Parliament – 2018 Budget failings

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

I’m not sure how many big multinational companies are based in the seat of Chisholm. They certainly will benefit from this government’s budget, but average Australians—Australians who rely on public hospitals, Australians who rely on decent investment in education and Australians who are doing it tough and haven’t seen a significant wage rise for some time—will certainly not be doing better under the Turnbull government. This budget has been disappointing, at best, and unfair and sneaky, at worst. I think many Australians were hoping to see Turnbull 3.0 or 4.0, but what this budget has given is exactly what the Liberal Party and the National Party have given since they’ve been in government—a budget that fails the fairness test. It fails ordinary Australians and it fails people who rely on investment in services. What is the trade-off for that? The government thinks that big multinational businesses deserve support in this budget. Out of the $80 billion tax handout in this budget that goes to big business, $17 billion goes to the banks. If you could find a situation more perverse then this is it. At the same time we’ve got a government cutting from hospitals and cutting from schools.

We heard the previous speaker talk about how this budget will help older Australians work while they can. Of course, they’re going to have to work, because in this budget there is still the sneaky proposal to increase the pension age to 70. I’ve spoken about this many times in this place. It is clear that members of the Turnbull government have not spoken to older Australians who have worked physical jobs. They haven’t spoken to people who have had jobs in factories for a long time, people who have worked on building sites or people who have been tradies. They have put their body on the line for their work. Nurses have very physical jobs. Of course, their bodies can’t work those same jobs until they are 70. It’s just not feasible. Of course, this government, by increasing the pension age to 70, wants to make you work until you’re 70.

We hear the Prime Minister talk a lot about older Australians—waxing lyrical about how he’s the Prime Minister for older Australians. Well, he’s also still got in his budget the axing of the energy supplement, which really makes a big difference to pensioners. It might not make a big difference to our Prime Minister—who doesn’t need an energy supplement—but it certainly makes a big difference to the pensioners, including those on the disability pension, that rely significantly on this supplement. But, no, this is going to be cut. We saw some pretty serious trickery in this budget as well, with a big announcement about home care packages. Of course, this was money that was already budgeted for. There is not one new home care package—money for our older Australians—in this budget. It’s merely repackaged, rebadged and put out there.

It’s not only in aged care that we saw pretty sneaky reannouncements. Despite the government spruiking additional investment in infrastructure over the next four years, their budget did not include a single new dollar for rail or road funding in South Australia. The budget was all about spin when it came to South Australia, and the evidence—on page 141 of Budget Paper No. 2—clearly reveals that this year’s allocation for South Australian infrastructure projects was zero. Next year, it’s also zero, and in the subsequent years. The truth is that all of this money comes from unallocated funds set aside previously. So, despite the government talking up its infrastructure investment, we are seeing South Australia being seriously left behind. What became really clear is that, by 2021, South Australia will receive just $135 million in Commonwealth infrastructure investment. That is three per cent of the budget for a state that has seven per cent of the national population. In a joint statement, the state’s leading industry lobby groups—the South Australian Chamber of Mines & Energy, the South Australian Freight Council, the Royal Automobile Association and Civil Contractors Federation South Australia—described the budget as misleading and untimely, and an inauspicious deal for South Australia. For my electorate of Kingston, once again, there is no infrastructure, no investment in infrastructure. It is disappointing that we didn’t see any move towards the extension of the rail to Aldinga. They are just some of the highlights of disappointments for South Australia.

In my portfolio areas, there were also significant disappointments. Of course, this budget has failed Australian children. Despite what the government says when it talks about putting more money into schools, members on this side of the House were here when the budget papers clearly said that there was money being cut from schools. It was clearly outlined that $30 billion would be cut from schools in 2014. So, if the government actually think that they can make significant cuts—$30 billion worth of cuts—and then put a little bit of that back and that we should be cheering for them, that is just absolutely perverse. It is time government members stopped pretending that they are putting more money into schools—sure, compared to the massive cuts, they’re putting a little bit more in—when they are not restoring the funding that they promised they would match dollar for dollar.

In early education, we see the budget express the government’s values. It shows that it does not care or value early education. The government had an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment by providing long-term funding for our nation’s preschools. But, after the calendar year of 2019, there is zero money in the forward estimates for universal access to preschool for four-year-olds. There is no new funding, and this will mean that potentially 350,000 preschoolers and their families will be in limbo when the funding runs out next year. Next year, families will have to start planning for their children to start preschool. Centres will have to start planning for enrolling children into kindy—for how many hours, for how many children? Of course, they can’t plan for this, because the government refuses to commit.

There was another sneaky cut when it came to early education. That was the cut to the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care. The quality agenda in early education is a success story. This is a success story that Labor initiated in government, and it requires that all early learning centres meet strict safety and quality standards that are assessed in terms of performance. Since Labor established the quality agenda in 2009, the Commonwealth has provided funding to the states and territories to employ staff to conduct safety and quality checks. We know that that has been driving improvement in quality right around the country. We also know that there are improvements that come when a centre has been checked and found to need improvement in some areas, and that those centres, when reassessed, have improved. This money was driving quality.

This financial year, the Commonwealth provided $20 million for this vital work. But the funding runs out on 30 June, and this sneaky government has now torn up the agreement and has provided no money when it comes to quality. Last week, I met with the Victorian early education minister, who told me this means 50 monitoring and compliance staff in the department are now on the chopping block. There are more than 18,400 licensed early learning centres in Australia. How will the government now monitor the quality of early learning centres? What assurances can the government give Australian families and their children that they will not be educated in either dodgy or unsafe centres? This is a short-sighted measure. This is a reckless measure that does not put equality of early education—and, importantly, our children—at the centre of their policy. Instead, it is ducking and weaving about how the government can shirk its responsibility.

Of course, the budget also locks in the new unfair childcare system from 2 July. We know one in four families are going to be worse off as a result of these changes. Most of them will be vulnerable families. Families with irregular, casual or seasonal work will also suffer. Families with a parent at home with a child who may also be caring for an older family member or an older sibling with a disability may get nothing. From July, these families will start losing their childcare subsidy and will have to make a terrible choice: pay more out of pocket for early learning, reduce hours, or pull their kids out of care. Families may have many reasons for not working, but this government believes that if you aren’t working, and if both parents aren’t working, you’re bludging and your child shouldn’t get early education. This is not good enough, and it’s time the government seriously reconsidered this unfair proposal.

Finally, I’d like to turn to the Veterans’ Affairs budget. The budget has been a mixed bag for veterans, and there have been some welcome changes, such as the expansion of non-liability of mental health treatment for reservists. Side by side, though, there are cuts to allied health—$40 million worth of cuts in this budget. And that is very, very disappointing. These savings will be made by trialling a new treatment model, which will require veterans to return to their GP every 12 sessions to seek another referral. Veterans have raised with me—particularly those that have stable, chronic conditions—the question of why they have to jump through these hoops. It’s pretty clear why: it saves the government $40 million. That is a significant amount of veterans who are going to miss out on allied healthcare appointments, and these are savings for the government.

The government needs to be up-front with veterans. We’re hearing a number of stories about why this change was made. First it was to pay for the IT system. The next story that comes out is that it’s been forced on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs by the Department of Health. My guess is that these cuts were made to save money, and I think it needs to be made really clear what the impacts will be if this continues.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

More News

Monday, 21 May 2018
Parliament – National Disability Insurance Scheme
Thursday, 17 May 2018
Address to McKell Institute
Wednesday, 09 May 2018
Budget leaves families in limbo wtihout funding certainty