Budget is unfair for young people in the Illawarra

MS BIRD (CUNNINGHAM) (2:46): I rise to speak today on the budget bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2017-2018 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018. I have to say, like my colleague the member for Calwell, that there is a great deal of detail that needs to be addressed in terms of the issues and concerns that I have with the budget, but I will take the opportunity in various specific pieces of legislation to go through those in more detail. Already having spoken on the schools funding bill about my concerns in that area, I will do the same on a variety of other issues, including the broader education field, which includes TAFE and university, and health, in particular the changes that are in place around Medicare and the very, very, very slow winding back of the freeze and the impacts that is having on my electorate.

Also I would like to take the opportunity in the future to talk in more detail about infrastructure funding. There is a very significant project in my area called the Maldon-Dombarton rail link. That is very critical to the development of our port and job opportunities locally and is also, at the other end of the rail link connecting into south-western Sydney, an opportunity for our two communities and economies to be well integrated and to work together more effectively. So I will canvass that as well.

It is also, I think, very important to recognise that for age pensioners there are some real issues in this budget. My colleague has just spoken about extending the retirement age to 70. I also come from an area with a high percentage of people working in sectors such as manufacturing. It is a real problem for people who do physically heavy work to be required to work that much longer. And, of course, there are changes that have occurred to the energy supplement and what they will mean for pensioners.

It is probably quite clear to the chamber that I have some real concerns about the inherent unfairness in the priorities that this government has decided to fund in this budget, particularly given the fact that, when you look at some of those cuts and who is paying and compare that to a decision to implement a $65 billion cut for the big end of town, it is not like the government is saying, 'Everybody's pulling their belt in.' It is actually saying to those who need it least: 'Well, you can have a bit extra. Millionaires, you can get a tax cut. Big business, you can get a tax cut.' If you balance those two decisions, the government is expecting those who are on average and low incomes to take a further cut to their income at the same time as it is increasing the capacity of those who least need it and probably will not even notice it, to be honest, to have an opportunity to get a tax cut—people like me, on an income in the top tax brackets, getting a tax cut.

But I specifically want to talk today about an aspect of the budget that gives me great concern. It is something that has been worrying me for quite a while because it is consistently raised with me in my local area.

That is what I see as an inherent generational unfairness that I see is developing in our communities, and the budget not only does not address that but will, in a significant number of ways, exacerbate it.

It has been the case for a number of generations that each of us has aspired to leave our kids, the next generation, in a better position than we were. I consider my grandparents. My grandfather worked his whole life—he turned 100 recently, so I will say on the record: happy birthday, Grandad!—and my nan, as was usual with her generation, was a stay-at-home mum her whole life. A trip to Sydney was probably the furthest they travelled in their lifetime. Neither of them finished high school education. It was pretty standard for their generation. My parents, by contrast, finished high school. My mum did not go on to post-high school education but, after finishing the early raising of children, had a very successful working life, working for a state member of parliament, actually. She was very good at her job and very well respected. My parents were able to buy their own home, not only their first home but to upgrade and to do better over the lifetime of home ownership and be in a position where they did not have a mortgage when they came to retirement age. They have had advantages that their parents did not have—for example, being able to travel overseas.

Then we come to my generation. It is the case that for us finding employment was reasonably easy. I and many of my brothers and cousins were the first in our family to go to university—we were the first generation to get a university education. I will say that one of my brothers, who completed an apprenticeship, has probably ended up doing even better than the rest of us who had a university education. He is an electrician, an electrical engineer. But we all had post-secondary education, and we had the opportunity for the good jobs that that made available for us.

This generation is facing a situation that we in this parliament need to start coming to terms with. The way this generation is connected to the employment market is very disjointed. Even with a post-secondary education they usually find that they have casual, part-time or contract work. They may in effect be working full-time but do not have the security of a full-time job. My sons are of an age to be in that group, and I know that many of their friends have been the same. It takes a long, long time for them to get their first permanent job. They may be bringing in an income that is equivalent to working full-time, but if they try to compete in the rental market, let alone apply for a mortgage, on an insecure income base then they are disadvantaged significantly. So the implications of that very casualised, unreliable work experience that many of our young people are having is delaying them put down the roots that will pay off when they reach retirement age. Among the big advantages of our retirement system are not only superannuation and the age pension but also the high levels of home ownership that we have in this country and the support that that gives to retirement lifestyles and income. I am very concerned that young people now are finding that that is an increasingly difficult reality to achieve. They of course have much higher HECS debts than we did. Even if they do diplomas and vocational education, often they will have a debt from that.

On economic but also on equity grounds, this parliament needs to start looking at the reality of their lived experience and how we address it. That is my disappointment with this budget, because it does not come to grips with those issues. In fact, some of the decisions in this budget are going to exacerbate those issues.

In fact, some of the decisions in this budget, in particular the post-secondary school decisions, the significant funding cuts from our TAFE and vocational sector and the significant shift of cost from the government on to students for university students, are going to exacerbate those issues. There will be a triple-whammy effect: the cuts to universities, the impact of the increased percentage of the cost of a degree being borne by the student and the fact that you will have to start repaying HECS even earlier. Quite honestly, if you are living in any of our major cities—or our major regional cities, somewhere like Wollongong—and you are getting $42,000 you are going to be really struggling to meet your ordinary cost-of-living requirements. That triple whammy is going to have a very significant effect on the young people that we are talking about.

Turning to housing, I know the government has introduced a savings proposal through the superannuation scheme. I have talked to a number of young people about this. The general feeling was: 'Okay, instead of taking me 30 years it will take me 20 years to get anywhere near saving a deposit.' The real issue for them is what is happening in the market when they want to try and buy. The fact that the cost of housing has gone up so significantly and that in the last 10 years we have moved from a 10 per cent deposit being required to a 20 per cent deposit being required, means that young people feel like every time they start to get towards the goal post that makes it viable, the goal post moves again. Labor has been pointing out very accurately that the competitive forces in that market from investors, who are using multiple investment properties to increase their own wealth, are having a real impact on young people.

I want to finish by reporting to the House on a survey. Because of this concern, I did a survey in my electorate of people between the ages of 18 and 25 to see what issues were concerning them. There mentioned exactly those issues I have mentioned: affordable education; health care; job opportunities; increasing costs of housing; TAFE and university course fees; and insufficient action on climate change, which was a big issue of concern for them; as well as disability issues and asylum seeker issues. That is the full range of the sorts of issues that were raised with me. Jobs, wages and penalty rates came out at 60 per cent of what those young people who responded were concerned about.

I will share some of their comments with the chamber. Elise from Bulli said:

Casual work — the requirements to obtain causal work is almost impossible, you have older retirement age and young adults (school leavers) in the workforce and university students, and stores are going automated. Penalty rates and stagnant wages.

Miriam from Thirroul said:

I think working for the dole is no good and you should bring back free education and healthcare. The youth allowance is not enough to live on.

Lucy from Bellambi said:

Keeping university affordable. Making jobs available to people over 18 years old. Ensuring that young people aren't paying more so baby boomers can earn more – accountability.

Lachlan from Wollongong said:

Plans to combat the increasingly obvious underpayment of students in the hospitality and service industries. I'm referring specifically to the Fairfax investigation published late last year, highlighting the prolific exploitation of young workers by supposedly 'great local businesses' in the Illawarra area.

Blake from Bulli said:

I think Mr Turnbull should realise that what he believes will help the nation Australia will actually make it much worse for the future. I think also, if no one will reverse these damages, then we will have more hungry homeless people living in our land, which would be us all, and the only housing we would afford will be tents. And also if education will rise up more, then we will have no future for our country because no one can afford an education to lead us forward. No jobs + no money + no education = no future.

Mark said:

Fair penalty rates. Fish and chip shops have to pay $35ph while maccas get away with $22. This is how our businesses die.

Claire from Woonona said:

Affordability of housing in the city is becoming so high that most university or TAFE students cannot hope to work, study full time and live comfortably. As a commuting student, I believe youth wages need to be reviewed.

Remy from Coledale said:

Minimum rate of pay is too low making it impossible to break into the housing market. Competition in the local housing market and fake inflation by real estate agents makes it impossible to buy your first home/apartment …

Alexis from Austinmer wrote:

I have recently completed a 2 year TAFE course and was unlucky enough to start in a year that it went from $1200 to $12000 a year. The way things are, I'm worried about the education of the children of the future …

Callum from Woonona wrote:

To put it simply Wollongong TAFE if not the whole TAFE system is a complete circus. Soon to come out of my time as an apprentice I know the future isnt that bright, with only 1 4th year apprentice last year securing a full time job out of 10. Some got casual work but how am I meant to get a house loan with a casual job, or any job? Maybe i should of just gone to uni and avoided the TAFE system, racked up a massive hex debt and never find a well paying job so all the thoughtful tax payers have to pay my debt off for me.

Nathanial from Cordeaux Heights wrote:

Penalty rates being slashed — pretty obvious why this is a bad thing. Rising TAFE and Uni costs - It's important to improve the accessibility and affordability of education.

He also talks about higher rents and decreasing housing affordability, writing:

My generation will never be able to afford a property if the market continues the way it is.

Courtenay from Stanwell Park said:

… we need real, immediate action on climate change. Stop putting profits before people and our environment. NSW is our worst state for renewable energy. This deeply saddens me. We could be leaders …

Those are the voices of young people in my electorate, and I think it is clear why I feel that the budget fails the next generation.