For many months now, I have been bracing myself for the impact of this budget. I knew that this budget would be bad for Canberra and I warned my constituents accordingly—so much so, in fact, that the Liberal senator for the ACT accused me of scaremongering on more than one occasion. However, not even I was prepared for just how bad this budget turned out to be. The Abbott government made absolutely no attempt to hide its disdain for Canberra and for the Public Service. I knew that cuts to the Public Service were coming but, that said, I had not expected the cuts to be so harsh—some 16½ thousand jobs cut plus an increase in the efficiency dividend of 0.25 per cent. There are over 7,000 Public Service jobs to go in the next year alone.
The impacts of this budget on Canberra will be even worse than I had feared. I have had constituents tell me that they think it could even be worse than 1996—and I will just remind those opposite of what happened to my city in 1996. In 1996, the Howard government was elected on a supposed promise to get rid of 2½ thousand public servants through natural attrition. That ended up being 15,000 public servants here in Canberra alone and 30,000 nationally. What was the impact on my town? House prices plummeted and we went through an economic slump for five years. We had two quarters of negative growth; people left town; the local shops closed down; businesses went under; bankruptcies, both non-business and business, went up. It had a huge impact not just on Canberra but on the entire capital region—Yass, Griffith, Queanbeyan, down at the South Coast and all around. It had an enormous impact, an enormous ripple effect, and it lasted for five years before we came out of that hole. So when I am accused by Liberal senators for the ACT of scaremongering, I say to them: 'All I'm doing is reading the budget out loud.'
In addition to the public service job cuts, Canberra was hit with funding cuts to the ANU, the University of Canberra, NICTA and the CSIRO. Canberra's world-class cultural institutions were hit with cuts that will lead to the loss of specialised and skilled staff. And in the first budget of the self-proclaimed infrastructure Prime Minister there was a distinct lack of the infrastructure investment in the national capital.
This was the worst possible version of the attack on Canberra for which I had been bracing. In fact, as I said, some people have said that it is even worse than 1996 and what happened to this town then. However, what I had not expected was that this budget would also be a blatant and outrageous attack on the youth of Australia. I also did not expect a Prime Minister who had said that there is no greater friend of Medicare than him to destroy the fundamental principles of the universality of Medicare. I did not expect a Prime Minister who was a former health minister and knows full well the benefits of preventive and primary health to completely undermine the principles of preventive and primary health that exist throughout the MBS and PBS. And I did not expect a Prime Minister who said he would be the Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs to rip hundreds of millions of dollars of funding from Indigenous health. I attended a crisis meeting last week with the Indigenous community health service provider in my electorate, Winnunga Nimmityjah. They provide a fantastic service to between 30 and 50 per cent of the region for everything from diabetes control to immunisation, child and neonatal health, GP services, dental health, physio, psychology and psychiatry—you name it. Winnunga provide a fantastic service to the Indigenous members of our community in Canberra and the capital region. At this crisis meeting they called of people not just in Canberra but from around the country I was told by those Indigenous health leaders that, through the cuts that will happen as a result of the Abbott government budget, the gap will not close but widen.
I did not expect a Prime Minister who promised prior to the election that he would make no changes to the age pension to rip funding from pensioners by lowering the indexation rate for that pension. I did not expect a government that had spent the last six years in opposition speaking about cost of living and framing every single debate around cost of living, to introduce at the first chance a budget that dramatically increases the cost of living for Australian families. Perhaps what I least expected was a government that said it wanted to fix the budget being a government that in fact created a false budget emergency so that it could be seen to be fixing the budget and not just reduce the deficit. Instead, this budget was full of new spending initiatives such as the gold plated parental leave, an $8 billion gift to the Reserve Bank and a new medical research fund.
Even though I went into this budget fearing the worst, I had obviously overestimated the Abbott government. The Australian people have seen this budget for what it is: grossly unfair, based on lies and bad for our country. If those opposite will not listen to me perhaps they will listen to my constituents. The letters I am about to read out are just some of the dozens of emails, letters and phone calls I have received over the past two weeks from Canberrans outraged by the Abbott government's budget of broken promises. The first reads:
I live in Kambah and have two sons studying at a school in Canberra, one currently completing Year 12 and the other in Year 10. Two weeks before Christmas last year I lost my job via a "Voluntary" redundancy (which of course wasn't really voluntary at all). I had been a dedicated and efficient public servant for the past 25 years. I have been unemployed since and although I've applied for many jobs, I have been unsuccessful in being able to obtain one (even just an interview). I am 46 years old so it will be quite some time before I can draw a superannuation pension therefore I have to work. Before the Election, my two sons both had apprenticeships lined up. However, since and because of the Budget, both offers of apprenticeships have been withdrawn by their potential employers. This has really upset them and I worry greatly for their futures.
I don't know how we are going to survive. Really, I am so terribly worried about our future. In my 25 years as a public servant, I've never seen it this bad in Canberra. Please FIGHT and fight hard for us against this budget and this destructive Government. They have gone in too hard, too fast and hit the people who can least afford it. I ask that you strongly oppose this Budget with all your might and trigger another Election."
The next one reads:
"Dear Ms Brodtmann,
I am an expat Australian living in Asia. I was devastated to hear that the government has axed the Australian Network. I watch it almost every evening, and the AFL football on the weekend. It is my life line to home: the news, the drama series (world class) and of course the footy. I encourage my English language students to view the free language lessons available. Most importantly, it is 'Australia's presence' in the region, one of the G20, more powerful than a military base.
The status it gives us, the prestige it bestows(most countries cannot have a global network), is uncountable, and surely worth more than the meagre millions being redirected. Please raise this matter with the government—Australians living and working o/s are collectively gutted! thank you for your time."
This letter reads:
What a nightmare the budget is! I understand that we, as a country, need to make changes to reduce our deficit and plan for the increase in cost of some areas of the future, but we are so disappointed that this budget is just so unimaginative and base. The policy that distresses us most at the moment is the deregulation of the University fee structure and the resultant higher fees. Our son is current in his second year at the University of Sydney, so he will be less affected than younger people yet to start out.
Please Gai we need you and your colleagues to do something about this terrible policy. What amendments can you propose, what parts can you block? How will our young people ever be able to afford to buy houses when they will be saddled with an $80K debt? How will they afford higher degrees and what will it do to their general spending power, none of this can be good for the economy. We want to commend and encourage you in your fight for the best for this country.
Another letter reads:
I am an ACT resident so I write to you all as representatives with a feeling of desperation for common sense and decency in this country. I find it hard to stomach seeing our current government present and then defend their proposed budget that targets the less well off in the country while providing what is effectively a handout to big business.
I've been unemployed here in Canberra for 12 months. So all these young people will now have to wait with zero income and then only get 6 months cover before plunging back to zero income. Sure there will always be ways to improve targeting but can the government please see and acknowledge that crime rates will be affected for instance, severe hardship will be imposed on families, depression rates increase?
I have always looked to the government and paid my taxes all my life in the belief that the money is a fair contribution to society and those on the margins and should always be there. You don't balance a budget by kicking unemployed people in the guts and handing big sums in a Paid Parental Leave scheme that no-one else but Tony Abbott was calling for!
Another one reads:
This is the first time I have written to a politician since I was at university—a long time ago—but I feel I have a moral duty to say something now. As a sixth generation Australian I am appalled at what the government has done. I see a government for the top 3 % in our society looking for the best possible way to fund reductions in their private and corporate income tax by reducing support for the most vulnerable in our society. The measures the government has announced are designed to create an underclass denied the long term health, education and social benefits we, as citizens of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, should make available to everyone.
How can it benefit our future to create an underclass of the chronically ill, under educated and disaffected? In this technological society there is and will continue to be fewer and fewer places for the unskilled. Why create more of them and how will these people work into their 70s? This budget will end any ambition that Australia might become 'the clever country'. It certainly would have ensured that I, as a policeman's daughter in the 1970s, would never have got to university.
I am perfectly cognisant of the fact that we have an aging and longer living population but dumping half of them on a scrap heap of need doesn't seem to be a moral response. The ridiculous levy will be felt by few and paid by less. These changes won't affect me much but they will affect my view of my country.
Any society is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members. The Prime Minister has cast his attempt to change the nature of this country as an 'act of political courage'. Maybe, but it is not an intelligent act nor a good-hearted one. I would prefer to describe it as an 'act of political bastardry'. As my elected representative I am requesting that you do everything in your power to prevent these appalling assaults on our social fabric—even if that means we end up going to the polls again this year.
And another reads:
I'm not normally one to write to politicians, however I feel in this case I need to express my concern with the way the country is being managed. I am 28 years old, single with no children, earn around 100K per year with the federal APS and have private health insurance. I pay my fair share of taxes, contribute to the community through volunteer work and actively represent the Australian culture by being fair and equal to others. However,
I am greatly concerned with the recent federal budget and the impact it is going to have on me and the Canberra community. Firstly, I am concerned with the large-scale public sector cuts being disproportionately thrown at the Canberra community. I am worried about the flow on effect this will have on the local economy including retail and hospitality, as well as the housing market, thus creating a mass exodus of locals finding greater stability in other areas of the country.
I am so sick of having to defend my profession when I speak to non-locals, or continually view the Liberal Party's smearing of the public sector as lazy fat cats who sit ripe on high incomes. That 100K I'm earning—do you know how many Christmas's I have spent away from family, or holidays I have sacrificed to meet the government's policy objectives, or the late nights spent worrying about a deadline. I can assure you that I'm definitely not sitting around, smoking a cigar enjoying the so called lazy fat cat lifestyle of the public service.
Secondly, I am concerned about the federal government's withdrawal of $80 billion in state/territory funding for health and education, and the possibility that this may position the state and territories in a situation where they request an increase in the GST. Thankfully I am earning quite a nice salary, especially for my age, however how do you expect the general population to survive in this country when gas and electricity is going up, fuel prices continue to rise (especially in Canberra), healthy food is too expensive for a single income let alone a family, and on top of that the GST may rise.
Gai, how are people supposed to survive?
Lastly, I am concerned with the increase to the fuel excise in a city that heavily relies on cars because of an inadequate public transport system. Will the light rail project continue now that the ACT economy is going to lose funding?
I am very concerned about the way Canberra has been hit with this budget, and as a member of the voting public —a taxpayer and contributing member to the Canberra community—I want to ensure that my concerns are heard and acknowledged, and represented as necessary.
To those opposite, I implore you: if you will not listen to me, listen to the people of Canberra and of Australia. The people who have contacted me are not necessarily Labor supporters; they are not necessarily political. They are just ordinary Australians, ordinary Canberrans, who have been outraged by this budget, who have been betrayed by a Prime Minister who promised that he would be true to his word.
This is not only a budget of broken promises but a budget of broken dreams. It is a budget that will both entrench and widen the gap between the rich and the poor. It is a budget that is unfair and, to quote one of my constituents: 'devastating for Canberra and is a budget that asks Canberrans to do the heavy lifting for the nation'.