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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 400

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (2:38 AM) —Thank you very much, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker Secker. It is indeed a pleasure, despite the hour, to get up and speak on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills and to put my full support behind the action of the Rudd Labor government. In passing, I find it bemusing that on the one hand previous speakers criticised us for doing too much and spending too much, while on the other hand they then read out a list of the things which we still should have had in the package even though they said that we were spending too much money—and I just needed to make that remark, I guess.

Other speakers have said this, and at the risk of repeating it I must say it again and get it on the record from my perspective: these are absolutely extraordinary times. They are virtually unpredictable in many ways. Experts around the world have found it very difficult and have been found wanting in predicting exactly what is going to unfold other than to say that it is going to be very challenging and very difficult. We have seen banks fall over like one could never predict. Other countries, of our measure and more, have gone into recession already. It is very easy and very glib in fact for many members opposite to come into this place and just use rhetoric to criticise and lay their language to any word that they believe may somehow reflect badly on what we are attempting to do as a government. In fact, these are more than extraordinary times and there are enormous difficulties and huge challenges ahead of us. I am very pleased to be part of a government that are actually willing to put their toe to the line and give a commitment to this country that we will do everything we possibly can to ensure security of employment for people and to try to stay ahead of that threatening recession. For those reasons, quite simply, I am very supportive of this package.

Of course, many of the details of these packages have been spoken about by previous speakers, but I want to particularly concentrate—very quickly, in the limited time I have—on the schools package, which is going to have a big impact in my electorate and my city and, I believe, around the country. In my electorate alone, there will be a positive effect on over 50 government and non-government primary schools. Some people opposite have been saying that we should leave it to the schools to decide. In fact, the schools are going to decide to some extent, because we are giving them an offer of several different options. One of the options offered is a school hall, which will have the caveat on it that it be used by the community as well—a very sensible provision, in my view, for many communities around this country. If schools already have that hall, they can build a library, and, if they are already lucky enough—and not all of them are, I might add—to have a modernised library, they can use the money for modernising their school buildings generally. So it really does end up being quite a choice of the school community as to which way they go with those offers.

There is also the money for refurbishment of schools. It is not only primary schools, although every primary school will access this package. I think up to 500 secondary schools are going to be able to apply successfully for similar types of programs, in this case for science labs or language labs. Science has been a very big product of this government. A very big emphasis has been put by us on the need to develop science in this country. No-one could ever disagree with that as a thrust of policy. So in both of those cases I am really pleased to see what is going to be on offer for the education system.

The other point I want to make quickly is on the question of homelessness. We gave a commitment through our Prime Minister at the beginning of our term that we would do something dramatic about attempting to pull in the terrible effect of homelessness on this country. Part of this package is in fact to accelerate that at quite a dramatic level. No-one should do anything but applaud that initiative. It is a good initiative. It is the correct thing that we should be doing. If it had been getting attention over the decade or more before this period then we would not have had the need to do what we are doing.

The point of this whole package is simply that we as a government want to ensure that there is activity of an economic nature out there, that jobs are retained or created—who cares which, frankly, in the times in which we find ourselves?—and to make sure that that activity and those jobs are in areas where the community can gain and which can be long-term, good investment at the same time. It is not just throwing money out and hoping that there are employment opportunities but rather having it in areas where we know that the community, in one way or another, is going to achieve a good outcome as a result of that investment. It is very glib, in my view, and a bit cheap, for some members opposite to deride what we are attempting to do, when in fact quite a bit of thought and quite a bit of direction is being used by the government to try and get this package off the ground and generate the sorts of activity that we really do need.

The other things that are going to happen will be the tax bonuses and the increased social security payments to families. In my electorate, I think that nearly 8,000 families are going to benefit from the back-to-school bonus. Nearly 3,000 students and people looking for work will receive a training and learning bonus, and 7½ thousand or more families receiving family tax benefit B will receive the single-income-family bonus of $950. These are substantial numbers of individuals and families that are going to be assisted by this package. Also, there is the tax office initiative where we are going to be paying bonuses to people within certain income categories—again, at the right level, for the right reasons.

At a local level, my concern for my community is the pressure that the financial circumstances are going to bring to some families who have never before faced that sort of pressure, families around the country and in my town who believe, and rightfully so, that in the past they were okay—that they have managed, that they have their security firmly around them. They are the sorts of people who are now going to be added to the numbers of people with financial pressure on them. These are the sorts of initiatives that we need to give them confidence and to say, ‘Things are going to be tough, but we as a government are there with you and we are going to be doing all we can to ensure that you do in fact have a reasonably successful financial future.’

If the opposition want to take this grandstanding position and decide to vote this package down, I think they need to do so with great caution. The intent from us is quite true, and that is to put the money where we need it and to ensure economic activity. As I said, from my own community’s point of view, there are going to be a lot of people very pleased to get this assistance when it comes through. It is a privilege to be here to endorse this package and to explain to my community why I am endorsing it. I hope that through this debate some sense is reached and we see the successful passage of the package of bills that have been put to the House this evening.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr PD Secker)—I would remind the member for Canberra that it is either ‘Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Acting Speaker’ but not ‘Acting Deputy Speaker’.

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS —No disrespect meant. It is three o’clock in the morning.