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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 24200

Senator TIERNEY (3:07 PM) —What a contribution! I am absolutely amazed that the Labor opposition has the hide to get up and try to attack this budget. Let us look at the history of the Labor Party. I will tell you the tale of two years: the year 2001 compared with 1991. In 1991, Labor was in government and had created a recession. There were one million people unemployed. We had 11 per cent unemployment and were heading into record deficits. At the depth of the Keating `recession we had to have' we got up to $23 billion in deficit. That meant that over the last five years of the Labor government they racked up $80 billion in public debt. This government has paid back $60 billion of that. In addition, in this budget, due to good financial management by the Howard government over the last five years, we have produced five surpluses in a row. What did Paul Keating do? He produced five deficits in a row and sent Australia further and further into debt.

Through the budget tightening in the early years of the Howard government, we put our economic house in order and now, at this point and over the last few years, we are able to distribute some of that benefit. Last year we did it through a particular focus on health, and I am delighted as a rural and regional Senator that a lot of that focus was on rural and regional health. This year the focus is on older Australians—those people who have contributed so much to our society in the last century and who are now looking forward to a much more comfortable retirement in this century, because what we have delivered for them in one hit is something that no other government has ever done in the past. What we have been able to do for older Australians particularly—and this is the most dramatic measure—is increase the tax free threshold to $20,000. Under the previous Labor government, the amount was $5,700. We moved the threshold to $10,000, and we are now moving it to $20,000. This means that older Australians do not pay any tax at all on the first $20,000 of income. There is greater access to the seniors card. There is also a better deal on Medicare benefits and there is a closing gap in doctor-patient benefits.

So we are continuing the health initiatives of the last budget and further enhancing them. But we are doing a lot more in terms of securing proper support for the incomes of older Australians. For those people who have tried, in particular, to fund their own retirements, not only do we want to reward them for that but we want to send a very strong signal to the following generation that it is a worthwhile thing to do—that it is worth while taking out super; it is worth while providing for your retirement, and the government will come in and support that as well. That is one of the strongest measures in this budget.

There is great news for regional and rural Australia in this budget, particularly in my own area. We have seen the growing effects now of what is going to be a much needed improvement in infrastructure, particularly the road systems. This government will put an extra $1.6 billion into roads over the next four years above what was previously budgeted. This will be delivered to councils on a pro rata basis. In addition, strategically, we have increased funding on roads such as the F3 freeway in my area—$80 million will be spent to unclog the parts of that freeway that have difficulty because of the volume of traffic flow.

The Backing Australia's Ability statement, presented prior to this budget, provides an extra $2.5 billion for education and innovation in this country. We have doubled ARC grants—something Labor was never able to do. We are putting more money into student places. I am delighted to see that 1,800 of those extra places are earmarked for regional Australia, which is really great for the University of Newcastle in my area—Australia's premier and leading university. Through measures such as this, this government has delivered benefits to all Australians from its surplus. (Time expired)