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Jun 042014

The following speech was made by Terri Butler Federal Member for Griffith in Parliament on June 2nd 2014. You can add comments and questions at the end.

I rise to speak in relation to the appropriations bills. The Abbott government’s first budget is a budget of cuts and broken promises. The Abbott government would do well to remember what Arthur Miller said: ‘Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.’ What we have seen in this budget is betrayal of Australians and betrayal of the Australian way of life, not to mention attacks on pillars of our society such as Medicare and access to education.

I have spoken about the Abbott government’s attacks on universal health care in this country on a number of occasions. The Liberals have always opposed Medicare, and in this year’s budget they have shown their true colours. Tony Abbott promised before the last election that there would be no cuts to health. He has not just broken that promise he has smashed it. The government’s first budget includes an $80 billion cut to Australian
public hospitals and education. It is right there in the budget papers. The Prime Minister has broken his promise that there would be no new taxes with a $7 GP tax. That will cost Australian households an extra $3.5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses and it is something that I am very concerned about. In the Griffith by-election—it feels like a long time ago, now—I spoke out against the GP tax. My opponent was for it. Of course he tried to
retreat once he realised how unpopular was his support for the GP tax. Everyone from the foreign minister to the Prime Minister swanned into Brisbane just to claim that there were no plans for that GP tax. ‘No plans!’, they said. ‘Scaremongering!’, they said. Yet what have we seen? We have found out that those were just weasel words calculated to make people think, before a by-election and a Senate election in Western Australia, that a GP tax would not happen. But they could not hide it forever, because, here we are, down the track, with a budget that, of course, has a GP tax.

The worst thing about the GP tax is that it is not actually about savings; it is about philosophy. It is part of the government’s plan to end universal health care. It is a lazy policy that will deter Australians from seeking early care and treatment. It is going to lead to greater complications and sickness when people do not get diagnosed early because they do not go to a GP. The purpose of the GP tax is to dissuade people from going to the GP by sending a so-called price signal. The Abbott government is calling Australians hypochondriacs. People are rightly angry. We know from international experience that people will not seek preventative care for follow-up treatment when there is this so-called price signal in place. We know that people will not fill a second script, because they will not be able to afford it. That is exactly what this measure will do. The only people advocating for this are the Abbott government and the Commission of Audit. Why does Tony Abbott think that he knows best when it comes to Australians’ health care? The AMA, the college of emergency physicians, the Doctors Reform Society, the Public Health Association, the College of General Practitioners, the Consumer Health Forum, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association and countless health academics are against this tax, but the government is doing it anyway. The government also wants to get state governments to have hospital taxes. If you go to an emergency department they are expected to collect taxes from you as well. That is not to mention making medicines more expensive for every Australian by adding an additional $1.26 billion burden to household budgets across this country. In addressing these appropriation bills it is obviously important to talk about attacks on Medicare, because they are almost the worst feature of this budget, if you had to choose one.

There are a number of other cuts that I want to speak about this evening. First are the cuts to public broadcasting and the arts. Of all the problems with this budget and of all the cuts and attacks on middle-class Australia and on the Australian way of life, it might be that the cuts to the arts and public broadcasting are under the radar in a comparative sense. It is important to recognise that this budget cuts $43½ million from so-called efficiency
savings from the ABC and SBS. That is $8 million from SBS and $33½ million from the ABC. The government is abolishing the Australia Network. It is a $196.8 million cut. And that is not the end of it. We are expecting more cuts to both the ABC and SBS. It is spelt out in the budget papers, clear and simple. It says that this is an adjusted down payment on the ABC and SBS efficiency study. This is the study that Malcolm Turnbull commissioned in January, even though in September, before the election, the then opposition leader, now Prime Minister, had claimed there would not be any cuts to the ABC and SBS. The ABC Managing Director, Mark Scott, has said that the funding cuts will regrettably and invariably result in redundancies and a reduction in services. It is a shame that the government said one thing to get elected and is now saying something else, now that it holds power in this country.

There are other cuts to arts and culture. Dr John Gardener-Garden of the Parliamentary Library has written a very useful summary about the budget’s effect on arts and culture. He says the budget includes ‘significant funding reductions to arts, screen and cultural bodies’. There are cuts to the arts of $87.1 million over four years; $33.8 million of cuts to come from the arts programs that the Attorney-General’s Department administers; and $28.2 million in cuts to the Australia Council. As Dr Gardener-Garden observes, that cut will hit individual artists and smaller arts organisations the hardest, because these are the people and groups who usually are not in three-year or one-year funding deals.

In addition — and it is surprising, I think, that in this country right now there is going to be a cut to Screen Australia—there is $25.1 million in cuts to Screen Australia, making it harder for that body to support home-grown film and TV. Funding is going to cease for the Australian Interactive Games Fund. This is typical of the Abbott government’s failure when it comes to industry policy and innovation.

As Screen Australia says, the purpose of the Interactive Games Fund is to help build a sustainable base for companies to grow in a global market. Screen Australia says that the fund:
… recognises the international potential and originality of our local interactive entertainment by assisting Australian companies during a period of increased pressure following major shifts in the market.
The objectives of the Australian Interactive Games Fund are to:
• promote industry growth and sustainability
• support the development of new intellectual property
• encourage skills retention and renewal
• maximise the creative opportunities of fast broadband.

Screen Australia explains the importance of interactive entertainment. Games are big business. Screen Australia goes on to say:
Like going to the cinema and watching television, interactive entertainment is a mainstream activity in Australia.

Due to cultural and technological shifts in the industry over the last few years, there is now a wider variety of games that are more accessible to more people.

A recent study commissioned by the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association … found that 92 per cent of Australian households have a device for playing computer games, up from 88 per cent in late 2008.

The report shows that the demographic profile of people playing interactive games is moving closer to that of the general population, with 75 per cent aged 18 years and over. In fact, the average age has risen from 30 to 32 years old since 2008. … women now make up 47 per cent of the total gaming population, up from 46 per cent over the same period. It goes on to state that the average adult who plays games has now been playing them for 12 years, with 26 per cent having played for more than 20 years.

As a some time gamer myself, not averse to the odd bit of World of Warcraft, I can identify with those demographic shifts in the gaming industry. Screen Australia goes on to say:
Beyond levels of engagement there is also potential for real economic growth. The global interactive entertainment industry is forecast to be the fastest growing entertainment and media sector, expanding from $56.8 billion in revenue in 2011 to $80.3 billion in 2016 …

Those are the forecasts. Further, it goes on to say:
In Australia, the market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.4 per cent to reach $2.2 billion in 2016. This is in large part due to the exponential growth of online distribution of games. The physical retail console and PC market is expected to recover slightly over the next five years after a recent decline, expanding globally at a growth rate of 1.7 per cent. The growth will be driven by the release of the next generation of console hardware.

I have gone into some detail to recite a length what Screen Australia has said in an attempt to outline for the parliament the importance of the games industry. It is not a fledgeling industry worldwide anymore. It is a massive industry that involves millions of people, and here in Australia we have seen this demographic shift when more people are gaming. So you would think that in a well-off country with people who have got the capacity to have gaming consoles — given that statistic of over 90 per cent of people having gaming consoles — that we would want to have a home-grown games industry strengthened. That is exactly why the Interactive Games Fund was established. The reason is that there had been growth in consumer demand.
Screen Australia said:
… while this growth in consumer demand is impressive, it does not necessarily translate into benefits for local games developers.

They were saying that we actually needed to harness that growth and make sure that jobs and investment were not going overseas. They said that there are a number of threats confronting the Australian industry and that they can be broadly grouped into two interrelated areas: falling foreign investment and talent being driven offshore.

The Interactive Games Fund money was to support industry to combat those challenges. In my family there are young gamers who are extremely skilled, people who have got degrees in technology. One of them is working in Jakarta because that is where the industry is really firing at the moment. Yet here in Australia where we have got the capacity to harness that growth and profit from it, the Abbott government has decided to cut the Interactive Games Fund money. There are no plans for jobs and no plans for growth. This cut just shows how backward- looking this government is and how twisted its priorities are. And that is not the only arts funding cut. There is a range of other arts funding cuts as well. As it is Reconciliation Week until tomorrow, it is timely to comment on the cuts to Indigenous affairs in this budget. Under the government’s first budget there is an incredible $549.4 million cut, over half a billion dollars out of Indigenous programs, cuts which have been criticised as threatening the Closing the Gap efforts. Of course that is gravely concerning. In the arts space, I have spoken before about the importance of heritage languages in our community. That includes Indigenous languages, part of the oldest continuous culture in the world. So in the arts space it is particularly concerning to see the cut to heritage languages in relation to the Indigenous language program.

As I have quoted before, the New South Wales government’s program Racism No Way describes the significance of heritage languages, saying:
Language is intrinsic to the expression of culture. As a means of communicating values, beliefs and customs, it has an important social function and fosters feelings of group identity and solidarity. It is the means by which culture and its traditions and shared values may be conveyed and preserved. That is part of why language is so important.

We know that there was a very recent parliamentary inquiry in 2012 calling on the then government to respond to an urgent need to support Indigenous languages. Labor responded. Labor heeded that call. Yet the Abbott government is cutting funding for Indigenous languages by 9½ million dollars. The Get Reading program is suffering cuts as well and the government also seems to think that they are going to make savings by moving to a shared services model, as Dr Gardiner-Garden has noted in relation to some of the arts institutions.

Steven Schwartz, the Executive Director of the Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences has been reported as saying that a similar idea was tried in Queensland—my home state—’to save money and see those savings redirected [but that] neither of those two things occurred’. All of these cuts are in stark contrast to Labor’s record of investing around $200 million in the arts through our national cultural policy, Creative Australia.

Not content with taking the axe to health, the arts, public broadcasting and Indigenous affairs, this government is also failing our nation’s future when it comes to science. Everyone already knew that the Abbott government does not care about science. We all know what the Abbott government thinks of the science of climate change.

There is not even a science minister in this government. In this budget we see more evidence of the disregard for science. Nearly $150 million has been cut from the CSIRO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Last week I visited a local school, the Cannon Hill Anglican College. The principal showed me their new science block where students had access to facilities and equipment of a very high standard. She was really proud of those facilities and of her students’ achievements and, like Principal Bell, I believe that science needs to be front
and centre in our nation in the interests of our future.

In the short time I have left to me I want to mention one other cut that I think is very important. $120.1 million has been cut from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the organisation that is supposed to ensure that our financial markets are fair and transparent and provide information to consumers and investors alike. It is a cut that has raised eyebrows.

It is worth quoting ABC business reporter Pat McGrath’s interview with Professor Ian Ramsay, who heads Melbourne University’s Centre for Corporate Law and Securities Regulation. He is surprised by the cut. He said to Pat McGrath:
There is absolutely no doubt that this is very serious and I’m sure will significantly impact upon the broad range of responsibilities that ASIC is called upon to exercise.

The speech was then interrupted in accordance with standing order 192. The debate was adjourned and the resumption of the debate was made an order of the day for the next
sitting. Terri Butler MP will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed on a future day.

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