Bendigo pollies speak: One year on from the federal election

ONE year on from the last federal election, Bendigo politicians have given varying report cards on the success or failure of the Turnbull government.

Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters claimed it was harder to find full-time work 12 months on, that apprentice numbers were dropping, the Medicare rebate freeze remained in place, the NBN rollout was a “debacle” and was critical of the Gonski 2.0 model.

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie claimed the school package provided “record funding”, that the government was pushing forward with its decentralisation program, small and medium sized businesses were getting a tax cut and the inland rail project would create ongoing jobs.

As predicted, one was scornful and one was full of praise.

We’ve broken down their comments by the issues:

Education funding

Lisa Chesters: Despite the rhetoric that it was all needs-based - it was not needs-based. We have every public school and Catholic school in central Victoria have funding cut. If we were in government, we would restore every dollar cut. That’s over $30 million for Bendigo electorate schools alone.

The federal government has torn up the deal that was struck with the Victorian government. They tore up the deal that was struck with the NSW Liberal government. It’s not just state Labor governments they’re in trouble with - it’s also with their own governments in Tasmania and in NSW.

The government, without proper consultation, says this is all you’re getting. The states will take it of course, but I’m sure they will keep fighting, like us, for every dollar that’s owed to them.

Bridget McKenzie: ABC Fact Check disproved the claim that school funding is being cut. 

The reality is that, what was occurring because of the different agreements, country kids in WA were being treated very differently to country kids in NSW, or in SA. From the Commonwealth government perspective, it can’t be funding the same students with the same needs differently. We’ve put some consistency there, and are wanting to join with the states to make sure they hold up their end of the bargain.

One thing when you’re talking about education funding, there is a point where tipping more money in won’t make a difference. How do we actually spend that money so that it will make a difference to student outcomes?

National Broadband Network

Lisa Chesters: It’s been a debacle the rollout. It’s raining today, and I fear for everybody who might be trying to do business or at home trying to connect. We know we’ve got bad copper here in Bendigo. We’re one of the oldest communities in Australia. Copper was never going to work as a technology for delivering fibre-to-the-node technology.

Again, I call on the government to roll out fibre-to-the-curb and fibre-to-the-premises to as many homes and businesses as possible here in Bendigo and central Victoria.

Lisa Chesters on election night last year.

Lisa Chesters on election night last year.

Bridget McKenzie: Every community has an entitlement to receive certain data, at a certain speed. I know the productivity commission is looking at the universal service obligations, so we need to ensure that data is a part of that so that every community is receiving an entitlement for service provision when it comes to data.

To say that the copper network isn’t what we’ll need in 50 years time, I don’t think anyone can make that call today. We’re now looking at 5G mobile stations. Technology is improving and changing at a rate of pace that I think would make any predictions in half a century’s time, what’s going to be appropriate and what’s going to be required, would be very brave.

Job creation

Lisa Chesters: For all their ranting about jobs and growth, we’ve seen real wages in Bendigo go backwards. More and more people aren’t working enough hours and want more hours. More and more people can’t find decent full-time work, jobs that they can count on. The government has really missed an opportunity to create good secure full-time jobs.

On procurement, we’d look local first. We’d encourage people as much as possible, businesses, give greater weighting to ensure we are looking local first when we’re spending federal government dollars.

Bridget McKenzie is a Nationals Senator for Victoria, with an office in Hargreaves Mall.

Bridget McKenzie is a Nationals Senator for Victoria, with an office in Hargreaves Mall.

Bridget McKenzie: Company tax cuts mean companies can employ more people. We’re not talking about multinationals, we are taxing them to the tune of $2 billion in the last financial year, taxing them appropriately.

When it comes to our small to medium enterprises, they are some of the highest taxed in the world. Reducing that to mum and dad businesses means they can employ more people. Our infrastructure spending, $50 billion, is all about construction jobs.

Decentralisation

Lisa Chesters: Rather than this sort of rhetoric from the government about decentralisation, actively engage with big business to say what can we do to support them moving out to the regions, to help create more jobs in regional and central Victoria.

Bridget McKenzie: I’m proud of our decentralisation agenda where we’ve seen the federal government taking a targeted, strategic approach to how we move more government jobs out of Canberra, out of Melbourne and Sydney, into the regions where we know we’ve got some really competitive reasons for why that is a good idea.

Apprenticeships

Lisa Chesters: We’ve seen a real drop off of apprenticeships since the Liberals came to government. It’s close to 150,000 apprenticeships. I meet people at Bendigo TAFE all the time, 10-20 kids going through pre-apprenticeship courses and then that’s it - no apprenticeship after that.

On apprenticeships, Labor’s policy is - if elected - for every federal government project like the next Hawkei, like Ravenswood, one-in-10 of the jobs created as a result of federal government funding would go to apprenticeships.

Bridget McKenzie: In the budget, Karen Andrews announced a $1.5 billion apprenticeships package. At the moment, I think for a young person it can be quite difficult to find that pathway into an apprenticeship. They need to be finding that pathway, and the $1.5 billion will go a long way for addressing it.

We know that the state government has a role to play, industry has a role to play, the federal government needs to be ready to support both of those in terms of making sure young people, in the main, when they are making decisions about what they will do post-secondary schooling, becoming an Australian apprentice is actually a viable choice.

Leadership

Lisa Chesters: Before every election, it’s hard to be an opposition leader. It’s rare to find someone that’s been popular as an opposition leader and go on to be prime minister. It’s the nature of being in opposition.

What is significant though is that Labor continues to out-perform the Liberals in the opinion polls. Those news polls have been consistent for quite some time. What they’re clearly saying, is that they’re not listening to the government anymore, they’re disappointed with the direction they’re going, their hearts are broken by Malcolm Turnbull who promised so much but has been a fizzer.

Bridget McKenzie: I think what we’ve seen in Australian politics unfortunately is a real negative conversation with the public. There are many many reasons that politicians of all sides can celebrate a lot of what the government has been able to achieve, because it’s actually in the national interest.

People are just sick of the negative political talk at the moment I think. And that’s what we’re seeing in the polls. If what the Labor Party was offering was something people wanted to buy, surely Bill Shorten’s numbers would be up. I think it’s more of a malaise more broadly with politicians and politics.