really about? It is about pretence and deception on the part of the Labor opposition. We heard the previous speaker talk about TV shows. This whole motion reminds me of a show some years ago. A fictional government in the program The Hollowmen was looking for a centrepiece budget announcement. The 'hollowmen', a bit like the member for Lilley, came up with a future fund, literally—the amount determined by 'what gets a whistle'. The money would have to be found by some future government somehow. Doesn't that ring a bell with us? It let the incumbent government make an announcement that sounded like something but actually was nothing. That is what we got from Labor: sounds like something but actually is nothing. As the 'hollowmen' said: 'Have we got $100 billion?' 'We don't need it. We can just take 10 years of future estimates and roll it out in the one announcement.' We don't have the money; we just want to make an announcement. It sounds like Labor Party strategists at work in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government.

In the days of the previous Labor government, as the ALP floundered in the mire of its own incompetence, it needed an announcement to distract an increasingly angry electorate sick of Labor's broken promises. You can picture the then PM's office, complete with the 'hollowmen'. It would be like a script that even the ABC could be proud of. The member for Lilley would be saying: 'We need a distraction. Let's announce a big pot of money—say $80 billion for schools and hospitals.' 'Have we got $80 billion?' 'We don't need it. We just take 10 years of forward estimates and roll it out in one announcement. We won't be in government when someone—anyone—has to find the money or scrap the plan.' This Labor script is really no different from the first Hollowmen. It reminds us of that other interesting ABC production The Killing Season. It shows an incompetent government misleading the people of Australia. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, The Hollowmen, The Killing Seasonthree jokes but only one is a genuine comedy. The other two are tragedies played out before the people of Australia.

This motion is an absolute embarrassment to the Leader of the Opposition and any members who were in the cabinet that so hoodwinked the Australian community. There are no cuts, because there never was any money. I found it very interesting listening to the member for Lilley pontificating here. This is the same person who threw taxpayers' dollars like confetti around this House and drove Australia to levels of debt and deficit the highest in this nation's history. He never delivered a surplus—and he actually seeks to lecture us in this place. Labor is still in Hollowmen mode, committing to, I think, $57.1 billion worth of expenditure through opposing budget savings. There was the $18 billion in foreign aid—remember that? We heard $6.6 billion announced minute by minute by the Leader of the Opposition in the budget-in-reply speech. Today we are hearing even more about another $80 billion of those claimed, mythical cuts—the Hollowmen mythical cuts—to schools and hospitals. If I add those two together, Labor's black hole now sits at around $137.1 billion and counting. Treasurer—is that what you can see in this space—$137.1 billion and counting? This will continue. I am sure we are going to hear more of this.

I am sure we all remember Barry Haase in this place. I remember a conversation he had with a Labor MP—I think it might have been the member for Deakin—at the airport when Labor increased the debt ceiling to $200 billion. Barry saw him at the airport and said, 'Mate—don't you realise that $200 billion is a lot of money? Aren't you worried about paying it off?' And the member for Deakin slapped him on his back and said, 'Hey, Barry, mate, we're not worry about it because we know it won't be us who has to pay it off! It will be you!'

That typifies exactly what we are seeing in this motion today. It is always going to be someone else's problem. It is okay for Labor to waltz in here for six years, throwing money around like confetti on whatever the latest you-beaut Labor scheme was. They had some wonderful surpluses delivered by the previous government and they had savings as well. And yet what did they leave? They left a mess, a mire and a disgrace for the Australian people.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.