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Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 3969


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (16:53): I rise to put on the record for anybody who wasn't watching in the last week a really clear indication of what this government thinks is much more important than the health and education of the people of this nation—and that is giving a $7,000 a year tax cut to investment bankers and taking a $17 billion tax cut away from schools and giving that instead to the big banks. You can see an amazing contrast between the priorities of those who are on the government benches and Labor, who believe that it is not just this generation that should benefit from investing in education but that those who follow on from us should also benefit. Young people in this country should be assured that they are able to get a decent education in any primary school across the country, at any early childhood education centre and at any TAFE. No area of the education sector is safe from the attacks of this government.

Governing is all about priorities—and this government has got all of its priorities wrong. Labor will never support the hugely expensive tax cuts of an arrogant and out-of-touch government. The priority that is driving the agenda of the parliament this week—tax cuts for big business—follows terrible legislation passed last week that will see people who are earning $200,000 get a $7,000 tax cut. They are not knocking on the doors of this place saying, 'Give me a cheque for $7,000 because I can't make ends meet.'

People are coming to this parliament daily—and government members, if they were to tell the truth, would let you know this is the case—saying they cannot access the basic services they need. I met someone at a function last weekend who told me a teenager who is currently seeking treatment for cancer at Penrith hospital has had his treatment delayed because of cuts to that hospital. And it is not just cuts to Penrith hospital and that family; cuts to our health system are being implemented by this government daily, while they are out there spinning a pack of lies to the rest of the community about how they care about hardworking Australians. Well, the facts simply belie what they are telling the Australian people.

I will talk about a couple of hospitals. Broken Hill is a great area of New South Wales. We have a fantastic candidate running in the seat of Parkes, Jack Ayoub, who will be trying to represent that community and help people understand what Labor has to offer. But I can tell you what Labor will not be doing, and that is: endorsing what this government has done. The Far West hospital in Parkes and Broken Hill is subject to a cut of $1.15 million between 2017 and 2020. That is money that hospital can ill afford to lose. Local families in that community and the regions that surround it need that hospital to function. They have concerns about lead levels for young children in that community. They have major concerns about suicide. They have high-risk occupations where they need the capacity of emergency response—and this government is taking $1.15 million from that hospital while they want to give $17 billion to the big banks and pay $7,000, in a tax cut, to somebody on $200,000. It simply doesn't make sense if you believe in an equitable country.

In western New South Wales, between 2017 and 2020, this government will take $2.84 million out of Dubbo hospital. Yet they show up here, they smile and they keep telling people: 'We're looking after you. We've got your back. We'll look after your children. You can entrust the future to us.' Well, we certainly cannot do that. And they are doing that in seats that they hold. In the Treasurer's seat of Cook in south-eastern Sydney, the Sutherland Hospital is subject to $2.38 million worth of cuts.

I have been to headspace centres, the wonderful youth mental health centres across the country—35 of them, in fact, including two in the Sutherland area in the seat of Cook. And I can tell you: there is great concern among the people working with young people in headspace centres about the capacity of the Sutherland Hospital to respond to young people in a mental health crisis and their families. Yet knowing that, and living in that community, Mr Morrison, the Treasurer of this country, has taken $2.83 million off them—and all to cobble together some money so that they can spend it on giving $7,000 to people in that electorate and around the country who are already earning $200,000. Let me tell you: you can earn an awful lot of money but, if your child has a mental health crisis, you need a hospital that is properly funded and you need headspace centres that are properly funded, because you are a vulnerable family. Money will not protect you from sickness. Money will not protect you from cancer coming to your family. Money will not protect you from the need for those basic services. Labor supports the provision of those services and we will support that every day over arbitrary, unnecessary and excessive tax cuts to the top end of town. I don't need another $7,000. I'd rather see that go to my local hospital, because a lot of people will rely on their hospital, and their $7,000, cobbled together with somebody else's $7,000, might just be enough to provide them with the treatment they need for their son or daughter, and that's the difference between Labor and Liberal.

I want to make a couple of remarks around the cuts that have impacted education in this country under this government. I go first to the seat of Farrer, to apprentices trying to access services, trying to access the learning they want to undertake. In the duty electorate that I look after, the seat of Farrer, represented by Minister Ley, our candidate, Kieran Dabsch, sees a community where there has been a 42 per cent decline in apprenticeships between 2013 and 2017. There are 1,691 fewer apprentices in the seat of Hume where Labor's candidate, Aoife Champion, is already out on the ground, under this government, which is cobbling together money as it pulls away services from TAFE to fund $7,000 tax discounts for very wealthy people.

In the seat of Parkes, where Labor's candidate, Jack Ayoub, is already out campaigning, there was a 47 per cent reduction in the number of apprenticeships between September 2013 and September 2017. That's 1,765 people, predominantly young people, in the seat of Parkes who have not had the opportunity to learn the skills in order to get a job and move ahead because of cuts by this government. In the seat of Robertson, where I live on the Central Coast, there are 840 young people, who have a champion in Anne Charlton—Labor's candidate for that seat—whose lives could have been transformed in that period between 2013 and 2017, but they have lost their chance to get an apprenticeship and training because of this government's cuts to education and because of its abrogation of its responsibilities to TAFE. That is the sort of government that we have.

It's in the detail that we see how different the value sets are between the government and a Labor government, if it came into being. I want to put on the record: if a Shorten Labor government were elected, we propose that we would conduct an inquiry into Australia's post-secondary education system—how VET, TAFE and uni intersect. We would scrap up-front fees for 100,000 TAFE students who choose to learn the skills that Australia needs and invest $100 million in modernising TAFE facilities around the country. God knows that needs to happen after the wholesale destruction of TAFE undertaken by Liberal governments across this country, and the leading of that charge by this federal government. We would guarantee that at least two out of three Commonwealth training dollars would go to TAFE. We would ensure that one in every 10 jobs on Commonwealth-priority projects was filled by Australian apprentices. There is a very big difference: $17 billion for the banks or for further education and health. There is a difference between Labor and Liberal. We need a Labor government for this country.