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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 279

Ms COLLINS (5:19 PM) —I am pleased to be able to make a contribution on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills. This is an important debate that we are having today, and I think that both sides of the House are in agreement that the global economy has in past months deteriorated to the point where some of the biggest economies, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, have all fallen into recession. We all acknowledge the tough economic times, but global economic conditions are worsening at a faster pace than first thought. The International Monetary Fund reminded us of this very fact when it recently cut its forecast for global growth three times in just four months. It is now expecting a global recession. The global financial crisis has impacted significantly on our forward projections for revenue over the four years of the budget estimates. This means that there is now a $115 billion shortfall. As the global financial crisis impacts on the daily lives of people around the world, I and this government believe it is time for the government to act again.

Last December this government took decisive action. The $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy was common sense, it was economically responsible and it dealt with the state of the global economy at that time. Just today we had the ABS statistics released, which were referred to in question time, with the retail trade figures for December 2008. As we know, they were better than expected; they were 3.8 per cent. The ABS said that total sales hit a seasonally adjusted $19.16 billion. In fact, the ABS said ‘the package implemented in December 2008 has impacted on Australian retail turnover’.

Our economic strategy was a responsible package and had a positive impact on the Australian economy. But, since December, news on the global front has changed significantly. We cannot sit idly by, waiting for the market to correct itself. What we need to do is actively put in place further nation-building packages that will support not only the Australian economy but Australian jobs and leave us with better infrastructure and a better country than when we started. And this is exactly what the Rudd Labor government have done. Again, we have acted decisively. Without significant action it will be difficult to hold back the economic tide that has engulfed some of the world’s biggest economies. It is clear that the Australian people want to feel secure as we head through turbulent economic times. It is clear that they are looking to their government to take action—direct action—through this extraordinary and historic economic event.

It is also clear that those opposite are not heeding the warnings before us. They are insisting on an ad hoc approach at best—an ‘it’ll be all right, mate’ approach—bringing tax cuts forward and letting the market correct itself. It is clear they really do not have a plan at all. We heard that yesterday in the House, with the Minister for Finance and Deregulation kindly pointing out the shadow Treasurer’s confusion from the weekend, when she said that the government should pursue broad and sweeping tax cuts that will increase the tax base and increase tax revenues.

If we do not take decisive action now, Australia will be at risk of losing some jobs. If we do not take more action now, there will be no guarantees that Australia’s economy will sustain this economic emergency. Our plan in both this package and the previous one is to strike a balance that supports short-term relief and long-term initiatives. It is a plan that will immediately support jobs, while over the longer term delivering an infrastructure package that will strengthen Australia’s economy in the coming years as we come out of this global crisis. It is also about stimulating the economy in the short term and providing direct payments to low- and middle-income earners as well as encouraging private sector development. This Nation Building and Jobs Plan continues the Rudd government’s action in the face of the worsening global financial crisis.

We also know that China’s growth has halved. It has forced the Australian government to reconsider and to bring on another stimulus package, a package that must be supported by all in this chamber if we are to ride out these economic conditions. It is not since the Great Depression that we have witnessed comparable financial and economic times. Australia is better placed than most other economies, but with the growing emergency before us we can no longer think that we will be totally immune, and we need to do something about supporting Australians and Australian jobs as we go forward.

As the federal member for Franklin, I welcome the measures contained in these bills because I know that the constituents of Franklin will want some support and assistance during this crisis. There is a household stimulus package that will ensure the economy is strengthened, and the government will provide upfront lump sum tax bonuses of $950 to around 8.7 million taxpaying Australians earning $100,000 or less. The working Tasmanians in my electorate of Franklin are set to benefit. The Household Stimulus Package will also assist single-income families with a bonus of $950 to provide some additional assistance to families that have one main income earner. We are also supporting those on the land with a $950 payment that we will pay to farmers and others receiving exceptional circumstances payments. A training and learning bonus of $950 will be allocated to those returning to study or training.

Infrastructure investment, as we know, is one of the core initiatives of the Rudd government’s $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan. The plan will deliver $28.2 billion in direct investment in schools, housing, roads and other local infrastructure, and it is our schools that will be the central focus. It will deliver a $14.7 billion boost to the education revolution over the next three financial years. We are calling it the Building and Education Revolution. All of Australia’s 9½ thousand schools will benefit. There are three key elements of this Building and Education Revolution: $12.4 billion, which will be allocated to primary schools to build or refurbish large-scale infrastructure; $1 billion, which will be allocated to build up to 500 science laboratories or language centres in our secondary schools; and $1.3 billion, which will be used to refurbish and renew existing infrastructure and build minor infrastructure in all schools. In my electorate of Franklin, I have 55 schools, and all of them will benefit in some way. Primary schools with more than 400 students, such as Howrah and Huonville schools, will each be eligible for up to $3 million in infrastructure. It will assist them to expand or upgrade their existing facilities.

In my travels in the electorate, I have come across many schools that will benefit greatly from this. I have seen temporary classrooms, which we have around the country, on many of the school grounds. I have also seen schools that have no shelter for their students when it is raining or protection from the sun. I too, as the Prime Minister mentioned today, have many schools that do not have areas big enough to hold a school assembly, where the whole student population can actually meet together in one place. I will be encouraging all the schools in my electorate to access this money and I will be talking to them about what they are going to spend it on. I will also be helping around 9,000 families in my electorate who will receive the back-to-school bonus of $950 to help with the costs of kids returning to school.

If this package is actually passed some time this week, those payments are supposed to begin in the fortnight beginning 11 March. I hope we can get some of this legislation through, because people are relying on this money and they are counting on it, and those opposite are letting them down. These payments are what we are paying on top of the education tax refund. It is not only the schools that will benefit in my electorate, or the households, with direct support; it will also be of benefit to southern Tasmania’s roads.

There will be an additional investment in the Black Spot Program to further reduce accidents on Australia’s roads. In December 2008 the government announced we had more than doubled the black spot funding from $50 million to $110 million. The government will now invest in an additional $30 million in 2008-09 and $60 million in 2009-10 to further extend the coverage of this project. As chair of the Tasmanian Black Spot Committee, I welcome this funding. I am sure that many councils and local government roads in Tasmania will benefit greatly from that money.

We are also turning our attention to making sure that households are well insulated. This will modernise Australia’s existing housing stock. Australian owner-occupiers will be able to access a rebate of $1,600 for the installation of ceiling insulation and solar hot water panels. This will save them money on their electricity bills in two ways. We are also looking to support tenants in rental accommodation, with landlords able to access the increased rebate. And we are helping Australian households to install climate friendly hot water technologies, as I mentioned. Again, I will be encouraging all my constituents to take up these offers to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

On top of these initiatives, we are putting money into social housing, with $6.4 billion allocated over 3½ years for the construction of new social housing, as well as a further $400 million over two years for repairs and maintenance to existing public dwellings. In Tasmania a large proportion of our population is reliant on government income support. There is also a very large waiting list for public housing, compared with other states, for our population. At least 20,000 low-income households will be assisted by having access to secure and affordable public housing. This will help accommodate people who are homeless, who are at risk of homelessness or who are paying very high rental costs and are unable to continue to do so. It will also help stimulate the building and construction industry through further additional dwellings and increasing expenditure on repairs and maintenance. These are local jobs and, in supporting jobs, it will be a win-win situation for all.

I want to quote some of the responses in my home state of Tasmania with regard to this package—in particular, from the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which said:

… this is a brave package and one that will impact on the nation’s fiscal and economic position for many years to come.

Master Builders Tasmania said:

The dual benefit of having falling interest rates in conjunction with this kind of fiscal stimulus will certainly alleviate some of the pain that is coming for the industry.

I too support these economic packages. These are tough times, and this plan strikes an important balance between supporting growth and jobs now and delivering on investments in our future. It is a plan to support the Australian people. It is what they expect of us. It is time to show some leadership and it is time to act. I commend these bills to the House.