Standing up for Canberra

Appropriations Bills 3&4

The Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2016-2017 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2016-2017 are required to ensure the ordinary functions of government continue for the remainder of the 2016-17 financial year. As Labor has already stated, we will not block supply—we are still smarting from what happened in the seventies. 

What we will do is work constructively on budget repair that is fair, supporting what we can, opposing what we must and proposing alternative savings of our own. We will not support policies that are not in keeping with Labor values, that cut into our social fabric or that target low- and middle-income earners and the most vulnerable in our community. We have worked with the government to secure $6.3 billion in budget savings so far. That is more than what the government proposed in its first omnibus bill. By working this way, Labor was able to protect vulnerable people who had been targeted by cuts and save the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Labor is continuing its fight. Last year's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook showed that this government was still committed to the unfair measures introduced in the Abbott-Hockey 2014 budget—that hideous budget. I remember doorknocking in one of my suburbs just after that hideous budget. I had people on their doorsteps in tears. I had mothers terrified about what was going to happen to their children. Single mothers, wondering whether they could educate their children, were running down the street in tears as a result of that hideous, cruel 2014 budget where we saw the increase of the pension age to 70 and the Medicare freeze.

Unfortunately, since then nothing much has changed. The government continues to set its sights on families, treating them as the enemy. More than one million families are worse off with the late-night deal in the Senate last night, and we have all heard about that. More than one million families are now worse off as a result of what happened in the Senate last night. While Labor puts people before politics, the smaller parties side with the Turnbull government, which puts multinational corporations and big banks first. The government does deals in the Senate late at night to increase the burden on families and makes cuts to pensions and parental leave, cuts of $30 million to the funding of community legal centres, and cuts to Australian Federal Police pay and conditions. These are servants of democracy. These are protectors of our community, defenders of our nation, and here is the government proposing to cut the pay and conditions of 280 AFP officers. Those AFP officers protect the Prime Minister and those AFP officers protect the Governor-General.

It is endless. We have the $30 million of cuts to community legal centres. Community legal centres provide services to victims of domestic violence and those who are very disadvantaged and cannot access legal aid. These are centres that work with the most vulnerable to give them the basic of human rights, and that is access to legal services and access to justice. This government is proposing a $50 billion tax cut for big business and the big end of town and the big four banks, and yet is cutting $30 million to community legal centres that already run on the smell of an oily rag and already have volunteers because they cannot afford to pay wages. Many volunteers help out and give back to their community—they are helping the most vulnerable in the community—and this government is targeting them. On top of that we have the cuts of $30 billion to schools. The government is doing all this—cuts to families, cuts to pensions, cuts to parental leave, cuts to community legal services, cuts to AFP pay and conditions and cuts to schools—to provide a $50 billion tax cut to the big end of town.

Last night's deal in the Senate to freeze the family tax benefit rates for two years cuts $1.4 billion from Australian families. The Liberals, The Nationals, One Nation and Nick Xenophon have all bandied together to vote to cut family payments to 1.5 million Australian families. That is what they did last night. That is straight out of that horror 2014 budget. It is 2014 all over again. The families affected by this freeze are those who receive the maximum rate of family tax benefit part A. These are families with a household income of less than $52,000 a year. That is whom the government and One Nation and The Nationals and Nick Xenophon are targeting. The government says the freeze will be in place for two years, but isn't that what the government said about the Medicare freeze? In my electorate of Canberra, there are many families already doing it tough. The freeze will affect more than 10,000 families in Canberra who are currently receiving the family tax benefit. This will have a real detrimental impact on families in my electorate and right across Australia.

Like many other harsh and unfair treatments meted out by this government, they are cutting the living standards of Australians. That is just one way the government are cutting the living standards of Australians. The penalty rate decision will affect more than 13,000 people in my electorate. That is one in eight workers. They work in the retail, food and accommodation industries and will be affected by the penalty rate decision and could lose up to $77 a week. For many of these people it is the difference between putting petrol in the tank, being able to purchase a weekly bus ticket or putting food on the table or not doing those things. This latest pay cut is even more bad news and cuts a living standards of Canberra workers and their families.

You have to really ask the question. We have the deal that was done last night with The Nationals, One Nation and Nick Xenophon on the family tax benefit. Then you have the penalty rate decision. What sort of government sets about reducing the living standards of Australians, reducing the living standards of its community, rather than increasing them?

Isn't it the aspiration of all of us in this place to improve the lives of our community, to improve the lives of Australians and to contribute to our growth and prosperity? Here is a government that is actually reducing living standards through the family tax benefit cuts and through the penalty rate cuts. It just beggars belief. What is this government's agenda? What is this government's vision for the Australian people and our community?

While this government is campaigning for the Fair Work Commission to cut penalty rates, at the same time— these cuts and these attacks are just endless—we have seen the absolutely abysmal, blatant pork-barrelling that the cabinet has been doing with the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale, to the Deputy Prime Minister's electorate of New England. This is a government that is targeting low- and middle income families, the most vulnerable in our community, and reducing the living standards of many Australians while at the same time commissioning a cost-benefit analysis, costing $272,000, that showed there is not going to be any benefit as a result of this relocation—no benefit whatsoever. It is going to be all cost and no benefit. What sort of cost we are talking about here? Initially, there were figures of about $23 million, and now that has crept up to $26 million. And here is this government, slashing these community legal services to the tune of $30 million—one-third of each of those community legal services' budgets. This is what it is doing to those community legal services, and yet it is investing this ridiculous amount of money on this blatant, shameless pork-barrelling exercise to win votes for the Deputy Prime Minister.

As I stated in my submission to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee's inquiry into the relocation order, an absolutely outrageous order, the relocation underscores this government's complete and utter contempt and disdain for Canberra, for our servants of democracy—our public servants—and for Sir Robert Menzies's vision and legacy for this city. The relocation has placed the 175 staff members of the APVMA and their families under considerable stress and strain. Eighty-five per cent of them do not want to move. They do not want to be uprooted from their lives here in the ACT. Eighty-five per cent of them do not want their children's education interrupted or their partners to lose their jobs.

If the Turnbull government does not care about the welfare of these Canberrans, about the welfare of these staff members and their families—and it obviously does not really care much about Canberrans, given the cuts that have gone on with this coalition government since it was elected in 2013—it could spare a thought for the impact of this morale-sapping relocation on the productivity of the authority and the productivity of the agriculture industry. Ironically, this order, which is already having a significant hit on the productivity of the authority, is an order that has been instigated by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. It is just breathtaking. Here he is in question time, going on about the fantastic bumper crops and bumper sales figures for cattle this year, and here he is going on about the significant contribution that agriculture makes to the Australian GDP—and it does; it makes a significant contribution. So why would you in any way want to have a hit on that productivity and that growth by affecting the productivity of the authority that regulates so much of the pesticides and veterinary medicines that are used by the industry?

Despite the fact that we have had this cost-benefit analysis that showed that this ludicrous idea is all cost and no benefit, despite the fact that 85 per cent of the authority does not want to move, despite the fact that we are already seeing an impact on the productivity of the authority as a result of the morale-sapping plan to move it to Armidale —despite all of this—the most insulting aspect of this relocation, apart from the fact that it is going to have a huge hit on the bottom line and have a significant impact on members of my community, is the fact that they are forcing a relocation to Armidale, which 85 per cent of the staff oppose, and they do not even have an office for these people to move into. An office is proposed in the next few years, in that there is a greenfield site.

At estimates, we found out that APVMA staff members are working from McDonald's to access wifi, because they do not have any accommodation. And the greenfield office development is years away—it just beggars belief. It is staggeringly shocking that the government should waste so much money on this blatant pork-barrel exercise, to demand that these people move up to Armidale, essentially just so that the Deputy Prime Minister could win some votes at the last election. The government demands that they move up there—and it does not even have anywhere for them to go! They are sitting in the McCafe using the wifi, trying to access their work. The fact that there is no plan for this relocation, even though it has been mandated by an order—it is just breathtaking.

This government has until 1 July. The planning is still underway, and this government still has until 1 July to reverse this ridiculous decision. I am going to continue to campaign, calling on the government to reverse this ridiculous, blatant, shameless pork barrel, which is a complete and utter waste of money and which is destroying the productivity of the authority—an authority that is meant to improve the productivity of the agricultural sector. This decision is destroying the productivity of a very important industry, and it is sapping the morale of my constituents. I will campaign until the end, in an attempt to reverse this outrageous decision and the outrageous cuts which I have mentioned today.

This government is breathtakingly ordinary. We have a prime minister who treats the job as a hobby. Everywhere I go, Canberrans tell me that he is just one big disappointment. We have a government with no agenda. We have a government with no vision. We have a government with no plan. We have a government that is looking for savings but just targets the low- and middle-income earners in this community—the most vulnerable in our community—while at the same time having the audacity to promise a $50 billion tax cut to the big end of town— big business and big banks. It is outrageous and shameful. I will continue to campaign against this government's cuts.

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