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- Start of Business
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- AVOIDING DANGEROUS CLIMATE CHANGE (KYOTO PROTOCOL RATIFICATION) BILL 2006
- PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS
- Mr Ron Byrnes
- Snowy Hydro Corporatisation
- Westralia Airports Corporation
- Fuel Prices
- Awaba Open-Cut Coalmine
- Macquarie Electorate: Blackheath-Mount Victoria RSL
- Gellibrand Electorate: Turkish-Australian Community
- Corangamite Electorate: Schools Funding
- Richmond Electorate: Whaling
- Cowper Electorate: Woolgoolga Surf Lifesaving Club
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Occupational Health and Safety
(Melham, Daryl, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Corporate Governance Framework
(Ciobo, Steven, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Queensland: The Nationals
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Vaile, Mark, MP)
(Lindsay, Peter, MP, Nelson, Dr Brendan, MP)
Queensland: The Nationals
(Beazley, Kim, MP)
China-Australia Free Trade Agreement
(Forrest, John, MP, Vaile, Mark, MP)
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Vaile, Mark, MP)
(Elson, Kay, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
(Gillard, Julia, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
After-Hours Medical Services
(Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
Howard Government: Leadership
(Burke, Anna, MP, Howard, John, MP)
- Occupational Health and Safety
- PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
- Area Consultative Committees
- Cook Electorate: Kurnell Peninsula
- Employment: People with Disabilities
- Roads: Ipswich Motorway
- Doctor Shortage
- Flinders Electorate: Somerville Secondary College
- Skills Shortage
- Townsville City Council
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- SUPERANNUATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (TRUSTEE BOARD AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006
- Start of Business
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 1) 2006-2007
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 2) 2006-2007
APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL (NO. 1) 2006-2007
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 5) 2005-2006
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 6) 2005-2006
QUESTIONS IN WRITING
Badgerys Creek Airport
(Bowen, Chris, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
(Bowen, Chris, MP, Bishop, Julie, MP)
Badgerys Creek Airport
(Hayes, Chris, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
Badgerys Creek Airport
(Hayes, Chris, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
(Roxon, Nicola, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
Treasury Department: Staffing
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Plibersek, Tanya, MP, Brough, Mal, MP)
(Roxon, Nicola, MP, Brough, Mal, MP)
Family Tax Benefit
(Tanner, Lindsay, MP, Brough, Mal, MP)
(Murphy, John, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
New Apprenticeships Centres
(Tanner, Lindsay, MP, Hardgrave, Gary, MP)
Family Tax Benefit
(Fitzgibbon, Joel, MP, Brough, Mal, MP)
(Bowen, Chris, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Bowen, Chris, MP, McGauran, Peter, MP)
(Bowen, Chris, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
(Murphy, John, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
(Hayes, Chris, MP, Cobb, John, MP)
Supported Accommodation Assistance Program
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Cobb, John, MP)
- Badgerys Creek Airport
Monday, 29 May 2006
Mr GARRETT (6:22 PM) —That is correct, Mr Deputy Speaker Lindsay. I am looking forward to us engaging when I am in Herbert. I welcome the opportunity to speak on Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2006-2007 and associated budget bills. In 2006 the Treasurer had the opportunity to do something big for the future of the country and he failed, I regret to say. Here was the context: this Treasurer was a lucky inheritor of one of the great windfalls of the decade—a mining boom of huge proportions. This Treasurer had the opportunity to invest in the future while addressing some of the pressing and persistent problems of the present: the imminent catastrophe of climate change, the persistent current account deficit, the ongoing decline in manufacturing, the need to invest in knowledge and innovation, the shortage of skills and adequate infrastructure, and the unacceptable state of health and social wellbeing in our Indigenous committees, amongst other things. But on all these counts, where the challenges were clear, the budget did not provide.
The Treasurer seemed to baulk at the gate, in this context unable to see past the short term to the long and unable to eschew the political interest for the national interest. I guess as a precursor to the Treasurer’s possible tilt to be leader and possibly Prime Minister, this budget gives us an insight into the future under Treasurer Costello. I think the House is entitled to ask, on the strength of the document, what kind of future is it? The first thing to say is that, on the basis of the 2006 budget, there is no compassion and no understanding of the scale of the problems that lie ahead. In the past the Treasurer has raised the issue of ageing and the issue of the likely shortages of oil. They are important issues, but they got short shrift here. Unfortunately, it was a surplus budget but a deficit of foresight.
Notwithstanding the portion of tax relief that the budget provided for many Australians and which Labor welcomes, it did not really provide substantial tax reform. And it in no way sets Australia up for a future of sustainable growth where our social, our ecological and our intellectual resources are nurtured and developed. Yet it is those very elements—the social, the environmental, the intellectual—and the economic framework in which they operate that will determine how we best manage the challenges of the future. It is against that consideration that this budget should be judged.
In terms of what the budget aimed to achieve—namely, some semblance of tax reform—the consensus was clear: it failed. The economic commentators and the specialist writers made that observation within 24 hours of sighting the budget papers. In particular, the effective marginal tax rates remain. The tax cuts themselves tend towards favouring the rich and the well-off, and middle and lower income taxpayers, particularly in the $40,000 and above range per year really get about $10 a week. So, in political parlance, this is the budget that brings back the milkshake and the hamburger—if you are on a single income of $50,000 per year, for example, then $9.81 per week is your lot. It is a budget whose tax cuts people saw through: they did not provide the Treasurer with the political bounce that he might have expected from such free spending.
I acknowledge that boomers and retirees will do well, especially well-off retirees, with the proposed superannuation changes—but there is some uncertainty until we have the full detail. Families in some instances also fared better than previously, and Labor acknowledges that as a positive. Yet the tax cuts for middle Australia take place at a time when both interest rate rises and petrol price hikes have the potential to take away much or all of people’s gains. If the citizens of Kingsford Smith get another 0.25 per cent interest rate rise, which is likely, and another two petrol price rises adding 20c a litre, also likely, then if they are on an annual income of about $60,000 with a mortgage of $400,000—that is an average mortgage; many people in Kingsford Smith have mortgages around that level—they will be around $33 a week worse off. So much for the big bonus to taxpayers or the constituents of Kingsford Smith. Of course, if you are on $140,000 a year, under the same scenario you will be $62 better off.
For large numbers of taxpayers, the handouts that Treasurer Costello provided in 2006 were a zero-sum game. This is particularly the case if they are single and earning in the $40,000 per annum range—and there are many single people in that category, a number of whom are my constituents. Of course, for the unemployed, the single low-income taxpayers and those on age pensions this budget does very little. They still make up a large portion of the Australians Mr Costello forgot; they are Mr Costello’s forgotten people. This is the social impact of the budget. It favours the well-off; it provides some minor tax relief, some minor tax cuts; and it leaves the pensioners and the marginalised behind.
What did the budget do for our intellectual capital? Notable in the budget is the fact that, for the first time, spending on defence outstrips spending on education, with defence at $17.9 billion and education at $16.3 billion. This is a telling comparison, all the more so because of the material that was released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute this week which highlighted a government decision which was not publicised during budget week: to continue three per cent real growth in defence spending—this was a commitment from 2000—for the next five years, thus imposing an extra $10.7 billion cost on the budget. Iraq—a war we should not be in—costs us approximately $400 million a year. More importantly, in terms of providing for the future, it appears on the basis of ASPI’s report that not enough money has been set aside to operate the current equipment that is budgeted for in the budget, notwithstanding the new purchases that are contemplated—and all this at a time when there are actually shortages in person power in our defence forces. But I think there is more to the signal of defence outstripping education, and it is consistent with the government’s underfunding of the tertiary education sector which has been a feature of the Howard government approach to spending on education for the last 10 years. In 2006 there was no extra research funding for universities, which is crucial to the ability of Australians to innovate, to develop and subsequently and, hopefully, to export. The other thing that the budget did not address is our chronic trade performance. And it is only by investment in education, skills and training that we will be able to address that problem.
Nor was the amount devoted to the health budget significant, with some 20 per cent of the total health budget allocated to measures driven by the sale of Medibank Private. But, once again, even with the amount in the coffers, the opportunity to reform the health system—something that health professionals, the health constituency and many other informed commentators have been calling out for for years and years—went missing. Access Economics figures show that the budget provides for spending on health to grow more slowly than government spending in general. This means that spending on health will fall as a percentage of all government spending. I am not arguing, by the way, that we should continue to spend money willy-nilly on health, important as it is. In fact, we should be investing significantly in preventive early intervention—the front end of the health system—as opposed to the back end of the health system. But again, there is no evidence that that was contemplated by the Treasurer.
I might take just a moment to deal with the budget on Indigenous health and acknowledge that $136 million or so was allocated for additional funding. Labor would certainly welcome a number of those initiatives, including initiatives on petrol sniffing and mental health. The mental health initiative comes as part of an earlier COAG announcement. I am particularly pleased to see that there are new health brokerage services and money for health workers—nearly $40 million, which is much needed.
But I think it is worth pointing out in a general way that the current mining boom is an inheritance that Australians now have. It is an uncomfortable truth for us because it is an inheritance that comes from land which Indigenous people travelled over and occupied. I can imagine, as we go through a period of soul-searching about some of the very real problems that Aboriginal communities face, and as we consider both in this parliament and in the public arena what we ought to be doing about these problems and how much we ought to provide for them in terms of resources, that we have not made the connection between the boom in mineral wealth and the fact that it was Aboriginal people’s land.
Again I refer to the Access Economics report that was prepared for the AMA. It found that the government is very slow moving in areas like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and that extra funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders health care is ‘inadequate’. Indeed, in the last budget the AMA had called specifically for around $450 million as an additional spend for Indigenous health, in Indigenous communities which still suffer terribly poor health conditions, particularly in comparison to the remainder of us. The 2005 budget was not forthcoming. This one has provided some additional spending but it will not be sufficient to close the life expectancy gaps. It will not be sufficient to deal with the considerable challenges that Aboriginal communities face on health.
I have to say—and I made this comment on Sorry Day on Friday—that the Prime Minister and his government have been aware of the problems that we have in Indigenous communities and the necessity for us to not only provide for safe communities and provide for due process under law but provide the necessary resources, particularly in preventive health, to grow and to be healthy. I was pleased to see that my colleague in the Senate, Senator Evans, welcomed the opportunity for Labor to work closely with the government in a bipartisan fashion on addressing some of these other, more prominent public issues of sexual violence and assault that we have seen recently. But it is about more than just playing the law and order card, important as proper due process is. To that extent, we certainly will be calling and looking very clearly for the necessary investment not only in political will but in health, in particular—for the resources that are necessary for Indigenous people to pick themselves up and get their health care sorted out for once and for all. It will take a decent period of time.
One other issue that faces us is considerable at this particular point in time, and it is called climate change. Since I have come into the parliament I have spoken on it on a number of occasions. I have been watching with interest the way in which the rhetoric of the government—in particular the Prime Minister and others—has changed over time. Climate change was not a problem five or six years ago, and then it was a problem that we really did not need to manage two or three years ago—it was the fanciful imagination of those who think the environment is worth protecting when they continue to emphasise it. Now it is a clear and present problem which only the establishment of a domestic nuclear power industry can solve in Australia.
More important is the fact that the budget provides absolutely no sense whatsoever that the government ‘gets it’ on this issue. There has been some criticism of previous funding decisions that it has made. The Australian Greenhouse Office virtually no longer exists. Even the meteorological services saw a lessening of income towards them. But, frankly, these are side issues when it comes to actually dealing with our climate change and recognising the necessary suite of measures that a government ought to put in place as a matter of urgency.
In November 2005, the G8 climate conference identified the fact that major investment is needed in energy infrastructure and that there is a need to tackle climate change. That means enhancing private sector investment, establishing goals and time lines for which greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and setting a price signal on the price of carbon, yet the government has done none of that. The budget does not contain any sense whatsoever that the financial and economic risks that Australia is taking by permitting climate change to continue unabated are understood.
The drought of 2003—and I am not saying that it was caused entirely by climate change, but it is very clear from CSIRO modelling that we will see increased and more intense drought periods over the coming decades—cost the country some $13 billion, from memory. I was interested in particular in the report that was done by the business roundtable on climate change, which included companies such as BP, Origin, Insurance Australia Group, Swiss Re, Visy, Westpac and the Australian Conservation Foundation. They identified a number of measures that would be necessary for Australia to take in order to start to address climate change. But nowhere in this budget, nowhere in the policy suite that the government brings forward to us, do we see any of that at all.
To successfully address climate change we need to use the best capacities, the best intelligences, the best innovations and the best education we have at our disposal. We must make substantial investments in learning and skills training, especially in light of the skills shortage that we have, to deal with the clear and present dangers. But the response from Mr Costello in the budget was to not address the particular problem of a skills shortage, which had been identified by the Australian Industry Group and others as being the most pressing need in this budget. It was not addressed at all. The only thing that we have to go on is the fact that there is an industrial relations system which moves, and ultimately in the future will continue to move, against workers to the benefit of employers.
Very quickly, with the time left available to me: in relation to the arts, this budget was again disappointing. The Minister for the Arts and Sport, Rod Kemp, claimed that the spending was $100 million, but if we examine where money was spent and where it came from we discover, in fact, that there was very little new spending or additional spending for the arts in the budget. I would have to say that the amount of funding in the arts is relatively modest, but once you strip out repair and maintenance, and necessary rescues and assistance, the figure is closer to about $10 million.
I believe the arts community and its capacities do wonderful things for this country, not only in enhancing our ideas about ourselves but also in building synergies with the new digital content industries. Expanding our artistic outreach and productivity overseas was let down. In particular, I note that there was no investment or response to the crisis in our film industry. We now have local skilled people being forced to go overseas to work and we have a significant underutilisation of infrastructure, and the budget presented nothing. For small- and medium-sized theatres, again there was nothing. In fact, all the budget did deliver was a $6 million visual artists package, which was a cover for a decision to deny visual artists, including Indigenous artists, resale royalties in this country.
I note that my colleague the member for Fraser is here. He had a private member’s bill in the House earlier this year. He identified in that bill some $25 million in royalties that would be payable to Indigenous artists, and yet we have a figure which is closer to $4 million provided for a very necessary upgrade for arts centres, particularly those in remote areas. That is a completely unacceptable result for the artistic community and a real slap in the face for Indigenous artists. This decision is extremely disappointing.
The final point I want to make is to pick up on something that ex-National Party leader Tim Fischer called for: a dimension in the budget that would refer to community wellbeing. I do not agree with everything that Mr Fischer said, either when he was in this House or subsequently, but he got it right on that one. When are we going to have a budget that reflects the social and environmental indices of health and wellbeing? When are we going to be able to provide the Australian population with a snapshot of where we are at in terms of what we are doing in this national economy and the impact that it is having upon our environment and upon our communities?
That is one of the most important issues that we need to consider, particularly when the warnings of climate change impacts are cascading down on us. It is projected that at least 20 per cent of the waters allocated to the Murray-Darling Basin—which did get a welcome spend of $500 million—will be evaporated as a consequence of climate change. The $500 million, while welcome, will not be sufficient. The fact that we are not starting to budget in those externalities of climate change et al means that the figures that we are looking at do not give us sufficient guidance as to where we need to go with the country in the future.
The public health system continues to buckle, and there is a lack of investment in health, education and public transport. Much was expected of this budget but little was given. Labor has policies in place which more than make up for the omissions of Treasurer Costello. Those policies, outlined by Kim Beazley, include goals for Aussie kids in health, the skills blueprint, connecting the nation and establishing a national broadband network, a fuels blueprint which would deal with the issue of energy security and boosts to child care. All those things would be part of a good and positive Labor budget.