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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1667


Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (16:57): These three bills propose appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in addition to those appropriated through the appropriations acts that were part of the 2014-15 budget. These bills reflect decisions that were made as part of the 2014-15 MYEFO and changes to machinery of government as part of the ministry reshuffle that took effect on 23 December 2014. In summary, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeks to appropriate just under $1.4 billion for the 2014-15 financial year. Appropriation Bill (No. 4) seeks approval to appropriate just under $241 million for the 2014-15 financial year. The Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) seeks approval for just under $114 million for the 2014-15 financial year.

The additional $1.7 billion in appropriations does not tell the full story. What we do not see are the cuts that were associated with MYEFO. In particular, I want to highlight the cuts that have occurred to Australia's overseas development aid budget. In addition to the $7.6 billion that was cut from foreign aid in the 2014-15 budget, the 2014-15 MYEFO revealed a further $3.7 billion would go on top of the $7.6 billion. This means that the Abbott Liberal government have slashed $11.2 billion from the Australian aid program—a cut at every budget and financial update since they were elected.

Australia's level of commitment to overseas development aid is now at 0.2 per cent of gross national income. Our level of development aid is now the lowest that it has ever been in our nation's history. What an embarrassment for a developed and wealthy nation such as Australia. They have now cut more money from aid than was budgeted for by Labor in our entire forward estimates. In the last budget, 20 per cent of all cuts—one dollar in every five that was cut—came from the one area, and the biggest cut was to overseas development aid.

When we talk about cuts to aid we are talking about billions of dollars. But the aid agencies like to think about what these cuts will mean not in terms of dollars but in terms of programs that could be run. Australia funds a number of very important programs that fuel development, particularly throughout our region in the Asia-Pacific. In terms of programs—money being delivered on the ground—what these aid cuts will mean is in these terms: 1.4 million children could be born without a birth attendant; 2.2 million children may not get to enrol in school; 3.7 million children may not be vaccinated; 4.7 million people may not get access to safe drinking water; and 22 million people in emergency situations may go unassisted. That is the dollar value of these cuts to the aid program.

Plan International, a very well respected international aid organisation that provides programs on the ground, particularly for the advancement of women in developing nations, have recently calculated what the effect of the cuts to overseas development aid will mean for some of the programs that they run throughout the world. According to Plan International, the cuts to aid could mean 220,000 fewer girls will be enrolled in school, 400,000 fewer girls will be immunised, 3,153 fewer classrooms where girls could learn will be renovated or built, 157,000 fewer girls will get better access to safe drinking water, and 750,000 fewer textbooks will be made available to girls by Australia. That is a snapshot of some of the sorts of programs that Australia funds in regions such as the Pacific. In nations such as Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands and places in Africa, that is what the cuts to overseas development aid mean on the ground.

Despite the Prime Minister promising before the election there would be not cuts to the ABC or SBS, we have seen $250 million cut from these broadcasters in these MYEFO figures associated with these appropriation bills. Their revised higher education package of reforms has parents in my electorate and across Australia deeply worried that their children will not be able to afford a university education, while their GP co-payment is designed to put more pressure on the sick and the struggling. But, notwithstanding the pain being inflicted upon the Australian people through these massive cuts, the MYEFO statement revealed that, due to the government's own economic mismanagement, an additional $44 billion would be added to the projected budget deficit over the four years to 2017-18.

Under the Abbott government, the unemployment rate has increased to 6.4 per cent, higher than any time under the former Labor government and the highest that it has been since 2002, when guess who was the Minister for Employment at the time? None other than our nation's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. ABS figures reveal 100,000 more people have joined the unemployment queues since the last election. The number of unemployed people in Australia is now 795,200—the highest in more than 20 years. Earlier, the Reserve Bank warned that stagnation in business confidence would continue to weigh on the economy and send unemployment to 6.5 percent and potentially even higher. Not only did the government slash and burn important and hugely beneficial programs, they also put the boot into a number of important revenue-raising programs, and this is why the government budget position has deteriorated. It has deteriorated between the May budget and MYEFO. If you look at the difference between the May budget and the MYEFO, the fall in revenue is almost exactly equal to the revenue that was raised by the price on carbon and the mining taxes.

There is close to $10 billion wiped out of government revenue and there is additional cost associated with the programs that were put in place to replace them. I speak, of course, of this government's approach to climate change and their so-called Direct Action policy. What the government has done is remove a market based mechanism. Remember, here we are talking about a Liberal government that believed in the sanctity of markets as the best way to produce the most efficient economic outcomes. They have got rid of that revenue that was being raised by the market based mechanism—the $6.3 billion—and they are putting in its place a policy that is going to cost an additional $4 billion over the coming years. Get rid of revenue and put in place an additional program that is going to cost more money—so-called Direct Action. Where do Australians think that that extra $4 billion is going to come from? Is it going to fall out of the sky? Of course not. The Australian taxpayer is going to pay for that. The Australian taxpayer will pay, and this fallacy that the government propagates that they are reducing the burden on households, that they are easing cost-of-living pressure is just that—a fallacy—because Australian taxpayers will pay for the additional cost of Direct Action.

This is the government's approach: we will give a tax break to the biggest polluting companies in Australia—most notably the coal fired power generation companies—and we will lose all of that revenue that we get from them to reduce emissions in our economy, but we will hit the Australian people up for it. We will hit the Australia taxpayer up for it. We will let off the big multinational corporations but hit up the Australian taxpayer.

And what has been the result of that? The result has been that emissions in our economy have gone up. Carbon emissions in Australia have increased since the Abbott government removed the price on carbon. And that is no surprise, because the economy-wide economic incentive to reduce emissions has now been removed, and the biggest polluters in our economy now have no economic incentive at all to reduce their emissions. So, guess what? They are not. Emissions in our economy are going up. Australian taxpayers are paying more for it. But the greatest shame about this policy approach it that really we are handing on the cost to our kids. We are saying to a future generation of Australians that we do not believe that we need to take the necessary action on climate change and we will ask you to do it in the future; we will pass the cost on to you. And every economist worth their salt, every climate change advisor worth their salt, says that the longer it takes you to take action on climate change the greater the cost will be.

I just met with a delegation of parliamentary leaders from Fiji, and I asked them: what are the issues that are topical for Fijians? And the number one issue is climate change. Communities in Fiji, on the smaller islands, are now being displaced by climate change. Fijians do not contribute to climate change; they contribute very little, as do most Pacific Islanders. And they cannot believe that a wealthy nation like Australia, with 22-odd million people, a much bigger country with a much bigger industrial base, is ignoring their pleas, that it is stepping backwards on climate change. It is one of the only developed nations in the world that is moving backwards on climate change. And the people who are feeling the effects are people like the Fijians I just met with. Australians talk about climate change as something that may occur in the future, in 20 or 30 years. But for people like Fijians and Pacific Islanders, climate change is not a looming threat; it is a present danger. It is happening now. Their plea to us today was that Australia needs to do more on climate change, and I could not agree with them more.

And here we have the government wiping out that revenue, $6.3 billion from the budget, and asking Australian taxpayers to fund their new policy. They have done it also in the area of mining tax, where they have given nine of the biggest multinational mining corporations in the country a tax break and are asking Australian taxpayers to pay more—for university degrees, for visits to the GP, through a petrol tax increase and through a high-income-earner increase.

These bills completely highlight the manner in which this government is managing our economy. They are asking the most vulnerable in our society to pay the costs. It is unfair. That is why the Shorten-led opposition has been so emphatic in its opposition to many of these budget measures, because they target the most vulnerable in our community. They target the poor . They target middle-income families and ask them to make a contribution to make up for structural issues within the budget. But at the same time they let off some of the most wealthy and profitable sectors and businesses in our economy—most notably, mining companies and large producers of fossil fuels. Their priorities when it comes to tackling the issue of the budget deficit, their priorities when it comes to ensuring that the budget is on a more sustainable footing into the future, are all wrong. It is not that the opposition is opposed to making changes to the budget, to making changes to many of the programs that are being delivered by government. It is about the approach the government is taking in doing that, by targeting the most vulnerable and poor within our economy.

That is why the opposition has said no to changes to Medicare, to changes to higher education fees and to changes to petrol taxes and the like. And that is why we will continue to campaign for fairness and good policy. We saw it today in Labor's release of a policy on tackling multinational tax avoidance. This is an issue the Treasurer put on the agenda at the G20 this year as something world economies need to focus on. But then when the heat came from big business in Australia he walked straight away from it, because he did not want to upset those who had been particularly big donors to the Liberal Party. And that is wrong. You cannot run an economy that way, and that is why Labor has been opposed to many of the changes that have been introduced by the government.