Response to the Federal Budget of 2017-18

13 September 2017

House of Representatives

Thursday 11 May 2017

Fairness should be at the heart of a budget, but you cannot dress up an unfair budget with a three-word slogan. This budget is not fair. The rhetoric does not match the reality. It delivers more for millionaires than it does for the families. It delivers more for multinationals than it does for workers or those seeking work. And despite the government's claim, this budget does not guarantee Medicare. In my region on the Central Coast of New South Wales, less than half of the students there have the opportunity to complete high school. Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high at 16.6 per cent, well above the national average. There are close to 10,000 children living below the poverty line. And in pockets of my community around one-third of households have a combined income of less than $600 per week. Communities like mine deserve a fair budget.

I spent most of my working life as a pharmacist in Wyong hospital, working in mental health. I have seen firsthand the harsh reality of inequality and injustice. Is it fair to be discharged from a mental health ward to a caravan or a car or a cave? Is it fair to be lying for hours on a trolley because there are no beds? Is it fair to have to choose which medicine you do not take because you cannot afford to have your prescription filled? Professor Sir Michael Marmot, one of the world's leading public health experts, tells us the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age matter. Sadly, I see this every day, like with Steve, who spent his final days fighting lung disease on a hospital gurney in the annex of his caravan. His son, who gave up what casual work he had to care for him, was forced to sell his only asset, his own caravan, to pay the park fees. Is it fair to live and die with the pressure to make ends meet? Is it fair that the Central Coast, one of the fastest-growing regions in the state, does not have a palliative care hospice? Is it is fair to spend your last days in the rain in the annex of a caravan?

This budget does not guarantee Medicare. The government will not reverse its unfair cuts to Medicare for three years. But the government's own figures show around 15,000 people on the Central Coast say they have delayed seeing a doctor because of cost, and around 30,000 have delayed or avoided filling a prescription due to cost. Increases in upfront fees and out-of-pocket expenses and delays in processing rebates are hurting people. I have heard from doctors of the impact of the Medicare rebate fees on their patients. This freeze must be reversed immediately. Under Labor's plan, New South Wales' public hospitals would have been $630 million better off, with investment aimed at reducing ED and elective surgery waiting times. Is it fair that Wyong hospital in my electorate is facing privatisation because Liberal governments will not commit to properly funding public hospitals?

Education is the ultimate fair go, yet this budget contains cuts of $22 billion from schools and cuts of $3.8 billion from universities across Australia. Needs-based funding is making a difference in schools, and it must not be at risk. Around half of the students at the University of Newcastle are mature age students, juggling study with the demands of family, work and commuting. They are some of the first in their families ever to have the opportunity for higher education. These cuts hit the regions harder.

In my electorate, the number of people who leave school to pursue a trade is 10 per cent higher than the national average, and yet under this government courses have been stripped from TAFE and there has been an appalling lack of regulation in the VET sector. I heard from Brendan, a keen musician, who is vision impaired. He was enticed to study with Evocca College, but the coursework was clearly not designed for people with disability. After a short period he was forced to withdraw from the course. Years later, he was shocked to discover the experience had left him with a debt of $18,615. Is this fair?

Budgets are about choices, but choice is a privilege. This budget is not fair. The rhetoric does not match the realitynot on the Central Coast nor across Australia.