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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15401


Mr LATHAM (10:03 AM) —The Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 represents a bad budget for the working families of my electorate, especially with its attack on bulk-billing and higher education. The government's sandwich and milkshake tax cuts of just $4 a week will be wiped out many times over by the introduction of a $20 up-front fee for visiting GPs and a 30 per cent surcharge on HECS. Yet again, the Treasurer, Mr Costello, has failed to stand up and fight for the working families of my electorate. The parliament is entitled to ask: why is it that budget after budget, year after year, the Treasurer refuses to stand up and fight? The truth is that the Treasurer will not stand up and fight for himself, let alone for the hardworking families of middle Australia. This is one of the golden rules of public life: if a politician will not stand up and fight for himself, there is no way he will stand up and fight for his constituents. Indeed, the Treasurer has a bad record, a lifelong record, of dogging a serious fight. As I said yesterday in question time, if you opened up that chest of his, all you would find is a heart the size of a split pea.

The Treasurer has a very bad history of dogging it. He dogged it when he moved from Young Labor to the Liberal Party; he dogged it when he moved from the Baptist Church to the Anglican Church. How do you start your time in politics as a Young Labor Baptist and end up a Liberal Party Anglican? I have heard about the road to Damascus, but this is ridiculous—he started as a Young Labor Baptist and ended up as a Liberal Party Anglican. Indeed, in this place we have had some very bad rats over the years: names like Billy Hughes and Joe Lyons come to mind. But the Treasurer, Mr Costello, is the first member of the House of Representatives to have changed both his political party and his religion. What a daily double: the transfer of political party affiliation plus religion.


Ms O'Byrne —How does he go in the footy?


Mr LATHAM —If you were at the Essendon Football Club, as the member for Bass points out, you would be very worried about that. He is likely to see the light and end up supporting Collingwood, as any good person would. The Treasurer has no loyalty to his party or his religion. How can he be loyal and faithful to the needs of working families? He has got a bad record, a lifelong record, of dogging a serious fight.

I refer the House to Shaun Carney's biography of the Treasurer, produced in recent times. At page 64 he records an incident in the politics of Monash University, when the Treasurer was confronted by one of his student colleagues, Red Bingham. Mr Shaun Carney writes that Red Bingham:

... confronted Costello in the MAS office, challenged him about refusing to fund Piranha and then belted him. Costello's cries of `Red, Red, stop hitting me' became the stuff of legend on the left; a sign that Costello talked tough but was really just a cream puff.

There you have it. He dogged a fight; he would not stand up and fight for himself. He was lying on his back like a mangy dog, saying, `Red, Red, stop hitting me'. It is the stuff of legend at Monash, and it is now the stuff of a disappointing budget in this House of Representatives. Carney goes on to say that in a subsequent newspaper article in the Melbourne Age Mr Costello was quoted as describing his political stance as `moderate ALP'. He has come a long way in terms of his political shift of allegiance, but that style, that refusal to stand up and fight for himself, is still evident. He is still the same Peter Costello who refuses to stand up and fight for himself. How can anyone who will not fight for themself in public life ever fight for the hardworking families of middle Australia?

We have many great sayings in Australian politics: Malcolm Fraser, `Life wasn't meant to be easy'; Gough Whitlam, `Nothing will save the Governor-General'; little Richo, `Whatever it takes'; and now we have Peter Costello saying, `Don't hit me, Red.' That was his lasting memory and testament at Monash University. The Treasurer will not stand up and fight for himself; he will not stand up and fight for the working families of this country and so, too, he will not stand up and fight for the truth on the economic record of this nation.

We heard in question time following the budget that the Treasurer was claiming there had been a smaller tax cut than his own $4 a week. Four dollars a week is not much; as Senator Vanstone said, it will not buy you a sandwich and a milkshake. Mr Costello was trying to claim that there had, in fact, been smaller tax cuts, and he referred to the l-a-w tax cuts of the Keating government. He is playing fast and loose with the truth because the l-a-w tax cuts were paid in the 1993-94 budget. They were paid from 15 November 1993—eight months before they were planned—at a full-year cost to the budget of $3.45 billion. These figures are revealed in table 2 of the revenue measures on page 4.5 of statement 2 of the 1993 budget papers. These tax cuts were paid in advance, eight months before planned, and were much larger than the tax cuts that are now before the House. In fact, the Treasurer misled the House two weeks ago in telling us that these tax cuts—and he was talking about the l-a-w tax cuts—did not pay $1 to one person for one day when, in fact, the average level of tax relief in 1993 was $8 per week. The Treasurer should now apologise to the House for wilfully misleading it. In fact, the Treasurer himself is the culprit of any problem with the 1993 tax cuts.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The honourable member for Werriwa should be very careful about the way in which he couches his remarks about the actions of another member.


Mr LATHAM —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Treasurer was the culprit because in the 1996 election campaign, along with the Prime Minister, he promised to keep the second half of the l-a-w tax cuts. The first half were paid in full in advance, and the Treasurer and the Prime Minister promised to keep the second half, to be paid as a three per cent superannuation co-contribution, at a full-year cost to the budget of $4.34 billion. So the breach of the l-a-w tax cuts in fact was from the Treasurer himself, Mr Costello. He presents himself in this House day after day as the gamekeeper when in fact he is the poacher. He is the poacher; he is the one who, after the 1996 election campaign, broke his promise to pay the second half of the tax cuts in the form of a three per cent superannuation co-contribution.

Having put those matters on the public record, having explained to the House how the Treasurer never stands up to fight for himself—so do not expect him to fight for the families of middle Australia—let me explain the ways in which he has let down and disappointed the hardworking families in my constituency in the south-west of Sydney. This is a very bad budget for the people of my electorate. It attacks working families and it attacks the essential community services on which they rely. It attacks Medicare and bulk-billing. Yesterday in the House during the debate on health funding legislation, I explained the way in which my electorate has the most to lose out of the government's attack on bulk-billing and how, in the south-west of Sydney, we are known as the `children's capital' of Australia and also as the `bulk-billing capital of the nation' with 95 per cent of doctors offering a bulk-billing service to their patients. People know that these changes are bad and that, in the south-west of Sydney, we have the most to lose as the government winds back the provision of bulk-billing around the country. In the electorate of Werriwa, we have the most to lose. I strongly oppose the dismantling of Medicare; I strongly oppose the dismantling of bulk-billing. I will stand up as forcefully as I can for the principles of universal health care in my electorate.

So, too, the government is making it tougher for families in my electorate with its 30 per cent increase in higher education fees. In particular, this punishes our local hero, the University of Western Sydney. The historic role of the university is to ensure that many students, the first generation and their families, go on to have a higher education. But, unhappily, under the Howard government the University of Western Sydney has faced nothing but funding cuts and higher fee charges. Since 1996, the university has lost $270 million of federal funding and has lost 3,700 government funded student places. This reduction in capital funding is a savage blow to the University of Western Sydney. The university is now being forced to use licensed club facilities, such as sporting and RSL clubs, to hold its lectures and tutorials. It has not got enough teaching space on campus to make provision for the many students in Western Sydney who need and demand a higher education. It is having to conduct its classes in licensed clubs. It makes you wonder, in a civilised society where education is the great hope for young families, what it has come to when we are using licensed sporting clubs to conduct tutorials and lectures. It is not a good situation for the University of Western Sydney, but it has been forced into it because of the savage funding cuts of the Howard government.

So, too, the 30 per cent increase in HECS debt is a savage blow to the working families in my electorate. There is only so much debt that low- to middle-income families can carry before they turn their backs on a university education. I know this from my own experience; I know this from growing up in a public housing estate. There is only so much debt that low-income families can carry before they are forced to turn their backs on a higher education. I reject some of the assertions that have been made and some of the barracking that has been going on in the media about the government's changes. I noticed in the Australian of 21 May that Paul Kelly was quoting Bruce Chapman. He said:

The way poor people view a HECS loan and debt is similar to the way that rich people view them.

What absolute nonsense! Let them live in a family where the parents argue about debt; let them live in a family where low-income people have disputes about the family budget; let them grow up in a family where the parents argue about debt, and then try and tell me that people from that sort of background have the same views and attitudes to debt as rich people. That is just absolute nonsense. There is a cultural and attitudinal change, not surprisingly, that can make low-income people averse to the carriage of high levels of debt, and that is why these HECS changes are so damaging. Why should a bright student who works hard at school and gets good results be forced away from a higher education because of their aversion to debt? Why, in a fair and decent society, should that happen? I say it should not happen. I think we should have special consideration for the circumstances of low-income families and their particular attitude to debt and we should have a system that is affordable and accessible for all—universal public subsidy of higher education.

I know the minister for education, Dr Nelson, is not opposed to the idea of universality in education. Yesterday in the House he gave an answer to a question about private school funding. He said that the Howard government is proud to ensure that all schools in Australia, and non-government schools in particular, have a level of public subsidy and, although the level of subsidy varies from school to school, the government has a system of universal public subsidisation of non-government schools. Why then does it require some Australian students to pay the full fee for their higher education, with absolutely no public subsidy? Why is it that the government supports universal non-government school funding but will not support universal higher education provision in this country? It is a shocking piece of hypocrisy—a shocking contradiction that should not be supported by this parliament.

I know from my own background—and from my own electorate—that, back in 1978 or 1979, had I been forced to consider high levels of HECS debt, I could not have gone on to a higher education. I am worried that there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of young students in south-western Sydney who are working hard—working their guts out at school and getting good results—and who will find that they are in a similar situation: that, if they have to contemplate high levels of debt at an early stage of their lives, they will turn their backs on a higher education. Effectively, they will have to turn their backs on their very best opportunity in life. I find that disgusting.

The member for Parramatta talked about the things that make him sick. I feel sick to the stomach at the idea of hardworking students from public housing estates in my electorate thinking: `I can't carry all that debt. I can't carry a 30 per cent increase in debt at an early stage in life. I've heard what has been said about our family budget in the home. I've heard some of the disputes. I'm going to turn my back on education. I'll have to go and look for a job. I won't be able to undertake a university education and do good things for the future.' I find that absolutely sickening and quite barbaric.

For the Liberal members who do not come across these things—who do not have public housing estates in their electorates, who do not see this part of life and do not see the other side of the track—let me tell you that it exists. I want to do everything I can to ensure there is public universality in the education system so that every single student who works hard and gets good results at school can go on and get a higher education, the thing that so many people in this parliament take for granted. I am very fortunate; I was a beneficiary of the Whitlam education reforms. Higher education at that time was relatively inexpensive, but today it is a different situation. So many students in south-western Sydney will be forced away from their best opportunity in life.

The minister for education, Dr Nelson, often makes the point that 70 per cent of Australian families do not see the inside of a university. I know one certainty, particularly in my part of the world: 100 per cent of parents hope and pray that their children will see the inside of an Australian university, and they are quite happy to contribute to that system. One hundred per cent of parents hope and pray that their child is successful enough at school to go on to a university education. In a civilised society, where our taxes buy us a slice of civilisation, we should support those parents and ensure that the public subsidies are there to provide the opportunities for bright and hardworking students to go through to a higher education. We should back their aspirations. We should be backing an ambitious Australia, where there is plenty of aspiration for a higher education and plenty of government support for that legitimate ideal.

The other source of disadvantage in my electorate is the funding cut to the University of Western Sydney and the fact that this university is not classified as a regional university. It will not receive any additional funding from the government. The government funding package has some money for regional universities, but the University of Western Sydney is not classified as a regional institution. This is typical of the Howard government. It has jumped straight from the inner city to pork-barrelling in National Party electorates, jumping straight over the outer suburbs. It has failed to classify UWS as a regional university, thus denying it the extra funding its needs to provide a decent higher education for students in my electorate.

There are other sources of neglect in this budget. For instance, many parts of my electorate have missed out on being provided with high-speed broadband access—ADSL access—by Telstra. The new suburbs of Cecil Hills, West Hoxton, Greenway Park, Horningsea Park and the western areas of Liverpool have no high-speed broadband access. The government has jumped over the outer suburbs, sent all the Telstra privatisation money to National Party electorates and neglected outer metropolitan areas. The absence of ADSL Internet provision by Telstra is bad for the education of our children. Why shouldn't hardworking students with a computer in their home in Western Sydney have access to high-speed Internet? It is also bad for small business. The whole struggle for 20 or 30 years in my electorate has been to move the jobs, the industry and the investment to where the people have moved in such large numbers. The absence of ADSL access is very bad for small businesses that might want to work out of their home and create new investment and employment opportunities in south-west Sydney. I urge Telstra and the federal government to roll out high-speed broadband access to all parts of metropolitan Sydney, not just the inner city, and to not just pork-barrel National Party electorates. How about doing something? How about looking after the outer suburbs instead of jumping straight over them and neglecting their needs?

Another source of neglect in this budget is the absence of initiatives for law and order. I believe this is an important issue. We need safe and secure suburbs and streets. The public want solutions. They do not particularly care where law and order solutions come from—whether it is local, state or federal government—they just want a solution. But all the Howard government does is buck-pass the problem on to the states. I support, and Labor supports, the establishment of community safety zones to tackle the social causes of crime. There is recognition that there is a social and community dimension to the crime problem. Areas such as Campbelltown and Liverpool should be targeted for particular remedies. For instance, there is a serious graffiti problem in the Ingleburn township. The chamber of commerce, the local community and some of the local police have been working hard to try to resolve that issue, but they lack the resources to tackle this particular community problem. It is one of the problems that would be targeted by a community safety zone, with additional federal resources to work with the community and the chamber of commerce to get a lasting solution.

So too is this a government that neglects serious issues of urban environment and urban sprawl in Western Sydney. In our region, we are a very successful multicultural community but we also need to recognise that there has been too much population growth in south-west Sydney and that there is too much population growth planned for the future both through internal and external migration. Labor, of course, has a population policy approach to influence the locational decisions of new arrivals to this country. It is a good approach. It recognises that those regions that want more population growth—such as South Australia, Tasmania and other parts of regional Australia—need and deserve extra migration arrivals. But in south-west Sydney, we need to recognise a population limit. There is only so much growth that our region can accommodate, particularly in terms of the fragile urban environment and particularly in terms of air and water quality problems.

I strongly oppose the Bringelly development, for instance—the construction of a new city of 300,000 people to the west of Liverpool, carrying a huge volume of cars and extra congestion into our region. The truth is that the existing roads—Cowpasture Road, Camden Valley Way, Campbelltown Road, Kurrajong Road, Bernera Road—cannot cope with the existing suburbs and traffic volume. We do not need a new city in the south-west of Sydney; we need a population limit, good urban planning and, most of all, some provision by the federal government for essential infrastructure. (Time expired)