I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. In particular I would like to draw the house’s attention to a comment the Prime Minister made on 6 September 2013. He promised the Australian people:
No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.
Yet the first budget the federal government delivered is making all Victorians pay the price for those broken promises. It is very sad that this budget hits the hardest at the most vulnerable, low-income Victorians, who will have to pay the price. The federal budget is an assault on fairness. It will leave the most vulnerable Victorians out on their own. The cuts to education, the restructure and lack of financing of the higher education system and the attacks on apprentices will close the doors on opportunities. These cuts will remove the chances for many Victorians to realise their dreams.
Budgets should be about fairness in society and making creative pathways for a bright future; budgets should not be about cutting off opportunities.
Since the federal budget was handed down in May, I have been inundated with calls and correspondence about it. I have had plenty of phone calls about the state budget as well. In one week my office received nine phone calls from constituents concerned about the changes to pensions. One of these callers identified himself as a Liberal supporter.
In addressing this matter of public importance today, I want to put forward the views of many in my electorate who are very concerned about their own futures and about the effects both the state and federal budgets will have on their day-to-day lives.
Firstly, in the area of education, Tony Abbott’s budget of broken promises will cut $30 billion out of schools, scrap the Gonski reforms and abandon the needs-based funding scheme Labor negotiated so hard for during its time in government.
This means fewer teachers, fewer programs and no needs-based funding to support vulnerable students. On top of this there are dramatic cuts to the kindergarten and preschool sectors. By the end of this year, kinder hours for four-year-olds will be cut from 15 hours to 10 hours. Those wanting to keep their children in kindergarten for 15 hours per week will be looking at up to double the fees they currently pay. I want to share the contents of two letters I have received from constituents. The first is from Milena, a grandmother in Keilor Downs. The letter states:
I am a 60-year-old grandmother who is very upset about the government’s proposal to cut kinder hours from 15 hours to 10 hours a week. I have two grandchildren who will be needing kinder in the near future and hopefully I will have some other grandchildren in the future.
I know from the fact that two of my grandchildren have already attended kinder how important this year is for the development of social and interactive skills amongst their peers and I do not understand how the government can reasonably declare that only 10 hours a week is sufficient for these very important skills to be developed. Kinder is, and has always been, a very necessary transition from infanthood to school. Please note my absolute disgust at this proposal and endeavour to rectify this grave issue on behalf of all families who have kinder age children.
In addition to this, I received an email from Lena in Hillside. She is the mother of a special needs child currently attending three-year-old kinder and a two-year-old, and she is also expecting a third child in the coming days. The email states:
I write this letter with concern at the recent notification that four-year-old kindergarten will be cut to 10 hours in 2015 from the current 15 hours.
The first major concern is that kindergarten is the first major step for children learning through socialisation and a structured program and routine prior to attending school. This is a major stepping stone for the future of our children.
Secondly, she made the point:
… how can we expect great teachers to be available to teach kindergarten when they are not guaranteed an appropriate number of working hours per week. It’s really disheartening. I hope that the federal government will reconsider its cuts.
The cuts not only affect our preschool students but also go all through the school system. The Gonski funding that Labor committed to as a federal government would have provided Australian schools with an additional $14.65 billion in funding over six years. That is now gone.
Schools in my electorate that were looking forward to that funding and planning their futures around it are now looking at cutting back on many resources that are desperately needed, including literacy and numeracy coaches.
The budget also deals a cruel blow to students with a disability, denying them the disability loading that Mr Abbott had promised would be there in 2015. This means less support in the classroom for students with a disability in both government and non-government schools. This is a huge area in the west, where we have ever-increasing diagnoses of children with autism and a need for special education funding.
But the cuts do not stop there. They extend into higher education, as I alluded to earlier. The federal budget is a list of broken promises that will force university students to pay much more for their degrees and also bring uncertainty to those who are currently in the system finishing their courses.
With these cuts, some university course costs could go from $100 000 to $200 000 over the time projected in the budget.
I would like to share a comment by street artist Banksy. He said:
What if the cure for cancer was trapped inside the brain of someone who couldn’t afford a good education?
May that be on the heads of those in the Liberal Party, both in Canberra and here in Victoria, for all of the cuts to education that both governments have conspired to implement in our preschools and schools as well as in our higher education sector.
I turn now to the effect of the cuts on apprentices.
The Tools for Your Trade allowance, which was introduced by Labor, supported apprentices who needed assistance to buy tools in order to complete their apprenticeships. It has been cut from the current budget. Earlier this week I met with a woman from my electorate, Lorraine Maurisati Gauci, whose children are undertaking apprenticeships, her son as a plumber and her daughter as a pastry chef. Despite contracts being signed with employers, this allowance that supported those kids to get the tools needed for their jobs has been cut and replaced by a loan for those who are in designated skills shortage trades, as determined by the federal government.
Apprentices now face a future where if they want to buy the tools of their trade to complete their apprenticeship, they are looking at taking on a debt of around $20 000 before they have even started in the workforce. It is a disgrace. I thank Lorraine for looking into that issue and bringing it to my attention. She is standing up for her kids and saying it is not good enough.
She is appalled that her children will be commencing their working lives with huge debts hanging over their heads. It is an attack on low-income families.
I move on to the issue at the forefront of this budget, and that is the cost of living. Joanna, a constituent from Taylors Lake, wrote to me of her concerns. She does not know how she is going to move forward with the cost of living, particularly as she is on the Newstart allowance. I quote:
… this budget is absolutely terrifying. It is extremely difficult to get a job in these times, and although I am fortunate enough to have employment opportunity on the horizon, I am very worried about my younger sister and my friends, who have not yet finished uni. We are not rich people, and all these extra expenses and cuts to our income support could only make it so much harder for people to complete their education.
In addition to this there are the huge porky pies that have been told by Tony Abbott and the federal coalition government on the issue of health. Just what is in store for people?
My office has received plenty of phone calls about the need to pay $7 to visit a doctor. Plenty of people out there have said to me that, quite frankly, they would rather stay home and tough it out than be in that situation. Tony Abbott wants to force the states to pay a tax. He wants you to pay a tax if you are not sick enough to attend an emergency department. Imagine a doctor having to tell someone who comes in for chest pain, ‘The good news is you are not having a heart attack; the bad news is you are going to have to pay for it’.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Ryall) — Order! the member’s time has now concluded.