Appropriation Bills (No. 3) (No. 4) 2015-2016
I rise to speak in relation to the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2015-2016 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2015-2016.
These two bills appropriate some $2.2 billion of additional expenditure across a range of portfolios, and we will support these bills because on this side of the chamber we do not block supply. I note the additional $385 million for the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, primarily for the Roads to Recovery program. That program has funded the maintenance and upgrade of many local roads in my electorate. We support it because it provides local jobs and is funded and allocated by an independent process.
In 2012, the Roads to Recovery program provided $1.6 million for the extension of Collingwood Drive, which provides such an important extension and connection between Collingwood Park and Redbank Plains.
In 2013, it provided $800,000 towards the rehabilitation of a significant section of the footpath in Yamanto, not far from where I live.
And in 2013 it provided $840,000 to construct a 2.1 kilometre bike pathway in Brassall.
I have always worked with the Ipswich City Council to support this particular program, and I am glad Labor supports it because I think it is a good program.
I commend the government for putting money towards it. I have worked to ensure that funding has been provided properly and carried out in terms of road construction and maintenance in the council areas that I have had in my electorate and in and around them. This includes Ipswich City Council, the Somerset region, the Lockyer Valley and the Scenic Rim areas, when they were in my electorate. I look forward to Blair receiving its fair share of funding from Roads to Recovery in the future.
I do note in relation to road funding a letter to the editor of The Queensland Times by Mark Bailey, the Queensland Minister for Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports.
And I ask the government to look again at the funding it once had on the table, across the forward estimates, for the upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway from Darra to Rockley. In every election except the last one, I have fought opponents from the LNP and the Liberals who have always been opposed to the upgraded Ipswich motorway past Dinmore.
Labor designed, built and completed the Ipswich Motorway construction, supporting up to 10,000 jobs along the way and funding it at a cost of $2.8 billion.
The final section—actually nowhere near my electorate—mainly in the electorate of Moreton and some in Oxley, is absolutely crucial for the people of Ipswich and Brisbane and the whole of south-east Queensland.
It is one of the projects that has been identified in the recent Infrastructure Australia report as a priority that needs to be dealt with in the next five years.
I have had some meetings with Mark Bailey and I urge the government to look again at this, because the previous Deputy Prime Minister, the member for Wide Bay, and the previous minister for cities, the member for Mayo, actually had a very different approach to Labor in so far as we supported the Ipswich Motorway upgrade.
Speaking in platitudes before the last election that they would support it, they have done nothing about it for 2½ years.
On 21 July last year, the then Deputy Prime Minister, the member for Wide Bay, wrote to Mark Bailey, a Queensland minister, and said that he was directing the department to remove the funding for the project—that is, the Darra to Rocklea section. The $279 million was to kick-start the funding for the construction, particularly necessary for the design—which of course needs to be done first—between the Oxley roundabout and Suscatand Street along the Ipswich Motorway.
I asked the new Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Darren Chester, to have a look at this again—a fresh pair of eyes; I said that in The Queensland Times. I hope he has a new perspective on this issue, because it is absolutely crucial to south-east Queensland. Infrastructure Australia says it needs to be done.
The budget appropriation bills that are before the chamber do not necessarily tell the whole story about the economy. The bills are notable in that they reflect the Turnbull government's ever-worsening budgetary position. We know that the forecast they made in the budget was laid bare in MYEFO in December last year.
Of course MYEFO came three months and one day after the current Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth, offered the following justification for his coup against the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah. He said:
'It is clear enough that the government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need'.
And he added:
'We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.'
After the coup, the freshly-minted Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth, said in The Financial Reviewon 14 September 2015:
'We need to have in this country and we will have now, an economic vision, a leadership that explains the great challenges and opportunities that we face.'
No ambiguity there, but how is that vision thing going, Prime Minister? It does not look very good now.
The new Prime Minister had scolded the former Prime Minister and his Treasurer, Mr Hockey, for their failure to provide economic leadership.
He, on the other hand, could do with a good dose of economic leadership and vision. It seems that his advocacy is poor and his sloganeering is exactly the same as the member for Warringah's.
There was a great national sigh of relief when the member for Warringah was removed but, in a matter of months, it would seem that MYEFO torpedoed the fancy claims and sank the economic and fiscal credibility of this government. It exposed in gory detail the continuing deterioration of the Abbott-Turnbull government's budgetary position and that of the Australian economy.
MYEFO spoke the truth: the deficit had blown out by $26 billion across the forward estimates. To put that into perspective, the deficit had increased by $120 million each and every day between the 2015 budget in May and the 2015 MYEFO in December—and this from a government that has never been shy of spruiking its supposed economic credentials.
The 2015 MYEFO also revealed the net debt for 2016-17 was nearly $100 billion higher than forecast in the 2013 pre-election fiscal outlook statement or PEFO—and PEFO is important, because it is the last independent statement on the Australian economy issued by Treasury prior to the election of the Abbott government. The 2013 PEFO is untouched by the incoming government and reports the true state of the Australian economy when the Labor government left office.
The 2015 MYEFO forecast gross debt zoomed to $550 billion by the end of the forward estimates, but the bad news in MYEFO was not limited to the whole economy.
In my shadow portfolio areas of Indigenous affairs, through the 2015-16 MYEFO, the Turnbull government found another way to rip even more money from Indigenous programs.
Not content with getting rid of $534 million through the Indigenous affairs portfolio across the forward estimates, the government then decided to provide some form of indexation in the budget just to soften people up by saying, 'We are putting money back into Indigenous affairs.' So they put in an indexation provision in the budget which would provide $17.8 million of indexation funding for organisations delivering vital front-line services to Indigenous communities.
So what did the government do? Having ripped $534 million out and saying, 'We'll put $17.8 million back across the forward estimates,' they then took that $17.8 million out again in MYEFO in December. The cruel irony is that this money had been promised to salve the wounds of what had been happening with front-line services and jobs being slashed across the board in Indigenous affairs—services providing help for Indigenous people such as art shows; the Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Organisations, which copped another cut in the last budget; funding for front-line services; language; culture; and a whole range of programs that were necessary to close the gap. We saw how bad the Closing the Gap outcome was last time parliament met where only two—just maybe—of the targets were being met.
It was in the area of aged care where the Turnbull government was most savage, bringing the total Abbott-Turnbull cuts to a staggering $1.8 billion since they came to power in September 2013.
MYEFO cut $472.4 million from aged-care support pay to aged-care providers for complex care needs, including those living with dementia in residential aged-care facilities. Of the people over 65 years of age, we have the situation where only seven per cent have that high-care need and are living in residential facilities. Often they are people with dementia or with really complex issues. The government ripped $472 million out of MYEFO for the aged-care providers who care for those extremely vulnerable people. It is just cruel and heartless what they did in MYEFO.
Then they cut $595 million from the health and aged-care workforce programs. The facts clearly show that those programs were successful. That included the Aged Care Education and Training Incentive Program and the aged-care vocational education and training professional development programs. This is about people upgrading their skills—carers and assistant nurses who want to upgrade their skills to become an enrolled nurse or a registered nurse. These programs were incredibly successful. The take-up rate was very, very high.
The cuts to aged-care workforce development were extremely brutal because they came days after the government released its much delayed stock take of the Commonwealth funded workforce development initiative. After the government got rid of the aged-care workforce supplement, to say they were going to do something about the development of the workforce in aged care, they said, 'We'd better do a stock take of the Commonwealth funded initiatives.' Why they couldn't do that in a matter of days is beyond me. It took them over 500 days to actually get around to doing this. Labor kept asking again and again why they had not released this. Then they decided to say, 'Right, we're releasing this because it will form the basis of a strategy going forward to address the challenge in aged care because we know we are going to have to nearly treble the aged-care workforce in the next few decades.' That was the pretext, the excuse.
What really happened is the stock take provided the premise and the basis for the government to actually cut the funding in MYEFO for the very training programs that it was assessing in the stock take. So through this whole process, the government was deceiving providers, consumers, the opposition—everyone. They were doing the stock take so they could make the cuts. That is what they did.
On top of the $472 million they cut from the residential aged-care providers who care for Australia's most vulnerable and ill people, they decided that they would cut $595 billion and merge the health and aged-care workforce initiative. They cut funding entirely—$595 million. That was the cruellest part of MYEFO. That is what they did. It was deceptive and deceitful what the government did across this area. It showed that the stock take was all about cost cutting and not about a comprehensive strategy to address the workforce crisis. We know this because, in answers at Senate estimates, the government have now backed off the idea of developing a workforce strategy and said that the market will determine it. The market has not worked.
As well, the NACA process has not worked, because the government have not engaged with the providers in the way they need to. They have not engaged the unions, who are so important in the process. They have not engaged COTA or National Seniors. They need to sit down and develop an aged-care workforce strategy. We have an ageing workforce. We have the situation where people who work in residential aged care are paid so much less than those who work in, say, a public hospital. We need to provide an incentive. We need to develop a workforce strategy and it needs to be a collaboration between providers, consumer groups and unions. And we need the government to show the leadership. This government is failing to show leadership. They are making harsh cuts and showing no leadership across this space.
There is a deficit in innovation in the aged-care workforce strategy. The government talks about innovation, but when it comes to this, why won't the government be up-front and honest? Instead, after MYEFO the government labelled the aged-care providers who were delivering the services as rorters. They labelled them as rorters in the national media. These aged-care providers are helping older Australians. The government have a lot to answer for in MYEFO. Once again, it goes to show they have no regard for Indigenous affairs nor for the aged-care workforce strategy, which they needed to undertake.