Answers to Questions Take Note of Answers

In rising to speak to the motion to take note of answers, I take note of comments made by members opposite. I would like to deal with the issues of rhetoric versus fact. If you want to understand why the ALP is full of rhetoric at the moment, just look at the front page of today’s paper, which highlights that the opposition leader has been out advocating that people rise up and oppose the measures in this budget, when the budget has not actually been issued. So it goes back to the days when Mr Shorten said: ‘Whatever Ms Gillard said, I agree.’ Now he is saying: ‘Whatever Treasurer Joe Hockey says in his budget, let’s disagree.’ So you see very clearly that so much of what is being said is merely rhetoric.

Let us look at some of the facts. There are two key facts that are really pertinent to this argument: first, the structure of Australia’s parliamentary and budgetary system, which appears to be completely ignored in the rhetoric that is being used by the ALP, and, second, the facts of the actual figures.

To go to the first point, we have a process that is known as the forward estimates. To take it to an extreme, if you tried to estimate over 100 years, and said, ‘In 100 years time, we are going to promise you this payment or this return,’ people would say, ‘You’re having a lend; you can’t estimate what, in 100 years time, economic circumstances are going to be like, or what ore mining prices are going to be like.’ So is that 90 years time, or 80 years? How far do you go out?

Traditionally, what Australia has done is: we have set a limit of four years—the forward estimates—as the time frame for which governments say we have reliable estimates about income and expenditure, and that becomes things that are funded in the forward estimates. That is the only reliable framework which both sides of politics in Australia have used to actually make reliable decisions and announcements for which they are going to be held accountable. That is why when, under the Gillard government, they started making promises of funding that went out five or six years or beyond, any serious student of Australian politics said, ‘They are unfunded; those are not serious commitments, because they are unfunded. They go outside the factual basis of how governments of both persuasions in this nation have always made budgetary commitments.’

So let us look at the other group of facts, because this goes to, and completely gives the lie to, the claim that there have been cuts to health funding. I am a Senator for South Australia, and clearly I am interested in the case there. So let us look at the 2013-14 budget, which is the last budget under the Rudd-Gillard government. In it, there was $983.3 million in hospital services and $23.1 million in public health; so, just over $1 billion. In the 2014-15 budget, it is $1.07 billion to health, and, over the forward estimates, by the time we get to the 2017-18 budget, it is $2.188 billion. I did not major in maths at university, but my maths is not so bad, and, when I compare 1.07 to 2.188, it is very obvious that that is a continuous rise. In fact, the hospital funding for South Australia has gone up nine per cent in the first year, and goes up nine per cent the second year, nine per cent the next year and six per cent the year after that—sorry; that is the overall budget for Australia, for funding. So there is a total increase of some $5.3 billion, or 40 per cent, over the four years of the forward estimates.

So the argument that is being put forward, that the coalition government is cutting funding for health, is a sheer fabrication. The ALP can have all the rhetoric they like, but the facts tell us that the way we measure budgetary commitments is the forward estimates—it has been ever thus—and the facts tell us that the money which has been committed by this government is increasing, to the tune of 40 per cent, over those four years.

I make the point that this is not unusual for a coalition government. The Museum of Australian Democracy, which looks back at the key achievements of government, said that one of the key achievements of the Howard government when Prime Minister Abbott was the health minister was the record investment in health funding in 2006-07. At that time, it was $47.6 million. That indicates that, despite the rhetoric of the ALP, we, the coalition, show by our actions that we support investment in health for Australians.