Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (13:04): Why are we here? The most important feature of the parliamentary calendar occurs this week. It is the week when we see the budget being delivered—an outline of what the government is intending to do to help manage the economy, to manage finances and to meet community expectations. It is supposed to be a considered, thorough process, yet it has been scrambled a week forward. Why? Effectively, the reason is that this government knows its political fortunes are sinking like a stone and therefore it has to have this mad scramble to bring forward the budget so that it can bring forward an election to save as many skins from that side of the House as possible. In actual fact, there are not too many of them in this debate on the supply bills and what the government is going to do in its budget. There is, like, no-one—absolutely no-one—from their side, other than the assistant minister, who is here, who will stand up and defend the government’s economic record, defend the government’s budget strategy and advance or advocate on behalf of this government as to why they believe they should be in control of the nation’s finances. There is not one present. And why would they? It is a hard sell. They do not want to have to be in parliament after the budget is brought down. They want to be as far away as possible from this place where they are required to actually speak for themselves, defend their decisions and stand up for their actions. They will not do that—no way, no how.
Can we expect any sort of demonstration of real economic leadership in this budget? I doubt it. Remember the promise of new economic leadership that was the cornerstone of the Prime Minister’s pitch for his new job back in September last year? He promised new economic leadership—and when he said it, he said it deliberately. What he wanted to do was convince people that the change from Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, to him would signal a shift. By saying that he would be delivering economic leadership he signalled that there would be something different, something unique, something new, something altered from the trajectory that the previous administration or regime under the member for Warringah and the then member for North Sydney—which was just simply chaotic—was on. There would be something different. As it is always with this government, it is all about style. It is never about substance.
What people are finding out very quickly is that statement about new economic leadership has turned out to be misleading. It has evaporated its luck with everything that has to do with this government. It is founded on false expectation. For example, under new leadership will we see, in this budget, a change to the $30 billion that has been cut from schooling in this nation? Will we see a move away from a plan to inflict $100,000 university degrees? Will we see a change from the plans to increase the cost of medicines for everyone by increasing the co-payments as part of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the PBS? Will we see a change or a move away from a plan to make us have the world’s oldest pension age by increasing our pension age to 70? Will we see the end to calling parents rorters and double dippers, through changes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme? Will we see a move away from cutting bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology services? Will we see young job seekers no longer forced to wait four weeks before receiving income support? On all of those things you will not see one change.
There has been very little move away from the hardline economic decisions that were suddenly foisted on us by the member for Warringah and the member for North Sydney, the former Prime Minister and the former Treasurer, respectively. Those things will stand. They will remain the same—every single thing. It is Tony Abbott’s agenda, just delivered with a flashier smile. This bloke, the new Prime Minister, is simply a Cartier copy of Tony Abbott, delivering the same version of hard nosed economics—a reality that was never delivered and a promise that was never given to the Australian public, before they went to vote, that this is what would happen. In fact, the opposite was suggested: a whole lot of things that were going to happen were said to keep people calm and reduce their nerves about what the member for Warringah would be like as Prime Minister. All those promises—no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to the GST, no changes to pensions and no cuts to the ABC or SBS—were ditched the minute they got into office.
Then, we have a Prime Minister who says he will promise a change of economic leadership. For example, in recent days—after, a few weeks ago, stunningly signalling that he would walk away from supporting public education along the lines advanced by the Gonski review and the report that David Gonski put out—he suddenly backtracked and announced on the weekend leading into the budget that they would have some money and that they would find some funds to back schooling. But when you look at it, when you go beyond the style, when you go beyond the glitz and you see what is happening, it is a pittance relative to what is required under the Gonski plan—an absolute pittance. And people have been ripped off. Parents who were expecting a better deal out of this government have been ripped off. We are just seeing the same thing.
Before the election we saw the coalition say that, for instance, it would stand on a unity ticket with Labor when it came to Gonski. If you voted for Labor, because of the fact that we made a commitment to funding better educational outcomes in this country, you could vote for the coalition because ‘we would do the same thing’, according to them. What did they do when they got into office? In their first budget they cut $30 billion from schools. We had a chance to change educational opportunity and outcome in this country by getting on with this plan early, quickly and thoroughly. It was ditched by those opposite: a stunning reversal of a commitment that they had given at an election.
To try and calm down the type of anger that is been felt as a result of moving away from that commitment—and some of the stunning comments that were made by the Prime Minister a few weeks ago, where he shocked everyone saying that he would move away from public education entirely and leave that as something that should only be managed by the states and territories—he has come up with this. It is, again, an absolute pittance and a disgrace.
There is nothing new about this form of economic leadership. It is merely a copy of what we have seen before. People are realising that this government is not delivering on the expectations that they raised: that the Prime Minister would be different, and that his team would be different. The promise that there would be an altered course is not materialising. As a result, they are scrambling. That is why have we have this package of bills before the House today: to ensure that the ordinary functions of government continue while we are headed off to a double dissolution election that has been sprung on people and has only been manufactured to save as many people as possible on that side of the fence.
It has not been done to have a considered, measured approach to the budget or to deal with the types of things that those opposite said they had to deal with. Remember when they always used to talk about debt and deficit dramas that they thought they had fixed? Now, the deficit has doubled and debt is growing. Net debt, next financial year, is estimated to be $100 billion higher than what it was at the election, increasing from $217.3 billion in the 2013 pre-election fiscal outlook to $316.5 billion in MYEFO, of 2015-16, for the 2016-17 financial year. Spending is at global financial crisis levels: 25.9 per cent of GDP. Those opposite promised so much and have failed to deliver. In fact, the result is way worse since they have taken over.
We have said we will not block supply. We will not impact on the smooth management of government in this period. This has to provide the five-twelfths of the year’s appropriation for the government entities, with the exception of the Australian Electoral Commission and the ABS. However, the appropriations in these bills do not contain any of the budget measures that will be announced. We will be interested, in the next 24 hours, as will the nation, to see if we are going to have new economic leadership or more of the same: cuts, pain and broken promises.