Appropriation Bills - Budget Impacts On Cunningham

Ms BIRD: (Cunningham) (18:36): I want to take the opportunity in this cognate debate on the five appropriation bills to make some overall comment about the budget that has recently been brought down and to then talk specifically about my own region and how the budget impacts on us in Cunningham. I think the first thing we have to say about the budget is that it is quite clear that it is not actually a budget of a national government putting in place programs and funding to deliver a stronger future for Australia. In fact, it is really last year's budget. It has been repackaged. There has been an attempt to put some less worrisome aspects into it in order to prepare for an election period. It is very clear that it is a campaigning budget as the government go about attempting to draw all the attention and focus to what initiatives in the budget they hope will be well received in the community, ignoring the fact that it is fundamentally carrying forward everything from the previous budget.

The budget has also failed the government's own test that it set for it. It has failed to deliver on reduced tax, it actually has more debt and unemployment is predicted to be higher. In fact, it is predicted to peak at 6.5 per cent. At this point in time, what our nation actually needed was a vision for the future and a budget to deliver on it. That is far from what the nation has received. In fact, there is one future that I think is very much at the heart of this budget—and that is the Prime Minister's future.

The contrast to that was the budget reply speech delivered by the Leader of the Opposition, which put squarely in focus the challenges we as a nation face and the sorts of investments and considerations we need to be making to provide the jobs for the future, to put the foundation in place for the businesses of the future and to develop the skills and infrastructure we as a nation will need.

Why I feel the budget is so short-sighted is that it has clearly been structured with a short-term impact in mind. I say that because a number of new measures in the budget are funded for only two years. This includes the proposal for universal access to preschool, the small business accelerated depreciation program and the nannies program. These particular initiatives have been funded for only two years, so one can only suspect that the budget was targeted at getting through an election rather than laying the foundations for the future.

The budget also fails the fairness test. The fairness test was very, very important for the previous budget. It was a spectacular achievement of unparalleled failure. We still see, however, that those things that caused us most concern in the last budget because of their intrinsically unfair impacts are still there in this budget. The $80 billion cut from schools and hospitals is still in place. In particular for me that is very frustrating because one of the most important reforms that I think was put in place by the previous Labor government was the Gonski funding reforms—the funding model where, irrespective of the school sector that schools came from, it was based on need. That particular funding program was so well supported that all sectors of the education community supported it. State governments got on board. In fact, the government, who were then the opposition, said that they were on a unity ticket with Labor, that if you voted for the Liberal and National parties you would get exactly the same in school funding as you would have got under the Labor government. Quite clearly, that was not true.

Mr McCormack interjecting

Ms BIRD: 'Over four years, not six,' the member says. I do not remember that asterisk in the fine print in all the campaigning materials that went out. Importantly, it is something that state governments have reflected their frustration with as well.

We still have the proposal for $100,000 university degrees. Across the country, that has been soundly rejected by communities. People are very worried that the next generation will carry a debt forward that will be so heavy that it will prohibit them from doing things that as Australians we have taken for granted for many generations, such as buying your own home.

The last budget was a spectacular disaster, and initiatives from it are still in this budget. In particular, I want to talk about the cuts to family payments that were in the last budget. Those were not supported by the parliament. What we have in this budget is not just the continuation of banking those cuts to family payments; this budget has now taken them hostage and said that if people want the childcare changes proposed by the government, some of which the shadow minister has said we are keen to look at and which we understand may have positive benefits, they cannot have them unless there are significant and very damaging cuts to family payments. The budget has taken them hostage. We have not only had the unfairness previously; the government have now used that to hold hostage any other changes that might be of benefit to families. Again, the budget comprehensively fails the fairness test. The issue about the family payments is of particular concern in my electorate. I have had quite a lot of contact about this.

I just want to bring members' attention to the fact that the report which was the focus of much discussion in question time today that has been released by NATSEM has indicated that there is a significant hit to Australian families in the budget. The NATSEM research found that nine out of 10 of the lowest income families lose under the Abbott government's budget, while nine out of 10 of the wealthiest families benefit.

Mr McCormack: Very reliable!

Ms BIRD: The member opposite does not think that is very reliable. I would draw his attention to the Prime Minister's own words where he said that NATSEM is one of the most authoritative research and reporting organisations in the country. It should not surprise us, I suppose, that the Prime Minister wants to have it one way when the argument suits him and then completely deny it the next day when it does not suit him. However, the research also shows that families will be slugged thousands of dollars even when the new childcare measures that are predicted to start in 2017 are factored in. So presuming that the government can get the childcare measures through the parliament, given that they have held them hostage to the family tax cuts, this particular modelling shows that they will not have a sufficient enough impact to provide real benefits to working families.

The modelling in particular shows that: a family with a single income of $65,000 and two children would be $6,164 a year worse off by 2018-19; a single mother with an income of $55,000 and two children would be $6,107 a year worse off in the same time frame; and a family with a dual income of $60,000 and two children would be $3,843 a year worse off. When you combine the decision by the government in this budget to talk about child care reforms, hold them hostage to family tax benefits and proceed with those particular cuts, you can see why people in my area might be very concerned.

Added to that, the government then did a complete backflip on it is paid parental leave position. Before the election, under the Labor government, for the first time ever we introduced a universal paid parental leave scheme in this country. Indeed, those opposite who will with us at the time voted for it. The main criticism that those opposite, now the government, made at the time was that it was not generous enough. The Prime Minister went out and said that he had had a road to Damascus conversion on paid parental leave, wanted to be its champion and wanted to introduce to even more generous scheme: his rolled-gold paid parental leave scheme.

What we have now seen with this budget is that not only has the Prime Minister abandoned any attempt to prosecute his own paid parental leave scheme but he has now started to dismantle the universal scheme that Labor put in place and that he voted for at the time. In fact, the women of calibre—as women were described by the Prime Minister when he was talking about his paid parental leave scheme—have apparently now turned into double dippers, rorters and scammers. I think it is a real concern for many, many families out there when they are looking at the combination of all of these factors.

My own local paper is the Illawarra Mercury. I am going to recognise journalists and photographers in my contribution. In a previous contribution today to this parliament, I talked about the fact that Fairfax Media have decided and announced very savage cuts to our regional newspapers across the area. I know, as the member opposite would well know, that other regional flagship papers—which paper was that?

Mr McCormack: The Daily Advertiser.

Ms BIRD: The Daily Advertiser in Wagga.

Mr McCormack: The Border Mail.

Ms BIRD: The Border Mail in Albury. Some of my own colleagues have been talking about it in their own areas. We are seeing very savage cuts to these regional papers and to journalists who live in our communities and know our communities. They are very, very sadly being put in a position where the job loss is sad enough but they also know that for their community it is the loss of local stories and local voices as well. We currently face at circumstances the Illawarra. When I refer to articles, I am going to actually acknowledge the journalists and photographers. The photographers are also very significantly hit. I have to say, production staff and commercial staff at many of these papers are hit as well.

This is a story in the Illawarra Mercury written by Michelle Webster, accompanied by a photo by Sylvia Liber. They talked to a Fairy Meadow mum. She was particularly concerned about the impacts of the announced decision on the paid parental leave. Fairy Meadow mum Lindsey Whitford had looked at the Joe Hockey's plan to crack down on paper parental leave and the so-called double dipping. She said that she was outraged. At present, parents can access the government's scheme for their base and then, if they are able to negotiate additional leave through their enterprise agreement, they can add on to that. By doing that, parents are creating a much more reasonable time frame of paid leave out of the workplace to raise their children. Under the planned changes, if you have an enterprise agreement based paid parental leave entitlement, you will lose the government one.

Mrs Whitford is pregnant with her second child and she said that the phrase double-dipping was misleading. I will use own words:

"I just felt it was really unfair," she said. "For me, I work for a private company, it's not taxpayer-funded so it's not double dipping at all. It's actually an employer's way of hopefully retaining good employees and getting them to return to work."

The article went on to say:

"It's just such a backflip from what the government was previously offering … I was quite happy with just the 18 weeks at minimum wage, I thought anything else they were offering was good, but now that they're taking that away, it's not fair at all."

With her first child, 22-month-old Zoe, Mrs Whitfield was able to take 12 weeks of leave from her employer and then 18 weeks from the government at half pay, stretching the time at home with her new daughter to almost 12 months.

This is an example of the impact on a real family.

Finally, I want to say that in the Illawarra region as well we have been particularly hit by unemployment. Not long after the budget, the Illawarra Mercuryran another story, written by Kate McIlwain, entitled 'Illawarra jobless figures hit a high'. Very sadly, the unemployment rate for the Illawarra had hit 9.4 per cent. That is up from 4.5 per cent only 12 months ago, in April of last year. For us, it is the issue of ongoing unemployment being above the national average. It is a significant and ongoing issue. It is particularly frustrating not to see anything in the budget to actually address the opportunity for investment in both skills and infrastructure in our region.

In contrast, while Labor was in government, there was $865 million invested in our region to support jobs, growth and investment. That included $135 million in capital works for the University of Wollongong, $13 million in new infrastructure and equipment for TAFEs, a record investment of $99.3 million in facilities for schools, $140 million for a steel adjustment package with BlueScope Steel and $75 million in funding to commence the Maldon-Dombarton rail link. We have seen nothing like that—in fact, absolutely nothing at all—in either of the Abbott government's budgets for our region. That is creating serious concern for people across our area.

On investing in skills, I obviously have a bias as the shadow minister for that area. But it is a really important thing to do. There has been $2 billion in skills funding cut from last year's budget and there is nothing new in this year's budget. It is an absolute failure to do what should be a really important task for a national government; that is, to invest in the skills and opportunities for education for the future.

 

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