Wednesday, 25 March 2015
Matters of Public Importance
Health and Education
I rise to make some comments on this MPI before us today. It is interesting to listen to the scaremongering from those opposite. Senator O'Neill spoke about the coalition's 'austerity'. It is not austerity; it is the responsible and sensible management of this nation's economy—something the previous Labor government failed to do. And it is because the previous Labor government failed to do that that this government is having to take sensible and responsible decisions when it comes to managing the nation's economy. When we look at that—and, of course, we are running up to the budget—it is worth looking at why this government needs to take sensible, responsible decisions when it comes to managing the nation's economy. It is because of the waste and mismanagement that we saw from the previous Labor government.
Let's have a look at what the previous Labor government left us. They left us a trajectory to a debt of $657 billion. In case someone out there was not listening when I said that, let me repeat it. The previous Labor government left us a trajectory to a debt of $657 billion. This coalition government makes absolutely no excuses for responsible, sensible decisions about managing the nation's economy to get it back on track because the previous Labor government left us an economic basket case. What does that actually mean for people across the country? It means we are paying $1 billion a month in interest because of the previous Labor government's waste and mismanagement.
Senator O'Neill interjecting—
I will take that interjection from the senator opposite: 'What about health and education?' Let's have a look at that. Guess what? With the $1 billion we are paying in interest every month, we could have a new tertiary hospital in every city. That is what we could have when it comes to health. When it comes to things we need right across the country, we could have 12 kilometres of road every single day. But we cannot fund these things, because of the previous Labor government's debt. So for the senator to come in here and say that it is this coalition government's austerity is absolutely gobsmacking. It is because of their mess that they left us that we are in this situation—the previous Labor government's mess.
Let's just have a look at the sort of things that led us to that mess. Under the Home Insulation Program, the pink batts, $2 billion was mismanaged, with over $1 billion spent fixing the mistakes. Under the set-top box program, Labor wasted $67 million on administration costs to run a program to install set-top boxes in people's homes for an average of $350 a home even though Harvey Norman offered the same deal for $168. Everybody remembers, under the previous Labor government, FuelWatch and Grocery Choice. Nearly $30 million was spent setting them up, and then they were dumped. And this one is one that those on this side of the chamber are forever stunned about: the previous Labor government sold the parliamentary billiard tables that used to be in this building for $5,000. But then what happened? The government spent over $102,000 determining whether or not they got value for money.
It is those sorts of things that mean that this government has to take sensible, responsible decisions to get the economy back on track. And we will do that. We take absolute responsibility for doing that. We make no excuses for taking the tough decisions that we know the Australian people need us to take to get this country back on track. At the same time, when we see the scaremongering from the Labor Party about what the government may or may not do, the one thing that we have noticed about the Labor Party, on the other side of this chamber, is that so often they have failed to deal in fact. They do not let the facts get in the way of the story they are trying to sell. And some of the facts are the things that I am going to talk about today: they are about the investments that this government is making in health.
We only have to look at the fact that Commonwealth funding for public hospitals is going to grow. It is going to grow from $13.5 billion to $89 billion over four years—and this in the environment when we hear those on the other side completely ignoring the facts and trying to say that we are cutting funding to public hospitals, which is entirely not true. It is going to increase by nine per cent over 2014-15, nine per cent over 2015-16, nine per cent over 2016-17 and six per cent over 2017-18. Even I can understand that, when you see those percentages going up and up and up, you can see that that is an increase in funding, even though those opposite would try to tell a different story entirely. It is this government that is investing in health. This government is not cutting; we are investing. We only have to look at Indigenous health funding when it comes to health—$3.1 billion over the next four years for Indigenous health. Very interestingly, that is actually $500 million more than it was over the four years previously under Labor—more funding, not a cut. And, of course, we have just announced the $1.4 billion in funding for primary health care for Indigenous health. A lot of that is going to our Aboriginal community-controlled health sector, which, I have to say, does an incredibly good job in delivering primary health care right around the country.
We just see this continual harping by the opposition, saying that the government is going to make cuts. The scaremongering is absolutely unbelievable. Also, we see hypocrisy there when we look at what Labor cut when they were in office. We only have to look at things like agriculture. They cut the department's budget by two-thirds. They cut the AQIS rebate by 40 per cent. And the biggest cut of all in agriculture was in cutting the live export trade. To actually stop, ban, the live export trade for cattle was absolutely appalling. For the Labor Party to come in here and talk about cuts from this government! When we look at their track record, the list just goes on and on. One cut that was particularly galling for people in rural and regional areas was the cut to the students that were going to be able to get independent youth allowance. The previous Labor government tried to rip that money away from regional students right across the country—and you know it, Madam Acting Deputy President O'Neill, and so do the rest of your colleagues on the other side. It took this side, the coalition in opposition, to push and push and harangue and harangue until the Labor government did a backflip. So for the Labor Party to come in here and lecture this government on cuts is absolutely the height of hypocrisy. When we look at the previous Labor government trying to absolutely rip $400 million out of medical research—which they could not do; they had to do a backflip because of the pressure—to come in here and talk about cuts is absolutely the height of hypocrisy.
What we are going to do is manage this nation's economy responsibly and sensibly. We are not going to engage in the sort of economic irresponsibility we saw from the previous Labor government, which left us with, as I said earlier, a trajectory to debt of $667 billion. We are taking the responsibility to fix the mess that Labor left us, and we will do that. It is not only for now but for our children and our grandchildren that we need to fix that mess. Labor might think it is absolutely fine to hand out $900 cheques to people all over the globe, as it turned out. I even knew of somebody that gave a call from a pub in London saying, 'Thanks very much to Kevin Rudd for the $900 cheque.' This coalition government is going to make the responsible and sensible decisions we need to fix the mess that the previous Labor government left us. The Australian people elected us to do it, and that is what we are going to do. We are going to make sure that we do that so that we get the best outcomes and a sustainable future for people living right across this country, not only in rural and regional areas but in cities and from side to side of this nation. We are going to fix the economic mess.