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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 1171

Senator FURNER (5:47 PM) —I feel proud and privileged to contribute today to the debate on Senator Fifield’s motion, which, in part, talks about the government having lost its way, saying that it has not delivered on its commitments to the Australian people. That is far from the truth. The time I am permitted between now and six o’clock does not provide me with anywhere near the opportunity to go through every example of what we have delivered to our constituency, the Australian people. Forgive me for focusing on only a handful of those matters—they are samples of our great achievements.

I will start with what our party stands for. The Australian Labor Party has always been there looking after working-class people, looking after working families. It is a grassroots party that delivers achievements and outcomes for people who need and deserve them. We ensure that workers’ rights are protected and the people trust in our achievements.

Conversely, if you look at the opposition, they did build up a huge surplus—we grant them that. When the opportunity arose, when we were heading down the path of a global financial crisis, there was a need to use that surplus. Surpluses are about delivering in areas of need—areas of need that were neglected for 11½ years. I am speaking about the health system, about roads, rail and school infrastructure. You may recall that in our first period of government we handed down a stimulus package which had a variety of opportunities to make the economy strong and to keep people employed. Without jobs, where would we be? We were not going to allow Australians to fail, we were not going to allow this government to fail. Nevertheless the opposition over there condemned and did not support our package. They did not want new infrastructure built in Queensland, they did not want school halls, they did not want libraries—

Senator Williams —Half the schools didn’t want libraries!

Senator FURNER —they did not want roads and rail infrastructure; they wanted to sit on their hands and do absolutely nothing. As we know, the program amounted to $42 billion in infrastructure. It went to education, small business, social housing, defence housing, renewable energy and roads. We also gave taxpayers a $900 bonus to stimulate the retail area. People spent that money to keep the retail sector up and running and they demonstrated that they were able to survive.

Senator Ian Macdonald —The Canberra Labor Club loved it!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Order! Previous speakers were listened to in relative silence. Those who wish to interject can put their names on the list.

Senator FURNER —We will focus on one aspect of the $42 billion stimulus package—that is, the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution. I have been fortunate to go to probably 30 schools to officiate at the openings of libraries, language centres, school halls and extensions of classrooms—a great achievement which principals and parents and citizens associations are very proud of. They have said to me on many occasions, ‘Go back to the Prime Minister, go back to Minister Evans and thank them for delivering on these projects,’ projects they thought they would never see in their lifetime, projects which the opposition condemned, projects which they would not have had had it not been for the support of crossbenchers and others.

I will just give some examples of where the money has gone in my area of representation. Dayboro State School received $2.65 million for a new multipurpose hall and resource centre; Lawnton State School received $2.12 million for a new resource centre; Chevallum State School—I spoke about their achievements earlier today and how they are addressing obesity—received $2.65 million for a covered outdoor area, refurbishment of a classroom, accommodation for multi-age learning and a multipurpose hall and resource centre; Living Faith Lutheran Primary School received $2.65 billion for shade areas and a new multipurpose hall; and Pine Community School received $324,500 for refurbishment of a covered outdoor learning area, for a green upgrade and for construction of a new library.

On many occasions, opposition members from the other place have been so keen to come along that in some cases you have had to push them aside to keep them from crowding into photo opportunities at those openings. The member for Longman, the member for Moncrieff, the member for Fisher, the member for Hinkler, the member for Forde and the member for Fairfax have been at those ceremonies, proudly standing there with grins on their faces, knowing that they were being photographed—so proud of this government’s achievements. They were standing there—I have that evidence. They were standing there with big grins from ear to ear, knowing they were part of a project that has delivered for this country.

The Primary Schools for the 21st Century, or P21, element of the BER program provided $14.1 billion for 10,521 projects in 7,942 schools. The money was used to build new libraries, multipurpose halls and classrooms and to refurbish existing facilities. Under the Science and Language Centres for 21st Century Secondary Schools element of the BER program, $821.8 million was allocated to 537 schools to refurbish or construct new science laboratories or language centres. Under the National School Pride element of the BER program, $1.2 billion was allocated for the refurbishment of buildings, for the construction or upgrade of fixed shade structures, covered outdoor learning areas and sporting facilities or for green upgrades. So it is clearly demonstrable that we have delivered on our commitments and our promises under the BER program. That the Labor government has been open and transparent is certainly evident through our establishment of the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce, which has released its interim report.

But our swift action not only provided state-of-the-art facilities to our schools; it fixed roads and built social housing and defence housing. It has also put us in the forefront of world economic performance. Our economy has been the envy of world leaders. I am fortunate enough to be on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and you get to speak to a lot of the ambassadors, as you would know, Mr Deputy President Hutchins, who attend those hearings. One of the first things they do when addressing the committee is give their opinion of our economy and the outcomes our government has delivered—how our government’s action made sure we were saved from the global financial crisis.

It was only by our swift action that we were able to protect jobs and workers. In January, 24,000 jobs were created. That is on the back of last year’s record job creation rate which saw 364,000 jobs created. In the last three years, 740,000 Australian jobs have been created—that is while about 30 million jobs have been lost worldwide. That speaks volumes for how successful our $42 billion stimulus package has been. Treasurer Wayne Swan has indicated that businesses plan to invest $133 billion in 2011-12—a record figure. Mining companies plan to invest $76 billion—higher than the $55.5 billion underway in this financial year. So we took swift action when the global financial crisis hit, thereby preventing the nation from falling into recession. That action left us as one of the best positioned economies in the developed world. We emerged from the global financial crisis as one of the only nations not in recession—allowing us to enjoy the continuation of 20 years of constant economic growth.

On the back of that we delivered some other amazing achievements, such as Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme. I was a proud member of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs that actively heard evidence and eventually handed down the parameters for the parental leave scheme. The scheme took effect from 1 January this year. It provides primary carers who earn less than $150,000 and who meet eligibility criteria with an entitlement to 18 weeks paid parental leave at the national minimum wage. It is a scheme which has been supported by the union movement, it is a scheme which has been supported by some of the main employers and it is a scheme which will improve the livelihoods of working mums in our society. The idea of the scheme is to give new mothers or, in some cases, fathers the opportunity to maintain ties with their employers. This enables businesses to retain skilled staff while giving parents time to stay at home with the baby, improving child development outcomes. It helps support breastfeeding and it gives mothers a reasonable period to recover from childbirth.

I find it humorous that the opposition claim we have not found our way. This comes from a party which has had three leadership challenges since John Howard lost the election in 2007—and there is still disunity within the opposition. Just recently there was disunity about their position on climate change. The coalition’s position on the government’s temporary flood and cyclone relief levy, which was debated in this House this week, clearly demonstrates their opposition to worthy causes, in this case the cause of assisting, in their time of need, those Queenslanders and Victorians hit by severe natural disasters.

But I do believe there is a breakthrough and I understand, as reported in the news, that it will be passed. It is an achievement that should be championed and held high as an example of how we help people in times of need. The coalition’s opposition to the temporary flood and cyclone levy shows that the Liberal and National parties have no commitment to the Australian public whatsoever. This is no different. Let’s not forget their time in government and their Work Choices policy. They could not wait to have the balance of—

Debate interrupted.