2018 Budget - Terri Butler MP, Labor for Griffith

2018 Budget

I spoke in the Federation Chamber on the Budget.

You can read the speech below.

Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, you, along with all of us, will have today received a statement from the UNHCR. The UN refugee agency wrote to us all to tell us it is profoundly saddened by the death of a Rohingya refugee on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, today. The statement said:

The tragic loss of yet another vulnerable person under Australian 'offshore processing' again underscores the need for proper care and immediate solutions.

It's not good enough that people who need care and who have come to us seeking help are left in unsafe and uncertain conditions. The government needs to act swiftly to end the suffering of people who have fled persecution and have come looking for help from Australia. The government needs to get people settled on both a safe and permanent basis. It needs to be done urgently. This government's failures when it comes to refugees are there for all to see. People have been left in unsafe conditions. Enough is enough. The government must settle people permanently and safely now that they've obtained refugee status determinations.

I wanted to talk briefly to the parliament about the loss of a Queensland statesman and Queensland legend, and that person is former Deputy Premier of Queensland the Hon. Terry Mackenroth. I was greatly saddened when I heard about the loss that the Mackenroth family suffered, because it was a loss that our entire community suffered. Terry was not just a friend of mine but also a constituent, and someone who was a political hero to so many of us in the Labor movement in Queensland. The respect that he was afforded was not just from our side, and that was very obvious at the funeral that was held in Carina after his death. There was such a good representation from both sides of politics, as well as from the community, from his family and from the sporting world. He made an indelible mark on the life of Queenslanders, and his legacy will be carried on every time someone goes to Lang Park or every time someone goes to the new gym that's been opened at the Clem Jones Centre at Carina. The Premier said when she gave the eulogy at his funeral, citing the testament that's been made to Christopher Wren, 'If you seek a monument, look around you'. That is absolutely the case. I know this year at the State of Origin and when we're at Lang Park, we'll be looking around thinking of the contribution that Terry Mackenroth made to rugby league, to netball, to the community, to disability, to aged care, to support people who are elderly and to our state. We're very sad to have lost him.

I also wanted to raise the Greenslopes Red Cross Hall. This is a Commonwealth-owned parcel of land across the road from the veterans' hospital, the Greenslopes Private Hospital, on Newdegate Street. This is a property that has been sitting vacant for some time. Unfortunately, the government, more than a year ago now, put up a security fence and started commissioning security patrols, but has been sitting on its hands in disposing of this property. The reason it's of such concern to my constituents is the obvious risk, that anyone can see, from the asbestos on the property. This is an old crumbling building, vacant, seemingly abandoned, but the Commonwealth still owns it. It has an asbestos roof and nothing's been done—or at least nothing obvious—in the period it's been sitting vacant. It's not good enough. The Commonwealth needs to act urgently to deal with this property and to remove any risk to residents from the presence of asbestos there.

I want to speak briefly in this place about the Bulimba Barracks. As you would be aware, the Bulimba Barracks are situated in my electorate on the Bulimba Peninsula. A sale of the Bulimba Barracks has been imminent, supposedly, for some years now. The department has appointed a real estate agent, so I anticipate that there will be a sale in coming months. It is absolutely crucial to our community that the master plan that the Labor representatives locally—that's me, the honourable Di Farmer MP, Councillor Shayne Sutton and now Councillor Kara Cook—have fought for is respected by any purchaser of that land. This is a massive parcel of land, about 21 hectares of north-facing river front land. The department must do its bit to ensure that prospective purchasers are aware of the importance of complying with the master plan.

I'm also very concerned about the presence of contamination at that site. There was a contamination report done quite some time ago now, and it identified a range of actual and potential contaminants. My community is very concerned about them. We've been asking for answers for about two years now from the Commonwealth about what has been done to remediate the contamination. The Commonwealth has been evasive. The Commonwealth needs to come clean and the Turnbull government needs to come clean with the community about what precisely has been done to remediate the contamination of this Defence site and what will be done to ensure that the prospective purchaser is aware of what further remediation will be required.

This government has cut schools funding by $17 billion. In Griffith alone government schools lose $14.1 million over just two years, and Catholic schools lose $57.1 million over two years. Parents and families in my electorate are right to be concerned about the cuts to school funding. Why is it that the Prime Minister and the Liberal-National government can find the money to give corporate tax cuts to big business and the big banks in the vicinity of $80 billion in value, but can't find the money to fund schools properly? It's a stark difference between Labor and the Liberals: $17 billion to the banks or $17 billion to schools? I think most parents and families would rather see the funding going where it's sorely needed: into school education in this country.

This government is cutting funding to universities. In last year's MYEFO, released in December, there was a $2.2 billion cut to university funding. It's the equivalent of 9,500 university places, and it was an end to the demand driven system. Universities in Queensland are losing $436 million. Under these cuts, Griffith University will lose $92 million, the University of the Sunshine Coast will lose $34 million, and UQ and QUT will lose $100 million each. It's not good enough. I'm so proud that Labor, in our budget reply, announced that we would be reinstating the demand driven system. When the demand driven system was created, what that meant for people living in my electorate of Griffith on the south side was that there were 2,400 more university places. Under our new policy of bringing back the demand driven system, we'll see around 2,300 more students on the south side living in the electorate of Griffith.

University education is important. Vocational education is equally important. Recently the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I, along with the state minister the honourable Shannon Fentiman MP, visited the Mount Gravatt institute of TAFE. We were so lucky to be there, along with Jo Briskey, Labor's candidate for Bonner, and to see the advanced manufacturing work being done at the TAFE at Mount Gravatt. They have a fashion speciality. While we were there looking at what students were doing with textiles and design, one of the students spoke to us. She said that the funding cuts meant everybody was being asked to bear more of the cost, and that it was becoming more expensive to go to TAFE than it was to go to university. She felt that it was getting to the point where people just couldn't afford to go to TAFE. She said, 'I hope that your being here means we'll be seeing more money for TAFE.' The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, 'Absolutely it will, to the tune of more than $600 million.' Labor has committed to restoring to TAFE more than $600 million of funding that the Liberals have previously cut. It will also be committing $100 million for equipment improvements at TAFEs.

Since then, this government cut a further $270 million from vocational education in this year's budget. It's not good enough. If we want to be a high-skilled, high-wage nation whose firms can be at the top end of global value chains and have the sorts of expertise and experience to make them able to contribute in that way then we can't keep relying on immigration and temporary skilled migration; we have to train our own people. It is ridiculous that at the very period of time in which more people have started to come in on temporary skilled visas, there has also been a decrease in the investment needed to ensure we have a properly functioning vocational education system. We must fund TAFE as a nation, and Labor will fund TAFE in the event that we're elected in future.

I also want to talk about kindies. On the weekend I visited a beautiful kindy in my electorate, Stones Corner Kindergarten. It's a gorgeous place. There were so many people there raising money, organising raffles and cooking food. I had a great time drawing the raffle. The kids were so engaged. Shortly after I got there, one of the mums said to me that she's worried about universal access kindy funding. She is right to be worried about it, because this government has committed to funding kindies only to the end of 2019. If you have a young child, a baby or a toddler, and you're right now thinking about what's going to happen with their kindergarten in 2020 or later, you have no certainty. You have no idea what it's going to cost.

Despite the fact that Labor has been calling on the government for several years to commit to longer term funding for universal access, the government has failed to do that. I can't believe it. I thought in the 2018 budget the minister and the Prime Minister might finally commit to five-year funding for universal access to kindy. No, not there; 2019! How is that supposed to give certainty not just to the families but to the staff of the kindergartens? How are directors and teachers meant to plan for their lives beyond the end of 2019? What must management committees be thinking, not knowing the source of their funding after the end of next year? The management committees are volunteers. They're parents with busy lives. They have to worry about raising $300 to improve a piece of equipment at the kindy, organising a sausage sizzle or cake stall at Bunnings, and this government is making them worry about whether there'll be universal access funding beyond the end of 2019? It's ridiculous. It needs to be funded.

Early childhood education could not be more important. It is absolutely fundamental that Australian kids get the best possible education at a very young age if we want them to be able to succeed at school, post school and in the jobs of the future, yet this government has not and will not fund universal access to kindy beyond the end of 2019. I think that's a disgrace, a real shame and a real missed opportunity. I might also mention in passing that, when it comes to long day care, more than 2,000 families in my electorate alone are set to be worse off under the Turnbull government's childcare package. It's an absolute disgrace. This government should fund education properly, it should fund kindies and child care properly, and it should fund schools and post-secondary properly.

I want to raise an issue very important to people in my electorate—that is, the issue of out-of-pocket costs for going to the doctor. My electorate of Griffith has the dubious distinction of having the highest out-of-pocket costs for visiting a GP in the whole of Queensland. It's very disappointing when you see this government's attempts to continue to push up out-of-pocket costs for going to the GP. We also have the fourth highest out-of-pocket costs in Queensland for visiting a specialist. The government, in freezing the MBS rebate, has exacerbated out-of-pocket costs for people to go to the doctor or a specialist. I'm very proud that, in the by-election that I fought in 2014 as Labor's candidate, we were able to defeat the GP tax that the government proposed. I'm very proud that Labor has stood strongly in support of Medicare for the entire history of Medicare and, of course, before it. I'm very concerned that the government seems to be willing to allow the benefits of Medicare to be eroded through constantly shifting the cost of health care onto the shoulders of families and households.

No-one wants to see the Americanisation of our health system. No-one wants a situation where it's your credit card, not your Medicare card, that determines the health care you're able to obtain. That's where we're headed under this government. Labor will always stand up for Medicare; the Liberals will always erode and damage Medicare. If you want to make sure that we have a good Medicare system in this country, the only way to do that is to vote Labor.

I want to raise the issue of hospitals in my electorate. There are large cuts to hospitals. I look forward to being able to be part of a future Shorten Labor government to ensure that hospitals are funded properly and that there are no further cuts to hospitals. I note the minister's attempts to deny hospital cuts today. Those cuts are there.

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