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The Turnbull Government is a wolf trying on sheep's clothing - SENATE SPEECH, 10 MAY 2017


SENATOR SINGH: What a shock it has all been—the last 24 hours since the delivery of the Turnbull government's 2017 budget. We know that they were going to try as hard as possible to walk away from their 2014 budget train wreck. But where they have ended up has completely left Australians in a position of thinking that this government has not only already lost its way but become a wolf in sheep's clothing. Given any chance at all, it would return to those unfair cuts and awful outcomes that it made in its budget of 2014.

Why do we know that? They have made it very clear that the only reason that they have delivered this kind of budget—this budget in which, yes, they have stolen some of Labor's policies; although they have only half baked them—is they could not get their unfair budget through the Senate. So given any opportunity for this Senate to change its make-up, they would go back to type and they would bring back that train wreck of the 2014 budget. And we all know the unfair zombie measures that were involved in that. Unemployed people having to wait six months for any income support, paid parental leave cuts, family tax benefit cuts—there was a range of zombie measures that were going to hurt the most vulnerable of our society. So do not be fooled, Australians. This budget is only here in place because the government could not get their unfair 2014 budget through the Senate.

We have to dig down because the Prime Minister and the Treasurer continue to use this word 'fairness'. The government has decided to use the Labor word of 'fairness'. In using that word, it is being incredibly untruthful. This budget is not fair. It is not fair in the area of education. It is not fair on health. It is not fair on housing affordability. In all of these areas, it is trying to tell Australians, 'We have done something fair.' Okay. Perhaps if you look at 2014 and if you look at this budget, they may think to themselves that they have done something fair. But that just goes to the heart of the fact that they actually do not know what fairness means. To say you are going to lift the Medicare freeze and say that that is fair but then not actually do it—but then make people wait another year, two years, three years, before they can get that support—that is not fair.

It is all about the detail, when it comes to this budget. The gloss soon wears off once you start digging beneath the words of fairness that they keep using. And once you keep digging down, you realise that the government has not walked away from its ideological obsession to give $50 billion of company tax cuts to the most wealthy in this country. You realise that the ideology of trickle-down economics to create jobs and growth that they talk about is still there, even though it is an outdated and flawed economic policy objective and they have still left in place a number of other areas that are going to hurt some of our most vulnerable.

Let us look at the way they have tackled education. Finally, they have recognised the importance of needs based funding, and I give them credit for recognising the importance of needs based funding. That ensures that every child, in every school, gets every opportunity for the best education, no matter what their postcode, no matter what their circumstances. But that will only work if it is properly funded, and we know that the government has still left a big $22 billion hole in the Gonski needs based funding formula that Labor put forward when it was in government. So that is a big fail there. There is no fairness there. It is a failure.

The other failure is in housing affordability, something that is facing this country in such a big way for this current generation and the next generation. Nothing there for them. No negative gearing changes. No capital gains tax concession reductions. It is all still there for the big investors. The big investors do very well out of this budget because nothing has changed. But for those trying to get into the market—first-home buyers—we know that house prices are soaring. We know how many of the purchasers are made up of investors, because they are doing very well out of Australia's negative-gearing system. Nowhere in the world seems to have one like ours. That is another fail, another squib.

The other area I am very disappointed about, which really affects my home state, is in the area of health. There are a number of people who will only be able to access a GP or a specialist if they can have that service bulk billed. And that is the whole point of a universal healthcare system. That is why Labor created and brought about Medicare. But that is completely being dismantled—and has been over the last while—by this government now, in what the journalists call a 'Labor lite' approach. The government says, 'No, no! We are going to protect Medicare. We are going to lift the Medicare freeze. And it's all going to be good, because we've changed our clothing. We've now got these different clothes, where we think it is okay now to protect Medicare, even though we did have our Prime Minister telling President Trump that it was good on him for repealing Obamacare, which looked a lot like Medicare.' Go figure that one.

Having said that, no: there is no lifting of the Medicare freeze. We are going to have to wait at least a year and even longer—three years for specialist treatments—for people in serious need of their health needs being addressed by those specialists and doctors. Why couldn't you have done it now? That would have given you some legitimacy in this budget. But no: a failure.

The other area I want to look at is the area of women's rights. The Australian government used to produce a yearly Women's Budget Statement—until the Liberals abolished it in 2014. So over successful governments, including the Howard government, there was—

Senator Seselja interjecting 

Senator Cameron interjecting

THE ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Minister and Senator Cameron, particularly Minister, I am having trouble now hearing Senator Singh, so please accord her a little more respect. Thank you.

SENATOR SINGH: In 2014 the Liberals abolished the Women's Budget Statement because they wanted to hide how women were impacted by their policies, by their cuts and by their spending. I am calling on the Liberals to bring back the Women's Budget Statement, but so far this has fallen on deaf ears. To fill the gap, for the last number of years Labor has been producing a women's budget statement in opposition, and we will do so again this year. We have a strong record when it comes to women's rights and women's policy: we brought about the first paid parental leave scheme, we developed the first national plan to reduce violence against women and children and we invested $3 billion to increase wages in the female-dominated social and community sector. We have a very strong record on advancing women's rights and, when next in government, I have no doubt that we will bring back the Women's Budget Statement as part of the federal government's budget.

Finally, there is a policy area that you would think simply could not be cut any more than it already has been by this government over the last three years or more, and that is the foreign aid and development budget. But, yes, it has been cut again. I really did not think it could be. It has already been consecutively cut to the bone so much—dropping by almost 30 per cent during that time. I remember a time when we had bipartisanship on aid and development, when we had this goal of reaching 0.5 of GNI. That all went out the window when Tony Abbott became Prime Minister, and it has continued under Malcolm Turnbull, to the extent that we now make the lowest contribution to aid and development that we ever have—the lowest contribution we have ever made—down to 0.23 of GNI and going down. It is not going up but going down.