Member for Isaacs

Address on the Federal Budget to the ALP Victorian State Conference Dinner - Melbourne - Mark Dreyfus QC MP

24 November 2014

Address on the Federal Budget to the ALP Victorian State Conference Dinner

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I also acknowledge the presence of federal and state parliamentary and local government colleagues, state candidates, and other distinguished guests.

With the Abbott government's appalling first Budget now handed down, one of the next tasks for Labor to undertake in the federal Parliament is the questioning of the government through a process many of you will be familiar with, called Senate Estimates.

Questioning in Estimates gives the Opposition of the day an opportunity to forensically examine departmental officers and, to some extent, ministers about what the Government is really doing behind closed doors. Estimates requires a huge amount of work to prepare for and to execute effectively. And it has always been a curiosity to me that while Labor in opposition has always thrown its energy into getting all that we can from the Estimates process, Liberal oppositions seem strangely disinterested and ill-prepared for Estimates.

And it struck me this week that the reason for this disparity is that while Labor uses forensic questioning in Estimates to find out the truth of what the government is doing, to use this as a weapon with which to fight the government, Liberal oppositions have little interest in the truth of what the government is doing. Because while we fight them with the truth, they fight us with lies.

And more than any government in living memory, the Abbott Government is a government of lies.

Of course, given that the Abbott Opposition was an opposition of lies, that is hardly surprising.

Sadly, saying that politicians tell lies is something most people do not consider a radical proposition. But it is a shocking indictment of the Abbott Opposition, and now the Abbott Government, that the three central themes of its election campaign were all founded on lies.

Lies that are now being exposed.

Let me briefly recap.

First, the Mr Abbott spent his entire period as Opposition Leader running a viciously dishonest scare campaign against the pricing of carbon and, on a more subtle level, against the science of climate change itself. Indeed, it was on the basis of this recklessly irresponsible and fundamentally dishonest campaign that Mr Abbott knifed Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership of his party, a fateful event decided by a single vote of the Liberal caucus, the long shadow of which still darkens our nation today.

I believe that one of the most significant pieces of legislation that our last federal Labor Government passed, and a shining part of the Gillard Government's legacy, is the Clean Energy Future package. After nearly two decades of debate on climate change and no less than 35 parliamentary inquiries spanning 17 years, Australia under Labor was finally moving towards a clean energy future. Since July 2012, despite Tony Abbott's hysterical demagoguery, we have had a price on carbon, and we are already beginning to see the results.

By the time of the federal election last year greenhouse gas emissions from power generation had fallen by seven per cent. That's a reduction of over 12 million tonnes of pollution, equivalent of taking around 3.5 million cars off the road for one year. The amount of renewable energy generated was up 25 per cent, and a record number of renewable power projects are underway.

Labor's Clean Energy Future package represents the only economically responsible and effective way of dealing with the enormous challenge of climate change. The core of our approach is to address market failure by putting a price on dangerous carbon pollution, and then letting market forces drive the change and innovation needed to achieve our nation's necessary emission reductions.

In contrast, Mr Hunt and Mr Abbott's farcical Direct Action' policy is little more than a hollow slogan, concocted on the back of a proverbial envelope for cynical political reasons. In essence, Mr Abbott's plan proposes a system for enormously wasteful taxpayer subsidies to be handed to polluting companies in the hope they will reduce their carbon emissions. It is a policy has been widely condemned by economists, scientists and policymakers as one of the poorest examples of public policy formulation in this country. It is a high cost, economically irresponsible, fundamentally inequitable and utterly ineffective response to the challenge of climate change.

And we will be doing all that we can to fight against its introduction.

The second Abbott campaign theme based on lies was that the arrival of asylum seekers seeking our aid was somehow a threat to our national security, rather than a complex and primarily humanitarian issue that needed to be dealt with in a bipartisan way in Australia, and through focussed and strategic diplomacy in our region.

But we all know that instead of assisting Labor to deal with the issue the Abbott opposition exploited the issue in the most cynical way, seeking to block Labor's efforts to develop regional solutions at every opportunity while claiming that our borders were not secure and crying crocodile tears for those who lost their lives on the perilous journey here. And now the Abbott Government continues with the lie that our nation is under threat from asylum seekers with their sloganeering, their cruelty, and their secrecy.

And the third Abbott campaign theme based on lies was the one that I will be focussing on tonight. And that was the claim, repeated ad nauseum, that Australia was in a budget crisis' and that only an Abbott Government could restore our nation's finances.

The Abbott Opposition claimed that they would deliver budget surpluses as if that was all there is to good economic management, utterly ignoring the cyclical nature of the economy and the effectiveness of Labor's response to the Global Financial Crisis.

And not only that, Mr Abbott promised that if elected his government would deliver budget surplus while miraculously not increasing taxes and not cutting government spending in key areas that Australians hold dear. Specifically, and unequivocally, Tony Abbott promised no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions, no cuts to the ABC or SBS and no new taxes.

This week the cluster of economic lies on which the Abbott Government was elected was laid bare, as Joe Hockey delivered his government's vicious, ideologically blinkered and economically irresponsible budget in which every one of those election promises to the Australian people are broken.

And to add a massive insult to the injuries those broken promises will inflict on millions of Australians, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott are now lying about lying, with the bald-faced fabrication that they made no such promises.

The 2014-15 Budget

As all of you will know, this Budget includes the greatest attack on Medicare that our nation has seen in 40 years. There is enough in the Abbott Government's attacks on Medicare for an entire speech in itself, but I will limit myself to saying now that the $7 GP Tax, and several other Budget measures in the health sector, represent the beginning of the Abbott Government's attack on universal health care in our nation.

And as the Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King, has said: "As the party that introduced Medicare, Labor will not let Tony Abbott destroy universal healthcare in Australia."

It would take several hours to discuss all of the appalling impacts of Tony Abbott's budget of lies. You have already heard about the really big impact cuts, like the appalling treatment of young unemployed people, the harsh cuts to pensions and to family benefits.

So let me just provide a few further examples of how this Budget will impact our nation, and specifically Victoria, and of the promises which have been broken.

In the Attorney-General's portfolio Tony Abbott has slashed funding for access to justice - turning around the advances that I had been working for as Attorney-General last year to improve access to justice across our nation. And the Budget also abolishes the office of the Australian Information Commissioner, an office created to buttress our national framework for transparency in government, with a particularly important role in oversight of freedom of information.

This is a government of secrecy, doing all it can to hide from the Australian people what it is doing in our name.

I also have shadow responsibility for the Arts. In 2013 Labor saw the potential of our cultural sector and invested an addition $200 million in the Arts through our national cultural policy, Creative Australia. Labor saw that in order to harness the potential of an Australian creative sector, we would need to invest in our cultural workforce, our cultural organisations and our cultural infrastructure. We saw that this investment would in turn create jobs and new opportunities for our communities, our economy, and for our nation.

The worst fears of the arts and cultural sector were confirmed in Tuesday night's Budget, as more than $100 million was slashed from the Arts budget. Tony Abbott has robbed the Australian people of over half of Labor's investment in a Creative Australia.

These cuts will have a devastating impact on all arts and cultural activities right across Australia, from the national institutions, main stage theatres, galleries and libraries, through to regional and community arts activities.

When voters went to the polls, they were told that an Abbott Government would not cut education. But it is now clear that teachers, parents and students were all betrayed with a $30 billion cut to education, the biggest cut to school funding this country has ever seen.

The Abbott Government's first Budget also marks the end of fair and affordable higher education, one of the hallmarks of our nation that has taken generations to establish, and that our nation is so much richer - and more equitable - for having.

When the cigar smoke clears we will see rapidly spiralling university fees for students, in blatant breach of Mr Abbott's promise not to increase fees or to cut funding to higher education.

Not only has university funding has been savagely cut, but other measures will ensure that student debt skyrockets. The deregulation of fees and changes in the way HECS debts are indexed will create significant barriers to university at a time when we need to be making it easier for students to attend, not harder.

Another area of rank hypocrisy and broken promises in Tony Abbott's budget is the field of innovation and industry. Having watched - and goaded - Australia's car industry into oblivion, the Abbott Government has now struck a blow against our nation's capacity to nurture its hi-tech start-up industries, putting thousands more jobs at risk.

In this budget Tony Abbott has cut $845 million from industry programs, undermining the long-term economic prosperity of our nation.

Yet in his budget speech, Joe Hockey had the temerity to claim the Government's goal was to foster innovative, globally competitive Australian industries.

These cuts include the abolition of Commercialisation Australia, Enterprise Connect, the Enterprise Solutions Program, Industry Innovation Precincts, and the Innovation Investment Fund.

And not content with cutting adrift our nation's high tech start-ups, Australia's science and research future has also been gutted by crippling cuts to the sector, including to the nation's premier science agency, the CSIRO.

The CSIRO will lose $111.4 million and 489 staff in a budget of major cuts, big job losses and missed opportunities for science and research.

This is a government that came to office with no science policy. They set up their Cabinet with no science minister. And in their Budget they have confirmed their contempt for science and research.

On 31 October, at the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Dinner Tony Abbott declared "please, judge us by our performance, not by our titles."

And so we should.

The 2014-15 Budget and Victoria

In will come as no surprise to anyone here that having failed the nation, Tony Abbott's first Budget also fails Victoria.

All Victorians will have to pay for Tony Abbott's broken promises.

This Budget will increase significantly the cost of living pressures on Victorians, including some 400,000 Victorian families that are already feeling the pinch who will be hit by cuts to family payments.

This will make it harder to make ends meet, and put more pressure on household weekly budgets.

NATSEM modelling undertaken by the Opposition shows that a couple with a single income of $65,000 and two kids in school will have over $1,700 cut from their family budget.

Add in health costs, and the Prime Minister is cutting nearly $40 from their weekly budget, every week.

And under this Budget, these cuts will get deeper and deeper, more than tripling to almost $120 a week by the time of the next election.

In 2016 this family will suffer cuts of over $6,000 per year.

That's around one in every ten dollars of the family budget gone.

Over 500,000 age pensioners are in the gun, with cuts to their pensions included in the Budget. If the proposed changes were in effect over the last 4 years, then a pensioner would be over $1,500 worse off.

The Budget confirms that there is no additional funding for public infrastructure in Victoria. This means that the Abbott Government has walked away from the Melbourne Metro - a project in which Labor was investing $3 billion.

And the over 80 local governments of Victoria will see cuts to their local roads and important infrastructure as the Government cuts nearly $1 billion from Financial Assistance Grants.

Abbott's axe will also fall particularly hard on higher education in Victoria.

In 2012 there were over 50,000 degrees completed in Victoria. Under the Government's proposed changes to HECS, future students will be hit with greater debts to complete their education.

And Victorians will be hit with some $870 million through the Government's GP tax. This is on top of over $960 million in cuts to Victorian hospitals, and increasing the costs of medicines for all families, that it is estimate it will cost Victorians a further $328 million.

The Victorian Election

The Victorian people are angry about this Budget.

And in November this year the Victorian people will have their first opportunity to express at the ballot box their views about the modern Liberal Party's agenda.

Victorian Labor, under the leadership of Daniel Andrews, has the opportunity to take this great state back from its inept and anodyne Liberal Government.

Daniel gave an excellent speech at the Conference this morning, including his important proposal to hold a royal commission into the ongoing scourge of family violence.

And I know that as Premier, Daniel will take the fight against the Abbott Government to Canberra, on behalf of all Victorians.

I urge you all to give your support to his campaign.

On Thursday night Bill Shorten gave a powerful speech in response to the Abbott Government's appalling budget. Let me conclude now by repeating just a little of what Bill said:

On Tuesday, the Treasurer quoted from Robert Menzies' Forgotten People'.

But the Government forgot a lot of people on Budget night.

They are the Australians I speak on behalf of tonight, the Australians I am speaking to.

The Government forgot you in its Budget - and it forgot what makes our country great.

It forgot opportunity.

It forgot reward for effort.

It forgot the fair go.

Well, Labor hasn't forgotten.

We still believe in fairness.

We still believe in an Australia that includes everyone, that helps everyone, that lets everyone be their best, that leaves no-one behind.

This is the Australia that the Prime Minister has forgotten.

And it is the Australia that Labor will always fight for.

If you want an election, try us.

If you think we are too weak - bring it on.

But remember - it is not about you or I Prime Minister.

It is about the future of our nation and the wellbeing of our people.

I know that you, the members of Victorian Branch of the great Australian Labor Party, feel the resonant truth of those words, and the call to arms that they invoke.

I want to end with another call to arms: a call for party reform to be carried forward. Bill Shorten has spoken often of the need for party reform, something I have worked on for a long time. I hope that all delegates will reflect on the need for party reform in tomorrow's deliberations, and in particular reflect on how the party looks from the outside - to see ourselves as others see us.

I hope that you will move to reforms that will make us a party that is easier to join and better to belong to, and most of all a bigger party.