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Tuesday, 22 May 2018
Page: 4210

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (12:16): As I was saying in the House, hidden in this budget on budget night was what the Treasurer did not tell Australians: the cuts to pensions. It is not just that this government is raising the pension age to 70—working until 70 will make it very hard for anybody working in a trade. It's hard for a bricklayer and it's hard for a carpenter to work until they're 70, or even for someone like a nurse or a teacher to work until they're 70. Yes, Australians are living longer. However, when it comes to working age and profession, that's what needs to be considered when we talk about the pension age. Lots of people in my electorate understand that and are opposed to the government's push in this budget to increase the pension age to 70.

But what was also hidden in the budget was a cut to the pension. The government is cutting the energy supplement. That is a straight pension cut; that is $7 a week for people trying to survive on the smallest of incomes. Now, let's just remember who our pensioners are. When a lot of our pensioners started working there was no such thing as super. It didn't exist. They paid a higher rate of tax than all of us, and it was a commitment—a social contract—that when they retired there would be decent retirement income: a pension for them to live on.

With the government now cutting the energy supplement and cutting the pension it will hit these families and households hard. They will struggle to pay their energy bills if this measure proceeds. It's just another example of the cruelty and the meanness of this government's policies. But the Treasurer promoted, loudly, that he'll allow pensioners to take out a loan. These are people who they acknowledge need support and income, so they're saying, 'Let's let them take out a loan that they may never have a chance of paying off.' That is just pure cynicism from this government.

Another area where this government should be condemned is their con around the commitment to aged care and home care packages. There are over 100,000 people currently on the waiting list for home care packages, including lots of people in regional areas. People who are waiting for a home care package level 4 in my part of the world have been told that they will be on the waiting list for longer than two years, and to try to take a level 2 package. There's confusion in households where there's a couple and one might be assessed at level 2 and the other at level 3. They can have access to the level 2, but not access to the level 3. These are complaints that we are hearing time and time again from people in our electorates. Yet what the government did on budget night was to commit funding to 14,000 extra places only over four years, not the 100,000 that are waiting. And they're taking that money out of residential aged-care services to fund those packages. What a disgrace!

Yesterday, we had aged-care workers here in Parliament House talking to MPs and senators about the crisis occurring in aged care. Overnight, it is becoming a for-profit sector, and we are seeing the quality of aged care go downhill very quickly on this government's watch. United Voice, HACSU and HSU brought their members here to tell the story. I was actually quite shocked. They weren't asking for a pay rise, even though these workers are undervalued and therefore underpaid. Their first priority is their residents. There are some people who are allocated—as the Bupas of the world and other for-profits have said—$6 per resident, per day to be spent on food. That's the price of an expensive cup of coffee in Melbourne. There is a crisis in our aged-care sector on this government's watch, and they're doing very little to meet with the frontline workers to understand that crisis and to work with those workers to resolve it.

It's not just aged care where the government has let the community down when it comes to this budget. There's also a hidden attack on early childhood education. The National Quality Framework has delivered real reform in the ECEC sector. I note the contribution that Deputy Speaker Gee made last night in his House of Representatives adjournment speech about how important those quality years are, particularly for those in the regions—and he is right. That is why it's disappointing that this government is cutting the funding that underpins the National Quality Framework. We know that access to early childhood education really makes the difference, yet in this budget—hidden on budget night—is a funding cut to the organisation and structure that sits underneath and underpins the National Quality Framework.

I did have the opportunity last week to actually meet with early childhood educators—people who, in fact, work in a centre in the Prime Minister's electorate. Their comments are quite compelling. It is disappointing that the Prime Minister has not been back to this centre to meet with those workers to learn firsthand their story. Take Luke's case: Luke has had to move back in with his parents. He said he simply can't afford, on the wages of an early childhood educator, to support himself in Sydney. It's just not possible for a single person working in early childhood education to survive in Sydney. He is someone who is weeks away from completing a degree in early childhood education—that's a fantastic effort. Luke is about my age. He has worked in early childhood education since he was at university, and he really enjoys his job. He's very good at his job and, through the years, has upskilled to the qualification that he now has. Yet he has not received any extra support from this government when it comes to closing the pay gap that exists. Educators received zero dollars from this government in the federal budget. There are people throughout Australia educating our next generation, and their skills are not being recognised, their qualifications are not being recognised and they are being paid the minimum wage. Urgent action is needed.

The government also should be condemned for their cuts to TAFE in this budget; $270 million cut was from TAFE. If we are ever to get a chance to close the gap between the jobs that we have, with the skills that are required, and having to recruit overseas workers, then we need to train people up. I was horrified just to go out into my community and discover that some of our advanced manufacturers have turned to backpackers—people who are here on a working holiday and 457 visas—to help fill gap shortages. These are fitters and turners, boilermakers and the good old-fashioned trades where we used to have apprenticeship schemes and systems established. Once upon a time, you could go to the railway yards and you could go to ADI in Bendigo, where they had a cohort of apprentices and we trained up the next generation. Because of the funding cuts to TAFE under this government and the funding cuts to skills and vocational education under this government, we have seen a collapse of our apprenticeship sector. Now we have good, local Australian companies who are increasingly looking overseas to recruit workers. Why would you, when we know we have a skills shortage, cut money from TAFE? It's just a disgrace.

There's also the continued funding cuts to our schools. In Bendigo, in next year alone, that is worth just under $19 million to schools in the Bendigo electorate. We have a large Catholic footprint in Bendigo that gives every child who wants a Catholic education such an education. They ensure that it is not about your parents' wealth that determines whether you have a Catholic education. The same can be said about our public schools in Bendigo. They ensure that every child receives an education, regardless of the money that their parents earn. We have a school like Lightning Reef, which, under this government, had its funding slashed to $34,000. That's what the government's version of Gonski means for this school. Yet Girton Grammar, which is up the road—a great school; nobody wants to take away from that school—will get $500,000 from this government. That's not a school in need. Lightning Reef is a school in need.

I do want to acknowledge that in the budget the government did make an effort to help increase the medical places with the Murray Darling Medical School. They are looking at helping people stay in the regions from their first day of studying medicine to their last day of studying medicine. They will now be able to do that in the regions. They will also now be able to do their next stage—the registrar positions and the junior doctor positions—in the regions. This is welcome, because in the long term it will help encourage people to stay in the regions to work in our GP practices. However, it doesn't make up for the university places that the government have cut from regional universities, because of the cap that they imposed at the end of last year. The cap that they imposed on universities disproportionately affects regional universities. It limits their ability to grow. It limits the ability of a town like Bendigo to become a truly university based city. It is narrow-sighted by this government. It is just a blunt instrument.

This government is letting down areas like Central Victoria terribly. This government is engaging in horrible political rhetoric and character assassination as opposed to engaging genuinely with our communities in areas of health and education and ensuring that we have apprenticeship opportunities and well-funded TAFE opportunities for young people going forward. This government is letting down our aged care sector. It's letting down our early childhood education sector. It's letting down our pensioners. And it's letting down working people. This government has again delivered another budget shocker, and I ask again that it engages properly and listens to the people of Central Victoria.