I rise tonight to speak on behalf of the electorate of Lalor—my community. My community has really felt the impact of the 2014 budget initiatives, as they are called, and the cuts announced in MYEFO—under the cover of Christmas—in December. I could rise tonight and flippantly talk about the surprises that the Australian public got in the 2014 budget, and the surprises that we are all waiting for with dread in the 2015 budget, but it is too late in the day to speak flippantly about these things.
We have heard many speakers across the 11 months since the last budget. There has been lots of talk about spending and revenue. I stand here proudly, as a Labor member of this parliament representing my community, to say that my community really like the Labor policy around multinational companies and taxation. They like the fact that that is a revenue initiative, because in my community all the talk around cutting spending means more miserable lives, to put it bluntly.
In Lalor we have over 20,000 families with children—the highest number of families in any electorate in Victoria—most of whom are on modest wages. The budget impact on these families is considerable. Whether it be the changes to the family tax benefit, cuts to child care, or the loss of the Schoolkids Bonus, the impacts are considerable and real.
The impacts on the education sector, which of course also impact directly on families, are also real. With 56 schools, the vast majority serving low-SES communities, the impact of the lack of commitment to Gonski funding is something the local principals regularly raise with me. But the cuts in the education space are broader than simply Gonski. The schools in my electorate are full of innovators who take their task seriously. Many have been involved in trials or projects established under the previous Labor government that were designed to drive school improvement. Many were involved in national partnership trials to drive school improvement. The schools in my community take student learning and the improvement of student learning seriously. They applied themselves with rigour, with imagination and with innovation to that task and had great success.
So many of these projects have been cut or have had their funding reduced. The government has cut the national cadetship program and the education department's online diagnostics tools program. They have abolished the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood Joint Working Group to provide advice on students with disability. They have ended the development of the Australian baccalaureate, abolished the improving educational outcomes program, reduced funding to the child early learning and professional support program, reduced funding to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. The list goes on and on.
We talk here often in simple terms, trying to drive through those political points. This litany of woes for my community is what I am here to talk about tonight. It is because the people of my electorate, the people of my community, tell me, when I am home in their electorate, 'Joanne, go up there. Get back up there to Canberra and tell them what these spending cuts mean.'
After an historic low university attendance rate that was lifted post the Bradley review into higher education, and with the low-SES and changes to youth allowance providing incentives previously rarely utilised by the young locals of Lalor, the fear of taking on a $100,000 debt in order to gain a university degree has the potential to push down the attendance rates once again and to leave young people with a huge debt at the start of their working lives.
This cruel budget has far-reaching, debilitating impacts on education at every level, from early childhood through to higher education and postgraduate study. It reflects a difference between those opposite and those on this side. Education for those of us on this side is about investing in our future. Those on the other side merely see it as a cost.
We also have impacts on pensioners, Newstart and employment services. It is not just education that is being impacted in my electorate. We have talked a lot about pensions today, and I have been on my feet twice on that issue, so I will move tonight onto health. When we turn to the health sector, my local community is basically frightened. With a current bulk-billing rate of 93 per cent in the community, the impact of a proposed GP co-payment or, as we saw in the media yesterday, the follow-on effect of the freezing of the GP Medicare rebates to current levels, will also be considerable. When the proposed co-payment was set at $7, this was estimated to be an $11 million impact, on our local economy—$11 million diverted from our local economy. This will be true if it is the $8 hidden cost that we are going to see now because, by stealth, this government insists that it will continue to pursue this.
The cuts to health funding have the potential to impact on services at the Werribee Mercy Hospital. This is a service, a hospital, that was designed to serve a population of 90,000 and is now serving a population of 200,000. This service is desperate for additional funds, not cuts, and cost-shifting to the state government is not going to see money rolling into the Mercy hospital to service those 200,000 people.
Today in the media we see services in the mental health field worried about their future after 30 June, when their current service agreements reach their end. This is a pattern from this government. There has been a pattern of leaving different sectors in limbo as they wait. It is debilitating for these organisations to be left in this space for such a long time. We are now 18 months into this government, and I will credit that it took some people opposite a while to adjust to being in government; I could argue that some of them still have not adjusted to being in government. But on the ground, in communities, the impact is extraordinary, and in mine it is the same. A small mental health art service might not seem important, but often this type of program not only is offering a service to someone with a mental illness but provides a few hours of respite for the family.
Wyndham City Council is set to lose funding for its Healthy Communities program. We heard the member for Ballarat and the shadow minister in here speaking about this earlier. In an area with high obesity and diabetes rates, this vital program will end soon, part of the $368 million in cuts to preventative programs that actually cut health costs in the future by keeping people well and out of hospitals for specialist surgeries.
The list goes on and on. Wyndham Legal Service is facing a $240,000 cut over the next two years. This is a service utilised by those experiencing family violence, young offenders and the newly arrived migrant communities—vital services, the lack of which will leave our local residents without representation when attending court. The government has also left peak organisations who advocate for the poor and oppressed, including Homelessness Australia, Financial Counselling Australia and National Shelter, with an uncertain future and with no certainty about ongoing funding. We heard the minister this week dismiss advocacy out of hand with a comment that this will not be about symbolism. Keeping the needs of our most vulnerable at the forefront of our minds in this place is critical work. If we cannot see the problems, if we do not see the impact, if we do not see how tough people are doing it, then how will we continue to address it? I would go so far as to say that it is my belief that this government has an aversion to data and to monitoring the conditions in our communities, because if you do not see it you cannot be held accountable for not acting on it.
We are about to leave this place for six weeks, and the next time we meet will be budget week. What can my community expect from this budget? Minister Pyne has told us that we are in for some surprises. The Treasurer has told us that it will be dull. The questions in my community are ringing in my ears. Will local schools face further cuts to the Gonski funding model—perhaps cuts to years 3 and 4 in addition to the current cuts to years 5 and 6? I have no doubt that there will be changes to higher education, as Minister Pyne has already indicated his surprise.
Having failed to secure agreement on changes to Newstart in the Senate, I have every reason to believe those on pensions, the disability pension and Newstart payments in Lalor and across the country will be targeted in this year's budget. I hope I am wrong, but I am already standing here knowing that the cuts in the health system are leaving my hospital unable to service a community of 200,000. I ask this government to please stop talking about spending and start having a look at revenue.