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Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Page: 4324


Mr CLARE (6:50 PM) —It is not often that you meet a bloke named Kevin and even rarer that you meet two in one place, but that is where I found myself a couple of weeks ago: between Kevin the Prime Minister from Queensland and Kevin the builder from Bankstown. Kev the builder from Bankstown told Kev the PM from Queensland what the government’s actions had meant for his business. Kev is in the building game. His family business, Co-Wyn, has been around since 1954. The government’s nation-building infrastructure plan means that Kev has a lot of work on at the moment. He employs 13 full-time staff, including two apprentices, at Co-Wyn and he is about to sign another one on. After the Prime Minister visited Co-Wyn, a young bloke saw the story on television, was interested in a job and rang Kev. He rifled through the Yellow Pages, found the business and gave him a call. Kev was so impressed by his initiative that he promised him a job at the end of the year when he finished school. That is the sort of bloke that Kevin is.

On every single job site he subcontracts a whole raft of different jobs to local tradespeople who do everything from clearing the site to wiring it up. I asked him for a list of the sorts of people who work on his job sites: demolition contractors, excavator operators, truck drivers, landscapers, concreters, concrete suppliers, form workers, timber suppliers, steel fixers, bricklayers, block layers, structural steel fabricators, carpenters, roofing contractors, window and door manufacturers, plasterers, joinery contractors, renderers, metal fabricators, fire safety contractors, signage companies, waterproofing contractors, ceramic tiling contractors, vinyl and carpet layers, painters, plumbers, electricians, refrigeration and air-conditioning mechanics, lift suppliers and installers, and industrial cleaners. A lot of people work there. On any given day, up to 50 subbies work, as Kev does, on a $3 million project to build halls for schools in the Catholic education system on the Central Coast. He tells me that over the life of the project he is employing between 300 and 400 workers.

I asked him about the 30 per cent rebate for small businesses. He knew all about it. He told me that he had recently bought an $80,000 bobcat with the money and bought two new cars for the business. I asked him a little bit more about the budget. He told me that two of his apprentices had just bought their first home with the first homeowners boost, supporting more jobs in the local community, in the car industry, in the bobcat industry and in the housing industry. It is a story that is being replicated all around the country. It is the story of this budget. It is a ‘Kev the builder’ budget.

We know from the Treasury modelling—and, if you look at Budget Paper No. 1, on pages 1-7, you will see—what life would be like for people like Kev if the government was not stimulating the economy and if it was not injecting money into the economy. Budget Paper No. 1 says that, if the government had not acted, there would be more people unemployed and the recession would be deeper. It says that, if the government had not acted, 210,000 more people would be an out of work in the next financial year and the recession would be deeper than in the United States. That is the consequence of not acting and it is a consequence that would be felt by people like Kev the builder and by people in my electorate of Blaxland. They are the sorts of people that would bear the brunt of this.

Blaxland has borne the brunt of 10 interest rate rises in a row—we were the mortgage stress capital of Australia for a long, long time. Now we are bearing the brunt of the global recession. I have got some horrifying statistics to provide to the House: in the last month 6,000 people lost their job in southwest Sydney—194 day. Unemployment is currently 8.6 per cent. It is up 3½ per cent in the last 12 months. That is twice as fast as the national average. We are, in many respects, the canary in the coalmine. It is a place where many people work in manufacturing, and so it has been hit hard by the downturn in trade and overseas demand. There is a big company in my electorate called Dane Automotive. They are in Yennora—


Mr Ciobo —It is not as big as it was.


Mr CLARE —It isn’t; that is a fair comment. Four hundred and nineteen people have lost their job in the last two years, 65 in the last month. Two years ago the workforce was 580; now it is 161. I spoke to the managing director, and he told me that the global recession meant that they did not have a choice. Fixed costs are still the same but demand has gone through the floor. There are other companies in my electorate that tell the same story. I spoke to an employee at one business the other day. They usually have a monthly turnover of around $5,000. In the last three weeks they sold about $78 worth of stock. Good businesses, businesses that have been around for a long time, are hitting the wall, and they are not the only ones. People who have never sought help before are suddenly going to places like Vinnies, the Salvos and organisations like Creating Links, a local NGO around the corner from my office. They have just had to increase the number of food vouchers that they hand out each week to meet the surge in new demand. Often they are seeing people who have lost their jobs, who are behind in their rent and who are looking to help. Most of us now know someone who has lost a job, someone who has been the victim of the global recession. It is a devastating experience.

Louise is the manager of Creating Links, and she tells me that people that she sees are just in a state of shock. I know what it was like when my dad lost his job when he was made redundant in the early 1990s. The whole family was in a state of shock. It left a real sense of uncertainty and fear. But we were one of the lucky ones, because Dad got another job in just four weeks. If you find yourself out of the workforce for an extended period of time, the long-term effects can be really crippling. The last recession left a generation of people unable to find full-time work again. We cannot let it happen, and that is why this budget is so important. That is why we need to protect jobs, and that is why we need to borrow. That is what this budget does: it builds infrastructure and it protects jobs. That is why it has my support. It is a budget for the people of Blaxland.

For the 25,400 pensioners in Blaxland it means an extra $32.48 per week for single pensioners and $10.14 per week for couples. But, more than that, it means a better quality of life. Herman and Dora Saavedra, good people from the Grevillea Court Retirement Village, tell me that in Yagoona the 82 people who live at the retirement village were absolutely delighted. They said the increase is going to make a tremendous difference to their way of life. It is going to mean that they can buy more fruit and vegetables and they will have more ingredients to cook with. I spoke to a bloke called Stan Quirke, who is the president of the Greenacre Senior Citizens. It is a great organisation, and he is a great bloke. He told me that what this budget means to single pensioners is that instead of sausages for dinner they can have steak. That is the sort of difference it means on the ground, and it is the sort of thing that the former government should have done years ago when gold bars were raining from the ceiling. When $300 billion worth of transfer payments were splashed across the economy between 2002 and 2007, there was not a dollar spare for pensioners—not a dollar spare for people who needed the money more than most. I am proud to be part of a government that has given some priority to pensioners, that has made this massive reform that makes a difference for people like Stan Quirke and for people like Herman and Dora.

For the thousands of young families that are in Blaxland, the budget delivers a national paid parental leave scheme. It is a historic decision, one that is long overdue—one that will make it easier for parents to be with their newborn child in those critical first six months and one that will boost female participation in the workforce. It is an important reform, and I am proud to be part of a government that is finally delivering it. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, described it as ‘a major triumph for not only mothers and parents, but for our community’. I agree. It demonstrates the value that this government places on family relationships. For women in lower paid jobs, it will be even more significant because this is where, currently, there is very limited access to maternity leave. It is also where a lot of women in my electorate currently work. This will give them the financial support that they need, it will ease the pressure to return to work and it will give them extra time to spend with their beautiful new baby. Every mum will tell you that the first few months go too quickly. This will help more parents to enjoy that precious time.

For the young people in Blaxland the budget marks an equally dramatic and important shift in public policy. It is a budget that means more young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds will get access to university. The budget allocates about $400 million to encourage universities to draw students from areas of social and economic disadvantage—from places like Blaxland. Social disadvantage begins early. In Blaxland, fewer children go to preschool than elsewhere around the country, fewer finish high school and even fewer go to university. It is these sorts of lost opportunities that entrench social disadvantage and that account for a youth unemployment rate of 36.2 per cent in Bankstown and 41.6 per cent in Fairfield, double the national average. Education opens this door and gives us a chance to turn this around. This budget recognises that.

For small businesses in Blaxland, the budget increases the tax offset for assets over $1,000. It was 30 per cent; it is now 50 per cent. It will help more businesses to grow and expand—businesses like Kev’s. Kev has told me that in the next few months he plans to buy a truck, an excavator and a generator. It also, importantly, has a multiplier effect. It means that more businesses will benefit from these assets being purchased. That is why this is a ‘Kev the Builder’ budget. While Kev the Builder is building classrooms on the Central Coast, $99 million is being pumped into the 52 schools in my electorate—fixing leaking rooms; carpeting and painting classrooms; and building covered outdoor learning areas, libraries, halls and classrooms. The principal of Punchbowl Boys High School was here in the parliament just last night. He is over the moon. They are getting $200,000. They are going to paint the school with it—the school has not been painted in decades—and they are going to do it by employing local tradespeople.

Never underestimate the difference that this program can make to schools in places like Blaxland. For some schools it means a new hall or a new library. For a school like Bankstown North it means something special indeed. They do not have a hall; they do not have a library; they do not even have permanent classrooms. All of the children in that school are taught in demountables. This program will mean that for the first time they will have permanent accommodation—permanent classrooms where those children will be taught. The Building the Education Revolution program gives children in Bankstown, Cabramatta, Guildford, Punchbowl and Fairfield the type of quality learning environment that they deserve—the type of environment that you find elsewhere in Australia. Mark Diamond, who is the principal of Lansvale Public School, said it like this: ‘I cannot think of a more appropriate way to stimulate the economy.’ I agree.

The first home owner boost is also changing the face of Blaxland. I am glad to see that the budget is extending the first home owner boost. Last year we were the mortgage-stress capital of Australia. Sheriffs were flat out evicting people. This year, real estate agents are flat out finding places for people to buy. The number of repossessions in Blaxland in the last few months has dropped by two-thirds and the number of homes for sale has increased by 20 per cent due to massive cuts in interest rates and things like the first home owner boost. What it means is that we are saving more homes and buying new ones.

The government is involved there as well, helping to build new homes. The first of 20,000 social housing homes that are being built as part of the Nation Building and Jobs Plan was completed on the weekend in Blaxland. It is a four-bedroom house. It took 52 tradespeople 13 weeks to build it—more money and more jobs for my local community. I spoke to a bloke called Adam. He is from Degree Constructions, the business that built the home. He told me the same story that Kevin did. He has just put on another apprentice, a young bloke called Jack. He is probably going to have to put on more, he tells me, just to cope with the flood of work coming his way.

Down the road there is a suburb called Potts Hill. Potts Hill is a place where Landcom is busy. They are about to build 400 new homes. It is going to require 1,000 people to do the work. It is a great project in a place where people are still doing it tough. It is the sort of project, I think, that is purpose-built for the Housing Affordability Fund, for which there is $459.8 million in this budget—it is one that I will be lobbying for.

The budget also has $186 million to redevelop the Villawood detention centre. It is a soulless place in the heart of my electorate. It is one of the first places I visited when I became a member of parliament. I was shocked with what I found. It is what the Human Rights Commissioner described as ‘a shameful, miserable place’. This redevelopment will help fix that. It is the biggest infrastructure project in Blaxland and it will create a lot of local jobs. That is what this budget is all about.

A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister visited Bankstown. That was the day he met Kev the Builder. It was the first time that a Prime Minister has visited Bankstown in 13½ years. Bankstown was not on the priority list of the former Prime Minister. It was on his priority list to get rid of government jobs. He got rid of 650 jobs from the tax office when he shut that down. It was on his priority list when he got rid of 150 jobs from the immigration office in Bankstown when he shut that down. But apart from that it was not on his priority list. But it is on this government’s priority list and it is on this Prime Minister’s priority list. It is one of seven priority areas around the country—seven areas hardest hit by the global recession. My area, Blaxland, south-west Sydney, is one of those. It is now an area that is backed by a local employment coordinator and the $650 million jobs fund. This is the sort of thing that governments should do. It is the sort of priority that places like Blaxland deserve. We cannot as a parliament, we cannot as a government, wave the magic wand and hope that we can wish the tide of a global recession away. But we can act in a responsible way. We can build sandbags around these communities to protect these sorts of jobs. That is exactly what this government is doing and that is what this budget does.

If you have a look at the budget papers you will see the sort of money that is being injected into my local community and the difference that it can make. In the last few months we have seen more than $3 billion injected into south-west Sydney. The impact of that you see in the story of Kev the Builder. There is more of that in this budget. Of course the budget is bigger than just Blaxland, but Blaxland is a place where the impact of good policy is felt most, where universal access to preschool can make a difference, where extra money to encourage young people to go to university can really make a difference, where paid parental leave makes a difference and where extra money for pensioners that can turn a meal from sausages into steak can make a real difference.

Blaxland is also the sort of place where bad policy can hurt—where it can really make a difference. We see that in the budget papers as well, because if this government had not acted, if it had not done what it did in October last year and again stimulating the economy in February this year, the consequences of that would have been wrought on the streets of Blaxland. There would have been 210,000 additional unemployed people. That is the equivalent of two Olympic stadiums; it is the equivalent of 25 schools full of young people, who would not have had a job and would be on the unemployment queue. They would have been the real human consequences of not acting. That is what this budget is built all around: protecting employment and keeping people in work.

Malcolm Turnbull talks about jobs, jobs, jobs. You then need to build a budget around jobs, jobs, jobs, if you think that it is important. It is very easy to have a budget in surplus if you want to. If the government had so chosen, it could have delivered a surplus budget. It would have meant hiking up taxes, it would have meant slashing services, it would have meant not a cent for hospitals around the country, it would have stymied recovery and it would have meant a recession deeper and longer than the United States will experience, but it is possible. It is not an approach being recommended by the opposition though. The opposition’s approach, from all accounts, is that they acknowledge that when $210 billion is ripped out of tax receipts governments have to borrow. I think that most people on the other side recognise that.

The budget is built around making sure that we protect jobs; that we keep unemployment as low as we possibly can—that it does not go as high as it may have otherwise. The budget papers show that unemployment would reach 10 per cent or more if the government had not acted. Every job is precious and every job is important. We need people in apprenticeships and training. We need people working—working for people like Kev the Builder. We do not want people on the unemployment queue. That is why everything that this government has done is responsible, right and important.

I support this budget because it is a budget that supports jobs; it is a budget for Blaxland.