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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 6768

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (16:54): History is probably full of examples where people have reminded us about how history repeats itself, so I might as well repeat the remark: 'We are seeing history repeat itself before our very eyes'. Just over 13 years ago—lucky 13—a conservative government was shaken to its core as a result of criticism about the way it was hurting voters. The criticism did not come from the government's opponents; it came from within; from a federal president of the Liberal Party, no less.

Ms Bird: That rings a bell.

Mr HUSIC: It does ring a bell. The gap in years might be big, but the parallels between then and now are pretty close.

Back in 2001, conservatives had been pummelled in state elections, and backbenchers and federal ministers were privately complaining about how their 'leadership is not listening' and 'party meetings are a waste of time'. A Prime Minister and Treasurer were seen to have gone out of their way to alienate traditional Liberal supporters. Government leadership was seen to be tricky on issues like petrol. It was seen to be relying on fine print to change the impression that people might have had at the time of the election. Sounds similar. A conservative government was ignoring its base. It had to be dragged kicking and screaming to fix government mistakes. Within a five-page memo penned by then federal Liberal president Shane Stone lay the ultimate label to haunt a conservative government. One of their own condemned them by saying, memorably, that this was a government that was 'tricky, mean and out of touch'.

From this floor of parliament I make a request on behalf of hapless coalition backbenchers choking on their own fear: who will be their Shane Stone? Who will tell this government they are being tricky, mean and out of touch like their conservative predecessors? It has only taken one budget for Australia to realise that conservative governments are all alike.

This is one of the worst and most punishing budgets in recent memory, targeting the most vulnerable in our society. The fallout and anger directed towards the coalition since the budget's release is understandable. It is anger not just from within this place but throughout the community. It does not take an Ian Macdonald in the Senate to question the merits of the government's approach; Australia feels the pain of the cuts but also feels disbelief seeing a prime minister at that dispatch box argue that a cut is not a cut, arguing against reality—

Ms Bird: It's a non-core cut!

Mr HUSIC: A non-core cut—listing in his own budget papers that his changes to indexation arrangements for schools and hospitals will 'achieve cumulative savings of over $80 billion' and then saying in his own words that this is not a cut.

The Prime Minister might try to ignore reality, but the constituents I represent know the impact of a tricky and mean budget. One wrote to me in stark terms recently. I will not name her, but she is a wife and mother of three who is trying to return to the health profession after raising her young boys. It was a very lengthy and honest email. I am not going to read it entirely into Hansard, but there are some comments I want to put on the record. She writes:

I am a local resident urging you to take up the fight against the federal government's recent budget. We are a family of five on $65,000 gross.

We are struggling already to meet our expenses of just basic living. We don't smoke or drink, we don't go away on holidays and we buy our clothes second hand.

We don't spoil our kids with the latest technology and we struggle with one old computer to just do my son's homework and pay bills online.

We do not live beyond our means as the treasurer Joe Hockey seems to imply.

We rarely have take-away food, as it is too expensive ... In the holidays we have gone to the drive-in for a movie as we can get $25 a car load and share that with another family as we have a van.

It is insulting to have someone whose income is way above ours to say that we all need to feel the pain and get the debt down. We do not have a disposable income to speak of, we are just struggling to get by month to month.

As with the co-payment fee for GPs, of course I will take my boys to the doctor if they are unwell. However for myself and my husband we will probably wait until we can afford it.

This budget is divisive ... I feel that this budget has a great effect on those already struggling to live within their means. Yes we need to get the deficit down, just like we are paying our home loan down, but we don't take food off the table to put extra on the home loan, surely there is a better way.

Every time the Prime Minister or Treasurer stand on their feet and argue they are the best friend of Medicare or the best friend of working families, I think of this email. I also think of Shane Stone's words. The ink has truly dried, but the memory is fresh; the words to condemn this budget come from a conservative all those years ago: 'This is a government that is tricky, mean and out of touch.'