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Thursday, 30 May 2013
Page: 4670

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (12:03): I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2013-2014 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014. Unfortunately, my speech to this chamber is quite similar to the comments I have made about previous appropriation bills—that is, this year, just as in years past, the government's rhetoric has not been matched by the reality. We heard a promise from the Treasurer last year that he would deliver surpluses—that this budget would be a $1.5 billion surplus. He made the grand statement that the deficit years were behind us and the surplus years were ahead. How wrong could he be. He again delivered yet another deficit. This deficit was a deficit of upwards of $19 billion—almost $20 billion; hardly the $1.5 billion surplus that was promised.

What we also discovered in the budget papers was that the gross debt ceiling that the Treasurer has raised throughout his time from $75 billion to $200 billion to $250 billion to now $300 billion will in fact exceed the gross debt ceiling over the current forward estimates period. Why is this so? It is because this current government has not been able to manage the budget—has not been able to, as Wayne Swan as Treasurer puts it so well himself, 'get the big economic calls right'. And the implications are very severe for the Australian people as a result.

Let us not forget where we came from. We came from a very different period before this government took over in 2007. We had paid off $96 billion of Labor's debt. We had created a Future Fund, with more than $60 billion of assets. Surplus after surplus—record surplus after surplus—was delivered, with a $20 billion surplus in the bank. We have now gone to a position where there are deficits that add up to more than $192 billion as a result of this Treasurer, and we have a gross debt ceiling approaching, at its peak, more than $370 billion.

Why are the debts and deficits so concerning? This government is borrowing to pay for its fiscal incompetence, and that has a direct cost for every Australian taxpayer. They are paying more. They are actually having to now pay an interest bill based on the government's borrowing. And they are paying more than $35 million a day to pay for the $8 billion worth of interest payments that are accumulating each and every year.

But why is this important? It is important because it means that we cannot focus on the things that we should be focused on as a country: paying for those services and the vital infrastructure that we require.

Many of you would know that in this place I have spoken a lot about the need to get rid of railway crossings in Victoria. We have more than 172 railway crossings in Victoria, compared to only eight in Sydney. This has a significant impact on our ability to get things done, in terms of the time that people spend in cars waiting at these railway crossings whether on their way to work or on their way home from work. This is time that could be better spent doing something else. It is, in fact, a productivity issue. Despite the repeated requests from the Victorian government to make provision for railway crossings in their Infrastructure Australia bid, not one new dollar of funding has been provided to Victoria to abolish these railway crossings.

I myself speak from some experience having followed this question very closely, because I have, in my electorate of Higgins, some of the worst examples of railway crossings in the state. The Murrumbeena Road-Neerim Road Murrumbeena railway crossing is constantly rated as the worst level crossing in the state according to the RACV Redspot Survey. Not one federal dollar has been allocated for its improvement. I am happy to say, though, that the state government, despite the lack of support from the federal government in this area, has made significant commitments to abolish more than five railway crossings in the state, which stands in stark contrast to Labor's record when it was in government at a state level: during its 11 years in government, it abolished only two. I am pleased to see that the coalition state government is abolishing five within its first term of government. It is a government of action, not of talk.

Another issue that concerns me in the current budget relates to the cost of living. We have seen repeated claims from this government that they are going to decrease the cost of living for every Australian. But since 2007 we all know that the cost of electricity has increased by 93.8 per cent and other important costs have gone up, such as gas by more than 61.8 per cent and medical and health services by more than 40.9 per cent. This has a direct impact on the family budget. We all know that one of the factors in increasing these costs is the carbon tax, which the coalition has promised to abolish. This will be our first priority, our first order of business.

It is not just in these areas that we are seeing increased costs. It is harder for families now to access affordable and flexible child care. It is harder for a number of reasons. The first is that the government has increased red tape and regulation on childcare centres. In doing so it has increased the cost of running and providing childcare services. Childcare costs have increased by more than 22 per cent in a matter of only two years. In addition to that, in this current budget we have seen the government make it even harder for families. The childcare rebate has been frozen. No indexation will be paid. It will cost every family with children who wish to access child care hundreds of dollars a year. So, in addition to raising the cost of child care, they have frozen the childcare rebate, putting more pressure on families in our communities.

Another issue I wish to raise in relation to the appropriation bills is education funding. The government thinks it is being very clever promising to deliver the Gonski reforms. The Gonski recommendations were quite different from what we see in the budget. Gonski recommended that there be more than $6.5 billion of new funding provided for schools each and every year over the forward estimates period, which is $26 billion. What the government has promised though over the forward estimates period and provided for in the budget papers is $2.8 billion—a very significant reduction. When you actually look at what the government has done with the figures and look at the tables and the charts and examine them line by line, you realise that the situation is even worse than simply not delivering on their promise to deliver Gonski. It has actually cut schools funding by more than $325 million. It has done this by reallocating existing funding and changing funding arrangements. The cut over the next four years is $325 million.

So far from an education revolution, it has been a con, a cruel hoax on so many Australians who expected so much given what the government had said. We want to see better educational outcomes for all Australian students. We want to make sure that the money is allocated efficiently and effectively. Cutting education funding in the way that this government has done will hurt our ability to ensure that our students receive the best education—the education that they deserve.

They have not just cut schools funding; they have also cut funding to our higher educational institutions—$2.3 billion to our universities and support for students at universities. This comes off the back of their quite extraordinary cuts to the medical health and research sector as well. We all know that Australia punches above its weight when it comes to medical health and research, but we should not jeopardise that in any way. That is why the coalition have stated very emphatically that we will quarantine funding for medical health and research. We certainly will not cut it, and we will not do the sorts of tricky things that we have seen this current government do. We have seen them, in trying to make their figures add up in this budget, play around with NHMRC funding arrangements and payments and ARC funding arrangements and payments, making a change to the way that they pay it in arrears rather than in advance so that there is a significant cash flow problem for anybody who is receiving those payments.

The other issue that I wish to raise in the time available to me is that the government have most certainly failed in their commitment to provide foreign aid funding as promised. The promise they make every election is that they will increase foreign aid funding, and in every budget we see them deferring out each and every year that increased funding. When we examine the budget figures closely, it is very clear that the government are spending a substantial portion of our foreign aid budget on trying to fix a black hole—the budget blow-out for border protection. Australia is actually the third largest recipient of Australia's foreign aid, because about $375 million of the foreign aid budget is being spent on funding the onshore processing of asylum seekers. This is clearly not something that the government have made much mention of for fairly obvious reasons.

In the final time remaining to me, I would like to point out what the government has had to do in order to try and plug their significant black hole. We saw an FOI released only this week from the Reserve Bank and from the Treasury. The Treasurer, against the advice of the Reserve Bank governor—the very emphatic advice of the Reserve Bank governor—has raided the Reserve Bank Reserve Fund of more than half a billion dollars to try and plug the black hole that the Treasurer has created in this budget, creating his own budget emergency. The RBA's capital fund is now well below the acceptable level.

So, in a nutshell, this government has made the wrong calls in a number of areas. It has put Australia on the wrong path. We need to get the priorities right again so that we can restore hope, reward and opportunity to every Australian.