Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Matters of Public Importance

Health and Education

6:20 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you so much, Mr Acting Deputy President Smith: Senator Cameron can get quite wild and woolly when it is such a boring matter of public importance. I tell you: the matter before us today is a little bit like the Labor Party's policy initiatives—it is all blank ideas and question marks above their heads as the tactics team the night before, or Senator Brown maybe early this morning, gathered around the whip's or the leader's table and asked: 'What have you got? What have you got? I've got nothing. It's like our policy drawer—nothing.' So we are here talking about cuts to health and education. Last week, it was the 'budget of despair'; this week, the talking points are all about cuts. The rhetoric just stays the same because they cannot face the reality. The reality is that there have not been any cuts to education funding and there have not been any cuts to health funding. Indeed, this government is very proud of investing in those two areas which underpin the social architecture of our communities.

I think that the contribution from Labor senators—like so many of their contributions in this place since the election—simply shows that they cannot deal with the legacy of their own government. They cannot deal with the reality that the debt and deficit legacy that they left our government and, indeed, our nation to deal with is significant. In 2012-13 the price of iron ore was $126 per tonne; the price is projected to come in at $60 over 2014-15. That is a significant cut in revenue. This is the reality that we are dealing with. We are dealing with a budget that was constructed over those six years and that actually had all the payment down the track. It was big on promises and very good on the media release, but very elusive in ensuring that those promises were paid for in the forward estimates. Those opposite come in now moaning and wailing about years 5 and 6 of Gonski, about year 5 and year 6 of this, and about year 10 of that. In reality, if they had had the economic acumen which they needed to run a strong budget for the nation in the national interest, they would have ensured that they put those figures into their budget.

Who can forget the cuts to education under the Labor government? They cut $6.6 billion from 2011-12 to 2016-17. They do not talk about that, do they? Right throughout the budget of 2013-14 we had almost $1 million in cuts as the efficiency dividend; we had the removal of the 10 per cent HECS/HELP discount, $276 million; the conversion of student start-up scholarships to student loans, $1.1 billion. It just goes on and on. We talk about it all the time; you guys cut $6.5 billion out of higher education.

Who can forget that in 2012, health minister Tanya Plibersek cut funding to my home state of Victoria, and those cuts had a real impact on hospital budgets right around my state. The cuts were $107 million across the whole year and $475 million across four years. Those were Labor Party cuts whilst they were in government to health services in regional areas, on the front-line. Hospitals felt them. Bendigo Health's hospital urgently needed the money that it was promised and that was not delivered: $1.676 million in the red as a result of the failure of the then health minister to fund public hospitals. The Royal Women's Hospital had to plan to cut gynaecological and core services for women and babies. Dr Galbally said:

These service cuts will have a significant impact on the health of Victorian women …

That was as a result of the $107 million cut to Victorian hospitals thanks to the now deputy leader of the Shorten opposition, Ms Plibersek. Similarly, in Maryborough, the fabulous local member, Mr Dan Tehan, raised the issue of the $173,000 funding cut to Maryborough's public hospital. So when Senator Cameron comes in and wails and moans about this side of the chamber, worrying about what happens on the ground in regional areas to health and education services, we are not the ones out there cutting funds to hospitals in those very places and affecting front-line services. I could go on and on.

What we are interested in, in this government, is securing the future for our nation—a future where young people can get a job; where Indigenous Australians are included not only in our Constitution but in our social and economic fabric in a very real way; where we have an education system that is accessible, equitable and excellent; and where there is a healthcare system that retains our world-class status. These are exactly the types of things that this side of the parliament is interested in securing for the future of our nation and our citizenry. We are passionate about that. That is exactly why we got into politics: to ensure that we can have those things and that our nation is set up for the 21st century. We have to pay for it. We have to ensure that we are responsible in government. It is exactly what we are hoping to deliver. We are looking forward to our next budget to ensure that we continue it.


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