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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15683

Ms HALL (8:48 PM) —I begin my speech on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 by saying that a government should be judged by how effectively its budget delivers a fair and equitable society in a financially responsible way. A good government governs for all its citizens, not just a few. In Australia, we have come to expect that our governments will be inclusive and that, within the financial constraints of the day, each government will deliver a budget that creates opportunities for all, encourages innovation and creates a framework that will ensure that all those who need a little extra assistance get that assistance.

Unfortunately, the philosophy of the Howard government is to make the strong stronger and marginalise even further those in our community who look to the government for assistance and support. The government are slaves to the doctrine of competition; they believe that the winner takes all. The ideologues within the government are pushing Australia even further down a path that will see us become a two-tiered society with two classes of citizens: those who are very rich and those who are very poor.

It was interesting to read the article in the Sydney Morning Herald today entitled `Generation $ stretching the poverty gap'. The article identified that while, on the one hand, 20 per cent of wealthy Australians control more than 50 per cent of the country's wealth, on the other hand, the poorest 20 per cent of Australians control only one per cent of Australia's wealth. These figures show just how much our Australian society has been allowed to slip and how much some people in Australia have been marginalised. Australia is a wonderful place for the select 20 per cent to live, but if you are in that bottom 20 per cent it is a pretty miserable place to live.

I found some other figures detailed in an article in the Catholic Weekly in 2000. The article stated:

Forty-two per cent of Australian men aged 25 to 44 earn less than $32,000 a year, according to Prof Bob Birrell of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University. This is less than 66 per cent of the average weekly wage.

This means that it is harder for people to buy a house and it is harder for people to start a family. The article went on to say that one-third of Australian men in their early 30s have no partner and are forced to either live at home with their parents or live in substandard conditions. In Australia, we have a very low birthrate, which is of great concern to us as we have an ageing population. The birthrate is 1.7 and, as a nation, we need to address this issue. To do that, we need to look at the issue of families and come to terms with the fact that families are struggling. We need to support the 20 per cent of people, talked about in today's Sydney Morning Herald, who are really struggling.

The other article I referred to says:

Of men aged between 45 and 65, 51 per cent earn less than $32,000, and a staggering 26 per cent earn less than $16,000.

This demonstrates quite aptly the fact that in Australian society we have some people who work very hard, work very long hours and are very poor. The article also mentions the issues of unemployment, insecurity in employment and the impact that the casualisation of the work force has had upon people and how this has affected their ability to earn a reasonable living, buy homes and live the kind of life all of us have lived.

Given that there is an obvious problem with the distribution of wealth in Australia you may ask, `What is the Howard government doing? What has it done to create this situation? What has done to create a more equal society?' The answer is quite simple: it has given us more of the policies that have created the problems we have in Australia. The Howard government gave us the GST and is now seeking to destroy Medicare and make university education the prerogative of the wealthy. It is a government that has no commitment to the environment. Its only commitment is to big business and the dollar. It gives lip-service to restoring our river systems—in stark contrast to the Labor Party, which provides a solution and makes a commitment to the restoration of the Murray River.

It is a government that has continually failed our frail aged, who rely on the government to ensure that they receive proper care. It has cut funding to nursing homes and introduced the RCS—the classification scale that has led to a running down of our nursing homes and put a great burden upon those residential facilities that are seeking to provide quality accommodation. It is difficult to attract nurses to residential care facilities, both nursing homes and hostels. There is a shortage of registered nurses and assistant nurses in these facilities, and there is no way anything in this budget will change that fact. The government has done nothing to reverse the situation whereby nurses working in aged care facilities continue to receive less money than those working in the health system.

This is the government that is determined to sell Telstra. It is the government that has watched Telstra's network deteriorate and seen the sacking of thousands of workers and it is the government that is supporting the sacking of a further 3,000 workers and the disappearance of a further 4,200 jobs. This is the government that is guaranteeing the CEO of Telstra, Dr Ziggy Switkowski, one year's salary—$1 million—if they sack him whilst opposing the ACTU's attempt to increase the redundancy package for workers from eight weeks to 16 weeks. This is the government that has inflated the price of Telstra shares to make the budget's bottom line look better.

In the Hunter and on the Central Coast of New South Wales—where the Shortland electorate is located—we are feeling the effects of the government's ideological determination to sell Telstra. We are feeling the effects of a network that has been allowed to deteriorate and we are feeling the effects of thousands of Telstra jobs being slashed. I have been advised by numerous Telstra workers of many problems that exist in the electorate. Eight workers have already been retrenched in the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie area and six workers have been retrenched on the Central Coast. Staff are being forced to work on weekends and to start early and finish late.

Staff from outside the area are having to be brought in to maintain the network. These staff are paid $132 a day extra in travelling allowance, above their wages, plus excess travelling time. Newcastle staff have been working in Merriwa, and staff from as far away as Dubbo have been working in the Hunter and particularly on the Central Coast, where there have recently been a number of problems. These have definitely been exacerbated by the government's actions. All staff are pressured to work overtime because of the shortage of staff. On Fridays they are sent an SMS message to work on Saturdays. They cannot change their rostered days off, because there is no flexibility there. They are unable to take their holidays, because there are no replacements, so they have to continually put off taking holidays. This means that staff are carrying well in excess of the eight weeks they are supposed to carry.

It is of particular concern that the maintenance that is taking place on our network is substandard simply because workers do not have time to properly complete the jobs they are allocated. On the Central Coast many of the wires and cables in the highly sensitive network are being protected by plastic bags! Is this the way to ensure that we have an adequate service? Telstra's network has been allowed to run down. The government has failed to invest in it and has constantly attacked the work force.

The people of the Central Coast have been subjected to many hours without phones. We lose our phone service on a regular basis on the Central Coast and at Lake Macquarie, and it is very disappointing that the government has failed to recognise this. I recently raised an issue in the Main Committee relating to an extensive outage. I called on the member for Dobell to join with me in asking the government to restore funding to Telstra—to make a commitment to Telstra and a commitment to the people of the Central Coast. Unfortunately, his response was to attack me.

Debate interrupted.