Speech to House of Representatives regarding Appropriation Bills

House of Representatives 25 May 2015.

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (18:09):  It has been said that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce. This is certainly true of the Abbott government's two budgets. Their first effort was definitely a tragedy—a catastrophe even. The 2014 budget was without doubt the most extreme, the most unfair, the most disastrous federal budget handed down in living memory. It was bad enough that the government broke the promises it took to the last election. The government promised no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions, and no cuts to the ABC or SBS. Yet in the 2014 budget it delivered all four, and more besides.

However, the community's fierce opposition to the budget was about more than just broken promises. In the 2014 budget, the Australian people got to see what the Abbott government really stood for; what its real agenda was—not just what it would promise in order to win power. They did not like what they saw. In the 2014 budget, the Abbott government showed Australians its vision for our society. They showed us the type of country they want Australia to be: unfair, unequal, uncaring. They want Australia to be the sort of country which taxes the sick, the sort of country where education only goes to those who can pay, the sort of country which humiliates the young and unemployed. Abbott's vision bears no resemblance to the sort of country that most Australians want to live in—and the community's reaction to the 2014 budget bore that out. The Prime Minister and his Treasurer have worn that budget like a millstone around their necks; not because they were poor salesmen, as political commentators sometimes suggest, but because the product was faulty—and the Australian people knew it. Labor stood with the Australian community. We opposed that budget and we defeated the government's extreme and unfair agenda in the parliament.

After that dismal performance in 2014, the Treasurer returned here on 12 May for his encore—and, sure enough, it was a farce. In Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2015-2016 and related bills before the House today we see a foundering Liberal government producing an opportunistic, political budget designed only to keep their own heads above water. This budget is, as the Leader of the Opposition said in his budget reply speech:

… a hoax, a mirage, a smokescreen.

The government desperately hopes that this budget will atone for the excesses of 2014, yet some of the most unfair measures from last year remain in the 2015 budget papers.

As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the Prime Minister has changed his tactics, but he has not changed his mind. This budget still rips $80 billion from schools and hospitals across the country, as was the case in last year's budget. It still inflicts higher fees and bigger debts on Australian kids seeking to further their education. It still withholds help from unemployed young Australians when they need it most. The Prime Minister had said this budget would not hurt families, but a single income family on $65,000 a year will be as much as $6,000 a year worse off. The government wants to kick families off family tax benefit part B when their youngest child turns six and to freeze family tax benefit rates. That cut will hurt more than 9,000 families in my electorate. As always under this government, middle- and lower-income Australians will be hardest hit. The budget also contains cuts to paid parental leave that will make around 80,000 new parents each year up to $11,500 worse off. The introduction of paid parental leave was one of our Labor government's great achievements. The Prime Minister, who had the audacity to appoint himself Minister for Women, is now seeking to tear that scheme apart.

The Liberal Party so often and so arrogantly claim to be the party of family values, but now they will vote to reduce the amount of time that new mothers get to spend with their babies.

 

Australians should not soon forget this. And I do not think they are going to forget that, for five years, we have had this Prime Minister, first as Leader of the Opposition and then as Prime Minister, say over and over and over again that the scheme that Labor introduced from 1 January 2012 was not adequate. That was his position—that there needed to be a more generous paid parental leave scheme. But what have we seen in this year's budget? We have seen the attack on and the reduction of a scheme that, until very recently, this Prime Minister said was not adequate.

 

Last year's budget had very substantial cuts to the arts, my own portfolio responsibility—more than $100 million. The 2015 budget continues the government's assault on the arts. The government proposes cuts of $13 million through so-called efficiencies to arts and cultural programs run by the Ministry for the Arts, the Australia Council and Screen Australia. These cuts are serious, but what is of much greater concern is that Senator Brandis has taken $105 million from the Australia Council and placed it under his own personal control. Senator Brandis wishes to use this money to set up a so-called National Program for Excellence in the Arts within his Ministry for the Arts. Senator Brandis has appointed himself Australia's art-critic-in-chief. He has dangerously undermined the long-accepted principle that arts funding should be free of political interference and that funding decisions should be made at arm's length from government. That has been the case ever since the Australia Council was established as an independent statutory body by the Whitlam government.

 

Let no-one think that this is just a question of philosophy, how independent arts funding should be or what amount of peer reviewing is appropriate for arts funding decisions. This decision made by Senator Brandis, announced without any prior consultation in this year's budget, has already seen dramatic impacts on arts funding across Australia. It will directly affect small and medium arts organisations not just in the cities of our country but also in every region and every regional city. Those small and medium organisations are of course the lifeblood of arts activity in our country. It is those small and medium arts organisations that support individual artists. It is those small and medium arts organisations that feed through to the major performing arts groups the talent on which they rely in all aspects of their activities.

 

So, it was no surprise that on Thursday of last week the Australia Council, having digested the impact on its activities of a cut of $105 million, announced that the six-year funding that has been worked on for many months by hundreds of organisations is now at an end and that the June funding round has been cancelled altogether. You can only imagine the disarray and the uncertainty. It is disarray that has been reported to me by arts organisations across the country, and all of them are now facing uncertainty as to their futures. It will be no surprise if, regrettably, many of those small and medium organisations actually go to the wall as a result of this foolish, destructive, short-sighted decision that has been taken without consultation by Senator Brandis and announced in this budget—and still, two weeks later, Senator Brandis has not explained what he proposes to do with the $105 million.

 

And so this budget is of a piece with last year's. It persists with many of the cuts presented in the 2014 budget and resoundingly rejected by the community; and it introduces new cuts to parental leave, family payments and the arts, as well as other areas. Yet, in this budget, the government crawl away from the supposed justification for all of the cuts that they inflicted in 2014. You will hear no talk now, from this government, of 'debt and deficit disasters' or 'budget emergencies'; they would not dare. This is the government that has doubled the budget deficit to $35 million. There is no pointing by this government now at some imagined wrongs done by the Labor government, which can now be seen to have managed the economy soundly over our six years of government. There will not be any pointing at the previous, Labor government, not without utter hypocrisy, because this is the government that has doubled the budget deficit to $35 million on its watch. For a Prime Minister who promised a surplus in his first year in office and a surplus for every year of his first term, he has not even come close. He has abandoned that. At the end of the Labor government, the independently produced Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook had the federal budget returning to surplus this year, 2015-16. This budget, by contrast, first forecasts a surplus in 2019-20 and then only on the strength of some heroic economic assumptions.

 

The government are too weak to take up the mantle of serious reform. They have produced a budget that focuses solely on their own short-term survival. They do not have the guts or the ambition to think seriously about the challenges Australia must address beyond the next election, let alone beyond the next decade. They have rejected the reasonable revenue measures proposed by Labor—measures which would add $21 billion to the Commonwealth's balance sheet over the next decade. They are too short sighted to pursue reforms which are clearly necessary. It is clear that the current tax concession arrangements for superannuation are unsustainable, yet the government has rejected out of hand, without even reflecting on it, Labor's fair and responsible proposal for reform. It is clear that multinationals are not paying their fair share of tax currently, yet the government has rejected Labor's fully costed package of reforms to address this problem. So, this is a weak and unfair budget, but it is also an unimaginative budget, an unambitious budget. The Liberal government has no vision for the future of our country.

 

The Leader of the Opposition, in his budget reply speech, charted a real vision for the future of this country. He addressed the challenges that will face our country as we transition out of the mining boom. Even in opposition, Labor have shown that we have a plan for our country to thrive in the next decade and in the decades beyond that. This Prime Minister, this Treasurer, this Abbott government, by contrast, have designed a budget aimed merely at surviving the next party-room meeting. The Australian people deserve much better than this government.