Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Matters of Public Importance

Health and Education

5:27 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 failure to rule out further cuts to health and education.

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.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise with some energy to contribute to the debate on the matter that Senator Claire Moore has put before the Senate this afternoon, and that is a concern that must be absolutely reverberating right across this country, but nowhere more particularly than in the great state that I represent here in the Senate—the great state of New South Wales—and as voters put their minds to the election coming up this weekend to understand the difference between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party on these critical issues that touch every single person's life. And it has been very, very clear, from the moment they got in. Since the election, we have heard nothing but negativity from the government on the issue of any expenditure towards core services such as health and education. They constantly talk about these sectors as the great costs to the nation. They fail to understand the power of education and health as investments in our people—investments in our young people, investments in retraining, investments in keeping people well and healthy so that they can participate and live full, active and fulfilling lives that contribute to the common good of society.

But we have seen an environment of austerity from the moment they arrived in this place—this Liberal government and Liberal governments all around the country that have been punished at the polls because of their miserly vision of this country, because of their determination to cut and cut hard, right to the heart of people's lives in their access to education and health. Parents and teachers are rightly concerned about school funding after the government walked away from Labor's Gonski funding reforms. Everybody understood that we needed to move to a sector-blind, needs-aware funding model—everybody, that is, except this miserly government. When they got in they cut years 5 and 6. They completely misrepresented to the community beforehand that they were on a unity ticket with Labor. But the minute they had the opportunity, when they felt that people were looking the other way, it was gone—just like the cuts we see in the health sector.

People are fearful of the cuts that this government has made and the chaos of policymaking with regard to Medicare. The prospect of being taxed to go to your GP is a concept that no Australian who voted for the Liberal Party was made aware of before they voted. No indication was given to the entire Australian population that this government was going to come in and tax you to go to your own doctor. And the shemozzle that has followed that! They made that announcement, without consultation, on the day they delivered the budget. That is the first time that health professionals across this country and the people who voted this sad and sorry government in found out that they were going to be taxed to go to the GP. That is a disgrace.

And, of course, that is why we should be extremely fearful about what the Abbott government is set to do in the next budget. They are all outside the chamber now having a big talk as if they are consulting. But the reality is that this government always thinks it knows better than the experts. This is a government that ignores the facts. It is not making evidence based policy and it is determined to inflict pain on those who can least afford it. They target the most vulnerable, and when they are on their knees is when they kick them the hardest.

There is a big difference between Labor values and Liberal values expressed in the two critical policy areas of health and education. In government, Labor has always fought for universal access to health care—people know it as Medicare, and it underpins access for every Australian. People who are old enough will remember that, before Medicare, people were made bankrupt because they had to have an operation. Those are the old days that this government is set to return us to. On education, there was no sound from this government before they were elected that they were intent on setting up $100,000 degrees, cutting 20 per cent of the higher education budget and holding the Senate to account—over a barrel and with a shotgun to its head—by saying they would not fund NCRIS, our most prestigious investigation body in terms of science.

We are deeply concerned by the ongoing commitment of this coalition government to cut funding from health and education. What we have seen since they came to power in terms of their real action in this area is cuts to valuable program such as Youth Connections. We wonder what is going to be targeted in the next budget. From 2010 to 2013, Youth Connections across the country cost $286 million. That is a lot of money for every household but in terms of the budget of a nation it is a small investment in very vulnerable young people. At a cost of just $76.8 million in its final year, 2014, this program delivered for extremely vulnerable young Australians who had fallen out of school the little support that they needed to connect back into education or back into life. But this government, driven by an ideology that sees investment as a cost not an investment, cut that program. Right across this country now, as the Youth Connections program has disappeared, connections to education, jobs, training and a future for young people are absolutely falling apart.

In terms of health, what we have seen with this disastrous set of policies that changed from May to December. again in January and again in March is the shameful way in which this Liberal-National coalition government is determined to hurt Medicare and everyone that it protects this country. They will cut it to the bone. While they might be making noises that they have pulled their GP tax—and some may be fooled—let's be clear that the minister confirmed that this government is absolutely committed to putting a price signal on Medicare. This is what they said: 'It is definitely good policy to put the right price and value signals in health to make sure that people value the service they get from doctors.' Well, they cannot value the service they get from doctors if they cannot get to the doctor—and that is what this lot have got cooked up in the next budget. We will be watching closely to defend health and education at every turn.

5:34 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Assistant Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make some comments on this MPI before us today. It is interesting to listen to the scaremongering from those opposite. Senator O'Neill spoke about the coalition's 'austerity'. It is not austerity; it is the responsible and sensible management of this nation's economy—something the previous Labor government failed to do. And it is because the previous Labor government failed to do that that this government is having to take sensible and responsible decisions when it comes to managing the nation's economy. When we look at that—and, of course, we are running up to the budget—it is worth looking at why this government needs to take sensible, responsible decisions when it comes to managing the nation's economy. It is because of the waste and mismanagement that we saw from the previous Labor government.

Let's have a look at what the previous Labor government left us. They left us a trajectory to a debt of $657 billion. In case someone out there was not listening when I said that, let me repeat it. The previous Labor government left us a trajectory to a debt of $657 billion. This coalition government makes absolutely no excuses for responsible, sensible decisions about managing the nation's economy to get it back on track because the previous Labor government left us an economic basket case. What does that actually mean for people across the country? It means we are paying $1 billion a month in interest because of the previous Labor government's waste and mismanagement.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

I will take that interjection from the senator opposite: 'What about health and education?' Let's have a look at that. Guess what? With the $1 billion we are paying in interest every month, we could have a new tertiary hospital in every city. That is what we could have when it comes to health. When it comes to things we need right across the country, we could have 12 kilometres of road every single day. But we cannot fund these things, because of the previous Labor government's debt. So for the senator to come in here and say that it is this coalition government's austerity is absolutely gobsmacking. It is because of their mess that they left us that we are in this situation—the previous Labor government's mess.

Let's just have a look at the sort of things that led us to that mess. Under the Home Insulation Program, the pink batts, $2 billion was mismanaged, with over $1 billion spent fixing the mistakes. Under the set-top box program, Labor wasted $67 million on administration costs to run a program to install set-top boxes in people's homes for an average of $350 a home even though Harvey Norman offered the same deal for $168. Everybody remembers, under the previous Labor government, FuelWatch and Grocery Choice. Nearly $30 million was spent setting them up, and then they were dumped. And this one is one that those on this side of the chamber are forever stunned about: the previous Labor government sold the parliamentary billiard tables that used to be in this building for $5,000. But then what happened? The government spent over $102,000 determining whether or not they got value for money.

It is those sorts of things that mean that this government has to take sensible, responsible decisions to get the economy back on track. And we will do that. We take absolute responsibility for doing that. We make no excuses for taking the tough decisions that we know the Australian people need us to take to get this country back on track. At the same time, when we see the scaremongering from the Labor Party about what the government may or may not do, the one thing that we have noticed about the Labor Party, on the other side of this chamber, is that so often they have failed to deal in fact. They do not let the facts get in the way of the story they are trying to sell. And some of the facts are the things that I am going to talk about today: they are about the investments that this government is making in health.

We only have to look at the fact that Commonwealth funding for public hospitals is going to grow. It is going to grow from $13.5 billion to $89 billion over four years—and this in the environment when we hear those on the other side completely ignoring the facts and trying to say that we are cutting funding to public hospitals, which is entirely not true. It is going to increase by nine per cent over 2014-15, nine per cent over 2015-16, nine per cent over 2016-17 and six per cent over 2017-18. Even I can understand that, when you see those percentages going up and up and up, you can see that that is an increase in funding, even though those opposite would try to tell a different story entirely. It is this government that is investing in health. This government is not cutting; we are investing. We only have to look at Indigenous health funding when it comes to health—$3.1 billion over the next four years for Indigenous health. Very interestingly, that is actually $500 million more than it was over the four years previously under Labor—more funding, not a cut. And, of course, we have just announced the $1.4 billion in funding for primary health care for Indigenous health. A lot of that is going to our Aboriginal community-controlled health sector, which, I have to say, does an incredibly good job in delivering primary health care right around the country.

We just see this continual harping by the opposition, saying that the government is going to make cuts. The scaremongering is absolutely unbelievable. Also, we see hypocrisy there when we look at what Labor cut when they were in office. We only have to look at things like agriculture. They cut the department's budget by two-thirds. They cut the AQIS rebate by 40 per cent. And the biggest cut of all in agriculture was in cutting the live export trade. To actually stop, ban, the live export trade for cattle was absolutely appalling. For the Labor Party to come in here and talk about cuts from this government! When we look at their track record, the list just goes on and on. One cut that was particularly galling for people in rural and regional areas was the cut to the students that were going to be able to get independent youth allowance. The previous Labor government tried to rip that money away from regional students right across the country—and you know it, Madam Acting Deputy President O'Neill, and so do the rest of your colleagues on the other side. It took this side, the coalition in opposition, to push and push and harangue and harangue until the Labor government did a backflip. So for the Labor Party to come in here and lecture this government on cuts is absolutely the height of hypocrisy. When we look at the previous Labor government trying to absolutely rip $400 million out of medical research—which they could not do; they had to do a backflip because of the pressure—to come in here and talk about cuts is absolutely the height of hypocrisy.

What we are going to do is manage this nation's economy responsibly and sensibly. We are not going to engage in the sort of economic irresponsibility we saw from the previous Labor government, which left us with, as I said earlier, a trajectory to debt of $667 billion. We are taking the responsibility to fix the mess that Labor left us, and we will do that. It is not only for now but for our children and our grandchildren that we need to fix that mess. Labor might think it is absolutely fine to hand out $900 cheques to people all over the globe, as it turned out. I even knew of somebody that gave a call from a pub in London saying, 'Thanks very much to Kevin Rudd for the $900 cheque.' This coalition government is going to make the responsible and sensible decisions we need to fix the mess that the previous Labor government left us. The Australian people elected us to do it, and that is what we are going to do. We are going to make sure that we do that so that we get the best outcomes and a sustainable future for people living right across this country, not only in rural and regional areas but in cities and from side to side of this nation. We are going to fix the economic mess.

5:45 pm

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

If only those things were true. If only we had reality and not just rhetoric from Senator Nash. I rise to speak on the Abbott government's failure to rule out further cuts to health and education. It is worth emphasising right here that we are talking in this debate about further cuts. We are not even talking about the $80 billion cuts already proposed to take effect over the next 10 years. But this government will not rule out even deeper cuts. How many more billions can we expect to see ripped out of our schools and hospitals in this government's desperate attempt to steady their sinking policy ship?

Of course, the rule-in rule-out game is a scourge of modern politics. But this was a door that the coalition chose to open and walk through voluntarily when yesterday they announced no further cuts to the foreign aid budget. But what further cuts will there be? The Abbott government must also rule out further cuts to education because we already have a system which is suffering from chronic underfunding. It is a system which stifles the opportunities that are available to hundreds of thousands of Australian children, and because education is such an important investment in the potential of our population it also limits our nation's economic potential. It is an absolutely crazy and irresponsible way to go.

Our public schooling system, which educates the majority of Australian students, is the bedrock of our future society. Whether you look at it from a social or an economic perspective, there are huge benefits to all of us in investing properly in our schools. The Gonski review into school funding found truly staggering levels of inequity in Australia across the Australian system. They found disadvantaged children lagged years behind their peers. It is a scandal in a wealthy country like Australia. This was not because of a lack of intelligence; it was because of a lack of opportunity. How can we expect students to learn in school classrooms that cannot afford to have adequate heating or cooling? How can we expect classrooms to function adequately when more and more is demanded of teachers and they do not receive the support that they need to be able to do their job? How can we expect literacy and numeracy rates to rise when a student's chance in life is more likely to be defined in Australia by their socio-economic status then by their ability or their dedication?

Further funding cuts to education must be ruled out by this Abbott government. But that is not enough. Our schools need more than the status quo because we know that inequality is still rising in Australia, despite the best efforts of the Gonski review to shine a light on this scandal in Australia that compares so badly with our OECD peers. Inequality in Australia is still rising. This government has broken a string of election promises, and it did so when it announced not only that it would not fully implement the Gonski school funding reforms but, as well as that, that it would make drastic cuts to education generally.

Sucking billions out of our school funding system and our education system now will actually cost us trillions in terms of lost productivity and social costs down the track. Just yesterday I met with families of disabled children who are here to plead with the Minister for Education to keep his promise to introduce a needs based disability loading in the upcoming federal budget. It is appalling that parents have to come to plead for an education for their kids. They were begging for a decent education for their children, just as any of us would expect, and that is a crying shame in the Australia of today. They told heart-breaking stories of children who could not get the support they need, not because of a lack of will from their parents or their teachers but simply because the money and the resources were not there. Because of this, up to 100,000 children with disability are receiving no funded support in Australia, and many more are not receiving the funding they need to meet their needs.

These parents are not only worried about getting their children through the school year. They are also worried, of course, about what comes next. They know that without support to stay in schools their children may never gain the skills they need to join the workforce. I can only imagine what struggle these families will face when the Abbott government's further cuts will come into effect. What a huge waste of potential with so many children achieving below their best. The Abbott government must rule out further cuts to education.

5:50 pm

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak to this matter of public importance, that being the Abbott government's refusal to rule out further cuts to health and education in my state, New South Wales. We are obviously on the eve of a state election, and we are six weeks out now from the next federal budget. I will put to this place that the commitments that were made on the eve of the last election that there would be no cuts to health and no cuts to education have obviously not been met.

On budget night last year, almost a year ago to the day, we learned that the commitment of the government to a Gonski unity ticket applied only to the first four years of Labor's six-year transition. Their long-term allocation of Commonwealth funding for schools is not consistent with the principles and reforms recommended by the Gonski panel. The Liberal Party's pre-election policy on higher education stated that they would, firstly, ensure the continuation of the current arrangements of university funding and, secondly, work with the sector to reduce the burden of red tape, regulation and reporting.

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

Say it like you mean it, Sam.

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What Australia got was a proposal for wholesale deregulation of the higher education sector. What Australia got was the prospect of $100,000 university degrees.

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

Do it like Dougie does it.

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Acting Deputy President, could you please stop the interjections from the good senator from the Australian Capital Territory, who I note is not a New South Wales senator?

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Given that you are seeking my assistance, Senator Dastyari, Senator Seselja, could you refrain from interjecting.

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is clear that he is afraid of the truth.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Dastyari, please take your seat. Senator Seselja on a point of order.

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

I know it is in accordance with standing orders that if a senator asks for protection from the chair then there should be no interjection, so I will definitely take your advice!

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate your compliance, Senator Seselja. Senator Dastyari, proceed—with no interjections!

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I just get concerned that I think some senators on the other side are afraid of some of the truths and the facts that are being put on the record by me. They will do what they can to try to silence me! I just want to be clear that when it comes to standing up for New South Wales I will not be shushed in this place!

Tony Abbott and the Liberals want to take Australia down the path of a two-tiered higher education system. The Americanisation of our universities will put a degree beyond the reach of many young people in New South Wales. A university degree should depend on hard work and good marks, not your parents' bank balance. A degree should never be a debt sentence for students and their families, who are already struggling to make ends meet. Australia needs an education system that provides an opportunity for every young Australian who wants one.

The tragedy of what we have seen happen in terms of education reform, at both the school level and the higher education level, is that the actions of this government have not met the rhetoric they took to the last federal election. If the people of Australia had been given a frank assessment and frank information about the reality of the horrors that were going to transpire after the election on both higher education reform and school funding, I believe it would have had a large impact on the federal election.

When it comes to the issue of education funding, there is an opportunity for the people of New South Wales to have their say on it this weekend—to actually have their say on the model and what has been proposed by the government, particularly the failure of the New South Wales state government to stand up and fight against the cuts, particularly the cuts to the Gonski reforms, which the government has failed on. There is an opportunity available to New South Wales residents this weekend. I urge them to take that opportunity.

I also wish to speak about the cuts to health we have seen unfold, especially in future funding for our health sector. At the launch of the coalition's health policy, on 22 August 2013, Mr Abbott, the then Leader of the Opposition stated,

… I am giving an absolute commitment here today that the overall levels of health funding will be maintained.

But his budget imposed an $80 billion cut to health and education spending over next decade. Also, in August 2013, Mr Abbott stated, 'We are not shutting any Medicare locals.' But all 61 Medicare Locals will now be scrapped and replaced with new local health networks, which are a pale imitation of what was being provided.

While the Prime Minister has now backed down in the face of massive community opposition, he has, by attempting to introduce a GP tax, also broken his promise that there will be no new taxes. It was a $5 tax, a $20 tax and then a $7 tax. The figure kept changing, but when it settled at the $7 model it was estimated that this would cost Australian families $3.5 billion in out-of-pocket costs—a hit on the most vulnerable Australians.

When we are sitting here in this chamber in Canberra we talk about these things as big principles, but I want to talk about the reality of what some of this means at the local hospital level. I would like to speak briefly about the challenges facing one area of Sydney, and I am picking this area because I think it is a good example. I am referring to the St George region in Sydney's South-East and those who live and work in the suburbs along the Eastern Suburbs train line in places like Rockdale and Kogarah, and also the residents from all across the state of NSW who have cause to call upon the services of St George Hospital.

St George Hospital, located near the shoreline of Botany Bay and close to Sydney Airport, serves the entire state of New South Wales, whether it is the cattleman near Cobar who has fallen from a horse, or kids in Kogarah who have come off their skateboards. The emergency ward at St George Hospital is one of the most overstretched in New South Wales. Under the national benchmark, hospitals are required to treat 81 per cent of emergency patients within four hours of presentation. St George Hospital is well below this target, with 41 per cent waiting more than four hours for treatment. Between July and September 2014, more than 870 patients were still in the emergency department nearly 14 hours after arriving. The South East Sydney Local Health District's Asset Strategic Plan 2012-2017 documented numerous failings at St George Hospital. I quote them here:

The current ICU [Intensive Care Unit] capacity is saturated and land locked. There is 1 bathroom for 15 critical patients and nil for CICU [Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit].

The plan also states that there is a 'high infection control risk' and 'refurbishment for hybrid theatres will not provide adequate space for technology'.

I am very conscious of the time and there is much more I would have liked to have said on this topic. But I do want to say that the people of New South Wales have an opportunity this weekend to stand up and be heard on these issues.

In conclusion, I thank the good Senator from the ACT for hearing me in silence!

5:58 pm

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

Unlike Senator Dastyari, I will not be claiming my right to have the Acting Deputy President's protection from interjections, because, as you would know Acting Deputy President O'Neill, it is within the standing orders that where interjections are helpful to debate they are allowed, and I was certainly going to be very helpful to Senator Dastyari! But a senator can claim the protection of the chair, which Senator Dastyari has done. So good on him for claiming that protection! I think it is nice that he feels the need to do that rather than have a genuine debate about it.

There is a reason he did not want to hear it: most of what he was saying was absolute claptrap. There was no truth in it. He was making it up as he went along, and the last thing he would have wanted was an alternative voice in that debate. We do look forward to the New South Wales election. It will be interesting to see whether the Labor Party does better this time than they did when Sam Dastyari was running their campaign! It will be interesting to see the comparison between the two results.

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sure they'll do much, much better.

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

So, who knows? I am sure Luke Foley will be hoping that they do a fair bit better than 36 per cent of the two-party preferred vote!

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm hoping they'll do much better!

Senator Sterle interjecting

Senator Cameron interjecting

Katy's coming!

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

What was that? Katy?

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We'll remind you of that when Katy comes!

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

I think I beat her on the primary vote, at least, so that is better than you did! That is a fair bit better than you did! So we—

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Then you had to kneecap a senator to get in here!

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

We can compare notes on the 36 per cent TPP! But I should not get sidetracked by these issues, because what I wanted to do was actually put some facts on the table that Senator Dastyari neglected, which is why he did not want to engage in that debate. I will go a little bit to Senator Dastyari's home state, as well as other states.

Let us start with hospitals, because hospital funding from the Commonwealth is increasing at a significant rate. Commonwealth funding for hospitals, contrary to what those opposite say, is expected to grow significantly in the future, from $13.5 billion in 2013-14 to $18.3 billion in 2017-18, an increase of almost $5 billion. What part of that is a cut? We have to put facts on the table to counter the misrepresentations from those opposite. Hospital funding will grow from $13½ billion in 2013-14 to $18.3 billion in 2017-18.

In Queensland, hospital funding will increase from $3 billion in 2014-15 to $3.7 billion in 2017-18—a $700 million increase in Queensland. In New South Wales, Senator Dastyari's home state, it will increase from $4.7 billion in 2014-15 to almost $5.8 billion in 2017-18. That is a massive increase—from $4.7 billion to $5.8 billion in New South Wales. Then we go to Victoria, where it will increase from $3.7 billion to $4.5 billion; in South Australia, from $1 billion to $1.3 billion; in Western Australia, from $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion; in the ACT, from $283 million to $300 million; and, in Tasmania, from $312 million to $380 million. In the Northern Territory, hospital funding will increase each year from $153 million in 2014-15 to $192 million in 2017-18.

Those are the facts. That is what is happening under the coalition government, despite the absolute financial mess left by the economic vandals on the other side, the Labor Party, supported by those other economic vandals, the Greens. Despite that, we are seeing a massive increase in Commonwealth investment in hospitals in this country, as I have just laid out state by state, territory by territory.

Labor claimed that, in the never-never, beyond the forward estimates, they would somehow find billions of extra dollars over and above the billions of extra dollars that we are actually delivering. We know that claim was false. We know they could not have done it. It will be interesting to hear—and I do not know if it is Senator Cameron who will be following me in speaking—from Labor senators whether or not they will now commit to that growth beyond the out years that they apparently were so keen on but could never find the money for. We are delivering the billions of extra dollars.

The test for the Labor Party now is that, if they believe in that policy—if they believe in the never-never projections that they did not fund, they were not prepared to fund and they could not find the money for—they should commit to it. We could actually have a policy now from the Labor Party that, if they are re-elected beyond the out years, beyond the increases that we are delivering, they will have massive increases on top of that. If we do not hear that, we will know that it is all hollow rhetoric: they never intended to deliver it. They did not have the capacity to deliver it and now they will not commit to it. But perhaps they will prove me wrong, and we will hear them say in this debate, 'Yes, we actually now are going to be able to deliver it. It's a promise. We will deliver.' I do not think they will.

Let us go to education. Total recurrent Commonwealth funding to all schools across Australia will total over $65 billion as at MYEFO over the 2014-17 funding period. Of course, we are delivering more in these four years than the Labor Party were going to deliver, because they ripped out $1.2 billion. So not only are we delivering the increase; we are delivering an extra $1.2 billion. If Labor had been re-elected, there would be $1.2 billion less in the four-year budget period for schools in this country. That is a fact.

Total Commonwealth funding to all schools across Australia will increase by $4 billion, a 29 per cent increase from 2014-17: 9.3 per cent from 2014-15; 8.2 per cent from 2015-16; and 9.1 per cent from 2016-17. Total Commonwealth funding to government schools will grow by $1.8 billion by 2017, a 37.1 per cent increase, while funding to the non-government sector will grow by 24.5 per cent over the same period. Here in the ACT, we know that funding for government schools will grow by $10 million by 2017, a 13.8 per cent increase, while funding for the non-government sector will grow by 20.5 per cent over the same period.

This MPI is scaremongering. It is wrong. The facts are that we are increasing health and education funding, even if we inherited Labor's— (Time expired)

6:06 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to this discussion on further cuts to health and education. If Tasmanian Liberal members of this place had told the truth about the cuts they had planned to both health and education, it is likely that they would not be members of this parliament today. The people of Tasmania would not have voted for members of any political party who came to this place and advocated a cut in resources and funds to the University of Tasmania or additional health costs and charges being imposed on our sick, elderly and disabled people. The Liberal members of this palace, as well as the lower house three amigos, have gleefully been part of a disgusting, cowardly and dishonourable campaign to ambush the University of Tasmania and every other Australian university with a 20 per cent cut to their funding.

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I think the senator should refer to members in the other place by their correct titles and not 'the three amigos'.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind Senator Lambie that members should be referred to by their correct titles.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

On the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: it is quite clear that we use rhetorical flourishes. Senator Lambie has not identified anyone. I think using the term 'the three amigos' when you do not identify anyone is quite in order.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Cameron—there is no point of order.

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Recently I met personally with Professor Rathjen at a dinner in Parliament House, and I have met him on other occasions as well. Professor Rathjen's bombshell disclosure on Tasmanian ABC radio that, without additional funding, the future of the Burnie and Launceston campuses of the University of Tasmania could be in jeopardy was a brave move given the pattern of bullying behaviour exhibited by federal Liberal members towards academics who blew the whistle on the dangers associated with the proposed higher education changes.

The federal Liberals in Tasmania never guaranteed the $400 million of capital funding which is needed to help the University of Tasmania prosper and grow. All they wanted was to allow mainland higher education providers into the Tasmanian market to compete with the University of Tasmania. The Liberals know that the University of Tasmania will be harmed if higher education competitors are allowed to undercut it. Tasmania's reputation as a quality higher education provider and place of research excellence would have been damaged under the Liberals' plan. In addition, the Liberals' plan would have guaranteed the deregulated cost of degrees for university students would have skyrocketed.

In this debate, the Liberals have also failed to answer two of my important questions. Firstly, if the Nordic countries can deliver the best higher education in the world to their young people for free, why can't we? Secondly, in 1995 we spent 0.9 per cent of our GDP on higher education per annum and in 2013 we spent 0.6 per cent of our GDP on higher education. Why can't Australia boost our investment in higher education—investing in our kids, the future of Australia—to one per cent? There is no reason why the Liberal Party cannot do this, they just refuse to because they cannot prioritise things correctly. That seems to be happening a great deal in this chamber.

In closing, I note that federal funding for the Mersey hospital still has not been guaranteed or settled on—like much other Indigenous health funding around Australia. I raised this issue with the new health minister Sussan Ley, and I appreciate the time she gave me and her consideration. I would ask that this funding be guaranteed and delivered as soon as possible.

6:10 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to participate in this discussion on two of the key issues for this country—the health of the population and the education of the population. I note that Senator Nash made a 10- minute contribution and in my estimation she managed to talk about her own portfolio, and I will be very generous, for about a minute and a half, if that. We had a minute and a half from the junior minister on her portfolio. It was a pathetic performance. All we heard was the old rhetoric from the coalition about balanced budgets and responsible and sensible management of the economy. Who in this country believes that the coalition are capable of sensible and responsible management of the economy? No-one, really, because they have seen the budget. We know the budget was based on a complete fallacy. Prior to the election, people were told there would be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the SBS, no cuts to the ABC and no cuts to pensions. That was the line being run out, and it was nothing more than a line.

When did we see the coalition's real policy? We saw the real coalition policy in the budget. In the budget we saw a move away from every promise they made—on health, on education, on the ABC, on the SBS and on pensions. It is one of the worst-received budgets ever. The budget was so bad that 40 per cent of the Liberal backbench wanted to get rid of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. That is how bad the budget was. Coalition backbenchers are now coming in and basically saying that they are economically responsible. How can it be economically responsible to take $80 billion out of the budget for health and education? What is responsible about that? What is responsible about targeting the weakest and most vulnerable people in our community? None of that is responsible.

Senator Cormann was asked repeatedly yesterday in question time to rule out further cuts to health and hospitals, and he just refused to do it. Hopefully, sometime, Senator Nash can be in the same shot as Senator Cormann and maybe she can do the same as the foreign minister and put her head in her hands, shake her head in disgust and look with disgust at the Treasurer. Maybe Senator Nash can do that with Senator Cormann and maybe we will save further cuts to health and education. It seems to have worked in the other place when the foreign minister shook her head and looked disgusted about the contribution from the Treasurer, so maybe we should try doing that. Maybe the National Party, just for once, could stop using the rhetoric of opposition, could stop attacking the trade union movement in this country and concentrate on the issues that are good for rural and regional Australia. Maybe it could deal with the issues of a decent health system in rural and regional Australia and a decent education system—public schools that are well-resourced. Maybe for once we can hear the National Party deal with these important issues, but what do we get? We get the argument that Australia is an economic basket case. That was just put to the sword, that argument. It was put to the sword by the Minister for Trade and Investment, Mr Robb. What did Mr Robb say in a publication called: Why Australia: Benchmark report 2015this is a senior frontbench Liberal. He says:

With more than 23 years of uninterrupted annual economic growth, a AAA sovereign risk profile and diverse, globally competitive industries, Australia remains well placed to build on an impressive record of prosperity.

Either we have got a budget emergency or Mr Robb has got it right. I know what the answer to that is: Mr Robb has got it right. We have got a AAA credit rating. We have had 23 years of uninterrupted economic growth, and yet we get scare campaigns from the coalition trying to justify the worst budget ever in this country.

The people of New South Wales have to understand when they go to the polls that this is the Liberal Party that Mr Baird is the leader of, and Mr Baird supports the economic ideology of Mr Abbott. He cuddles up to Mr Abbott. He wears the same colour tie as Mr Abbott. He is part of the team. He is part of the club. He is a Liberal through and through.

What is going to happen in New South Wales as a result of this budget? New South Wales schools will lose around $9.6 billion; and $1.3 billion from New South Wales universities. We are watching the TAFE system being decimated under federal and state Liberal coalition governments. New South Wales hospitals will lose more than $16½ under the Prime Minister's budget.

We have Senator Seselja coming in here saying, 'We're increasing expenditure.' It is the oldest trick in the book. You just look at the GDP of the country and say: 'We're increasing expenditure,' but it does not tell you the real story. The real story is in the budget papers. That is where you look for the real story. If you look in the budget papers, what do they say about public hospitals in this country under the coalition government—$57 billion being cut out over a decade? That is what the budget papers say. That is in the budget, and you cannot come in here with some political argument from your advisers to try and give you cover for cutting $57 billion out. This is what is going to hurt people in New South Wales. If you are a family on $65,000 a year and you are going to be $6,000 worse off, how are you going to pay for your education? How are you going to pay for your health? It is just impossible.

Pensioners—how are they going to pay for more when they are being ripped off to the tune of $80 a week under the projected cuts by the coalition government? A hundred New South Wales seniors will be $886.60 worse off each year as a result of the government's plan to abolish the seniors supplement. Then we will get petrol taxes imposed on top of that.

The people who vote for the National Party drive more and use more petrol. They are not poor people who do not have a car; they are actually poor people who need a car. They use a car. They use petrol, and yet we have got a Treasurer here who says that poor people do not drive. Well, where were the National Party—where were the doormats of the Senate—when this was being doled out? We never heard a word from the Nationals and we never heard a word from the Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird.

6:20 pm

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

He started saying, 'We can't afford these cuts.' Since then, there has not been another word. The Liberal coalition team have kicked in. They are trying to cover up the real effects of this budget. This budget is bad for New South Wales. It is bad for education. It is bad for health and it is bad for the economy. (Time expired) () (): Praise the Lord time has expired on Senator Cameron who is struggling to wind himself up and get all hot under the collar about the National Party not standing up for regional Australia. We will never stop standing up for regional Australia. We will never stop standing up to make sure that more rural kids get to school and university, more young people get into jobs and have bright and prosperous futures; more of our population as they age, have access to ageing in their own communities; and that indeed our hospital services are filled with regional doctors, nurses and allied health professionals who are trained in the regions.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senators are reminded that senators are to be heard in silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6:27 pm

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Since commencing my role in the Senate, I have watched the Abbott government break promise after promise. In my home state of Queensland, we have endured harsh budget cuts not only at a federal level but also at the state level. Across Queensland, all levels of government have let the people of Queensland down. CSG mining has been allowed to expand at an alarming rate, damaging the environment, water, soil, land and air. Of further concern, it is also impacting the health of farmers and landowners across the state.

The people of Queensland need increased investment in health and education, not cuts. We need additional resources allocated to support the people of Queensland who have been, and continue to be, impacted by the toxic effects of CSG mining. People are experiencing migraines, skin complaints, blood noses, breathing issues and other chronic health conditions. The chemicals used in CSG mining are known to cause serious health problems, including cancer. Landowners affected by CSG mining cannot afford doctors to assist them. I call on the government to do the right thing and allocate increased funding to the health sector; get medical teams out to regional and rural areas of Australia to treat people who are becoming sick from CSG mining; set up an independent testing centre; and start conducting proper comprehensive tests to determine the level of contamination that is occurring in people, animals, water, soil and the air as a result of CSG mining. These people need help. No-one is listening to them. The government must stop turning a blind eye and do something now to help all Australians affected by CSG mining.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.