The Government's Spending Priorities Are All Wrong

It takes restraint to focus on the appropriations matter after listening to a speech from the member for Tangney, but I will do exactly that.

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In August, towards the end of last year, the Prime Minister stood about 50 metres from here in the House of Reps courtyard and addressed a press conference that was hastily convened after question time. He advised the press gallery, and Australians through them, that he intended to challenge the Prime Minister for his job. The member for Wentworth, as he then was, said that the government had failed to prosecute an economic agenda—indeed, it did not have a clear story about what it wanted to do for Australia.

That was six months ago, and here we are, less than six months from the next federal election, faced with the same situation. We have a government at war with itself but unable to prosecute a clear economic agenda for the country. We had the ridiculous situation last week where the Treasurer of Australia invited all the senior economics opinion writers in the country to a lunch at the National Press Club. With all those great minds and commentators there, you would expect that he might have had something to say about economic policy and some announcements to make. But no. All we got from the treasurer—and this is a Treasurer who leads this government after 2½ years—was a criticism of the previous Labor government but no policy announcement for the government.

In this situation, we know that Australians are hungry for some leadership on economic matters, so it is a great credit to the Leader of the Opposition and to the shadow Treasurer that they have announced more economic policies in the last six months than any opposition has done in the last two decades. Last week, we announced a plan to put in place new measures to crack down on the excessive and improper use of negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements in the property market. These will yield around $30 billion worth of additional revenue but, importantly, they will also have the additional benefit of rebalancing investment within this country and ensuring that new homeowners, the people who are trying to crack into the first home owner's buyers' market, will be doing it on a level playing field. It has been widely supported by economics opinion leaders in the country, and I suspect it is going to be at the centre of economic debate as we traverse the time between now and the next election.

In the area of superannuation policy, multinational taxation policy is where Labor is leading the economic debate. In fact if you put together all of the announcements we have made, they total up in excess of $80 billion worth of savings or new revenue measures which enable us to pay for the initiatives that Australians expect Labor governments to put in place when we are elected to office.

Appropriations bills—in fact any money bill that comes before the House—are statements of the government's spending priorities. What we find is: only Labor has a plan—a plan which will protect Australian jobs for Australians, create the environment for investment in new economic activity into the future to improve our schools and bring 21st century broadband to households and businesses throughout the country. We have a plan to protect Medicare and to boost spending in renewable energy. This is the package that we will take to the next election.

On the other side of the House, we have a government that is so fixated on the past and so divided amongst themselves that they still do not have a clear economic story for the country.

In the area of schools, what could be more important than a program to ensure that the next generation of Australians that are leaving our schools do so equipped to enter the labour market of the 21st century. So Labor has announced that we will deliver significant improvements in school education in Australia—probably the most significant package for over two generations. We believe that every Australian child should have the same chance of succeeding at school as any other kid in the country no matter what their background, where they live or what type of school they go to.

Ensuring that Australia's workforce is ready for the jobs of the future begins in our schools, and that is at the heart of Labor's 'Your Child. Our Future' program. It will build the education for all of Australia's children. Our plan will see an additional investment in our school education system of over $4.5 billion over the 2018-19 school years. It will see a total provision of over $37.3 billion for the package over the decade.

Our plan will ensure a strong focus on every single child's needs; more individual attention for students; better trained teachers; more targeted resources and better equipped classrooms; and more support for students with special learning needs. With Labor's policy, every Australian school and child will benefit, and we will ensure that we are investing in schools and teaching so that our kids are getting the very best education possible.

In my own electorate, I know that this matters because, under the Liberals, education funding has been slashed compared to what it would have been with an average of $3.2 million per school being slashed from their future budgets. This is the equivalent of slashing one in seven teachers from future employment in those schools.

Over 10 years, Malcolm Turnbull's cuts mean over $9.5 billion is being ripped out of classrooms in New South Wales. Over $391 million is being ripped out of classrooms in the Illawarra region and over $193 million out of classrooms in my electorate of Throsby.

These are the policies of a government that does not have the right priorities. We have been criticised for our education policies by those on the other side, by the Leader of the House—the former education minister—but what he has left behind in his former portfolio is an absolute train wreck, and it will fall to Labor once again to ensure that the Commonwealth government fulfils its proper role in supporting the school system of this country.

You do not need to listen to just Labor spokespeople on this issue; listen to the New South Wales National Party education minister, Mr Adrian Piccoli. He has made it clear that the Commonwealth government's withdrawal of funding from the Gonski negotiated agreements will be a disaster for New South Wales schools. It will be the schools in electorates such as the one he represents in rural and regional Australia and schools that I represent that will suffer the most. We know that it is the schools in the most disadvantaged areas that rely most on the additional funding from the Commonwealth for their special needs.

I want to talk a little about jobs, because they have got to be the first priority of every member who represents and electorate in this place. Last week I stood alongside a group of steelworkers, miners and maritime industry workers at a rally outside Parliament House—in fact, a jobs embassy, and it will be forming outside Parliament House this week as well. I was happy that I was joined by the member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, and the shadow employment and workplace relations minister, Brendan O'Connor.

We were there for a common cause—that is, to defend Australian jobs, get the Australian government to step up to support Australian workers and the right to work in our own country. I represent an electorate where one in four workers has come to our region from another country for the purpose of working—whether they be in the steelworks, the mines or the manufacturing industry—which has drawn workers from literally over 70 countries around the world.

We have absolutely no problem with people coming to this country and seeking to create a better life, a new life, by working in my region. But, at a time when unemployment is stubbornly rising at two per cent above the national average, we know that we need to turn our priorities to ensure that every person who is currently in Australia is a priority. If there is an Australian worker who is ready, willing and able to fill a position, then we should not be allowing employers to invite overseas workers to come in and take up that job. I think that all Australians would see that that is a reasonable approach to high unemployment in a particular area.

It is against this background that we are scratching our heads and wondering what is going through a government's mind where they can seriously contemplate a situation where they are encouraging employers to sack their Australian workforce and replace them with overseas workers? This is exactly what has happened to a number of workers in my electorate who are working in the maritime industry. They were working on board the MV Portland and were dragged off their boat in the middle of the night, marched down the gangway, and a few weeks later replaced by a foreign crew.

There might be some countries around the world where people are not surprised when that sort of thing happens, but Australia is not one of them. These are the sorts of policies that are being encouraged by those in the government. Every single member of the government who is facing election at the coming election should be standing up and listening to this. I think voters in their electorates would be very concerned to understand that this is what is going on in this country at the moment. It is not just in the maritime industry; it is across other industries as well, and it is something that must stop.

I want to talk a little about health. Jobs, education and health have to be the three pillars that lead to a more civilised country, one that deals with the problems of the growing inequality in this country. We know that the first act of the previous Prime Minister and the previous Treasurer was to rip up the health and hospital agreement that had been painstakingly negotiated with the states—leading to the $57 billion worth of cuts from our state health and hospital system.

In the six months since this Prime Minister and this Treasurer have sat where they sit, we have challenged them week-in week-out to disown the health policies of the former Prime Minister and the former Treasurer. I think it is notable that in the six months that this man has been Prime Minister of this country, he has not made one significant statement in the health portfolio. He has had nothing to say about the importance of Medicare to the future of Australians health. According to the Liberal Premier of New South Wales and conservative premiers from states all around the country, the $57 billion worth of cuts will see the closure of hospital beds and, in some areas, the closure of hospitals. When challenged to disown, to overturn, to rebuke or to refuse these policies, we have heard absolutely nothing from this Prime Minister and this Treasurer.

Well, Labor have a different set of priorities. We stand for Medicare because we know that the people we represent want access to a general practitioner. They want to know that if they need to access an emergency ward, they will be able to be seen within a reasonable time; that if they need to access the services of a public hospital, wherever they live in Australia, they will have access to those services. We know that the people of Australia for whom this is a reality are relying on a Labor government to ensure that we do not let this government continue to dismantle the system and defund it, thus ensuring that only those who have a fat credit card will have access to the health services that they need.

These are the things that are going to make a difference between a civilised and an uncivilised country. These are the measures that will ensure that we can address the growing inequality in this country, where the top 20 per cent own five times more wealth than the bottom 20 per cent. We know the policies that will address the growing inequality in this country, that will ensure we have a decent education system, that will provide jobs for kids to go into when they leave school, that will provide a decent university and TAFE system, that will provide decent hospitals and the safety net of Medicare. These are the priorities that a decent government will be putting before the House.

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