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Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Page: 2

Her Excellency the Governor-General entered the chamber and, being seated, with the President on her right hand, commanded that a message be sent to the House of Representatives intimating that Her Excellency desired the attendance of honourable members in the Senate chamber.

Honourable members having come with their Speaker, Her Excellency was pleased to deliver the following speech:

Introduction

Honourable senators and members of the Parliament of Australia, I honour the traditional owners of the country upon which we gather and celebrate our Indigenous peoples as the first lawgivers of our land.

I also acknowledge the remarkable circumstance of our nation having its first female Governor-General and first female Prime Minister.

This historic conjunction should be an inspiration not only to the women and girls of our nation but to all Australians.

It demonstrates this is a land of freedom and of opportunity. It should reinforce to every girl and every boy that in this wonderful country they can aim high and see their hopes fulfilled.

It is also evidence that our democratic system is strong, with our established principles of government ever adapting to meet new challenges and new demands.

Nowhere has the robust nature of our democracy been more evident than in the election held on 21 August 2010.

Through this result, the Australian people have placed upon their elected leaders the responsibility of forming a minority government, something not seen in our Commonwealth for seven decades.

Parliamentary reform

It is a tribute to every senator and member gathered here today that this process unfolded with patience and civility and has yielded a parliament committed to greater transparency and accord.

In that spirit, the government will quickly implement new measures to enhance the dignity and effectiveness of this legislature, including a more effective question time, a stronger committee system and greater scope for private members’ bills.

The government will also facilitate the creation of a Parliamentary Budget Office and the new role of Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner.

It is the government’s intention that these reforms will not only serve for this current term but become an enduring legacy to our parliamentary system.

The government will also bring forward for early consideration legislation to ensure that political donations are made more transparent and risks to the integrity of our political system are minimised.

Of great significance in this term will be proposals to amend the Constitution to recognise the first Australians and to acknowledge the role of local government in our democratic system.

The recognition of Indigenous Australians in our founding charter will be a high point on our nation’s long journey towards reconciliation, which began with the historic referendum of 1967.

More broadly, the government recognises that the parliament will play a much enhanced role in the governance of our nation during this term and welcomes the opportunity thus presented to strengthen our democracy.

Within this more cooperative framework, the government looks forward to implementing policies that will equip our nation to meet the demands and challenges of the twenty-first century.

A stronger economy

Foremost among those challenges is the need to build a high-productivity, high-participation, high-skill economy that delivers sustainable growth for all Australians.

Having emerged from the global financial crisis with some of the best economic outcomes of any advanced nation, the government will implement measures to ensure Australia’s economy remains flexible and strong.

At the heart of these plans is the government’s commitment to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13, placing Australia at the forefront of global fiscal consolidation efforts.

The government will advance its economic reform agenda to lift productivity and competitiveness and prepare for the future, through reforms to taxation, superannuation and business regulation, and through investments in education and infrastructure to drive future growth.

During this term, the government will pursue plans to reduce the tax burden on the business sector, simplify tax returns for ordinary taxpayers and obtain a more equitable distribution of the nation’s natural wealth through the minerals resource rent tax agreed with our nation’s biggest miners and now the subject of wider consultation.

Further deliberations on the nation’s taxation system will be considered at a public forum to be held by mid 2011, which will re-examine the Henry tax review and consider the economic and social effects of taxation reform.

Following that forum, the government will hold a debate on tax reform in the Australian parliament, enabling all senators and members to express their views.

In the coming term of office, the government will also commence implementation of its promised increase in the superannuation guarantee levy from nine to 12 per cent, ensuring working Australians enjoy greater security in retirement and considerably boosting the nation’s pool of savings.

In parallel, the government will seek to implement key findings of the Cooper review to make the nation’s superannuation system more efficient, cost-effective and transparent.

During this term, the government will also pursue its reform agenda to break down barriers for businesses operating across state and territory borders, in particular, a national regime for occupational health and safety regulation.

Another central aspect of the government’s economic strategy is continued high levels of infrastructure investment, which will help drive productivity and make our cities more liveable.

To this end, the government is investing $37 billion in transport infrastructure through the Nation Building Program over the six-year period to 2013-14.

The government’s commitments include major urban rail projects in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the most significant investment in public transport yet made by the Commonwealth.

In this term of parliament, the government will also continue the rollout of Australia’s largest ever infrastructure enterprise, the National Broadband Network.

By making high-speed affordable broadband available to the whole community, the NBN will help lift the productivity of our regional economies, expand economic opportunities and improve service delivery in key areas such as education and health care.

The NBN will also underpin the government’s commitment to provide, from 1 July 2011, a new Medicare rebate for internet based consultations for those living in regional and outer suburban areas where access to medical specialists is limited.

Accordingly, the government will present for consideration by this parliament legislation to enable the effective rollout of the NBN, support the heads of agreement with Telstra and improve the existing regulatory regime.

The Australian government is deeply committed to ensuring that the dignity and benefits of work are more widely shared among the members of our community.

Therefore, the government will pursue measures to increase workplace participation by disadvantaged or disengaged groups, including Indigenous Australians, people with disability, youth and mature age workers.

This will include the introduction of a work bonus for age pensioners who choose to undertake part-time work, and training and assessment support for mature age workers.

The government will also bring forward a range of new measures to drive positive employment outcomes, including relocation assistance to support the long-term unemployed move to areas with greater job opportunities.

With the economy returning to above-trend growth, the government acknowledges the cost of living pressures faced by many families.

In response, the government has already introduced three tranches of income tax reductions and has increased the Child Care Rebate from 30 to 50 per cent.

In addition, the government’s historic Paid Parental Leave scheme will commence on 1 January 2011, assisting families with the cost of raising children and encouraging greater workforce participation.

To provide further assistance to families, the government will extend the scope of the education tax refund to cover the cost of school uniforms.

In addition, the government will increase family support by up to $4,000 a year for teenagers who are enrolled in school or vocational training, encouraging young people to remain in the education system and acquire the skills necessary for work and for life.

The government will better protect employee entitlements as part of its commitment to fair and balanced workplace relations, and measures will be introduced to enhance the protections available to banking customers.

Education

Honourable senators and members, education lies at the heart of the government’s agenda to strengthen workforce participation and enhance our nation’s fairness and prosperity.

The government will continue to build on its landmark reforms in early childhood education, schools, vocational education, universities and research.

In each area the government will continue to improve standards and quality, increase transparency and modernise infrastructure.

During this term, in the area of school education, the government will empower local principals and communities to make decisions on the ground to improve the quality and effectiveness of their schools.

At the same time, the government will deliver the national curriculum and build on its My School transparency measures.

In addition, parents, students and teachers will be provided with a national online assessment and learning bank to help support learning and diagnose individual student strengths and learning needs.

There will also be new recognition and rewards for schools that improve attendance and student performance, and the very best classroom teachers will be identified and rewarded through a new national system of performance assessment and bonus payments.

The government will also move to ensure Australian students have access to a national educational credential of international standing—the Australian Baccalaureate.

To help ensure children are ready to learn when they start school, the government will continue to deliver its early education reform agenda and enable universal access to preschool by 2013.

The government will link payment of the family tax benefit part A end-of-year supplement so that four-year-old children receive a health assessment before starting school.

In the area of skills development, which is so critical to our nation’s future, the government will continue its reform efforts to create a truly national, high-quality, transparent training system and to lift the skills of the workforce.

The government will build on the trade training centres program with a new national trade cadetship initiative to help young people develop trade skills while they are enrolled at school.

Additional incentives and mentoring will also be provided to ensure that apprentices gain the skills and experience relevant to the industries of today and the future.

The government will introduce a guaranteed entitlement to high-quality training places for all Australians under the age of 25, and in the future will develop a broad entitlement for foundation skills training and skills development for older Australians.

During this term of parliament, legislation will be introduced to establish new quality and standards regulators in higher education and vocational education.

Given the vital role of universities in driving productivity, research, innovation, regional development and the social and cultural life of the nation, the government will continue to deliver its transformative reform agenda stemming from the Bradley and Cutler reviews and the considerable new funding associated with these reforms.

The government will also seek to reintroduce university student amenities and services legislation to enrich the learning experience and wellbeing of students across Australia.

A fair and resilient society

Honourable senators and members, over the next term, the government will strive not only to build a stronger economy but a more inclusive society.

Despite Australia’s strong economic growth, around five per cent of working age citizens experience multiple forms of disadvantage that can result in lower levels of social and economic participation and reduced wellbeing.

The government’s second term social inclusion agenda will thus focus on overcoming entrenched disadvantage so that as the economy grows, fewer people are left behind.

To achieve these objectives, the government will continue to invest in our health system and schools, our communities and regions to support social inclusion and close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

The government will implement its landmark structural reforms to improve access to health and hospital services for all Australians and sustain the financial viability of the health system.

The government will also expand the rollout of GP superclinics in suburban and regional communities, and create a GP after-hours hotline so families can receive support on weekends or late at night.

On mental health, the government will fund a package to help reduce the incidence of suicide and will work towards new measures to further improve the health of Australians living with mental illness.

The government will also fund additional aged-care places and invest in multipurpose services that provide integrated aged health and aged-care services.

Over the next four years, the government will invest in increasing participation in community sport and supporting our elite athletes, thus contributing to a more active and healthy society.

Indigenous communities will benefit from the government’s continued investment in housing, health, early childhood, economic participation and remote service delivery, with outcomes closely tracked against ‘Closing the Gap’ targets.

The government’s agenda for Indigenous advancement will also be strongly supported by the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples to be convened from January 2011.

The government is committed to ensuring that this term of office delivers tangible improvements in the level of support for those who live with disability.

The government will increase the number of supported accommodation places, and will finalise the National Disability Strategy through the Council of Australian Governments.

It will also provide individual funding for early intervention services to assist children diagnosed with sight and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome.

The long-term care and support needs of people with disability is a national priority that demands a national response.

The government therefore looks forward to giving careful consideration to the Productivity Commission’s forthcoming report on a national disability insurance scheme.

Prevention of violence against women and children will also be a priority in this term of the parliament.

The forthcoming National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children will focus the efforts of all governments on preventing violence, delivering justice for victims and improving support services.

Problem gambling is another important social issue that the government seeks to address during this new term.

The social cost of problem gambling is estimated to be $4.7 billion a year, along with an incalculable human toll on gambling addicts and their families.

The government will therefore work to implement, by 2014, a best practice full pre-commitment scheme that is uniform across all states and territories and machines, consistent with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission.

The extent and intractability of homelessness remains one of the greatest stains on Australia’s deserved reputation for social fairness and decency.

The government is committed to reducing the number of Australians who are homeless and will work closely with state and territory governments and the non-profit sector to halve the rate of homelessness and offer accommodation to all people who sleep rough by 2020.

Enhancement of the non-profit sector is also a key priority for this term, and the government will therefore create a new office for the non-profit sector, harmonise and simplify laws on non-profit issues and examine the merits of a single national regulator.

The government will strengthen its support for the arts with the release of Australia’s first national cultural policy in almost two decades.

The government will also support the performing arts sector, help build a stronger contemporary music industry and respond to the review of the screen production sector during this term of the parliament.

Building Regional Australia

Honourable senators and members, the recent election has brought renewed attention to the needs of the one-third of Australians who live outside our major cities and who exemplify in a special way our nation’s heritage and character.

Those citizens rightly aspire to high-quality, accessible services befitting their status as equal members of the Australian community.

Accordingly the government has appointed a new cabinet level minister for regional Australia, supported by a new department of regional Australia.

In addition, the government will establish a new House of Representatives committee on regional Australia, allowing members to inquire into the needs and resourcing of our regions and the impact of legislation on regional communities.

The government will also fund the creation of a regional development policy centre to provide an additional source of independent advice for honourable members and the wider community.

In terms of resources, 60 per cent of the government’s nation-building infrastructure funding has already been allocated to regional Australia, as has the $6 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund.

Building on these developments, the government will significantly increase the level of resources available to regional Australia.

The government will invest $800 million in a new priority regional infrastructure program that will fund projects such as transport, economic and community infrastructure as identified by local communities.

Regional universities and TAFEs will have access to a dedicated regional priorities round of up to $500 million from the Education Investment Fund.

There will also be a regional priority round from the Health and Hospitals Fund to build and upgrade regional health infrastructure and support clinical training capacity in our regional hospitals.

In addition, the government will ensure that regional Australia receives a minimum population based funding entitlement of all educational resources, and will develop a regional education and skills plan during the course of 2011.

Importantly, the government will also carry forward its commitment to build the inland rail link, which has been so long awaited by many country communities.

And under the government’s Building Better Regional Cities program, funding will be provided to help facilitate the construction of up to 15,000 affordable homes in regional cities that wish to expand.

Climate change and sustainability

Honourable senators and members, Australia’s natural heritage is a precious gift held in trust for future generations and for the entire world.

It is the government’s strong view that Australia’s unique way of life must be preserved through measures to ensure a more sustainable future, by both protecting the environment and enhancing the amenity of our urban communities.

During this term of office, the government will develop the nation’s first ever sustainable population strategy to examine future population needs and how population growth can be better underpinned by appropriate infrastructure and services.

Of vital importance to the government’s agenda is the need to reduce the level of damaging greenhouse gas emissions, which endanger the sustainability of our planet.

Accordingly, the government will shortly convene a new multiparty climate change committee to provide advice on mechanisms for implementing a carbon price and how best to build community consensus.

The committee’s work will be vital in enabling the parliament to conduct a wide-ranging and informed debate on this important issue.

At the same time, the government will work to harness the power of natural resources, including wind, solar, geothermal energy and biofuels, as well as funding transmission infrastructure to bring renewable energy from our regions to our cities.

The government will also bring forward legislation to strengthen emission standards for new power stations and motor vehicles as well as providing tax concessions for sustainable buildings and rebates for the replacement of older, inefficient vehicles.

In addition, the government’s proposed carbon farming initiative will facilitate the sale of carbon credits on domestic and international markets providing a new source of income for farmers and reducing carbon pollution.

As the world’s driest inhabited continent Australia must carefully steward its precious water resources especially those of our greatest river system, the Murray-Darling.

The government has already purchased more than 900 billion litres of water entitlements for environmental flows, and the release of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan guide next month will advance this important national priority.

To better protect our most sensitive marine habitats and assist the long-term viability of our ocean based industries, the government will seek to build a representative network of protected areas in Australian waters.

During this term, the government will also respond to the independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and will develop a national food plan to examine the long-term sustainability of Australia’s food production.

National security and international relations

Honourable members and senators, as a diverse multicultural nation dedicated to free trade and creative middle-power diplomacy Australia has a constructive role to play on the world stage.

The government will continue to foster those relationships that are so essential to Australia’s interests, including our alliance with the United States and our core bilateral relationships with partners in our region.

The government will also ensure that Australia remains an active and effective member of key multilateral institutions, including the United Nations, the G20, the East Asia Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

There is no higher policy priority than national security, and the government will continue to build a whole-of-government approach to meet the full range of threats and challenges that may arise.

The government’s most immediate national security priority is Afghanistan, where the international community seeks to prevent that country from again becoming a terrorist staging ground.

Our nation’s engagement has come at a high price and we honour the memory of the 21 Australians who have made the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan since 2001.

The government remains committed to the task in Afghanistan and will continue to provide the support necessary for Australian forces to complete their mission.

Acknowledging the increasing number of personnel who are injured on duty, the government will introduce a new support scheme, the Simpson program, which will provide increased assistance, training and access to specialist rehabilitation for wounded Defence Force members.

More broadly, the government remains committed to ensuring Australia has the defence capabilities it needs to meet current and future challenges while also ensuring that defence spending remains prudent and cost effective.

The loss of Australian lives in Bali in 2002 and 2005 is a potent reminder of the need for vigilance and resolve against the threat of terrorism.

Accordingly, the government remains committed to a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism which focuses on prevention and reducing the risks faced by Australians at home and abroad.

The government also recognises the grave threat to international peace posed by the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and know-how, and will continue to pursue the cause of disarmament together with our international partners.

On the issue of border protection, the government seeks to remove the incentive for asylum seekers to undertake dangerous sea voyages to Australia while promoting an approach to assessing refugee claims that is efficient, timely and fair.

Accordingly, the government remains committed to an effective response to irregular maritime migration through the development of a regional protection framework in cooperation with our regional neighbours as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration.

The government will always honour the obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention to which our country became a party under Prime Minister Menzies in 1954.

Conclusion

Honourable senators and members, with the convening of the 43rd Parliament, our system of government ventures into terrain not encountered since the far-off days of World War II.

As one of the world’s oldest continuing democracies, we have it within our grasp to ensure that the challenges posed by the configuration of this parliament become a source of renewal and change.

Certainly the story of our nation tells us that nothing is impossible when we work together and seek the best in each other—drawing upon the qualities of resourcefulness and courage that are such a hallmark of the Australian spirit.

The government acknowledges that the measures outlined today are not the complete sum of what can be accomplished by this parliament.

Rather, it is the government’s hope that through its strong leadership, combined with goodwill and consensus, even more can be achieved to the benefit of our people and the advancement of our Commonwealth in the term that lies ahead.

I therefore wish you well in your deliberations and warmly commend your dedication to the service of our nation.

And with great faith in the enduring strength of our democratic institutions, I take pride in opening the 43rd Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Her Excellency the Governor-General and members of the House of Representatives retired—

Sitting suspended from 3.58 pm to 5.20 pm

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. John Hogg) read prayers.