It is great to be able to contribute to this debate. I have to start by pointing out that today, of course, we expect to see the opposition leader hand down his response to the budget in the other place. I very much look forward to seeing what is in that document. Is it going to be the answer to all the criticisms that have been levelled at the government and everything critics think we have done wrong? I doubt it. I do not think many people listening at home today are going to be surprised to learn that opposition senators are criticising a government budget. I do not think anyone is surprised that nothing we do is right in the opposition’s eyes. But, sadly, that is the coloured view they have and we just have to deal with that.
In taking note of the answers that we have provided, it is important to reflect on some of the questions that were asked. As Senator Cormann’s first answer pointed out, this is not really about the substance of the budget; this is not really about ensuring that Australians get the best deal out of budget management by a government. This is all about juvenile student politics—’gotcha’ moments, ‘How much is this figure?’ and trying to get people on those little points. Instead, it is important to focus on the substance.
I take issue with points made by the two previous opposition speakers, Senator Polley and Senator Singh, that things have all gone down—things are bad. Hang on, what about the NDIS? Australia is a great country where we want to look after everyone. We want everyone to have the right to live a fulsome and whole life. The cynical question asked by Senator Wong, trying to link tax concessions for business—that they seem to be terming ‘the big end of town’—as being paid for by the Medicare levy, when the point was made that the levy, which comes into effect in two years time, is going to fund the NDIS to support our most vulnerable. It was a cynical and disappointing move. I think Australians will understand that that is what that levy will do.
To Senator Polley’s point in her contribution suggesting that the state of Tasmania missed out in the budget, I urge her to have a look at the budget yet again and look at the points where we have been funded. It is ridiculous for Senator Polley to suggest that, because those things were not new announcements on budget night—despite the fact that they were in the budget and funded in the budget—they do not count. She is saying to the people of the northwest coast that their $730 million-funded Mersey Community Hospital is not important; it was not a coup for them. The certainty that they now have in having 10 years of funding from the Commonwealth government to support this vital piece of health infrastructure is not important, because it was not new in the budget.
Then you look at other infrastructure funding in Tasmania: Midland Highway upgrades from Epping Forest to Powranna—$19 million this year; Midland Highway safety works from Mangalore to Bagdad—$20 million; Midland Highway work south of St Peters Pass to Tunbridge—$10 million; Midland Highway upgrade of Perth link roads—$25 million. And Senator Polley says to this chamber that there is nothing in the budget for Tasmania? What are those numbers? I do not understand what she is missing here. There is the freight rail revitalisation for Tasmania, which is $12.85 million. And the list goes on.
Indeed, on the issue of schools funding in Tasmania, the point has been made by me and others in this chamber before that, under the deal that the others claim is a cut—a cut to their imaginary money—Tasmanian schools in all sectors, government, Catholic and independent, in 2017 received the highest per student funding of any jurisdiction in the country, except for the Northern Territory. And then in 2027, by the time we get to the end of the deal, the same three sectors will also continue to receive the highest funding per student, except for the Northern Territory.
To suggest that Tasmania has got the raw end of the stick here and has not done well out of the budget is just completely wrong. I urge Labor senators from Tasmania, rather than trying to come in here and score political points, to actually go and read the budget and be honest with the Tasmanian people about what is in there for them, including the Mersey Community Hospital, the NDIS funding and the improved school funding for our state. I think that is what people expect—for you to be constructive.
As I said, I look forward to the alternative budget and all of those mentions of Tasmania and all the money for Tasmania that is going to be in the alternative budget.