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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2584


Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (17:24): The only consistent thing that we have seen from the federal government is that they have no real interest in investing in the Northern Territory. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are more interested in giving an $80 billion tax cut to big business and the banks than they are in improving the lives of the people of the Northern Territory.

In the Territory, we remember this history of poor treatment at the hands of the Turnbull government. We remember the disastrous budget last year, with the savage GST cuts of $2 billion over four years. Now this year we have a drop of $1.4 billion compared with those projections over the next four years. This is on top of the cuts from 2017. So the people of the Territory remember this government's flip-flops on a commitment to remote housing. The 'Will they or won't they?' game on matching the NT government's $1.1 billion commitment to remote housing went on for months until only a fortnight ago, when the Treasurer committed to $550 million over five years—with the national partnership agreement expiring on 30 June. The government now needs to follow through with a commitment to sit down with the NT government, Aboriginal organisations and community representatives to enter good-faith negotiations around issues like leasing and funding for town camps.

There is also the disaster that is known as the CDP, the Community Development Program, where 15,000 participants were slapped with so-called serious failures in just two years to 30 June 2017. There are currently around 33,000 CDP participants, most of whom are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Serious failures were applied five or more times to 3,702 individuals, and for those whose fines were partially waived the average time off welfare was 2.4 weeks.

Since it began operating in July 2015, 406,626 financial penalties have been applied under CDP. About 80 per cent of participants are Indigenous people living in remote regions. The message that is being sent consistently under this government is the entrenchment of poverty and the entrenchment of disadvantage for the most vulnerable in our society. A report by The Australia Institute found that the scheme had helped fewer than one in five people into an ongoing job and that fewer than one in 10 remained in that job for six months or more. This is a $1.3 billion policy failure.

Under the federal government's school funding model, every single school in the Northern Territory will lose funding. Over the next two years, the Northern Territory will lose $70 million of the Turnbull federal government's funding for its schools. But Labor is going to restore every dollar of the $17 billion the Liberals have cut from our schools across the country.

The people of the Northern Territory were blindsided when MYEFO was released late last year. There was a $15 million cut to the Territory's premier tertiary institution, Charles Darwin University. This was in addition to $70 million in cuts to the Territory's education sector more broadly. And to make matters worse, the Liberals are attempting to silence educators by banning all student media organisations from the budget lock-up this evening. They can't face them. In the Northern Territory, we are at a serious disadvantage. According to the 2016 census, only 17.1 per cent of Territorians have completed a bachelor's degree or higher. This is in contrast to the national average of 22 per cent, a difference of five per cent overall.

We've already seen orchestrated leaks to some local Territory media around big promises on road funding. Let's unpack some of those big promises on road funding. Let's see beyond the smoke and mirrors in the rear view mirror to those roads. There are media reports that tonight's budget will have a $180 million to upgrade the Central Arnhem Road to a two-lane sealed road. The Central Arnhem Road is a dirt road. If this is accurate, that's absolutely wonderful. But let's unpack that $180 million—if this is the case. It costs a lot of money to upgrade a road. Roughly speaking, it costs around a million dollars for every kilometre. The Central Arnhem Road is a 663-kilometre dirt road. Maybe the first 50 to 80 kilometres are sealed, where it takes you from the Stuart Highway to Barunga and Beswick. But, beyond that—to Bulman to Weemol and then off to Ramingining and Gapuwiyak and up to Nhulunbuy—it's all dirt road. So we're talking around 600 kilometres of dirt road. If we look at about a million dollars a kilometre to seal, that's way over $180 million—way over. So there really are smoke and mirrors going on here about the kind of planning and investment that is being touted for the remote regions of the Northern Territory. I want to see the details this evening when the budget is released.

The media is also reporting that the federal government has committed $1.4 million to land transport infrastructure projects. Again, let's see what the reality is here. We know the federal government does not have a good record at all on investment and infrastructure in northern Australia. Let's have a look at the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility—oh, a $5 billion fund! It's nearly four years later, and not a dollar has been spent. Here we have the chairperson of that fund resign. Still the people of northern Australia see nothing from that $5 billion fund.

This government is so seriously out of touch with Territorians, they expect us to cop $16 million in cuts to public hospitals in the Northern Territory, cuts which are equivalent to 24,000 emergency department visits, 4,443 cataract extractions or 2,655 births. Under this government, elective surgery waiting times are the worst they've been since records began. Every dollar cut from our public hospitals in the Northern Territory is a dollar cut from our sickest and most vulnerable patients. Access to health care should be determined by your Medicare card, not your credit card.

Territorians will be looking at tonight's budget to see if this government is going to fund recommendations out of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. This royal commission was announced by this Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in 2016. Now this government won't commit the funds to see recommendations implemented. The people of the Northern Territory deserve more than spin and smoke and mirrors out of this budget. It's a fact of life we do not have the revenue base and capacity to raise funds the same as the other states. We do have a high degree of entrenched disadvantage. This disadvantage continues to remain entrenched under the policies and the smoke and mirror financial bucket that you say is going to help us. Territorians, like all Australians, deserve a fair go. But are they going to get it in tonight's budget?