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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 810

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (16:12): Last week I had the great pleasure of touring the beautiful electorate of Cowper on the North Coast of New South Wales. I was up there opening some brand new educational facilities at a number of schools.

On Thursday I visited Bellingen High School to open their brand new hospitality trade training centre—a $1.5 million investment by this government in better educational facilities for students in that important rural and regional community in New South Wales. I went through and visited their first-class industrial kitchen. I sat in their cafe. I sampled some of the produce of the students—the wonderful coffees that they were making. I talked to the students about the fact that they now have the ability and the choice to begin their apprenticeship whilst they are still at school, giving them a great advantage for a future in a trade in the local community.

Later in the afternoon I travelled to Maclean High School, where I was fortunate to open their brand new construction trade training centre. That is a $1.3 million investment by the Gillard government in first-class vocational education and training facilities for students in rural and regional New South Wales. I spoke to the local builder, the head contractor, who had been involved in the construction of that first-class facility. He told me about the importance of this program for his local community—about the fact that he as a local builder was able to keep on a large number of his employees because of the government's commitment to jobs in local communities and to better education facilities for students in rural and regional New South Wales.

On Friday I then travelled to Willawarrin Public School just west of Kempsey. It is a small school with only 60 students. I did a tour of the facilities with their wonderful school captain, young Hayden. He showed me their brand new library, a first-class library that has just been constructed, with their wonderful new video conference facilities. He told me that the week before the students in that tiny school had had a video conference with the staff at the Sydney Opera House about their music program. A number of other local schools in that community had plugged into that video conference to tour the facilities of the Sydney Opera House, to learn about its music program, to learn about how productions are put together and how they are rolled out on a particular day—all from the convenience of their school library.

I toured some of the classrooms and the students showed me their brand-new smart boards: how they interact on those smart boards and how they can do programs like mathletics to make mathematics more enjoyable. I spoke to the principal about the benefits of these wonderful new facilities not only for the students but also for the local community—the fact that 80 workers from the local community had secured jobs on this important project and that it ensured during the difficult period of the global financial crisis that many of those local builders, architects and designers were kept in employment. They were also providing an investment in a better education for the kids in their local community. I also toured Kempsey East Public School, which had a $2.125 million investment in a new school hall, and Smithtown Public School with a $925,000 investment in better classroom facilities.

I drove past the work that is going on on the Kempsey-to-Frederickton bypass—a $618 million investment by the Gillard government in a dual carriageway on one of the most treacherous stretches of road on the Pacific Highway. Some 394 pylons are being driven into the ground to provide the largest road bridge in this country—2.3 kilometres of road bridge. Some months ago I was fortunate to drive in the first pylon on that very important piece of infrastructure for rural and regional Australia. Through that investment, 450 jobs were created.

In two days I witnessed $625 million worth of investment by the Gillard government in rural and regional New South Wales. During that time, of all the people I met not one of them mentioned the ALP leadership issue. They were much more interested in the services that their government was delivering for families and communities. The main game in the community is policy development and policy delivery, and it should be the main game in this place as well, particularly when we are talking about matters of public importance. This debate is meant to be about the issues that matter to the people of Australia. When it comes to matters of public importance, Labor has a clear policy plan to meet the challenges of the future, to keep our economy strong, to grow jobs, to ensure that the benefits of the mining boom are shared equally amongst the community, to support small businesses and to support the disabled and their families into the future. Our plan is affordable and it is costed and we are happy to have it independently scrutinised by the Parliamentary Budget Office or any other independent auditor of election costings. That is unlike those opposite who do not have a policy agenda, who cannot explain to the Australian people their policy on workplace relations and who cannot come into this place and clearly enunciate what their education policy will be. I have just mentioned some of the investments this government has made in better education facilities for students in rural and regional New South Wales. Australia-wide, the government has invested $16.2 billion in better education facilities through the Building the Education Revolution.

Those opposite cannot come into this place and enunciate what their policy plan will be on one of the most important areas of public policy in this country. They cannot tell us how they will deal with climate change; they consistently resort to a student-politics mentality of seeking to debate goings on in, and what is being backgrounded to, the media in this place. There is no greater example of that than the incompetence in their approach to fiscal policy. At the last election they refused to submit their election costings for independent scrutiny. When they did, they came up $11 billion short. When they had them independently audited, their accountants also came up short, and later on the accountants were fined for breaches of accounting standards. That pales into insignificance when it comes to what those opposite have planned for Australia. From the very little policy that has been leaked from the shadow cabinet meetings, we do know that they are planning $70 billion worth of cuts in services.

When we talk about matters of public importance there is no greater matter of importance to the public than the cuts those opposite have proposed to service delivery in this country. They should come in here and tell the Australian public what they are planning to do with the childcare rebate, an important support from government that helps families get by—particularly those in the early years of child rearing. They should tell us what it means to pensions when they talk about $70 billion worth of cuts to services. They should tell us what it means when we have a plan to increase superannuation and they are planning to cut $70 billion worth of services. They should tell us what it means when we are planning cuts to the company tax rate and they will not agree to those cuts.

We often get into vigorous debate in this place and we criticise each other about what is happening in our parties, but on the issues that really make a difference to the lives of Australians—the real matters of public importance—it is policy that matters to the Australian people. When it comes to policy and when it comes to comparing the different policy agendas of Labor and the coalition, the contrast is stark. We will always come to the conclusion that Labor is doing a good job when it comes to policy development.