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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4307


Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (21:59): I rise to congratulate those that braved horizontal rain and high winds to attend the Protest on the Coast, a rally that took place in Burnie in Tasmania on Saturday, 28 June, against this cruellest and most dishonest budget in living memory. There were over 150 people at the rally, with many more, particularly pensioners, who expressed their desire to be there but due to the inclement weather could not attend. Those who attended the rally knew that waiting until the election to remind people of the true colours of Tony Abbott and the Liberal coalition government was not an option.

The PRESIDENT: Prime Minister Abbott.

Senator URQUHART: Prime Minister Abbott. Those who attended the rally knew that right across the country, from the big cities to small regional centres like Burnie, the campaign needs to start now. I understand that organisers invited all political parties as well as representatives from unions, charities, student groups and the medical profession. I acknowledge my Senate colleague, Senator Milne, for returning home to the north-west coast and passionately speaking to the crowd about this cruel and dishonest budget. I also acknowledge new senator for Tasmania, PUP Senator Lambie, who was unable to attend but sent her apologies and her guarantee that:

I will always vote to protect ordinary Tasmanians from the unfair budget cuts of Mr Abbott and his Liberals and Nationals.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the Liberal member for Braddon, Mr Whiteley, did not see fit to attend and defend his government's budget. Mr Whiteley missed an opportunity to present his arguments in support of introducing a GP tax; introducing petrol taxes; cutting family payments; cutting people under 30 off Newstart; cutting school, uni and TAFE funding; decreasing pension increases so that the payment falls behind cost-of-living increases; increasing medicine co-payments; cutting hospital funding; cutting road funding for Tasmania; cutting science and research; cutting the ABC and SBS; cutting Indigenous programs; and cutting Landcare funding, to name but a few measures.

When asked by the local newspaper, the Burnie Advocate, in the lead-up to the rally, as to why he would not attend, Mr Whiteley called the rally a 'Labor-union stunt' and said:

I do not classify this particular rally as genuine.

What is so fascinating about this statement is that Mr Whiteley was more than happy to attend a rally openly organised by the Australian Workers' Union in Burnie and another in Tullah last year in support of mining in Tasmania. Mr Whiteley was not invited to speak at the AWU rallies, so from all accounts he stood at the back of the room and hurled abuse at speakers including then Deputy Premier Bryan Green and then Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and member for Braddon, Sid Sidebottom.

Let's just get this straight. On two occasions last year in the lead-up to the federal election Mr Whiteley was willing to attend a union rally he was not invited to speak at, but Mr Whiteley was willing to stand at the back of the crowd and hurl abuse at speakers. But then, when a group of community and union members organise a rally to oppose some of the harshest measures in Prime Minister Abbott's budget and offer him the microphone, what does he do? Of course, he hurls abuse at the organisers, seeking to trash their event as a 'stunt' and—with his esteemed knowledge of community and union rallies!—this particular rally as not genuine. I know Mr Whiteley likes to try and throw his muscle around, like in his performance in the letters page of today's Advocate, but such a judgemental dismissal of community members will only strengthen their resolve to not just campaign against Mr Abbott's cruel and dishonest budget but to campaign against Mr Whiteley and his cruel and dishonest budget; to campaign for the Senate to vote down every one of the cruel and dishonest budget measures; and then to campaign against you, Mr Whiteley, in the next election. Because, as Senator Thorp said in her valedictory speech to this place:

Ironically, it may be this budget that galvanises people to mobilise and fight for the Australia they want for the future.

I was asked to be a speaker at the rally together with a wide range of community members. The event commenced with a welcome to country from local elder, Mr Eddie Thomas. Mr Thomas was just three months old when welfare authorities took him and his siblings from the then Aboriginal reserve of Cape Barren Island in Bass Strait. He spent the next 21 years in a foster home in Launceston. Thank you, Mr Thomas, for welcoming the protestors to your country. Thank you, Mr Thomas, for standing with us to protest this cruel and dishonest budget.

The two MCs of the rally, Ali Butcher and Owen Zolati, started proceedings with their stories as to why they became involved. Ali said that the Australian way of life was under attack and she was not going to sit back. She said that north-west Tasmania was not going to sit back and that north-west Tasmanians want and need a hand up and not a hand out. Owen said that the Australian people were sold one thing and delivered another. Australians were told there were to be no cuts to health and education, no changes to pensions and there would be no new taxes, yet this Prime Minister's first budget broke all of those promises and more.

The first speaker was Dr Themba Bulle, a doctor at the Burnie GP superclinic and member of a large number of GP boards and advisory committees. Dr Bulle said that the hardest hit by the $7 GP tax would be those in nursing homes, children, the poor and Indigenous patients. Dr Bulle said it was his belief that this proposed budget measure would worsen the health outcomes of the north-west community.

The next speaker was, Jan Robinson, an organiser with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. Jan said that the community must take action and that nurses, midwifes and carers, as patient advocates, would fight to protect safe health care and oppose the cuts to hospitals and the GP tax. Robbie Moore, the Assistant State Secretary with the Health and Community Services Union outlined some of the less talked about victims of budget cuts. Robbie said that one program they are getting rid of is the Eat Well, Be Well program that runs in our schools, in lower socio-economic schools, in secondary schools, in childcare and in workplaces. Robbie said that while the government's rhetoric around this budget is around a long-term budget solution, the Eat Well, Be Well program is having an impact and is creating a healthier community. Robbie posed the question: how is axing this program looking at a long-term budget solution?

Isaac Foster, the State President of the Tasmania University Union, said that those gathered in Burnie and in protests across Tasmania were the voice of reason. The voice of reason is saying no to the increase in fees for university, which is slamming the door on children from places like north-west Tasmania from living their dreams and attending university.

I was privileged to also be able to address the rally. In my address I highlighted that the government's so-called 'budget emergency' is a cruel joke, that Australia is in fact one of 10 countries in the world with a AAA credit rating. So where is this budget emergency? It has been fabricated by an ideological Prime Minister, the worst that we have had in this country—certainly in my recollection—a Prime Minister whose budget emergency is entirely his own doing, because this government's budget follows a similar path to surplus as the previous government except that the Liberal-National coalition government seeks to cut assistance for the most needy in the community and give tax cuts to big polluters, give tax cuts for coal and iron ore miners making super profits, give tax cuts to multinational companies and give $50,000 to new mums on salaries over $100,000 a year.

I thank all of the community members who organised protest on the coast and I thank the more than 150 people who came out and braved the coldest and wettest of Burnie days. I thank them for coming together; for finding a voice; for speaking out against the contempt their government, our government, has shown and continues to show against its own people; for recognising that this is a cruel and dishonest budget and not standing by whilst this government breaks promises and attacks the most vulnerable in our community; and for knowing that waiting until the election to remind people of the true colours of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National coalition government is too late. The people of north-west Tasmania will not forgive this government for this cruel and dishonest budget.

The people of north-west Tasmania have started their campaign. Mr Whiteley, you were afforded the opportunity to present your argument at the Burnie rally. The organisers assumed that your attendance at genuine union rallies last year would see you put partisanship aside and present your arguments in support of this budget. Instead, you judged the organisers from afar and gave them no alternative but to stand up and campaign harder against your budget and your government. Instead of enjoying the deliberations of the Senate as you have done in the chamber for much of today, I suggest that you engage in more genuine conversations about the budget with your constituents back in your local electorate of Braddon.