I rise today to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2017-2018 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2017-2018, which deliver the government's 2017-2018 federal budget. It is a unique budget in that much of the debate and commentary has been fixated on its nature rather than its content. It has been characterised, rather than analysed. It has been labelled, rather than examined in the context of the political realities we face. I think that is an important point.
I totally respect the right of people—and of course that includes those on my own side of politics—to be critical and to make judgements on ideological grounds and to argue their convictions. The bottom line is that this budget is about striking a balance, a balance that will achieve our objectives of budget repair and reducing government spending and still provide the essential services the Australian public want and expect like quality education; a secure Medicare and PBS; and the NDIS, to help those most in need. We have to meet these goals, despite starting behind the eight ball because the Senate has already rejected of $13 billion in savings measures from previous budgets.
This budget makes the right choices now to build on our gains and create a more prosperous future. It is a budget based on delivering fairness, security and opportunity for all; a budget that recognises that many Australians are doing it tough. It is a budget that provides the conditions for stronger economic growth to create more and better paying jobs, including delivery of continuing support for small businesses and greater training opportunities for our young people. It is a budget that guarantees the essentials, including securing Medicare, restoring the pensioner concession card and tackling cost-of-living pressures by delivering energy security, boosting education funding and providing better access to child care for working families.
Importantly, it is a budget that ensures the government lives within its means with a plan to return the budget to surplus by 2020-21. I want to make this point very clear: this is not a tax-and-spend budget. Higher revenues have been allocated for two different purposes; the first is filling the hole left by savings opposed by the Senate for which Labor and the Greens are primarily responsible; and the second is strengthening the budget, including fully funding the NDIS.
I would like to make a serious point about the NDIS: when they were in government, Labor raised expectations and made all sorts of grandiose promises but failed to provide adequate funding for the scheme, so that task has fallen to us. We will not let those people who are living with a disability and their families suffer because of Labor's failings.
As I said at the outset, budget repair and strengthening the budget remain key objectives, as they always are, for coalition governments, and the fact is: our decisions have improved the budget by $6.3 billion over the next five years even after taking into account reversing measures that were blocked by the Senate. This is considerably better than recent updates—for example, last year's MYEFO had an improvement of just $2.5 billion. Last year's budget delivered an improvement of $1.7 billion. Real spending is expected to grow by just 1.9 per cent on average over the forward estimates—the same pace as it was in the 2016-17 budget and the 2016 MYEFO, and much lower than the 3.5 five per cent we inherited from Labor.
Compared with the projections in the 2015 budget, the government will spend a total of $26 billion less over the period 2015-16 to 2018-19, and this is because we recognise that the first step in paying down the debt is getting the budget back to surplus. So there can be no mistake, we are continuing to work solidly and surely towards budget repair and returning the budget to surplus. By the same token, we know that the public expect the government to take decisive action to tackle some of the challenges we face. And so we have with a plan to deliver vital infrastructure; a plan to improve housing affordability; to secure our energy supply for the future; and to provide $18.6 billion in practical needs based funding for our schools.
I am particularly proud, as Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, of our plan to establish a new Skilling Australians Fund to work in partnership with the states to deliver an additional 300,000 apprenticeships. It is all about putting Australian jobs and Australian skills first, and ensuring our businesses have access to the best skilled workforce possible. It is funded in part by a new levy on foreign workers, and I look forward to working with the states and territories to deliver the skills outcome we need for the future.
As I travel around the country, I see so many positive, practical things being achieved in the vocational education sector. I am very proud that our government has recognised the significance of the sector by boosting funding in the budget.
I want to spend a few moments in this debate talking about the benefits for my electorate of McPherson on the Gold Coast, because, whilst I am honoured to the part of the ministry, my first duty is always to my constituents—the wonderful people of the southern Gold Coast. We have a large seniors population on the Gold Coast, who I am sure will welcome the reinstatement of the pensioner concession card; the one-off payment to help with cost-of-living pressures; the securing of Medicare and bulk-billing; and the extension of a number of medicines on the PBS. I also know my veterans will welcome reforms to improve the services of the DVA.
As I have said many times in this place, the Gold Coast is the small business capital of our nation, and the huge raft of reforms that our government has introduced to support and encourage the small business sector are a boost for our local economy, including the historic tax cuts and the enterprise tax plan. I welcome the extension of the $20,000 asset write-off for a further year to encourage business investment and expansion.
Having already cut federal red tape by $5.8 billion during our government, this budget offers up to $300 million in incentives to states and territories that remove unnecessary regulatory barriers. Cutting red tape means giving businesses more time to grow and create jobs.
Our ongoing investment in national infrastructure is vital. I have fought and will continue to fight for funding to widen the M1 from Varsity Lakes to Tugun and complete this vital project. I was delighted we were finally able to reach agreement with the state government earlier this year to get works underway for the crucial section from Mudgeeraba to Varsity Lakes. I am also pleased that funding for planning the improvements further south was included as part of that agreement. I would like to say to my constituents, the people of the southern Gold Coast, that the upgrade from Mudgeeraba to Varsity is but the next stage in the widening that I will be fighting to make sure goes all the way through to Tugun, as was the original agreement back in 2007. We have to make sure that something as vital as the M1 does not just get stuck in the planning stage forever. We are talking about the major coastal link between Brisbane and Sydney, so completing the M1 is imperative and I can assure the people of McPherson and the southern Gold Coast that I will be keeping up that fight.
I have also pledged to advocate for the extension of the existing rail line from Varsity Lakes to Coolangatta airport. In this budget, the government is investing $10 billion in a new National Rail Program. We recognise that rail lines have the potential to be true city-shaping pieces of infrastructure. The transformational impact of linking the Gold Coast Airport with rail infrastructure into Brisbane and South-East Queensland has great benefits for local tourism and will help ease congestion on our roads. So I will be advocating for that major project on behalf of my constituents and I certainly hope that the Queensland government will work with us in securing the funding required.
Finally, I want to return to something I touched on at the start. This budget is about achieving the attainable—a balanced and measured response to the challenges our nation faces. This budget should have the greatest chance of passing through the parliament, given it has been characterised as the least partisan in a long time. That is why I am disappointed and disturbed that Labor seems determined to work to block crucial elements of the budget and, in so doing, create a new potential black hole of $14 billion. I note that recently The Australian reported:
At least $14 billion in key budget measures faces a Senate blockade, undermining the Turnbull government's attempt to reset its reform agenda as crossbenchers begin talks with Labor in a bid to expand the controversial big-banks tax.
The article continued:
New budget measures in trouble include the 2.5 per cent Medicare levy meant to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme, random drug testing of welfare recipients, the revised higher education package, “Gonski 2.0” school funding changes and the superannuation saver scheme for first-home buyers.
This is a thoroughly irresponsible approach by a Labor Party intent on creating division and chaos. How in good conscience can they reject things like Gonski and the NDIS—things they supposedly believe in but apparently just do not want to pay for? It can only be for political reasons. It beggars belief that they would try to create a new $14 billion black hole, when we have just moved to fix the last one.
With continuing Senate intransigence to the government's first preference of genuine savings, in this budget we had to step in to do something to preserve our nation's AAA credit rating and stop piling debt on the shoulders of our children and our grandchildren. To do otherwise would have been economically irresponsible. For the purposes of assessing our AAA rating, the ratings agencies have made it clear that they would not take into account spending cuts we factor into the budget that have no prospect of passing through the Senate. Hence, we reversed over $13 billion of such measures in this budget. But Labor want to continue to put our economy in jeopardy by turning around and creating a new budget black hole by opposing completely reasonable and fair measures in this budget. I implore members opposite to stop the class warfare, stop the empty populist politicking, look into their hearts and recognise that this budget is an opportunity for all sides of politics to come together for the benefit of our nation. We must be able to come together as Australians and act in the national interest. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the House and in the Senate to pass these budget measures and allow the government to get on with the job we were elected to do. I commend these bills to the House.