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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1271


Ms SAFFIN (11:00 AM) —I was going to start off my contribution by going through some of the good programs that are contained within Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011, but, having sat here and listened to the drivel that I have just listened to, I have to respond. I have to put on record some things in response to what the honourable member was just talking about. First of all, he started talking about regional development. He was saying that the government is not doing anything in regional development. As he was talking, I cast my mind back to 1997, when the coalition were in government, having been elected in 1996. What did they do for regional development? They just axed the department! That is what they did for regional development. That is how much they cared about it. This is the National Party, who say they are the natural party of the bush. They say one thing and do another.

Then the honourable member talked about there being some disillusionment with things in regions and local councils. What did this government do? It funded a Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, which operates through local councils. Local councils put up their priorities, as determined by local communities through the councils, and there is money, real money, in it—hundreds of millions of dollars. In my electorate of Page there are small projects, and some larger ones, all over the electorate—which has five local government areas—where that money is being rolled out. We have a Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, who worked in the area in a previous government. We are rolling the programs out.

Then I listened to the words on the NBN. I heard from the coalition that when they were in government they had the OPEL plan, and had that been implemented all would have been well and we would all have 12 megabits per second of broadband. They had 12 years; they had 18 plans. And what happened? Nothing. So to listen to them is to—


Mr Fletcher —We had a signed contract which your government cancelled!


Ms SAFFIN —They had 18 failed plans. Then they flogged off Telstra, without even ensuring proper mobile coverage. That is how much they care about regional Australia. So for me, as I live in regional Australia, sitting here listening to that just gets my goat—just listening to them talk as though they are so fiscally responsible, and talk about how there is nobody on this side who has been in small business and therefore we cannot govern. What an absolute lot of rubbish! The opposition’s approach to the budget is not only reckless; it is incompetent—it does not stand up to scrutiny. A recent example happened just this week: the recklessness with which they treated the Constitution with the student income support legislation—or youth allowance, as we call it—in trying to introduce money bills from the Senate.

The opposition have demonstrated their fiscal recklessness by twice blocking $5 billion in savings measures put forward by this government. This includes the closure of the chronic disease dental scheme. That scheme had significant cost blowouts—an Abbott designed scheme that will cost the budget $3.1 billion over the next four years. I see that having an effect in my electorate. The government is trying to introduce a Commonwealth dental health scheme, which will benefit all in my area. If the resource distribution formula was implemented at its correct rate, we would have an extra $2 million put into my area. That would buy a lot of dentures. I have people waiting for dentures. Who closed the former Commonwealth dental health scheme? The coalition when they were in government. That was another thing that they closed, along with the department of regional development and other things.

Back to fiscal recklessness, the means testing of the private health insurance rebate will cost the budget $2.1 billion over the next four years. And they claim that they are responsible fiscal managers who know who to manage money. There is an additional $5 billion in spending over the next four years as a result of opposition recklessness. They are also in the process of trying to block a further $2 billion in savings to the budget over four years by voting against reforms to the PBS. The opposition have demonstrated time and time again that they are not committed to bringing the budget back to surplus. The say one thing outside the parliament and their actions in the parliament are completely different.

Their plan to pay for flood reconstruction was another debacle and fiasco. After spending weeks of Mr Abbott saying that it would be easy to find savings, what we got was a series of deferrals, double counts and back flips. They double counted $700 million in savings. And while they say that they would use that to fund rebuilding, they have already earmarked those savings to fund other spending measures. You cannot spend it twice on different things.

They also claimed over $100 million in savings from the BER. But that is already allocated to projects that are committed or underway. It is very easy to find out—a simple read—that 99.9 per cent of projects have been completed or commenced. In my area, where I have 96 schools, I have been involved in these projects from day one and have seen them rolled out. Parents, students and teachers are saying that they never would have got these things but for this spending. It has been a one-off opportunity. They think that it is great to have these things done in their area. And it is infrastructure; it is what we need.

We also saw the opposition have a debate about foreign aid, reversing their initial position. I have always been able to talk locally and at other levels about how there is bipartisanship in this area. To get a headline, they dropped that like a hot potato. They reversed their position on foreign aid, taking savings out of a measure that they not only supported in government but introduced. Mr Downer introduced it. At the time, funding schools in Indonesia was seen as a good and sensible thing to do. Then they rolled out Warren Truss and the Nationals, who said they would not support our infrastructure savings. I can remember how well they supported the regional rorts that were damned by the Auditor-General. They are probably missing that.

Who can forget the election cost blow out? Obviously, the coalition opposition do not talk about that. They have conveniently forgotten their shambolic costings release during the election campaign last year. When Treasury and Finance were finally able to take a look, they found that the coalition had a $10.6 billion hole in their budget numbers. These are the parties that claim that they know all about the economy and running businesses. They say that because they have run small businesses they can therefore run a national budget. But the figures just do not add up.

The recklessness continues. I have observed it in the Senate. The Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment (Fair Indexation) Bill 2010 was introduced by Senator Ronaldson. It would have a fiscal cost of $1.7 billion over four years and an underlying cash cost of some $175 million over four years. And it would increase the Commonwealth’s unfunded liabilities by $6.2 billion. That is not small bikkies; not small dollars; not small money. That is reckless. Why are they doing it? It is purely political rhetoric. They are playing politics. Some of these issues are not new issues. They are issues that communities grapple with all the time. During 12 years in government they did not tackle them; they did not even try. And now they do this. It is just reckless behaviour politically and it is also reckless behaviour fiscally.

The opposition preach one thing but their actions prove another. They cannot be trusted with either the budget or the economy. They certainly cannot be trusted with the truth. because I hear what they say, I see what they do—it has always been fuss. They say one thing in the electorate when they are out and about and then do another thing in here. Their election campaign left a $10.6 billion hole. They blocked $5.2 billion of savings in both houses of parliament, and then they say, ‘We have to find savings.’ They have blocked close to $2 billion in savings by opposing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme reforms in the House of Representatives and they have double-counted $700 million of savings in their flood response. What a mess around the flood response, too, with the flood levy, talking as though a levy was something new, something unusual, something that only Labor does.

The opposition tried to introduce eight levies when they were in government, with Mr Howard as Prime Minister. Six of them went through. They were broadly supported by the parties and by the community. Some of them were not for natural disasters that we have never seen the likes of; some of them were for corporate failure. But we wanted to ensure that workers got their entitlements; we wanted to ensure that we helped the dairy industry. Some levies were for the stevedoring industry. I did not support some of the reforms on the waterfront, particularly the balaclavas and the dogs on the waterfront. Who can forget that? Six levies went through parliament. They were supported and they helped sections of the community. That is what Australians do. We are good at it. We do not object and yet you have the honourable member for Warringah running around, talking as though a levy was something that was invented by the federal Labor Party and that it is something new. People do support it.

The opposition’s budget black hole has blown out to over $18 billion. That is a large amount of money. It is clear that the opposition have no credible plan to bring the budget back to surplus. In contrast, the federal Labor government has a clear budget and a fiscal strategy to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13, comfortably ahead of all major advanced economies. In fact, we are the envy of other major advanced economies in the world.

These appropriation bills Nos 3 and 4 seek the authority from the parliament for the additional expenditure of money from the consolidated revenue fund in order to meet requirements that have arisen since the last budget. The total appropriation being sought this year through additional estimates bills Nos 3 and 4 is a little over $2.3 billion. The total appropriation being sought through Appropriation Bill (No. 3) is $1.36 billion and the total appropriation being sought through Appropriation Bill (No. 4) is a little over $1 billion. Some of these appropriations are in areas that are of benefit to all Australians and, when I read through them and note the areas in which they are in, I see they are of particular benefit to those in my electorate of Page—for instance, the trade training centres program.

The Labor government has already awarded more than $1 billion for 288 projects, benefiting 927 schools, to create better job pathways for students. What a good thing to do, creating those pathways. Having a job really does mean everything. Having a job is something that we in the federal Labor Party know is important. That is one of the things that marks us out: we understand that. This year, 70 projects have already been completed and are operational, benefiting students at 171 schools. Some are in progress in my area and I can tell you that they are welcome.

What do Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne want to do? They promised to cut $968 million from the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program, robbing more than 1.2 million students and over 800 secondary schools of the opportunity to find better pathways to becoming the next generation of electricians, brickies, hairdressers, chefs, carpenters—people working in trades, working people. That is what we do. We manage the budget responsibly and we have a good fiscal strategy. We have to do that so that people get those jobs. I commend the bills to the House.