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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15843


Ms HALL (4:00 PM) —I rise to continue my remarks in the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004. In a country as vast as Australia, it is imperative that we have a reliable telecommunication network. That is why it is so important that Telstra be properly staffed and resourced. A vibrant, reliable telecommunication system is essential in a modern economy. Unfortunately, the Howard government has continually under-resourced Telstra and slashed jobs. It is this ideological commitment to selling Telstra that is driving the Howard government's telecommunication agenda and policies. That is why eight workers in the Hunter and six workers on the Central Coast have lost their jobs and that is why we are constantly having our telephone services interrupted. Sometimes the interruptions are due to an acute episode, but quite often they occur just because the government has invested too little money in maintaining the infrastructure. Wires and cables are covered by plastic bags rather than being properly maintained and repaired. The government has invested in travelling allowance for workers from outside the area rather than in jobs for workers in the area. Workers are working longer and longer hours and without having any holidays.

I have in the past called on the member for Dobell to come and join with me to argue for more resources for Telstra and for more workers in our area. I was extremely disappointed when last week he rose in the House in the adjournment debate and, rather than supporting me in my call for more workers and better maintenance of the network, attacked me. He waged a personal attack on me. He totally missed the ball. If he had had his eye on the ball, he would have seen that I was not talking about him but that I was asking—begging—him to support me and begging him to ensure that we on the Central Coast have the proper telecommunication service that we deserve. Unfortunately, he failed the test. He failed to come out and call for that support for the Central Coast that I asked for.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Corcoran)—Order! I interrupt the member for Shortland. Is the member for Flinders seeking to ask a question?


Mr Hunt —I am.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Will the honourable member allow a question?


Ms HALL —No, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is interesting that in the conclusion of his speech the member for Dobell thanked the dedicated Telstra workers in Shortland and Dobell. For the information of the member for Dobell, the 30 workers who did the repairs came from as far away as Mudgee and Dubbo. Unfortunately, Central Coast and Hunter jobs have gone, and as a consequence our services are being affected.

There are numerous items in this budget that need to be addressed; not the least of those is education. The government proposed its blueprint for education in this budget. Its blueprint for university education will mean that people like me will be denied the privilege of attending university. The policy set out by the government in this budget really means that only those people with sufficient money will be able to access university education.

I was very lucky; I was able to reap the benefits of the Whitlam reforms which enabled me to get a quality education. The subsequent changes enabled my children to attend university and get a university education. But, unfortunately, if the changes that have been mooted in this budget come into being, university education will really become the prerogative of those people who have money. There will be higher university fees, more university places will be reserved for the wealthy, some degrees will cost over $100,000 per degree, and there will be massive student debts which will have an impact on the ability of young people to buy houses and plan for their future. And, of course, there is the learning limit, which means that after five years there will be a cap on the number of HECS places. This is a real travesty, because it will mean that many young Australians will be deprived of a university education.

I will turn my attention to TAFE. I was visited last week by TAFE teachers from the Hunter. I do not know whether members on the other side of the House are aware of just how disappointed TAFE teachers and the TAFE sector are with this government and this budget. They are disappointed with the amount of money that has been allocated to TAFE—or should I say the amount of money that has not been allocated to TAFE. It is ludicrous when the minister stands up in the House and says, `I support apprenticeships, and I support the ability of people to have the choice to go to TAFE,' because he is not giving them a choice. People already have to wait a long time to access TAFE because there is a shortage of TAFE places. The government has not allocated any additional funds for TAFE. This means that our young people are going to be deprived of the opportunity to get an education. What does that mean? That means that Australia as a nation is being deprived of the opportunity to enter the world stage with a skilled, knowledge based work force. The secret to success these days is knowledge, and if we have a country where our young people are being deprived of the right to access learning then we will suffer as a nation. It is not right that one group of people—those people with money—should be able to access education. The government must understand that it is the right of all Australians to have an equal opportunity to get an education; it is not the right of just a privileged few.

In conclusion, I say that the 2003 Howard budget is a disaster for Australian families, a disaster for pensioners and a disaster for all ordinary Australians. It is a budget for the elite. It is a budget for the privileged few. It is a budget for the friends of the Howard government—not for all Australians.