Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:27): This is the first opportunity since the coalition government were elected for them to present to the House bills concerning money supply: Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2013-14 and cognate bills. It is very disappointing indeed because, in the bills before the House, we see that the government said one thing before the election and did the complete opposite immediately thereafter. We were promised no surprises and no excuses, but the bill before the House today provides plenty of surprises. The Prime Minister, on the eve of the election, said that there would be:
No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.
Those are not my words but the words of the Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition. Yet we saw the Treasurer on numerous occasions, after he was sworn into government, saying almost the complete opposite:
All options are on the table.
Those are his words, not mine. Nothing will be spared the devastation of their cuts to public services and benefits to ordinary Australians.
We see already $13.2 million worth of cuts to the health portfolio, $11.5 million of cuts to multicultural programs, and $4.8 million in cuts to education programs. 'There will be no cuts to these programs' were not our words or our guarantees before the election; they were the government's. All these cuts were in no way flagged by the coalition. In fact, they specifically promised that they would be left alone. Far from there being no surprises and no excuses; they are a government full of excuses, full of secrecy, full of surprises.
When you have a look at what is before the House today and compare it to what Labor presented, as we were required to present through the charter of budget honesty, you see a yawning gap. Before the election, in compliance with the charter of budget honesty, Labor had the budget going back into surplus in 2016-17—a surplus of $4.2 billion that year in fact. These were independently audited and produced documents. Now we see a deficit of $17.7 billion by this government and deficits totalling $54.6 billion in the government's forward estimates. What has happened? What is the difference? The difference is decisions the government has chosen to make—and here is where you see their values on display. One of their first acts was to give an $8.8 billion grant to the Reserve Bank of Australia. We all want to see the Reserve Bank of Australia having the liquidity to manage our finances in conformance within its mandate but those opposite are complaining that they do not have the dough to do the normal things that we need our government to do.
What else have the government done? We have seen tax cuts for the big end of town and tax hikes for the rest of us. If you want a tax cut in this country, you had better make sure you own a mining company, because you will get a tax cut and your own special bill before parliament. But, if you are the rest of us, it will be a tax hike. Anyone earning less than $38,000 a year, it will surprise people in the House today, will get a tax increase; that displays the values of those opposite. Who are they governing for? Clearly, it is the big end of town.
This has been a pretty sad week for people looking for work. It has been a pretty sad week for people in work. Yesterday we saw the news that the government is now contemplating axing the Aussie jobs act. The Australian Jobs Act was part of Labor's job creation and job protection policy when it was in government. It had at its centre a very simple proposition. If you are coming to government, state or federal, with a proposition to invest in a major resource development project in this country or if you are coming to government and you are proposing to take a contract for government for a major piece of public works, then we ask you to put in place a plan to ensure that Australian businesses employing Australian workers get a fair chop at winning some of the contracts. It is a fairly simple proposition and one that I would wager most Australians would agree with. So you have got to ask yourself: why is the government contemplating axing that legislation? Who are they governing for: the big end of town or ordinary Australians?
If that is not bad enough, we find out today that the government is now seriously contemplating removing the provisions of the Qantas Sale Act. The Qantas Sale Act is an act which puts requirements upon Qantas—for example: that they have their headquarters here in Australia; that they perform maintenance, catering and other functions here in Australia. They are provisions which indirectly or directly mean that Qantas is an employer of over 30,000 Australians in Australia. It is a critical Australian company.
I heard the Prime Minister on the TV today saying the government has got no business in engaging itself in the airline industry. Deputy Speaker Mitchell, you would know that eight out of 10 airlines in the world are directly or indirectly owned by a government. The net result of the government tinkering with or doing away with the Qantas Sale Act will be to ensure that Qantas is owned by another government either through a sovereign wealth fund or through direct investment. So it has been a sad week for Australian jobs. There are Qantas jobs at risk and jobs for businesses at risk that might otherwise seek some advantage in contracting to the resources sector or to government.
This would be bad enough news in any week but it comes hot on the heels of one of the first increases in unemployment levels in this country since the GFC. Unemployment is going up; employment is going down. In fact there have been 63,000 full-time jobs lost under their watch. That is about 10,000 jobs a month, about 350 jobs a day. This is from the man who wants to be known as the man who is all about creating jobs and who is all about creating employment opportunities.
It has been a sad three months and a sad week for employment in this country. Employment is a critical issue in my electorate because we have one of the highest unemployment levels of any region throughout New South Wales, and youth unemployment is higher still at around 16.5 per cent in the Illawarra, which is well above the state average of 11.8 per cent. These people are looking to government to put in place programs and policies which will help them find their way into a job and, if they have a job, ensure that it is a good, secure job so that they can provide for themselves, their family and their future.
We know that the best chance of getting a decent job is having a good education—which is why the cuts to the education budget are so tragic. In government we put in place the trade training centre program. We funded over 510 trade training centres in schools around Australia. More than 60 per cent of these were in regional areas. There were eight in my electorate. They were well received by all sides of politics.
What is the benefit of a trade training centre? We know that not every kid who goes to school will go on to university but, through a trade training centre in their school, they get the opportunity to get a head start in a trade qualification while they are still at school. So you have to ask yourself: what is going through the head of a government when you see unemployment going up and youth unemployment going up? I know: 'What we will do is rip the guts out of the money which is providing the next generation of kids an opportunity to get a start in life, to get a trade.'
The government simply do not get it. If you want help from this government you had better make sure you are producing Freddo frogs or that you own a mining company. But, if you are like the rest of us, you can go beggar. A billion dollars has been ripped out of the education program—and that is simply not good enough.
I want to talk about a couple of other programs. This was an opportunity for the government to say, 'There are critical support programs for people suffering disadvantages throughout the country, and they rely on these programs to help them back into the workforce or to get their lives back on track.' This was an opportunity for the government to say to the service providers and to the people relying on those services: 'You do not have to worry; you are going to be spared the axe. We are going to cut the hell out of government benefits, services and programs, but those of you in these critical programs that help people into work and help them get their lives back on track, do not have to worry. You do not have to panic; we are going to spare you the savage act of slashing your programs.' That opportunity has not been taken up by the government.
Two programs that are of critical importance in my electorate are the Better Futures program and the Youth Connections program. The Better Futures program was put in place by the former government, identifying 10 local government areas throughout the country for intensive work with long-term unemployed or people at risk of being long-term unemployed—particularly single mums—to help them get their lives back on track and find their way back into work. We have had a lot of success with these programs, getting people into the retail industry and the aged-care sector—for some of these people, it is the first job they have ever had—and helping them to get their lives back on track. You would have to say that that is a good investment and you would have to ask: 'Why hasn't the government taken the opportunity to confirm this program and say that it will continue?' The exact opposite is the case.
Over $850,000 worth of programs were promised and budgeted for under the Better Futures program, including the Skills and Networks for Job Seekers project at the WEA Illawarra—an innovative project connecting young people and long-term unemployed people with local businesses and helping them into a job. It has been axed. The Future Education and Care project run by Illawarra Area Child Care provided flexible care hours to help parents get back into the workforce. Why is that important? We know that when people are getting back into the workforce they might be working shift work. Perhaps they are working a night packing job in the retail sector or perhaps they are working in the aged-care sector doing early morning shifts and late night shifts as a pathway back into employment. If they are a single mum, who is looking after their kids when they are getting back into the workforce?
This program was set up to ensure that we had child care available for those people who did not have access to it while going back to work. It was very innovative and had the support of the entire community. Employers loved it. Funding for the program has not been continued, and they are in limbo. These appropriation bills were an opportunity for the government to say: 'We think that is a good program. It was not our idea. It was not put in place under our watch, but there is no monopoly on a good idea and we will continue this program.'
I could go on about other programs. There is the $7½ million Home of Soccer project, which I am a strong advocate for. There was an opportunity in these appropriation bills to confirm the money for that, but it did not happen. The $50 million to get the Maldon-Dumbarton rail link up and running did not happen. This legislation before the House is a missed opportunity to do the right thing.