Standing up for Canberra

Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015

The appropriations in these bills reflect changes made in last year's MYEFO update as well as several machinery-of-government changes. In the 2014-15 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, we saw more broken promises—endless broken promises and more of them last year. The government unveiled another write-down for revenue this year and in following years, and that is on top of the write-down back in May.

The federal Treasurer accused Labor of having a spending problem, not a revenue problem, when we were in government. Yet on the day of the mini budget he came out and told Australians that the government had a revenue problem.

This government promised to get the budget back under control—yet what the 2014-15 MYEFO showed was a $44 billion blowout in the budget deficit over the forward estimates compared to the 2014-15 budget. Let's really put this in perspective. Since the Abbott government was elected, the deficit in the 2014-15 financial year has blown out by $16.4 billion. Debt is higher in the 2014-15 MYEFO than it was in the 2014-15 budget, with gross debt over the forward estimates increasing by $100 billion and net debt increasing by $146.3 billion over the same period.

The news is grim across every other aspect of the economy too. Unemployment has jumped to 6.4 per cent in January, the highest it has been since 2002, when the Prime Minister was the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Consumer confidence is still low—nine per cent lower now than it was at the time of the 2013 federal election. And business confidence is still below long-run averages.

These are national statistics, and Canberra is not exempt. In fact, Canberra, as usual under coalition governments, has borne the full brunt of this government's decisions. According to CommSec's most recent State of the states report, the ACT has the third weakest economy in the country. Our retail sector was the worst in the country last year, a report by Deloitte Access Economics has found. Our housing market is also suffering, with Canberra posting a price decline over the past quarter and year.

As I said, coalition governments have form when it comes to Canberra. They have form when it comes to their complete disdain—their complete lack of respect—for Canberra and the public servants who serve our nation and our democracy. We have just seen the complete lack of respect for those servants of democracy in recent months, with the offers of below-inflation pay rises to our public servants—and not just the below-inflation pay rises but also the fact that many of the conditions that have been hard fought for over many years are facing possible erosion.

I have spoken in this House many, many, many times about what this coalition government is currently doing to Canberra but also the coalition's form. Its form was brought into stark reality in 1996, when a coalition government was elected on the promise that 2,500 public servants were going to lose their jobs through natural attrition. That ended up being 15,000 public servants here in Canberra—that is one five thousand public servants here in Canberra—and 30,000 public servants across the nation—that is three zero thousand.

What did losing 15,000 jobs mean for Canberra? It meant that business bankruptcies went up. It meant that nonbusiness bankruptcies went up. It meant that house prices fell. It meant that local shops closed down; many of them have not reopened. It meant that our economy went into a slump for about five years. We did not see a crane on the horizon in this town for a very, very long time, because it had basically shut down. We also saw people leave town: our population fell. And we saw many, many people looking for work and only being able to find part-time work because of the loss of 15,000 jobs in this town. It took us a long time to get back up after that economic slump that the coalition government of 1996 foisted on Canberra as a result of its complete disregard for Canberra and its complete disregard and disrespect for the Public Service.

I have said it many, many times: Sir Robert Menzies would be turning in his grave if he saw what this coalition government was doing to his Canberra, his nation's capital, today and if he had seen what was happening in 1996 —the denigration of this town. As I said, it took us years to get back up on our feet, and we are just going back to the future again with this government. It is absolutely outrageous. It just shows a complete disregard for the Public Service, servants of democracy. We have also seen the disregard and disrespect for the ADF, with the below-inflation pay offer for the ADF personnel. The coalition, as I said, has form in its contempt and disdain for the Public Service. We saw it nearly 20 years ago and we are seeing it again.

It is because the government just does not understand the impact its disastrous budget has had on my electorate —or it just chooses to ignore it, really. It just chooses to ignore the effect of taking out thousands and thousands of jobs. Already 8,000 jobs have gone, and we are looking at 16,500 across the Public Service. It is almost as if people on the other side of the chamber wear it as a badge of honour—the contempt and disdain for my electorate.

It is rather ironic that, 10 months after the fundamentally flawed budget was handed down, we are still talking about it. Everywhere I go in my mobile offices and my doorknocking, Canberrans are still talking about it, and I know Australians are too. The reason that they are still talking about it is that the budget cuts into our social fabric. The proposals in the budget cut into our social fabric. They cut against the grain of what we are as Australians and what we hold as dear, precious and fundamental to being an Australian. People across the nation and here in Canberra are rightly furious. They are furious because they realise that this budget is bad in so many ways, and it is especially bad for those who can least afford it: low- and middle-income families, single-income families and single parents.

I could really go on talking about the Abbott government's unfair budget for days, because I know that my electorate does, but I am going to focus on a few specific areas that I am very concerned about: the potential privatisation of Defence Housing Australia and the potential privatisation of the Royal Australian Mint. I would also like to talk about two front-line services in my electorate that have had their funding cut.

Both Defence Housing Australia and the Mint were earmarked for possible privatisation in last year's federal budget. The government announced a scoping study on the privatisation of DHA and, according to the Defence Force Welfare Association, the study is going to recommend its sale. We are still waiting to hear what the government has to say on that. In the words of the DFWA:

We fear that the so called independent report will, with the backing of blinkered civilian bureaucrats in the Department of Finance, recommend the selling of DHA for a one off financial windfall to the Government. This would effectively result with ADF families being thrown onto the private rental market and destroy the good work that DHA has done in providing ADF families with quality housing, in the areas where they are needed.

The Abbott government must explain how the privatisation of DHA will improve the effectiveness of the provision of housing to thousands of ADF personnel and their families. DHA has been an extremely successful part of defence support arrangements over many years, vastly improving the housing circumstances of Defence personnel and their families. Surveys show DHA has a customer satisfaction rating of 92 per cent, proving this is the sort of support the ADF wants. DHA is also continuing to achieve above 90 per cent for most of its key performance indicators.

During Senate estimates in October last year, DHA's managing director, Peter Howman, said:

We are achieving all of those KPIs, so we are providing an absolutely good product that helps with the retention and employment of Defence personnel.

I want to underscore that. According to DHA, it helps with the retention and employment of Defence personnel. So not only does DHA provide a key service to Defence personnel and their families; it has continued to be a reliable and increasing source of revenue for the government. Towards the end of last year the organisation posted a $90.1 million net profit, $5.8 million above the budget estimate. So, like many of its thought-bubble policies, the Abbott government has failed to justify its plan to sell DHA. Since the Abbott government outlined its intention to sell DHA, Defence personnel and their families have been left in a state of uncertainty. As long as the Abbott government refuses to make a case for the sale, we must assume this decision is purely ideological.

Just recently I was at a Hearts of Valour event that a dear friend of mine, Richard Rolfe, organised. There were multiple VCs and Cross of Valour recipients, and it was quite an extraordinary achievement to get all these awarded and honoured individuals in one room. I had a number of people coming up to me and saying, 'Please, Gai, keep fighting the good fight to ensure that DHA is not privatised.'

We are also seeing a similar situation play out with the Royal Australian Mint. The Mint was also earmarked for privatisation in last year's budget. The uncertainty of the Mint's future has placed the 200 employees who work there under stress as they are constantly living in a state of limbo. They have been living in a state of limbo since the Mint was earmarked as a potential privatisation in the budget last year—the last 10 months. So again I call on the government to explain what impact selling the Mint will have on the budget bottom line. I also call on the government to answer questions like: how will it ensure the integrity and security of the Mint if a private company takes over? What kind of regulations will accompany the sale if it goes ahead?

Due to time, I now turn very briefly to look at some decisions that were made in last year's Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook update that have caused some concern in my community. I have been very vocal about my outrage and disappointment over the cuts made in the latest funding round of the Department of Social Services, and two organisations in my electorate have been adversely affected by these funding cuts. The first is Karralika.

The government announced an end to its funding of the centre's family program just two days before Christmas, when everyone is heading off for their holidays and gearing up for spending time with their family and friends. This incredible organisation that provides an extraordinary community service not just to Canberra but also to the capital region was told two days beforehand that they were facing funding cuts. On 23 December Karralika received a letter from the Department of Social Services informing the centre that funding for its child and family program will cease as at 28 February 2015. That is this week. The funding cut means the region's only residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation service for families affected by addiction will be forced to close. Eight families, including nine adults, 14 children and one pregnant mother are currently in the program, and there are seven families on the waiting list. In the words of the centre's CEO, Camilla Rowland:

Some of our families will be homeless because they don't have accommodation to go to … of course there's been cuts to housing funding as well.

After huge outcry across the country as thousands of front-line services received funding cuts, the government announced bridging funding to a number—just a number of them. Fortunately, Karralika was included in this bridging funding, which will assist with client transition plans until the end of June this year. But there is no commitment past June this year, and I know staff and clients at the centre are very concerned about the program's future. I have written to the Minister for Social Services, urging him not to carry out these cuts, and I will continue to campaign against this short-sighted and unfair decision.

I cannot talk about the other service, because I have run out of time; but, in concluding, these are just some of the measures outlined in last year's budget or mini-budget that have or could have a devastating impact on my electorate. This is still a budget that has the biggest impact on those who can afford it least: low- and middle-income earners, the sick and their carers, pensioners, the unemployed, the young, the people who are battling with addiction, parents who are battling with addiction and trying to improve their lot in life. It is a budget that will both entrench and widen the gap between rich and poor in this country. It is a budget Australians will not stand for and it is a budget that Labor will not stand for.

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