Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (18:30): I rise to talk to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2015-2016. At the outset, I want to acknowledge a number of things. Firstly, we are going to be supporting these appropriation bills which, combined, appropriate an additional $2.2 billion for the 2015-16 financial year. They will reflect measures in the 2015-16 MYEFO, Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, as well as machinery-of-government changes resulting from the leadership change last year.
MYEFO was released on 15 December last year. We are not in the business of blocking the measures in that bill. It has really been the track record of those opposite that they have engaged in that type of behaviour. We are not in the business of blocking supply, and that is why we intend to support the bill. Having said that, it is important to note MYEFO continues a tradition that has been established from the very first MYEFO that this new government—the Abbott government and now the Turnbull government—delivered. They have both maintained a consistency. The consistency has been for MYEFO to deliver cut after cut after cut.
The last MYEFO was pretty much the same. Across a range of areas—be it aged care, workforce development initiatives, healthcare—you could see cut after cut after cut. Also the new Turnbull government is still carrying over the type of things that the Abbott government wanted to do—in particular, there is no walking away from the GP tax; there is no walking away from $100,000 university degrees. All these things have been tucked away, as if they were in suspended animation, ready to come out whenever the government thinks it can get away with it. Judging by the debate that is happening in the other place on electoral reform, I suspect that somewhere down the track you are going to see all these nasties—that we were able to stop through the combined forces in the other place; blocking those types of measures that would have hurt Australian families—resurrected once the coalition is able to. As a result of its engineering of these new electoral reforms, I imagine you will see all these things being brought to life and imposed on the Australian people at some later date. The types of cuts that are still embedded within that last MYEFO are still being brought to us here today.
MYEFO itself is being brought down in the context of an economy that is still growing below trend. It has had to be adjusted as a result of population growth, or lack thereof. We still see as well a government that was elected on a mantra of tackling debts and deficits. Their record in that department is terrible. Last MYEFO, the cornerstone of these appropriation bills, blew the deficit out by $26 billion over the forwards. It was a blow-out of $120 million a day between the 2015-16 budget and the 2015-16 MYEFO.
As I said, before the election the coalition thought that debt and deficits were the signature test for economic leadership. On that basis, when you look at their track record, they have failed their own test. Net debt for 2016-17 is nearly $100 billion higher than forecast in the 2013 Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Gross debt is headed towards $550 billion by the end of the forward estimates. Again, it is worth noting that the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook is prepared independently—it is prepared by the secretaries of Treasury and Finance during the election period—and it had the budget returning to surplus at the end of the forward estimates period.
The budget that was brought down by the Abbott government—and now we expect in the next 10 weeks another budget to be delivered by the Turnbull government—did not forecast a return to surplus until 2020-21, and that would be largely off the back of bracket creep. So most of the work of returning the budget to surplus is due to just that: bracket creep. And, if the Treasurer gets his way and is able to prevent bracket creep occurring, it is entirely possible that we could see the surplus go off into the future yet again.
I made reference to the fact that the broader economy is not performing in the way that many would expect or anticipate or desire. It is growing below trend, and that is something that the RBA has been pointing out for quite some time—I sit on the standing committee on economics. The economy has been growing below trend, and the RBA does not expect it to move much further into the future.
There are some other disturbing signs as well. If you look at last week, wages in this country are continuing to grow at some of the lowest levels—as they have for quite some time—we have seen since records began. This makes it harder for families to anticipate if they will be able to cover a big bill with the savings they have; they cannot bank on a wage increase or a healthier salary, because when you look at wages growth it is just not moving that fast.
What is also important to note—and I took heed of the shadow Assistant Treasurer’s contribution in this debate where he highlighted an important statistic—is that net disposable income per capita has been falling for six consecutive quarters. This is of great concern, because it is obviously a reflection of what people will be feeling out there beyond this chamber when they are thinking about meeting the needs of their families, paying the bills or being able to fund the types of things that they would like to do. So, it is serious that this statistic has been falling in all of those quarters.
Real living standards, as a result, have gone down two per cent since the coalition came to office, and it would not have been helped by the 2014 budget hacking into the type of support that families, the general community and those people in need are accustomed to and require. They certainly would face the same types of pressures as a result of the 2015 budget and the cuts that have been continued in MYEFO. Again, these are serious issues that are impacting on people, particularly from the electorate that I am proud to represent in this place—from Western Sydney and the seat of Chifley.
MYEFO, as I mentioned before, continues a tradition that has been set by this government. The tradition has been to cut, cut, cut. The first MYEFO that Chifley residents had to confront was the one for 2013-14, delivered in December 2013. It had a particularly nasty cut in it. Back then we had, earlier in the year, finally secured the green light for funding for an important healthcare project. Health care, for me, is one of the key priorities for the Chifley electorate. People in our electorate should be able to anticipate access to healthcare services that are as good as any in the Sydney area. They have had to contend with a lot, where investment has not kept pace with growth in our area. A number of people, rightly, expect better. It has been one of the areas that, since I have had the honour of being elected into this place, I have pursued—in particular, trying to find sources of investment support to be able to secure new equipment for Mount Druitt Hospital. I have fought for some time for us to be able to get an MRI in Mount Druitt Hospital. After a long campaign, we secured thousands of signatures. We eventually got the funding for that, and in that first MYEFO that the Abbott government brought down, in December 2013, they callously cut away the funding that would have provided that vital equipment for our area.
It was a shameful act by a new government that had said they would not be making cuts to health care, and their first signature economic decision in that MYEFO statement was to do that. They were also joined, in this zeal for cutting, by the Baird government. Through the funding cuts of the state Liberal government, New South Wales saw, in an area that is affected by heart disease, the closure of a cardiac ward at Mount Druitt Hospital. It is shameless that in an area of high need they could cut those vital services to people. People basically saw a downgrade of healthcare services in our area from a federal government and a state Liberal government working in tandem to cut the support required. Remarkably, out of the blue, the Baird government, going into an election last year, announced—lo and behold, after cutting funding, after cutting services to Mount Druitt Hospital—that they would put in place an MRI. Bear in mind that they had to contend with the $80 billion of cuts to schools and hospitals that were triggered by the 2014 Abbott budget, but in that climate they said that they would fund an MRI for Mount Druitt Hospital.
Putting aside the politics, I was happy to see that occur, because the Baird government had had a dismal record in terms of healthcare funding, but if they were going to put that equipment in, so be it. We will never turn away that type of support. However, while they were quick to make that commitment to fund the MRI, they have been slow to actually honour it. We have seen them dragging their feet in honouring the commitment. My friend and colleague at the state level, the member for Mount Druitt, Mr Edmond Atalla, has asked them on a number of occasions for answers as to when we can expect to see the MRI at Mount Druitt Hospital. He had asked in May whether the New South Wales minister could provide a timetable for various upgrades at Mount Druitt, including the new MRI machine. The minister answered: ‘The project planning for Blacktown Mount Druitt Hospital stage 2 is currently underway.’ That was it—no indication. A few months later, in August, he asked again:
When will Mount Druitt Hospital receive an MRI machine as announced by the Government during the pre-election campaign?
I am advised that:
The Government announced a $400 million commitment towards Stage 2 of the Blacktown and Mount Druitt hospitals expansion. This follows the $312 million Stage 1 redevelopment.
The Stage 2 redevelopment includes a new MRI machine for Mount Druitt Hospital.
There was no answer as to when. They make the promise in the lead-up to the election but do not follow through whatsoever.
This is, quite frankly, an outrageous delay that is being foisted on the people of Mount Druitt, and they should not tolerate it. As I have said, they have already had to contend with a massive cut to future healthcare spending by the Abbott government, maintained by the Turnbull government, seeing cuts through MYEFO, and we have seen further cuts in the last one. We have now seen the state government, in a grab for votes, make a commitment and not follow through more than a year since that commitment was made. The people of Mount Druitt should not be forced to wait.
Labor in government made big investments in Mount Druitt Hospital. I am pleased to see the shadow minister at the table. When he was a parliamentary secretary he visited Mount Druitt Hospital and announced investment in palliative care at the hospital, which we were very grateful for, and the assignment of extra funding for modern CAT scanners and also extra subacute beds at the hospital, which people were very grateful for. Labor in government had a track record of investing in health care in our area, and from the federal and state jurisdictions we have seen nothing but cuts. This agenda is continually maintained by the types of documents that, as I said, are the cornerstone of this appropriation bill today. So I am calling on the Baird government to finally stump up, to stop trying to get the cheap headlines, to deliver for the people that you said you would and to put that MRI machine in Mount Druitt Hospital. The people of our area, as I said, deserve to have access to health care as good as any within the Sydney metropolitan region, and they have been denied that. We need to stand up to fight for that, not only at the state level but, as I said, the federal one as well, where we are committed to taking on this government, which might be in a different form, in a different guise, but is still maintaining the same type of philosophy that the Abbott government started with, which was to break the election promise not to touch health care, to fail to deliver. We are certainly not going to sit idly by and see continued cuts affecting, particularly, the people of Western Sydney.