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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2451


Senator TILLEM (Victoria) (17:09): I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. There can be no more important issue than tonight's budget. I am not quite sure what the budget lock-up is all about today, because the government have already told us they are going to break their election promises. Using the Commission of Audit as cover, they will break their promises on health, they will break their promises on education and they will break their promises on no new taxes. They also promised that when it came to education funding both sides of politics were, to quote the member for Sturt, 'on a unity ticket'.

This government has taken all of eight months to break its word to the Australian people. Quite simply put, it will betray the Australian people. Government is about priorities and we will see tonight that this government's priorities are about ripping the heart out of families, universal health care and education. Those who will be hit hardest are working families, the socially disadvantaged and the elderly. These are the people who need to have trust in their government to put them first. Working families are set to be slugged with an increase in their fuel bills while having family tax benefits stripped away. This comes from a government that before the election said it was committed to easing cost-of-living pressures. Its promises to the Australian people were hollow.

They have now shown their true colours, at the expense of ordinary Australians. Increases in the cost of petrol will affect ordinary Australians more than any other group. Taking the kids to school, doing the shopping, going to the footy on the weekends—these will cost more under the government, and at the same time tax concessions in the form of family tax benefits will be stripped away. These initiatives were designed specifically to ease the pressure on working families' budgets. Families will be betrayed in this budget. How can deliberately hitting the hip pocket of families help? How does that show any level of understanding for the pressures they face every day? It is becoming clearer and clearer every day that the rhetoric of those opposite before the election was just empty words. Those opposite believe that they owe people nothing and that they can get away with breaking their promises to minimise cost-of-living pressures. Those opposite promised they would ease the squeeze on family budgets. This will be a broken promise tonight.

In the budget tonight, in the firing line is the health system. Bulk-billing is good public health policy. It encourages people to seek out primary care through their GPs when in need of medical consultation rather than burden hospitals. The values which underpin the arrangements of bulk-billing through Medicare are that health care should never be determined by how much money you have in your wallet. We live in a community where quality health care is made available to all citizens. It is a vital part of our social wage that has created a fairer, healthier, more productive and more cohesive community. Yet this government is determined to wind back bulk-billing of GPs. This budget will see the introduction of a fee-for-service component when ordinary Australians visit their local doctor, and we know that once this government sets in train a system of co-payments for GPs this will be the beginning of the end for Medicare. The government believes that access to health care for all Australians is a privilege and not an entitlement. The co-payment system set to be introduced will only funnel more Australians into hospital emergency rooms. This policy will increase the strain on our hospitals, making them more expensive and less efficient to run. Those doing it toughest in our society will be hit harder than most. Wealth should never dictate the right to access quality health care.

But nothing can expose this government's class war on ordinary Australians more clearly than the axe to education that will most likely be brought down in tonight's budget. What we can expect tonight are cuts to skills and hikes on student loans. We have a skills shortage in Australia, yet this government has decided that support for vocational learning is no longer a priority. Instead, it has become a target for the ruthless commitment to cutbacks and twisted priorities. Australian families whose children wish to embark on a trade will no longer receive the support they did under Labor. Indeed, it has been reported in Fairfax papers today that this government intends to abolish Commonwealth incentive payments to apprentices, worth $5½ thousand each. These payments were designed to assist apprentices as they begin their journey of gaining accreditation in a given trade. But, under this government, apprentices and their families are on their own. Governments should be here to assist and help the aspirations of ordinary citizens, not place roadblocks in front of them and discourage them.

Another nasty floated in the lead-up to the budget has been an increase on interest payments made on student loans. The success of our loans system is that debts accrued by students are financed at low levels of interest. Raising these interest payments will once again affect those less able to afford them. Students have to study for longer than ever as youth unemployment squeezes school and university leavers. Now not only will students have to study for longer than ever but, under this government, they will also have to pay more than ever.

Australians will be forced to work longer than ever and will have their access to pensions restricted. Australians who pay their taxes year after year will no longer be afforded the social wage that should be the hallmark of a prosperous society. After being knocked from pillar to post year after year by the actions of this government, Australians will wind up being tossed onto the social scrapheap. This government does not care about ordinary Australians. It is a government that will be judged as a government that broke promise after promise after promise—'No new taxes, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to the pension.' The silence in this chamber is astonishing, with no-one here to defend the government and its broken promises.

The Liberal and National parties have pontificated for too long in this chamber about the virtues of trust and honesty—and today we will see that the cupboard is bare. They embarked on a strategy of slogans and mistruths at the time of the election in order to get elected and in less than eight months what we have seen is a complete reversal. They will talk about budget bottom lines. They will talk about a crisis—which they have imagined. They will talk about the need to get the bottom line back to where it should be. The reality is that this government will be judged and should be judged on its broken promises. These broken promises will be remembered by pensioners, those who go to their doctor and those who go to university. They will be remembered by every single Australian who was given a commitment by this government and who have now been let down.

Today the government have been exposed to the Australian people for what they are. Tonight they will be shown as an untrustworthy government whose broken promises are endemic of their ideological opposition to fairness for all Australians.