Pages tagged "Speeches"

  • Family Assistance Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Childcare Measures) Bill 2014

    I rise this evening to oppose the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Measures) Bill 2014 currently before the House. I oppose it like my Labor colleagues because it seeks to freeze indexation not just on the non means-tested Child Care Rebate but also on the income thresholds of the means-tested Child Care Benefit.

    This bill seeks to cut $336 million from childcare support that lower and middle income families across Australia currently rely on. They rely on this to make ends meet, to pay the mortgage, to pay the bills and to buy the groceries.

    Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not sure if you have ever popped down to my part of Australia, but, if you have, you will have noted that the population is predominantly made up of families. We have a welcoming and affordable community and many families—in fact, almost 60,000—choose to make Lalor their home. We have huge new housing estates and schools that regularly welcome 250 new preps each year. We have the highest number of births in Victoria—in fact, 70 births a week, which sees the maternity ward at the Werribee Mercy Hospital bursting at the seams. It also means we have a huge number of playgroups and a vibrant kindergarten community. It means also that we have a thriving childcare system.

    Families in Lalor rely on the provision of child care. They rely on it because cost-of-living pressures mean families have both parents working to make ends meet. They rely on it because women in our community also know the value of being connected in the workforce and the benefits that brings for themselves and for their families. These are not families that choose a nanny or an au pair as a childcare option; that is out of reach. They rely on the usual forms of child care. They rely on well-resourced centres that provide structured early learning. They rely on family day care, particularly valued by the many shift workers for its flexibility, and they rely on out-of-school-hours care for school aged kids. The families in Lalor work hard, often for modest wages, and, as such, these families also value the current childcare assistance provided by government.

    There are only five electorates across Australia that have more than 10,000 families utilising child care. Lalor is one of them. Indeed, almost 10½ thousand families in Lalor use formal child care and around 9½ thousand of those receive some form of childcare benefit. The impact of the changes to childcare funding in this bill on our community will be huge.

    Families in Lalor may have taken the time to read the coalition's election policy document, titled The coalition's policy for better child care and early learning September 2013. You will note from the date that it was a policy that was taken to the election last year. While it was lacking any real forward direction, it did provide some comfort for families. I would like to remind families of some of its key points. I quote from that document:

    Our approach will ease the financial burden placed on child care centres and families, without compromising the standard of care that must be provided.
    They went further:

    The Coalition understands that many families are struggling to find high quality child care that is flexible and affordable enough to meet their needs.
    They quoted ABS data and said that it:

    … shows that child care costs to parents have increased by 27 per cent over the past three years.
    The coalition said that it was:

    … concerned that parents all over the country are reassessing whether they can afford good quality childcare, or the number of days … per week they use.
    Another quote says:

    We understand that there is a direct relationship between affordable child care and the amount of hours parents—especially women—can work.
    I think it is fair to suggest that there is a theme coming from those extracts—that the document developed a theme around the issue of costs of child care. I think it could be said that this policy document that the now government took to the election raised expectations in the community that the cost of child care was something they were concerned about. Some may have even thought that this document implied that they would offer a solution.

    As actions speak louder than words, what is it that the government have done to support the working families across Australia to meet the costs of child care? Not much. I would go further and say they are actively making it more difficult for families. Let us look at what they have actually done. They have stripped away almost $1 billion from early education and care. They have taken $400 million from out-of-school-hours care and $157 million from family day care. The support for parents to study and go back to work is gone. Programs to increase childcare places have been slashed. Funding has been taken from the Indigenous child and family centres and $300 million set aside to support low-paid early childhood educators has been cut.

    What will they do? The measure that this bill seeks to implement, according to the education department, will leave over 500,000 families worse off through the changes to the childcare benefit alone. This bill will cut modest, targeted and means-tested childcare support from families earning as little as $42,000 a year. Most worrying, however, is that this measure is being introduced with minimal analysis of the impact. Who will these measures hurt and how much extra will families have to pay? The truth is, we do not know; the work has not been done.

    It is also worrying that it is being done on the back of the $157 million dollar cuts to family day care that I mentioned earlier. This measure alone is causing enormous angst in our community. A local newspaper reports that family day carers have warned they will be forced to close if a $500 administrative levy touted by local council in response to cuts in the federal budget for family day care is imposed. I can tell you what the impact of that will be if it eventuates in Lalor. Already oversubscribed childcare centres would be swamped with new enrolees. Why is this being rushed through this week, when the government has a current Productivity Commission inquiry into child care and early childhood learning? What will that inquiry find? What action will this government take when those findings are released? Based on current form, more cuts would be my suggestion.

    This initiative is yet another example of this government's broken promises and twisted priorities. Why introduce such a measure, such a hurtful cut? And why do it while stubbornly insisting on retaining the deeply unpopular and unfair paid parental leave scheme?

    We know this government is very keen to provide assistance to allow for nannies and au-pairs to be brought into the childcare rebate system. But these are options not utilised by many in our community. Indeed, very few families across Australia can afford them. Whilst doing this, the government sees fit to remove the very support that assists low- and middle-income families and supports women to remain productive in the workforce.

    I feel a little like a telemarketer tonight—or like the member for Wentworth on one of his question time rants—because there is more. Whilst this bill introduces measures to reduce childcare benefit payments, there are still more government measures to come. I suspect the government does not fully understand the impact of those changes either. The Jobs Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance program assists parents to return to the workforce. There are over 550 families in Lalor benefiting from this program. There is a similar number of families in my colleagues' electorates, like Watson, Blaxland and Rankin, and in some coalition electorates like Dobell, where 550 families have benefited. But I do not think the Prime Minister, in Warringah, understands. There are only 90 in Wentworth and there are only 60 in North Sydney that are probably not aware of the benefits of this program. Only 70 in Higgins have benefited. The benefits of the JET programs would hardly hit the radar of those on the front bench opposite.

    It may also surprise some that out-of-school hours care accounts for approximately 55 per cent of childcare services. This government has cut $450 million from this program. This is money that assists out-of-school hours programs to be established. In an electorate like Lalor where we have new schools opening every year with huge numbers of new students joining our schools throughout the year, this funding is vital. It allows new services to open, for hours to be extended and for homework support to be offered. All of this is now at risk. Labor worked hard to increase access to out-of-school hours care. Over 100,000 more families now utilise this care across Australia, because of Labor. That is all at risk.

    Another cruel budget cut is the accessibility fund, a fund designed to assist local councils to increase childcare provision by expanding centres, freeing up vacant land for centres to be built and to allow for centres to be incorporated into TAFEs and schools. Those opposite would have limited understanding of the impact of this measure. Lalor has 123 childcare centres serving 10,500 families; Warringah has 128 centres serving 7,000 families. Do the maths. It is easy to see from these figures where there is pressure for the new childcare centres and the electorates most in need. It is not the electorates currently held by those in cabinet.

    For the government to introduce this bill, I naively—like many others—assumed there must have been support. So I looked to some major stakeholders. I found no support. There was no support from Early Childhood Australia. There was no support from Family Day Care Australia. There was no support from the Early Learning Association Australia nor from the Australian child care coalition. There was none even—as the member for Shortland outlined—from the Australian Industry Group. All oppose the measures.

    Labor has a proud history of supporting families in the early childhood years. Labor increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. Labor made changes to have the rebate paid fortnightly. It introduced the quality standard frames. It improved the staff-child ratios. It established the Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority. It introduced the quality rating system. It provided for 15 hours a week for universal access to kindergarten. Labor did these things because Labor understands that it is not just about cost, it is also about quality. Labor understands both the pressures on families and the way support can assist. We understand that women want to remain connected in the workforce. We know both the value of women's participation in the workforce and the impact on productivity and on the economy of providing incentives to work.

    A study by the Grattan Institute in 2012 showed that if Australia could match the level of workforce participation achieved in Canada, it would result in our economy being possibly $35 billion better off. How did Canada achieve this result? It invested in childcare rebates. It did not come cheap. The cost of the rebates went from $300 million in 1997 to $2.2 billion in 2012, but the return was a $35 billion boost to the economy. This current government does not seem to understand that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Labor understands that you need to invest in our children to grow our future and our economy.

    There are 10,500 families in Lalor that utilise child care, and almost one million across Australia will be impacted. The sector does not support the measures. It knows both the value of an active, engaged workforce and the impact of childcare support to achieve this. There is a current Productivity Commission inquiry into child care. For some reason, the government is keen to rush these measures through without support, with the huge impact not yet appropriately measured and with the Productivity Commission report coming. It makes no sense.

    I would finish with a few observations about this bill. This bill encapsulates all that is wrong with this government's budget and with all that is wrong with this government's logic and rhetoric. The implications of this bill for families across the country show us clearly that, contrary to the Treasurer's words, the age of entitlement is not over. Entitlement is very clearly enshrined for some Australians in the policy to give millionaires $50,000 and paid parental leave for the first six months of their child's life. No, Deputy Speaker, with this bill we see clearly that for working mothers and fathers who utilise child care in this country and for countless other Australians being hurt by this government's budget measures, it is the age of fairness that is over.

  • Impact of Budget on Economy

    My electorate of Lalor is one of the highest growth areas in Australia; it is also going to be one of the electorates most affected by this budget of broken promises and twisted priorities. Lalor is home to lots of young families and pensioners. We have lots of single families and a high proportion of those living with a disability. There are approximately 10,000 aged pensioners and 5000 disability support pensioners in Lalor. We have a 92 per cent bulk-billing rate. We have 3300 students with a disability in our local schools. The youth unemployment rate is high and getting higher.

    These are the people to be most immediately affected by this budget. They will be affected by the GP co-payment, the increases to university and training costs and the cuts to the Schoolkids Bonus, to carers payments, to the Tools for our Trade program and to the pension. All this means less money being injected into our local economy. This is the immediate known local impact. It is a scenario being repeated across the country. As communities take the time to digest this cruel budget, many have raised the potential impact on the local economy. Some are even saying that they can see the possibility of a local recession.

    My locals are sending a very loud and clear message. A coffee shop has already reported a downturn in trade and the neighbouring jeweller is saying the same. A local builder bailed me up at the footy and expressed concern for his business. Could people still afford to make home improvements after the cost of living pressures announced in the budget? Would he be able to keep on the apprentice or would he need to put him off, due to work drying up? Down at the homemaker centre, the worry is that people will no longer upgrade their white goods and furniture, if their incomes are reduced.

    My community is not unique. If this is the talk in the streets of Werribee, Tarneit and Point Cook, I am sure these are the conversations being held in Western Sydney, in the suburbs in the outskirts of Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. The local businesses in Lalor would not regard themselves as economists, but they know enough to know that the confidence of households is paramount to the success of the economy. And they are backed by the economists. As we have heard already, the June Westpac/Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment data—and I will repeat it, because I am not sure those opposite are reading the same information—said:

    The Index is still in firmly pessimistic territory … down 6.6% from its pre-Budget level in April and 15.6% below its post-election high in November last year.
    The Dun and Bradstreet Consumer Financial Stress Index has shown Australian financial stress levels have risen by almost a third, from 13 per cent in September last year to a current level of 18.7 per cent. Dun and Bradstreet also found in their Business Expectations Survey that 59 per cent of businesses are concerned about the impact of the federal budget on their operations—59 per cent. That is the budget delivered in this chamber by this government. Today we saw, the Reject Shop and Pacific Brands, amongst a slew of retail business, record profit downgrades. And the Reserve Bank indicated just yesterday that 'the unemployment rate is expected to remain elevated' over the next two years.

    The people in my electorate of Lalor are not so far wrong about this budget. Through its cuts to household budgets, this government is risking the largest source of growth the economy has—consumption, which makes up more than half of all economic activity in Australia. The recent national accounts showed an economy that is being held up almost entirely by our mining exports. The experts know that if households do not spend, business will continue to sit on the sidelines and the economy will be unable to fill the gap left by rapidly falling investment in the mining sector.

    Budgets are about priorities—they shine a light on what a government believes—and this budget is no different At a time when wages growth is at its lowest level in 17 years, this government has delivered a budget full of shocks and surprises, which cut household budgets and which will do nothing to encourage households to feel confident about the future. Our local community is still digesting the news about the Toyota and the GMH closures and the loss of a projected 4,000 jobs in our immediate area. Last week the local shipbuilding industry also took a hit. You can only imagine the impact on consumer confidence this news has had on our local people.

    This is a cruel and unfair budget—some are saying it is the most damaging budget in over a decade. This is a budget that divides Australia; it is a budget that puts our economic future at risk; and it is a budget that this side rejects.

  • Budget Cuts and Taxes

    The Prime Minister yesterday in question time said that he had brought down the budget the Australian people elected him to deliver. Well, I am sure the Australian people are very surprised to hear that. The 30,000 who marched to bust the budget on Thursday certainly disagree. I know in my electorate there is a new saying: 'No cuts to health—yeah, right'. And in schools and universities around the country they are saying, 'No cuts to education—yeah, sure'. The Australian people did not vote for this unfair budget. They could not have, because they were not told what nasty surprises it would contain. They were not told about the cuts to the family tax benefit that will impact on hundreds and thousands of families. They were not told about a GP tax that would discourage attendance at the doctor. They were not told about a petrol tax. They were of told about changes and cuts to pensions and concessions. They were not told about the changes to Newstart eligibility. They were not told that this government would introduce an unfair budget that punishes the most vulnerable in their household incomes while leaving the wealthy and the big corporations to continue to receive support from taxpayers. The Australian public did not vote for this budget. They did not vote for the unfair Australia that this government is determined to create.

  • Mr Barry Jones

    It is with enormous pleasure that I stand today as the current member for Lalor to congratulate one of our former representatives, the Hon. Barry Jones, on being awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia in 2014. Barry has received this honour for eminent service to the community as a leading intellectual in Australian public life.

    Once an Australian quiz champion, Barry's political career started in the Victorian parliament as the member for Melbourne from 1972 to 1977. He served the people of Lalor in the Australian parliament from 1977 to 1998 and is best known for his contribution as science minister for the Hawke government from 1983 to 1990. Barry also presided over the growth of organisations such as CSIRO and the creation of the Australia prize for scientific research. Barry was a very well-respected, hardworking representative for Lalor. With the State Research Farm and aerospace facilities in our electorate, it was well suited to have the science minister as our representative.

    In 1993, Barry was honoured as an Officer of the Order of Australia for his services to the promotion of science, the arts and film, writing and Australian politics. It is fitting that a person who has contributed so much to society has now been recognised as a Companion of the Order of Australia. On behalf of the people of Lalor, I congratulate Barry Jones.

  • Migration

    Many individuals in my electorate of Lalor have already raised their grave concerns regarding the abolition of various sub-classes of the non-contributory parent visa. After stating in Senate budget estimates last week that they were 'not sure' when the changes would take effect, here we are this week with the repeal lodged in the House of Representatives. This again shows the Abbott government creating a society of haves and have nots—again, another policy that means that if you have money, you will be right; if you don't—too bad!

    Under the contributory parent stream, it has been reported that some of these visa applications are costing up to $125,000. So low- and middle-income families that have, until now, had the hope of being reunited permanently with family members have lost that hope—unless they can afford to pay thousands of dollars. There was no community consultation, and no warning of when this would happen. The government have just ignored how very important these visas are for the families that are granted them. It is mean-spirited to only allow family reunion to those who can dig deep into their pockets and just ruin the hopes of the less fortunate. Many in my community will be negatively affected, and I implore the government to keep these sub-classes of visas.

  • LeadWest Education Report

    I rise to inform the House of a report by Dr Ruth Morton, commissioned by LeadWest, on young people aged between 10 and 14 of the western suburbs of Melbourne who are falling out of school. This report, using Census data, identified the alarming situation where 2,680 students—that is, six per cent—across six LGAs, including my electorate, are not attending school. Educators worked tirelessly to follow up on absences and adopt processes to ease the transition for students moving from primary to secondary school. Many schools employ attendance officers and welfare officers to provide the much needed support to students and families to keep students engaged at school. Whilst national partnerships money has supported this work in recent years and allowed success stories of re-engagement, transition and improved attendance for at-risk students, federal cuts to this funding will impact negatively. There has been a failure to understand that schools receive no specific funding for this critical work. Without funding, more vulnerable young children aged 10 to 14 will drop out of the system.

    I commend Mr Craig Rowley, CEO of LeadWest, and Dr Ruth Morton for their work and commitment to the development of this report. I am sure that schools and local councils will be pleased to see the issue highlighted and would welcome any support from governments to reduce the number of such young students not attending school at such a critical time in their development.

  • Mercy Health

    I met last week with the executive team from Werribee Mercy Hospital. The Mercy deliver great service to our local community. They have a strong vision for the future of health provision in our area. Wyndham's population is about to reach 200,000. The number of households is expected to double again by 2030. The Werribee Mercy was established in 1994, when the population was estimated to reach around 90,000 in 2004. At the time the local community hospital was the correct service for the area and, despite this huge growth in population, it serves us well, but for how much longer?

    Mercy Health in Werribee has an extremely well-trained and dedicated staff. Some of the top experts in Victoria choose to work at this service. What the Mercy needs are the facilities to serve this high-growth community. If you present to the Mercy Hospital today with a heart attack, the staff are very well trained to save and stabilise you, but for your long-term ongoing treatment you need to be transferred. At my recent meeting I was told of a doctor spending six hours on the phone to other hospitals trying to secure a transfer for a patient. If the hospital had a coronary care unit, this would have been avoided, meaning the doctor would have been back treating patients in the emergency department. If you are a patient in the ward who unfortunately has a critical incident, you are also likely to be transferred to the emergency department to be stabilised at our local hospital. The six closest hospitals to the Mercy where patients are transferred to are, on average, 35 kilometres away. This lack of critical care services compromises patient care and increases clinical risk.

    In the electorate of Lalor, there is a huge number of young families and nearly 70 babies are born each week. There is great need for maternity services. The Mercy team know if they had the appropriate facilities they could provide care for approximately 80 per cent of local women; currently the rate is around 48 per cent. They need 10 more obstetric beds now, let alone extra needed for the predicted growth. Current estimates are that around 40 per cent of the general healthcare needs of my community are being met by the Werribee Mercy, meaning 60 per cent leave the area to obtain health care. There will always be cases that need very specialised services only available in our larger teaching hospitals. It is not appropriate for all hospitals to provide all services, but surely the percentage should be much higher than 40 per cent? Mercy Health has undertaken detailed planning for a carefully staged master plan. They take the provision of health care very seriously and their plans are based on sensible, well-targeted needs. In the past the federal Labor government has worked with this service to fund growth, most recently providing $28 million for subacute beds and a rehabilitation unit. I plan to work closely with Mercy Health to ensure this government hears loud and clear what the health service needs are for my electorate.

  • Budget Appropriation Bills

    As Ross Gittins outlined earlier in the week, this budget is all about shifting—cost shifting and blame shifting. It shifts cost to the states, families, pensioners, students and young adults. It shifts the blame to welfare recipients, to parents, to the vulnerable.

    I have spoken on several occasions in the past weeks about the impact of this year's budget on my electorate of Lalor, about the cruel budget cuts and the impact this will have on education provision, from our youngest pre-schoolers to our rapidly expanding school system and for our young adults to access university, TAFE, apprenticeship and employment support. But today I want to focus on something different—the impact of this budget on women.

    The average gap between men and women's earnings in Australia is approximately 17 per cent. We know that women take time out of the workforce for child rearing and caring responsibilities in much higher numbers than men. Women are often employed in part-time positions so that they can juggle their family responsibilities, and they are under-represented in high-paid executive positions. These factors alone mean this year's federal budget will result in a disproportionate impact on women.

    I agree that responsible governments will always look for ways to ensure we keep spending under control. This is as it should be. But much has been made about all sections of Australia sharing the burden, when the reality of this budget means it is unfairly weighted against women. As we know, this year's budget was the first budget since 2005 not to include a family impact statement. It is also missing a women's impact statement, a tradition that goes back 30 years. This has meant it has taken time to assess the impact in full. However, we are fortunate that the ANU and the National Foundation for Australian Women, amongst others, have taken the time to unpack the potential impact on women. The budget savings have been shown to fall disproportionately on those who rely on benefit payments. Which group is in the majority for relying on benefit payments? Women. This means this budget adversely affects women. Those women in caring roles, those women with low or modest incomes and especially those young women making a start in education training or the workforce.

    Women want to engage in the workforce. They also want to provide for their families. This means many juggle work and caring responsibilities with part-time work and with periods of time out of the workforce. A paid parental leave scheme is a great way to support women during their child-rearing years. That is why Labor introduced a sensible scheme in the last parliament. This government, however, is committed to its deeply unpopular, gold-plated parental leave scheme—paying women on high incomes $50,000 while others receive so much less or indeed nothing if they are out of the workforce. This expensive, token bone thrown to women who do not need it is designed to mask the real nasties in this budget: the cost-shifting to women who can least afford it. And it may well be less token, this commitment to the rolled gold PPL scheme, given there is not one cent allocated in this year's budget—that is right, there is no income source identified in this year's budget for the Prime Minister's gold-plated parental leave scheme.

    A paid parental leave scheme is one part of the women's workforce participation puzzle. Child care is another. The changes to family benefit and the increased cost for health services will necessitate women returning to work. We know women are already under-represented in the workforce, are concentrated in service industries and earn less than men. This government is introducing a range of measures that will punish women into the workforce—in itself not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your perspective; however, at the same time the government is choosing to withdraw existing support for women to work. Single parent families are predominantly headed by women. The learn or earn requirement will be difficult for these women to meet unless there is suitable access to child care, especially out-of-school-hours care. So what does this government do? It changes various childcare support measures. It has frozen the cap on the childcare rebate and the threshold for eligibility. This will have the impact of making child care less affordable, especially for low-income women. The Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance will drop from 50 hours to 35 hours per week. Cuts to Aboriginal Child and Family Centres will hurt Indigenous women. There has been $450 million cut from out-of-school-hours care, and the abolition of the program that provides training places for teenage parents will hit young women before they even get a chance to enter the workforce. They will be left with the prospect of a life of low-paid, low-skilled work.

    And where they have got support, like the much-lauded Trade Support Loans scheme, it is heavily weighted to male-dominated industries. It will do very little to support female apprentices. For those women wishing to start or to return to the workforce by returning to study or by upgrading their skills, this budget just brings more bad news. This budget contains no new measures to encourage participation. And just when women might have been making healthier contributions to their superannuation in their 40s and beyond, they may now be left to support their young adult children up to the age of 30 due to changes to Youth Allowance and Newstart. We know that women retire with less than their male counterparts. In recent years Labor introduced measures to try to address this: the increased rate to the Superannuation Guarantee and the low-income superannuation contribution. The budget measures to defer the increase to the Superannuation Guarantee and the abolition of the low-income superannuation scheme will have a greater impact on women, who are more highly represented in low-income employment.

    The list of fails for women in this budget are extraordinary. There is an impact with the health measures. Medicare was established 30 years ago. It is our much-lauded universal health system, the envy of many other countries. This budget puts that under threat. The burden of the GP co-payments again will fall unfairly on women. The planned GP co-payment is not just a pressure on the cost of living but a back doorway to eroding the Medicare system. It the pathway to a two-tiered health system for the haves and the have-nots. And who are the have-nots? By and large, they will be women. As already outlined, women are generally lower paid, so the impact of the GP co-payment will have a disproportionate effect on them.

    Women often take on the role of health manager in families. We know that visits by women make up around 60 per cent of visits to the GP. Mothers take their children, and often their elderly parents, in addition to attending for their own needs. For many on fixed incomes, this financial pressure will be an extreme burden. These women as health managers will also be disappointed by the withdrawal of preventive health programs. Keeping family members well and out of the health system through these beneficial programs will now be far more difficult. My electorate has an extremely high rate of diabetes, obesity, kidney problems and macular degeneration. Progress was being made through preventive health programs; this is now all at risk. The breakdown of the health agreements with the states will also impact negatively on the health system, adding pressure on health provision. Lalor is already under-resourced for its population size, and it seems no relief is in sight for additional resources coming our way.

    Many of you know that, as a former school principal, I know what it is like to work in an area with low-SES families, with a high number of migrant students and students with a disability. You also know that I am a passionate advocate for the Gonski school funding model. Low-income families—the majority headed by women—were set to be the most supported families through these reforms. Bringing each school to an even standard meant many of the schools where I previously taught would receive an unprecedented level of funding—funding that would have enabled them to provide additional programs, employ specialist teachers, develop and support existing staff, have homework clubs and extra tutoring and provide equipment and textbooks when families could not afford to provide them. Education is a powerful tool to lift children out of a cycle of poverty and struggle. The dream for many women—to see their children succeed—is now dashed by the cruel cuts to the Gonski model. And the assistance to families on benefits twice a year, through the schoolkids bonus, to help pay for uniforms, books and excursions, was an early cruel cut by this government.

    What does this budget offer the young women who do make it through and endeavour to take on further training? The Industry Skills Fund, a loan to VET students to support them through their studies, does very little to support female VET students, as it is weighted heavily to male-dominated trades. For those women who may benefit—if you call starting your career with a significant loan to repay a benefit—the lower incomes generally earned by women mean a longer loan repayment period, resulting in higher interest repayments. In a similar way, the deregulation plans for the university sector will also impact more adversely on women for the same reasons: lower pay and longer repayment times, resulting in more interest accrued and a higher debt.

    Women currently make up 57 per cent of the higher education population. The current system has allowed for this growth in female participation in the tertiary education sector. What will this new system do? Once young women understand the financial implications, women will be caught in an education catch-22. They will need to learn to earn and then earn forever to pay for that learning. Even other small program cuts, like cuts to the workplace English language program, the VET fee waiver for childcare qualifications and the training program for teenage parents, all will have a detrimental impact, mostly on women.

    The more we unpick this budget the worse the outlook is. I already knew that it would have a terrible impact on education, on health, on pensioners and on the young, but the common thread that runs throughout is women. I am not sure why this surprises me. The Office for Women has been swallowed up by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The minister for women shows no signs in this policy area for it to be a priority, other than tips on ironing. There is only one woman in the cabinet. Women make up 24 of the 125 LNP members and senators, and only one has, on merit, been included in the cabinet of this government. This budget is the first in 30 years not to include a women's impact statement.

    Are these things indicative of an oversight, or of malice? Did no-one think to put a lens over the budget to test its imposts on women? Either way, it is a timely reminder that women can never afford to be complacent. I have rarely entered the women's debate. I have had the advantage of women going before me and changing the world. I believe strongly that women can stand on their merits and get ahead; I have seen so many strong women do just that. But recent history, and this budget, has taught me not to take the place of women in this society for granted. Australia is known for its sense of the fair go. This budget, however, has ripped away many beneficial programs that enable women to access that fair go. I implore the women from the government benches to take the time to read the budget analysis by the National Foundation for Australian Women.

    In conclusion, I would like to make a few further points. This budget is built on a fabrication. First, the government attempted to establish a budget emergency. It has only taken a few weeks for the economists to put that argument to bed—and I believe the Australian public understand that now. Second, this budget sets up a divide between the haves and the have-nots, and the government's rhetoric lauds the taxpayer and demonises some mythical nontaxpayer for being a burden on the bottom line. The reality is that most pensioners have contributed throughout their working lives—and most women have contributed—and through access to education and training we can have a productive economy, with close to full employment, where our young people also can make their contributions.

    So why make these cruel changes? Why do we have a budget where an unemployed lone parent with one eight-year-old child will lose $54 a week; where low-income earners, disproportionately women, lose $500 a year with the repeal of the low income super contribution; and where sole parents working part-time or on benefits stand to lose more than $3,000 a year? The budget fails the fairness and equity test. Australia is a mature society where we value the fair go and those who work hard get ahead. This budget does not reflect the Australia I know and love. I call on the government to rethink its budget measures and ensure Australia remains a strong and equitable society.

  • Australian National Preventive Health Agency (Abolition) Bill 2014

    I rise like many of my colleagues to oppose the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (Abolition) Bill 201. Abolishing the Australian National Preventive Health Agency is a retrograde step but, sadly, is typical of this government's actions when it comes to health. It makes a huge case about the long-term costs of health for our ageing population—to justify cuts to spending—but fails to understand the old adage 'a stitch in time saves nine'.

    Minister Dutton, the member for Dickson, has regaled us almost daily about a lack of frontline services in health spending like a tone deaf harpsichord player—discordant, aggressive and meaningless—and not just tone deaf but deaf to any voice but his own. Most alarmingly, the minister seems to be deaf to experts.

    When Labor introduced the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, it did so with advice from the National Heart Foundation, the Public Health Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Labor established the Australian National Preventive Health Agency with an eye on health outcomes and an eye on the rising costs of health care in this country. It did so because preventative health care is a sensible way to keep our community healthy and to reduce costly hospital and specialist treatments. In stark contrast, the 'minister for a less-healthy Australia', introduces this legislation and shows a decided lack of understanding and vision for a healthy Australia.

    The National Preventive Health Agency was established to take a national leadership role in preventative health, to coordinate, analyse and advise on key statistics and data in relation to chronic disease and prevention, to deliver and administer a preventative health research fund and to look closely at data to inform health strategies that will (a) improve health and (b) reduce the costs of health care into the future.

    Data provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare tells us that the 672,000 hospital admissions in 2011-12 could have been avoided if we invested in primary care. This number includes selected chronic conditions: 38,500 with asthma, 51,000 with congestive heart failure, 68,000 with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 87,000 with diabetes.

    Data like that from the OECD in 2009 tells us that our hospitalisation rates are among the world's highest. They are higher than the OECD average, higher than those in the US and the UK and double the rate in Canada. Data provided by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in 2014 tells us that GPs provide comparatively cheap primary care: antenatal care with a GP costs $47 and at a hospital $223; a sexual health visit at a GP could cost $70 and at a hospital $253; vivisection for a GP costs $73 and at a hospital $438; a skin biopsy at the GP would cost $63 and at a hospital $289; and, wound management at a GP would cost $36 and at a hospital $162.

    To date, this task has been undertaken with great professionalism and the links developed to health services across Australia have been invaluable. I know in my electorate, where diabetes, obesity, kidney, dental and eye health problems are prevalent, the relationships established through the Medicare Local, the GP superclinic, the headspace centre, ISIS Primary Care, private GP's and the Mercy Hospital have been terrific—all critically working together to improve health outcomes and the impact was flowing through. All this hard work could now be lost.

    The Labor government knew the value of preventative health and supported the health system with services like those I just mentioned. We built GP superclinics, we established Medicare Locals, we funded headspace centres and, through national health agreements, we provided much-needed funds to hospitals for infrastructure.

    In contrast, this government has no positive future plans for health services and this repeal bill is one small demonstration of that fact. In fact, I am having trouble working out what it is that the Abbott government ministers will being doing with their time, given the number of programs they have cut and the agencies they plan to abolish or amalgamate. Why would a government have such a short-sighted approach? A quick fix on the bottom line for the next year will result in an extra burden being placed on the health system in the future. It just makes no sense.

    Why would a government and a health minister attack important efforts in preventive health? We see it again today in an article in TheDaily Telegraph trivialising the work in the preventative health sphere. We have heard members opposite speak of this today. The ANPHA funded the promotion of the My Quit Buddy app at Summernats, an event that attracts over 100,000 men who are principally 25 to 40 years old—a target group which is difficult to get to take health seriously and a core target audience for the National Tobacco Campaign. The campaign clearly had an effect with 55,000 downloads of the app at Summernats in January, compared with 19,000 in the month prior—a threefold increase in one month.

    One of the most fundamental mistakes of policymakers is to try and make change from the top without bringing the sector with you and to make change without the active engagement of third parties. I have seen this in education and it is logically the case for health policy. The way this government has approached health initiatives in this budget is to focus more on running it as a business, rather than looking at how you achieve reform to the health system and how efficiencies translate into better care and improved health outcomes.

    I heard of a case recently in my electorate where a local hospital emergency ward doctor spent six hours on the phone trying to secure a patient transfer, six hours he could have spent treating other patients. There must be a way to ensure efficiencies. I do not know the details of this patient's health issue but perhaps a well-resourced preventative health service may have avoided his emergency room visit in the first place.

    The only thing this government appears to have tried to achieve in this budget is savings and the government appears to want to achieve those savings with little care or consideration for what the effect will be. The savings the government appears determined to achieve will hit at every level of the system: with this bill and the resulting cuts to preventive health programs, by imposing barriers to accessing primary care through additional out-of-pocket costs, by increasing the cost of medicines, by freezing rebates for specialist services and, of course, by cutting billions of dollars from the hospital system and public dental services.

    These are not sensible savings; they are not savings that are reinvested back into strengthening Medicare or providing better access to services.

    The intention to charge for GP visits, including for those that have to this point been bulk billed, is such an inequitable measure, as it actually provides a disincentive for GPs to bulk bill. And of course it is a solution based on a problem that does not exist. Australia does not have a higher level of GP consultations than the OECD average. With our ageing population and increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the Preventive Health Agency was rightly focused on measures that keep the population healthy and out of hospital. This is not what the changes proposed by this government will do. They will damage the system and not only stall the advances we have made but take health outcomes back decades.

    In my electorate of Lalor we are well served by Mercy Health. However, this service was designed for an estimated population of 90,000. We will hit 200,000 people next month, and this government has no plans for the growth of that service—no plans to extend services in this high-growth area and only punitive measures taking away existing services. I will not and cannot support the erosion of Medicare, in any of the forms the government is trying, whether it be the GP tax, increasing the cost of medicines or cutting funding to public hospitals. I am and remain very concerned about the government intentions in relation to private health insurance and primary care. I want to support more funding for medical research, but not off the back of taxing people when they are sick.

    I watched with interest as Labor introduced many health reforms in the previous two parliaments. Labor in government embarked on a substantial period of health reform through the health and hospitals reform process. I saw the hard work, firstly of Nicola Roxon and then of Tanya Plibersek, to secure these agreements with the states. These were great achievements, and there were other milestones. We achieved things like the highest rate of bulk billing in Medicare's history; more in public hospitals, with the establishment of new efficient mechanisms to start to fund them into the future; heavy investment in new medical research facilities; new cancer centres in our regions; the establishment of e-health systems; upgrades and new integrated GP clinics; primary and community health centres; and Aboriginal medical services, to name a few.

    Labor established Medicare Locals to provide a mechanism to directly support the integration between primary care and hospitals, to close gaps in service delivery and to address population health issues at the local level. I meet regularly with the team from the South Western Melbourne Medicare Local and am always impressed with the hard work and dedication of the team. And when I meet with other local health service providers, even those who were sceptical at first, they now sing the praises of this Labor initiative.

    It is worth noting again that the cuts to health by this government are ill advised and will hurt the Australian population in the short and long term—and it is not just Labor saying this. This month's editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia also says so and makes some very salient points. I quote:

    The direct effects of the proposed federal Budget on prevention include cuts to funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health, loss of much of the money previously administered through the now defunct—
    soon to be defunct—

    Australian National Preventive Health Agency, and reductions in social media campaigns, for example, on smoking cessation.
    The editorial also made the point that the $7 GP tax will more likely be a $14 co-payment for those with chronic illness, because they generally include a test. It says clearly:

    The effects of these copayments on preventive behaviour are greatest among those who can least afford the additional costs
    It goes on:

    The potential for prevention is greatest among poorer patients, who are often at a health disadvantage.
    The journal made this salient point about preventative health and cuts to hospital services:

    The greatest pity of all is that the proposed cuts to funding for health come at the time when the first evidence is at hand of potential benefits of the large-scale preventive programs implemented under the national partnership agreements. A slowing in the rate of increase in childhood obesity and reductions in smoking rates among Indigenous populations have been hard-won achievements.
    Hard won achievements but not worth pursuing, according to this government.

    I believe preventative health measures should not be a pawn in a budget game. They should be embedded in health policy and funded appropriately. A government serious about people being fit for work until they are 70 should be seriously investing more in preventing chronic disease, not less. Labor opposes this bill for the short-sightedness that it demonstrates in relation to the key priorities facing Australian's health today and for the lack of vision the government has in relation to understanding the challenges facing the health system into the future. Labor is also opposed to the government's callous decision to cut preventative health funding to the states and territories for work in increasing physical activity and improving nutrition and healthy eating and for support smoking cessation and reduction of harmful alcohol consumption in communities around Australia.

    We often hear those opposite complaining that we on this side are whingeing. We heard it again today. We are not whingeing, and neither are the people who will be hurt by this bill—now and into the future. We are rightly pointing out the disastrous impacts the government changes will have on this country. We are responding to real people's concerns and the concerns of the health experts in this country. We are responding to real people's requests that we oppose the government changes that will negatively impact on health outcomes and the long-term cost of health care in this country.

  • Health Care - Matters of Public Importance

    As Australians, we have enjoyed the envy of others around the world in relation to our healthcare system. Labor has had the courage to tackle the threats to our nation's health by listening to health professionals and formulating sound health policy. It was Labor that delivered the universal health system, Medicare. But with the announced budget cuts our system is under threat.

    The Abbott government's budget includes more the $80 billion dollars of cuts to health and education. Not only that but there will be a new tax if Prime Minister Abbott gets his way. After promising before the election, 'No new taxes,' here it is: a new tax—the GP tax! A tax that is claimed will raise $3.5 billion dollars. A tax that will be imposed if you dare to get sick and have to visit your GP. A tax that will be imposed if you want to get your child immunised and stop the spread of infectious disease. A tax that will cruelly hit Australian families and will damage Australia's health system.

    What do the medical profession have to say about this GP tax? They are against it. The AMA, the Australian College of Emergency Medicine, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association, the Doctors' Reform Society of Australia, the Consumer Health Forum of Australia and many more health academics and economists have all advised against the GP tax, but their expert advice has fallen on the deaf ears opposite.

    Why? Because the Prime Minister of Australia is so out of touch with the population that he thinks it is fair to tax people for going to see a doctor. His policy, if implemented, will see the Australian healthcare system evolve into a two-tiered, American-style health system in which you will only be able to access quality health care if you can afford it.

    On this side of the chamber, we advocate and believe that all Australians—it does not matter about your bank balance—should get the health care that they need, not just the health care that they can afford. I know that in my electorate, like in many around the country, people do not want to see Australia's healthcare system begin to mirror America's health system.

    It is people in my community that will be affected by this tax. Current bulk-billing rates in Wyndham are at 92 per cent. The projected impact of the GP co-payment on the bottom line for our community is $11 million per annum. That is a lot of money out of our local economy. Why is there such a high bulk-billing rate? Because the doctors locally know the value of early access to health care as an efficient way to manage health costs. They know the pensioners and young families will stay away if the co-payment is the difference between keeping food on the table or visiting the doctor.

    So what are the health issues in my electorate? They are cancer, diabetes and heart disease in adults, and asthma in children. The leading new cancers for Wyndham are bowel, prostate and breast cancer; 4.8 per cent of Wyndham's population has diabetes. The National Heart Foundation data suggests high rates of heart attack, unstable angina and heart failure in the Medicare Local catchment; and the leading cause of hospitalisations for children up to eight years is asthma. Mental health disorders are the most significant broad cause of years lost to disability in the western metropolitan sub-region affecting 30.7 per cent of women and 29.3 per cent of men. Three-quarters of men in Wyndham have reported low levels of psychological distress. Seventy-five per cent is well above the Victorian average of 68.9 per cent. I want those men to see their GP and not wait.

    So when these people in my community require the treatment of their GP, they will need to pay a tax under this government. When they are at their most vulnerable and require what is a most basic need of medical attention, they will have to pay a tax. And what if they cannot afford it? It is quite clear they will simply not go to their doctor. We must ensure that Australians have access to good health care. We all pay through our Medicare levy at tax time. It is a system that has served us well for 30 years. I will not sit to the side and watch this happen and I know the Australian public will not either.