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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5136

Ms BURKE (7:09 PM) —I want to speak in support of the 2010-11 appropriation bills. This will be the 12th time I have spoken on appropriation bills in this place. One of the startling things is that, regardless of what is in the budget, the rhetoric from both sides very rarely changes. The member for Swan has probably trotted out lines that some of us in our opposition days trotted out as well. It does come as passing strange that the member for Swan has accused the Rudd Labor government of standing for nothing when he comes from an opposition that actually has no policy to speak of. The only policies they had they are no longer going to honour because they can no longer afford them, because they are not prepared to take the hard measures that are needed to ensure our ongoing financial success.

I am proud to be part of a government that has successfully steered the Australian economy through the global financial crisis. It is fascinating to read the comments of various people in the press and academia. The one astounding fact that continues to come through is that it was the government’s decision to implement a stimulus package that has steered us through these rocky times and not the mining industry. While most advanced economies have entered into recession and record massive unemployment, Australia has maintained economic growth and kept unemployment at low levels.

Last year I had the opportunity to attend a fascinating conference in London, which the Herald Sun reported as a junket—but never mind, I enjoyed it. The fascinating part of being in London and Ireland this time last year was seeing the depths of unemployment already impinging upon those economies and the stark difference to what we were experiencing back here.

This budget builds on the success we have had during the global recession and consolidates our economic position. It is a responsible budget that will halve our peak debt and see the budget back into surplus in three years—three years earlier and ahead of every major advanced economy. Indeed, the world is not out of trouble and many of the economies around us are beginning to falter and fail now.

Central to our future economic prosperity is the implementation of the resource super profits tax. This is a tax that will benefit Australia and restore the share of mining profits going to the Australian people to where it was in the early 2000s. It is a comprehensive reform that will encourage efficiency and see a 40 per cent tax on returns that are classified as superprofits. It will apply to our non-renewable resources and ensure that the proceeds of the mining boom flow to all Australians.

It is unfortunate that some of the mining companies are pushing deceptive information on the Australian public through a multimillion dollar corporate advertising blitz. I daresay those who are downstairs this evening will be hearing a different account of the RSPT. The RSPT has been lauded by many commentators as the most sensible way of taxing a non-renewable resource that belongs to all Australians. The mining companies are fighting so hard against this tax because, if we introduce sensible tax reform here, many other countries will follow. It is the multinational mining giants that are worried that sensible tax reform in Australia will be replicated in many other countries.

We have seen the same scare campaign run in the past, and it is disappointing to see the opposition act as a mouthpiece for the mining industry. We only have to reflect on the last election to see what ads the mining industry ran against the Labor opposition then and the fear and loathing. This is nothing new.

Recently a group of 20 leading academics and economists came out in favour of the proposed tax, saying that the sector should hand over more of its profits. In their statement they made it quite clear that replacing a royalty regime with a profit based tax is squarely in the national interest. Indeed, the mining industry agrees. To quote from the statement:

… the current public criticism of the proposed tax has been dominated by misinformation.

Mining is different to other industries in that it uses and depletes natural resources. Some return on those resources should flow to the Australian public.

There is no reason to expect a net contraction in mining over the longer term as a result of replacing royalties with the proposed resource rent tax. This is because a tax on economic rent of non-renewable resources is a more efficient way of raising revenue than taxing mining production (royalties).

The revenue raised from the RSPT will be used to deliver long-term economic reform and will result in higher wages and more secure retirements for Australian workers. Gradually lifting the super guarantee from nine to 12 per cent is a vital reform that builds on Labor’s long history of leading the way in the provision of retirement incomes. It was the Labor government of Andrew Fisher that introduced the first Commonwealth age pension in 1908 for males at age 65, the Chifley Labor government that introduced the national compulsory contributory pension fund, the Whitlam Labor government that undertook to lift pensions to 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings and the Hawke-Keating Labor government that introduced a compulsory superannuation system.

The gradual increase of the superannuation guarantee to 12 per cent will benefit around 8.4 million Australians. That is 90 per cent of all full-time workers. For an 18-year-old entering the workforce on average earnings, this reform will add $200,000 to his or her retirement income. This will help to ease the burden of an ageing population by adding $85 million to Australia’s pool of superannuation over 10 years. Meanwhile, around 3.5 million low-paid Australians will receive a concession on their superannuation guarantee contributions for the first time. Additionally, people aged over 50 with low super balances will be given more generous contribution caps to allow them to make catch-up contributions. Older Australians will also be encouraged to stay in work if they choose to, with people aged between 70 and 75 now part of the compulsory superannuation guarantee. That is something many in my electorate have been looking for for a long time. These are important reforms for the Australian superannuation system that build on Labor’s past commitments to improving the retirement incomes of working Australians.

Small business in my electorate of Chisholm will benefit from the budget announcement. A phased cut in the company tax rate to 28 per cent will assist the competitiveness of all Australian industries. We will also seek to cut the company tax rate further as revenue allows. Small business will get a head start on the company tax rate, with the 28 per cent rate applying from 2012-13 and a new instant write-off for assets worth up to $5,000. Depreciation of other assets will be simplified, reducing complexity, cutting red tape and providing upfront tax relief.

My electorate is home to many fantastic small businesses. Small business always plays a prominent role in the suburbs, and Chisholm is the quintessential suburban electorate. Box Hill in the north of Chisholm has been identified by the Victorian government as a central activity district, where over 9,000 people work. Indeed, Box Hill has the second-most rental office space outside of the Melbourne CBD. It is a thriving suburb in which small businesses operate and add to its overall vitality. And, whilst we do not have a beach, we have many, many fantastic restaurants. Moving through the middle of my electorate to Mount Waverley and south to Oakleigh, small businesses are pivotal to Chisholm. I know the small business owners in my electorate will welcome these reforms, particularly the cut in the tax company rate and the cut to red tape. Small businesses have been crying out for the cut to red tape since the introduction of the GST and the dreaded BAS. Many imposts were placed on small business under the last government.

People in my electorate are very passionate about climate change. Like the government, my constituents understand the issue is not going away and we must take action. I am continually reminded of the need for the government to act in the national interest on this issue. It is a topic guaranteed to be raised at my weekend mobile offices. I am sure when I am out in Mount Waverley this weekend it will be raised again.

The government remains committed to the introduction of a CPRS and will implement an ETS as a matter of course. The opposition have made it quite clear that they are controlled by climate change sceptics. It is astonishing that they are prepared to go against the consensus of scientific opinion on this issue and assert that climate change is not happening. The government, on the other hand, acknowledges the threat climate change poses to our future. We are introducing policies to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to make the transition to a green economy. The budget announces interim measures which will boost Australia’s renewable energy sector prior to the future commencement of the CPRS. The government will provide over $652 million to establish the Renewable Energy Future Fund to support Australia’s transition to a low-pollution economy. This fund forms part of the government’s expanded $5.1 billion Clean Energy Initiative.

I certainly know that many people in my electorate have actually taken on the issue wholeheartedly themselves and have adopted many renewable energies within their home. I have had a huge take-up rate of solar panels, solar hot water, water tanks and the like. Many people within my electorate are now feeding back into the grid.

The fund will provide additional support to develop and deploy large- and small-scale renewable energy projects like geothermal, solar and wave energy. It will also enhance the take-up of industrial, commercial and residential energy efficiency, helping Australian businesses and households to reduce their energy consumption. We all need to take responsibility for lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. Together, Australia and the world must transition our economies and environmental policies onto a more sustainable path to ensure future generations can continue to prosper. The Renewable Energy Future Fund is an important start, and I look forward to announcements of specific commitments under the fund. The work that is being done at the Sustainability Centre at Monash University will be a great feed into many of these projects.

Labor are long-term champions of Australian health system reform. Through the national health and hospitals reforms we are introducing the biggest changes to our health system since the Whitlam Labor government brought in Medicare. While the Liberals ripped money out of the health system when Mr Abbott was health minister, the Rudd government are putting more into the system to ensure better outcomes for all Australians. We are investing $7.3 billion over five years to create the National Health and Hospitals Network. These health reforms will lead to genuine improvements and better prepare the system to cope with the increased demands of our ageing population.  The budget delivers a further $2.2 billion package of investments over four years. Improved after-hours access, new GP and primary healthcare clinics, training and support for Australian nurses and the introduction of electronic health records are important initiatives delivered in this budget.

My electorate is already benefiting from the government’s increased focus on health care. My electorate is home to two very large public hospitals and one large private hospital. Indeed, it would be one of the largest employers within my seat, within the medical sector. Monash Medical Centre, one of the biggest hospitals in Victoria—I would probably say across Australia—is receiving over $3 million in support from the government for a 23-hour care unit as part of the Elective Surgery Waiting List Reduction Plan. This will help to reduce waiting lists at the centre and help deliver elective surgery on time for 95 per cent of Australians, a key objective of the national health and hospitals reforms. The government has also committed $71 million towards a $141 million project for the construction of the Monash Health Research Precinct transitional facility. This facility will accommodate laboratories and offices for staff engaged in transitional research covering vital themes which address major priority areas—chronic debilitating disease, bone and joint disease, asthma, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.

Just as important as the increased funding to health and hospitals are the government’s reforms to the way the system is structured. We are developing a more accountable and efficient system that incorporates all aspects of our health system: hospitals, GP and primary health care, the workforce, aged care, mental health, e-health, research and prevention. The historic agreement reached between the Commonwealth and the states and territories amounts to serious foundation reforms and improvements to health care in the community. While my electorate is actually very well serviced by the health profession, it is an ageing profession and we need to look at ways of ensuring that we are attracting younger GPs into the area.

I welcome the $154 million in funding for legal assistance services announced in the budget. This is a welcome addition for our terrific legal centres, who support some of the most vulnerable in our community. The Monash-Oakleigh Legal Service and the Eastern Community Legal Centre are two phenomenal community organisations within my electorate that will benefit from this announcement. I have had many constituents write to me outlining the pressures faced by legal centres to meet the increased demand for legal assistance. This funding recognises the valuable contribution these centres make to the community. Both Monash-Oakleigh Legal Service and the Eastern Community Legal Centre will receive considerable funding to continue their family relationship partnership programs. There has been a very successful pilot, and the continuation and support of these programs is a good thing. Providing additional support to these organisations will ensure they have greater resources to help families within Monash and Whitehorse achieve better outcomes. This is the largest and most significant injection of new funding into the sector for well over a decade and it will improve access to legal assistance within my electorate.

Many of my constituents are extremely passionate about the Millennium Development Goals and the Make Poverty History initiative, which focuses on the fight against extreme poverty and global disease. I recently held a Make Poverty History forum in my electorate and I was delighted to host the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance. It was fantastic to have the parliamentary secretary directly engage with my constituents about these issues and answer their questions. Again, given the nature of my electorate, some of these questions were fairly tricky. Also, because office space is cheaper in Box Hill than it is in the city, it is home to some very interesting NGOs, one being the CBM, the Christian Blind Mission. Most people will not know that something called the Christian Blind Mission exists, but their fundamental goal is to ensure that sight is returned to people in developing countries. They do a phenomenal job and, over time, we have been able to increase our funding to this terrific organisation. Someone’s sight being returned actually gives them back their livelihood, their life and their existence. Many times it is a matter of fairly simple and non-costly and minor procedures—for example, cataract surgery—that are just beyond reach within the countries that CBM operates in. So it was delightful to have people from CBM, from World Vision, from the Oaktree Foundation, from Syndal Baptist Church and from many other great organisations come along to the forum and quiz the parliamentary secretary about where we are going with this initiative.

The government is committed to increasing Australia’s official development assistance to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015-16. This budget increases Australia’s overseas aid to $4.3 billion, all of which will go to poor and developing countries for education and health investment, humanitarian assistance, stabilisation and peace building. Through our foreign aid program, Australia has contributed to a 20 per cent increase in school enrolment rates in PNG, a 13 per cent fall in maternal mortality rates in Bangladesh and an 81 per cent decrease in the incidence of malaria in Vanuatu. All these things bring many great benefits to these communities.

While the opposition is committed to cutting $300 million from the aid budget, I am proud to be part of a government that is acting in the global humanitarian interest and Australia’s national interest by increasing our foreign aid budget. During the last British election, I was fascinated to see both sides of parliament come out and say that, regardless of who won the election and regardless of the financial crisis the UK is in, neither party would reduce foreign aid. I thought that was a terrific statement and I am quite saddened that the opposition has seen fit to suggest that we should be cutting our foreign aid.

The 2010-11 budget is economically responsible and will further strengthen the Australian economy. The budget will be returned to surplus in three years, ahead of every major advanced economy, and will keep our finances strong. Importantly, this budget delivers in key areas such as health, superannuation, climate change and small business and it puts in place long-term reforms that are squarely in Australia’s national interest. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Raguse) adjourned.