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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2952


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (17:18): I thought over the last five years that I'd seen some bad budgets—inequitable, horrible budgets that punished the Australian people—and I didn't really think it could get much more unfair or much worse. But the priorities and choices that this government displays in this budget are appalling. It entrenches the inequality of this government's previous decisions and it goes much, much further. It's the fifth budget we've seen from this government, and it's very clear that Australians are not better off. You on the other side seek to entrench greater inequality in our nation. This is at the same time as we're having to battle cuts to health, education and training and Australians have to battle cuts to penalty rates. You don't have within this budget a plan for wage growth or job creation. What you do have is a plan to put more money into the pockets of big business. That's your grand plan for wage growth and that's your grand plan for job creation, but the economics of your corporate tax cut simply do not stack up. Last month there was a survey released which showed what we've been saying for a long time, which is that the majority of firms given a tax cut would not give employees a wage rise, but rather that the majority of these tax cuts would reward overseas shareholders and pump up executive bonuses. This is not about boosting wages or creating jobs for Australians; this is about serving your vested political interests on your side of the chamber.

This budget fails the fairness test. It fails the test on education, it fails the test on hospitals, it fails the test on job creation and it certainly fails the tests on families, pensioners and workers. It is an unfair budget, and let me tell you why. It isn't a budget that looks after everyday Australian families. This is a budget for big business and, somewhere down the track, very high income earners.

It's not a budget for women. After five years and five budgets you've never put forward a plan that brings Australian women with you. On the one hand, you've tried to cut parental leave, calling working mums rorters and double dippers; on the other hand, you've introduced a childcare policy that leaves a massive 279,000 families worse off as childcare costs continue to rise. A great many of those families are low-income households. You've also frozen the funding for the six National Women's Alliances, you've cut millions of dollars from community legal centres and you've cut capital funding used for safe housing options for women. That was all done before you were forced to restore some of that funding. You've cut almost $2 billion worth of pay rises and support for workers in feminised industries in this nation such as early childhood education and disability care.

What else have you done in the last few years? Well, you've cheered on cuts to penalty rates that disproportionately impact women. I can certainly see why you abolished the annual women's budget statement, because surely you must know just how bad your budgets are for Australian women. Today I was proud to be at Labor's own women's budget statement release, which we have done from opposition, which shows all of these things. It has a critical analysis of exactly what this government's budget does to Australian women. It highlights all of those issues and many more, and it demonstrates very clearly that gender equity is at the bottom of the pile for this government. You've not taken any serious action on gender equality on superannuation for women, for example.

We can also see very clearly today and this week that this is not a budget for pensioners or, for that matter, a budget for future Australian pensioners. Instead, pensioners are one of the biggest losers in this big-business budget. What we've seen—and I was frankly surprised to see this—is that you've locked in those unfair zombie cuts to pensioners that you previously couldn't get through. You're still relying on them. You still make it part of your agenda to balance your bottom line, so you can hand out those big tax cuts to big business at the expense of pensioners. We will fight you every inch of the way on those measures, but they're still there in the budget so you can serve your big business interests. You're there axing the energy supplement, costing single aged pensioners a massive $14 a fortnight. Now that might not sound like a lot of money to you but if you're an age pensioner, like my parents are, then it means a lot. It means the difference between getting a prescription that you need or not being able to afford it. It might mean the difference between going to the doctor or not being able to afford to do so. It might mean the difference between keeping your electricity on or putting food on the table. We know we have a nation that has growing energy costs, so why would you strip away this most vital support? The energy supplement provides assistance to households that are on low incomes and are very obviously going to be struggling to meet growing energy costs. These households are not likely to have solar panels on their roof to offset their energy costs. If you're in social housing or the rental market because you are on a low income you very rarely have the luxury of solar panels on your roof to cut back on energy costs. Instead, you can often be relying on really inefficient heating. Two million people on low incomes will be worse off under this measure.

I'm also incredibly appalled to see in this budget, in your attacks on pensioners and future pensioners, Australians being forced to work until they're 70 before they're eligible for a pension. My father is in hospital this week. He's in his late 60s. He's having treatment for bowel cancer. Fortunately, he has the security of a pension—currently—so he's not worried about his income while he undergoes his cancer treatment. But I am absolutely gobsmacked to think that people in his situation would need to be juggling access to a disability pension. Despite the fact that many older Australians have better health than they've ever had before, it is a continuing worry for them. You are more likely to have a crook back as a result of being a labourer. You are more likely to have prostate cancer or breast cancer in your older age. So it is completely unreasonable to have this kind of approach coming from the government—that people should be required to work until they're 70 before they can access an age pension. By all means, let's encourage people to work if they can, but it becomes more and more difficult for many people to continue to work. When you talk to tradies, nurses, farmers, manufacturing workers and teachers, who have very demanding physical roles, you find being required to work until you're 70 is simply too much to ask for many of those people. This is a pathetic insult to older Australians.

Also a pathetic insult is your failure, despite all the big talk, to address the aged-care crisis you've created under your watch. You created the aged-care crisis, you've ignored the aged-care crisis, and this budget fails to fix Australia's aged-care crisis. There are more than 100,000 vulnerable Australians waiting for home-care packages but there is funding for just 14,000 new home-care packages in this budget. Appallingly, this will be paid for from the existing aged-care budget.

I heard the weasel words from Minister McKenzie today about how there were no real cuts to places in aged care. That's rubbish. Residential aged care is equally in crisis, equally overburdened. But do you know why aged-care places are underutilised? Because there simply are not the institutions to take up these places that our nation needs. Why? Because they're struggling with making their internal costs add up to invest in new infrastructure. There's growing demand on all the urban fringes of Perth and in rural Western Australia for more residential aged-care beds. But it is no surprise to me that those aged-care beds may be under utilised, because there has been a failure of investment to get those beds happening—because of the squeeze of this government on those costs.

So 3½ thousand places a year is not enough to keep up with demand. We know that the waiting list for home and community care places grew by some 20,000 places in the last six months of 2017 alone. There are 105,000 older Australians currently on the waiting list for a home-care package, including almost 80,000 older Australians needing the most support to stay in their homes and out of aged care. And I hope that when my dad comes out of hospital after this week he is not one of them, because I don't want him waiting on one of those lists. It's the kind of worry that every aged person, as they start to fall into greater frailty and ill health, worries about—how they will stay at home and how they could possibly afford a place in residential care should they ever need it.

There are 105,000 older Australians on the waiting list for a home-care package and you on that side of the chamber are not doing enough to fix it. I hope you go back to your constituencies, back to your states, and listen to the stories of older Australians who are struggling to stay in their own homes. They should be supported to stay in their own homes. Otherwise, they increase the demand on residential aged care. As I said before, this is an unfair budget on women. We know that it is women, in the main, who care for elderly parents in our community. This government's not doing enough to fix those issues. You're underfunding aged care, selling out older Australians, and you're not even honest about it.

Sadly, older Australians are not the only people losing out under this budget. I'm worried about the future of our education system. At a time when we should be growing the investment in our schools at a much higher rate than we are, what you've done is put in place $17 billion worth of cuts to our schools. Our children are losing out under this budget. I know those on the other side will argue that the education budget is growing and that you can prove it's growing. But the simple fact is that we laid out very clear plans and very clear priorities that our schools deserve more growth in funding than what you've given them. That difference adds up to some $17 billion being ripped out of our schools and that you want to hand over in tax cuts to big banks, to big business. The big banks are getting that $17 billion. I find it extraordinary that, at a time when we are seeing the real and devastating and worrying impacts of the conduct of Australia's banks coming out of the banking royal commission, you on that side want to hand them a big tax cut. It's incredibly galling to me that I can see that that money should be going straight to Australia's schools.

It should also be going into our higher education system. I'm appalled to see that this budget locks in previous $2.2 billion in cuts to our universities. Part of this plan is a proposal to lower the repayment threshold for the HELP scheme, with repayments to start when individuals earn just $45,000. I was talking to my own staff and to other young people today about the fact that they're completely galled by the idea that they should be on the same tax rate as someone earning $180,000 or $200,000 a year at the same time as they're having to pay back HELP, HECS and all those kinds of student payments.

It is incredibly difficult to get by as a young person today. These cuts to universities will have a big impact on students, and, indeed, on prospective students, across the country. I also worry about what they will do to the quality of our participation in international education markets. I want to give a shout-out to the National Union of Students Build a Better Budget campaign, because, importantly, they've put many of these issues on the agenda consistently and, rightly, are communicating with students right around the country about what a bad budget this is.

Today we see a budget that persists with $715 million worth of cuts to hospitals over the next two years alone, and we can see more cuts to follow in the next five years. We see that the Medicare rebate is frozen and we see increasing out-of-pocket costs to see specialists. Those opposite failed to fix the health insurance affordability crisis, and I'm very disappointed to see that they failed to adopt Labor's great plan to scrap the discriminatory tampon tax. Rightly, we don't see items like condoms taxed in Australia, and nor should we see items like tampons taxed.

We see that we have a government here that can't be trusted on health or apprenticeships. We've seen a loss of more than 139,000 apprenticeship places under this government. We've seen more than $3 billion worth of cuts in previous budgets to education and training. We absolutely cannot afford to see any more of these cuts. We've seen cuts in remote housing, we've seen cuts in dental care and we've seen women's homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters put at risk.

So today we stand with a clear choice in the lead-up to the by-elections that are before us. A future Labor government is a government that will invest in education, job creation and health care. Or there are the Liberals, who rip money from families, schools and hospitals. (Time expired)