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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16541

Ms HOARE (7:48 PM) —The three bills that we are debating today form the basis of the budget for 2003-04 and were subject to budget estimates in the week beginning 26 May. The bills seek a total annual appropriation of $46.2 billion in 2002-03. Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 seeks $40½ billion, of which $10.9 billion is for administered items to be appropriated from the consolidated revenue fund for the ordinary annual services of government, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2003-2004 seeks $5.5 billion, and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 seeks $166 million for the five agencies. The Labor Party has moved a second reading amendment which says:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for:

(1) its obsession with shifting the cost of health and education from the budget to Australian families;

(2) imposing higher costs of doctors visits on families without concession cards and a 30 per cent hike in essential medicine prices;

(3) allowing HECS fees to rise by 30%, introducing a loan scheme with a 6% interest rate and doubling the number of places reserved for full fee paying students;

(4) its cynical attempt to distract the public from these higher costs by offering miserly tax cuts of $4 a week for the average family;

(5) its failure to address the complexity of superannuation and its determination to offer super cuts only to the wealthiest families;

(6) its willingness to deliver tax cuts to corporate Australia while imposing a record tax burden on Australian families;

(7) its failure to protect the superannuation savings of Australian families by protecting them from corporate greed;

(8) its decision to hire yet more tax officials rather than take steps to ease the BAS compliance burden on small business; and

(9) its failure to provide leadership on environmental issues and in particular its failure to address water reform.

This budget is made up of various nasties. It will see Medicare copayments of $20 per GP visit and the eventual destruction of Medicare. It will see up to 30 per cent increases in already unaffordable higher education fees. It sees a shortage of 30,000 child-care places. It sees the cost of essential medicines under the PBS rising by 30 per cent. This budget sees public dental service waiting lists of three years and public hospital waiting lists of 12 to 18 months. This budget sees 20,000 people on public housing waiting lists and 365,000 people from working households living in poverty. This budget sees growing unemployment, underemployment and casualisation of the work force. This budget sees paid maternity leave as being deemed unaffordable. This budget sees $1.63 tax cuts for those on incomes of $20,000 per year or less and $4 tax cuts for those on incomes of $20,000 to $50,000. This budget sees continuing cuts to welfare and harassment of welfare recipients. It sees more money transferred from public and private schools. It sees tens of millions of dollars in handouts and tax cuts to the big corporations.

Like others, I will just touch on a few of the issues that have been raised in various speeches. The first area I would like to address is that of education. The so-called higher education reforms which have been presented in this budget provide extra opportunities to wealthy students to take up university places that would be denied to them on the grounds of their ability. These reforms put university study further out of the reach of low-income families. The Howard government has overseen $5 billion worth of cuts in higher education since 1996 and now tries to replace it with $1.5 billion in new funding for universities for the 2004-07 period. The government is also allowing universities to increase fees for courses by up to 30 per cent above what is currently charged under the Higher Education Contribution Scheme. It has been reported that students studying law, dentistry, medicine and veterinary science could face increases in fees from $6,136 per year to $8,355 per year and humanity students could face increases from $3,680 to $5,010 per year.

Currently only one-quarter of student places at universities can be offered to full fee paying students. This budget aims to double this figure to allow that 50 per cent of all students can be full fee paying. As we have seen at the beginning of the year, that means that if your family is wealthy you do not require the necessary TER score to enter university. If you are wealthy and have not achieved the marks required, you can enter university by paying for a decrease in the entrance requirements. Some of these degrees could cost more than $100,000 and some students are paying already up to $144,000 for a degree.

To pay for this, the minister generously announced a new federally funded loan system, HELP—help me pay for my education. The scheme would provide a study now, pay later loan of up to $50,000 towards the cost of a degree. It must be asked of the magnanimous minister where students are going to find the balance of up to $100,000. Universities might then well hang out a shingle which reads, `No matter how smart you are and how hard you have worked, poor kids need not apply.' It could also be extended to working class women and sole parents. The Howard government's plans for higher education are a recipe for higher debt for students and their families, with university education increasingly pushed out of the reach of low- and middle-income families.

I want to touch briefly on schools funding in the education budget. Non-government schools now receive funding from the federal government of $4.37 billion in the 2003-04 year with no accountability; they receive more funding than Australia's public universities, which receive $4.31 billion with strings attached. Funding for government schools come in a very poor third with $2.26 billion.

I now turn to the overseas aid expenditure in the budget. There has been a modest increase of about $31 million for investment in peace and stability through poverty reduction programs. However, this contrasts with the $750 million it cost Australia for the war in Iraq. Australia continues to remain at an all-time low in our overseas aid commitment; 0.25 per cent of GNI. Thus we continue to fall behind most other OECD countries, which have increased their aid spending to reduce poverty and build real human security. There is also $79 million as part of the ODA program to the department of immigration and multicultural affairs which relates to refugees in Australia. So now the treatment of refugees in our detention centres in Australia is coming out of our overseas aid budget.

The budgeted overseas aid for this financial year is $1.894 billion. That represents a raw 2.2 per cent increase in real terms over the previous year. As I said, Australia remains 14th out of the 22 OECD donor countries in relation to the percentage of gross national income which we spend on overseas aid. There is $87 million that has come out of the ODA program to be budgeted for offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru, and a further $48 million is the cost to DIMIA of supporting refugees in Australia—$17 million of this relates to defence cooperation activities and up to $45 million of this ODA budget will fund commitments to the reconstruction of Iraq.

ACFOA have put out a paper on the overseas aid budget and it refers to the long-term trend since the Howard government was elected. Since 1995-96 aid as a proportion of gross national income has decreased from 0.32 per cent to 0.25 per cent. Aid to the Pacific has increased by 17.6 per cent in real terms but in most other areas aid has decreased. It has decreased aid to Asia, decreased aid to South Asia, and decreased aid to Africa. However, aid to the Middle East has increased in real terms by 235 per cent because that includes the Iraq commitment. Funds to United Nations agencies have decreased by 51.3 per cent in real terms and funds to Australian and non-Australian NGOs have decreased by 35 per cent in real terms.

Australia lags far behind and we are going to risk getting lower and lower down the list of OECD donor countries if we do not address our overseas aid budget in the very near future. When we have a world in which terrorism thrives, that means there must be some real root causes and those causes are insecurity, poverty, the lack of natural resources and the lack of basic requirements for survival. The way that developed and wealthy countries like Australia can help address these issues is by increasing the overseas aid budget. In relation to Iraq, for example, the government has committed $100.5 million to recovery and rehabilitation to be expended between the 2002 and 2004 financial years as opposed to the $750 million the government saw fit to spend on war.

The submission of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid to the federal budget indicated that Australia's aid needed to significantly increase in basic social sectors to adequately fund our commitments to the achievement of the internationally agreed millennium development goals. Budgeted expenditure in these areas demonstrates that Australia's aid still falls well short of our fair share. As I said, if we do not lift our overseas aid budget we will not be ranked 14th out of the 22 OECD donor countries. By 2006 Australia is likely to be ranked 20th out of the 22 OECD donor countries. That is a national disgrace. I am sure a Crean led Labor government would immediately increase the overseas aid budget from this country after winning government.

I turn now to the environmental programs. On the evening of the budget our shadow minister, the member for Wills, pointed out that the government was going to win the wooden spoon for underspending on environmental programs. He referred to the Howard government's two flagship environmental programs—the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust. He went on to underline the underspending: in 2000-01, only $1.7 million was spent of the $5 million the government allocated and, in 2001-02, less than half was spent of the money allocated; at 3 March this year the government had only spent $15.5 million of $100 million allocated for 2002-03; and at 3 March only $35 million had been spent on the national action plan on salinity since its inception.

The Natural Heritage Trust has also been a massive underspender. The last three budgets have shown how underspending on the Natural Heritage Trust has been on average $100 million per year. This year it is even worse. Last year Minister Kemp trumpeted spending $250 million for the Natural Heritage Trust; in fact the government is likely to have spent just $80 million on the Natural Heritage Trust proper and around $20 million on the Envirofund. This represents an underspend of $150 million.

On Saturday in my electorate I attended a meeting of regional Landcare officers. They go right up the Hunter Valley but mainly meet in the Landcare Resource Office located at Fassifern which is funded mainly by local government and through the Commonwealth—through the Natural Heritage Trust and the Envirofund. There were concerns raised at that time that Landcare groups right across the country are unsure of their future. They have funding until 30 June. However, it was unclear in this budget and it has been unclear to them whether the Natural Heritage Trust and the Envirofund will continue and whether the Landcare programs are going to receive the funding that they require to continue to do their good work.

As we all know, the Landcare groups in our electorates provide an invaluable resource to our local environment in setting up different groups to look after different areas and in educating young people and encouraging them to become involved. I call on the government to ensure that all our Landcare groups in all our electorates are fully funded to continue to do the good work that they do.

I turn briefly now to women in the budget. I think that one comment from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, in her response to the federal budget, says it all. She says:

The Government's decision not to support working families with any form of national paid maternity leave is sadly disappointing for Australia's working families. It especially fails to take account of the need for Australian women to recover from child birth and nurture their children without financial pressure. The absence of a national scheme means that Australian women will continue to return to work early and leave their children early, hardly in step with a so called family-focussed nation such as ours. Meanwhile women in all other OECD countries, except the United States, are able to remain at home for at least those first precious months...

The same budget, which did not address anything about a nationally supported paid maternity leave, was able to redirect funds of $10.1 million out of a women's domestic violence program to the National Security Public Information Campaign. It cannot address any work and family issues but it can take money out of the domestic violence budget and redirect that $10 million to spend on a fridge magnet to protect us against a terrorist threat. As I said, the government ignores the domestic violence reality of thousands of Australian women.

In conclusion, I turn briefly to the dismantling of the ABC. The government has failed again to properly fund the country's most significant provider of information and culture. A newspaper article states that Terry Laidler, a Friends of the ABC spokesperson, described the budget as `Steady as she goes, dismantling the ABC'. In the article, Mr Laidler says:

In its Budget, the Government has failed in its responsibility to ensure the country's independent national broadcaster will thrive.

We would have all had complaints about the axing of ABC Kids and Fly digital channels. One message from my constituent, David Bailey, reads:

It is with great disappointment to learn on Monday, 26 May that the ABC will discontinue the ABC Kids and Fly digital channels. I have approached you once before on a related issue ...

It goes on:

Many people, especially families, purchased standard definition digital set-top-boxes on the basis of the provision of ABC Kids and Fly digital channels.

The message continues:

The hardest part for me, as a parent, was explaining to my twin five year old boys that their favourite tv channel will finish.

ABC provided a channel which was both innovative and educational for children ... it was a valuable alternative to advertising-centred programming offered by the Free-to-air commercial networks and the children pay channels.

(Time expired)