Abbott's budget cuts to Calwell

Over the past weeks there have been a lot of calls from government MPs and business leaders—not all but some—for people to stop complaining about the federal budget measures and to get on with the business of putting shoulders to the wheel to collectively address the so-called pending budget emergency or the debt problem—as the member for Hindmarsh constantly referred to it in his contribution this evening—by putting an end to the age of entitlement. Underlying these calls is the message that the Australian people have never had it so good and therefore a bit of pain for the sake of the nation's prosperity is justified. There are so many ways in which this narrative is so very, very wrong. It is wrong because these budget measures are predicated on a series of untruths, concealments and broken promises, as evidenced by the Prime Minister's own words throughout last year leading up to the federal election.


I want to quote the now Prime Minister, who was then the opposition leader, because he ran on a strategy of credibility and not breaking promises. The then opposition leader, now Prime Minister, on many occasions said to the Australian people: 'no changes to pensions', 'no cuts to health', 'no cuts to education', 'no plans to increase university fees', 'no cuts to ABC and SBS'.

He said: 'We are about reducing taxes, not increasing taxes. We are about getting rid of taxes, not imposing new taxes.' Finally, the one that I like most: 'A dumb way to cut spending would be to threaten family benefits or to means test them further.' So, rather than telling Australians to stop complaining about the federal budget, the government—and in particular the Prime Minister—should explain why they have misled the Australian people, why this budget is so unfair and why it is a budget where most of the heavy lifting will be left to those who have the least capacity to do.

In the words of St Vincent de Paul Society New South Wales CEO Michael Perusco, more than one million Australians have consistently missed out on the prosperity this country has experienced over the past 20 years and this is the group who will be left even further behind by the measures in this budget. This is especially true of the people living in my electorate as it is my residents who will be the ones most adversely affected by the measures introduced in this budget, putting low- and middle-income local families under further pressure, making it harder for pensioners to make ends meet, and in particular—because this budget in particular targets young people—putting many young people under a lot more pressure than they are presently experiencing.

My constituents form a part of current public opinion that overwhelmingly has rejected the Abbott government's budget measures—not only because they disagree with its inherent unfairness and twisted priorities but because they take exception to being played for fools by a prime minister who was so eager and prepared to say anything and do anything in order to win the federal election.

My electorate has a long history of labour market disadvantage. Areas of my electorate are in the lower socioeconomic index, and as a community we have fought long and hard to secure government investment in our schools, our medical services, our roads, our manufacturing and industry and our social infrastructure in general. Opportunities for a job and for education and training is the bedrock of my community's aspirations and there is good reason for this, both current and historical. This Abbott government, through its budget measures, is slamming the brakes on my community's prospects, casting them into uncertainty and further burdening their struggle to make ends meet.

The most recent data for the Hume local government area shows an unemployment rate of about 6.3 per cent, well above the national average of 5.2 per cent. These figures reflect unemployment in my constituency which are consistently higher than any other local government areas across the country. My community both expects and relies on governments, both state and federal, to invest in programs that encourage, provide opportunity, assist and further their prospects for getting a job, especially when it comes to the young people in my electorate. It was for this reason, and in recognition of this, that in 2011 the then Labor government identified Calwell as one of the 10 neediest local government areas in Australia and, in doing so, allocated a pool of $30 million to address this issue across 10 electorates, of which mine was one. The Better Futures, Local Solutions program was established in order to draw on local community expertise and knowledge so that all service providers could come together to work towards addressing unemployment in our area. Community Innovation Through Collaboration, which was one of four Better Futures, Local Solutions programs and measures, commenced in July 2011 with the appointment of the government action leader, Mrs Maria Axarlis Coulter, followed by the nomination and ministerial appointment of the local advisory group in February 2012 and the appointment of the community action leader, Mr Huon Damm, in March 2012. The Better Futures, Local Solutions fund was specifically targeted at providing opportunities for community members to gain skills and training in order to find employment. The idea was to give a wide range of agencies a platform to be able to come together to test and trial new ideas and to pool existing resources and know-how for meeting the needs of the local community. It also supported communities developing solutions to address disadvantage in our area. The Calwell community has since operated 16 Local Solutions projects. Nine were achieved in round 1 of the three-year funding cycle and 11 were achieved in round 2. Five received funding for two years, and 11 received funding for one year.

The Better Futures, Local Solutions program was making significant headway in addressing the number and complexity of issues facing long-term unemployed people in my electorate. It was creating a very positive ripple effect in my community, jobs were created and people received training. Some of those people were single mothers going back to work, some were people with disabilities gaining employment and training, some were long-term unemployed youth, and many were people of non-English-speaking backgrounds. Young people were shown and encouraged into new pathways, including visits to university campuses.

The successful strengths-based servicing approach which we adopted in Broadmeadows has informed the ongoing provision of intensive services to vulnerable families and job seekers as part of the Department of Human Services operating model across all of its sites. And even though unemployment rates continue to be much higher than the national average, the fact is that the rate was dropping and in my electorate we were making progress. Unfortunately, thanks to the Abbott government's budget, the axing of the Local Solutions fund is one of the most significant and highly political community cuts in my electorate, bringing to a premature end programs that were making a difference to my community.

The Hume Local Advisory Group, which is the group that oversaw the work of Better Futures, Local Solutions, did not forward spend its entire allocation like a number of the other LAGs did across the country. Instead, it decided to stagger its funding applications and had planned for a third round of funding. Unfortunately, it has lost this opportunity as the cessation of the Community Innovation through Collaboration Program means that the money is now gone. As a result, 10 projects will conclude at 30 June 2014, with the remaining projects—and I want to speak about this one in particular, Bridgeworks, which is a local organisation that helps disadvantaged youth. It will see its project, which is very nicely called Flip the Script and is designed specifically to help Pacific Island youth, end at the end of this year, in December. In addition, the key positions of government action leader and community action leader will also be concluding on 30 June 2014, one year earlier than the other two complementary Better Futures, Local Solutions measures for supporting jobless families and helping young parents in the Hume area.

These are examples of successful government initiated and funded programs that were seeded as a result of the Better Futures, Local Solutions fund. Unfortunately, should these programs wish to continue to do their very important work, they will be forced to look for alternative sources of funding or face the prospect of ceasing to operate altogether. Of course this would be an outcome that would have devastating consequences in our local area. I am particularly disappointed—that is an understatement; I am appalled that programs that were making progress are being treated by this government as investments that are frivolous and pointless. I think the member for Hindmarsh made reference to some of these 'not-so-worthy investments'.

The Future Pathways project, which is run by a very important organisation in my electorate, the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre, is a program that is aimed at engaging 40 of our residents from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It targets disadvantaged jobseekers, including single parents who are returning to work. Another one of the projects in my electorate that faces the chop is called the Brite Herb Farm project, which will also be forced to find alternative funding. This project is a particularly special one because Brite is a one-of-a-kind facility in my electorate: it provides training for people with a disability and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Another program that faces the chop is the Crossroads Indigenous Youth and Family project, which is run by the Salvation Army for Indigenous people aged between six and 25. It helps with training, it helps with child care, it helps people to focus on developing their strengths and it provides support to the family unit in order for participants to take up opportunities to gain employment. One other program that is very important, Imagineering, is raising aspirations in Hume. It is a project that is run by one of my local primary schools, the Holy Child Primary School. This project increases the aspirations of more than 400 students and parents in Broadmeadows by educating them about pathways to and the benefits of attending university.

I do not have much time left, but given that I have made reference to this particular program, Imagineering, I will just expand on it. It is focused on encouraging young children at primary school to think about going to university. This particular school, the Holy Child, has a very large number of students who are from refugee backgrounds. My electorate has a very large number of people coming to Australia from Iraq and it is very important that these young people understand the benefits of going to university. I think that we are making headway in helping them understand this. Of course there is a problem, because in this budget the deregulation of university fees means that these children in my electorate are likely to think twice about going to university if in fact it means that they are going to incur a higher cost and higher debt against them into the future. So it makes our job that little bit more difficult when young people say to you, 'You know, I have got to find a job.' I have not mentioned yet how this government has made no reference to how exactly it is going to help people find the jobs that it wants them to have, whether they are young people or those on the other side who are going to be working until they are 70. The question is: where are these jobs and what is this government doing about investing in programs that are actually going to create jobs?

My young people who are very concerned about their futures in terms of their ability to go to university also say to me that they face the whole issue of the unaffordability of buying a home. You have got young people who are still at primary school worried about the enormous amount of debt that they are going to incur in areas of their lives and their families look at this current government and see no understanding and no empathy from that government for their predicament. A lot of people in my electorate rely on government to help them—not to give them handouts but to actually help them—and to invest in their communities in order for some sort of progress to be made and for job creation opportunities. I am running out of time, but this budget is going to have devastating consequences for the people of my electorate.