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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 10162


Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (19:45): Before I make my own intended remarks tonight, I will just say that in hearing Senator Singh's very thoughtful speech that I do have to say my recollection of Australian history is that it was in fact either the Gorton or McMahon governments which ended the White Australia policy prior to 1972. And it was the Fraser government which replaced God Save the Queen with Advance Australia Fair. I am open to be corrected on those matters, but I am fairly certain that the research might indicate that that is the case.

Senator Bob Carr: I have to interject on behalf of Harold Holt.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Harold Holt was it?

Senator Bob Carr: Yes, Harold Holt.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I think you are right. I rarely agree with you, Senator Carr, but I think you are right on this occasion.

Senator Bob Carr: Harold Holt, the Liberal Prime Minister, deserves the credit for ending White Australia.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Indeed.

Senator Bob Carr: Whitlam expanded it.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Yes. I think we are in rare agreement!

The PRESIDENT: I am very impressed!

Senator HUMPHRIES: Please delete that from the Hansard—I do not wish that to be recorded!

Senator Bob Carr: I am more an historian than a politician!

Senator HUMPHRIES: Tonight I am concerned about aspects of the federal government's budget, particularly the MYEFO statement released last month. I read the statement by Minister Wong, the Minister for Finance, that described the nature of the savings that the federal government was making in MYEFO. A note of concern struck me. The minister declared proudly on 22 October:

An additional $16.4 billion in savings has been identified in this MYEFO, adding to more than $130 billion in savings identified in the past five Budgets.

She said:

… the Government has again made responsible savings and prioritised important social reforms in line with Labor values of fairness, equality and opportunity and to protect low and middle-income earners and the most vulnerable in our community.

She went on to say that these savings would:

… ensure the budget is sustainable into the future.

I wondered about what she was cutting that was going to make the budgets more sustainable. I had a close look at what was in this MYEFO, and what I saw made me see once again that this government has descended into blatant, unadulterated spin. The things that the government has cut in the MYEFO, and this is much the case for both the last budget and previous budgets, are nothing to do with sustainability or improving the quality of life of Australians or helping low- to middle-income families.

Let me give you some examples. In this MYEFO, the government is pausing a grants program—grants to community organisations, sporting groups, heritage organisations and so forth—'pausing' grants to those communities. There is a saving of $157½ million by virtue of the government pausing grants.

Now, what does 'pausing' mean? What are they pausing exactly? They are cutting—cutting—$157½ million in this financial year, the year that they are striving for their illusory wafer-thin budget surplus, and they are restoring some of that money—some of it only—in subsequent financial years. The net effect, however, is that the government will be cutting grants to community organisations by $90 million over the next four years. The minister is planning to reduce grants by a huge amount, and if by 'pausing' the grants they are going to restore that funding at some point in the future beyond the forward estimates then that is not indicated in the budget papers.

The question needs to be asked: why is this described as 'pausing' and not simply 'cutting'? There is no guarantee of a budget surplus in the future and, coupled with a highly uncertain global financial outlook, these adjustments in the MYEFO are already putting unnecessary burdens on future budgets. So in what sense is this pausing of grants, and in what sense is it a sustainable strategy for the future? In fact, this government is simply cutting money to community organisations. What makes that sustainable? What makes that responsible budget management?

The government is also doing other things. It is cutting the baby bonus for second and subsequent children from $5,000 to $3,000 a child. The cut, if implemented, will severely affect at least 87,000 Australian families. The Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, claimed when this was first proposed last month that items such as cots, prams and baby capsules were reusable for younger siblings—and of course that is largely true. However, the claim does not take into consideration the fact that no Australian family is able to raise a child, even in its very earliest years of life, for anything like $5,000, much less $3,000. This is another testament to Labor's conventional practice of robbing Australian families to pay for its inability to manage the economy. There is nothing sustainable and nothing responsible about making these cuts. It is simply an exercise in not meeting your obligations as a government in order to find the money to deal with your short term political expediency of balancing your budget.

Export market development grants are being cut. They are being 'retargeted', according to MYEFO, but we know what that actually means—they are being cut. It is $100 million in cuts to a program which provides for the capacity of Australian exporters to open up markets overseas through reimbursements of things like promotion fees under certain conditions. What is it about cutting grants to exporters that is sustainable in this budget? Is it something that the government can keep doing endlessly into the future? No, it is not. The government are simply cutting this program because it is an easy target and it helps them meet their budget objectives.

The sorts of things I have quoted tonight are not random selections that are not characteristic of what is being achieved in this MYEFO. In fact, they are central to what is happening in this document. It is all about not paying your creditors. It is about not making essential payments that strengthen the quality of Australian life and Australians' standard of living. It is all about making short-term decisions in order to achieve this short-term objective. And the idea that this somehow reshapes the way in which governments will spend their money in the future is laughably ridiculous.

Well, what should the government do? How should it make the necessary savings in expenditure that, of course, it should make in order to achieve a balanced budget? I would suggest that the member for Mayo in the other place, in releasing a document yesterday describing Labor's waste across government, has hit the nail on the head with a whole range of issues which this government has scandalously wasted taxpayers' money on. There is $70 million advertising the carbon tax, including $100,000 building three fake kitchens as part of their propaganda campaign to advertise their message, despite the fact that a real kitchen would probably cost only about $15,000 to build. There is spending $60,000 to design a 'national carbon offset standard' logo to help with the failing campaign on the carbon tax—a campaign which, despite the extraordinary amounts of money being spent on it, has still left something like 60 per cent of Australians wanting the carbon tax repealed at the earliest possible opportunity. There is $1.4 million for taxpayer funded, origami style, cardboard cut-outs of trucks to send a message about how to understand how the NBN works. I think it succeeds: it perfectly well explains what a massive waste of money the NBN is if you need to spend $1.4 million on cardboard cut-outs of trucks. Then there is a grant of $150,000 to a company to produce television programs for toddlers and $200,000 to Green Cross Australia to produce primary school advertising for 'show and tell' on the carbon tax. Is nothing sacred to this government?

What we have here is a government which is making every attempt to cut whatever it can in a desperate effort to produce even the most slender of budget surpluses this year, and there is nothing sustainable about the way it is going about doing that. These cuts are basically robbing from the future to pay for today. It will be very obvious that these cuts simply weaken the quality of Australian life and undermine the position of people particularly on low and middle incomes. For that reason, this government needs to drastically and urgently reconsider its priorities and focus on the kinds of real surpluses, the sustainable surpluses, which were produced year in, year out by the former Howard government.

Senate adjourned at 19:56