Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:39): There is no cheer in the Prime Minister's Christmas cracker for Australians this year: business confidence, down; unemployment, up; youth unemployment at record highs and full-time unemployment levels in the doldrums. The only index that is looking positive is the index of lies, which is why today we launched this catalogue of infamy: Abbott's book of lies and broken promises.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (18:34): The bill before the House concerns the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, which was founded in 2012 by the Labor government. This bill—the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Repeal Day) (No. 1) Bill 2014—seeks to abolish it, and that is nothing short of an act of legislative vandalism. Why? Because the commission actually has broad support within the community that it seeks to regulate, and that is not a common thing amongst the regulated. It has broad support amongst the charities and not-for-profits sector, a very important sector of our community and of our economy. It generates an income of approximately $100 billion a year and employs close to a million Australians. In some communities, the charities and not-for-profit sector is one of the largest employers in town. The sector runs organisations as diverse as community housing, emergency housing shelters, recycling and printing, disability enterprises, coffee shops, soup kitchens, employment agencies, environment protection groups, researchers and think tanks—the list goes on. But one thing that has united them all is their opposition to what the government is doing with this bill before the House today.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:34): Can I start by congratulating the member for Shortland for bringing this matter before the House? As a former chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, she has been a passionate advocate for so many conditions that would otherwise fly below the radar and would not be brought to the attention of this parliament, were it not for the tireless work of the member for Shortland.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:54): My challenge this afternoon to all of those coalition backbenchers is to stand in this parliament today and defend the GP tax and defend their minister, because, God knows, he is looking very lonely indeed. Not the Prime Minister's office, not half the cabinet—if we can believe what we have read in this morning's newspapers—are willing to stand there and defend this rotten tax. There is a good reason for that. One of the great things about being an Australian is that, when you go to the doctor, it is your Medicare card, not your credit card, that matters. That is one of the great things about being Australian. Not for us the US system, where people die of preventable diseases because they cannot afford to go to the doctor. It is not free—people know they pay their Medicare levy—but it provides a universal system of health cover which is the envy of the rest of the world.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (17:05): We have long known that many within the coalition secretly harbour a desire to teach our kids that the Australian alphabet starts with the letter D, so hostile are they to the letters ABC. That was revealed to all last week when the Minister for Communications flew to the electorate of the Leader of the House to announce an egregious set of cuts to the ABC's budget.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (15:54): The bill before the House is the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Psychoactive Substances and Other Measures) Bill 2014. The 'other measures' go to firearms control and related matters— and I will have something to say about that. We support the legislation. We have some deep concerns about the mandatory sentencing provisions within the legislation, and I will have something to say about that as well. Like previous speakers in this debate, I applaud action which is directed towards dealing with the terrible scourge of drug addiction and all the social ills that that causes. However, I have deep concerns about the capacity of the criminal law system to do all that is necessary, particularly in the area of prevention and treatment, for those who are suffering from drug addiction.
Today I pay tribute to the life of Joan Yeo, who died in the early hours of 9 October, of motor neurone disease, at her house in Bowral. She was 72. She was surrounded by her husband, Phil, and daughters, Claire and Fleur, joined shortly thereafter by her son, John, who flew home from London.
Joan was a stalwart and much-loved member of the Southern Highlands branch of the Labor Party for over 40 years. She was a dedicated member throughout the seventies and eighties, and, even when the numbers were small and the finances were thin, Joan was always there to do her bit. She was a strong woman and she was passionate: passionate about her politics and passionate about the rights of women. She did not just talk the talk; she walked the walk. She was involved in everything over her life.
Today we pay tribute to Edward Gough Whitlam, QC, AC: patriot, veteran, barrister, Prime Minister, ambassador, Australian legend, husband to Margaret and father to Antony, Nick, Stephen and Catherine. We pass on our condolences to his family and all who knew and loved him.
Throughout the course of this discussion we have seen the best of the Australian parliament. We have seen the outflowing of genuine affection and admiration for a great Australian, and I believe in this discussion we have genuinely held up a mirror to the Australian nation. Gough himself was more than a reflection of Australia as he found it. He was a leader who gave political voice to Australia not as he found it, but as he thought it could be. As Gough himself explained in 1973, his government was elected on the basis of policies which were developed carefully, steadily and intelligently to meet the important demands of our community.
His was the politics of courage and conviction. Indeed it is hard to imagine Australia without the reforms that were driven through by the Whitlam government. In the area of equality, we turn our minds to the reforms to the education system: free access to tertiary education and needs-based funding for our school system. In the area of electoral reform: one vote, one value; lowering the age of voting so that the age of voting was the same as the age at which you could be conscripted to go and fight for the country—the age of 18. In the area of gender equality, we have heard many speakers talk about the importance of his family law reforms: no-fault divorce, introducing onto the PBS the contraceptive pill and reopening the equal pay case to ensure that that important principle could flow through to our industrial tribunals. In the area of land rights: ensuring that the First Australians could once again have full custodial ownership of their traditional lands. On race discrimination, one of his first acts was to ban race-based sporting contests, which was an incredibly controversial issue in the early 1970s, and we all remember the controversy around the Springbok tour. It went beyond that, he was indeed the father of modern multiculturalism.
It is a great pleasure to follow the member for Shortland in this important debate. You could not find a more passionate advocate for the interests of health consumers in this country. It is an area of long-standing interest for the member for Shortland—indeed, before she came to parliament she was an allied health professional herself.
The bill before the House is an important one. It deals with private health insurance, the government's subsidies to the private health insurance industry, and how they can be managed in a sustainable way over the long term. It gives parliament the opportunity to focus on how we fund our health system and the role that private health insurance has in that funding arrangement.
Private health insurance is important. It costs the Commonwealth budget in terms of the rebate approximately $5.8 billion a year. That's right: $5.8 billion in 2014-15, which is a little bit less than 10 per cent of the Commonwealth's total health expenditure. It is right and proper that Commonwealth government and this parliament regularly focus on the performance of private health insurance and how much we are paying for this subsidy.
Today the member for Cunningham and I stand in parliament and challenge the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, to come to Wollongong and explain his egregious changes to the higher education system which are going to deny thousands of students from the Illawarra region their chance for a better life. The University of Wollongong has a unique role in the region. It started its life as an offshoot of the University of New South Wales and as a teachers college. But it really got a kick-start when the Whitlam government opened up higher education to students with backgrounds like mine and the member for Cunningham's to ensure that they could get the great opportunities available through higher education.
Today the University of Wollongong is a full-service university training nurses, doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers and accountants. Many of them are the first in their family to get a degree. Many of them are getting a second chance in education. This is all at risk because of this government's 20 per cent cut to the University of Wollongong's funding, the massive increase in university fees and the increase in interest rates on those university debts that those opposite are voting for. My question to the Minister for Education is this: Why is free education good enough for you but not good enough for the students of Wollongong? (Time expired)