House debates

Monday, 2 May 2016

Grievance Debate

Road Infrastructure, Turnbull Government

5:57 pm

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

It is always good to listen to the Liberal Party cry about road funding. Let us not forget that they are now announcing a project for the M80 that they actually cut in 2014. They are actually going to put money back in to the project that Labor supported—which Labor invested in—and now they are going to put that back here on election eve as the panic sets in for the member for Deakin and his colleagues because they know, just like everyone else knows, that this government has been nothing but an absolute chaotic failure for the last few years.

But tonight, I want to speak on a number of issues affecting families across the community of McEwen. I want to reassure them that a Labor government is a government for all Australians and not just for the rich. The Prime Minister talks about the ideas boom; but I do not think his government has had an idea yet, which is why the boom went bust. The Turnbull government's strategy has been to follow Labor's policies and ideas—and let us take a look at that. We were the ones who put forward the idea to crack down on multinational tax avoidance, but it was voted down by the Liberals and the Greens in the Senate. Then look at what has happened recently: the Turnbull government has adopted the idea as their own.

We talked about changing tax concession arrangements for wealthy superannuants: guess who is talking about it now? We wanted a serious discussion about tax reform and floated the policy on changes to negative gearing. We are not quite sure where the Turnbull government has settled on this issue yet, but you can expect that it will flip-flop its away all the way over the line to Labor's view. Our idea to increase the tobacco tax to help fund the health budget suddenly seems like a great idea to the industry minister. As for the education portfolio, the Turnbull government has never seen a 2016 Labor policy it did not like. The Turnbull government cut $30 billion from Australian schools. For families in McEwen, this means that school funding could be cut annually by $21 million. That means that we will see one-in-seven teachers sacked, cuts to the average school budget by $3.2 million and reduced support by about $1,000 per student.

After looking at these cuts in more detail, this is how schools across my electorate fare. Schools in the Yuroke region are hardest hit, with annual cuts of $4.6 million. These are people who struggle with the cost of living, day to day, and are going to be forced to dip more into their pockets or face cuts to programs that help kids. Schools across Sunbury will have cuts of $4.1 million. Euroa schools will be cut by at least $3.2 million each year, and schools in the Macedon region face annual cuts of $2.3 million. Our most disadvantaged students at the Sunbury and Macedon Ranges Specialist School will face annual cuts of $700,000. You have to ask: where are the priorities of this government if they want to cut special school funding? It is an absolute disgrace.

With its education announcements, the Turnbull government wants families to believe that it supports teachers, it supports students and it supports families. To try and regain families' trust, the education minister announced the funding of $1.2 billion to help funding certainty until 2020. We know it is a token gesture, and it is a lot less than the Labor Party is offering the broader electorate. This announcement is a partial reversal of the education cuts, while the government continues to play politics in schools. Of course, as per normal, there are strings attached.

The Turnbull government treats our kids' education like a banking transaction. It wants to see value for money and return on its investment in the form of tangible facts and statistics. The government does not consider the individual needs of students. It does not recognise that each kid has a different learning behaviour and developmental needs. Never mind the experimental forms of learning, including performing arts and sports. According to the education minister, the money the Turnbull government invests cannot be used for these types of pursuits. It must be used to demonstrate compliance with mandated testing standards. You cannot run a cookie cutter approach to education.

The Turnbull government does not want to see its money invested into school infrastructure but in the schooling system—that is, for assessment of literacy and numeracy skills of year 1 students and providing annual progress reports. I am not sure, but wouldn't these things be done as report cards that the parents get every year? Students are not clones, and we cannot expect them to blink in unison. The Turnbull government will tell you that its concern is about increasing the amount of funding going to the education portfolio and declining results being the outcome. As I said, a cookie cutter approach to education will not address this.

The next thing they will tell you is that schools need to be more accountable for how they spend allocated funding. Again, each school is different, with different needs. Labor's approach, using the Gonski reforms, recognises that if there has been a decline in results, over what time period? Are there any variables at play? Is it the fact that we have an increased number of assessments placed on students and there are different ways that those results can be interpreted?

The Turnbull government needs to stop playing politics with our schools. Let us have a serious discussion about education policy. Set out your concerns and let us debate and address them. Do not just attach money to them and expect kids to be able to, suddenly, perform the way you want them to. Do not use our kids' education as a campaign tool for buying off the communities. Our kids' education is too important for you, the government, to risk on a token funding gesture.

Let us go to one of my favourite hobby horses, and that is the National Broadband Network. Speaking of buying off communities, let us have a look at NBN or, as the government now calls it, the NTN—or, as the community calls it, Malcolm Turnbull's mess. Let us see what is going on there. They promised before the last election that all Australians would get NBN sooner, by 2016: promise broken. Twenty-five to 100 megs per second by the end of 2016: promise broken. Fifty to 100 megs per second for fixed line by 2019—we have not got to the first two stages, so the third stage is not going to happen, particularly if you are using second-hand copper.

Under Labor's NBN, the rollout in Sunbury would have been completed 11 months ago. We now learn the best that Sunbury can expect is 2017, and other towns will be even longer. They recently announced that two areas of Sunbury would receive the mess, and building has commenced with the expectation it will be completed by next year. But there is no word about the rest of Sunbury and the areas that are desperate—like Jacksons Hill, which has now been forgotten by this government.

Any further announcements before the election should be seen for what they are: empty promises in an attempt to buy off an electorate. What we do know is that, for the majority of areas across McEwen waiting for a fixed wireless service, these services take longer to deploy and will not be in operation until at least 2017.

Access to the NBN was supposed to be prioritised for those regional and remote areas that were not able to access similar broadband services to their metropolitan and suburban counterparts. That has been the experience that we have had in McEwen. The experience is that it is hard to talk with the government about the NBN or about internet quality and speed.

Many people at the moment are just desperate to get access to broadband. It is not uncommon for me to talk to locals who spend a lot of time having to go to McDonald's and other cafes with their children just so their kids can do their homework. I hear from parents telling me that their kids have left home before they are ready because they cannot study while living in regions like ours. I know of people who have lost jobs or have had to change jobs or move out of the area because they cannot access the internet for work. Some of these people are self-employed contractors and small business owners.

What a mess! It is Turnbull's mess, and he walked away from it when he became Prime Minister; he handed it over. He sees no problem with regional areas not being able to contribute to the knowledge economy or with limiting the digital literacy of kids in these areas compared to kids in metropolitan areas.

As much as McEwen needs broadband, we also need mobile phone reception. There are mobile phone blackspots in areas prone to bushfires and other natural disasters that need to be addressed. There are real communications needs in these communities that cannot be ignored. Buying off communities with token gestures seems to be in the Liberals' DNA. The Turnbull government says it supports the rollout of blackspot programs, but that has been shown to be nothing short of pork-barrelling at its finest. Perhaps they were disappointed with the former Liberal member for Indi's telling statement about the Liberals' campaign standard operating procedure. The secret is out. If you vote for a Liberal government they will still cut funding to health and education, but you might get a phone tower.

These are the things that we can talk about, and we can go through a lot of things—like road infrastructure, which was brought up by the previous member. Of course, our communities are well aware that this government, the Turnbull-Abbott government, has not invested any funds into roads in our region, and that has been compounded by the four years that we had to suffer under the Baillieu-Napthine governments when not one cent of road funding was invested in our community. People are a lot sharper than this mob opposite think they are, and they will not forget this at election time.