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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3229


Ms MacTIERNAN (Perth) (15:23): I believe that the problem with the Abbott government is that they are still operating as the feral opposition they were for the last four years. They are addicted to picking fights and lobbing grenades—not uniting a nation, solving problems and planning for a positive future, as a grown-up government should. Given this mindset, it is really not surprising that we are seeing the bad choices and wrong priorities that we mention in our motion today. Indeed, the government are sending this country backwards at such a furious pace that the ordinary Australians are having trouble keeping up. It is a priority for this government to throw a bomb into ethnic and Aboriginal communities, re-igniting a race debate and scaling back protections against hate speech, protections that have contributed to this nation's great record on community harmony.

They have picked fights with Holden and goaded them into leaving Australia. They are savaging our capacity to keep 21st century manufacturing skills in this country. They pick fights daily with the ABC, punishing them for being something other than a cheer squad. They have a priority to reinstate the bunyip aristocracy, to return to tugging the forelock of colonial days, with sirs and ladies. In particular, this is about our important national symbols and there has been absolutely no dialogue with the community about this. We just see this autocratic decision being made. I believe that, regardless of what people may think of this decision, the fact that it is been made in this way will be marked down savagely by the electorate. It sure has been a government of surprises. This was a great surprise. The bunyip aristocracy was a great surprise. No-one saw it coming, not even in 'Turnbullistan'.

Australia did not see coming the plan to pull the rug out from under Medicare, our universal healthcare access scheme which for decades has been an incredibly important part of the social contract in Australia. Australians certainly were not told about the proposal for the GP tax before the last election. Western Australians, in particular, did not expect, when Mr Abbott promised a unity ticket on Gonski reforms—a reform that promised more targeted money would be coming to all our schools—that he would allow the Barnett government to rip $180 million per year from Western Australian schools and then use the $110 million of Gonski payment to backfill, while, through that process, not even keep up with business as usual.

I was actually quite amazed today by the contribution of the Minister for Education who said that this is simply not happening. Every government school in Western Australia is talking about the number of teaching positions they are having to cut, the education assistance they are having to cut, the number of resources they are having to eliminate. Lockridge Senior High School—one of the schools in an area that really struggles—has been forced to completely cut its literacy program, which was really beginning to turn around the outcomes for that school.

Apparently, according to the Minister for Education, this is simply not happening. To use the favourite word of the government, it is a 'confection'—each and every one of those parent groups, those teachers, the principals of schools in Western Australia are making this up! This is not happening; they do not have less money! I can tell you it is happening and the Western Australia community is very angry about it.

Western Australians did not see that we would lose 40 trade training centres—centres designed to ensure we skill up young Australians. We are taking down the architecture that is going to enable us to do that skill development at that same time as we start unlocking the protections which have been put around 457 visas. This is at a time of record unemployment in Western Australia—the biggest unemployment since the Howard days—where 84,000 Western Australians are out of work. The voters of Western Australia know there is now likely to be other surprises waiting for them, that there are 900 pages of deep cuts in the Commission of Audit report—a report the government has been sitting on and will not release before the WA Senate election. People understand that. They get the nasty surprises that have happened and they are very mindful that the Commission of Audit report is sitting there.

Voters should also be alert and alarmed at the federal government's heavying the state governments into privatisation of important government assets, to fund critical infrastructure because what we are seeing here is a big plan. We actually do have a plan from the government. We have a plan to concoct a budget crisis so that their real agenda can be implemented. Their real agenda is an agenda of microgovernment. They want to go back to the style of government that we had in the 19th century where you did not really do that much. You were not actively engaged in creating a social contract and all of the apparatus of government that we need in the 21st century to ensure that we have the jobs, skills, social harmony and commitment to a shared vision. They want to wind it back. It is a 19th century vision. We are beginning to see a pattern. We are going to get the sirs and the dames and we are going to get a 19th century government.

I just want to make a few comments on this confection. The Parliamentary Budget Office has shown that the decision by the government to ditch the previous fiscal rules has dramatically inflated the net debt by an incredible $260 billion. The truth is that we have three AAA credit ratings, something that was never achieved in the whole time of the Howard government. We have a net debt to GDP ratio that is one of the lowest in the developed world. It is not only this recent frolic into the lords and ladies that shows us that we are living in the past. I quote from Battlelines by Mr Abbott, as he was then:

In Australia's biggest cities, public transport is generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and still a hideous drain on the public purse.

This obviously is the rationale. It is a view of what it was like in the days when trains had steam and they went put, put, put. This is the land he is living in and it is creating a real problem for us and our cities where 80 per cent of Australians live. We have a government that wants to go back to the 19th century. They do not want to recognise that. They have dismantled the major cities project and they have made a decision that they are not interested in nor prepared to fund public transport. They do not understand the basic economics of this. Economic study after economic study has demonstrated quite comprehensively that investment in public transport is going to get you a major productivity boost in your city. Indeed, the whole functionality of cities requires high levels of mobility. That is simply not deliverable without investment in fast public transport services.

I invite the Prime Minister to come to Perth. I will take him on the Mandurah rail line. We travel at 130 kilometres an hour. It is not slow, it is not expensive and it is not inefficient. This is what we need around Australia. We need that investment. We need the $500 million that is going to be ripped out of the next budget in Western Australia restored so that we can invest in our cities.