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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4083

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (17:20): It is quite a challenge to follow the member for Kennedy. He is a passionate advocate for his area and for the issues that he believes in. I rise to voice my support for Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2001-2012 and the related budget bills before the House. This is a solid budget that charts a course to surplus, supports more Australians going back to work and delivers on the Gillard government's commitment to a fairer Australia—and it does all of this in the context of putting a price signal before Australians on harmful greenhouse gas pollution.

This budget is not a wasteful, vote-buying exercise but a responsible economic blueprint to ensure that Australia remains a competitive, modern economy and a society where no-one is excluded or forgotten. As was said on budget night, it is a Labor budget. The Treasurer, Mr Swan, made that very clear. I think back to some of the more recent budgets from those opposite—the Howard-Costello efforts of 2006-07. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating referred to Mr Costello as being the laziest Treasurer of all time—that he just sat back in his hammock and had a push every now and then and that he did not have a reform agenda or actually take any positive steps in terms of looking to where Australia needed to be in 20, 30 or 40 years time. Thankfully, the Labor Party is around to do things like that—to be a bit adventurous and to be prepared to look over the horizon. The Gillard-Swan budget supports Australians who are doing it tough. The mining tax measure will ensure that all Australians can benefit from the mining boom. Australians should never forget the economic wizardry of Treasurer Wayne Swan. It helped save Australia from the period of economic recession which plagued almost all other economies in the dark days of the global financial crisis. Let's look at the scoreboard and compare Australia's performance with some other countries before the GFC and after the GFC. In future years, when they write economics textbooks there will be special pages and chapters devoted to Wayne Swan and the team around him that was able to come up with this incredible response to the global financial crisis. I think that history will be much kinder than some of the negative comments that come from those opposite—they will be consigned to the back pages of history. It is hard to appreciate the benefits of something that never happened, like the global financial crisis, especially when there are big fear campaigns. But we all know, especially the Labor Party, what a recession does. We know how it hits homes, how it hits individuals and communities and how whole postcodes can be dragged down. A recession would have meant thousands of Australians without work. There would have been much higher government debt, much higher inflation and lower living standards. As I said, the human cost comes with it as well. The stimulus put in place by the Labor government ensured that this never happened. The crisis did have a massive impact on government revenue, and this can be seen in the bottom line today as detailed in the budget papers.

I am often surprised about what makes headlines in the budget. There used to be a much more detailed process in terms of media attention. Budget items were gone through step-by-step by the Treasurer and by opposition members in their responses. But the last two years have been quite strange. There has been quite a derailment of that whole analysis process. It has been an attempt at a media exercise rather than a budget reply speech. It is quite strange. A case in point is the opposition endeavouring to beat up so much controversy regarding a program to ensure pensioners do not get left behind in the transition to digital television. As country Victorians will tell you, this has been rolled out in lots of parts of Australia and there have been no problems at all.

Often it is the funding programs that do not grab the headlines that make the most significant impact. One that I am particularly proud to talk about—especially in front of Minister Shorten, who I know was particularly passionate about this in his former role—is the extra support for students with disability in Australian schools. The budget delivers $200 million in new funding to support students with disabilities and their teachers. It is a great initiative. I am sure it has got some Shorten fingerprints on it and it is part of the Rudd-Gillard government's response in an area where, unfortunately, not every opportunity has been taken in the last 20 or so years. I am proud to be part of the former Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee that put out the report Access all areas,which has shaped some of that. We are waiting on the government response to all of those recommendations.

This funding is available to all schools—government, Catholic and independent. We do not care what the sign over the gate says; it is for all schools that teach students with a disability. It will enable these schools to provide better support for these students, including speech and occupational therapy at school and access to special equipment such as audiovisual technology to assist students to learn and engage with their classmates. I know there are other former teachers in the chamber at the moment, such as the member for Braddon. As former teachers, we know how some little technology can ensure that a student with disabilities is able to do just the same as everybody else—especially modern technology. The funding also provides additional in-class support from teacher aides and allied health professionals and an adapted curriculum tailored to meet the needs of students who do have disabilities. The funding will also support teachers—very important people in the process, especially in the context of the past 20 years of mainstreaming of people with disabilities. It will help teachers improve the planning and delivery of lessons and also activities to better engage support staff and curriculum experts and to access expert advice to learn. These are common-sense measures and $200 million will go a long way towards making sure that students with disabilities get as much support as possible as early as possible so that they can be mainstreamed. I understand that there are more than 164,000 students with disabilities attending our schools. This funding will be welcomed by them, their families and their teachers.

The budget also delivers $147 million to support families with young children with disabilities. Through Better Start for Children with Disability, we will make early intervention services more affordable for parents and carers. From July, children up to seven years of age who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, sight or hearing impairments will be eligible for services under the program. These are early intervention services and that is what is most important, because they are able to provide support before children enter into patterns of behaviour that are particularly difficult for schools. The early intervention services include speech pathology, audiology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and psychology. Children will have access to a total of $12,000 in flexible funding for early intervention services and will be able to use up to $6,000 in any one financial year.

We all know how important these measures are in order to transition people from primary school to high school and then an even more difficult time, I would suggest, from high school to the workforce. Obviously the hope would be to have as many of the 164,000 people as possible transition to a job that gives them some dignity and independence. Obviously, there are other supported measures. I was at a service run by the Wesley Mission at Rocklea in my electorate last Thursday. The service is called MailpaQ. Rocklea was hit by floods and unfortunately they lost their lifts and a lot of their customer stock. People with disabilities pack the material. Thankfully, through the government's Temporary Viability Support funding, which supports Australian disability enterprises facing short-term financial difficulties—this service has also had to do some rebuilding because of the natural disasters; had they had to close, all of these people would have lost their jobs—they got $27,000 from the Australian government to purchase a truck to make deliveries and a further nearly $70,000 to make up for the loss of customer stock. It was great to see the pride on the faces of these guys when I was there with Parliamentary Secretary McLucas on Thursday.

These measures build on our proud record of delivering for people with disability, because we want all people to enjoy equal opportunity for employment, education and access to goods and services. We have already increased the disability support pension and carer payments. We have doubled funding to the states and territories under the National Disability Agreement and launched the National Disability Strategy. The government is also considering its response to the House of Representatives inquiry into the universal access, the Access all areas that I mentioned earlier. I am particularly proud of the BER buildings in Queensland, and particularly the ones in my electorate that I know of, which were all built to the disability standards.

There were 39 projects in 24 schools within the electorate of Moreton. I attended the opening of the Graceville State School last year. It has a lift so that the many students who have access problems are able to access the new library. Wellers Hill State School, which is also in my electorate, has not opened yet, but when it does it will have similar lift facilities. I was lucky enough to be at MacGregor State School, which is the biggest state school in Queensland, with about 1,200 kids. Their new facilities are called the Tharenou Centre after the long-term principal Steve Tharenou. That centre also has a lift. At the same time, they opened a liberty swing, the first liberty swing that I had seen at a school. It is a swing for people in wheelchairs. They are able to have the experience of being on a swing. I have a two-year old and I know how much time I spend pushing him back on forth. It is good that kids in wheelchairs can also have that experience. That was kindly funded by the Sunnybank Community Club. They are not cheap; not cheap at all. It was great to see that. It was opened on the same day as the centre.

What do these BER buildings and their universal design features say? They illustrate that the Labor government believes in giving everybody an opportunity. The Tharenou Centre is a case in point. Simple changes, such as the architectural approach of having a lift and exceptionally wide verandas suit people in wheelchairs. But it is also great to have extra wide verandas to keep the classrooms cool under the hot Queensland sun. These BER buildings are examples of the Labor government stepping in and providing opportunities and an economic vision. Admittedly, the BER strategy was an economic stimulus strategy rather than an education strategy, but it turned out to be a fantastic contribution to making a fairer society.

The schools in my electorate that do not have lifts—because obviously lifts are very expensive—have made sure that they have those universal design features, so they have ramp access. Examples include Eight Mile Plains State School, Robertson State School, Runcorn Heights State School and Sherwood State School. They have ramp access, which is good for parents, grandparents and students who have disability problems.

I have learnt a lot about lifts since January this year, when the floods went through my electorate and 5,200 properties were affected. A simple lesson that people have learnt is that the last person out should put the lift at the top and walk down the stairs rather than walking out the bottom. We have had so many lifts damaged because the last person out left the lift in the basement. Obviously, when you get two or three metres of water go through, that is not a great way to treat a lift.

This budget before us is all about being a Labor budget and it confirms the fact that Labor has an economic vision. Despite the tough times, despite to the budget that have come with the cyclones in Queensland, the floods in Victoria, the floods in Queensland and other natural disasters. The Gillard-Swan budget is to be commended. I am sure when in time we look back we will see that it made a significant contribution to the future of Australia.