Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Matters of Public Importance


4:14 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

A letter has been received 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 Abbott Government's unfair budget based on broken promises and twisted priorities.'

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.

4:15 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian people are looking at the government they elected just last September and are suffering the largest collective buyers' remorse this country has ever seen. Australians are opposed to this unfair and unjust budget. It is not what they were promised, and they are angry. Australians believe in a fair go. They believe in not kicking people when they are down, but this is precisely what this budget does. It is completely and utterly un-Australian. The people of this country are thankful that the Senate is here to prevent some of the most cruel and heartless cuts, because they did not vote for those broken promises, they did not vote for those attacks on the most vulnerable in our community and they did not vote for the destruction of the principle of universal health care. They did not vote for higher university fees, to leave young jobless people destitute, to cut pensions, to slash jobs at the ABC and CSIRO, to cut superannuation for low-income earners and to promote hate speech. The people are vehemently unhappy that the coalition lied its way into government and it is serving the narrow self-interest of its friends rather than concentrating on what is best for the Australian people.

The Prime Minister and those opposite should be utterly ashamed. All of us in this place remember Mr Abbott's promise live on SBS before the election that there would be 'No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions, no changes to GST, no cuts to the ABC or SBS under any government I lead.' The words are pretty clear and unambiguous but they are now seen to be hollow and worthless. The cuts to health are remarkable in not only their scope but also their lack of foresight. The Parliamentary Budget Office has confirmed the Abbott government is ripping another $23.3 billion out of health over the next decade with its GP tax, cuts to Medicare rebates and hikes in medicine prices. This is on top of the more than $50 billion the Abbott government has already ripped out of public hospitals, taking its total health cuts over the next decade to around $75 billion.

Unfortunately Mr Abbott's $7 GP tax is going to affect people in my home state of Tasmania the most. The President of the AMA recently said in answers to my questioning during a Senate inquiry:

We know that Tasmania has a higher burden of chronic disease, has higher smoking rates, and we need to do more to encourage preventative health care and chronic disease management. And that’s why I think the co-payment will affect Tasmanians more than it affects people in other jurisdictions.

These changes will lead to poorer health outcomes and increased waiting lists and time spent in emergency departments, and they will ultimately cost the hospital system significantly more money. This is not what the Tasmanian people were promised. Mr Hutchinson, the member for Lyons in the other place, did not tell Tasmanians before the election that $1.1 billion would be ripped out of the state's hospitals over the next decade. Mr Hutchinson did not tell Tasmanians that $9.9 million would be ripped away from training nursing and allied health students in Tasmania. It is disappointing that Mr Hutchinson, Mr Nikolic, Mr Whiteley and the Tasmanian Liberal senators in this place have failed to stand up for health services in their state. Unfortunately the only public statement of note Mr Whiteley has made lately is his suggestion that Tasmanians should sell the Hydro—a beloved Tasmanian government asset that gave Tasmanians a dividend of almost $200 million last year.

Australian parents, particularly in Tasmania. are extremely disappointed with this Abbott government. Despite promising a unity ticket with Labor on school funding before the election, Tony Abbott's budget failed to fund the vital fifth and sixth years of the Gonski reforms. Tasmanian schools will lose $682 million, the biggest ever funding cut to education in Tasmania. Every school will suffer and be dragged backwards at a time when parents, teachers and students were promised improvements. These savage cuts will leave the average school $3.2 million worse off, and rob every student of $1,000 in individual support per year. This will particularly hurt small rural schools, particularly in the electorate of Lyons. They have also repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to axe the schoolkids bonus, which would further hurt around 33,000 families in Tasmania with more than 57,000 school-aged children.

The Abbott government have also broken their promise on the ABC, because they have cut $35 million over four years from the ABC over the forward estimates as well as axing the Australia Network. In addition, they have cut $8 million over four years from SBS. Members of the coalition are calling for the ABC to be sold. I am sure that is because having public broadcasters that act independently and truthfully does not suit the interests of the coalition. Or are they seen as a threat to the media moguls that supported Mr Abbott getting into government?

Mr Abbott repeatedly promised the Australian people that a coalition government would not increase taxes. However, they have already passed tax increases—sorry, 'temporary budget repair levies'—and now they want to increase the fuel tax, a regressive tax measure that will once again hurt those that are least well-off in our society.

What is even worse than their cruel and unfair budget is the disastrous way that they are trying to sell it—not only to the Australian people but also to this place. The claim by the Treasurer, Mr Hockey, a couple of weeks ago that the 'poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far' just goes to show how out-of-touch this government is. People on low incomes are highly dependent on their cars. Their vehicles are often aging, and need more maintenance, but they are vital for people on low incomes to get to their jobs, do their shopping and go to the doctor. Statistics show that on average those on lower incomes need to travel further by private vehicle to get to their jobs, both in the city and particularly in regional Australia, which has poorer public transport and lower incomes. In rural and regional Tasmania there is often no bus service at all. Even in the urban centres of Tasmania, there are limited services at night and on weekends and public holidays. Maybe coalition senators, particularly the Nationals, need to explain to the elitist Sydney North Shore Treasurer what life in regional Australia is like—or even where regional Australia is. The coalition have arrogantly tried to force this budget through this place. Having failed with that strategy, they sent Mr Hockey on a trip through the country to gain the support of crossbenchers. We all know what limited success he had. Just this weekend, Senator Cormann threatened the Australian people with more tax hikes as 'the only alternative to balance the books'.

We all know that the coalition's priorities are absolutely twisted. Nowhere—absolutely nowhere—did this government say before the election that they would cut Newstart for six months for people under 30. At a time when there are five job applicants for every vacancy, not only do they want to shift the blame onto the unemployed for not having a job, but they want them to starve, lose their home and not actually have the physical means to apply for jobs or to enter training. While they are consigning a generation of Australia's youth to poverty, they want to give millionaires on large incomes $50,000 to have children. You really have to wonder whether they even understand how the real world works. What are tens or hundreds of thousands of young people meant to do when they cannot afford to pay their rent or buy their food? I ask those on the other side whether they thought about this at all. Not everyone has the luxury of moving back in with their parents on Sydney's North Shore or Melbourne's inner east, or of using their mates to get jobs for their children.

This government is out of touch and out of control. They keep attacking those on low incomes while providing increased support to those on high incomes. This budget disproportionately affects those on lower incomes. The combined effect of this budget is that an average low-income family loses $844 per year in disposable income, while middle-income earners forgo $492 and a high-income family is down by $517. Not only are lower income families paying more in absolute terms; it represents an extremely significant loss of disposable income, which will drive families to the wall. This government is a train wreck. It is completely out of control.

4:24 pm

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me keep this simple: in 2007, when the Labor Party, under Kevin Rudd, won the election, they inherited the best fiscal position in the history of this nation. In 2007, when Labor won the election, they inherited the best fiscal position in our entire federal history. Just six years later, the coalition government, elected in September last year, inherited the worst ever fiscal position of an incoming government in the history of this nation. We left Labor with the best fiscal legacy, and they returned the favour by leaving us the worst. That is a fact. That is the background; let us just keep it simple.

I heard a lot of debate during the winter recess about whether there is a budget emergency. The Labor Party and the Greens say that there is not a budget emergency. It is true that there are many nations in the developed world with far greater GDP-to-debt ratios. The emergency is the trajectory. It is not the great problem today, tomorrow or even next week; that is not the emergency. The bleeding has started but does not become terminal for another decade or so. The trajectory is the emergency. The debt trap is what will kill our children's futures.

We know from Treasury figures that there was a $180 billion deficit when the coalition came to government. If you just take the current forecast expenditure over the next 10 years, that will rise to $667 billion. That is $667 thousand million if we do nothing—if we do not add anything and we simply pay the bills and accept the structural deficit as it now is. The Labor Party claim that they assisted in getting Australia through the global financial crisis, but their great failing is not that; it is to leave this country with shocking structural debt.

What will a deficit of $667 billion in 10 years time mean? Well, at the moment we are paying about $1 billion a month in interest and we are borrowing the interest payments. In 10 years time, the interest payments will be $3 billion a month—that is, $36 billion a year. That is at current forecasts with no further expenditures. That is the legacy that this lot left us. They created the problem and we are trying to fix it up. Within a decade, every Australian man, woman and child will owe $25,000. I am not making this up; these are Treasury forecasts. This is the debt trap left by the Labor Party. Within 10 years, we will be shackled, swallowed up and strangled by structural debt.

For the Labor Party, the issue is: do they still believe in balancing budgets? I do not know. Mr Swan used to talk about balancing the budgets. He never did balance the budget, but he said he believed in it. When is the last time, Acting Deputy President, you heard the Labor Party, Mr Shorten or Mr Bowen come out unequivocally saying that they believe in balanced budgets? Do they have the rectitude and fiscal discipline to bring back a budget surplus ever again? They have not for the last 25 years. We do not even know anymore if the Labor Party believe in balancing the budget. If they do not, that means an enormous change in Australian political culture—because up until recently we always have. In short, what it will mean is this: that the Labor Party is no longer prepared—if they do not believe in balancing budgets—to make tough decisions today so our children do not wear the cost tomorrow. It will mean that our children and our grandchildren, most of whom cannot vote, will be paying for our current consumption—for our health, our education and our welfare. I will make you a bet that we will not hear the Australian Labor Party make an unequivocal commitment to balancing budgets. They will always be equivocal. Any commitment they make will be fractured—because they cannot make that sort of commitment. They have not done it for 25 years and they do not have the fiscal discipline to do it.

I notice the MPI uses the word 'unfair'. The Labor Party likes to talk about social justice. Is it just to ask future generations—our children and our grandchildren, many of whom cannot vote and many of whom are yet to be born—to pay for our health, education and welfare? We on this side say that is outrageous. If we have to cut back on health, education and welfare, so be it. It is just so diabolically wrong to ask our children to pay. Sure, it is an economic disaster—but it is also morally corrupt. It is morally corrupt to ask our children to pay for our lifestyle. It is so wrong, yet the Labor Party cannot make an unequivocal commitment to balance the budget. It is pathetic.

At least Senator Xenophon today had some ideas about how he thinks we should balance the budget. I do not agree with him, but at least Senator Xenophon has put forward some proposals. The Labor Party and the Greens have come up with nothing. You would think that, given the fact that Labor created the problem, they would try to come up with a solution. Given that they created the problem—the huge projected debt, the $667 billion of projected debt within 10 years—you would think that they would come up with an answer or a solution. Have they done that? No, they just whinge all the time and say it is terrible.

If we do not act, this nation will—not tomorrow, not the next day, not even a year from now and not necessarily even five years from now—go into inevitable decline. That is what will happen to this country. It will become another western European economy: high debt and big government, with everyone running to government for solutions. In those countries, every ratbag in town, every rent seeker, goes to government seeking handouts. Is that the sort of country we want?

Our country, our parliament—and this is the emergency—has to make the decision within the next 10 years. After that, it will be too late. I hear Mr Shorten say, 'We are going to go for growth.' That is the old social democratic get-out-of-jail-free card—hoping to hell the economy grows fast enough to fund more expenditure. If it does not, what do you have? You have western Europe, where their GNP from January, February and March of each year goes towards paying the interest bill on their debt. That is what this lot have set in train.

I am not suggesting this is going to happen tomorrow. I have never said that. But this is the great economic and, even more so, moral challenge that confronts this nation in this parliament. All I can do—I can stand here and debate all day and all night; I can debate for the whole year or for the next 10 years—is simply ask if the Labor Party is still committed to equity, fairness and social justice? If they do not want to force our kids to pay for our debt, why do they not come up with some solutions? We will not hear anything constructive from them today and we will not even hear a commitment to balance budgets in the future. That is the great failure of social democracy here in Australia and in Europe.

4:34 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I strongly agree with the words in this MPI—the government's budget is unfair and it is based on broken promises. 'No, we are not going to have an impact on people with disability.' 'No, we will not reduce pensions.' 'No, we will not make all sorts of cuts to Medicare.' Who was Medicare's best friend? That is right. That was our Prime Minister, back when he was the Leader of the Opposition. He was supposed to be Medicare's best friend. What a load of nonsense!

This budget is unfair. It is based on broken promises and twisted priorities. The priorities are so twisted that they are picking on the most disadvantaged in our community—and they are not doing that unknowingly; they are doing it on purpose. They got the figures that showed that the greatest impact of this budget would be on those who can least afford it. Even if we had not seen those figures, we would know that. You only have to read through the budget and then sit through day after day of Senate committee hearings into these measures to know that they are unfair and that the priorities are twisted.

What sort of government picks on the most vulnerable in its community? An unfair government that has twisted priorities. Why pick on the most vulnerable? Why bring in measures that you know will hurt the most disadvantaged? That is exactly what they are doing. Last week I sat through a day and a half of inquiries into the government's two social security bills. Those two bills bring in over 20 measures that unfairly pick on the most disadvantaged. When you look at that, you have to ask: is the government so bad at policy that they could not work this out? Are there such bad policymakers? Did they not do Politics 101 and look at the impacts of their measures? Or did they know that they were picking on the most disadvantaged? It is probably a combination of both, to be fair, because it is bad policy.

We know now that they know the figures. They know they are picking on the most disadvantaged. It is bad policy because it is going to have the most significant consequences for, and perverse outcomes on, these people—young unemployed people under the age of 30. As somebody said in the inquiry last week, it is 'infantising' 30-year-olds. They are not youth anymore, yet this is the way the government is treating them. The government is perhaps assuming that they will be living at home with mum and dad—but many of them have probably left home and many of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dropping them onto no income support is actually going to make them even more disadvantaged. They are going to lose their rent assistance. So here you have young people who have been struggling to get their life back on track and they are on income support. Some of the people we are talking about have managed to get their life back on track, find accommodation and get rent assistance; but, as soon as they lose income support, they are going to lose that rent assistance. This will dump them into homelessness again, providing another barrier to their employment. This is just one of the measures that the social security bills attack.

Then there is the indexation of pensions for people with a disability, those on the age pension and single parents—because we need to have yet another go at single parents. Twisted priorities, yes! We have already seen single parents dumped onto Newstart by the Howard government and then by the Gillard government. We have seen the pensioner's education supplement taken away and then fortunately given back. But it is going to be taken away again. The pensioner education supplement is also going to be taken away from people with disabilities. These are the people who the government seems to think do not want to work. There are 17,000 people accessing that payment to improve their qualifications so that they can find work—the very thing this government says is one of its priorities. The broken promise that is the lowering of indexation of pensions will have an $80-a-week impact on a pensioner. You go for the most disadvantaged. (Time expired)

4:39 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

I too would like to make a contribution in the matter of public importance that we are debating here today on the Abbott government's unfair budget based on broken promises and twisted priorities. In Senator Mason's contribution to this debate, he talked about keeping it simple. He said, 'Let's keep it simple.' Well, I will remind Senator Mason and those senators who are here listening to this debate of what the Prime Minister said during the federal election campaign. He said:

I want to be known as a Prime Minister who keeps commitments.

…   …   …

I will do what I say we will do.

It is pretty simple. It is very, very simple. Many people, many electors, out in the community took Mr Abbott at his word when he said: 'No cuts to pensions, no cuts to education and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.' They took him at his word when he said that he wanted to be a Prime Minister who keeps his commitments. On budget night they found out that he was not that Prime Minister who kept his promises. He was not that Prime Minister who kept his commitments. What we saw on budget night was a budget full of broken promises, a budget full of twisted priorities. And who was the budget aimed at? It was aimed at, as Senator Siewert said in her contribution, those easy targets—those least able to afford it or defend themselves, those already struggling to make ends meet. They are who this government has targeted.

In his contribution, Senator Mason also talked about people seeking handouts. Let us have a look at who Senator Mason is actually referring to when he talks about people seeking handouts. When he talks about the cuts to the age pension, he is talking about pensioners seeking handouts. This is what has happened in the Abbott budget. This is their very first budget and it is a complete and utter breach of faith with the community. To those who voted for this government, it is a breach of faith. The community have woken up to it. They do not like this budget. They do not want this budget. They want this government to do as they said they would do, and that is to keep their commitments. It is what the Labor Party intend to do. We intend to keep this government to account and to highlight day after day the promises they made.

Let us have a look at the cuts to the age pension. We have just had a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office, and its projections of government spending over the medium term confirm massive cuts through the budget. It has confirmed the true extent of the Abbott government's massive cuts to the age pension, family payments, disability support pension and carers pension. The Parliamentary Budget Office report shows that the cuts include $23 billion to the age pension, $40 billion to family payments, $8 billion to the disability support pension and a $3 billion hit to the carers support pension. When we talk about the pension indexation system and the changes that this government wants to make to it, we know that a single pensioner on a maximum rate—and let us understand what that actually means; it means around $20,000 a year—would be around $1,500 a year worse off than they are today. That is a massive amount of money for a pensioner. And it is not just the indexation; it is all the other bits and pieces that this government are proposing not only through their budget but also through other pieces of legislation, where they are tightening up measures and seeking to exclude people from accessing more payment and more support and making it even harder.

This is just one measure that I am talking about here today. There are so many measures in this budget that are so unfair. That is why the community have not accepted what this government wants to do—because it is unfair and because it is a massive breach of faith by this government with the people of Australia. It is a breach of faith with the Tasmanian people, the people I represent. They too took Mr Abbott at his word when he said that there would be no cuts to education, health and pensions. They took him at his word. They believed him. They no longer do. The government have a real problem, and it is not just the budget—it is also one of credibility, and they brought it on themselves. They had been in government for no longer than a few months when they set about breaking some of the most fundamental promises that they made to the community. Then they come in here and say, 'We did this because we have to fix a budget problem.' They have changed their rhetoric on that time and time again. One week it is a crisis and another it is, 'We're managing it.'

They chose the easiest targets in the community. They did not do the hard work. They did not do the heavy-lifting. They just said, 'There's a group of people who are easy targets. We'll make these changes and we'll get this through. We can't be bothered to actually do what we are here to do'—and that is to keep their commitments and do what the Prime Minister said that he would do. He wants to be the Prime Minister who keeps commitments, who will do what he says he will do. Well, he is not and he has not—and it is about time that he stood up and accepted that this budget is harsh and unfair. (Time expired)

4:47 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In 2007 when the Labor Party came to office they inherited the best set of books that any incoming government has ever inherited in Australia's history. That is a fact. When the Labor Party left office and the coalition came to office in 2013, we inherited the worst set of books for an incoming government in Australia's history. That is the legacy and the fundamental difference that we are dealing with here.

We had a coalition government that delivered surpluses, that delivered tax reform, that left money in the bank and that paid off all the debt—and in six short years the Labor Party managed to undo all of that good work and in fact make it far worse than even when the coalition came to government in 1996. That is what we are dealing with in this budget. That is the legacy that we are seeking to address. The vandals on the other side in the Labor Party, who were so reckless with our finances, do not see the fact that they created the problem in the last six years and now, as we seek to fix the mess that they left us and the legacy that they left the Australian people, they are doing everything that they can to prevent us fixing the mess. They are doing everything they possibly can to stop us.

The fundamental debate that we are having between the government and opposition at the moment is: 'Do you believe in fiscal responsibility? Do you believe in getting the books under control and getting the budget under control for the sake of future generations?' That is the question that is before the Australian parliament at the moment as we debate all of these various measures: 'Do you believe in that or do you believe that endless deficits are okay?' The evidence from Europe is that when you allow endless deficits to happen—it does not happen immediately but when you allow them year after year after year—something has to give. The medicine that we have seen in Europe is something that we do not want to go anywhere near. That is what we need to avoid.

Senator Bilyk started by talking about buyer's remorse and the like. There is an interesting thing about some of the polling that we have seen in today's Newspoll. As the coalition deals with a tough budget that is, of course, difficult—and there are some people who are concerned with us. But notwithstanding the tough budget and the difficult changes that the coalition is seeking to make, the Labor Party are stranded—it appears, from today's Newspoll—exactly where they were at the last election when they had one of the biggest losses in their history. Their primary vote remains almost identical to where it was at that time.

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Senator Dastyari seems happy with a 34 per cent primary. The fact is that the Labor Party have not learnt that one of the main reasons they were tossed out of office was that they were economic vandals.

Senator Dastyari interjecting

You were not there but your party were economic vandals, Senator Dastyari—and that is what you have left us.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Seselja, please direct your comments through the chair. Senator Dastyari, interjections are disorderly.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is why Graham Richardson has been giving advice to his own party and has said:

I haven’t met anyone outside of the parliamentary Labor Party who believes that Labor was spot on with its last four budgets.

He went on to say:

Every minute of the day Australians are discussing the size of our debt and the problems we will bequeath our children unless we live within our means.

That is a fact. Unless we live within our means, we will be bequeathing our children something that we do not want to bequeath them—more debt, more deficit, higher taxes, fewer services and some serious issues should we face the next crisis. The next crisis will come. The next global economic challenge will come. Will it come next year? Will it come in five years time? Will it come in 10 years time? Nobody knows. We know that when we balance the books and look after the budget as we should, we are much better placed to deal with the challenges that will inevitably face our nation. This is a moral issue as to what legacy we leave our children and grandchildren. You cannot put your head in the sand and say, 'No, no, 16 years of consecutive deficits is okay.' It is not okay. As we have heard from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, 'It is time to start coming out of debt and deficit, otherwise the longer you leave it the more exposed you become and the harder it is to wind it back.' Have we not seen that from around the world, when governments lose control of their finances? Have we not seen how hard it is to wind it back when you do not do the work now?

We have heard recently the comments of Glenn Stevens that this is not a severe budget. This is not a severe budget; it is getting spending under control gradually. Surely as a nation that is what we should be looking to do. We do not see massive cuts in expenditure. In fact we see continued growth in expenditure, but we see a slowing in that growth. Surely that is a sensible way to go rather than the recklessness advocated by those on the other side.

The Labor Party were reckless when they were in government and now they are being reckless in opposition. They are fundamentally saying to the Australian people that fiscal discipline and balanced budgets no longer matter. They have absolutely no alternative plan to bring the budget back into surplus. We have set out a plan to limit spending growth and invest in infrastructure. The Labor Party's plan, apparently, is to see spending growth continue to rise unsustainably, and the moral issue for them is: do they want to leave that to their grandchildren? Do you want to leave it to your children and grandchildren to pay off your debt? It is the height of irresponsibility for you to wreck the budget for six years and then come into opposition and oppose every measure that is about fixing your problems and your legacy. That is what the Labor Party is saying to the Australian people. They take no responsibility for the last six years and they take no responsibility for the task that is about fixing the problems that they created.

To finish where I started, the Labor Party inherited the best set of books that any opposition has ever inherited, and they left us with the worst set of books that any incoming government has inherited. That is their legacy. We have taken on the task of fixing that legacy. It is time that the Labor Party got out of the way.

4:55 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This budget is a shocker. Even 106 days after Treasurer Hockey unveiled the damaging details of the 2014-15 budget, community anger is still hot. Who can remember when a budget resulted in such ongoing concern, upset and real anger: the town hall meetings, the rallies, the protests, the occupations? I congratulate those who have organised those events. This Sunday there will be another round of national protests, with the march in August. These are events that senators and MPs in this place should really be well aware of, because this budget symbolises the dishonesty of the Abbott government. Just take the budget changes to higher education, for example, since they illustrate this so clearly. Not one aspect of this extreme plan was announced before the election.

We heard from the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, that there would be no increases in fees, no cuts, no changes at all to the funding arrangements for our universities. Now we see what the plan is. The direct opposite is what the government are now wheeling out. Talk about broken promises—here we have it writ large. Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne really are being gutless with the Australian people in the way they handle this. We are seeing that the member for Warringah, well-known for his bullying tactics in many ways, does not have the courage to honestly detail the changes that the government are bringing forward with higher education. They did not have the courage to do that before the election. There were so many opportunities where Mr Pyne was put on the spot about what these higher education changes will mean for students, for the very fabric of our society in terms of higher education and what it can deliver. He tries to present it in a rosy way, when in fact it is extremely damaging.

Minister Pyne told the Insiders that his plan for changes to interest rates on student loans—really a market-based form—would only impact enrolled students; whereas, if he had looked at his own government website before he made that comment, he could have been honest with the Australian public. The website showed that all students and graduates with a debt would be impacted. Again it is still something that he has not corrected to this day. Another area where we see Minister Pyne being deeply misleading is with regard to the impact that this will have on graduates, particularly on people who have to survive on low incomes—women and other people who go in and out of the workforce. With this form of compound interest, those people will pay so much more. It is a debt burden that many of them will not pay off, not just in their working life but for the rest of their life. These are measures that are simply unacceptable and that this government refuses to acknowledge and be frank about. So it is not surprising that the minister goes to such lengths to misrepresent the proposed changes to higher education. Public higher education will be decimated if the Liberal-National government gets its way. This is one of the many areas in this budget that we need to defeat in its entirety. And the cost of university degrees could be as high as $100,000. That is not a figure plucked out of the air. You can work that out when you look at what overseas students sometimes pay and at how the system is currently running.

So, when we hear Minister Pyne bark out his insults that students should pay their way—and then there is that ultimate insult from the minister, 'Well, it's not your left kidney, so what's your problem?''—it is sadly not surprising how insensitive he is, how abusive he is. But it certainly reminds us what the essence of this budget is. Yes, it is correct that graduates have a better chance of finding work than those who did not have the opportunity to go to university. And yes, it is true that graduates will earn more money. But what the minister fails to include in his comments is the large amounts of tax that those graduates are paying. That is how they are contributing to their higher education costs. The dishonesty here is extreme. The higher education package should not be passed in its current form, and it really reminds us how wrong this budget is. (Time expired)