Speech on the Budget

25 May 2015

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (20:06):  Around this time 13 nights ago, at this time of the evening, a lot of Australian families would have gathered around the television waiting for a plan from the Treasurer for the future of this country. And a lot of them, at the end of the Treasurer's speech, would have been scratching their heads, because this was a backward-looking, divisive and politically motivated budget from a backward-looking, divisive and politically motivated government.

It is said so often in this place that budgets are about priorities, but I do not think it is completely understood among some of the members in this place just how damaging this budget is for this country and, more importantly, what it says about their view of Australia—because the kind of budget we have go towards what kind of country we want for the future. There is so much going on around the world that impacts on our nation, and budgets are an opportunity to announce to the country what the priorities for Australia are as we try to make the most of the future and all of the challenges and opportunities that the future brings.

The McKinsey Global Institute report called No ordinary disruption said that there are all kinds of forces, in the institute's opinion, that will impact on countries such as ours—the rise of emerging markets, the accelerating pace of technological innovation, an ageing world population and the accelerating flows of trades, capital, people and data. All of that impacts on our nation.

I will give you one example of what I think is a stunning fact. Around the world in the next 10 years there will be 100 million more unskilled workers than unskilled jobs at the same time as we are expecting to see 40 million more skilled jobs than we have skilled workers. For a country such as ours and communities such as mine and others right around the country, this is our big chance. This is our big chance to set up the next generation of workers, contributors and thinkers to succeed in the economy of the future. If there is one thing above all that will determine the success of the next generation of workers, it will be the ability to benefit from technological change. That means mastering the necessary skills.

I know, having grown up in the community that I now represent proudly, how crucial it is to give kids the skills and opportunities to get great jobs when they finish school. The sum total of the effort that goes in to our education system—whether it be in primary school, high school, vocational training or higher ed—will determine whether Australia rises or falls in the most dynamic part of a global economy. One of the most chilling things I have read is by an American author called Tyler Cowen. He warns that the world risks being divided into two camps—those who are good at working with machines and those who will be replaced by them. We in this place need to make the choice via our budgets, investments and policies that our kids will be skilled at working with machines and not replaced by them.

That is why the initiatives announced by the Leader of the Opposition two Thursday nights ago are so crucial. They are also why I was so pleased to visit Springwood Central State School in my electorate, a school which is already doing, in its code club, some of the coding and computational thinking that the Leader of the Opposition announced in that Thursday night budget reply that he wanted to see in all of our schools. The leader's budget reply ranged across all the STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—education investments we want to make for the future of this country. It was all about the jobs that will come for us down the track if we make sure that our young people can fill them.

Unfortunately, when the country needed a plan like this, instead we got a political strategy from those opposite. When we as a country were crying out for a plan for the future, we got a grab bag of political fixes, half-baked ideas and last year's cuts. Australia faces significant social and economic challenges that will seriously influence our standard of living in the decades ahead, but, instead of focusing on the issues that concern ordinary Australians the most, this government seems lost and confused, dazed, running around in circles and taking us nowhere. My community have looked at this budget and they wonder whether the Prime Minister is as concerned as they are about the obvious issues facing our nation or is even aware of them at all.

Australians are not stupid. They know that the real intentions of this government were revealed in the first budget, and they know that if you scratch the surface of the second budget those real intentions are still there. The government's political strategy is designed to mask at the core of this budget some of the really damaging policies that the public rejected in the first failed budget attempt last year. The government was hoping for an extreme makeover; instead they have been caught making it up as they go along.

If you do not believe me, check out the interview that the Treasurer did with Laurie Oakes on the night of the budget where, by repeatedly saying, 'Still on the table, still on the table,' the Treasurer confirmed $80 billion in cuts from schools and hospitals. He confirmed big cuts to family payments, which my colleague the member for Jagajaga referred to, and he confirmed the $100,000 degrees and the education policies and education cuts of the first budget are still on the table. He confirmed that on the public record for everyone to see. We also know that the GP tax is, in another version, still on the table, as well as all the other cuts, such as to the ABC, the SBS, community legal services, homelessness and domestic violence programs—the list goes on and on.

It is also clear that the unfairness at the core of the first budget is still on the table. We have heard at length today about the NATSEM independent figures that show that this budget continues the unfairness of the first one. My colleagues have run through some of those stats that show that the government again, unfortunately, are asking the most vulnerable in our community to carry the heaviest burden of their budget and their cuts in particular. That means very real out-of-pocket expensive to wear for some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in our community.

We have seen their real intentions. The mask slipped during question time today. I thought the Prime Minister used the type of language that would make even Mitt Romney blush when he was talking about people on welfare in the usual sneering and snobby way that he goes about that. Something that Mitt Romney would say only in private, caught on a secret camera, the Prime Minister says in the parliament of our nation. I think that speaks volumes about his character. So too does the fact that, at the same time as the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and all those opposite say they care about unemployment, debt, deficit and tax, if you look at their own budget and go through the actual pages you see that on all four of those tests they have failed.

Let me read into the record some of these facts. These are not opinions; these are facts in the pages of the government's own budget. The last time the current Treasurer stood before us to deliver a budget, a year ago, the deficit was $17 billion. It is now $35.1 billion. It has more than doubled in the last year, and it is projected to increase right across the forward estimates. If you look at the gross debt numbers—again, these are in the budget and are not an opinion but facts—you will see that gross debt will now reach $573 billion by 2025-26, up from $499 billion the last time the Treasurer reported it. Again, if you look right across the forward estimates, you can see that debt is increasing. These guys opposite stand up all the time and say they care about debt and deficit at the same time as they are blowing out both. They have been in government for 20 months now; the time has come to take responsibility and to fess up that that was nothing more than political rhetoric in opposition. It has now been tested in government and they have been found wanting.

If you look at the economic forecast, the member for Flynn—who is a great guy; I have got a lot of time for the member for Flynn—did not seem to be aware, when he was talking about jobs before, that the budget actually forecasts an increase in the unemployment rate. It has been revised up in this budget. Incorporating all of the government's policies, it has been revised up. If you look at the black and white of the budget papers, unemployment will be higher for longer than previously thought. Again, the government has been in government for 20 months now. They need to take responsibility for that record.

It is the same with growth. They banged on about growth and unemployment in opposition. They have now been tested in government. The growth figures have been revised down. What about tax? It is the same thing again. Tax increases both in real terms and as a proportion of the economy are in every single year of the forward estimates. Tax, as a proportion of the economy and in dollar figures, is higher every single year under this government than it was in any single year under the previous government. That is the stunning fact that they should front up to. The government is collecting more tax than ever before. This budget contains 17 new taxes and charges. That is tax. So we have done debt, deficit, tax and employment. On all of the tests that the government has set for itself, it has failed in this budget. Again, that is not opinion, but fact. It is black and white in the government's own budget papers.

It is true, as some of the other speakers on my side have mentioned, that there are aspects of the budget that we will do our best to support. I think it is worth noting when it comes to small business that I am tremendous supporter of small business not just in my community but right around the country. I know the contribution that small business people make to our economy and to our society. I have got the utmost respect for that contribution. I think we should shout from the mountain tops about the successes of our small business sector. I know that both sides the House agree on that point.

It does speak volumes that a government that has been in power for 20 months is so bereft of its own ideas that the best new aspect of this budget was an idea they restored from Labor. It does need to be on the record that the instant asset write-off, which is a tremendous initiative that I support, is something that was abolished in the last budget by this government. The best thing about this budget is a Labor idea that this government abolished last year and they are now reinstating. They are reinstating it temporarily, which is not ideal; but the principle and the policy of instant asset write-off is a good one. It is one that I was proud to have worked on in another role in this place. We do support that.

We have also indicated that we intend to play a constructive role when it comes to some of the savings measures in the budget. The shadow Treasurer at the National Press Club last Wednesday outlined that we will play a constructive role where we can when it comes to some of the measures proposed by the government. That is because—even though we disagree on some fundamental issues, particularly around the cuts to family payments and other payments—we do want to play our part in improving the bottom line. We have got our own suggestions around superannuation and multinational tax. But where we can find common ground with the government, we intend to find that common ground. We have indicated where that bipartisanship extends to about five measures that the shadow Treasurer particularly mentioned last Wednesday at the National Press Club.

For evidence that this government is incapable of looking forward into the future, look no further that their cuts to education and their failure to embrace our ideas around STEM education, our ideas around computational thinking in schools and our ideas around higher education and training in particular. For more evidence even than that that the government does not have any ideas of its own about the future of this country, just listen to them in question time. This political strategy they have—no matter what they are asked—is that they try to answer as if it is something to do with the former Labor government; that is, the last six years of Labor rather than the next decades of the country's future, in particular as it relates to the economy.

We have, as I mentioned, offered bipartisanship on small business, crowd funding and multinational tax avoidance. We are interested in finding and shaping the future of this country. It is a future built on a workforce that is geared up, taught and trained to speak the language of the future. Again, I commend the Leader of the Opposition for his foresight in the policies that he announced, which were some of the alternative approaches to the budget that we would take. We did think that the budget was geared towards the next election and not the next wave of prosperity in Australia. It was a strategy to win an election and it was a strategy to win the politics of the day on the six o'clock news, but not a plan to win the future of Australia in the economy of Asia.

In this budget, we did get—unfortunately for the country—a strategy for short-term political survival. We did not get the long-term vision that Australia needs when it comes to job security, affordable education or succeeding in the economy of the future. If we are serious about succeeding, we do need proper investment in our workers of the future. We do need proper investment in our kids, science, technology, engineering, maths, the education that they need and computational thinking, which is the language of future. We do not need this sort of short-sightedness, the cuts or the mean-spirited unfairness which are still at the core of the government's second budget, just like it was at the core of the first.