Monday, 16 June 2014
Matters of Public Importance
The President has received the following letter from Senator Moore:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The failure of the Abbott government to deliver a budget that promotes fairness and opportunity.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
We now know as a result of the general election of September last year that this government was elected on a litany of lies. The Prime Minister went to the election based on commitments of no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no cuts to the family budget, no cuts to higher education and no cuts to pensioners. We also know that all those promises that were made are based on a complete litany of lies.
Today the Treasurer has been exposed for what he is—a fraud; a Treasurer that has blown his credibility—on the basis of a report having come out by the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey indicating that the analysis directly contradicts Joe Hockey's claims that Australia's welfare spending is out of control. The report indicates that welfare expenditure in Australia accounted for just 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2013 compared to the OECD average of 13 per cent. We also know that Australians have dramatically reduced their dependence on welfare. In 2001, 23 per cent of working-age people in Australia received a payment each week and in 2011 that dropped to 18.5 per cent.
As we go on and on after this budget, we find more and more exposure of these types of things that are occurring out there as people become wiser and wiser and wonder why they elected this government. I can speak with some experience of late, having had numerous communications with constituents in many areas in not only my duty seats but also the duty seat of Ryan. I have been talking to a lot of pensioners about how they have been impacted by this horrendous budget. Not only do they reflect on the Abbott government, but they also reflect on the Campbell Newman government, on its budget cuts and the impacts it has had on pensioners and everyone else.
In addition to that, I get copious numbers of emails. Some of the areas these come from surprise me. For example, I received an email recently from a cow cocky—or people may refer to them as a person from the bush or a person from out in western Queensland—complaining about the National Party siding with the Liberals with respect to cutting fuel excise. They complained about the fact that they can no longer take their horse float and their Toyota four-wheel drive on long journeys. I appreciate the fact that many of our people in the bush travel long distances, hundreds and hundreds of kilometres, to attend events. For some of those farmers, those cow cockies, those folk from the bush, that is the only chance they get to have a bit of enjoyment. And here are the National Party leaking their commitment to the Liberals to cut the fuel excise and make it more expensive for that type of journey—for people to have their little bit of luxury, take their horse to the local show and play polo. That is where they stand when it comes to fuel excise.
Returning to the pension: as I indicated, I have been speaking to copious numbers of pensioners in the seat of Ryan, particularly in Keperra. What they have been telling me is that they are extremely concerned in general about the indexation of pensions and how they are increased. We heard today from Senator Fifield in this chamber about how he relates to this particular issue. He said in question time that he is optimistic and that he is going to keep his fingers crossed that they will not be disadvantaged. Well, what do you say to pensioners out there? Do you say, 'On the hope of a win, keep your fingers crossed, be optimistic; we'll look after you'? We know that is not the case.
This government was elected on a litany of lies. It has changed the indexation from MTAWE to CPI. This area of CPI figures is one where I have had some experience in the past. The increase, and in some cases the decrease, of the CPI—because sometimes the CPI does go backwards or remains neutral—is an unfair advantage with respect to how increases occur. See you later, Bill; nice of you to come in! There is one example I use. I remember quite well in my term as a union official for the Transport Workers Union that one of the sites I was responsible for looking after was the old Telegraph. That was the newspaper in Brisbane, but it is long gone now. The owner-drivers there were reliant on the CPI for their increases. I recall that on one occasion the CPI figure was stagnant, so, in that particular period, there was no increase for those drivers as a result of the indexation that was linked to their particular agreement.
I did some research prior to today's debate on this and came across a graph that dates back to 1946. It shows that, in September 1951, the CPI was extremely high, on average about 25 per cent. Then over time, it has come down. In September 1976, it was around 15 per cent. In September 2001—that was just after the GST that the Liberal-National parties said they would never, ever introduce—it was about five per cent. The graph that I researched demonstrates that the CPI is trending down. Based on that history, we know what will happen to pensions.
Once again, I go back to Senator Fifield. He is on the record now as saying that this is no mistake; this is no matter of coincidence. It is a purposeful measure that they have put in place to make sure pensions are decreased. He actually said it has been put in place in an effort to slow the rate of pension increases. As is clearly demonstrated, MTAWE as opposed to CPI has always been a better indexation rate for increases and will always remain that way. We now know why the LNP have moved from that indexation rate to the CPI. Five hundred and thirty thousand additional pensioners will have their pensions cut because of the changes and reducing the threshold. On average, there is a $65 million cut to war pensions as well. That has been ventilated in this chamber today during the debates with respect to previous legislation.
In addition to those sorts of measures, I return to the Queensland budget, where the Premier decided to cut concessions with respect to transport and those sorts of things that pensioners in general enjoy. Pressure was put on the LNP government in Queensland by the Labor opposition, and they backflipped on that sort of approach. Sure enough, people were accepting of that and approved of that sort of measure. But we know that, as a result of what the federal government have done, those sorts of measures will still continue with respect to the change in the indexation.
Of course, the other factor is the increase of the age pension eligibility age from 67 to 70 from 2023 to 2035. We in government, naturally, increased it from 65 to 67. There was not generally a huge concern out there in the public. But there has been a major uproar about lifting that age to 70. People are saying, 'How can we manage to work in labour-intense areas, doing any kind of manual work?' How can they continue their employment up to 70 years of age?
There have been surveys and there have been stats produced which show that out of all the extreme measures in this budget that is number one in being of concern for people out there who have to work until the age of 70. Also, there has been the resetting of the deeming thresholds from $46,000 to $30,000 and from $77,400 to $50,000 from September 2017. In addition, there is the abolition of the national partnership through which the federal government provides money for the states and territories to deliver concessions to pensioners, state seniors and card holders. There is an ongoing range of issues that will affect pensioners as a result of this budget. Obviously, there are additional cuts which I do not have time to cover in today's debate but we know, as a result these severe cuts, that pensioners will be affected. (Time expired)
I rise in the debate of this matter of public importance to say that the budget not only promotes fairness but also provides opportunity. The sheer hypocrisy of Labor to put forward this motion is breathtaking, given their legacy after six years in government and the lack of fairness and lack of opportunity the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government created. Six years of chaos, waste and mismanagement delivered higher taxes, record boat arrivals, and debt and deficit as far as the eye can see.
How is it fair to today's Australians that Labor turned nearly $50 billion in the bank into projected net debt of well over $200 billion—the fastest deterioration in debt, in dollar terms and as a share of GDP, in modem Australian history? How is it fair to Australians that Labor's debt is already costing about $1 billion a month in net interest payments, and that is borrowed money? How many hospitals, how many roads, how many services could that have funded? How is it fair to have this country go on paying the mortgage on the credit card?
Where were the opportunities for those wanting employment under Labor? Let us not forget that under Labor the jobless queues grew by over 200,000—200,000 more unemployed!—in stark contrast to the growth in jobs of more than 250,000 under the Howard government. What opportunities did Labor leave to those in need of services, in need of jobs? None, given the debt and deficit disaster that threatens the future prosperity of Australia and creates intergenerational theft.
In contrast to the chaos and debt left behind by Labor, it is a privilege to serve in the Abbott government and to be part of the team which will build a stronger Australia. The coalition has a plan to build a more productive and diverse economy. We have a plan to deliver more jobs and to provide more opportunity. And, we have a vision for a dynamic and confident Australia.
As the Treasurer said last week in his address to the Sydney Institute, the budget is fair. The budget is about ensuring that government support for those in need and other vital services like infrastructure are affordable in the years to come. At the same time, the coalition government is mindful of concerns about fairness. We all want a society that protects the poor and strengthens the weak. That is what we are doing. Perhaps those on the other side missed this or refuse to accept the government's position. As the Treasurer stated last week, we owe it to the community to set the facts straight and to articulate the reasoning behind our decisions. For example, concerns about the demise of universal health care or higher education accessibility are unfounded. Universal health care has not been free to the consumer for decades. In 1960, a five shilling co-payment was first brought in for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
The co-payment was a concept championed by Labor leader Bob Hawke, with strong support from then adviser Jenny Macklin and Labor MPs like Andrew Leigh who now support a co-payment. Former Labor Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe in 1991 introduced a co-payment as a priority for reform, saying it was:
... the judicious use of price signals to encourage both doctors and patients to be more selective in their use of medical services.
The co-payment is a responsible decision by this government to ensure Medicare will remain sustainable, accessible and affordable in the future. The government decided to ask Australians to make a modest co-payment for their healthcare after serious consideration of possible impacts.
Higher education has not been free since Labor introduced fees in 1987. It is, though, the responsibility of government to provide equality of opportunity with a fair and comprehensive support system for those who are most vulnerable. It is then up to individuals in the community to accept personal responsibility for their lives and their destiny.
Our first budget is based on the premise that it is fair for those with the capacity to pay to accept more personal responsibility for their cost of living, the cost of raising their children, their health services and their education. We cannot continue to spend money at existing levels with the knowledge that this spending will not be sustainable and that, in the years to come, we will not be able to adequately assist those in genuine need. This is unfair to those who most need our help and unfair to future generations who must pay the bill. Our welfare system is unsustainable in its current form and it is not well-targeted to those who really need our assistance.
The federal government will spend $146 billion next financial year on welfare—that is, 35 per cent of the federal budget. We spend more on welfare than we spend on any other single policy area including health, education or defence. And spending on welfare will increase. Those opposite have referred to the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey and suggested that the number of people on welfare is less. Let me correct this. The percentage of the budget used for welfare has risen, and will rise—to 36 per cent in 2017 from 32 per cent when the study was written. Put another way, this increase is to $170 billion in 2017 from $115 billion in 2010.
At the moment, over half of Australian households receive a taxpayer-funded payment from the government. We have a very comprehensive welfare system, but we must recognise that this spending comes out of the pocket of someone. Either it comes out of the pockets of today's taxpayers, or it comes out of the pockets of tomorrow's taxpayers who will repay this debt along with the interest bill.
This year the Australian government will spend, on average, over $6,000 on welfare for every man, woman and child in the country. Given that only around 45 per cent of the population pays income tax, the average taxpayer must pay more than twice this amount in tax to fund welfare expenditure. In other words, the average working Australian, be they a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher, is working over one full month each year just to pay for the welfare of another Australian. Is this fair? Whilst income tax is by far our largest form of revenue, just 10 per cent of the population pays nearly two-thirds of all income tax.
But mostly I want to address the issues in relation to this budget creating opportunity—the opportunity for education and the opportunity for work. By 2018, our reforms will see the Australian government supporting over 80,000 more students in further education and, for the first time, providing financial assistance to apprentices, with a Trade Support Loan of up to $20,000. This will assist them with everyday costs while they complete their apprenticeship.
At the moment, our higher education system means that the 60 per cent of adult Australians who will never hold a degree are paying for 60 per cent of the degree that others will receive. We are creating opportunity. For the first time, universities will be required to direct $1 of every $5 of additional revenue raised towards the Commonwealth scholarship fund, to support access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Fairness is the key to our higher education reforms.
We are also creating opportunities for jobs, working to build more jobs in a strong, prosperous economy. The coalition's actions, including the successful negotiations by the Prime Minister overseas, are in large measure about more jobs for Australians.
We cannot have more Australian jobs without stronger Australian businesses. Already it is encouraging to see that full-time employment has strengthened considerably over the first five months of 2014, up by 101,300. It is the largest increase in employment over this period since 2007.
Our Economic Action Strategy is focused on policy that grows jobs in Australia: cutting the company tax rate from 1 July 2015 to encourage investment in Australian businesses and help create jobs— (Time expired)
I rise to support this proposition on the failure of the Abbott government to deliver a budget that promotes fairness and opportunity. This budget does not support fairness and it does not support opportunity. Mr Hockey, the Treasurer, claimed in a speech last week to the Sydney Institute that we all want a society that protects the poor and strengthens the weak. His budget does exactly the opposite. It does not protect the poor or strengthen the weak—in fact, it builds in the very opposite.
The budget does not support their view that it is the responsibility of government to provide equality of opportunity with a fair and comprehensive support system for those who are most vulnerable. It certainly does not. Since when does dumping young people under the age of 30 onto no income support at all fit with anybody's sense of what is fair? He certainly has a perverse sense of fairness if he thinks that that is fair. How does he think these young people are going to eat, live, put a roof over their head, or turn out 40 job applications a month—or even turn up to the face-to-face meetings they are supposed to have once a month, when they have no money to eat, clothe themselves, catch a bus or own a phone? But it is okay! In estimates, the Department of Employment said, 'You might be able to just ring up.' Well, if you haven't got any money, how do you afford a phone? How do you afford even that phone call, let alone the stamps or the computer or the emails to make those 40 applications a month that you are supposed to be making? And if you miss your face-to-face meeting or do not meet your compliance requirements then, when you are on Newstart nil payment, you get another month of no income support. Since when is that fair? Since when is that providing opportunity? When I asked how a young person was to make even the co-payment of $7, for a start the department got it wrong and said, 'The first 10 are free,' which is wrong. They have got a limit of 10—but that is still 70 bucks. When you have not got any money, 70 bucks is beyond your reach. As I said this morning, the department and the government do not even know how many people under 30 live at home. That is not fair.
People on disability support pension are to be reassessed if they are under 35 and dumped onto Newstart—if they are lucky enough to maintain income support at all. Indexation on DSP is to be cut so that it is indexed to the CPI, which is what Newstart has been at. Newstart, we already know, makes you live in poverty and has not kept up with the true cost of living. Again, that is not fair. Single parents' indexation—cut; the pensioner education concession—cut. How is that fair? As to FTB, even the department's cameo example showed that a single parent would lose $2,000. So there are multiple cuts to single parents. How is that fair? How is that creating opportunity? This budget builds in inequality. Students face $5 billion in cuts. University fees can go up to $100,000, and who is going to be impacted by that significantly? The impact will be across the board but women are going to be the most heavily impacted by those cuts by charging fees. In America now we are seeing that for people who have had to take out these very expensive loans it is impacting on their ability to sustain a mortgage or to take on a mortgage. So we are building yet more barriers to young people's futures and to young people's opportunities, not to mention the fact that this government is not going ahead with NRAS and social and affordable housing. We know homelessness is getting worse.
The government knows that this budget is unfair because they have budgeted more for emergency relief funding, $229 million over four years. They do not know how it is going to be applied yet but they know that young people are not going to be able to live. So you build in emergency relief and they have to go to charities. But unfortunately our charities are already overcommitted. In Western Australia in 2012, where the latest figures are available, 20,000 requests for support had to be turned away. Some charities are now having to put in processes where you can only ask for support once every six months. How is this fair? How is this budget building opportunity? It simply is not. It is building an opportunity for the richest in this country, where we know that one per cent own more wealth than 60 per cent of the rest of the community. We know that we have inequality in this country already. What this government is doing with this budget is building in further inequality.
Let us look at pensioners. The government had this little trick in question time today to say, 'Oh, are they not going to get an increase?' This government knows very well that through cutting indexation they cut the rate of growth of the pension and it increases less quickly. ACOSS has estimated that that builds a cut of around $80-100 a week to pensioners. It is a fairly low rate. I acknowledge it is more than Newstart but it is still a low rate. Ask any pensioner who is trying to survive on the pension whether they are living in the lap of luxury. I can tell you they are not. That builds in barriers to opportunity. A third of the long-term people on Newstart are older Australians. They are facing barriers to employment. They are now going to be in a worse position because the government has not put in measures that significantly address the issues around age discrimination and older workers trying to find jobs. We need to see the plans for addressing that before they raise the age pension to 70.
They are building in measures that affect people across the board. An attack on universal health care is what the $7 co-payment is about, undermining universal health care, one of the fundamentals Australians believe to a fair, compassionate society. That is not fair, that is not compassionate and it certainly is taking away people's opportunity. And who is that co-payment going to affect the most: the most vulnerable in this country, the people with the least money who will not be able to afford to go to a doctor. When people ask will it put them off, yes, it will put them off. Believe me, most Australians think this is not fair. Certainly all the people that have been emailing and coming to our meetings are extremely distressed about this budget. They see what it means to people. They see how unfair it is. They absolutely cannot believe the government is expecting young people to live on no income. That builds in disadvantage. It entrenches poverty, and once you are in poverty it becomes yet another barrier to employment. When I asked the department how people could access even basic things when they are living on no income, would they be able to access the Employment Pathway funds to pay for their co-payment, they could not tell me. Would they be able to access it to buy clothes to be able to turn up to interviews? They could not tell me.
This is an ideologically driven budget where the government confects a welfare crisis, which, as I said this morning, the HILDA report quite clearly shows is nonsense. Less people are reliant on income support than were 10 years ago. That is a confected crisis. The budget emergency is a confected crisis and this is an ideological driven approach to those who are most vulnerable in this country. Far from being fair, as Joe Hockey claims, it is unfair. It will not improve inequality in this country, it will increase inequality. The government were so keen to bring in these cuts that they have not actually thought through what it means. They have not thought through what it means to cut a full-time Disability Commissioner—or maybe they did think that through, because for the people who are going to be affected by this budget, people with disabilities, one of the people they can turn to to make a complaint is the Disability Commissioner. We will cut that out, we will not have a full-time one of those. What is the greatest number of complaints the Human Rights Commission gets? You guessed it, disability. That is what they are up to. (Time expired)
I congratulate the senator who spoke before me. I will not speak with the same level of energy and passion, so I apologise in advance to the Senate. There is nothing fair about the budget that is being proposed. There is nothing fair about a series of measures that fundamentally affect working Australians, that fundamentally attack the social fabric of our society. To assess the unfairness of the budget proposals that have been presented, you have to look at some of these measures and start to appreciate just who these measures are going to target, just who these measures are going to hurt.
I think one of the most outrageous of the measures that have been proposed is the $7 increase for GP visits, compounded with a cut to hospital funding, particularly beyond the forward estimates. The biggest losers out of this budget are going to be working families, those who are struggling to make ends meet, those who have two or three kids. We all know, and especially those of us who have young kids know, that they all tend to get sick at the same time. The financial burden is going to be considerable.
Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30
As I was saying earlier, among the big losers in this budget are the sick and the needy. Before the dinner break, we were discussing the failure of the Abbott government to deliver a budget that promotes fairness and opportunity. I was speaking in particular about the impact of the $7 increase for GP visits. The fact is that we are not all as healthy as Senator Williams, who is sitting here today, who I note was born on 16 January 1955. We are not all fit and healthy 59-year-olds! There are a lot of people who go to the doctor repeatedly. They have young children, many of whom get sick at the same time. This just places another financial burden on them.
University students will be losers in this budget, which simply is not fair. University fees will be higher because of deregulation and because of the 30 per cent increase in university fees. Senator Williams might remember a time long ago, when he was going through university, when access to university was provided free by the government. That came after a period where it was provided under a scholarship. Frankly, we have moved too far away from that.
The losers in this unfair budget will be those across the world, who do not really have the voice that we have in this chamber, with a proposed cut of $7.9 billion in the foreign aid budget over five years. There is no fairness and no opportunity in a budget where 16,500 Public Service personnel look like they are going to be losing their jobs. Where is the fairness and opportunity when you cut family tax benefit B, when you raise the pension age from 67 to 70 and when you cut concessions? Young unemployed people under the age of 30 will face a six-month wait for a reduced dole. All Australian motorists, every time they get into a car—or, in Senator Williams's case, a tractor—will have to pay an extra fuel levy. Where is the fairness in a $500 million cut to Indigenous programs over five years? Nearly $1 billion is going to be cut from local councils and local government grants and the support that will be provided over the next four years. And what I am really concerned about is that, while there appears to be a cut of only $43.5 million to the ABC and the SBS, the government have made it very clear in the language that they have used that they see this as only a down payment. What worries me is that, in that space, there will be more cuts to come.
There are some measures which I think are a good thing: the pay freeze for politicians and senior public servants and the axing of the gold travel pass are things that should have been looked at as part of this budget. But there are big losers in this budget. There has been a failure to provide any opportunity, equity or fairness. What do we have here in this budget? A debt levy of two per cent has been stipulated for those earning over $180,000. That is really just a fig leaf to cover the horrible cuts that this budget will inflict on low- and middle-income earners. We have heard speaker after speaker in this chamber, today and on other days, talk about all the great things in the budget and who the real winners are going to be. Let's have a look at who the proposed winners in this budget are. The government likes to talk about the $20 billion medical research future fund. But let's be clear how that is being paid for: it is being paid for by middle-income Australians having to pay a levy every time they see a doctor. It is a win for big pharma, a win for the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. At this stage, what is so concerning is that there are still no details and there is still no actual plan; all we have is a couple of words—
There is no plan! They talk about the 1½ per cent company tax cut and the fact that there is no parental leave levy for small to medium businesses. But let's have a look at what that really means: all they are doing is trying to take credit for not harming one sector of the community. The government talks about infrastructure spending of $11 billion. But most of that funding had already been committed by the previous government, and none of it has been directed towards public transport. We hear about austerity, about how tough things are and about all the cuts that need to be made. Yet they can still find $245 million over the next five years for a school chaplaincy program and they can still find money for a paid parental leave scheme which is too generous, unnecessary and will give millionaires a payment of $50,000. I am glad Senator Williams is here with us today, because I know how important this measure has been to him. I appreciate the support he has given those on this side of the chamber with his strong, vibrant, energetic and vocal opposition to the paid parental leave scheme. I just want to stress to the senator on the other side that there is certainly a place sitting beside or behind me if he ever wants to come and join us when we vote on this measure in the coming weeks. I look forward to holding his hand when we vote together on that measure.
Look at this budget. We talk about austerity, we talk about toughness and we talk about the fact that we have to inflict pain, yet the pain is not being evenly felt. Those on lower incomes, those in middle Australia, those who are sick, those who are young and those who depend on government support are being disproportionately damaged by what is being proposed in this budget. Frankly, a lot of us and a lot of people in Australia are fed up and angry. They are angry about this. You only have to walk down the street or talk to an Australian family to hear how worried they are about the budget. I urge those on the other side of the chamber and those in the National Party—and my good friend Senator Williams, in particular—to make sure that your voice and the opposition that I know you hold to this budget is heard loudly and proudly in the coming weeks. By banding together, standing up and fighting this budget, we can make sure there is a more equitable outcome for all Australians.
What a pleasure it is to follow Senator Dastyari! We talk about the medical research fund we want to build, and this is really concerning: on 28 July, Senator Dastyari will turn 31, and he has already forgotten about the financial mess the Labor Party made in this place. We might be able to find a cure for early amnesia. We might be able to do something so that a young fellow like Senator Dastyari does not lose his memory completely.
Last time I spoke in this place about the budget was the day of the budget—you might remember it, Senator Dastyari—and I mentioned how you were just six years old in 1989, the last time the Labor Party in Canberra in government delivered a budget surplus. I have to tell you more, Senator Dastyari. Let us go back to when you were six years old, perhaps nearly seven, when the Labor Party sent the state of Victoria broke. You would not remember it, but I am sure people around you would. But they did not stop there; they actually sent Western Australia broke as well.
Then to continue their dominoes falling, they sent South Australia broke as well, Senator Farrell, didn't they? You would remember it. Premier John Bannon was the name—he was probably one of your mentors into this place—when they sent South Australia broke. But it gets worse. Then they sent Tasmania broke. I talked about that budget surplus of 1989 from the then Treasurer, Mr Keating—
What a waste of taxpayers' money that sort of interjection and point of order is. It is crazy. I will get back to the point. I love it when the Labor Party brings up the issue of the budget—you lead with your chin every time. Look at your history. This is a free kick in front of goal, just like the Sydney Swans when they defeated Port Adelaide on the weekend. It was a great result.
We went through Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Then Mr Keating started the borrowing here, and in no time he had built up $96 billion of debt. Senator Dastyari is concerned about the budget, but it is as simple as this: you take a little bit of pain now or enormous torture later on. That is the fact of it. You talked about money and how we could be using money here, there and everywhere. Senator Dastyari, you probably have not been here long enough to remember the pink batts fiasco. What a terrible waste of money, and it had very serious issues—a couple of hundred houses burned down and, sadly, four men lost their lives. That was the sad part about it all.
Then there were the school buildings. What a great campaign: $16.5 billion worth. I thought the best thing—and Senator Nash would remember this—was when we launched the National Party election campaign in 2010 down at Wagga Wagga. We were there that day, and they had built this big covered outdoor learning area—and guess what? The day we launched the Nationals campaign, it fell over. It crashed to the ground. What a great investment of taxpayers' money that was—sorry, it was not taxpayers' money; it was money you borrowed. You borrowed so much money that, as of last Friday, the Australian taxpayers owe, on the whole, $328.5 billion. And you are wondering why we stopped this mess.
As I said, it is a matter of a bit of pain now or severe torture later on if we do not address the budget problems that we inherited from the mess you made, and that is how it has been all of my life. Half of Australian households receive a taxpayer funded payment. Over 70 per cent of Australians over 65 receive the age or service pension. This year, the Australian government will spend over $6,000 on average on welfare—Senator Dastyari, you need to listen to this; this is really important—for every man, woman and child in the country. Can this go on? No, it cannot go on. You cannot just keep borrowing money and spending it.
You talked about health. I want to say that there are some great points that my colleague Senator Nash—the Assistant Minister for Health—has brought forward. We have provided $238.4 million over five years to double the Practice Incentives Program teaching payments for general practices which provide teaching opportunities to medical students. We have provided $52.5 million over three years for a minimum of 175 grants for existing general practices in rural and regional settings to provide additional space for supervision, teaching and training of medical students and general-practice registered nurses. Now, I said rural and regional. I am sure that Senator Dastyari does not understand what 'rural and regional' means, because he is one of those senators who probably gets out to the limits of Sydney and, if he is not watching the GPS, will not know where he is going and will be afraid of getting lost. He would never have been out there.
You talked about the fuel excise indexation. We need our roads fixed. You said, 'The farmers are going to have to pay extra for the diesel in their tractors.' Senator Nash, what a joke! Senator Dastyari, you do not realise that all the excise is rebated to the farmers—and the fishermen and the miners—because farmers are not wearing the roads out when they are ploughing the paddocks. You might not be aware of that. You see, the tractors do not go around the roads all the time. They actually are on the other side of the fence, ploughing the paddocks. They are not on the road. You have got to learn this, Senator Dastyari: when a farmer is ploughing a paddock, they are not wearing out the roads—but they are competing against subsidised farmers all around the world. In Europe last year, there were $65 billion of subsidies to their farmers. In America, there were $25 billion of subsidies to their farmers. And, in China, there were a massive $127 billion of subsidies to their farmers. You need to understand that the diesel fuel rebate is so important so that our farmers can compete. If you can ever get past your GPS and get out into the rural areas a bit, I will gladly show you around the electorate of New South Wales one day. Come out, and we will show you how farming operates. We can show you the difference between a tractor and a header—
and a sheep and a cow. You will learn a lot in quick time.
Let me continue. There is $13.4 million over three years to support 500 additional scholarships targeted to areas of workforce shortage and to support students and health professionals from rural and remote areas to access education and further training. This is what Senator Nash is doing—improving the medical services for people out in the rural and regional areas. Some on the other side would not understand, because they can probably walk into a GP any day of the week. They probably do not have to line up. But where we live, in many of those country towns out there, you have to book one week, two weeks, sometimes three weeks ahead to get into a GP. It could be up to three months to get into a dentist. But you would not understand this because you just focus on the cities. You do not understand the regional areas, where the nation's wealth is created, where the food is growing, where the exports are produced. You need to learn that there is more to Australia than just the capital cities. If you did that, you would probably hold more than—what is it?—two or three rural and regional seats in the nation.
No, no. The people out in rural Australia have not forgotten your carbon tax, your cost of living, your debt building, your waste of money and the way you left this country in such a financial mess. Senator Dastyari, the people in rural and regional Australia do not suffer the amnesia that you do. Thankfully, they have not forgotten everything.
Let me continue. There will be an additional $6 million to current funding of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Do you know what the Royal Flying Doctor Service is? Have you ever heard of it? For essential services in rural and remote Australia, the Australian government will also support training for up to 300 extra GPs a year, by boosting GP training places from 1,200 to 1,500 in 2015, based in rural areas as far as possible—and at least 50 per cent of the new trainees will be required to be in rural and remote areas. This is what we are doing in this budget to help people in rural and regional areas. My colleague Senator Nash has control of it. She is the one who is delivering better health services out of this budget—because those people you have forgotten about we do not forget about. We realise that they are the heart of the nation. In addition, substantial Australian government assistance is provided through general health programs and assistance to the states and territories, through various programs with a significant amount directed to people living in regional Australia. In 2014-15, over 160,000 patient contacts will be supported under the Rural Health Outreach Fund. You have probably never heard of that, but 160,000 patient contacts— (Time expired)
Senator Williams started his contribution in this matter of public importance discussion by talking about amnesia. I am going to remind Senator Williams that the National Party, the Liberal Party and, as a group, this government obviously have amnesia, because they promised no cuts to health, no cuts to education and that they would not touch the pension, would not cut the ABC and would not cut SBS. I know Senator Williams is a bit conflicted here because he does not support the government's PPL. Unfortunately he was not able to touch on it in his short contribution here today. As he wanders out, can I say to him: the Labor Party are very concerned about the rural and regional areas of Australia. He talked about scholarships. Let us have a look what is happening with scholarships in terms of nursing and allied health in Tasmania. The government have ripped out the Tasmanian scholarship scheme just like that. Whether they had any discussions with the Tasmanian government, I would not know, because Will Hodgman, unfortunately, the Premier of Tasmania, has made no comments about standing up for Tasmania.
What we are talking about here today is fairness—the fairness of this budget and fairness of opportunity. As I have gone around and talked to people and gone to forums, I have not seen one federal Liberal member. They are all in hiding in Tasmania—not out there supporting their budget, not out there spruiking how wonderful it is, but hiding. There is a reason for that. It is that this budget is manifestly unfair. It hits the lowest 20 per cent of income earners in this country with a five per cent reduction in income and, in contrast, the highest 20 per cent of income earners have their income reduced by 0.3 per cent. It is manifestly unfair. What we have heard as we have gone around and talked to people is that they voted for this government on the word of the now Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott. He said he would not touch the pension—no changes to the pension. And we had Senator Fifield come in here today and say that pensions were going up—a complete and utter furphy in terms of what they are really doing.
We know, and the budget papers tell us, how much they are saving—nearly half a billion dollars—from pensions. If the pensions are not going to go down in real terms then how are they making those savings? They came in here in a flurry to tell us that the pensioners will not be affected and that pensions will go up—but there is a half-a-billion-dollar saving. We are talking about people, full aged pensioners, living on $20,000 per annum. It is manifestly unfair that they have to carry the burden of these budget cuts—not only that but carry the burden of the complete and utter lies that were told during the campaign as well.
I went to a forum in Launceston, which is a city in Mr Nikolic's electorate of Bass. At that meeting there was a woman who identified herself as having voted for the Liberal Party.
Absolutely, Senator Farrell, she absolutely regrets it now. On the basis that Mr Abbott said that he would not change pensions, not touch the pension, she had believed him. And she should be able to believe the leaders of the parties. Not only did Mr Abbott lie to the electorate— (Time expired)
Listening to the contributions of those who went before me tonight, I would like to establish one fact. When you refer to a savings in forward estimate projections on budgets, you do not actually have to cut something to get a saving. You do not actually have to take money away or reduce something to get a saving. What you actually do when you are changing budgets into the future for savings is just reduce the amount by which it is to be increased. I draw this to your attention on the back of a budget that, unfortunately, those in the coalition believed we had to have. One of the things we have heard so much about with this budget has been the fact that the debt to GDP ratio is not that bad when compared to the rest of the First World.
I will take Senator Farrell's interjection. I agree that the level of debt is probably not the most massively important factor in this debate. The most important factor in this debate is the rate by which the debt is increasing over the forward estimates. The rate of increase projected by the budget handed down by the previous government suggested that the rate of increase in our debt was going to be higher than any other country in the OECD. I put on the record that it is actually the rate of increase in this debt that was totally unsustainable.
I draw the chamber's attention to the situation in Greece. In 1985, Greece's debt to GDP ratio was 50 per cent. In Australia, many will tell us that the debt to GDP ratio of this country is only 13 per cent or 14 per cent but we fail to add to that the debt that is currently carried by our states, which takes it up to 25 per cent. Okay, we will agree that that may well be the case. But if we continue to increase our debt at a rate that is greater than we are able to service the debt then we all end up in a terrible place. I am sure those listening would understand that if you went to the bank and asked the bank if they would continually fund the interest-rate that you are required to pay on your loan, very shortly the bank would turn around and say, 'We are terribly sorry but we are not prepared to finance your interest. You have to at least finance that yourself. We may not expect you to keep paying the debt back but you need to at least pay back your interest.'
I put on the record that we need to compare apples with apples. It is the same with the misinformation that we have cut education and cut spending in health. The cold hard reality is that spending on health and spending on education will continue to increase over the forward estimates. Those opposite will complain and carry on and say that we are cutting spending but the simple fact is we are just not increasing spending at the same unsustainable rate that they were increasing spending.
I also noticed that the previous speaker talked about fairness. Do you know what is fair? What is really fair is our obligation as senators and as members of the House of Representatives to make sure that this country is in a sustainable, solid and strong state for our children and for their children. To keep increasing debt at an accelerated rate over the forward estimates is not, I believe, a fair way to be addressing our budget. To address the budget, everybody in Australia is asked to play their small part in trying to make sure that we bring our budget back into some sort of sensible space so that we can put our country on an economic trajectory that allows our children and their children to have a future. I think that is a very fair budget indeed. As I said, everybody is doing their bit and everybody is asked to do a little bit. Nobody is being asked to do a major amount but I do not think anybody has been left without being asked to do something. I would say to those opposite that we need to be honest about what this budget is about and about what is contained in it. And we need to tell the public the truth: it is a fair budget and it is a budget that every Australian should be proud of.