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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15664

Mr MOSSFIELD (7:27 PM) —I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004—the budget bill or, to put it more accurately, the sandwich and a milkshake bill. In doing so I support the amendment moved by the member for Fraser, Mr McMullan. This is a budget that lacks vision. It is a budget that punishes ordinary Australian families, and no amount of $4 sugar coating will make the bitter pill easier to swallow. The government gives with one hand and slugs with the other. A $4 a week tax cut is supposed to offset the disgraceful neglect of our health and education system. It does not, and people know it.

The government's changes to Medicare will give doctors unrestricted access to the family's hip-pocket nerve. The smallest tax cut in history from the biggest-taxing government in history—that is what this budget is all about. The Treasurer wanted his `Tax cut' headline in order to cover up the grubby deal that is being handed down to families in regard to Medicare and education. The $4 a week means that if you wait two weeks you could go to the cinema for half-price on Tuesday night. Save for a month and you could get popcorn and a drink as well. Of course, if you wanted to take somebody with you that would be another month's worth of savings. That is what this government is offering: a milkshake and a sandwich if you are lucky.

At the same time bulk-billing is being destroyed. The government, in their classic Orwellian manner, claim they will fix Medicare. They are fixing Medicare in the way that a shady businessman would fix a racehorse or a greyhound—fix it so that it will never run again. They claim benevolence and generosity in putting $917 million into this so-called Medicare package when of course they are ripping $918 million out of the public hospitals to do it. In Greenway, over 94 per cent of doctors bulk-bill. The changes that are being proposed to end bulk-billing for all but concession card holders will adversely affect almost 27,000 households, or 80,000 people, in the Greenway electorate alone.

This budget does nothing to address the future of our country; it is a narrow, visionless piece of drab accounting. It puts back into the tertiary education system only a fraction of what has been ripped out over the past six years. Over $270 million has been cut from the federal funding of the University of Western Sydney since this government came to the treasury bench. Next year the University of Western Sydney will share a bare $68 million with the other 38 universities in Australia. Western Sydney is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia. `Region' is a very important word. Western Sydney is a region; it is an identifiable geographical region with long-established boundaries. It has a population of some 1.7 million and comprises 12 federal seats, 24 state seats and 14 local government areas. The economy of the region of Western Sydney has a gross regional product of some $54 billion per year, making it the third largest economy in Australia—behind Sydney CBD and Melbourne. Yet the University of Western Sydney, which serves our region so very well, is not considered by the government to be a regional university. There appears to be no set definition for what a regional university is. It seems that a regional university is whatever the government wants it to be on any given day, and it changes for whatever reason the government cares to think of at any particular time. The mission statement of the University of Western Sydney is:

To be a University of international standing and outlook, achieving excellence through scholarship, teaching, learning and research and service to its regional, national and international communities, beginning with the people of Greater Western Sydney.

The words `region' or `regional' appear eight times in the statement of mission goals and values of UWS. The statement finishes with a list of core values. The final one, placed there for emphasis, is `relevance and responsibility to our communities'.

I challenge the Minister for Education, Science and Training—who is here in this chamber—to explain to the House and to the 1.7 million people who live in Western Sydney why their university, the one that was established specifically for their region, is not considered a regional university. It took the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne 100 years to establish themselves as centres of excellence. It has taken many other universities decades to establish their reputations. UWS is a new university, and the funding cuts it has experienced since 1996 have had the effect of tying one arm behind its back. Over the next three years, there will be 510 fewer students at UWS than there are today. Our population is growing, and this government is presiding over falling numbers at our universities. Falling student numbers, budget cuts, fee increases and higher student debt are the enemies of access, and access is the key to equality.

This budget represents fee increases, this budget represents higher student debt, this budget is the enemy of access and equality. It is not fair, it will not create a fair society. It will not allow future generations to share in the opportunities that time and innovation will bring. The budget allows universities to increase their fees to students by 30 per cent above HECS. The new student loan system, ensuring a real interest rate of three per cent above CPI, will raise an extra $800 million in student debt. HECS payments will increase by $32 per week—eight times the $4 tax cuts. The new system of student loans, ironically called HELP, will add an extra $16,000 to a $50,000 loan—an extra $125 per week in repayments and over 31 times the $4 tax cut. The government gives with one hand and slugs with the other.

To add insult to injury, the federal government has also walked away from TAFE. Not one more cent was in this budget to support TAFE. There are no additional places at TAFE to address the serious skill shortages facing Australian industry. The world is changing and the new technologies are the future of our society. If our people are to share in the prosperity that these new technologies can bring, then we must ensure that they receive adequate training. TAFE is a vital rung in the education ladder, and yet this government has no interest in it. At a time when we need to be investing in our nation's future through improvements in our education system, this government is walking away from that responsibility.

There are now twice as many students in TAFEs as there are in universities, yet there is still a huge unmet demand for places. Across Australia there were around 38,000 unmet places last year. At the Western Sydney Institute the figure was over 3,200. Casualisation of the teaching work force at TAFE might look good to the accountant but it does nothing for the long-term education requirements of the sector; and surely the education outcomes for the students are more important than the accounting outcomes for the institutions. Some people may say that TAFE is a state issue—pass the buck. It is too easy to pass the buck. The federal government must take its share of responsibility, because this is an issue that affects everybody.

Funding cuts and funding freezes in the TAFE sector must stop. If we are to compete, vocational education is vital. Well-resourced TAFE colleges with equipment that is not obsolete are fundamental. What employer will hire somebody if they have been trained on a machine that has been obsolete for five years? TAFE requires support and constant upgrading or it will lose its relevance, and Australia will be poorer for it.

Labor has a plan for education—a new deal for Australian families. It starts with early childhood learning, because the formative years are so critically important to an individual's future. Labor's education plan starts with early childhood and it never ends. We believe in lifelong learning. Our communities change, our societies change and, as time goes on, challenges grow and we must have a population that is able to adapt. Flexible lifelong learning programs, training and retraining, are the keys to creating a flexible and adaptable work force.

The government's only response to this critical need for our future seems to be fear and fridge magnets. The future that we can create with investment in education, training and the skills of our work force will be nothing if we do not do something to address the catastrophic effects of the neglect of our natural environment. Salinity, land clearing and overdevelopment are destroying our natural resources. The new housing estates in the north-west sector of Sydney are being built on the breadbasket of Sydney. Some of the best farming land in the country has now been built out by residential development. Twelve per cent of New South Wales agricultural output comes from around one per cent of the land, located in the Sydney basin. This is worth around $1 billion annually, with a flow-on effect of up to $5 billion. With every new housing development, valuable and, more importantly, productive agricultural land is being lost. Drought is destroying the inland farms and, as a consequence, we are having to increasingly rely on imported food products. We are losing coastal farming land to development and inland farming land to salinity and drought. It is simply unsustainable in the long term.

The Natural Heritage Trust set up by this government has been exposed as a pork barrel joke. The environment is a serious problem and we need to have serious solutions. We need a national strategy and we need national leadership. Labor will provide that leadership. Labor will ratify the Kyoto protocol, which will help address the catastrophic effects of global warming. Labor will save the Murray, the lifeblood of many farming communities. Simon Crean, our leader, announced in his budget reply that Labor will establish the Murray-Darling Riverbank. A new government corporation, Riverbank will be kick-started by federal funds and will attract state government and private sector contributions. Riverbank will invest in innovative projects that will set a new direction for water use in Australia. Federal Labor will provide the national leadership that is so desperately needed in this vital area.

Health care is about our future, and the government wants to tear it down. Education is about our future, and the government will not invest. The environment is about our future, and the government walks away. Another pressing issue regarding our future is superannuation, and again we see the government sitting idly by and hoping nobody will notice that they are doing nothing about it. The Treasurer wants to reduce the superannuation surcharge. It was not in this budget; there was no mention of superannuation in this budget at all. This is the great reform that the Treasurer wants. Of course, as is usual with this government, unless you earn $90,500 per annum, his changes will not affect you at all. This is a government again looking after the top five per cent of income earners in this country while ignoring the average Australian family. Labor will address this by giving every working Australian a superannuation tax cut. Labor will cut the superannuation contribution tax from 15 per cent to 13 per cent, which will mean thousands of dollars extra for people's retirement.

It was Labor which introduced compulsory superannuation to help deal with the long-term impacts of our ageing population. Only Labor had the long-term vision—something that has not changed in the intervening years. The Treasurer wants high-income earners to get more in retirement. Labor wants to give everybody more in retirement. The choice is startlingly clear. On the government side, you have ministers interested in feathering the nests of the already well off. On this side, we want everybody to share in the wealth that is created by the hard work of everyday Australian families. As Joe Caddy, the chair of the social policy and research committee of Catholic Welfare Australia, wrote recently in the Australian Financial Review on the budget:

I am afraid that we will wake up in 10 years and discover that the unique egalitarian nature of this nation has simply faded away. We have to reverse this trend rather than fuel it, as the budget has done.

In the same article, Mr Caddy also wrote:

Make no mistake—we are heading for two Australias. We have more wealthy Australians today than we had 10 years ago, while the number of Australians relying on government benefits and assistance from welfare organisations is on the increase. Poverty is not restricted to those without jobs but includes the new working poor.

To support that statement relating to more wealthy Australians than ever before, we have an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald entitled `The rich will double their wealth in three years'. Part of the article says:

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, there are 500,000 rich households in Australia, and they control more than 63 per cent of the nation's wealth.

I believe that is a very telling statement, and it is an independent verification of the statement from Mr Caddy. A further quote from Mr Caddy is:

The budget involved a major escalation of the push to force Australians into a more user-pays model for basic social services. The burden of these extra costs will fall on the working poor and will exacerbate existing inequalities.

In the region I represent, Western Sydney, one thing we are not short of is reports. Now we have another report commissioned by WSROC, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils. This report shows that areas around the major cities in the region—Penrith and Blacktown—have reached saturation point and now there is almost an equal flow of people out of the area as there is into it. But the area still suffers from growing pains arising out of being Australia's fastest growing residential area. There have been some major improvements in road construction in my electorate, such as the completion of Old Windsor Road and the commencement of the Western Sydney Orbital. I am pleased to see that construction has commenced on the orbital with some funding from the federal government. However, that road will have a toll—a toll that is quite unjust for the residents of Western Sydney. To travel in their own area on what is really a part of a national highway, they will have to pay a toll. It is predicted that for people from areas such as Glenwood to get into Blacktown, which has the major shopping centre in the area, they will have to pay 80c initially. It is unfair for local residents to have to pay to travel on what is really their own suburban road. However, it appears as though that decision has been made.

The area is still suffering from a lack of overall planning from a federal government perspective. We believe that the federal government should be more involved in this type of general planning, particularly for new residential areas. In most cases, we have seen considerable residential development prior issues relating to public transport, employment, education and health services being addressed. On the socioeconomic side, we need to understand that new and thriving suburbs are being built on top of infrastructure provided years ago for what are now well established areas. The rail system, for example, has not kept pace with population growth or distribution. These new residential areas will bring their own challenges in the future—two incomes being needed to continue to pay the mortgage and a falling birth rate are two issues that will impact on future generations.

The British sociologist Catherine Hakim, whom some of the members of the government side often quote, has warned in her book Models of the family in modern society that substantial debt required to finance a home purchase means that some women delay child rearing while others who would prefer to be at home with their children are forced to work full time. Mr Coller from the Anglican Rooty Hill office, referring to assistance given to working poor families in Western Sydney, said, `Over 40 per cent of a family's budget goes towards housing costs, the highest in history.'

What is happening is that we are expanding too fast and we are not laying down the necessary economic, physical and social infrastructure to sustain our communities into the future. Economically we are becoming a divided community, as Joe Caddy pointed out. Many people are unable to keep up due to age, ill-health and underemployment. According to the Bureau of Statistics, 574,000 Australians were underemployed last September as well as 628,000 being unemployed. Over the past 10 years we have seen unemployment, long-term unemployment and underemployment all increase, while many in full-time employment are now working in excess of 40 hours per week. What Labor stands for and what we all should stand for is a fairer society. That is why the retention of Medicare and bulk-billing is so important.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I think you would agree with these remarks. Let us be generous. Let us even be extravagant. Let health care be a growth industry. Let us attract more young people into the medical professions by ensuring that they are generously rewarded for their skills and commitment and the responsibilities they accept. This budget is not a budget for the future and it is not a budget for families; it is a budget that will create problems in the long term. It is a cynical budget, giving a pittance with one hand while slugging a fortune with the other. It will make life tougher for ordinary Australians over the long haul. I am sure all Australians recognise this and will judge the government accordingly. (Time expired)