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Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Page: 4833


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:12): I'm very pleased to stand up and speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2018-2019, and I'm pleased to stand up and point out some of the very significant flaws that we see in this bill. These appropriation bills continue to lock in some of the worst features of previous budgets from this Turnbull-Abbott government.

These appropriations bills—this budget—still continues to rely on cuts to the pension, to increasing the pension age to 70, one of the oldest in the world. There's a continued commitment to taking $14 a fortnight away from pensioners. We know that energy costs are through the roof but, of course, this government wants to take away the energy supplement from pensioners. The $715 million of cuts to hospitals are still there. The $40 million cut from allied health services for veterans is just an extraordinary little nugget of cruelty in this budget. $40 million is not a great deal in the size of the federal budget, but to take that money away from veterans who rely on this service to have their teeth seen to just shows the cheapness and the meanness, and how out of touch this government is.

Of course, there's the $83 million cut from the ABC. This is a government that will take any opportunity it can to shut down dissent, criticism or even scrutiny of its own agenda or claims. The ABC are copping it once again. And Medicare is still frozen for specialists. We will see, of course, more and more stories about continuing increases in out-of-pocket expenses for patients struggling to afford to see a specialist.

Yes, there are some tax cuts in this budget. We are very pleased to support the early years—the immediate tax cuts offered from 1 July this year—but we are very troubled by a long-term trajectory that takes tax cuts out beyond—it's assuming that Malcolm Turnbull's got a longevity that I'm not even sure that the Deputy Speaker would imagine he has.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Andrews ): The member should refer to other members by their correct titles.

Ms PLIBERSEK: When it comes to tax cuts promised into the never-never, we are very concerned that a nurse on $41,000 will be paying the same rate of tax as a doctor on $200,000 a year. It just hardly seems fair to be doing that. And of course there is the $80 billion of big business tax cuts that continue to haunt us.

There's no action on debt, and that is really one of the most extraordinary things about this budget for a government that claimed in opposition to be riding in with the fire engine to put out the fire and that drove the debt truck around the country. It is pretty extraordinary that net debt this year is double what it was when the Liberals came to office. Gross debt has crashed through half a trillion dollars. It's pretty handy that the government was able to do a deal with the Greens political party to get rid of the debt cap; otherwise, they'd have to return to the parliament again and again to explain why net debt's doubled and why gross debt's crashed through half a trillion dollars and will remain over half a trillion dollars for every year over the next decade.

Of course, Labor will achieve a budget surplus in the same year as the government. Because we are not giving away $80 billion in big-business tax cuts, because we're not giving tax cuts to people on more than $180,000 a year and because we've made very tough decisions around negative gearing, capital gains tax, family trusts, high-end superannuation concessions and multinational tax, we are able to see bigger surpluses than the government over coming years. So we're able to have a bigger tax cut for low- and middle-income earners. In fact, we're almost doubling the tax cut for low- and middle-income earners—about 10 million working Australians. We're able to protect the services that Australians rely on: a great education system for their kids, strong health care, aged care, child care and making sure that we're continuing to build the productivity-enhancing infrastructure that makes our cities and regions more liveable. We're able to do all of that, give bigger tax cuts and have stronger surpluses because we're not spraying around tax concessions to the big end of town as this government insists on doing.

To turn specifically to the education areas in this budget: of course we continue to see a $17 billion cut to schools baked into this budget. I think it does tell you all you need to know about the priorities of this government that the $17 billion cut from schools is the same amount that the big banks will get in tax cuts because of the big-business tax cuts. So you can spend $17 billion giving our kids a better future, investing in our nation to make sure that we develop the intellectual skills in our people, to make sure that we are a prosperous and successful nation in the future—you could do that one on the one hand if you had $17 billion to spend—or you could just give it to the big banks and spray it around as executive bonuses and dividends to overseas shareholders. We know which side of that choice we are on. We know which side the government's on too.

We also see locked in the inequitable funding formula that gives a maximum of 20 per cent of the schooling resource standard—the cost of educating a child—to kids in public schools. It is 20 per cent of the schooling resource standard if you're educating a child in a public school and 80 per cent if you're educating a child in a non-government school. Why you would think for a moment that this is a sector-blind approach, as the Prime Minister keeps saying, is just absolutely impossible to understand. This approach could not be more sectors-specific than it is. One school system gets 20 per cent of the cost of educating a child, and another school system gets 80 per cent of the cost of educating a child. That's not sector-blind. That is absolutely as sector-specific as it possibly could be.

We also see in this budget the continued cuts to public schools, which educate 74 per cent of students with disabilities, 82 per cent of kids from the bottom quarter of socioeconomic advantage and 84 per cent of Indigenous children. But it's not just the public schools that have suffered. The Catholic sector are particularly incensed about the billions of dollars of cuts that they are facing because of these changes.

We see the government talking about the Gonski report mark 2, which is supposed to look at how money should be spent within the schooling system. I thought it was very instructive that we heard from Mark Scott today, the Director-General of the New South Wales Department of Education. He said: 'Yes, great idea; let's do more of this one-on-one individual programming for individual kids. But it will cost more. It will be expensive.' We're very happy to see a number of these recommendations. In fact, they reflect Labor policy with the national agreements that we had when we were last in government—agreements that were dispensed with by the previous Minister for Education, the member for Sturt, who said they were simply red tape. Well, they've been resurrected in this Gonski report—and Mark Scott has agreed that many of them are a good idea, but they'll need extra funding.

This government has cut $17 billion—and even agreeing with things like the evidence institute, which would do more education research and promulgate that research into our schools to make sure we were using the best and newest available information to teach our kids well. They've agreed that that's a good idea. Labor's got $280 million on the table for an evidence institute for schools. Guess how much the government's got on the table for an evidence institute for schools? A big fat zero. It's all very good to say the ideas are great, but if you're cutting funding to our schools at the same time, it's very difficult to see how these ideas might be implemented. There's no extra money in this budget for the ideas that are raised in the second Gonski report. In fact, the only thing in the budget are the baked-in cuts—$17 billion cut from schools.

Turning to TAFE and universities, since the election of this government we've seen more than $3 billion cut from TAFE skills and apprenticeships. The National Partnership Agreement on Training Places for Single Parents has been cut. There has been a cut to workplace English language and literacy programs. We have seen the Apprenticeship to Business Owner program cut. Productive Ageing through Community Education has been cut. The Australian Apprenticeships Access program has been cut. I think it tells you all you need to know about the education minister that he said TAFE education was about 'basket weaving and essential oils'. These are the sorts of programs that they're cutting—workplace English language and literacy programs and the Apprenticeship to Business Owner program, which I would have thought would be right up the government's alley.

This budget cuts a further $270 million from TAFE. On top of all the cuts we've already seen, on top of the fact that we've got 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when the Liberals came into office, we're now seeing an extra $270 million cut from TAFE over the next four years. The Skilling Australians Fund, from last year's budget, was set to be $1.47 billion over four years. In this budget it is $1.42 billion. We've also seen TAFEs closing right around Australia—in regional centres like Dapto, in New South Wales; Ithaca, in Queensland; Newport, in Victoria; and in Petersham West and Crows Nest, in New South Wales. Courses have been scaled back, fees have increased and we continue to see skills shortages. We see professions on the skills shortage list that have been there for five years—the whole time this government's been in power. People could have been trained if we had a properly resourced TAFE and vocational education sector.

Labor, in contrast, has promised to scrap up-front fees for 100,000 TAFE students who choose to learn the skills that Australia needs. We've said that two out of every three Commonwealth dollars will go to TAFE. We've promised to provide 10,000 pre-apprentice places for young people who want to learn a trade and 20,000 adult apprenticeships for older workers who want to retrain. And we've said we'll invest $100 million in modernising TAFE facilities around the country.

We also see in this budget the locking in of cuts to universities. Of course, some of these cuts were made just before Christmas, in the mid-year economic and fiscal update, in a way that prevented the cuts coming before the parliament. They were able to sneak $2.2 billion of cuts in through the back door, which shows that the Liberals absolutely don't care that hundreds of thousands of Australians who have the desire and the competency to go to university will actually miss out. We think that that is wrong. It's wrong for those individuals, and it's absolutely wrong for our nation. As the world becomes more complex and as work becomes more complex, we want more of our young people to have a TAFE or a university education after school. We want more of our people who've been in the workforce for many years to retrain. Because the world of work is changing so quickly, people will have to upgrade their skills throughout their working lives.

Modelling by the Mitchell Institute shows that our commitment to uncap university places will mean that almost 200,000 more Australians will benefit from our plan over 12 years. When we previously uncapped university places, it meant that, by 2016—as this government's effectively reintroduced caps—the number of students from poorer backgrounds was up by 55 per cent, Indigenous student numbers had jumped by 89 per cent, enrolments by students with a disability had more than doubled and enrolments by students from country areas had grown by 48 per cent.

In a nutshell, I'd say that this is a budget that fails Australia when it comes to education. When it comes to school education, TAFE education and university education, there is nothing in this budget but baked-in old cuts and further new cuts. It's short-sighted because it robs our people of a chance at an education, and it's short-sighted because it robs our nation of our future prosperity.