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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 4118


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (16:23): At the request of Senator Moore, I move:

That the Senate notes the Government's Budget is an affront to Australians' sense of fairness.

Mr Acting Deputy President Furner, I also make note of the fact that this is your last session in the chair. I commend you on the way in which you have conducted yourself in the chair, which has been with humility and a sense of humour. I congratulate you. I know that I join with others in this chamber when I say that we will miss your contribution.

I rise today to reflect on what this current Abbott government is doing to this country and how the coalition's budget of broken promises is hurting Australians who are already under significant cost-of-living pressures. Those on this side, those opposite and the Australian people know that Tony Abbott's vision for this country is built on a web of deceit, lies and policies which hurt low-income people, families, pensioners, students and job seekers.

Unfortunately, of late, this place has become a political plaything for the current government. The Abbott government continues to try to pass legislation which is detrimental to Australians—more specifically, low-income families and low-income earners and, more recently, small business and industry. The coalition continues to spin lies to the Australian people about the financial strength and economic resilience of this country. However, the Australian people see through this. The Australian people understand the strength and resilience of the Australian economy and they know in their hearts that the coalition lied their way into government and that they fabricated the sense of a crisis. It was a shameful and deceitful way to seek to govern this country. Those lies have continued and are continually rolled out on a daily basis in this chamber.

The first Abbott-Hockey budget will go down in our country's history as a budget which tried to prosecute a shift in the Australian way of life—a shift in the very nature of how our country operates. It is a budget which attacks the very principle which makes this country the greatest country on earth—egalitarianism. The principle of egalitarianism permeates our culture, but this principle was hung, drawn and quartered in the first Abbott-Hockey budget. It was undoubtedly treated as a principle of insignificance by those opposite. It was tossed aside with blatant disregard, and those opposite cannot hide from this fact. They have done very little to try to defend this heartless budget.

We are the party which will defend the principle of egalitarianism, because Labor understands its importance to our history and our society. It is who we are; it is who we will always be. We will always be governed by the principle of egalitarianism because we understand it to be a principle which has served our country well. We as Australians understand that we should not leave our neighbours behind. Over the last 100 years, a social contract has been shaped in this country. It is a contract of principles which conducts the Australian way of life: access to universal healthcare and education; a fair and secure pension system; support for people who cannot work due to disability or caring responsibilities; and support that helps to get people into work. Over the last 100 years, Australians have fought for these principles and defended them at all costs. Successive Labor governments have stood by these principles because we believe they are fundamentally right. We have strengthened these principles to ensure that Australia is a place of fairness and that there is prosperity for all. Australians are rightly proud of a society which cherishes these principles.

Since they entered office, this government have failed in their responsibility to maintain and further strengthen these principles of the Australian way of life. Those opposite have engaged in a determined effort to change the way in which Australians see each other—that is what they are trying to do. They are determined to tear at the fabric of what makes this country so great. This does not serve our country, it does not serve our society and it certainly does not serve our democracy. This government's attempts to do this will be resisted, because we on this side of the chamber will stand up for the principles of equity and fairness in our community.

Labor is working hard here in the Senate and in the other place to fight against the budget cuts to schools, universities, hospitals, pensions and family benefits. These cuts are not only deeply unfair; they represent reckless economic policy, because education and health are critical to Australia's future prosperity. As I have said on numerous occasions, we must invest in health and education because these are the bedrock of Australia's future security. And what does this government do? It rips away $80 billion in education and health funding and leaves the states out in the cold to wither away and die a very slow death. I am sure that those opposite have been keeping tabs on the media in relation to the effect this budget is having on their state colleagues in Victoria.

This Abbott government has engaged in wilful conduct to hurt low-income families, pensioners, students and job seekers. And Australians are aware of this. They are alert to the deceit and destruction by those opposite. They are standing as one in their condemnation of the first Abbott-Hockey budget. Australians are protesting across the country against this budget. Yet another protest will be held in my home state on Saturday, because the Tasmanian community have already felt the impact of this budget, let alone what will be theirs to endure when finally the state Liberal government brings down its budget in August.

The amount of correspondence to my office alone is unprecedented. And it would be no different for my colleagues on this side of the chamber. People are writing to us and contacting us through all mediums to enlighten us about how they are feeling about the impact of this harsh and heartless budget. Australians loathe this budget because they will be affected dramatically by its measures.

Let me start by reviewing the coalition's attack on pensioners and families. The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill 2014 and the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014 are perhaps the most significant pieces of legislation in Australia's history, because they represent a direct attack on families and pensioners. Both legislative instruments are built on Liberal lies and will push up the cost of living for all Australians. These bills betray Australia's 3.2 million pensioners, who were promised by the Prime Minister before the election that there would be no changes to their pensions. They are hateful measures which will impair the living standards of age pensioners, disability support pensioners, veterans and carers.

Hundreds of thousands of senior Australians who have worked their entire lives will have their payments cut. These bills also include a cut of $1.1 billion through the abolition of the seniors supplement for older Australians. This payment of $876 to people who receive the Commonwealth seniors health card will be gone. Further, the government is cutting $1.3 billion in pensioner and Commonwealth seniors health card holder concessions that help pay for their water and electricity bills and their rates and public transport. And, Mr Acting Deputy President, as you well know, that is not all. I wish it were, but it is not. Further pension cuts will follow. They may not be tomorrow, but they are coming. These bills also seek to increase the pension age to 70.

These bills are disastrous for all Australians who believe in a fair and caring society. And why are these measures necessary? Because the Prime Minister wants to pay $50,000 to wealthy women to take six months off work to have a baby through his $22 billion unfair and unaffordable Paid Parental Leave scheme.

These bills represent a total of $7.5 billion in cuts to family payments. Those opposite are tearing down family payments. And low-income families will be the worst off under this budget. Family tax benefits will be frozen by those opposite. A freeze to the low-income free area for FTB A alone will see more than 370,000 Australian families around $750 a year worse off in 2016-17. Further, the Department of Social Services has revealed that 700,000 families will lose their FTB B if the government gets its way and kicks families off the payment when their youngest child turns six years of age.

These vicious cuts have been brought down by an arrogant government. They will hurt these families and will hit my home state of Tasmania extremely hard. That is not all. The Prime Minister is trying to abolish the schoolkids bonus. Families will lose $410 per year per primary-aged child and $820 a year per secondary-aged child. A single income family on $65,000 with two school-aged children will be around $6,000 worse off each year by 2016 because of those opposite. Do those opposite care? Clearly they do not, or they would not be condemning these families and hurting these families in the manner in which this budget is doing.

Further to these attacks on families, the coalition wants to attack every other citizen of this country with the new $7 GP tax and $5 tax on prescriptions. I can assure the Australian people that Labor will vote against these new taxes when these bills are voted on in this place.

Now, I am not finished. This budget has more broken promises and twisted priorities, which continue with a further attack on the cost of living, with a 'great big new tax' which pushes up prices on everything. The increased petrol excise tax will not only hurt individual motorists; it will cripple small businesses across the country. Labor will vote against the government's plans to increase fuel excise because of the cost-of-living impact on low- and middle-income earners, which will be so detrimental to their budgets.

You must be thinking: 'Who else could this government hurt?' Who else could they slug with cuts or a new tax?' Students. Students are just starting out in life. They are looking to better themselves and want to contribute to the prosperity of this country, and Tony Abbott sees them as an easy target. Increasing university fees and student debt—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Polley, you should refer to the Prime Minister by the correct title.

Senator POLLEY: Mr Tony Abbott sees them as an easy target. It does not matter whether we call him Mr Abbott or the Prime Minister. He is attacking the most vulnerable in our community in this budget.

Students, including those going to university, will not go without being scarred by this budget. These students will leave university and graduate with a second mortgage which will hurt any hope that they have of being able to buy a house and having a housing mortgage. Every student will be hurt. Again, I can assure you that Labor will vote against these measures. While the government is bullying the new crossbench senators to vote for cuts and a tax on families, pensioners, students and jobseekers, Labor's Senate team will work with the crossbench to oppose the budget's unfair cuts.

Before this election, Mr Abbott promised a fair go for families. I do not think those opposite know the meaning of those words. Let us now reflect on the aged-care policy. As you would know, it is an area that I have some responsibility for. It is an area that I know most Australian families have an interest in. Right now, we have an aged baby boomer population entering retirement, so we need to take some serious action. What did we see in this place today from a government who, when they were last in government and sitting on the government benches, did not have the vision or the fortitude to address the needs, changes and reforms that were needed in aged care? They did not have the foresight or the vision to do that. It was up to the Labor government. When we came in, we developed the Living Longer. Living Better. aged-care policy. We took on the issue that needed to be dealt with.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator POLLEY: Yes, that is quite right, Senator Bilyk. How many did they have? I cannot recall now. Was it six? Was it eight ministers when they bothered to have a Minister for Aged Care when they were under the Howard government? Now they do not even have a minister for aged care.

They have a government and a minister who is totally out of touch with aged care. On the last day of sitting before the new Senate, what did we have? An announcement by Senator Fifield in relation to the dementia supplement, which has been dumped. What did the people sitting on the government benches do? They tried to blame, yet again, the previous Labor government for an issue that we tried to address, because we understand that not only do we have an ageing population but the rate of people with dementia is increasing exponentially. What did we do in government? We introduced a dementia supplement. What did those on the opposite side do? Senator Fifield stood up in the Senate in question time today to announce he is axing the dementia and severe behaviours supplement because of a larger than expected uptake of the supplement, and he tried to blame Labor for this situation. The aged-care sector and the minister's department knew this was an issue late last year and had every opportunity to act before it reached this level and before the budget was announced. What did he do? He did nothing. He was sitting back, waiting to see whether he should take his head out of the sand, just as those opposite did under the Howard government when they failed to do the heavy lifting when it came to aged care. Senator Fifield had the audacity to claim the supplement had been bad policy when he had spent the previous nine months avoiding the issue and doing nothing. Why was he doing nothing? Because he has no plans for aged care.

They have no plans when it comes to education. They have no plans when it comes to real investment in infrastructure. The only plan that they have is to raise taxes and to cut funding. We know that, in aged care, they already took $1.1 billion away from those who work in the sector and from those that do the heavy lifting day in, day out by looking after older Australians. Our senior citizens deserve better from this government. What they really need is a minister for ageing, because it is quite blatantly obvious that those that have the responsibility currently for aged care do not have the vision, the strength or the convictions to ensure that the aged-care sector goes forward. They have no answers or vision for those challenges facing that sector going forward over the next 20 and 30 years. They do not consult with the sector, because, if they did, they would not know better. Those people that are suffering from dementia, those people who happen to look after them and those families deserve better from this government. (Time expired)