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ABC Pic of Andrew Wilkie

The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, tonight announced he would vote against the Appropriation Bills (Supply) unless and until the cruel Federal Budget is remedied. He also called on Labor, the Greens, Palmer United Party and the rest of the crossbenchers to do the same “because to wave the Appropriation Bills through the Parliament would be to effectively support the Budget. Many of the Budget measures are contained in the Appropriation Bills, and not separate enabling legislation, including the cuts to the ABC and SBS, CSIRO and the Coalition’s plan to index pensions to CPI. The political parties need to stand up now if they are fair dinkum about opposing the Budget”. 

Andrew Wilkie’s Speech

Deputy Speaker every government has the right to try and implement the platform they took to an election. It also has every right to try and deal with the countless other issues that come along in a way that is consistent with their broader ideology.

But Deputy Speaker, no government has any right, no right at all, to wage an ideological crusade against the poorest and most disadvantaged members of the community, and in particular against students, the unemployed, the poor, the sick and disabled, the aged, single parents and anyone else for that matter who just needs a fair go in one of the richest and most fortunate countries in the world.

So Deputy Speaker there’s simply no excuse, no excuse whatsoever, for the Government to bring down the Budget it did a few weeks ago and which we’re now being asked to pass judgement on.

That’s exactly what this budget is Deputy Speaker, an ideological crusade; one that attacks directly the poorest and most disadvantaged members of the community. Not the big corporates, the miners and the armed forces which did very well in this budget. But the rest, those on low incomes and those with disadvantages which could be, and really should be, remedied in a country as rich and as lucky as ours.

Now I know it’s perfectly understandable for the supporters of one side of politics, or the other, to complain when the other party or parties are in power. Fair enough. And it’s also understandable that there be calls for an early election when the Government is embroiled in controversy, as was the case during the 43rd Parliament. It was certainly my experience that for three years my office was periodically bombarded by calls for me to help end that parliament.

But of course Deputy Speaker even the most unpopular government should, as a general rule, be allowed to run its course because the time for judgement should be the next regular election. Except that right now a line has been crossed, because this budget is such a miserable piece of work that the convention of waving through the Appropriation Bills is, or at least in my mind should be, fundamentally in question.

It certainly is for me, and in fact I’ve wrestled for many days now with the rights and wrongs of voting against Supply if only to force the Government back to the Budget drawing board. And in the end I’ve decided to do so, to vote against the Appropriation Bills, because I do believe that this particular budget should be redone before it can reasonably be approved by the Parliament. And I feel confident that my vote, for what it’s worth Deputy Speaker, will represent a clear majority of Denison constituents and indeed the broader community.

Now whether or not I’m joined by anyone else in trying to block Supply remains to be seen, although going by all the huff and puff of recent weeks I should be able to expect to be joined by Labor, the Greens and Palmer United parties. If I’m not, if the Opposition and cross-benchers wave through the Appropriation Bills and leave their fight to the separate budget enabling legislation, then effectively they will have shown their support for the weight of the Budget and let the record show that.

Of course if non-Government Members, and obviously Senators where the numbers exist to achieve a block, were to join me then the Government would be forced to go away and redo the Budget, and to return with a better and fairer set of proposals. And if Labor, the Greens and the others do in fact join me here and in the Senate, but the Government refuses to re-write the Budget, then so be it. If Supply is blocked then we can go back to the polls where the people can decide this budget and indeed this government’s fate.

And let us not be fooled Deputy Speaker by any claims that it is only the Budget’s enabling legislation that really matters, because if you want to find the $43.5m cut to the ABC and SBS, and the cut to the CSIRO as well as the weakening of indexation for Government pensions and payments, for example, then look no further than the Appropriation Bills. These Bills are a part of the problem and anyone, any party, genuine about opposing the Budget is compelled to try and block them until they’re remedied.

Deputy Speaker I am every bit as exercised about all this, as are many Australians worried and even downright scared about the consequences of the Budget for them. And we all feel betrayed, not just by all the pre-election promises, but also by the very notion that we have a budget emergency in the first place and that it should be justification for targeting the disadvantaged members of the community.

In my electorate of Denison in 2013, for instance, there were 5,334 people on the Disability Support Pension; 11,223 on the Age Pension; 1,816 on Parenting Payment; 3,867 on Newstart; and 12,973 Family Tax Benefits were paid. All of these people will be adversely affected by the Budget and I will not support this budget if only for them.

Deputy Speaker the change to Newstart is an especially nasty proposal and one that will undoubtedly see many people left without any financial support whatsoever for six months at a time.

And what about single parents? They have the perennial difficulty of finding gainful employment between dropping the kids off at nine and picking them up at three. And when it comes to the Parenting Payment they’ve already taken a big hit with the reduction in the qualifying age of children from 16 to eight. But now they face cuts to Family Tax Benefits, co-payments for seeing the doctor and getting scripts filled, and even more to fill the tank in the car. What’s going on here Deputy Speaker? Why are single parents, and in particular single mums, being singled out for even harsher treatment than the rest of the community?

And talking about co-payments, this is an especially miserable proposal, not only because it will disproportionately impact people on low incomes and the sick, but also because the reform will be a significant dismantling of Australia’s universal free public health care system.

You know Deputy Speaker in Denison in 2011 the GP bulk-billing rate was 72.5 per cent and all of these people will be adversely affected by increased fees when visiting their doctor and when filling their prescriptions. Even those receiving a concession on their medication will have to fund two or more additional prescriptions themselves each year.

I am also particularly alarmed by the attack in the Budget on people with a disability, and in particular the tightening of assessments for the Disability Support Pension. In fact over recent weeks a number of people with a disability have approached me about the prospect of such changes, and all were alarmed and some beside themselves with fear and panic. I fear some will be driven to take their own lives.

Moreover Deputy Speaker Australia can afford to give people a world-class education but the moves to deregulate university fees, increase HECS debts and alter the HECS repayment arrangements are entirely at odds with that noble aim. Students will now pay more fees and have no certainty that the fees for their desired course will be the same in the future. That alone will deny many potential students the opportunity to gain and benefit from tertiary qualifications.

All of which is especially relevant to my electorate and Tasmanians more broadly. In fact in Denison in 2011 there were 30,232 people attending education in one form or another, including 6,700 at university or other tertiary institution. Many of these people, and those that will or would follow them, will be adversely affected by this Budget.

Deputy Speaker more broadly Australia’s wealth and good fortune should not be hoarded and the cut to foreign aid in the Budget is bitterly disappointing and short-sighted. Obviously we have a moral obligation to assist the world’s poor. But doing so is also clearly in our own national interest because development assistance creates stability and opens up markets, so much so that the slashing of over $7.6bn for Official Development Assistance over five years is patently a false economy.

Deputy Speaker yes, we do need to deal with the structural revenue and expenditure weaknesses in the nation’s finances, and the move to tax the wealthy more and tighten the means testing of government pensions and payments are sensible moves.

And yes the previous Federal Government let us down badly by putting the majority of spending for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the Gonski education reforms, beyond the then forward estimates where it didn’t need to be properly explained.

But none of this gives the current Government license to attack the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our community. Nor does it provide any justification for the Government’s determination to implement a Paid Parental Leave Scheme that would pay up to $50,000 per eligible person. This is extravagant, unaffordable and set to disproportionately benefit relatively well paid recipients.

There are also a range of other measures, not addressed in the Budget, that would help to put the Budget on a better footing, for example a super profits tax on any company making a super profit like the banks, just four of which are in the process of running up some $30bn in profits this year.

Deputy Speaker Tasmania will not be spared any of the downsides of the Budget, and Denison in particular will be hard hit by the $111.4m cut to CSIRO nationally and the other Public Service job cuts. And while the Antarctic Gateway Partnership will receive $24m, this is not new money and what there is will be sourced from the already underfunded Australian Research Council. The Tasmanian environment will not fare any better with $4m being stripped from Tasmanian Forest Reserve Tourism and the Government’s pledge not to support any further reserves in the State.

Deputy Speaker in closing let me make the point again that Australia is a rich and fortunate country, and one that can easily afford to look after those in need of assistance. There is simply no good reason for students or the unemployed, the sick and disabled, the aged, single parents and others to not be able to access high quality care or an income to live a decent life.

That’s why I oppose the Budget and why I’ll seek to call a division on the Appropriation Bills in particular. Because Deputy Speaker, budgets are a chance for governments to show the community what they think is important and this government has sent a clear signal to the Australian people that it is more interested in a surplus than their future.

Thank you Deputy Speaker.

• Watch Parliament live here:  http://www.aph.gov.au/News_and_Events/Watch_Parliament

• Phil Na Champassak, Dear learned reader: Do not take the government or opposition’s figures on the Federal Budget as gospel, because it is more often than not that you are being sold smoke and mirrors. Educate yourself by trying the interactive Guardian Budget 2014: how would you cut Australia’s deficit? - interactive HERE Drag and drop the boxes from out to in to include a budget measure. Hit the submit button when you’re done to send us your choices. The deficit is an estimated cumulative deficit figure over the four-year forward estimates period, as are the savings. Each item shows an estimate of how much it would save in total over four years.