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Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Page: 4333

Mr HALE (7:29 PM) —I rise tonight to make my contribution to this debate and to support Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2009-2010 and cognate bills. We need an economy that is stimulated and that helps cushion Australia from the full impact of the global recession while also laying the foundation for a strong and more prosperous future—a budget that realises that we need to build and build upon infrastructure. Unfortunately, the previous government did not do this. The Prime Minister and the very hardworking executive have delivered a budget in tough economic times that focuses on supporting jobs today by building the infrastructure we need for tomorrow. The Treasurer outlined clearly to the people of Australia that this budget is designed to meet the challenges we face. In a recent address to the National Press Club, the Treasurer said:

No modern Australian government has had to prepare a Budget under such testing economic times.

We are in a situation where we are trying to implement an ETS to make real progress on climate change; to bring back fairer industrial relations laws and get rid of Work Choices; and to build infrastructure for all Australians, not just those in marginal Liberal seats. We need our defence forces; we still have about 14 different engagements around the world. We have had floods and fires. And then on top of all that there is the global financial crisis. As the Treasurer said at the National Press Club:

The biggest global recession since the Great Depression has hit our economy and government tax revenues hard—

some $210 billion.

A temporary budget deficit was simply inescapable, increased government borrowing likewise.

But I’m determined this will not be an excuse to abandon either the vision we have for Australia, or the program for which the Rudd Government was elected, or the goal of getting our Budget back into surplus.

Even in the hardest times, we remain true to the vision we were elected to pursue: advancing the Education Revolution, advancing the cause of working families, tackling social inclusion, tackling climate change.

The budget demonstrates this. The Treasurer continued:

… we want to pursue these goals in a way that sets our economy up for a strong recovery as fast as possible.

This budget also charts our path back to a surplus, after the global recession wiped more than $200 billion off government revenue. Our government has a clear strategy that currently expects to see the budget returned to surplus in 2015.

In my electorate of Solomon, we are not immune to these hard economic times. Fortunately, in Solomon we have not yet suffered nearly as badly as many of our fellow Australians. I speak often to my colleagues on both sides of the House, and they talk about high youth unemployment in their areas as well as massive job losses on a daily basis. This budget is the third stage of our economic stimulus plan, which we know is working to help cushion the Northern Territory economy from the worst global recession in living memory.

Today I will outline for the House the commitments that have been made in the 2009-10 budget and, more importantly, the commitments that will be delivered by our government to the people of Solomon. This budget provides a strong emphasis on vital pieces of infrastructure for Northern Australia—infrastructure projects that demonstrate our government’s commitment to the north, unlike the previous government’s focus.

An example of that commitment is investment in health initiatives for the Northern Territory. It was with a great deal of pleasure that the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, and I announced that the Rudd government will invest a massive $85 million in three key health projects for the people of Darwin. This budget allocates $28 million to Flinders University to build a dedicated network of hospital and community based medical education facilities to allow a full medical program to be delivered in the Territory. The new facilities will be centred around two sites, the Royal Darwin Hospital and Charles Darwin University.

Importantly, our government will also provide in excess of $4 million over four years to the NT government to support increased teaching spots and medical places for local students. These investments are expected to increase the number of graduates who choose to practise in the NT after finishing their medical degree and help tackle medical workforce shortages and retention issues in the NT. Construction is expected to begin in 2009-10, with the first student intake in 2011. No longer will our kids have to go interstate to complete their medical degree. This is the best opportunity to keep local graduates working in the Territory. The clinical dean of Flinders University, Professor Michael Lowe, is obviously excited about the project and was reported as saying, ‘It will help to deal with the Territory’s unique health issues.’ This is a fantastic initiative and one I am very proud of, and I know it will be a lasting legacy for the people of my electorate.

The budget also provides over $18 million to build an accommodation complex of 50 units on the grounds of Royal Darwin Hospital for patients and their carers. This much needed investment will alleviate problems caused by the current shortage of short-term affordable accommodation in Darwin for people from regional and remote areas and the effect this shortage has had on access to medical services and discharge from acute-care facilities. Construction is expected to begin in January 2010 and be completed by 2011.

More than $34 million will also be invested in building a Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Health and Education in Darwin. The aim of this centre is to assist researchers to develop the evidence base needed to drive improvements in Indigenous health. An improved understanding of diseases affecting Indigenous communities will translate into better health care. Research, integrated clinical care and workforce training will focus on interventions related to early childhood, education, chronic diseases, substance misuse and child abuse. The facility will mean increased Indigenous employment and training at the Royal Darwin Hospital campus and in remote communities. The project is expected to begin later this year, 2009, with construction due to be completed by mid-2012. From what I heard on ABC radio the other day, Dr Jonathan Carapetis, from the Menzies School of Health, is jumping out of his skin about this. He is very happy with this result and is excited about the government’s focus on training, education and Indigenous health.

These investments build on the Rudd government’s investments of $19 million in an oncology facility at Royal Darwin Hospital and $10 million in a GP superclinic at Palmerston, both of which are progressing well. It is proof that the Rudd government is committed to providing improved health care to the great people of my electorate of Solomon. These investments will also be welcomed by the construction industry, providing employment to construct all these health investments in Darwin. It will provide immediate job benefits for local building workers.

Another significant budget initiative highly relevant for the good people of Solomon is the delivery of $134 million for a landmark package of measures to tackle shortages of doctors and health workers in rural and remote communities in Australia. This initiative will encourage doctors to go and work in rural and remote communities as well as help to keep them there. These benefits will be seen because the Rudd government’s Office of Rural Health looked into how rural and regional programs could best benefit those in our community most in need.

As I have said, this is a budget that focuses on supporting jobs today by building the infrastructure we need for tomorrow. An example of that is the $50 million going to the Darwin port expansion. We have also committed $3.2 million for a feasibility study on the port. I have already met with the port authority, and they are very happy as there are a number of projects that they can use this money for immediately—shovel-ready projects that will not only continue to develop the infrastructure that we need in the north but also give jobs and surety right now, when the economy and working families need it.

In this budget the Rudd Labor government is investing nearly $130 million in Northern Territory roads, rail and infrastructure, an investment that will support local jobs and local businesses during the current global recession. All up, the budget delivers an increase in federal funding of $51.4 million, or 66 per cent, over 2008-09 for Northern Territory road and rail projects. As well as putting in place the modern, well-planned transport infrastructure vital to the Territory’s and the nation’s long-term prosperity, our record investment program will support jobs and provide an immediate stimulus to local communities.

This budget sees $25 million allocated for stage 2 of the Tiger Brennan Drive East Arm Port Access Road. This project stalled under the previous government. It was never going to get over the line. The member for Wide Bay made a comment about roads in my area; well, I am happy to say that at the election there was a $74 million commitment from the Rudd Labor government. Stage 1 is completed and we are now going on to stage 2. Not only is this a vital piece of infrastructure for working families that commute from Palmerston to Darwin on a daily basis but it gives seamless access to the port facilities by rail and road, including for road trains coming up the Stuart Highway. It was well overdue, and I am glad to say that we are delivering this commitment to the people of Darwin and Palmerston. Work is expected to commence shortly on stage 2, and the entire project is scheduled to be completed by 2010. As I said before, our government is committed to completing this important link between the growing rural region and the expanding Darwin and Palmerston areas. This major investment will improve safety and travel time for people commuting between Darwin, Palmerston, the northern suburbs and the rural areas.

Completing this extension is an issue that is close to my heart, as I and thousands of others who live in Palmerston and the rural areas sit in gridlock every morning and afternoon getting to and from work. This project is also part of a national projects initiative that is designed to deliver major benefits to the business community by allowing easier access for industry to the East Arm Port and the trade development zone. When it is completed, this major infrastructure spend will have significantly improved both efficiency and safety.

Minister Albanese and I have also committed to reducing crashes on Northern Territory roads. The Black Spot Program is vital to improving road safety. In this budget we deliver $1 million to the Woolner Road in Stuart Park under the Black Spot Program. The Black Spot Program complements the funding that I have already secured for major national infrastructure links in the Territory like Tiger Brennan Drive and the Stuart Highway, which I have just mentioned. On top of the additional money for upgrading the Territory’s road network, we are funding a range of initiatives designed to improve road safety. Over $1.5 million dollars is being committed to continue installing boom gates and other safety measures at three high-risk level crossings. There is $1 million to address the lack of safe, modern roadside facilities for truck drivers, including new and refurbished rest stops, parking bays and decoupling areas.

This budget improves road safety at both the national and the local level. The member for Wide Bay touched on community infrastructure. Last year in December I had the pleasure of being here with the lord mayors. I have had fantastic feedback from my lord mayors, who have spoken at length to me about what the budget has meant to them. The Darwin City Council is to receive $313,000; the City of Palmerston Council, $196,000; and the Litchfield Shire Council, $152,000. Recently the Palmerston City Council received a further $2 million for streetscape improvement. I spoke to the lord mayor today and he is very excited about and thankful for that money. It will make a great deal of difference in replacing pavers and the like and making it a better area. The Darwin City Council is receiving $3.6 million. These are projects that are hitting the ground running. The member for Wide Bay tried to say that it was pork-barrelling, but, in fact, of the top 10 councils that received money, eight were in Liberal-held federal seats.

Both the member for Lingiari and I are very excited about the $159.4 million for defence infrastructure spending for the Northern Territory that was announced in this year’s budget. This vital commitment will enable significant upgrade and improvement of defence facilities in the Northern Territory. The expenditure is going to cover a number of projects in the Northern Territory. Key capital works projects, for which $115 million is allocated in 2009-10, include the following. There is $19 million for the $72 million Robertson Barracks redevelopment project. Construction is planned for completion in 2011. There is $16 million for work on the $49.8 million RAAF Base Darwin redevelopment project stage 2. The project will provide a new fuel farm, maintenance and administrative buildings, and a workshop and a vehicle wash bay, and construction is scheduled for completion in 2011. And there is $9.8 million in 2009-10 for approved medium capital works at the Darwin Naval Fuel Installation and RAAF Base Darwin.

During 2009-10 Defence will spend around $43 million on estate upkeep in the Northern Territory. Estate upkeep works provide for the ongoing maintenance of Darwin’s extensive existing base infrastructure, with a rolling maintenance program being developed and revised each year focussing on areas of highest priority. Works to be undertaken as part of the program in Solomon include painting of bulk fuel storage tanks at RAAF Base Darwin and refurbishment of living accommodation for soldiers at Larrakeyah Barracks. This budget ensures the Australian government’s strong commitment to the Defence Force and, through a significant military presence, it also builds on the economy of Solomon.

This budget is fantastic for local businesses in the Darwin and Palmerston area. That is because the government will continue to source goods and services from within Solomon and will continue funding of both Defence facilities and personnel serving in the Solomon electorate. This budget shows that the Australian Defence Force is front and centre this financial year with the government funding programs. This significant investment in Defence infrastructure will benefit jobs and the Northern Territory economy.

Two very big issues that came out of the budget related to pensioners and paid parental leave. This budget addresses these two important issues, I believe. Both are things that I think our government can be truly proud of. We all know that many seniors in our community do it tough. I have spoken to countless seniors in my electorate about the weekly struggles they face to get by on a pension, particularly those on a single pension. This budget recognises the fact that people in the community who are getting on in age deserve support from their government as they approach their twilight years. We all know pensioners thoroughly deserve this extra support and it is great that, even in the hardest of economic times, the Rudd government has delivered.

In Solomon there are over 15,000 age pensioners, disability pensioners, carers, wife pensioners and veteran income support recipients. They will all benefit from the sustainable and responsible reforms announced in the budget to increase their pension payments. The reforms will improve the pension system and make it simpler and more sustainable into the future as the population ages. These changes have been a long time coming but they deliver a stronger and fairer pension system that will serve pensioners and Australia well into the future. These are the people who have seen us through our darkest hours and we should support them in their old age. The total increase will comprise a rise in the base rate for single pensioners and a new pension supplement for all pensioners. The reforms will deliver for pensioners on the full rate an annual total increase in permanent payments of $1,689 for singles and $527 for couples combined. I know that Graham Suckling from the Council on the Ageing NT was extremely happy about what has happened. He has been lobbying very hard for probably over eight years for an increase.

The budget also allocates $5.5 million for investment in the  Australian Institute of Marine Science facility in Darwin. That is a fantastic initiative. We welcome the injection of $5.5 million in new funds for the Australian Institute of Marine Science facility in Darwin announced in the 2009-10 budget. Darwin is a crucial gateway to Australia’s northern waters. It is an ideal base from which to run ocean monitoring exercises, and this has been recognised by the important funding to upgrade the AIMS Darwin facility. Here in the Northern Territory coastal developments are coming on at a rapid pace. We need to balance this great new development with attention to preserving our important natural environment. By enhancing the capacity of the AIMS Darwin facility we will be well-placed to achieve this balance. The AIMS is increasing its research activity in the Arafura and Timor seas. The expansion of the current facilities will enable this increased research to continue.

This budget has delivered for the people of Solomon. This budget will be good for families and it will be good for families with children in child care. It is fantastic for the people of Palmerston and the rural areas, who for so long have missed out on vital health services and infrastructure upgrades. I join other members in congratulating the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the executive in putting together this budget. The people of Solomon were let down by the previous government. As the Prime Minister recently said, the Labor government is the party of hope and the coalition is the party of fear. I commend the bills to the House.