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Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Page: 4493


Mr HART (Bass) (17:06): I rise to speak on the appropriation bills. Two weeks ago this government delivered its federal budget, its economic plan. This is a government that fought against establishing a royal commission into the banking system, a government that refused to take action with respect to cuts to penalty rates for low-paid workers, and the Liberal coalition government persists in pushing $80 billion worth of unfunded corporate tax cuts while pensioners receive a cut to their energy allowance. This government trumpets its plan—it is proud of it. It doesn't recognise the unfairness now proposed to be baked into tax cuts that disproportionately favour those on higher incomes. This is a government for the wealthy, while maintaining the fiction that a strong economy is the only thing that will pay for the essential services that ordinary people rely upon and quite reasonably expect a competent government to provide.

What they actually mean—the underlying code—is that a strong economy is necessary, otherwise essential services will be cut. They want you to believe that if you are a single parent in part-time to work, struggling to bring up children, your access to essential services like Medicare, to public hospitals and to public education being properly funded depends upon the strength of the economy, an economy that might be subject to external shocks, just like those we saw here in Australia during the global financial crisis. Australians know that institutions like Medicare and access to public education and public hospitals should be paid for by competent governments making choices as to how best to expend public money. This government consistently fails lower-income and middle Australia in making those choices. But, most of all, this government fails the people of my home state, Tasmania.

This budget of missed opportunities doesn't do anything to address the potential to relocate public service jobs into regional areas like north and north-western Tasmania. This budget, a budget by press release with no detail as to specific projects, announces projects that will receive funding, such as $400 million for Roads of Strategic Importance, without identifying any project whatsoever.

Tasmanians know better than anyone that this government cannot be trusted on its promises, given that it cut $100 million from funding for the Midland Highway in the first Hockey budget. There is absolutely no attention to strategic investment in Tasmania, whether it is in health, such as support of the Launceston General Hospital, or in regional infrastructure, like funding for the West Tamar Highway traffic relief, or in freight roads to the north-east by upgrading the sidling within my electorate. Even when there is a road map detailing possible future investment, such as the redevelopment of the northern suburbs of Launceston, as foreshadowed in the government's own Launceston city deal, this government comes up short.

There are areas of disadvantage in Tasmania that require a sustained, long-term investment, such as education, particularly public education, rather than $17 billion less being devoted to education over 10 years, which was exposed in last year's budget. There is nothing in this budget to address housing affordability and the present housing crisis in Tasmania. It is shocking to hear that rental affordability in Hobart is worse than Sydney. It is an indictment of state and federal government commitments to the relief of poverty generally and housing more specifically to hear that there are no homeless services available, particularly crisis services, for people who present to our hardworking but overloaded community services, like the Launceston City Mission at the weekend.

It is an often repeated phrase that budgets are about choices. You can tell what the priorities of this government are when you realise that this Prime Minister would prefer to allow $17 billion in tax relief for the large banks rather than reinstating $17 billion to the education budget over the next 10 years. You can tell the priority of this government when you realise they claim that the ability to schedule or fund new medicines is conditional upon the prudential management of the budget and the economy. That is why they are prepared to pay $80 billion worth of corporate tax cuts to the largest corporations in Australia.

Even when this government recognises that it has a problem with fairness by insisting that large corporates receive a tax cut before low-paid workers receive a wage rise, its plan for tax cuts stills favours the higher paid. We know, for example, that it wants to hold lower paid workers hostage in order to guarantee tax cuts for higher paid people. The government is prepared to deny tax cuts to lower paid workers, unless tax cuts are delivered under a future government for higher paid individuals. In other words, tax cuts that are way down the track for higher paid individuals are more important than delivering real taxation relief to lower paid workers. In contrast to this, Tasmanians will be better off and will always be better off under a Labor Shorten government.

Tasmania is a place of great beauty, and it has now experienced a great tourism resurgence. It has become the place to go to experience the finest food and drink in the country. In my electorate alone, there is some of the finest seafood, beef, wine and beer, I would challenge, on offer anywhere on the globe. Being a great tourism destination doesn't, however, guarantee quality of life for the residents of Tasmania. Tasmania has its problems. We have the lowest average incomes in the country, the lowest number of university graduates, the highest youth unemployment and the fastest ageing population. This is why a plan to address these shortcomings has the opportunity to transform Tasmania. We have the opportunity to offer fantastic tourism experiences and also unparalleled opportunities in business, employment and lifestyle, not just for an ageing population but also for those who choose to make their career in Tasmania.

Strategic investment in infrastructure and investment in education to improve educational outcomes and address long-term disadvantage will improve the lot of all within our state. Investment in services, particularly health and public education, will ensure that all can receive access in an equitable manner to good-quality public health and public education. The experience internationally demonstrates that long-term investment in health and education do more to address long-term disadvantage than any other measures. These are just some of the reasons why Tasmania will be better off under a Shorten Labor government.

Under Labor, the majority of Tasmanians will pay less income tax because Labor believes that they are more important than multinationals, big banks and big business. Under Labor, Tasmanian workers with incomes between $48,000 and $90,000 will be $928 better off, which is $398 better than the tax cuts offered by the Turnbull government. Cuts to personal income tax mean more disposable income, which is good for local Tasmanian businesses. Tasmanians' average annual income is $53,357, but the median annual income is just $29,796. The government's second round of tax cuts to high-income earners won't help Tasmanian businesses. Economic modelling has found that Tasmania will miss out simply by virtue of the fact that our lower average income means that less benefit is delivered from consumption within the economy. The majority of Tasmanians will be better off under Labor, as will Tasmanian small businesses, by virtue of the fact that Tasmanian consumers will have more money in their pockets to spend.

Australians believe in a fair go for all. Our tax and transfer system is one of the most progressive in the world. This means the tax we pay as well as the benefits we receive are highly targeted to those who need it. Under this government, our egalitarian society that we're all so proud of is at risk. A flat rate of tax will not address rising inequality; it is a move in the wrong direction. The effect of this is obvious. Labor doesn't believe that a cleaner on $40,000 a year should pay the same tax rate as a CEO on $200,000 a year. It's just not fair. This budget is like every other Liberal budget: it consistently fails the fairness test.

Labor is opposing the Turnbull government's $80 billion tax cut for big business and big banks. This tax cut will be of no benefit to more than 13,000 businesses in Tasmania. According to the ABS, there are just over 2,800 businesses in Bass; only nine of those businesses will benefit from the government's $80 billion tax cut. Labor believes there are better ways to use the $80 billion tax cuts slated for big business. That tax would be better used with wise choices made to support the services that we need and those who are in need.

In my hometown of Launceston we have one of the best regional hospitals in the country. I know because I was on the board of Tasmanian Health Organisation North. Workers at the LGH are to be commended for the outstanding work they do despite cuts to funding. Under the Liberals, the cuts to our hospitals are putting those workers under pressure and the lives of northern Tasmanians at risk. The personal stories I hear almost daily speak of the stresses placed upon our emergency department. The story late last year of a patient left waiting outside the LGH for treatment informs me the cuts to health that this government has overseen need to be seriously addressed now. Instead, this government's budget prioritises tax cuts to big business instead of the health of the Australian people. As Labor is not giving big business an $80 billion tax cut, Labor can afford to reverse the Turnbull government's cuts to hospitals and create a $2.8 billion better hospital fund—a practical step to address those daily pressures. Labor has already committed to a $30 million investment to slash Tasmania's elective surgery backlog.

Labor will also invest in your education—in schools, TAFE and university—because when people get the opportunities, Australia gets the benefits. As part of my election campaign I argued for funding for two important projects in Bass: $150 million for the University of Tasmania northern campus relocation and $75 million for the Tamar River improvement plan. I believe that with appropriate planning these two projects would have given long-term economic growth to northern Tasmania. Of concern to me are the reports that there are many trades facing skills shortages, from carpenters to bricklayers to bakers to pastry cooks, but, despite high unemployment in some areas, workers can't learn the skills that industries are crying out for. Over the last five years, the government has cut $3 billion from TAFE and training, including $270 million in this budget. Northern Tasmania has 1,300 fewer apprentices today than it did when the government was first elected. Labor recognises that the number of apprentices needs to increase dramatically if Tasmania is to reach and deliver its full economic potential.

This is why, under a Shorten Labor government, we will scrap up-front fees for 100,000 TAFE students who choose to learn the skills that Australia needs to become a modern, advanced manufacturing economy. Labor will invest $470 million in a plan to boost TAFE apprenticeships and skills for Australians. Labor will invest $100 million in modernising TAFE facilities around the country. On projects like the University of Tasmania relocation, one in 10 jobs will be filled by Australian apprenticeships. Labor will also provide 10,000 apprentice programs for young people who want to learn a trade. With a changing economy and an uncertain future of work, we understand that workers need to retrain, which is why Labor will provide 20,000 adult apprentice programs for older workers. Under Labor, Tasmanians will be better trained.

Tasmania has the highest proportion of pensioners and is ageing faster than anywhere else in the country. Pensioners are some of the biggest losers in this government's budget. The government persists with the former Prime Minister's energy supplement cut of $14 a fortnight for single aged pensioners, whilst giving tax cuts to large companies. They're also telling Australians they have to work until they are 70 with no thought for what that means for people doing jobs that are hard on the bodies. We know 105,000 older Australians are waiting for home care packages. The government is only offering 14,000 and no more, with no extra funding to pay for those places because their priority is an $80 billion tax cut for big business. I'm proud to stand here in parliament representing the hardworking people of northern Tasmania. The people who I represent will be better off under a Labor government, which will be a government prepared to invest in people, invest in infrastructure and invest in jobs.