May 21, 2014
Contact: Deborah O'Neill

Speeches

Senator O'Neill's Budget Reply Speech 

Today the budget reveals the truly twisted priorities of the Abbott government. They doubled the deficit. They forged a Commission of Audit report written exclusively for and by the top end of town, and invented a budget crisis as a cover to impose an ideological agenda on an unsuspecting public. And today, the coalition have now officially drunk their own Kool Aid. Make no mistake: this is an extreme budget from an extreme government completely out of touch with ordinary Australians.

I am going to make a prediction: to paraphrase British politician Gerald Kaufman, this budget is 'the longest suicide note in history'. To every coalition marginal seat backbencher, sweating profusely at the prospect of telling their constituents to go and get stuffed, essentially, I say this: voting for the budget is like a turkey voting for an early Christmas. You will be voting for a lie—a stunning mistruth, which each and every one of you repeated ad nauseam prior to the election; a now absolutely broken promise of no new taxes.

Despite railing in opposition about the need to keep your commitments, Tony Abbott and the coalition have now cynically chosen to abandon all pretence of keeping their word. Let me be clear: this is a budget of entirely broken promises. It is a book of bad ideas, and, sadly, a manuscript of shattered dreams.

Families are shuddering in fear at the cold, cynical, deceptive mess that this Abbott regime has unleashed on them: the schoolkids bonus slashed, Gonski school funding abandoned, the family tax benefit cut—and for what? So that millionaires can get paid $50,000 in taxpayers' cash to have children. What a joke.

Pensioners and workers are shaking with anger at the sheer hypocrisy this government expects the Australian people to swallow. Tradies will be forced to keep on the tools until 70—70! Commuters on the Central Coast and in regions around Australia are looking at getting on a train and working until they are 70—commuting until they are 70. My heart goes out to these workers everywhere at this cruel and callous prospect. It is a heartless policy, written in the comfort of an office on cushioned chairs surrounded by air conditioning and, at the end of it all, celebrated with a Cuban cigar or two. Put this to a vote on a work site, and you would be kicked off instantly.

I do not know about you, but I think most 70-year-olds would be hard pressed to put in eight hours, five days a week, of hard manual labour in the hot sun. But that is exactly what this budget is seeking to do to so many, especially the army of tradies who hail from places like where I live on the Central Coast and other regional areas around the country. That is the option that they have before them—that or falling into poverty.

By introducing this budget, the coalition has shown a blatant disregard for those amongst us who do manual labour. The increase in the pension age will put more and more older Australians into poverty, forcing them onto the lower Newstart payment for years. To expect ageing bodies to endure such backbreaking work is an absolute stretch of possibilities, and it is an insult to those people, who have already given so much through their hard work to this nation. But to force people to suffer the indignity of unemployment instead of the dignity of the old age pension is a really cruel joke.

To add insult to injury, pensioners, families and hardworking commuters have been driven to despair by Tony Abbott's great big new taxes. Despite promising before the election, 'I absolutely guarantee to the Australian people, absolutely guarantee to the Australian people, that the tax burden will be less under a coalition government,' Tony Abbott tonight is hitting families, pensioners, workers and commuters with great big new tax hikes. These new taxes represent a clear and unequivocal set of broken promises.

The GP tax, the 'deceit' tax and the petrol tax are three pillars of the coalition's deception of Australian voters. Australia will be the poorer and the sicker for it. The deficit and petrol taxes are a tax on hard work, a tax on aspiration and a tax that hurts the very people who put their all in to provide for their families, to save for a well-earned holiday at the end of the year and to give help to their children and provide for them the best opportunities for their future.

The GP tax is a particularly cruel blow to Australians, who, prior to the election were promised, over and over and over, that a vote for the Liberal Party would mean 'no cuts to education', 'no cuts to health', and 'no cuts to pensions'. There was simply no truth in those comments. It is simply cost shifting by the Abbott government that will make health care much less equitable and much less affordable for every Australian. Make no mistake: with the GP tax, the Abbott government is dismantling universal health care as we know it in this country.

There is no way to put Labor's outrage at this GP tax other than to say we are at war with the Abbott government. Labor will now at this time, as we have had to in the past, fight for the sickest and the poorest. We completely reject Abbott's tax on sick people, asking the acutely and chronically ill to pay and pay and pay now, in their illness and distress, for research in the future. It is simply inexplicable. Australians should get the health care they need, not just the health care that Tony Abbott has decided they can afford. Tony Abbott's GP tax will certainly mean that more parents will be out of pocket when they take their sick kids to the doctor, or families simply will not get there when they are in need.

These great big new taxes are a very shallow, knee-jerk reaction from a government that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Investing in the people of this nation, investing in health and education, is clearly a foreign concept to these people, who in this budget have ripped over $80 billion from education and health over the next 10 years. I would think that even members of Joe Hockey's elusive North Sydney Forum are wondering today whether they are getting their money's worth. But we do not know who they are, so we will not be able to ask them.

In perhaps the cruellest cut of all, it is with a heavy heart that I note the Abbott government's abolition of Youth Connections. This program has seen more than 90,000 young people from across Australia—and hundreds of locals—access hands-on skills training, educational opportunities and personal support to help them get back into work or school. For less than $80 million a year, this vital program, Youth Connections, supported over 67 organisations across 113 service regions right across the country. They employed 750 specialist youth workers. This program will close by the end of the year, its students locked out of education, their needs ignored and their dreams shattered by a cynical government that seeks to rip the heart out of this country.

Cutting these sorts of programs—and there are tens of them—is not a saving at all. We all pay a very heavy price when young people slip through the cracks. These are more than cracks; these are gaping holes in the social fabric of Australia that have been constructed by a cynical government that simply does not care about ordinary working Australians. This has been, sadly, a time of youth unemployment, and cutting services to young people is incredibly short-sighted.

Australians are not going to forget this budget of broken promises and shattered dreams, and certainly the young people who are now going to be forced to be unemployed for six months before they can collect any support from the government are going to be extremely disadvantaged. Talk about taking hope away from a generation! You could not have configured a better model.

Labor will fight for ordinary Australians. Labor will fight this callous budget. Labor will fight these sickly tax hikes at every turn. And we will fight for those people who, sadly, were deluded into believing the promises of a Prime Minister who said, over and over and over again, that there would be no cuts to education. He has cut. He said there would be no cuts to health. He has cut. He said there would be no change to pensions. Well, they are changed forever with the mantle of this government and its budget that it has put before the Australian people tonight. It is a disgrace and it is impacting on Australians in the most shameful way. Labor will be fighting this budget tooth and nail.

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