SPEECH - APPROPRIATION BILL 2015/16 - MONDAY, 25 MAY 2015

In preparing to speak on the appropriation bills, I looked up my speech on the same topic from almost exactly a year ago. It is curious that many of the issues I raised at the time were not only reflected in last year's budget but have also been continued in this year's budget. So, whilst it is almost a year ago to the day, the sentiment is still the same in relation to this year's budget. I would like to make my comments with an emphasis on the Greenway community. From going around my electorate of Greenway listening to constituents over the past week, it is clear that they have two views on this budget; the first is the lack of focus on jobs and the second is the level of unfairness.

 

This budget is not a budget for the future of Australia, nor is it a plan for the people of Greenway; it simply builds on the broken promises and unfairness of last year's budget. We hear all this talk about investment and infrastructure financing, but the fact is that a whopping amount of money in financial assistance grants was ripped from local government in parts of Western Sydney. To name just two, Blacktown City Council will lose $6.7 million over four years and Holroyd City Council will lose $1.4 million over four years. Among other measures that are going to hit Greenway particularly hard are the cuts to family tax benefit which will leave some families $6,000 a year worse off, cuts to paid parental leave which will leave about 80,000 mothers worse off, cuts to the Child Dental Benefit Schedule and $30 billion of cuts to schools.

This budget will hit over 10,000 Greenway families with unfair cuts to the family tax benefit. The Prime Minister said that this budget will not come at the expense of the family budget. I note, however, that a single-income family on $65,000 a year will be as much as $6,000 a year worse off. By kicking families off family tax benefit B when the youngest child turns six and freezing family tax benefit rates, over 10,000 Greenway families are going to be hit by this. It was curious too to hear the Prime Minister talking in question time about wanting to leave people trapped on welfare—this notion that his government is about employment services. I note that, prior to the last election, the ABS put the unemployment rate at 5.7 per cent; today, it is 6.2 per cent. So all this talk about putting people into work is quite useless when you do not have jobs for these people to go to.

As I mentioned almost exactly a year ago, Western Sydney has an unacceptably high youth unemployment rate. Included in that are specific gaps between certain emerging communities, certain people in our communities who find it incredibly hard to find work; they have either arrived as migrants or are second-generation migrants, and they are finding it incredibly hard to find stable work. In Western Sydney, we had programs that were working—programs such as Youth Connections and the Partnership Brokers. Some time ago the Prime Minister went to the United States, and he spoke about a fantastic scheme there that connects young people who are still at school with employment and employers. He said: 'Wouldn't it be great to replicate that scheme in Australia.' How curious that we had a Prime Minister who wanted to replicate that scheme, yet, in his own budget, he cut the very programs that were having a demonstrable effect, an extraordinary success rate, in Western Sydney.

And you do not need to take this from me. I would like to quote from a couple of constituents who have contacted me about this budget, just to illustrate this. The first one is someone named Stephen, who says:

    “Jobs is one of the biggest problems facing young Australians. I have three children of whom one is currently looking for work in the trades. In what appears to be a booming housing and development sector there appears to be no path for young Australians to get into the work force. Mostly there needs to be an education of Australian businesses to nurture these people as they ARE our future.

He also makes some comments in relation to child care and balancing child care and work issues:

    “I am well passed the child care issues but remember those days where my wife broke even in working and sending children to child are. … Lower income families need the system support to get ahead and deserve it. One thing that needs to tie into child care is immunisations. This fact needs to be pushed to help the greater community.

And I support that also, 100 per cent.

To quote from another person, Mr Ali from The Ponds:

    “I think currently the national issue #1 is JOBS. For a large section of our population the job market presents a scenario of doom and gloom. For some getting a job, any stable job is proving to be a dream that is too good to materialise.

On the issue of family tax benefit and how my area is being hit by this I quote from a constituent named Leesa:

    “As a single working Mum with a teenage son with a disability I am disappointed with the budget implications for our family. Family Payment Part B is an essential part of my weekly budget. It allows me to work part time and continue to care for my son without requiring respite or other government assistance. It allows me to balance the competing demands of home and family. By working part time I do not claim a carer's pension—even though I earn only a little above the threshold. Just because my son is older than 6 years does not mean that he requires my care any less. I would ask that the current age of 16 years be maintained.

So, there you have it—some real examples from people in my electorate on some of these issues that go to the cuts contained within this budget.

I would like to mention an extremely important issue that affects my constituents also, and that is this government's attack on paid parental leave. Greenway has one of the highest take-up rates of paid parental leave and in fact it features amongst the 20 hardest hit for these paid parental leave cuts. I also find it extraordinary that this government would seek to make an issue of this scheme, provided under legislation passed by this parliament, and that accessing this scheme and accessing employer schemes is somehow a 'double dip'. And I noticed how quickly this government retreated on these matters of using terms like 'double dipping'. They were not only offensive but just plain, outright wrong. I have gone through from May 2010 some of the current government members' views on some of these matters. It is quite clear. If you look even at the now Prime Minister's comments he is spruiking his rolled gold paid parental leave scheme—the one that he has retreated from, the one that he was so committed to that when he could not get his own side to follow it, to back it in, that he decided to abandon it. He said that this is his signature policy, that this is his principal, that he is a convert and that converts are the biggest zealots. And then he turns around in this budget and wants to push women, who are not only entitled to claim under their employer but also entitled under the law to make claims from this scheme that was put in place—he dares to call them double dippers, to not be embarrassed that some of his own ministers are in a situation where they have accessed it. And then Mr Hockey, the Treasurer, comes out and claims, 'Maybe their wives didn't tell them.' It just gets better and better on this issue of paid parental leave, and I think it shows one thing: that this is a Prime Minister who stands for nothing, and this budget is proof of that.

I want to go to another issue, and that is the modelling that has been done by NATSEM which clearly shows that families are going to be worse off, and worse off more over time, if they are on lower incomes. It is clear from this modelling that a family with a single income of $65,000 and two children will be $6,164 a year worse off by 2018-19, and a single mother with an income of $55,000 and two children will be $6,107 a year worse off by 2018-19. It is proof that this government merely talks about supporting families but when it comes to the crunch does nothing to support them and in fact does the complete opposite. It does not matter how many times this government seeks to call its budget fair; the reality is that it is not. You can also see it from the modelling and the analysis done by ACOSS: more than $15 billion ripped from families and low-income earners under this budget.

I note also that in question time today those opposite chose to claim that this modelling somehow lacked integrity. Well, I would point out that in May last year the Australian reported that NATSEM has previously been 'described by the Prime Minister as Australia's most respected modelling outfit'. It is quite apparent, and people are alive to this. As my constituents have been telling me over the past week, this is a budget that seeks to use the word 'fair' but is not fair in its practice whatsoever.

The last issue I want to mention, which I have taken up on behalf of the residents of Blacktown and also on behalf of one particular organisation, is a matter that I have raised previously in this place, and that is the effects of the cuts that have been continued under this budget on an extremely reputable organisation that has been operating in Blacktown for 41 years. For 41 years Blacktown Community Aid has provided service to the people of Blacktown, helping people in emergency situations, giving them advice and basically enabling them to participate in their community. But these funding cuts have forced Blacktown Community Aid to close its doors, and there is nothing in this budget to indicate that there will be anything to the contrary.

Before the shutdown was imminent, which was in late March, I met with the remaining staff of Blacktown Community Aid, and we agreed that I would make representations on their behalf to the responsible minister, essentially a begging letter drawing the minister's attention to the returns that are achieved by Blacktown Community Aid—and, I might mention, Holroyd Community Aid, which has done an equally exemplary job—for a relatively small outlay. It would say that we would be pleased if the minister would come and see firsthand the work that is done here and the difference it has been making in the community for four decades. I am happy to stand corrected, but the last time I checked I had not, I believe, even received a response to that representation.

There is a situation where we have up to 60 clients each week seeking help from the centre. It is something that not only is supported by Blacktown council and every other non-government organisation, I believe, that exists in Blacktown but also is supported by the community and has been for four decades. To have a situation where we have people who, by and large, volunteer their time and energy for such an important cause is an absolute disgrace and it is an indictment on this government that they have had to shut their doors.

One of the most cruel things about this situation is that Blacktown Community Aid only became aware that it was going to have to close its doors three days before Christmas 2014. Since that time, the community has gotten behind this organisation. I have made strong representations on its behalf, making its case here in the parliament—but this has clearly fallen on deaf ears. I would say to this government that if you are serious about wanting to make a difference in Western Sydney communities and wanting to support people who seek to support themselves and who are seeking a hand up and not a handout then you will support Blacktown Community Aid, the minister will consider the representations that I have made to him and we will be able to reopen Blacktown Community Aid and allow it to continue serving the people of Blacktown.

In closure, this is not a budget which looks at the long-term future and long-term welfare of the people of Western Sydney. What is critical to their long-term future—and I get this not only from parents but from people in our community who are serious about enabling young people to get into work—is a serious focus on science, maths and the jobs of the future. That is what Labor is committed to. That is not only a vision but a reality that can be created by the right policy settings that are focused on the future and focused on technology and not some backward-looking policy with the mere use of words such as 'fair' or phrases such as 'getting people off welfare into work' on the one hand and then on the other hand taking away and cutting all the programs that were actually doing an outstanding job, particularly in Western Sydney and my electorate of Greenway, in getting young people into work, meaningful employment and careers. These were programs that had been supported not only by the organisations which delivered them but by the broader business community, local government and just about every element of the Blacktown business sector. With those comments, it is quite clear from the reaction that I have received from my local residents that this budget is not fair and it is not a budget for the future.

ENDS