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Thursday, 30 May 2013
Page: 4651


Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (10:35): I welcome the opportunity to address members today on the appropriation bills 2013-14. This budget confirms to the Australian people what they have suspected for some time—that is, the government is in chaos, the budget is out of control and Australians are paying a high price for the waste and mismanagement by our Prime Minister and her government. If government backbenchers and the cross-benchers want to understand why they have lost the trust of the Australian people, they should look at this budget and do two things: firstly, members opposite should be honest with themselves by sitting down and objectively seeking the detail of their own budget papers; and, secondly, they should take the time to read the ministerial media releases which were distributed on budget night. If members opposite do those two things, they will get a sense of why the bond of trust between the government and the Australian people is broken—because, if they are honest with themselves, they will find there is a complete disconnect between the messages their ministers are peddling and the reality of this budget.

Over the past five years, federal Labor have delivered government through spin. They have become accustomed and conditioned to believing they can fool the Australian people through media releases. They believe they can spin a line to the Australian people, and the issue is resolved. They believe that, if they can grab a headline, the problem is addressed. We have seen it time and again: an education revolution, the East Timor solution to stopping the boats, the government's commitment to return to surplus and a carbon tax to address climate change. I could go on and on, but the reality is still the same when it comes to this budget—policy by press release without any thought as to how it is going to be implemented and at what cost; policy by press release without any regard to the nation's finances and its impact on taxpayers; policy by press release which relies on government deception. So it is that we have arrived at this point for the 2013-14 budget, a document which essentially epitomises everything that is wrong with this government.

I would like to take time today to highlight to members opposite how this budget is just more government spin and deception. I would like to draw to members' attention to the budget's failure to deliver a roadmap for our nation, instead saddling the next government of the day with a legacy of debt, unfunded promises and budgetary disarray.

There is no better example of this spin than what we have seen in relation to infrastructure. As someone who represents an electorate in which the Pacific Highway is a very important issue, I know every budget has a direct connection to the schedule of works. On budget night this year, the member for Grayndler and the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport issued media releases lauding this budget for its infrastructure spend. In media releases distributed throughout my electorate, the minister claimed that five Pacific Highway projects totalling more than $3.3 billion would commence construction between now and mid-2014. Great news—if only we could believe this government. The clear intent of these media releases was to grab a headline for the government; and, with some media outlets, I will admit it worked. But most north coast residents have learned over the past five years to ignore media releases. They want to know the funding has been included in the budget. They want to witness the contracts being awarded and they want to see construction underway. They want the road fixed and they want their elected leaders to be honest with them with regard to the schedule of works. So, in that context, what does this budget deliver for the Pacific Highway, especially given the minister's claim that more than $3 billion of work will commence in the next 15 months?

The first and most crucial fact in this budget is that there is no new money for the Pacific Highway. Not one extra dollar is detailed in the budget papers. In fact, in Budget Paper No. 2, under expense measures, there is a long list of new road projects which the government says will be funded through to 2019. The Pacific Highway is not mentioned. The Bruce Highway is mentioned, the New England Highway is mentioned, but there is no mention of the Pacific Highway. However, the budget papers do note that the government will continue Commonwealth contributions to major infrastructure projects from 2014-15 to 2017-18.

An optimist might hope that this will include the Pacific Highway. A realist is more likely to have a closer look at the total infrastructure spend and question how it will impact on the completion date of the Pacific Highway. When we have a closer look at the government's total infrastructure spend, guess what? It has gone down. That is right, it has gone down. Despite all the press releases from Minister Albanese, and all the spin from people such as the member for Lyne, what we do know is that this budget has confirmed that total infrastructure spending on road and rail has been cut from $36 billion over six years to $24 billion over five years. Effectively this is a cut of $1.2 billion a year.

How does this impact on the Pacific Highway? In Senate estimates yesterday, we heard the Department of Infrastructure and Transport's Mike Mrdak confirm that the Gillard government had deferred expenditure on the Pacific Highway. In last year's budget, it was announced that $1.025 billion would be spent by the Commonwealth in 2014-15. The department has now confirmed that has been cut to $625 million. Last year the government set aside $1.4 billion in 2015-16. That has now been cut almost in half to $770 million. After 2015-16, Labor's funding commitment to the highway slows to a trickle. As Mr Mrdak told Senate estimates yesterday, just $145 million from the Commonwealth will be spent on the highway in 2016-17 and this will drop to just $75 million in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.

This clearly shows that under Labor north coast residents are going to be waiting years and years and years before the duplication will be completed. The 2016 completion date is dead and buried. Labor is now telling north coast residents that if Julia Gillard is re-elected they will be waiting until way beyond 2020 before the highway will be completed. Labor has walked away from the 80-20 funding model with New South Wales and now insist on 50-50 funding, despite signing an 80-20 arrangement with the Queensland government for the upgrade of the Bruce Highway. That is despite the government agreeing to an 80-20 split for the Bolivia Hill project on the New England Highway. Why is it good enough for the Bruce Highway in Queensland and for the New England Highway at Bolivia Hill to be on 80-20, yet for the Pacific Highway, for some unknown reason, the Labor government is demanding 50-50? North coast residents are sick of the needless delays. They just want the road fixed.

The coalition will restore the 80-20 funding model for the completion of the Pacific Highway and commit $5.6 billion towards the upgrade. Combining that with the New South Wales commitment of $1.5 billion, this will deliver the $7 billion required to complete the duplication of the road. On 14 September, voters will have a clear choice: a federal coalition with a rock-solid commitment to the Pacific Highway, or Labor's ongoing fudging of figures and endless deceit.

It is not just the Pacific Highway where there are serious questions about this budget. In relation to education funding, we have also seen Labor's sleight of hand. Once again, on budget night, we had the government hailing its funding for what is known as the Gonski reforms. The joint press release from the Prime Minister and the Minister for School Education said:

The Gillard Government has made a $9.8 billion commitment to increase school funding over six years, along with better indexation and reforms to lift student achievement, under the National Plan for School Improvement.

All very welcome, except for the fact that it is wrong. Once again, we have policy by press release. Gonski is the headline and $9.8 billion is the government's magical figure required to fund these reforms. But, when you look at the cold, hard reality of the budget papers, they tell a very different story. The truth is that education will actually be cut as a result of this budget. According to the budget papers, $2.8 billion of so-called Gonski reforms will be paid over the next four years, but the additional $2.8 billion over four years will be offset by $3.126 billion in cuts to school education and redirections of national partnerships funding over the same period. The government are discontinuing the national partnerships funding for low socioeconomic schools, ending reward payments to teachers, axing cash bonus payments for schools and cutting literacy and numeracy funding, all of which will save $2.1 billion. On top of the discontinued programs, there is a further $1 billion reduction in ongoing funding set aside for non-government schools when compared to last year's budget. When you compare last year's budget to this year's figures, the overall budget reveals that education will lose $325 million over four years. Labor is relying entirely on extra funding from the state governments to prop up its floundering school-funding model. Labor has also cut funding to universities, student income support, apprenticeships and training and tax deductions for self-education expenses. Southern Cross University, which has a substantial presence in my electorate, has now started offering voluntary redundancies as a result of the Gillard government cuts.

After six years of promises and declining student outcomes, Labor is creating more uncertainty within the education sector. That uncertainty was laid bare for all to see when the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, the member for Kingsford Smith, was unable to explain, on a weekend political program, how much funding the states could expect in the next financial year. It is just another example of how the Gillard government has mismanaged the issue. To date, only one state has signed up, and the reforms are approaching the deadline the Prime Minister set, of 30 June. That is not the way to deliver national school funding reform for the next generation of students, but we have a government that is addicted to spin rather than good policy.

The final area I would like to focus on is the issue of budget debt and deficit and economic management. I have already touched on how Labor cannot be trusted. We only have to look at the Pacific Highway and school funding to know that. But of course there has also been the Prime Minister's promise that there would be no carbon tax under the government she led. And then there was the promise that we were going to have a surplus. Having inherited a $20 billion surplus and $70 billion in the bank from the coalition, in just six years the government have now saddled the nation with a mountain of debt. According to the budget papers, we are set to breach our $300 billion debt ceiling.

Last year, the Treasurer announced that in 2012-13 the budget would return to surplus, albeit a small one of $1.5 billion. We all knew the government were fudging the figures. The shadow Treasurer, the member for North Sydney, spoke for all of us on this side of the House when he said that Labor would never deliver a surplus. But that did not stop the Prime Minister or the Treasurer. Between them, they promised a surplus on no less than 500 occasions. The Prime Minister guaranteed it. It was almost as if the PM and the Treasurer believed that, if they said it often enough, it would materialise. Meanwhile, the rest of us on this side of the chamber knew the truth. And it was so. Just before Christmas, the Treasurer broke his surplus promise. On the back of the deficits of $27 billion in 2008-09, $54 billion in 2009-10, $47.5 billion in 2010-11 and $43.4 billion in 2011-12, the Treasurer revealed that he will have a small deficit. Just as Pinocchio's nose got longer and longer every time he lied, the Treasurer's deficit got larger and larger every time he mentioned it, to the point that, on budget night, the Treasurer confirmed that the $1.5 billion surplus had not turned into a small deficit; it had now turned into a $19.4 billion deficit, a staggering $21 billion turnaround.

It is incredible that we have a government who continue to believe that they can deceive the Australian people with endless spin and can continue to peddle the same sorts of promises.

We are now told, 'Trust me: in just a few years time I'm going to deliver an $800 million surplus.' We have heard it all before. 'It was going to be a $1½ million surplus this year; now wait a few years and eventually we will get there.' I would hope in September that the coalition has the opportunity to form a government, to restore responsible financial management and to deny the current Treasurer the opportunity to deliver more and more deficits as far as the eye can see. He has form on deficits and he has form on financial mismanagement. The Australian people know they cannot trust this government and I would hope that on 14 September we are able to deliver, with the support of the Australian people, a coalition government to restore the strong economic management that this country so much needs.