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Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8550


Senator FURNER (Queensland) (15:53): Time does not allow me to go through all the national interest measures we have been able to deliver as a Labor federal government, but I will do as much as I can in the time permitted.

It was only in September last year that we secured a minority government. Since then there is no doubt we have been delivering on our policies. We have been delivering on tax cuts for working families at a time when they need tax cuts and benefits the most. In fact, on 1 January 2011, as a member of the community affairs committee, I was delighted to be part of a government that delivered on paid parental leave, a scheme where parents are able to stay home with their newborns or adopted children for 18 weeks at the minimum wage, while retaining their ties with the workplace and easing the financial pressure on our working families—a policy the opposition leader said he would never implement, until he realised that our government was in a box-seat position to do it. And what did he do with his policy? He was going to put the burden back onto employers; he was going to have major employers pay for his policy, a flaw in his policy that no doubt those major employers are still opposed to.

We began also to roll out the National Broadband Network, which will provide faster internet connections and allow those in rural areas to access high-speed internet through the state-of-the-art NBN connection—something the opposition has left our country behind on. The NBN will deliver affordable high-speed broadband to all Australians, no matter where they live. The NBN is also creating jobs, right here.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator FURNER: It is already being used in Tasmania, in Senator Bilyk's electorate—

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator FURNER: and in Senator Bushby's electorate as well, and also in Armidale, in New South Wales. A new era of telecommunications is arriving—better services, more competitive prices for Australians and for Australian businesses. The NBN will change the way we live and work and ensure our economy keeps up with the rest of the world. It will give our children access to world-class educational resources. It will provide access to better health care. It will close the distance between our regions and cities and will give local businesses the opportunity to expand into markets anywhere in the world, instantly. And the Prime Minister and Minister Conroy have announced a $9 billion agreement with Telstra on the NBN to provide for the re-use of suitable Telstra infrastructure and for Telstra to progressively structurally separate by decommissioning its copper network and broadband HFC network capabilities during the NBN fibre rollout. This means less disruption to communities and less use of overhead cables. We have also succeeded in separating Telstra in their retail and wholesale communications business.

After injecting money into the economy, we stopped Australia from feeling the brunt of the global financial crisis, something that we shall never, ever forget, and nor will the public—the way we have delivered confidence in the market, something those opposite used to champion. We have stolen that mantle from you now.

Senator Mason: Oh, Mark—you don't believe that!

Senator FURNER: The community accepts that we have protected them from this global financial crisis. And it does not matter where you go, whether it be a school opening in a hall—and I know, Senator Mason, you love the halls, the science centres and the libraries that we created through the Building the Education Revolution. But I have never seen you turn up with your smiling face and be part of those photographs which are taken at the openings.

Nevertheless, I have seen a lot of other members turn up: a lot of the new members mainly, sitting there posing for a great photograph and taking a great opportunity to recognise that this is a government delivering in an era where the global recession really bit the whole world—and we were protected from it, by giving that support to those communities. I am still doing those openings, and that will continue into next year. It does not surprise me how often I go along and hear the principal, the teachers or the P&C presidents say to me, 'Senator Furner, please go back and tell the Prime Minister and Senator Chris Evans of our gratitude for the assistance you have provided us.' You can understand why when you are standing in a brand new hall, worth approximately $3 million, or a newly refurbished library, or a science centre that has been provided—the greatest gift a government can provide children for the next generation, and that is education. Education is something that those opposite failed to deliver in the period when they were in government.

And no doubt, as a roll-on effect and a result of that injection of $16.2 billion into Building the Education Revolution, there was the creation of jobs—750,000 Austra­lians gained employment as a result of what we delivered as a government during the global financial crisis. In fact, in the past year I have opened more than 100 schools in Queensland and officially opened Building the Education Revolution projects along the lines that I have already commented on in the halls, the science centres and the libraries. For some schools it was the first time they had a multipurpose hall. It was the very first time they were able to fit the whole school into one particular area. And for some it was the first time they had a library. No longer did they have to share a classroom with a room full of books. I have seen new kitchens, as well, created out of this project—the Stephanie Alexander Garden Kitchen Program, another fantastic govern­ment initiative. I have seen new music rooms and dance studios. For some schools this is the biggest thing to have happened to them in years—in fact, in the life of the schools.

Principals and P&C presidents come up to me and give praise. Here, for example, is what Judith Seery, principal of St Anthony's Primary School, Alexandra Hills, said:

We are indeed grateful to the federal government for their generous gift to St Anthony. It's an extraordinary privilege. Senator Mark Furner, please pass on to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the federal government our sincere thanks as a result this funding has assisted local trades people, families and communities to participate in activities to support achievement to develop learning potential …

Principal Belinda Leavers of Loganlea State High School said:

On behalf of the staff and the students and all members of the Loganlea State High school community I would like to extend our very sincere thanks to the federal government for this wonderful facility with leading-edge technologies and modern multi-purpose learning spaces.

So, there you go.

The Gillard government was also involved in providing assistance to those who needed it the most when flood devastation hit my state, Queensland, and Victoria, and also when Cyclone Yasi hit North Queensland earlier this year. The devastation those disasters caused was overwhelming. In fact, just the other week I was out in the Lockyer Valley, on the road between Brisbane and Toowoomba, visiting residents who are still traumatised by the amount of water that came through their valley and devastated their homes. What did we do as a government? We acted decisively. We put in place legislation to levy taxpayers with above $55,000 earning capacity to assist Queenslanders and Victorians, as we do in times of need. However, those opposite opposed that strenuously and they still do. I wonder sometimes: when people are in need, why would you be opposed to providing assistance to them at the most vulnerable times in the their lives?

Not only have we delivered for working families but we are also delivering effective policy. The government has secured the passage of 130 bills through the House of Representatives; the Leader of the Oppo­sition, Tony Abbott, has not provided a positive communication to this government since becoming the leader of his party. He is known for saying 'no' to everything, even good policy. I think Senator Cormann spoke about some policy and legislation we were proposing with border protection, and that is another example. Rather than working with the government to come up with a suitable proposal and legislation for dealing with this particular issue, it is quite easy to say 'no'—and the noes will continue.

He also opposed the GP Super Clinics Program, which has delivered quality health care in areas of need. In fact, the superclinic in my backyard of Strathpine there has gone from strength to strength. Since opening its doors the superclinic at Strathpine has had tens of thousands of consultations and has to employ doctors to keep up with the demand. All this on the back of this motion today claiming that we have not delivered for the national interest. I refute that, naturally, because we have delivered and we will continue delivering as a government. (Time expired)