18 June 2014






It’s been just over a month since the Government delivered its Budget.


Just over a month since I promised that Labor would fight with every breath in our body against the Government’s cruel, unfair and extreme measures.


It will be a long battle, but I believe right is on our side.


Australians know that this Budget is unfair.


Australians know that the Government is engaging in a radical, right-wing social experiment.


Labor’s objection to the Budget is not political – it is a matter of principle.


The Abbott-Hockey Budget is an attack on Labor’s oldest and most fundamental belief: our faith in fairness.


This Budget is unfair because it makes those who are least able to do the heavy lifting, carry the biggest burden.


Low and middle income families, pensioners, students and young people looking for work.


And this Budget is unfair because it seeks to divide Australians against each other.


Every day the Government engages in dog-whistling and division.


Think of Joe Hockey lecturing us about ‘lifters and leaners’.


Kevin Andrews questioning the integrity of Australians who depend on a disability pension and denigrating Australians looking for work.


And Christopher Pyne asking why Australians who don’t go to university or TAFE should contribute to the education of Australians who do.


This is a bleak and narrow mindset – an ideology that I firmly believe is at odds with Australian decency and Australian fairness.


Australians have always believed that there is more to life than looking after number one.


We don’t subscribe to the idea that those who fall behind, get left behind.


We should never be a country where your destiny is pre-determined by your surname or your postcode.


Labor believes that every young Australian deserves the best possible start in life.


We believe that government has a responsibility to help every Australian fulfil their potential.


This means:

-       Going to a great school and following your passion into further study – whether that is vocational education, an apprenticeship or a degree.

-       Getting the right help to find a job, if and when you need it.

-       Having the opportunity to save for your first home.


This short-sighted, unfair Budget ignores this responsibility.


It reduces the choices available to young people and it cuts essential investment in our nation’s future.


It is a Budget that will make the life of the next generation of Australians much harder.


It will make it harder for you to build your skills and knowledge.


It will make it harder for you to find your first job.


It will make it harder for you to buy your first home.


And that is just wrong.




When I was in Newcastle in April, I had the privilege of visiting Novaskill, a provider funded by the Apprenticeships Access Program that delivers targeted mentoring to vulnerable young people.


Helping them complete apprenticeships and achieve nationally recognised pre-vocational training, support and assistance.


Novaskill has supported more than 1500 young apprentices –young Aboriginal Australians, young people with a disability and apprentices who have experienced long term unemployment.


Then there’s Youth Connections, a program with a success rate of more than 70 per cent.


Youth Connections gives young Australians who have fallen off the pace a second chance to get new skills that boost their employability.


But the Abbott-Hockey Budget cut more than $1 billion from skills, training and apprenticeships.


The Government is axing Apprenticeships Access, it is cutting Youth Connections, and it is cutting the Australian Apprenticeships Mentoring Program – another policy that helps young people who face barriers to workforce participation work with skilled mentors.


On top of this, the Budget axes another eight skills and training programs like the three I have mentioned.


All these programs are efficient, they are all achieving positive results.


They are all helping Australians who have slipped through the cracks of the conventional education system to gain new qualifications, learn new skills and make the transition into fulfilling and rewarding work.


Undoubtedly the Government expects the free market to take care of this shortfall, to fill the gap caused by its neglect.


But in the past, the privatisation of the training sector by the states with inadequate oversight and regulation has resulted in an outbreak of shoddy operators.


For Labor, public TAFE will always be a vital provider of the skills of our future workforce.


Labor will always be a champion of Australia’s public TAFE institutes, because we know that a strong public TAFE system guarantees that a quality vocational education is accessible to all Australians.


And I have asked our Shadow Minister for Vocational Education, Sharon Bird, to work with all of you in the TAFE sector to develop policies that will deliver the skills and training the Australia of 2020 and 2030 will depend upon.




The fact is, it is always hard to find your first job.


But this Budget will make life harder for young Australians looking for work.


Right now youth unemployment is double the national rate – and as high as 21 per cent in West Tasmania, 20 per cent in Cairns, 19 per cent in Northern Adelaide and 17 per cent in the Goulburn Valley.


This is not a niche issue – it is a national challenge.


For every three unemployed Australians, one is under the age of 24.


Cutting funding for skills, vocational education and training will only exacerbate this wicked problem.


And the Government’s heartless changes to Newstart for those under 30 will punish all those who are struggling to find work.


How will starving people help them find a job or even present for an interview?


How does pushing the price of unemployment back onto Australian families help build a fair society?


And for me, the most basic human question of all, how are unemployed Australians under 30 supposed to survive on nothing?


The Government’s own figures estimate an extra 500,000 people will be forced to rely upon emergency payments and assistance.


That’s half a million Australians reduced to abject poverty.


A generation shut out and neglected.


This is beyond out of touch.


It is vicious cruelty without purpose or benefit.


And Labor will not allow it.



The Budget’s changes to our university system are no less radical, or unfair.


Put simply, full deregulation will mean higher fees, bigger student debt and greater inequality.


Even on conservative estimates, Universities Australia modelling has found that the cost of engineering and nursing degrees could increase by almost double and take 15 years longer to repay.


The people worst affected by these changes will be women.


When women take time off work to start and raise a family, their debt will climb exponentially.


Labor will oppose these changes because we believe they are fundamentally unfair and will put the dream of a university education beyond the reach of many Australians.




This Budget will also make it harder for young people to buy their first home.


The retrospective increase in student will have a massive impact on the dream of home ownership.


Housing affordability is already one of the defining challenges facing this generation.

In the late 1980s, house prices were about three times an annual income.


Today they are more than seven times an annual income.


It’s no wonder that more and more young Australian are delaying the purchase of their first home.


And if the Government succeeds in driving up uni fees and ratcheting up student debt, it will be more difficult than ever for first home buyers to enter the housing market.




Friends, there is much more I could say about what is wrong with this Government’s Budget.


But today I want to leave you with a simple message:


Labor is on your side.


We will stand up for you and we will stand with you.


We will never abandon young Australians.


We will never walk away from our commitment to skills and our belief in education.


We will never short-change our nation’s future, we will never reject our nation’s potential.


We will keep fighting for fairness, and for you.