Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (17:25): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017 and related bills. What an honour it is, if somewhat intimidating, to follow the member for Moreton in this important debate. His oratorical and poetical skills are famous throughout this place. Sometimes they get beyond him, but we are never left in any doubt about what he believes in and what he thinks of the legislation before the House, which is now a set of appropriation bills—a package of bills which are required to fund the normal ongoing business of government.

We have taken a longstanding view that, however repugnant we might find the materials and the decisions underlying the appropriation bills, we will not block them. We will not oppose the appropriation bills; but that does not rob us of our obligation to provide patriotic criticism of some of the policies that lie behind the bills.

I would like to start that patriotic criticism with a bit of analysis of where the economy sits as we near the end of the first calendar year of this parliament. Despite 3.3 per cent GDP growth, we face some significant challenges in this economy. The simple fact of the matter is that since the election of the Abbott and then Turnbull governments, Australia has gone backwards—particularly in terms of its budget, but also in the experience of everyday Australians.

Wages growth is at the lowest level ever. Many may say that there is some good in suppressing wages growth, because if you keep a lid on wages growth that creates an incentive for small and large businesses alike to create more jobs. Then we have a look at the jobs growth part of the ledger. We see that unemployment is at or near the same level, not as it was when the government was elected, but as it was during the global financial crisis. More than a million Australians cannot get the hours they want, and we have a real problem with long and entrenched unemployment.

So the lived experience of people right around the country, particularly in regional Australia and the places that I visit and where I come from, is that they are disconnected from the excitement that the Prime Minister feels when he talks about the fact that there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. Their experience, when it comes to their living standards, their capacity to find a job and their capacity to pay their bills or keep their head above water, is that they are not going forward: At best they are running very, very fast to stand still, and in many instances they are going backwards.

If you look at what is underlying all this, if you look at the things that are driving economic activity, you can begin to see where some of the problems are. One of the important things to ensure that we see continued economic growth in the out years is growth in investment and, in particular, private sector investment. But over the last 12 months we have seen private sector investment plummet by over 4.7 per cent. In fact, it is the worst yearly drop in over 16 years. So much for Malcolm Turnbull wresting control from the member for Warringah to take control of the prime ministership, the parliament and the country on the grounds that he had a better economic narrative, a better economic plan and better economic credentials to run this country. What we have seen is the country going backwards on his watch.

Not only that, there is no real sign of things improving. In fact, when it comes to the budget bottom line we see that the deficit has tripled from the disastrous 2014 budget. Indeed, the expected deficit for 2016-17 was $10.6 billion, but it will now be $37 billion. It has more than tripled between 2014 and where we stand today. The people of Australia are in for a very rude shock when the Treasurer gives the mid-year financial update, because we expect it will be very bad news.

To the matters before the House: the real judge of any bill before this House, particularly a money bill or a bill which touches upon social policy, is how it adds to or decreases inequality in this country. Is it a bill which has a tendency to increase inequality in this country? Is it a bill that tends to decrease inequality in this country? We have given a solemn commitment that we will work with the government on the mission of budget repair, but we will sign up for budget repair that is fair and not budget repair that entrenches or increases inequality in this country.

What we see in the bills before the House and in the agenda of Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, is most of the same measures that led to the downfall of the member for Warringah. The coalition budget continues to benefit the rich at the expense of ordinary working families. On the table there is still the plan to give the big end of town a $50 billion tax cut and give wealthy individuals earning $180,000 a year a tax cut as well. The top three per cent of income earners should not be receiving a tax cut from 1 July next year if the bottom 75 per cent are not receiving some benefit as well. There is no plan to address this problem in the bills before the House, and there is no plan on the table to address this problem. If anything, those people are going backwards.

On top of that there is a plan to cut $30 billion from school funding. This is going to have a devastating impact on our capacity to deal with entrenched inequality and to ensure that we can give kids from modest backgrounds or from wealthy backgrounds the best chance in life. Added to that they have not withdrawn, they have not recanted and they have not stepped back from the plan to introduce $100,000 university degrees.

In question time today we saw the health minister and the Prime Minister talking up the situation with medicines in this country. I applaud the fact that there have been some cuts to the price of medicines, but they are giving with one hand and taking away with the other, because there remains on the books the plan to introduce the co-payment to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It is still part of the budget forward estimates. There is no plan to remove this, so they are giving with one hand and taking away with the other when it comes to medicines in this country.

The plan to give Australia the world's oldest pension age by increasing the pension age to 70 has got many who have worked in industry all of their lives scratching their heads. There is a good reason why they say to themselves that only a Prime Minister who has worked in an office all of his life instead of with his hands could propose a plan to increase the pension age to 70. If you have worked with your hands all your life, you know that by the time you hit your late fifties and early sixties your back and knees are starting to go and arthritis is starting to hit. For many people trying to still work by the time they are 70 would be simply impossible. But that is still the plan. It is still in their policy proposals, and we say, quite simply, that it is wrong.

Labor believes that it is a fundamental mission of everyone who comes to this parliament to do what we can to reduce inequality in this country. The sad fact is that we are seeing cuts to health care, education and pension payments and changes to the retirement age, which are entrenching, not improving, inequality. Earlier today, in question time, I saw the Prime Minister confect himself up with rage—that vaudeville, that pantomime, that he has become famous for—and howl across from the dispatch box at the Labor opposition for telling the truth about their plans for Medicare during the election campaign. He said that outrageous lies were being told and that there were going to be no changes to bulk-billing as a result of their Medicare changes. The sign that gives the lie to that statement is this one here. This sign has recently been displayed at the Milton Medical Centre—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Craig Kelly ): The member knows he should not use props. The member will put the prop down.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: It says that there will be changes to bulk-billing and fees are set to rise. It bells the cat. This sign says, 'Due to the Medicare rebate freeze and rising practice costs there will be some fee increases from 1 August this year. Because of the rebate freeze we can no longer guarantee bulk-billing for consultations and services.' There it is, in black and white, on the front window of the medical practice at Milton. This is the sign that gives the lie to the Prime Minister's confected outrage. He is saying one thing, but all Australians right around the country know that in GP practices around the country something very different is happening.

We have an obligation to do something about the growing inequality in this country. We know that inequality is growing in the country that once prided itself on the fact that Jack and Jill were as good as their master and that we had programs in place to ensure that no matter what your standing in life, whatever the circumstances of your birth, through a good education system, through a social welfare safety net and through a fine healthcare system you could go on and reach your aspirations in life. But what we are finding is that cuts to education services, withdrawal of funds from obligations in the healthcare system and no plans to deal with fundamental underlying problems mean inequality is growing.

In the time I have left I want to point to the issue of home ownership. Australia has traditionally had a very high level of private home ownership. We call it the Australian dream. If you work hard you can afford to get the deposit for a mortgage and own your own home. And that becomes a safety net for you, throughout the course of your life, and ensures that you do not suffer from poverty in old age. The sad fact is that home ownership is becoming beyond the reach of ordinary everyday Australians. In fact, in that crucial age group between the ages of 25 and 34—when people are putting their roots down and attempting to buy their own homes—over the last decade home ownership rates have gone backwards, not by a little bit but by a lot, by over 12 per cent.

Today the Swinburne Institute for Social Research released a report that says, quite frighteningly, if you have not purchased your own home—if you have not got your foot in the door of the property market—by the time you are 40 you are probably not going to get one. It is precisely for this reason that we took to the last election a set of measures that would have made home ownership more affordable in this country. It would have put a brake on the excessive tax concessions that go to people after buying their second, third, fourth and fifth properties and would have taken some of the heat out of the property market and would have brought home ownership back within the reach of ordinary everyday Australians once again.

They said on that side of the House that it was going to be the end of the world as we know it, but we know that in their heart of hearts they know it is the right plan. I would not be surprised if, at some stage over the next two years, it were a plan they brought forward because, with home ownership increasingly being pushed beyond the reach of everyday Australians, we know that inequality will grow and we will have a big problem with our economy.