Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Matters of Public Importance


4:13 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

The Turnbull government's unfair budget that delivers tax handouts to multinationals and multimillionaires will hurt everyday Australian families. You do not need to have a poll to know that Malcolm Turnbull and his government are so out of touch with the Australian people—they are the most out of touch government we have seen in recent history. The Turnbull government's budget offers nothing positive to everyday Australian families. It puts big business and the big end of town before the Australian community. We all know that Mr Turnbull likes rich people, and this budget proves just how out of touch he is with everyday Australians' ambitions and the difficulties they have in balancing their weekly budgets. You have to ask yourself what sort of Prime Minister rips money out of our kids' schools and out of our health budget just to give the big end of town and millionaires their tax cuts.

At what cost is that? That leads me into the disaster that we have before us. We have seen evidence of that again today in this place, where the minister, Minister Birmingham, has a civil war going on in his own caucus, because he has been caught out not giving all the relevant information to his own caucus. Then he expects them to come into this place and support him and his proposition in the other place. We have seen numerous House of Reps members saying that they are not happy with this. We have had senators in this place coming out and saying that they may cross the floor. In the last week in this place Senator Back is threatening to cross the floor because this is flawed policy. It is unfair policy—that is what it is. We have also had Senator Eric Abetz, from my home state of Tasmania. Once again, he understands and values the education system, particularly what the Catholic education system does for our home state. It is very disappointing that Senator Bushby and Senator Duniam have chosen to be quiet on this and not speak up for Australian kids, and in particular for Tasmanian schools. It is just extraordinary that this minister has been referred to—I would like to quote—this is what the Australian Catholic education sector is saying about Senator Birmingham as a minister: 'He has been told that in the last 50 years we have been dealing with governments, we have never had a government not engaged with us on major changes to policy.' They actually referred to Minister Birmingham as the worst education minister.

What is even more alarming is that it demonstrates how out of touch the Turnbull government is with what is happening in the Australian community and in our schools. Can I just remind people that under Mr Turnbull's policy 85 per cent of public schools will not reach their fair level of funding, even in 10 years. I have already spoken about it in this place, yesterday and last week, that unfortunately the Turnbull government does not even understand what the word 'fairness' means, because they have done nothing to demonstrate it in any of their budgets, going back to the Abbott government and through the Turnbull government—and who knows whether Abbott is going to come back or not—but they certainly have not delivered anything in the way of fairness to the Australian community.

The Catholic education sector has officially declared a loss of confidence in this government. They have already put on the public record and told the minister that they will campaign every day until the next election, because they will not forget the betrayal that this government has committed. It demonstrates again that this government takes different sectors of our community for granted.

Let's turn to another issue that has come out of this budget. That is the government's failure to stand up for some of the most vulnerable, lowest-paid workers in this country. It is now is some 10 days until 1 July, when Tasmanian and Australian workers will lose their penalty rates. We are talking about people working in the hospitality industry, some retail sectors, hairdressers—the list goes on. We know that under the criteria of this government there is no sector, including the aged care sector, that is off limits for taking away penalty rates for carers and nurses working in that sector, because aged care workers and nurses are not considered to be essential services.

This is very serious. We know that in Tasmania alone, from 1 July, there are going to be some 40,000 Tasmanians who will lose up to $77 a week from their take-home pay. I have attended committee hearings and heard firsthand, because I talked to people in the community. They are devastated that this government has allowed this to happen. This government has ample opportunity. In the House of Representatives they could have voted for the legislation that the opposition, with Mr Shorten, introduced to protect Australian workers from these cuts to penalty rates. But they have failed to do that.

We will see the impact from this roll out into the community and to small businesses. Those on the other side always speak up to say they are the only ones in this place who understand what small business is about, but small businesses are the ones who are going to lose out, because people on very low wages—the people who rely on penalty rates to pay their mortgage, to put food on the table and to support their children through school excursions et cetera—are the ones who spend all their money every single pay. It is not the millionaires. They are not the ones who keep the local economy and small businesses on the move—not at all.

Yesterday, this government, when moving their legislation to make changes to Medicare, had the opportunity, through the amendments I moved, to withdraw it, come back to the drawing board and then come back and give real guarantees for the funding of Medicare and to give real funding to our hospitals. What did they do? They voted against it.

We know, as the Australian people know, that this crowd sitting on the government benches promised so much before the last election. They promised things they could never deliver and they have broken that promise to the Australian people, because they have made cuts to schools.

This minister has bungled any reforms. If he had just stuck with Gonski. The sector and the government and opposition in the past all had an agreement that we would roll out Gonski. But what did these people do? They turned their back on it. Now they have not only the Catholic education sector but also the private schools—the sandstone buildings of Melbourne and Sydney and the prestigious school Friends' in Tasmania, which I am sure Senator Bushby will understand—not getting an increase in their funding. They take away from the state schools in Tasmania and give more funding to Friends'. That is what these people are supporting. So you can never use 'Turnbull government' and 'fairness' in the one sentence.

Not only has the minister been misleading this chamber but he has also been misleading the Australian community. The minister cannot even come to the table with accurate data and give his own caucus a full briefing. That is why you have the situation with Senator Abetz and Senator Back. And I know that Senator Seselja will not be feeling too comfortable, either, because he will have to go out and face the Catholic schools in his community here in the ACT. From the contact I have had with the Catholic Education Commission in my state of Tasmania, I know that they will not rest until they get their funding. After all, the Catholic education system in this country educates one in five Australian children, and most of the time in rural and regional areas, the most disadvantaged areas. In some remote areas it is the only school available to Australian kids.

Our kids come first for us on this side of the chamber. We will fight this every day until the next election. We will fight with the sector to get fair funding for the education sector in this country. (Time expired)


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