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Wednesday, 18 September 1996
Page: 4667

Mr RANDALL(1.09 p.m.) —I wish to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1996-97. The people in the electorate of Swan knew this government was about to deliver change, a change for the better. They knew that, while delivering our commitments to ensuring that Australian families were given greater security and greater opportunity, we would have an overriding responsibility to reduce our national debt. They were sick and tired of living on the bankcard and sick and tired of this great country having to do the same. We had to reduce a deficit caused by years of overspending, when money was directed into bandaid measures rather than long-term goals. The previous government were debt junkies who threw money at their problems and then had to find money to pay for it.

The people of Swan knew that this government was going to change the way the health system and health insurance were administered. They knew that there would be changes in training and education. They knew that there would be changes to small business regulations. They knew that there would be industrial relations reforms. Superannuants were desperate for help and wanted to be treated as equals. Middle income families wanted relief from being underresourced and overtaxed. They wanted security for their and their children's futures.

The Australian people knew of plans to privatise one-third of Telstra and of the National Heritage Trust which would begin the long overdue commitment to the environment of this nation. Most of all, Australians wanted the opportunity to pay their own way. They were tired of being on the end of handouts. The electorate of Swan—indeed, the people of Australia—knew that there would be these and many other changes. That is why this government clearly has a mandate to govern in a manner which demonstrates fiscal responsibility and prudent economic management.

The Australian people now want this Howard coalition government to get on with the job that they were elected for. This government inherited an enormous amount of debt, larger than the people of Australia were told by the former government. The $8 billion Beazley black hole was our first shock. Now we are informed that it is more than $10 billion. As part of this budgetary process, this government has committed itself to a charter of budget honesty so that we will see the real figures that a new government inherits rather than the dishonest figures displayed by the previous government.

This budget encapsulates some of the necessary measures for debt reduction. Australians generally do not mind taking the pain if they can see that it is being done for some net gain. The previous Labor government told us to endure the pain and things would improve but we were deceived because things only got worse. The previous government deserted their blue-collar supporters, who really needed their help at a time when the gap was widening more and more between the well off and the battlers. The net result was that the traditional blue-collar supporters of the ALP voted with their feet on 2 March and supported this government in their droves because they realised that they had been taken for granted, taken for a ride.

This budget has been well received. The measures have had some criticism from the usual quarters but in Swan I generally have had a most favourable response. The electorate has indicated that they are willing to do their bit and learn to live with some sacrifice if it means a positive outcome.

But this budget is not only about cuts. There also have been increases in many areas and shifts of funds, which often go unnoticed—and unnoticed by the media, as I have had to explain to those in Swan who sought clarification on points in the budget. The Australian people are looking at the long term rather than asking how this will affect them today. That is the reason that this budget has been so well received.

In Swan, youth unemployment was up to 30 per cent. That one-third of our youth was unemployed was totally unacceptable. At times, 12 per cent of the general population in Swan were unemployed; well above the state's average. This is a disgusting state of affairs in my electorate, given that the now Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) was in the best position to help these people as a former Minister for Employment, Education and Training, and then as the Deputy Prime Minister—but he did not.

I kept hearing over and over again that the unemployed people—the youth and the older people who once upon a time had been able to find a job when they wanted—did not want to go from one training scheme to another and be caught in the bureaucratic labour market program cycle. They wished, at the end of their training, that they could find a job, a real job.

The priority of the previous system of labour market programs was markedly different from that which we envisage for the future. Its priority often seemed to be its own administration rather than a focus on outcomes for clients. It was good at hiding the unemployed. The outcomes of these schemes were not fantastic. The numbers of people who found real jobs at the end of these training programs were not high enough to warrant the huge costs of their operations.

Two-thirds of the people who went through the Working Nation schemes are still out of work. Some participants of these programs would then go on to further training at another institution, such as a TAFE, and repeat what they had already learned. Clients were course hopping. One example is the number of forklift drivers who were turned out of these sorts of courses for a very limited number of actual opportunities to be forklift drivers.

That is not to say that training schemes are unnecessary. Some of the labour market programs run in my electorate of Swan were very well run and had high outcomes. Let me make it clear that I support training, but by efficient, genuine programs that offer the prospect of real jobs.

I did witness duplication of services at some of the labour market programs in Swan. I saw at first hand the need for some cutbacks. Some courses being run by skillshare were also being offered at the TAFEs and at other tertiary institutions. Some of the courses offered by skillshare were not accredited courses and that made it difficult for some employers to accept clients because they did not have recognised qualifications.

Over the next four years, the $5.4 million-plus that the government has allocated to labour market and training assistance will help those in the labour market to seek employment in a more performance and output orientated program. I support the implementation of the modern Australian apprenticeship and traineeship system, better known as MAATS, which will be partly funded by a considered reduction in labour market program funds. MAATS is this government's response to the fact that in 1995 the number of young people in apprenticeships and traineeships, as a proportion of the total work force, was at its lowest level in three decades.

The previous Labor government deserted the apprenticeship scheme, which has resulted in a dearth of skilled tradespeople. Industry is now feeling the effects. This is demonstrated by the fact that one company in Perth, for example, has had to bring in some specialist welders from the Philippines. Current apprenticeship and training schemes do not allow for the schemes to extend to farriers and blacksmiths, for example. These people, once qualified, have the potential to earn immediately from $60,000 to $100,000 a year in their particular trade, but at the moment most farriers are self-taught and it is very hard to provide skilled training for these people because there are very few skilled people to train them. The previous system has failed these people by failing to train them properly.

Too frequently in Swan I see the social ramifications of the years of not being able to find a job or be trained. I see the dysfunctional people who have lost their self-esteem and ego and self-respect. These effects last for years to come and not only permeate other areas of their lives but also often affect the other people in their lives.

My electorate of Swan is the home of a large section of the West Australian racing industry. As much as there are apprenticeship schemes all around Australia which might have accommodated apprentice jockeys, these schemes have been largely ignored because of the lack of incentive and the lack of funding for quality trainers to take on the right sort of apprentice. The system now has done more to train strappers than potential jockeys. Under the modern Australian apprenticeship and traineeship system this has been corrected, and the right people are encouraged to find training. The new funding for MAATS will make it more attractive for the better trainers to take on these budding heroes of the future. Recently I attended a hospitality awards presentation for apprentices at the Ascot Racecourse, which is in Swan. The participants were working in the industry and they were delighted that this budget had provided new funding for MAATS of more than $200 million over four years. This will take the Commonwealth commitment for apprenticeships and traineeships to some $1.7 billion over four years, which is almost half of the $3.7 billion four-year training package announced by the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training, Minister Kemp.

I passionately support the removal in our workplace reform package of the Brereton unfair dismissal laws, which have been the greatest disincentive to job opportunities for young people. Together with training reforms and small business reforms, employers will have the incentive which has been missing for so long and which has hurt business and employment in Australia.

An issue which has received support in my electorate has been the changes to the higher education system. Significantly, people welcome the fact that those who were likely to earn more at the completion of their degrees were going to contribute more personally than they did under the previous system. I know of only a few students who object to taking responsibility by contributing to their own education. In the last year, nearly half a million university places were filled across Australia and this simply could not have been done without the funds provided by HECS.

I also support the government's decision to speed up the payback of HECS debts by lowering the income threshold. I was asked by a lawn-mowing contractor in Swan recently why his $24,000-a-year income had to pay for someone to be educated, while a graduate earning $24,000 in the first year or two did not have to pay any extra. I could not really answer this, because it was unfair and inequitable. Now, though, the minimum income threshold is $20,701, and this only attracts repayment of less than $12 per week, which will barely affect the lifestyles of future Australian graduates. Through the changes to the higher education system, this government has addressed yet another situation where those who could least afford to were subsidising higher income earners. Again, it has received the support of my electorate, which I am certain is indicative of other marginal seats in Australia.

That leads me to comment on the health system and private health insurance. This government has made a genuine attempt to make the Australian health system universally available. The private health sector has run down from approximately 60 per cent of Australians being privately insured to the current deplorable state where only approximately 30 per cent are privately insured. The result is that there are fewer places in the public health system because those who could be privately insured do not have the incentive to stay.

To address this, this budget delivers our pre-election commitment that those who can afford to be privately insured will be encouraged to do so, and those who do not wish to be privately insured and who can afford to will pay more in the Medicare levy. This principle will free up hospital places and facilities for those who are genuinely in need and will have the effect of injecting more funds into our beleaguered health system, which has previously been stripped of this vital capital. Older Australians, families and the less well off can take comfort from such a decision because Medicare will certainly stay to service them.

I am happy to say that for the families of Australia, and the families in Swan in particular, this government has delivered on its commitment to ease the financial burden experienced by so many families. In particular, low and middle income families in Swan with an income of less than $70,000 per annum have welcomed the raising of the tax-free threshold by $1,000 for each dependent child.

The $6 million over the next three years to increase marriage and relationship education services to the community will contribute to assisting families to stay together. This government is serious when it says that the family is the cornerstone of our society, and we are providing genuine support in the form of these types of budget measures.

It is my honour to be in this Main Committee to endorse the first Howard-Costello budget which delivers the pre-election commitments to all Australians. Some tough decisions needed to be made in this budget so that our country can be returned to the status that it deserves in the world community. My belief is that the majority of my constituents in Swan understand and appreciate that these decisions needed to be taken.

However, a government which cynically keeps an eye on the popular polls, rather than on those it is committed to serve, is really a government which lives on the edge and does not deserve the support of the people who placed their faith in it on 2 March. I commend this budget to the people of Swan and to the people of Australia.

Sitting suspended from 1.23 to 4.32 p.m.