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Wednesday, 27 May 1998
Page: 3942

Mr McDOUGALL (6:14 PM) —The most appropriate aspect of this budget is that unemployment in my electorate of Griffith has dropped to below seven per cent and, in some suburbs, to below five per cent. This is a fact overlooked by members of the opposition as they champion their reign of high interest rates, high unemployment and an ever-increasing welfare bill that was sending Australia and all Australians bankrupt.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that the Labor Party and its policies are the dinosaurs of Australian politics. I am convinced that the opposition is so firmly entrenched in its socialistic beliefs that even its proven failure to balance the taxpayers' books has not yet hit home. The fact that other socialist governments such as the Soviet Union have crumbled in the last decade and are still desperately struggling to rise out of the disaster of their socialist policies also seems to have gone unnoticed. Times and technology have changed, but apparently not the Labor Party.

In listening to the opposition's speakers during the last two days, I heard a constant, unbroken theme—that is, this government is to be damned for not spending enough and Labor will do better by spending more. The former minister for health, the member for Fremantle (Dr Lawrence), accused this government of `ripping funds out of hospitals', while repeating that old Labor mantra—that is, this government is attempting to undermine Medicare. Nothing could be further from the truth. Medicare remains unchanged, as promised by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard).

The crisis in our public hospital system, referred to by the former Labor health minister, was not of this government's making. Under both a Labor state government and a Labor federal government, Queensland had the worst—and I mean the worst—and the longest hospital waiting lists in Australia. The coalition government has turned that completely around, and today Queensland has the best waiting list in the nation. A typical example of just how Labor underfunded our public health system in Queensland was one Queensland hospital where patients on the vital category 1 list had to wait for treatment longer than the recommended 30-day period. Today, under the coalition, there is no-one waiting on the infamous category 1 list.

As for the so-called slashing of funds to public hospitals statement by the former health minister, the opposition gets it wrong again. In 1993, the Labor government gave the states $25 billion to run their public hospitals. In this budget, the Howard government has committed $30 billion. All I can say is that, typically, Labor cannot get its sums right. Queensland's public health system is heading into the year 2000 with a $2.4 billion building program which will see my constituents able to use facilities that will rank with the best in the world. That is this government's contribution to public hospitals—a complete turnaround from Labor's worst waiting lists in Australia, as I said before, to the best in Australia.

Next, let us take a look at unemployment. We all want to see an economic environment that creates job opportunities for everyone. But Labor did not manage to do it during its 13 years of social programs which created a culture of training for jobs that did not exist. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Gareth Evans) made the accusation that this government is `brutal in its disregard for the unemployed'. I beg his pardon. This government has reduced our national unemployment figure, not by prolonging training programs that lead to more training programs but by totally reforming a tired and worn-out system.

The coalition's Job Network has utilised the technology of today to make a wider range of jobs available to every job seeker who enters the new Centrelink one-stop shop. The former CES system presented to job seekers only 20 per cent of available jobs, at best. Today, the coalition's Job Network, which utilises the skills and talents of professional job brokers, presents 80 per cent of available jobs to its clients.

Our vocational training program in schools is more than a pathway into a career. It is a complete social reform. Students are now given a good, productive reason to finish their secondary education. The government's new apprenticeship and traineeship programs allow for employers and employees to cut through the red tape and get down to the reality, which is a career path for young people and a return to fulfilling an urgent need for trained tradespeople. These are budget measures which the Howard government put in place with the first budget, measures which proved to be a firm foundation for the second, and now the third, budget. The result in my electorate has been a drop in unemployment figures to below six per cent in the majority of suburbs and to below five per cent in many others.

The member for Hotham (Mr Crean) has had the temerity to claim that this government's child-care reforms are `disastrous'. The only people who are claiming we have cut funds to child care for Australians are the Labor Party. The truth is that, under the Howard government budget reforms, more women with dependent children now have access to government funding for child care. The Labor Party, with its casual attitude to book work, omits the fact that more women are now working, both full time and part time, than three years ago. In fact, the increase is some 36,000 since April 1995.

Under Labor, the system did not take this increase into account, nor was it fair. Labor provided a subsidy to community based centres, which provided less than 30 per cent of all centre based places. This same subsidy was not available to the remaining 70 per cent of places, which means that 70 per cent of people needing child care were not receiving the government's subsidy—a total of some 70,000 families.

The Howard government redressed that imbalance and spread the subsidy to enable an extra 51,000 families access to government funded child-care assistance. The truth is that the Howard government is today spending more on child care than Labor did in 1995-96 and the funding has been directed to low income families, those who need the most help.

The member for Hotham summed up the opposition's attitude to spending Australia's hard-earned dollars. He said in his speech:

In government Labor was prepared to spend to achieve economic growth.

Spend it certainly did, but at the detriment of not only our economic growth but also our social growth. Just how can a couple afford to buy a house when the interest rates rocket to 17½ per cent, as they did under Keating? The facts are there for all of us to see. Today an Australian family can take out a mortgage for as low as 6.25 per cent and that is the foundation for economic growth if ever I saw it.

The member for Hotham had the temerity to add that Labor now promise to produce a surplus balance if restored to office. Labor could not do it before, so what has changed? All I have heard in the past few days is just how many of the government's programs Labor intend to abolish if they could just get their hands back on the till.

A front page article in today's Australian states that Labor is expected to vote for the government's $2 billion savings rebate, even though it intends to scrap this initiative if it wins the next election. The article goes on to say that Labor wants to use the money to top up the tax cuts it will offer in its own election platform. That says it all. Labor needs the coalition to pay back its own debts and put money back in the bank so it can go out and spend it all again.

I wholeheartedly support the appropriation bill because it is the culmination of not one but three cautious and effective budgets to give all the people of this great and free nation safety, security and stability. It has given the people of my electorate of Griffith more jobs. It has been done without any increase in income tax, without any increase in company tax, without any increase in petrol excise and without any increase in the wholesale sales tax. It has also seen the engine room of the Australian nation—small business—benefit from a drop in interest rates from 11 per cent two years ago to 7.7 per cent today. It has stabilised our nation to such an effect that we are riding out the Asian crisis without falling back into Labor's black hole. Yet the opposition continues to preach doom and gloom, trying to convince the people of Australia to re-adopt its policies of out-of-date welfare programs and unbridled spending and its fundraising methods of spiralling taxes.

The Howard government has established a strong foundation and one which I do not believe the people of Australia will allow to be trashed by the Labor Party which admits its policies require spending, spending and more spending. Labor has proven its policies mean debt, debt and more debt, which trans lated means higher taxes for all Australians. Because this budget and those before it have wiped out Labor's $10.3 billion debt without one cent of increases in taxation, I see a return to the values of the past, the values which the Howard government aspires to, which are simply security for all Australians. I support this bill.