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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 4134

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (17:44): I rise this afternoon to make a contribution in respect to this notice of motion of the government's budget being an affront to Australia's sense of fairness. In doing so I would like to respond to Senator Eggleston's remarks in some regard. I do wish him well in his future; he has been in the Senate for a long period of time and is a very learned senator from Western Australia. I would like some explanation around the 'age of entitlement'. We keep hearing of this value, or this reported position, that the government puts forward in respect to having a need to bring down a budget that affects virtually everyone in some way, shape or form. I am yet to hear the reasons behind why there is a need to harm and cast pain upon many, many people in society when they find out about the tax and the cuts that they will be presented with as a result of this Abbott-Hockey budget. It is not just us on this side that have been aerating those concerns; it is also the public. You would think that it is only the Labor Party presenting this argument, but it is not.

I get out, like most Queensland senators do, and talk to our constituents. Of late I have been in particular areas in some of my duty seats and have heard from people firsthand, on their doorsteps, about the concerns they express in regard to how this budget will affect them. I also ventured into some of the universities, and shortly I will get to the concerns they have expressed to me about how this budget will affect university fees and higher education. I would like to read an email, which I received today, into Hansard. It says: 'Senator, I am writing to you in an attempt to request that you do not pass the proposed Abbott government's budget for 2014. Mr Hockey has designed a budget that takes from the most vulnerable and supports big business. As a taxpayer for almost 40 years I am appalled at the callousness of the Hockey-Abbott budget. The friends I have spoken to, even the Liberal voters, are also disgusted with the unfair and brutal proposals in the current budget. I appeal to your humanity and urge you not to accept a budget that would severely disadvantage those Australian citizens who are already financially challenged. On behalf the people who feel most powerless I believe you have an obligation as an elected member of the Senate to vote accordingly. Allow Australians to live with a dignity all of us deserve.' That is from a constituent of mine who believes that the Hockey-Abbott budget has gone too far, that it is callous and that it is attacking those who are most vulnerable.

We know that it is the budget that will affect GP payments. There will be a $7 GP fee for X-rays, blood tests and visits. There will be extra charges for medicines and an increase of $5 per prescription. That is factual; it is not a scare campaign. The public of Australia get this; they understand it. They realise that, should these measures be introduced—measures that we will block in this chamber—it will be difficult to make ends meet. We know it will be difficult for those that are so vulnerable to make ends meet in many areas.

Everyone will be touched across the board by the new fuel excise. Not only will it affect motorists, but it will affect small businesses and people in aftermarket sales that sell goods and services in car marketing, car parts and sales. People will be looking at other measures to make ends meet. I know for a fact, through previously being an organiser with the Transport Workers Union, what people do when it becomes tough in terms of whether they put fuel in their car or truck and whether they can look at making cuts elsewhere. It is not good. If you look at truckies, they know they have to put fuel in their trucks. A person on a low income knows they need to put fuel in their car. The next thing that happens is that they start cutting the servicing needs of the vehicle—whether it be the tyres, the maintenance or parts—and that then affects the running of that particular vehicle. So, equally, the concern is not only the affordability of those parts, the servicing and the tyres but also the condition of our roads and highways throughout this nation. We know that it has a long-term effect as a result, not just of paying for the increase in the fuel but also of making our roads more and more unsafe.

As we know, the pension age has been increased from 67 to 70. I am pretty certain there was some polling done on this recently when up to approximately 70 per cent of the nation opposed having the pension increased to that age. In addition we know the indexation for pensions from MTAWE, which is the current measure, to the CPI figure will alter the mechanism of increases to the actual pension. I heard Senator Eggleston indicate that that is not going to change the outcome as a result of the indexation of the actual pension increase. Well, no-one can give any guarantee on that. Once again, relying on my past experience in industrial agreements, I know that, once you alter the mechanism on the indexation of a wage or on a cost-of-living increase, you alter the mechanism of the outcome of what the earning is. I know that the CPI, over a period of time, has decreased since it has been a measure. I can recall periods when the CPI was handed down quarterly and delivered zero increase. It has not accumulated, it has not decreased and it has delivered zero output. If you use that example of where the CPI has been handed down in a particular period of time, we know for a fact that the pension increase will have a zero effect.

The current system, which we introduced, the MTAWE, the male total average weekly earnings, is a fair and reasonable proposition and mechanism to allow pension rates to increase. Certainly over our period of time in government we were very proud to have one of the highest increases in pension outcomes as our Labor government handed down pension increases throughout the nation.

In addition there will be cuts to health and education worth $80 billion, and I mentioned briefly the $7 fee for GP visits. In addition there will be increases to university fees and there will be higher HECS debts for students. There will also be changes to the unemployment arrangements, where an imposition will be placed on those who are most vulnerable, and they will not be receiving any payment for six months at a period of time when they probably need that payment the most. These are people who are most vulnerable in our society who will be placed in a situation where they cannot make ends meet.

I want to focus on higher education and indicate that we as an opposition will fight the Abbott government's extraordinary war on science and the CSIRO. I believe today there has been a national day of protest against the Abbott government's savage budget cuts to science.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator FURNER: As I indicated earlier, I have been visiting some of the universities; in fact, up around Senator Macdonald's area in Cairns not long ago I visited the JCU. It is always a privilege to visit some of these establishments and to be shown the good work they do and the good outcomes that can be achieved by funding universities and higher education and ensuring that we are in a situation where we can provide better science and better outcomes—not just in our country but also overseas.

The funding cuts to the CSIRO and other science agencies do have the potential to treble the cost of a science degree, and the attitudes that drive this government amount to an extraordinary attack on science. The Abbott government has cut $878 million from science and research agencies, including almost $115 million from the CSIRO. Nearly 900 scientists will lose their jobs, and at least 500 jobs will go from the CSIRO. There is a CSIRO not far from where I live, out in the Samford Valley. I wonder what will happen to that establishment should these cuts go through and affect the CSIRO in the Samford Valley.

Ninety-six jobs will be cut from Geoscience Australia, 64 from ANSTO and 58 from the Bureau of Meteorology. The government says it wants to find a cure for cancer; so do I. I indicated last night in my final speech that for several years I have been working with Relay for Life and Cancer Council Queensland. My team has raised over $120,000 to hopefully one day find a cure for that insidious disease, cancer. But how does the government propose to do deal with that or with the other great challenges that confront us—whether in health, agriculture or energy—by sacking scientists? We will not get an outcome. We will not see a situation where one day hopefully we will find a cure for cancer. Labor values the work of the CSIRO and Australian researchers and we will keep fighting for them. Once again I reflect back on my visits to JCU, and I also reflect on the fact that I have a son studying for a Bachelor of Science degree at the JCU. His costs currently at JCU Cairns amount to $25,000 over 13 years. Should these changes be introduced and go through the Senate, those costs will increase to $56,022 and will take up to 22 years to pay off. Unfortunately, the situation will arise where my son will not be in a position to further his studies as a result of this insidious attack on university students and on universities throughout this country.

During my visits to the JCU it has been such a pleasure to see some of the initiatives they have in place. For example, the TropWater program monitors sea grass, and it was important to hear from them about the Abbot Point port up near Bowen and the outcomes that they identified in making sure that they have thorough and concise information to provide to the public about what it would mean to dredge that particular harbour. In some respects it refutes some of the things that some of the extreme groups are saying could happen as a result of dredging that area. I was pleased to hear firsthand from them about the results that they delivered. That is why it is important to have organisations and universities to deliver concise, thorough, ethical information based on science.

The other important area that JCU highlighted in their presentations was their concerns about what might happen in asset sales proposed by the Queensland LNP government. There is no real science on this, of course, but you can imagine there would be issues around limitations to ports as they are handed over to private enterprise. No doubt once you hand government entities over to private entities certain limitations apply in respect of entry, examination and research in their particular areas.

It was also amazing to go to the herbarium area and look at some plant samples. They are on the cusp of finding new flora samples around our state. Up in the savannah area—and Senator Macdonald would know that area better than I do—they are finding new species of flora that may possibly lead to the cure of some particular illness or disease, and it is important that the funding to the herbarium continues.

In addition, we went to the aquarium, where they study the reef in an amazing atmosphere and surrounds. You would swear, if you put blinkers on, that you were actually out on the reef having a look at a shark or a fish going past. It is important that their funding continues to be provided. They currently rely on documentaries, like those produced by David Attenborough, for funding.

On my last visit to JCU I went to the Eliminate Dengue Program, which is completely funded by Bill Gates. This sort of funding is not affected by the cruel cuts of the Hockey-Abbott budget.

Debate interrupted.