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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 661

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (16:14): At the request of Senator Moore, I move:

That the Senate condemns the Abbott Government for its litany of broken promises which are hurting low- and middle-income earners, harming the economy, damaging business and consumer confidence, costing jobs, undermining fairness, and changing Australia for the worse.

We have seen an extraordinary first week of parliament for 2015, so I think it is appropriate that we do a summary of what has happened. The Australian people know that the Prime Minister has no vision for this country, and that has been demonstrated. What did he say? There has been a bad government for 520 days. On 9 February, my birthday, he said, 'Good government starts today.' Well, we have not seen any evidence of that thus far—it is only Thursday, and we know they are pretty slow off the mark.

This government's agenda is built on lies and broken promises. It is built on policies which are hurting low-income people—families, pensioners, students, job seekers and the homeless. If you fit into any of those categories, you are in the government's sights. That sums up this government's first budget: if you are marginalised in Australia, you will suffer under this Liberal government's agenda. The first Abbott-Hockey budget will go down in our country's history as a budget which tore away at the very fabric of what makes this country great—fairness. Fairness is what we as Australians stand for. We believe in giving people a helping hand up, not a handout.

But, since taking office, the Abbott government has launched an unprecedented attack on low- and middle-income Australians. And they are wondering why they do not have support from the Australian community. No wonder the Australian people no longer trust the Prime Minister to lead this country. It beggars belief. When you go to an election promising not to do X, Y and Z but, when you get into government, you do X, Y and Z, what do you think people are going to think? What do you think is going to happen? Your political capital has been used up. Tony Abbott's political capital has been used up. So it really does not matter whether those on the other side change the leader, choose a new prime minister, as I have said on more than one occasion this week. You can take Tony Abbott out of the Lodge, but you can never take the unfairness out of the Liberal Party.

Those opposite may not know what it is like to live from pay cheque to pay cheque, but there are millions of Australians who do. The majority of Australians live from pay cheque to pay cheque and they are hurting. I know personally of the hardship of having to depend on your pay cheque from pay to pay. I know personally what it is like to live on a disability pension. I know what it is like to get to the end of a fortnight and not have enough money to scrape together to buy a carton of milk for your children. I know what it is like. I do not talk the talk; I have actually walked the walk, and so have many others. So we have a better comprehension of what it means when they make these savage attacks on low- and middle-income families. We know what effect it is having when they change the indexation on pensioners. We know what effect that has on their daily living costs. We know what effect that is going to have when they try to go into an aged-care facility.

We know what it is like when you break your promise not to have any cuts to education. It is blatantly wrong that in the future, if the government gets its way, families will only be able to send their children to university if they can afford it, if their credit card is big enough. Otherwise, those young people are going to be burdened for decades because they cannot afford the fees. It is all very well for those on the other side to deny that there are going to be $100,000 degrees. But we know that, if you want a decent degree, that is what is going to happen. But those opposite are determined to take us down the American track. Anyone who has done any reading, anyone who watches the news, anyone who has been to the US understands what an expensive and disadvantaged society it is for low-income people and the poor. When it comes to education, that is the gateway to having a brighter future. So we should be investing more in education, not cutting it—not making it harder for those who want to go on to university, those who worked very hard to get the marks to go on to tertiary education.

And if those opposite really believed in education they would not be cutting funding to the TAFE system in this country. Going to the last election, those opposite y said that they would not cut funding to TAFE. But what did they do? They want to introduce a GP tax. GPs around the country are very hardworking, as we know, and no-one appreciates them more than I do. They are not usually politically motivated to go out and campaign against a Liberal government; they are more likely to come after our side. But what did those opposite do? They energised the GPs to mount a campaign. So it did not matter what surgery you went to, there were petitions there. When I went to see the doctor we spent the first half of the consultation talking about the gross neglect of health by those on the opposite side.

So what do we have now? We have someone who went to the last election as the Leader of the Opposition who had a really good reputation for saying no, no, no and being terribly negative. The only problem is that they have not been able to transition into government, and he has now lost the confidence of his own caucus. So the Australian people are now waiting in limbo to see when the axe will fall on Tony Abbott. It really does not matter whether it is Malcolm Turnbull or Julie Bishop who becomes the leader. Their DNA is all the same. They have all sat around the cabinet table and agreed to and supported the policy decisions they have taken and the budget they wanted to bring down in this country.

We on this side always stand up for fairness, equality and giving a helping hand to those who need it most. We know what the Treasurer would say when people like me talk about the poor and those who need a helping hand. What was the response of the Treasurer of this country when they put the fuel tax up? He said: 'Poor people don't drive cars.' Well, here is a news bulletin: they do actually drive cars. Pensioners drive cars and students trying to get an education drive cars. That statement is what those people on the other side believe is happening in our community. They are so out of touch. It is extraordinary that a Treasurer of a rich country like Australia would believe that poor people do not drive cars. Maybe he would prefer that they did not.

When they slug the pensioners, change the indexation and increase the fuel tax, they never consider the pensioners who are on such a limited income and who will have to pay more for public transport and for their heating costs. When we were in government—and it is something that I am very proud of—we gave the biggest increase in the country's history to the pensioners of our country, because we knew and recognised that they needed that. Did they need more? Is there more to be done? Of course there is, but those opposite—as usual—have slugged those who can least afford it.

Why should a family have to make a choice—that is, when they have got three or four kids, or a couple of kids, and mum and dad are sick—about who will be able to go the doctor? Then we had the unfortunate incidents where we had older Australians and pensioners concerned about—even when they did go to their doctor; if they could afford it and could find someone who would bulk-bill them—whether they would be able to afford to have their scripts filled. I had a pharmacist talking to me and relaying the concern that he had about people coming in and asking, 'Do I really need to take this medication every day? Can I just take it every other day, because I don't think I will be able to afford it?' That is outrageous. That is a blight on this government and it would be a blight on us in this place if we were to allow those things to happen.

I often talk about what is happening in my home state of Tasmania. Unfortunately, we have been doing it pretty tough over there. We do not have a really good record and, certainly, there is nothing that we can be proud of about the amount of young people who are going on to tertiary education. I know so many people—from when I went out to the University of Tasmania campus in Launceston and I spoke to the students out there—who were actually the first in their family to go on to university and have that opportunity. They said that many of them would not be able to afford to go with these changes. Why should those people with a disability who want to go on to tertiary education—to better themselves and to give themselves a brighter future—be denied the opportunity because of these changes? Why should mature-age students be disadvantaged and not be able to have that same opportunity?

The local member for the seat of Bass in my home state of Tasmania has stayed silent. He denies these things almost on a daily basis—particularly when I am in the media, I write a letter to an editor or, heaven forbid, someone else from the community questions this budget and the policies that this government has adopted and is trying to enforce onto the Australia community—and then he attacks those people who dared to raise these issues and challenge him on the direction that this government is trying to take the Australian community in.

History dictates, when it comes to the Liberals, that all Liberal governments are the same. If you go back through history, through the Howard years, through the Abbott years and further, they always have this in their DNA and they always have this on their radar: their attacks and their policies are always directed, in a negative sense, towards those who can least afford it. We know that their real friends are in the big end of town. But even the big end of town is not happy with them at the moment.

Just look at what pearl of wisdom those opposite have proposed from a public policy perspective on higher education: in an 'ideal' world, those opposite would have every student in Australia paying $100,000 or more to go to university. How out of touch are those opposite? As I have said on a number of occasions, why should prospective students and parents have to make a decision about whether all their children will be able to be afforded the opportunity to have a tertiary education or they will have to make a choice? Will we go back to the good old days, which I would say are the bad old days, of when it was usually the male who got the opportunity to go on and have an education?

Over the last 523 or 524 days, this country has been waiting for a good government to arrive. The Prime Minister of this country said on Monday that a good government was going to start and they had been a bad government up until now. We are waiting to see any evidence of a good government. Those on the other side will reflect on the former Labor government and talk about what a rabble we were, but those people have taken the cake. They are the champions of dysfunction, rabble and arrogance. They are a government of chaos and a government who are quite clearly out of touch with the Australian community. They are a government that have no direction, they have no vision and they have no policies.

You can talk about the effect of the promises that they took to the election: no cuts to education, no cuts to health and no changes to the pension. They said they would be a government of creating jobs, jobs and jobs. Well, we are seeing the numbers from today that demonstrate that, once again, they are a failure: unemployment has risen to 6.4 per cent, which is a 12-year high. This Liberal government has run business confidence into the ground. Businesses are not investing in capital, people are not investing in property and, if this government had its way, our young people would not be investing in their education.

On this side, we believe in a strong economy that delivers for all Australians and does not leave people behind. This government would divide people into the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. That is not a country that I want to live in and I do not believe that is a type of country that Australians want to live in. Fairness, as I said before, is what makes us great. We are mates with each other and we stand together for each other. We on this side are going to stand together with those on the crossbench to ensure that this government does not get its way and that they do not implement these heartless policies and inflict more pain and hardship on the living standards of all Australians—let alone those who are the most disadvantaged in this country.

In my area of responsibility, aged care, when this government came in it had their own war, particularly concerning the dementia supplement for those with severe psychological and behavioural problems. It was not until I asked a question in February last year that it dawned on them that perhaps we ought to be keeping an eye on this expense. Then what did we see? We waited months and months for them to come up with a new policy for how we were going to help those people that are caring for those with the most severe behavioural problems. What we have now is a fly-in squadron of a policy and no-one knows how it is going to work, how the money is going to be used, what accountability there will be—but it is still not enough to help on a day to day basis those who are caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. It comes back to fairness—making sure that those who are the most vulnerable have the help that they need to. It is fairness by making sure that we have world's best practice when it comes to aged care—the Living Longer. Living Better package that we implemented when we were in government was a great step forward because we took with us the aged care sector. We had that support. There is still more work to be done. Now we have a new minister who has been put into this area of responsibility, and he has been put in there because they are trying to soften his image so that he has a better image when he rolls Joe Hockey and becomes the next Treasurer.

Those who believe in fairness in this country believe that there needs to be access to universal health care and education. We believe in a secure pension system. We believe we should support those people who have disabilities and those who have caring responsibilities, and those people who are looking for employment deserve the help they need to get back into the workforce. Let us not forget that those opposite are the ones who believe that if you are under 30 and cannot find a job you should go without any assistance for six months. What do they think those young people are going to do? What is that going to do to our community? We know what it is going to do—it is going to cause more mental health issues, it is going to lead to more crime in our communities and it is not going to lead to one new job or any assistance for those young people.

Let us be honest, not much is going the way of those opposite at the moment. If I were to summarise the last few weeks—or in fact the last 523 days—I would say that things have not really been going their way. But when things are not going your way you do not throw your toys out of the cot like they are doing at the moment. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Those opposite are now asking themselves what they do with Tony Abbott—they know the Australian people no longer trust them, they are not listening to them, so what do they do with him? Some have a short-term vision that Malcolm Turnbull or Julie Bishop is going to change the way the Australian people view this government. They will not, because the people know what Malcolm Turnbull was like when the was the previous leader. Those opposite know what he was like, but the backbench is desperate. They are blaming Tony Abbott, but they should be looking at themselves. They are not listening to the community; they are not out there listening to the people. If they were moving around the community, they would not be persisting with this harsh, heartless budget. That budget will not get through because those on this side and on the crossbench—those who have a social conscience—will not allow it to go through.

It is an indictment of this government that it has been built on lies—lie after lie after lie. We say, 'Bring on your new leader when you are ready, when you have a bit of guts, but in the meantime we are going to stand and defend fairness in this country.' We will always stand for fairness and we will always speak up for those who are the most vulnerable in this community. (Time expired)