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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1683


Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (17:58): We are on the cusp of the 2015 budget being brought down—and yet this government has yet to sell last year's budget to the community. This government fails to understand that budgets are about people and they are about community.

Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, you will appreciate the fact that I regularly speak in this place about the spirit of multiculturalism in my electorate. I have the honour of representing the most multicultural electorate in the country. My community is shaped by the diversity of our people, their cultures and their traditions. However, behind the colour and vibrancy of our community there are significant pockets of disadvantage—areas of high unemployment, families from low socio-economic backgrounds, and a high proportion of people living with disabilities. While there is much to be proud about, there is certainly no denying the fact that my community is one of genuine need.

Since coming to office 18 months ago, the Abbott government has done very little other than introduce policies that will detrimentally impact on the wellbeing of communities such as mine—proposals like cutting education funding, deregulating university fees, cutting healthcare funding, developing a GP tax, targeting family benefits, and abolishing the Schoolkids Bonus. These have all impacted sharply on my electorate. Added to that are the various cuts to family payments. By the way, as a further indication of that, a single-income family earning $65,000 per year with two children are $6,000 worse off as a consequence of the cuts that have been applied by this government.

When it comes to a budget that cares for, or caters to, people and communities, this government is certainly not taking care of communities such as mine—communities with significant pockets of disadvantage. Using the example of that family with an income of $65,000, you should not forget that that family is almost 10 per cent worse off. If you take the Schoolkids Bonus into account—$410 per primary schoolkid or $820 for a high school student—then that family is even further disadvantaged. That is why I say this government is doing everything to make life harder for struggling families—with cuts to education and health, cuts to community organisations that do provide vital services to our communities. I am saying that there is more than a pattern emerging here: this is systematic.

I would have thought that investing in education is traditionally one of the most important things for the nation's future—one of the most important things we can do for our future. That is why we on this side strongly oppose this government's decision to strip $5.8 billion out of the education sector. While there is a significant amount of disadvantage in my community, I must say we are producing a number of very intelligent young people who are making the most of the education system and who no doubt will go on to do great things in our community. Last year Tram Anh Ly from Canley Vale High School ranked 3rd in the state for her studies in English as a second language together with Quang Huy Do at Cabramatta High School who scored 9th place. Alexander Thai from Canley Vale High School was also placed in the top 10 in the state in extension maths, while Justin Samreth from Bonnyrigg High School was in the top 14 for standard English. Along with these four, there are going to be many other bright local kids who are going to go on to do great things. They will aspire to undertake higher education to fulfil their potential.

This government's decision to deregulate university fees is creating the real prospect now of $100,000 degrees, and this will shatter the dreams of many local families. The Abbott government is undermining our higher education system and it will put universities beyond the reach of many Australian families—especially students from disadvantaged backgrounds. With the rising costs of living, these families are already working hard enough to make ends meet. I know there is an election coming just around the corner in New South Wales, but look at what has happened to the TAFE system there—vocational education. We are seeing a state Liberal government rationalise TAFE campuses; it is cutting or relocating courses, retrenching skilled trade training staff, increasing student fees by an average of 9.5 per cent across the board. Thousands of people are being denied the opportunities for vocational education and for entry positions for apprenticeships. With unemployment the highest it has been for 12 years and youth unemployment running at somewhere between 15 and 16 per cent, it simply does not make sense to attack TAFE or to cut our investment in vocational education or to deny access to training. Privatising our education sector, stripping funds out of tertiary education and shifting costs onto students will not grow our economy. This is inconsistent with what it is to be a smart nation and a nation prepared to invest in its future.

Many families in my community are also being confronted with increasing family day care expenses, following this government's announcement that it will strip $157 million from family day care services. I have already said that mums and dads in my electorate have to work pretty hard. I recently visited the family day care network in Liverpool and they are staring down the barrel of having either to cut their services due to insufficient funds or to increase their fees. According to the analysis by Family Day Care Australia, the Abbott government will force fees to rise by at least $35 a week. As a consequence there are 133 services in Western Sydney that are now facing closure. This is a real slug to many families in my electorate who are set to lose as much as $741 a year in childcare expenses. These priorities are certainly not consistent with a government that wants to invest in the nation's future.

The priorities of this government are most concerning, especially when they are determined to slash funding to essential community services. Again I describe my electorate as being very multicultural and as an area of great need. Since the beginning of this year a number of organisations in the community sector have lost their federal funding following the government's decision to take $170 million out of the Discretionary Grants program. This is impacting on service quality, efficiency and the sustainability of many longstanding organisations in my community. I am referring to organisations like the New South Wales Spanish and Latin American Association for Social Assistance or SALSA which is based in Bonnyrigg. They have lost funding for their aged-care service improvement grant. These grants have been there for many years supporting activities for healthy and active ageing, including dementia care for people from Spanish-speaking backgrounds—and there are many of them in my electorate.

The Fairfield and Liverpool migrant resource centres are also receiving less funding for their settlement program and are struggling to keep the quality of their services in the face of the fact that my area is one of the most prominent areas where migrants and refugees are resettled—that is, in south-west Sydney. The Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre is also facing a second blow with cuts to the emergency relief program. This program exists to provide special food vouchers for families that have hit absolute desperation. That has now been cut.

Another organisation which does an extremely good job in my community and which I would like to refer to is the Vietnamese Community in Australia—I know that you know it well, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly—led by the President, Dr Thang Ha. Not only have they had their settlement grants targeted but they are also facing the government's axe on their money management project, which provides the local community with financial counselling and advice to reduce the impacts of problem gambling in our community. By the way, Vietnamese make up 22 per cent of my electorate, and problem gambling is a major concern. This is an organisation doing something about it. Their program is now completely under threat.

Another thing the VCA does, and does very, very well, is their Links to Learning project. This service is aimed at students at risk of being early school leavers to assist them to stay at school, assist them with their homework and give extracurricular activities. This is all designed to keep kids at school. This service has a profound impact on the lives of many young people and its cessation will come as an extreme disappointment to many, many families in my electorate.

Another organisation which does extremely well is South West Connect, which provides services in the Fairfield and Liverpool areas. It has lost its partnership broker funding. Since the implementation, this has been a very successful program, bringing business together with students to increase student engagement and enhance retention rates at school. Work experience has meant that more than 5,500 local students have become more job ready through the support of 35 corporate partnerships. Without these partnerships, local students miss out on practical engagement with the real world of work. This program directly targets high youth unemployment, linking young people with job prospects and vocational training.

These are cruel cuts and they are having a devastating impact on our community. It is no wonder the Australian people have lost confidence in this government. The Abbott government has targeted disadvantaged communities, the very people who can least afford to bear the brunt of these attacks.

For instance, there is the GP tax, a ludicrous attack on Australia's world-class healthcare system. Who knows what the fate of the GP tax will be, given the Prime Minister's poor polling at the moment? We all know that Tony Abbott will do almost anything for a vote. He has a reputation for saying one thing before an election and doing the exact opposite after. Whatever eventuates in respect of the GP tax, we know that it is the intention of this government when it comes to health care. We know that their intention is to progressively have a user-pays system. We know that this is about putting the cost on the patients—like what they intend to do in education, putting the cost on the students. This is all about cost shifting, where you can strip the amount of investment in health and education and put it on the students and patients. Patients on low incomes or with chronic conditions will have to dig pretty deep for high up-front payments just to see GPs.

Australia has every right to expect that governments will keep the economy strong, will make smart investments for the future but, above all, will ensure that everybody gets a fair go. On that criterion this government has failed. It has put the job security of Tony Abbott above all else. This is not a government that has lost its way; this is a government that never knew where it was going.