Standing up for Canberra

Address in Reply to Governor General Speech

Canberrans are used to bracing themselves whenever a coalition government releases a budget. In 1996, we lost 15,000 public servants here in Canberra and 30,000 nationwide, we saw Canberra go into an economic slump, we saw businesses close down, we saw local shops close down and we saw people leave town.

Under the Howard government, Canberra really was hit very, very hard, and we went through an economic slump for five years. It took five years for us to dig ourselves out of that hole dug by the Howard government at the time, which saw, as I said, 15,000 jobs axed and people leave town. We had three federal electorates in those days, in accordance with the size of the population. But, because of the Howard government's cuts, they were reduced to two. Now, as it stands, the electorate of Canberra is the largest in terms of numbers in the country, with 143,000, and the electorate of Fenner is the second largest, with 128,000. Most of my colleagues have electorates of between 90,000 and 100,000. So my electorate is much larger —40,000 people larger—than those of most of my colleagues. It just underscores the fact that Canberra is one of the most underrepresented places in the country, particularly compared to our Tasmanian colleagues, and it is not helped by coalition governments winning elections and taking the axe to our much-loved national capital.

As I said, we tend to brace ourselves for coalition government budgets. We braced ourselves for the Turnbull coalition government budget last night, and we were correct to engage the brace position, because last night's budget had no good news in it for Canberra—none. Since the Abbott-Turnbull government has been in power, 13,000 Public Service jobs have gone. Thirteen thousand have been axed here in Canberra and across Australia. As a result of last night's budget, we are now set to lose thousands more.

I will run through the list. Do not think about them as numbers but as individuals, as people with families as people with children, as people with mortgages, as people with car loans, as people with aspirations and dreams about their ambitions and as people who love their city and who love being public servants, who are dedicated to being servants of our democracy and who are dedicated to making a difference and to altruism. As I run through this very tragic list, think about each of these numbers as an individual, an individual with a family, an individual with friends, an individual with a home, an individual with a mortgage, an individual with a car loan, an individual with a dog and cat and budgie. We are talking people—they are not just numbers—which is what people tend to overlook when they deride Canberra so easily, when they blatantly feel it is okay to pork barrel on Canberra and move government agencies out of here to their own electorates, when they have no qualms about talking about the city with derision, with scorn. These are people who have made a decision to invest in public service, as you did Deputy Speaker Hastie through the Australian Defence Force. You are a public servant, someone dedicated to the defence of our nation and our national security. These people do it in a civilian sense.

So I will run through this tragic list. It is tragic because it seems that since I have been the member for Canberra I have been reading out a list as tragic as this every year under a coalition government. The Department of Human Services is losing almost 1,200 positions—that is a four per cent decrease in the total numbers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is losing over 400 positions, which is 14 per cent of that agency. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is losing 245 positions, which is a two per cent decrease in staff. The Department of Health is losing over 240 people. The Australian Federal Police, despite what the Minister for Justice says about the investment there, is losing over 150 people. The Attorney-General's Department is losing 100 people. The Department of Finance is losing over 60 people. The Department of Education and Training is losing almost 50 people. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is losing over 40 people. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies is losing over 30 people, which is a 20 per cent decrease in the size of that agency. The Australian Electoral Commission is losing 24 people. The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is losing 20 people. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is losing 14 people. ATRA is losing 15 people. The Australian Skills Quality Authority is losing 13 people. IP Australia is losing nine people. The Fair Work Commission is losing six people.

These cuts to Public Service positions have not been confined to Public Service agencies and departments, they affect our national institutions, which, under this coalition government—under the Abbott government and now under the Turnbull government—have been cut to the core. We are not cutting into fat. We are not cutting into bone. We are cutting into the vital organs of the national institutions. These cuts continue the tradition of the coalition government. We are already seeing the impact that the cuts are having. We are seeing the impact on the preservation and conservation of our nation's story, of our nation's identity, of our nation's history. You cannot cut 20 positions out of the National Gallery, which is a pretty lean and mean outfit, and not expect that it will have some sort of impact on the curating of our national collection. You cannot cut jobs out of the National Library without having some impact on how we tell our national story. The coalition government has announced in the budget that we are losing 15 jobs at the National Archives and another three at the War Memorial. You cannot make these cuts to government agencies—not just funding cuts but also job cuts—without them having an impact on our nation's identity, on our national story and how we tell it, how we preserve it, how we conserve it and how we care for it for future generations. We cannot have cuts without an impact on that story.

As I said, I am very disappointed that there was more bad news for Canberra from the budget, as is the tradition with coalition governments. I have outlined the long list of jobs, thousands of jobs, that will be cut out of the Public Service as well as out of our national institutions, and that is on top of the 13,000 Public Service jobs that have already been cut. But we have also seen cuts in schools. This week and last I spent a lot of time in conversation with Catholic schools here in Canberra. We have a very high proportion of Catholic schools in Canberra because Canberra has a high proportion of Catholics, which is partly due to the sectarianism that occurred during the 1950s. Catholic white-collar professionals found it very difficult to get clerical jobs, particularly in the law, in Melbourne and Sydney. My husband, a Catholic who is well known amongst many of my colleagues and across the aisle as well, said that his mother, who was a very devout Catholic, used to tell stories about signs out the front of factories and shops in the 1950s saying, 'No Catholics need apply.' Probably everyone of that vintage in this room would have heard those stories as well. That was in the 1950s in our country. It is not that long ago that sectarianism was rife in this country, and it is a chapter of our history that tends to be forgotten. We in the ALP still smart from what it did to our party in the 1950s—it split our party—so we are acutely aware of the damage it can do. That chapter of sectarianism in our history is often overlooked.

As I said, we have a very large Catholic population here in Canberra. It is a population that is progressive but also fiercely devoted to public service, fiercely devoted to social justice, and fiercely devoted to serving our democracy and making a better Australia. The values of that very strong Catholic, progressive, social justice tradition are embodied in the Public Service and embodied in the Catholic community here in Canberra. As a result, we have these little systemic schools dotted throughout the ACT. I have a very high proportion of them in my electorate. They are going to be hit very, very hard by the coalition government's budget.

Most of you would have seen the rally at St Clare's on Monday night, which I attended together with the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, as well as Senator Zed Seselja. I admire Senator Seselja for actually turning up to that. I admire him but I expect he was there as a good St Thomas the Apostle student, Padua High School student and St Mary MacKillop student, and as someone who practises his faith at Holy Family Church in Gowrie and sends his children to, I think, Marist College. It was good that he was there.

The Catholic schools in my electorate are going to be very hard hit. They are going to have average funding cuts of 7.3 per cent. I have had many conversations with the Principal of St Mary MacKillop College, who has told me that over the next decade they are going to be down $770 per student. On Monday I met with the Principal of St Thomas More's, and also Father Julian, who runs the parish church there. You might be familiar with the school, Deputy Speaker Hastie. St Thomas More's is in Campbell, right near the Russell complex, and is a school where 50 per cent of students are from Defence families. They are used to managing students from all over the country who are transitioning to a new life in Canberra. There is a great support system for them at St Thomas More's. The fees at that school are currently around $3,000 a year. As a result of the government's cuts to schools, those fees are probably going to go up to about $5,000 to $8,000 a year, if the school does not close down entirely— because it is quite a small school, with 152 children. It is a very special school and it has a unique understanding of Defence children and the Defence environment. Most of the children I met with the other day had a father in Army and a mother who was a Defence civilian, or both parents in Army. They had just come in from somewhere else over the summer rotation. So these are schools that are going to be very hard hit.

There is St Thomas the Apostle, Senator Zed Seselja's old primary school; St John Vianney's, where my dear, much-loved late mother-in-law taught—and she is still missed and remembered very fondly there; St Mary MacKillop College; and St Bede's, just down the road from here. Every Catholic school in my electorate is going to be very hard hit by this coalition government's budget and its cuts to schools. The concern they have is not just for the fact that they might not exist in two or three years time but for the fact that they provide an important service in terms of supporting children with learning difficulties, supporting children with disabilities, supporting Indigenous students and supporting children from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. These are not rich schools and these are not rich communities. One of the schools, St Anthony's in Wanniassa, received under the Building the Education Revolution the most amount of money of any school in Canberra because it was that underdone in terms of infrastructure and facilities. It was a school that was essentially just a collection of demountables— portables, as they are called in Victoria. The BER transformed that school physically and also transformed its educational outcomes. The school was built around a range of pods—the demountables were mostly gone. It transformed that school. The investment that was made in that school highlighted the fact that it was the most under-resourced school in Canberra. It was certainly not a wealthy school. As I said, the parents sending their children to these Catholic schools are not wealthy parents. They are not drawn from wealthy communities, and the schools are very humble indeed. Speaking about humble, you do worry about this coalition government. I go back to the experiences my husband had in Catholic schools in Queensland, particularly in the 1960s when he was writing on slates—is that the future that this government wants for children in Catholic schools across Australia?

I have mentioned the job cuts by this government—thousands of them, with 13,000 Public Service job cuts already. I have mentioned the cuts to schools, particularly Catholic schools. I have mentioned the cuts to the jobs in national institutions and the impact that will have on our national collection, our national story, our nation's identity. I want to touch on infrastructure. We saw the coalition government's big glossy last night, with the big map of Australia showing $75 billion worth of infrastructure investment—the big screamer at the top of the page. I looked into the fine detail about what that means for the ACT, what that means for my community. Out of that $75 billion—this is still breathtaking —Canberra is receiving the princely sum of $3 million worth of investment in infrastructure. I got my team to work out what that $3 million investment in Canberra was as a percentage of the $75 billion budget. I will just read it back to you, Deputy Speaker Hastie. This is calculating one billion as 1,000 million, because I understand there are two different versions of a billion. The $3 million we got out of the $75 billion is 0.004 per cent of the infrastructure investment in the budget. That is how much the community of Canberra is valued by the coalition government. Not only do we get thousands of jobs cut here, not only do we get our national institutions starved of funds so that their vital organs are not even functioning, but we get $3 million—

Sitting suspended from 16:40 to 16:48

I have just been outlining the paltry amount that was invested in Canberra in last night's coalition government budget—$3 million out of $75 billion—and what that represents in terms of percentage. I have heard defence of the fact that there has been infrastructure investment. The $3 million was for Pialligo Avenue and also the duplication of Monaro Drive. There has been defence that what I regard as maintenance or services is actually an infrastructure investment. It ain't. Lighting and plumbing at Old Parliament House is not infrastructure. A temperature controlled system at the National Film and Sound Archives ain't infrastructure. Shared corporate services at the National Museum also ain't infrastructure. That is not my understanding of infrastructure. A business case for an exhibition at the War Memorial is not infrastructure. There has been a very interesting interpretation of 'infrastructure' in the last 24 hours, but I do not regard that maintenance and those services as infrastructure. Once again, under a coalition government, it is all bad news for Canberra—cuts to jobs, schools, universities and health and an insulting, paltry $3 million in 'infrastructure' investment.

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