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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1718


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (20:28): We have heard from many of the speakers before me on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and cognate bills that the bills are basically about supply—they are about appropriations. In the beginning of my contribution to this debate, however, I did just want to point out the contradiction within the government's argument. They say that this bill is about saving money. They say that they have had to cut savagely to get the budget back into surplus, or close to surplus. But yet, as we have heard from people on my side of the House, what we have seen in these bills and in the MYEFO is a $44 billion blow-out in the budget deficit over the forward estimates, compared to their original budget in 2014-15. Yet, at the same time that they have this blow-out, which would suggest to a common person that they are spending big, they are also making some pretty savage cuts in areas that affect so many in my community.

Still, the government have on the table their cuts to pensions and the pension indexation. And the pension is not for millionaires; it is a very modest retirement income. People on the pension will be losing money as a result of decisions this government has made. The government's 2014 MYEFO also contains massive cuts to foreign aid. Yet the government are saying that now, more than ever, at this very complex time, we need to engage in foreign policy and do what we can to help. Every day in question time we hear question after question on foreign policy. If the government were serious about stemming the violence occurring overseas, they would not have cut funding to education and other aid programs.

There has also been $250 million cut from the ABC and SBS, despite the Prime Minister saying before the election that there would be no cuts to the ABC and no cuts to SBS. In my electorate of Bendigo, we know too acutely how this cut will affect us. Not only have we lost Bush Telegraph, a popular radio program for a number of ABC listeners in the bush; we have also lost the broadcasting of the WNBL, the Women's National Basketball League, for 2015-16. This Saturday will be the last broadcast match of the WNBL by the ABC, ending a 35-year relationship between this elite women's sports league and the ABC. The ABC says it is a direct result of the $250 million cut by this government.

There is a broader problem with this cut as well. It is not just the WNBL; it is also women's softball and a number of other women's sports. If we are ever going to get any form of equity in elite sports, there needs to be broadcasting. The ABC is a path to building a commercially viable operation. To lose funding, with broadcasting being so critical to the development of the WNBL, is disappointing. In my home own, the local coach of the Bendigo Spirit, Bernie Harrower, has said that this could mean that the Bendigo Spirit loses lots of sponsors. In fact, two sponsors have already indicated that they will not be supporting the club next year without those broadcasting opportunities. This means that the basketball club will have less in their kitty to pay their players.

Basketball Australia and the coach of the Australian Opals have told me that our current WNBL is the third best in the world and that opportunities for women to play in their home country at an elite level help to build the Opals. The loss of the WNBL would not only be a problem for fielding a strong Opals team; it would be a loss of really positive role models for young women. At a recent Bendigo Spirit match, I spoke to a father who said that, just as he likes to sit and watch football with his young son, he likes to sit and watch basketball with his young daughter. To me, that speaks to the problem of these funding cuts and how, again, for such a small amount of money, the government is missing the broader responsibility of equity and ensuring that women can continue to have the same opportunities as men when it comes to elite sport.

There is also a revised higher education package of reforms and the GP tax, both of which seem to be unravelling; we are not sure what is going on. Today we heard that the government might drop its GP tax—but we do not know. Today we heard that the government is still going to push ahead with its higher education reforms— but we do not know. All of these assumptions in the budget bottom line of 2014-15 still incorporate the GP tax and the harsh and unfair measures that I have outlined.

There are a number of other cuts that will hurt the Bendigo electorate, including cuts to health and hospitals, with a cut of $25 million to the Bendigo hospital over the next two years. The GP tax has been rejected over and over again by rural doctors. They simply argue that it will put pressure on emergency and urgency waiting rooms. There is no clear indication from the government about what they will do for urgency care. Currently, local GPs on rotation staff urgency care units in regional towns with fewer than 8,000 people. These GPs essentially work overtime on weekends, on rotation. If a patient presents, they bulk-bill them automatically. That is how they are paid for doing that work. If we enforce a compulsory GP tax or co-payment—whatever language you want to use—they first have to say to the person who presents at urgency care, 'Where is your $5?'—or $7 or $20, whatever the government wants to put forward—before they treat the patient. The doctors in my electorate have said that their chances of recovering that money are limited. It also creates an unfair burden on doctors and medical staff who just want to treat a patient in an urgency care situation. As one doctor in Woodend said to me, when he does his rounds of the urgency care or aged-care facilities in Kyneton, is he expected to have his accountant next to him collecting the $5 or $7 or $20 before he treats the patient? He even suggested that perhaps the government could look at having a system that operates like a coffee card, where you pay for nine trips and get the 10th trip for free, and maybe people could start paying up-front. Those are the kinds of debates and conversations that are happening as a result of this government's plan to introduce the GP co-payment. Again, I come back to the point that they are proposing all these drastic cuts and imposing extra costs on some of our most vulnerable households, yet they still have this massive blow-out in their budget. It suggests that their funding priorities are not the priorities of the Australian people.

Another big cut in my area is to the Australian Emergency Management Institute. The story is a classic one of: 'Really? Seriously, did the government make this mistake?' The Australian Emergency Management Institute's home is at Mount Macedon and currently employs 50 people directly and 20 contractors. It is the place where we bring our emergency management professionals—whether state or federal—together to brainstorm, learn, teach and pass on best practice when it comes to emergency management. That description does not do justice to the quality of the courses and the work that they do there. Post every bushfire season, post every flood and post every cyclone, they get together.

The loss associated with the closing of this facility by this government is not only limited to the redundancies they need to pay out to the people there who chose not to relocate to Canberra and to the cost to the local community of losing public sector jobs; the government has now discovered that to re-establish that institute in Canberra is more expensive than keeping it currently running at Mount Macedon. To hire people in Canberra with skills equal to those who worked at the Mount Macedon facility will actually cost the government more in salary dollars. Because this is the public sector capital and wages are higher here than they are at Mount Macedon, it is going to cost the government more money to shut down this facility and move it back to Canberra. Perhaps that is a small part of the reason why this government's budget is blowing out.

Another cut which the government says is necessary and which is impacting on my local community is the cut to local government assistance grants. A local government in the city in Melbourne might not be that fussed about this cut: they can whack up parking meters or introduce parking meters. That is simply not possible in regional local government areas. In areas like the Loddon Shire, for example, where they have a very large geographical area but are reducing the rate-paying base, these cuts will just put more pressure on fewer and fewer ratepayers.

The City of Greater Bendigo, which is the largest local government area in my electorate, believes that this freezing of the indexation of local government grants will cost the city about $2.7 million. Again, that is not a lot in the broader context of the federal budget but it means a lot to the local government area who, as we speak, are debating whether they pull out of delivering HACC services and community based health services for their community, and are talking about closing childcare centres. This is what happens when this government chooses to target small organisations and regional organisations. They think that, if they trim a bit here and a bit there, it will all work out in the end. Where they are targeting their trimming is having a massive impact.

We have also heard this week in parliament about the cost of cutting Community Assistance Grants. These grants go to organisations who help those in financial stress get out of trouble. In my electorate, the Bendigo Family and Financial Services found out on Christmas Eve that they would no longer receive funding. This is an organisation that runs on the smell of an oily rag. They have 10 part-time employees and 70 volunteers, and these people get together to offer small loans to people seeking help, emergency food relief as well as financial counselling services.

As one client said to me: 'I sat down. They looked through my debts and they helped me work out what my priorities were. They said to me that, 'If you come in here every week for the three months, collect a food hamper and spend the money that you were receiving on paying down these debts, then you will get yourself out of trouble'.' This man said, 'It was a big deal for me to admit that I needed to live off food relief and handouts for three months to get myself out of debt, but I would not and have been able to get myself out of debt if it was not for the financial counselling and support from this organisation.' Today, as I speak, the organisation is counting down to when their funding will run out. I am concerned about the number of families who will not be helped in the future, because this government has cut their grant going forward.

The fuel tax increase, job cuts at the ATO, country students finding it harder to go to university, Gonski funding that has gone missing and our schools saying that they are worse off, the GP tax and attacks on pensioners—the list goes on and on about what this government is doing to regional communities. Again, it comes back to the initial point that I made: in these three bills the government is spending an extra $1.7 billion— (Time expired)