Bill's Speeches

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

 

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

 

TUESDAY, 23 JUNE 2015

 

***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***

 

 

I thought I might open the debate on this matter of public importance with a reading from 'the book of Tony'.

 

It is the updated 2013 election version. Any good remainder bin will have one.

 

It says, on page 133:

 

“Commonwealth spending on health and education now approaches $90 billion a year …”

 

It goes on to say:

 

“Most of it is not directly authorised by the constitution other than via specific-purpose grants … Still, any withdrawal of Commonwealth involvement or spending in these areas would rightly be seen as a cop out.”

 

My question to the Government is: what have you done with the author of Battlelines and where is he?

 

What we are witness to today with the Federation Green Paper is what the leader of the government would say is 'a cop out'.

 

We would actually say it is something more.

 

We do not call it 'a mature and sensible conversation'.

 

I think you could hear the sound of jaws dropping right across the nation today when the Prime Minister, in defence of his proposals, said that no public dollars, no Commonwealth dollars, going to public hospitals was an option.

 

That was a proposal for the hospital systems of Australia: no Commonwealth money.

 

You could have heard a pin drop when the Prime Minister said that.

 

We thought to ourselves: did we really hear the leader of Australia, the author of Battlelines—he is still probably getting royalties from it—not only confirm that that idea has come from his own department but also, in that trademark stubbornness, not rule it out?

 

On the contrary, he said, 'What's wrong with the opposition? Don't they want to have a sensible and mature conversation?' Prime Minister, we are always up for a sensible and mature conversation; we just think this idea is plain crazy.

 

Who has dreamt up the idea that cutting the funding for and walking away from responsibilities to health and education is a good idea for the Federation of Australia?

 

It is a rewriting of the contract which was initiated, in the case of schools and education, by none other than Robert Menzies, former Liberal Prime Minister of Australia.

 

The interesting fact is that these Federation Green Paper proposals to means-test parents to send their children to public schools and to take away all the funding of hospitals are based on the trend of the last two years: the Government persisting in the myth that they are not cutting funding—$80 billion worth of funding—to hospitals and schools.

 

One of our members of parliament, the Member for Wakefield, tried to offer in question time today the budget papers where there is a graph which clearly spells out that there is $80 billion less over the next 10 years for hospitals and schools. But this Government is in such denial that it would not even admit who drew up the graph.

 

They would not even admit that it is in their own budget papers, when it has the logo of the Commonwealth on it. It would be funny if it were not so serious.

 

This is a war being waged by the Government on Australia's teachers and students, parents, nurses, doctors and patients, a war on families, with a $30 billion cut to schools and $50 billion cut to hospitals—and we have found out this is just the beginning.

 

Now we see the Liberals talking about cutting hospitals loose and cutting schools loose.

 

Today we have also discovered that their meanness does not extend just to this radical agenda to cut billions of dollars from schools and hospitals; they have even decided to go after preschools.

 

No Labor propaganda-writing unit could have ever dreamed up that this Government would turn its back on its pledge to provide four-year-olds with 15 hours a week of preschool.

 

What on earth did the children in the preschools and kindergartens of Australia, or their parents, do to be the government's latest target?

 

I will be honest. I thought the Government would rush to rule this out but, impressively, they have owned it.

 

At least they have owned it.

 

They are saying that this is part of a 'mature and sensible conversation'.

 

No, Prime Minister, this is not sensible or mature.

 

The Green Paper actually says what we are saying.

 

On page 7—that would be after page 6, Member for Gippsland —the Commonwealth said, about hospitals:

 

“The Commonwealth would no longer provide funding for public hospital services and would have no role in setting operational targets for public hospitals …”

 

I repeat that— This is not a fairy tale; it is a nightmare, and your team are writing it:

 

“The Commonwealth would no longer provide funding for public hospital services and would have no role in setting operational targets for public hospitals …”

 

Did we hear that right? Australians will hear this.

 

Labor will take this right across the country, when this parliament rises, and warn all Australians that this Government considers that sort of proposal sensible and mature—and we heard the Prime Minister own it time and time again today.

 

What are the consequences of no longer providing funding for public hospitals?

 

The paper goes on, on page 8:

 

'This option risks entrenching the existing incentives for governments to shift costs and to blame other parts of the system. It also does not on its own improve access to primary care or address fragmentation between public hospitals and primary care.'

 

Australians are on notice. This is a government proposing to cut $50 billion from public hospitals, as much as it denies it.

 

They now wish to go further and have 'a mature and sensible conversation' about defunding the state system.

 

This is not a sensible idea. It is a radical, right-wing idea, and it has no place in the firmament of Australian policy. The Prime Minister thinks that coming up with stupid ideas somehow polishes his reform credentials—no, it does not.

 

On schools, option 1 is:

 

'States have to fund all schools with no Commonwealth funding.'

 

Option 2 is:

 

'Commonwealth only funds non-government schools.'

 

This is a disaster.

 

This is a repudiation of the concept of free education which was set up in colonial Australia.

 

Labor understand how the education system works. We do not need a discussion paper to tell us something is a dumb idea when we see it.

 

We do not need to have our public servants consulting other public servants about an inappropriate idea which will damage the future of all Australians.

 

It only gets worse. On preschools, page 21 of this federation paper says, about walking away from the funding of the commitment to preschool hours for four-year-olds, 'It will mean some families miss out on a preschool program, particularly the children of working parents.'

 

This is a government that is out of control.

 

But when we ask the Prime Minister about these plans to walk away, as a number of opposition members and journalists have asked today, he bangs on that he has no plan.

 

But today, time and time again, he actually accepts that somehow, if we do not talk about these ridiculous ideas and embrace the discussion of them, we are somehow anti-reform.

 

This Government's proposals are not reforms; they are a dreadful setback to the Australian people.

 

When I hear the Government say, and they will rush to say this again, 'No, no, that was a rogue public servant' or 'That was an authorised discussion' or 'That does not exist' or 'We want to see your birth certificate before you can ask the question'—whatever this Government says—I am reminded of what the Prime Minister did before the last election when he wanted your vote.

 

He said nine times before the election, 'No cuts to health and no cuts to education.' What did we get? We got a $30 billion cut from schools and $50 billion cut from hospitals.

 

So when this Prime Minister says, 'There will be no cuts to hospitals', we know that is not true, and when he says that there will be no cuts schools, we know that is not true.

 

I think Australians are getting a trifle tired of the Prime Minister's argument, where he says on the one hand, somewhat disingenuously, 'States run schools', and, on the other hand, 'The Commonwealth funds the states to run schools.'

 

What the Prime Minister tries to do is say that, because the state governments are in charge of the administration of state schools, somehow that absolves his responsibility for any cuts he makes to the funding of state schools.

 

We are onto that fraud.

 

And he has got form on ruling out measures.

 

He ruled out the GP Tax. On 1 February, before the Griffith by-election, when we elected the remarkable Terri Butler, Michelle Grattan asked Mr Abbott,

 

'Can you guarantee there won't be a Medicare co-payment?'

 

The Prime Minister said,

 

'Michelle, nothing is being considered, nothing has been proposed, nothing is planned.'

 

Then we dial forward to 6 February and the famous victory. Just before that election, Steve Austin asked the Prime Minister,

 

'Are you actively considering a GP tax?'

 

The Prime Minister said:

 

'No, we are not. Nothing has been proposed and nothing is being considered.'

 

He said it was just part of a Labor scare campaign.

 

Indeed, on 25 February, before the Senate by-election, when the member for Perth asked the Prime Minister,

 

'Will you guarantee that the GP tax will not increase emergency waiting times in WA?',

 

The Prime Minister said,

 

'I am happy to say that there is no such tax planned.'

 

The story of the GP Tax is the story of the threat to education.

 

What are the common factors? A promise before an election, Tony Abbott is the one making it and it is just not true.

 

We know that these are plans for massive cuts.

 

We know that the Prime Minister of this country does not see an active role for the Commonwealth in schools and hospitals.

 

We know this Government, with $80 billion worth of cuts, has a plan to move away from the proper funding of schools and hospitals, to say that it is all a state problem, to walk away from what the Prime Minister wrote in his own book and to walk away from 50 years of Commonwealth policy on both sides of politics—shame, shame, shame!

 

We will take this issue right across the electorate in the winter break, and you will retreat on this as you retreat on every other bad idea.

 

ENDS

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