House of Representatives Speech- Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2014-2015

What a dreadful and disappointing budget was handed down by this government on 13 May. It is a dreadful and disappointing budget because it is filled with lies and broken promises, and it has been so seen by the people of Australia right across the country. Parents, young people, pensioners—anyone that uses the services the government provides can see now what they got when they elected the Abbott government in September last year. Just as the bunting around polling booths said, 'He wins, you lose,' now Australians can see just how right that prediction was from the Australian Labor Party. Tony Abbott did win the election and Australians lost in so many ways.

What a dreadful and disappointing budget was handed down by this government on 13 May. It is a dreadful and disappointing budget because it is filled with lies and broken promises, and it has been so seen by the people of Australia right across the country. Parents, young people, pensioners—anyone that uses the services the government provides can see now what they got when they elected the Abbott government in September last year. Just as the bunting around polling booths said, 'He wins, you lose,' now Australians can see just how right that prediction was from the Australian Labor Party. Tony Abbott did win the election and Australians lost in so many ways.

We have seen from the way in which this government has tried to explain their budget to the Australian people a continuation of their empty slogans and their misrepresentations and misleading statements about the true state of the Australian budget, about the true state of the Australian economy, about the true state of our national finances. I could start by pointing to the way in which this government is wanting the comparison in their budget papers not to be, as it should be, with the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the document written on the eve of the election by the secretary of the Treasury and the secretary of the Department of Finance, which is the proper comparison, but rather with the false document prepared by this government which they published as the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, a mid-year economic and fiscal outlook in which they chose to give to the Reserve Bank of Australia $8.8 billion that the Reserve Bank of Australia had not asked for and a mid-year economic and fiscal outlook in which they chose to add to the budget deficit by almost doubling it. They achieved that by removing assumptions, removing spending caps and changing the way in which the figures are produced. It is nothing to do with Labor; this is their Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, not Labor's. And it produced their other false figure of the $667 billion they have been quoting. I am sure we heard much of this from the member for Moore, who I heard reciting some of the government's lines in the speech which immediately preceded mine. Of course, that is another false figure. It is a figure that the government has produced solely for political purposes, because this is a government that can do nothing but play politics with every single aspect of the administration of the Commonwealth. It is a government which can do nothing but play politics.

This false figure of $660 billion which the government likes to tout is a figure that is said to be the level of the deficit in 2023. They never mention it is in 2023—10 years time. Of course, one would only get to it if the governments between now, 2014, and 2023 were asleep at the wheel. Perhaps this government is planning on being asleep at the wheel. There is no other way that we would get to $660 billion other than by successive governments—not merely the current short-lived government of Tony Abbott but every government between now and then—ignoring any issues about spending and ignoring, in particular, the revenue side of the budget.

What we have had from the government in this budget is not merely the falsity of their pretending that they are doing something about the deficit—and they are pretending, because in their budget papers we do not return to a surplus earlier than predicted by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Department of Finance in the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook. We return one year later. That is how much of an effort this government is making to deal with deficits. There is no 'debt and deficit disaster' in Australia—not a jot of it. There are issues about the collection of revenue in Australia. These issues have been building for many years and they are issues which we saw writ large over the course of the six years of Labor government, because it is the case that, over the last 21 years of Labor's budgets, all of them produced a lower tax to GDP ratio, under 22 per cent, than any of the Howard government budgets—any of the budgets over the 11½ years of the Howard government.

This is why at every turn you can see—and Australians are beginning to understand—the falsity of the approach to the economy that is represented by the Abbott government's budget, the falsity of their three-word slogans and the falsity of their slogan about a debt and deficit disaster, when there is nothing of the kind. You could only say that if you were prepared to wholly ignore the fact that we have continuing growth in Australia. We had continuing growth right through the global financial crisis, which of course the Liberals never want to mention. This is the global financial crisis that the Rudd and Gillard governments managed Australia through, with great economic skill and sound economic management. We have continuing growth, relatively low unemployment and, compared to the whole of the rest of the Western world, the whole of the OECD, relatively low debt to GDP ratio—about a seventh of the OECD average.

The government does not want to state the true picture to the Australian people. The government never wants to state the true picture to the Australian people. It wants to pretend that it kept its promises to the Australian people. What a nonsense! And the Australian people have seen through that. They have seen through it because they remember that, before the election, Tony Abbott and his ministers said that there would be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no new taxes, no cuts to the ABC—and no change to pensions; I almost forgot. What have we seen? This is just a selection of the false promises that were made before the election by by the person who is now the Prime Minister but who was then the Leader of the Opposition. The Australian people have seen through the false promises of the Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Prime Minister, before the election. They have seen through the false promises made by the gang with whom he made all sorts of promises to the Australian people. They have seen through them because, far from there being no cuts to education and health, there is an $80 billion cut to education and health. And this has been recognised as such by the Premier of Queensland, the Premier of New South Wales and the Premier of Victoria—all of whom are Liberal premiers. That is why the Liberal Premier of New South Wales said in response to the budget that it is a kick in the guts to New South Wales. That is not the Labor Party talking; it is the Liberal colleague of the member for Moore and the federal Liberal Party saying that it is a 'kick in the guts to the people of New South Wales'. Well might a senior Liberal, who was quoted in the media on Monday, have said that this budget is a 'stinking carcass' around the neck of this government. It is a stinking carcass around the neck of this government and it is going to remain a stinking carcass around the neck of this government right through to the next election, which cannot come soon enough.

I want to say a few things about the disgraceful cuts in the two portfolio areas that I have responsibility for, which are the Attorney-General's portfolio and the Arts portfolio. I am not by any means hoping to achieve in the six minutes which remain to me a comprehensive list of all the disgraceful cuts we see in both these portfolio areas in this budget, but I want to start with the further cuts to legal assistance—how disgraceful at a time when there is rising demand for legal assistance. I am talking about the services provided by the eight legal aid commissions of the states and territories; the legal services provided by the 138 community legal centres that are funded by the Commonwealth of Australia; the environmental defenders offices, which have been defunded by this government; and the legal services that are provided by the eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services and the 14 family violence centres, all of which are wholly funded by the Commonwealth of Australia because they serve the Indigenous community of our country. All legal aid services suffered cuts in the Mid-Year Economic and Financial Outlook in the face of the current Attorney-General having said in the lead-up to the election how much he supported the legal assistance sector.

Well, the legal assistance sector now understand just how much that implied promise of support meant. They understand only too well the attitude of this government to legal assistance. This is an Attorney-General who has not even deigned to visit community legal centres across Australia. He went to Caxton Community Legal Centre, in Brisbane, to do a book launch and then said at the last Senate estimates that he thought that it had a large Indigenous practice—which it does not. That is how much he knows. He has declined to meet with the peak bodies in the legal assistance sector—the National Association of Community Legal Centres and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services—because he is not interested. And that has been reflected in this budget by a further cut of $15 million from the state and territory legal aid commissions. This is an extraordinary policy decision at a time when all people associated with the legal assistance sector or the legal profession, or any clients of the legal profession—which of course is potentially all Australians—know that there is unmet legal need. Everybody knows that there is a rising demand for legal services and everybody knows that the disgraceful changes to criminal laws by conservative state governments across Australia have increased the need for legal services. This is not the time to be cutting the legal assistance sector; it is a time to be increasing the services which are provided to Australians.

I will not dwell at length on some of the other cuts and some of the other agencies that are going to be abolished in the proposals that we see in this budget. The government has ripped $10 million out of privacy and freedom of information services and announced that it is going to abolish the Office of the Information Commissioner and, with it, the Freedom of Information Commissioner. Apparently those functions henceforth are going to be provided by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal as to merits review, the advice function is going to be handled by the Attorney-General's Department and the complaints function is going to be handled by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, none of which has been given any additional funding. That tells you all you need to know about the attitude of this government to freedom of information and, dare I say it, to privacy. The Privacy Commissioner has survived the axe but is to be sent off to work somehow at the Human Rights Commission, which has also received no additional funding; in fact, it has received less funding in this budget. We have learnt that not only is there to be a full-time Human Rights Commissioner—Mr Tim Wilson, who was appointed by this government before Christmas without any advertising and without any search process—but the commission has been told that it is to receive no new funding in this budget; in fact, there is a cut of $1.7 million. So the Privacy Commissioner is being sent to the Human Rights Commission, which has been told that it has to make do with less.

Part of that, disgracefully, is that there is no longer going to be a full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner, a role which has been filled by Graeme Innes with such distinction over many years. He has done an outstanding job over the last several years as Australia's first ever full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner. I record the thanks of the people of Australia to Graeme Innes for that good work he has done for so long. He has been an extremely powerful advocate for people with a disability. He has worked hard every day to ensure that people with a disability have access to the same rights and opportunities as all Australians.

In the 1½ minutes which remain to me—I am going to be speaking about this elsewhere, and I already have—I come to the slashing of the arts budget in this budget. Senator Brandis has had the gall to suggest that the arts budget and the arts community of Australia in fact did very well—that is the way he put it—out of this budget. His Prime Minister tried to back him up with this at the publisher's dinner last Friday night in Sydney, saying also that if it had not been for George Brandis's advocacy for the arts sector then the cuts would have been worse. Contemplate that. That is what this Prime Minister wants to do to the arts community of Australia. He wants to make more cuts, and he is saying that George Brandis held him back. I do not thank Senator George Brandis for his efforts in this regard.

Labor provided an additional $200 million to the arts in the 2013 budget to accompany the first national cultural policy that we had seen in this country for 20 years, something that was welcomed by arts communities across Australia, and the response of this new government is to slash and burn. We have seen cuts to the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, a cut of $25 million from Screen Australia, the complete abolition of the Australian Interactive Games Fund—how shortsighted is that—the abolition of the Get Reading! program and the abolition of the Indigenous Languages Support program. What a disgrace.