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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4669

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (10:48): I rise to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2011-2012 and strongly affirm the record of the Gillard government of responsible economic management. This is a budget that will positively benefit many individuals and families in my electorate. In addition to facing up to the overall challenges that are facing our national economy, steering the ship of state through the global financial crisis is a challenge in itself before we even consider the natural challenges presented to this government over the last six months in the form of the Queensland floods, tropical Cyclone Yasi and other natural disasters. As a Labor member of parliament, I believe that our economic health and good fortune needs to be shared by all Australians, but particularly those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. They need opportunities, including the opportunity to be employed, to have a fulfilling career, to receive and benefit from a quality education, to self-advance and to lead a fulfilling life. This is what this budget is all about. I welcome and rejoice in Labor's commitment to training that is a centrepiece of this budget.

My regional electorate will benefit from the $558 million National Workforce Development Fund designed to deliver 130,000 new training places over four years. Since being elected as the member for Robertson, I have been acutely aware of the need for more apprenticeships and traineeships on the Central Coast. Our area is clamouring for opportunities for our young people to get on the ladder of success and advance their lives. I have worked closely with organisations like Central Coast Group Training and Youth Connections, who are doing an amazing job in engaging and retaining apprentices and supporting them in their training.

The best way to support our youth is through a pathway to employment. At a recent presentation by the Central Coast Research Foundation, I was proud to hear it acknowledged and confirmed that Labor's nation-building stimulus had protected my region from what would have been catastrophic effects of the GFC. I barely needed to be told because every week I go to the opening of a new BER hall or classroom, and I meet the builders and architects who worked on these projects. I know how vital the stimulus was for the Central Coast. Our local economy is still standing, our local businesses are still operating and our local people are still working.

In the budget for 2011-12, we are setting the foundations for a stronger Central Coast by investing in our greatest resource—our people, particularly our young people. Improving educational outcomes for our youth is so crucial for the Central Coast. Increasing the number of apprentice and trainee positions on the Central Coast is a cornerstone of any positive future for our region. Since having been elected the member for Robertson, the member for the Central Coast, I have worked with Central Coast Group Training to achieve this. Last year, I wrote to several thousand local businesses on the Central Coast, encouraging them to participate in CCGT's apprentice drive. I am pleased to say that CCGT succeeded in targeting employers and 30 apprenticeships were found in 30 days. I know that CCGT will be continuing with its efforts to find apprenticeships for its young clients throughout the entire year. I am proud of the heavy emphasis on training in the budget because it will have such a positive impact on the Central Coast.

In addition to the National Workplace Development Fund, there is the $101 million national mentoring program to help 40,000 apprentices finish their training. It is vital that as a government we continually strive to improve completion rates for apprenticeships and traineeships. From an educational point of view, a learner's identity can change significantly on the journey from commencement of their training to the end of their training. What they believe about themselves, what they believe about the future—all these things can change.

In a climate where we have such carping negativity by those opposite in the public space, the impact on business sentiment and consumer confidence should not be underestimated. We have a great country; we have a great future. We survived the GFC. We more than survived it. We have actually benefited our country for a whole generation through the assets that have been gained by schools. Instead of acknowledging the positive achievement and success which I find celebrated at every school that I go to, we have carping negativity in the public space and a loss of confidence. This can be enough to dissuade an uncertain learner from continuing their journey. I would advocate that those opposite cease and desist from their negativity.

By supporting young people and enabling them to finish their training, we ensure that youth employment increases. In the longer term, we can ensure that employers are much more willing and able to make the commitment to take on an apprentice. These programs are vital in ensuring that we can address youth employment in addition to ensuring that we have the skilled workers for the future that we need. These issues are of vital economic importance. Despite the mindless negativity of those opposite, it was absolutely necessary that this government provided a comprehensive and effective stimulus in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The Reserve Bank Governor, Glenn Stevens, has stated that the size and speed of the government's fiscal response was one of the critical factors that supported private demand in the months succeeding the global financial crisis—leadership by a Labor government. Since these decisions were made, those opposite have criticised the stimulus measures on the basis of a wilfully misleading campaign that plays into fears and ignorance about government debt. These arguments are flawed and businesses are alive to the fact that they are getting a lot of misinformation from those opposite.

I am also pleased to observe, as many others have, that this budget will put Australia on track for a surplus in 2012-13. It is perhaps a little un-Australian to crow about success, but it is important to get this on the record. When we look around the world at the economic situation in so many countries following the global financial crisis, Australia has an outstanding outcome. Our Treasurer's actions are applauded at every convention where the GFC is being discussed. Australia's economy is being applauded. We in this country have an amazingly strong economy and we owe that to the quick and timely response of the Labor government, which acted on its belief that people need to have work. People need jobs. We continue that commitment to the Australian people in the budget this year.

The Building the Education Revolution program was particularly important on the Central Coast in ensuring that local jobs were retained, families kept their income and we maintained demand in our local economy. Additionally, I will always champion the most comprehensive modernisation of our schools in my lifetime. Since being elected the member for Robertson, I have yet to go to a school that was not appreciative of the BER funding. Indeed, I have highly valued the chance to visit schools to see how the BER has modernised facilities and opened students' sense of what is possible and opened teachers' sense of what is possible in learning as well.

A beautiful space in which to do our work as teachers is critical in building the capacity of our nation, but there are two prominent examples that spring to mind from my recent visits to Green Point Christian College and Chertsey Primary School. I went to Green Point Christian College just last Friday. It is an independent Christian school that through the BER initiative engaged in building a creative and performing arts centre. It was a wonderfully managed local project. In my discussion with the architect and those who participated in making sure the project was brought fully to completion—and in a very timely manner, I might add—the architect indicated how important this work was for him and his business. I heard a series of anecdotes from people who attended the opening day, explaining how trucks had been coming through. People had been moving the dirt. People had been bringing in supplies from local suppliers. There were 300 local people working in that context, bringing their money into the local economy, keeping the local newsagency operating, keeping a roof over their kids' heads, paying the mortgages. These are the things that matter to us as Labor members of this House, and this budget is about continuing to make sure Australians have the security of a strong economy. It was a privilege for me to be able to visit such a wonderful school and see our policy in action.

Another school I had the pleasure to visit, as I mentioned, was Chertsey Primary School. This is a model example of a school operating as a caring community centre. It operates on the basis that each child should receive the best possible opportunity, and this approach extends to its comprehensive and well-establish unit for autistic and deaf children plus its innovative after school care that links into the local community. This school was operating a unit for deaf children out of a 14-year-old demountable that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. They had great teachers and learning happens there, but there is such joy in the community because of the new facilities they have to work in. At the same time, they saw all of the utes pulling up each morning, all of the tradies getting in and doing their jobs. Those kids saw the work in that industry up close and personal. I think it might have been a little opportunity for a bit of work experience and an encouragement for lots of those young people to think about future work possibilities for themselves in the construction industry. As the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said, 'It takes a village to raise a child.' On the Central Coast we are a region, but we are still a collection of villages. Schools like Green Point Christian College and Chertsey Primary are empowered to do their work because of a Labor initiative. I completely endorse this government's commitment to prudent fiscal management in the aftermath of the stimulus package. The savings of $22 billion found in this budget are vital in ensuring that a return to surplus occurs.

Furthermore, these savings were made in a manner that ensured that the most vulnerable in our society were not unduly burdened. In managing the macro-economy, however, we need to acknowledge that the negative impact of inflation and interest rates on families is very real. Also, it impacts significantly on retirees on fixed incomes. Because we understand that and because we do genuinely understand families and retirees, who are such a part of the Central Coast seat that I represent, it is for these reasons that prudent and effective fiscal policy is absolutely needed to ensure that government spending does not lead to increased inflation. Issues of inflation are particularly important in my electorate, which contains such a high proportion of retirees, many of whom have moved from metropolitan Sydney. I therefore strongly support this government's commitment to returning the budget to surplus.

I also endorse this government's commitment to making a lasting difference in the area of mental health. For too long the area of mental health has been overlooked by state and commonwealth governments. I welcome the commitment by the Treasurer to make room in this tight, responsible budget to commit $1.5 billion in new initiatives, as part of a $2.2 billion package to deliver better care for mental health.

Recently, I visited headspace in Gosford, on the Central Coast. It is an organisation whose mission it is to reduce the burden of mental illness in young people, aged 12 to 25. I saw firsthand the immense positive benefits of early intervention in addressing mental health issues in our youth. Also, by visiting headspace Central Coast, I observed the importance of treating mental health in a very compassionate and easily accessible manner, which was directed at youth.

The Gosford centre is the second busiest in Australia, seeing around 150 clients per month, which just goes to show how critical this service is for our community. I met an amazing girl Melanie— whom I happened to meet a couple of days later at the citizenship ceremony; I think her mum was becoming an Australian citizen—and her life has been transformed by headspace. She is now a passionate supporter of the program. I was moved by her uplifting success story. The support she received from headspace, when she was just 15 years old, was a powerful change agent in her life. Melanie took herself along to headspace, and it was touching to hear just how effective headspace was for her in removing the stigma around mental health issues. I am pleased to say that, through the support she received there, she returned to school. Because of this budget and our investment in education and training we have great stories for our young people in the future of this country.

I am delighted that the government has recognised the importance of early intervention in addressing mental health issues in young people. Specifically, I also support the government's commitment to invest a further $419 million in headspace and early psychosis prevention.

I appreciate that the government was able to make this commitment in a tight and well-disciplined budget. I am also delighted that the government will deliver almost $2 million to three local disability organisations: Fairhaven, Lasercraft and Terama Industries.

As a member of parliament, representing a regional electorate, I strongly support the rollout of the National Broadband Network. I have been campaigning with my federal colleague the member for Dobell. The National Broadband Network represents an equalisation of telecommunications.

There are so many things in this budget for the coast and I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)