Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Matters of Public Interest
As the nation knows, Western Australia has a historic senate election underway. It is an unprecedented event in our nation's political history. I am very pleased to be a candidate, proud to be a Western Australian Labor senator here to stand up for my home state, a place I grew up in and have lived in all my life.
This election gives Western Australia a chance to send a strong message to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier Colin Barnett that Western Australians will not stand for their broken promises. With the mining boom slowing, the Abbott and Barnett governments should be investing in Western Australia to build more rail, road and energy infrastructure, not cutting jobs and services as they are doing. Western Australia is already paying its fair share. The people of my great home state should not have to put up with two Liberal governments breaking their promises and commitments. This election cannot change the government, but it is a very real opportunity to vote for a Senate that can hold Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his government to account.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told his supporters that he wanted to model his government on the Barnett government. He has been true to his word. Premier Colin Barnett and Prime Minister Tony Abbott have both proven that their governments cannot be trusted. Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the Australian people one thing before the election and has been doing the complete opposite in power. He has left a trail of broken promises that will hurt Western Australian families, and with the federal budget looming we know there will be more pain in store. Prime Minister Abbott promised no cuts to health and no cuts to education and that pensions would not change. Now, as we know, all areas of expenditure are under review. The Abbott government has shown no respect for the promises it made to Western Australians on schools, the NBN, debt, Medicare and maintaining Medicare Locals.
Let us look at the promises made to Western Australian schools and students. Labor stands for a fully funded education system. In the election campaign, Prime Minister Abbott and Christopher Pyne promised to support Labor's education funding reform. Our Better Schools funding model would have guaranteed fair school funding into the future for WA schools. Our plan would have seen schools about $1 billion better off. Devastatingly for WA schools, we now know the coalition were not really committed. The Abbott government was not even two months old when they abandoned their commitment. Premier Colin Barnett has ripped $183 million out of our schools. Abbott has committed—
The Abbott government has committed a measly $120 million to Western Australian schools over four years—it is a massive broken promise. WA public schools will now receive $91 million less than they would have under federal Labor. Every school in Western Australia is now worse off. If Abbott—
If Prime Minister Abbott did not abandon the Gonski reforms, Premier Barnett would not have been able to make these cuts. The leverage the commonwealth had on Premier Colin Barnett to lift his game and do the right thing by WA students has been ripped away by Minister Pyne.
I turn to the broken promises made to the people of Western Australia on health. We know that Labor stands for a fair universal health care system where access to health services does not depend on the size of your wallet. This is not something Prime Minister Abbott believes in. Prime Minister Abbott has proposed a great big GP tax; it is a tax on families—on people—every time they visit the doctor. It is a tax that families who access bulk billing will have to pay; a tax that families who are already struggling with Western Australia's high cost of living will also have to pay if they cannot get into a bulk-billing GP. I do not have time to outline them all today, but there are also massive cuts to health at a state level. We know the Abbott government's review of Medicare Locals could also lead to a massive loss of local services. It shows how little the coalition care about well-run, affordable, accountable and innovative health services.
It is not only health and education in Western Australia that the coalition have attacked. They have also attacked the environmental values that we hold dear. Labor stands for protecting our environment for future generations and for getting the balance right by recognising that there is no point in having a strong economy if we end up destroying all that makes life in Western Australia unique. Through changes to the EPBC Act, the government want to dismantle environment protections for our state. They have suspended the implementation of marine park reserves and are in lock step with Colin Barnett in support of a dreadful shark-culling program. I certainly do not trust Prime Minister Tony Abbott to weigh into the forestry debates in Western Australia—all hell would break loose. The Abbott government's ideological attack on Australia's renewable energy sector and carbon pricing mechanism put a priority on politics over the wellbeing of our environment, citizens and economy. Because of climate change, people in the south-west of the state will face decades of rising temperatures. We are committed to scrapping the carbon tax but at this point it would be immoral and irresponsible to dismantle the tools that we need to tackle climate change. Labor will not stand with this.
Speaking of broken promises and policy failure, under Premier Colin Barnett and Prime Minister Tony Abbott we are seeing major infrastructure projects right around WA delayed, cut and cancelled, creating economic problems and a big flood of broken promises. The state Liberals promised fully funded and fully costed projects such as MAX Light Rail, the Perth Airport rail link and the Perth to Darwin highway; those promises have all turned out to be hollow rhetoric. Indeed MAX Light Rail was a promise made using federal government money—money Prime Minister Abbott has refused to commit. What the Abbott government did was rip away $500 million already allocated by federal Labor to public transport infrastructure in WA. All the while, congestion in Western Australia continues to grow. Premier Barnett did not say a single thing about that money being ripped out of Western Australia. The truth is that public transport is just not in the Liberals' DNA.
We know the National Broadband Network has been cut down to a slower, second-rate service that will hold Western Australians back from the industries and jobs of the future. Homes right around the state will be without the NBN connection they otherwise would have had. It is an appalling state of affairs and I will be working to let Western Australians know that Labor stands for investment in public infrastructure, supporting productivity and growth in WA. Such infrastructure is vitally important to Western Australian jobs and I have got no doubt that jobs will be one of the most important issues at the upcoming Senate by-election. It was devastating that the government failed to stand up for Qantas this week as Qantas is vital to Western Australia's Asian and regional links. We are also concerned in WA about the blatant attacks by the government on the wages and conditions of workers and its refusal to stand up for Aussie jobs. Unlike the coalition, we know we need to prioritise local employment over bringing in foreign workers. We must prioritise the training of young workers rather than the importation of foreign labour.
I would like to have more time today to talk to the Senate about the significant issues at this by-election. With the mining boom slowing, if there is anything the last few months of the Abbott government have taught Western Australians it is that only Labor will stand up for WA jobs and keep those jobs in our state rather than have them go offshore. As a proud Labor senator and part of the Labor team, I will be here to hold Prime Minister Tony Abbott to account by standing up for Western Australia at this by-election and over the next six years in the Senate.