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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4699

Mr SECKER (BarkerOpposition Whip) (16:01): Mr Deputy Speaker, As a long-term friend and one who came into parliament with you, it is very much a pleasure to appear before you this afternoon.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Thank you

Mr SECKER: You may not like what I have to say though, Mr Deputy Speaker, which is understandable, because I believe that on budget night the Labor government delivered a budget with a blowout of $50 billion. Before budget night, this Gillard government talked about surpluses. However, this government now has a net debt of $107 billion; and Labor has certainly got form on that.

It is very interesting that not a lot of people in Australia realise that the government is actually borrowing $135 million per day. The interest on Labor's debt will be about $7 billion a year. That is $7 billion a year is unfortunately going to banks. It is not going to services, it is not going out there to provide infrastructure; it is just debt that is lost to the Australian people. Think of all the worthy projects that could be funded by the money wasted on those interest payments alone. For just over $1 million this government could fund three regional hospitals that are facing closure in South Australia. If you have not already heard, the South Australian Labor government has cut funding to Keith, Ardrossan and Moonta hospitals. If the Keith hospital closes its doors the next closest hospitals will be Bordertown, about 50 kilometres away; Naracoorte, 100 kilometres away; or Murray Bridge, 170 kilometres away.

On top of forcing residents to attend already overbooked hospitals, this will leave a large stretch of notoriously dangerous highways without a hospital—180 kilometres of the the Dukes Highway and 240 kilometres of the Riddoch Highway. To understand how important the Keith Hospital is to that local community, if you lose your hospital your community starts dying. It is that important.

On 1 February this year I introduced the motion that called on the federal government to fund these three hospitals and reduce the state government's national health care specific purpose payments by the amount that these three hospitals will be directly funded. It is very interesting. Even doing it that way will not cost the federal taxpayer one cent. What it will say to the state government is: you have made a bad decision and you need to fix it up; if you are not prepared to do that we will do it ourselves.

Despite the government letting the motion pass on the voices without dissent, three months on, the hospital has received no help from federal or state Labor. Yet two weeks ago we saw a budget that had a $50 billion blow-out. It just does not make sense. Ten years ago the state government was funding Keith hospital to the amount of 35 per cent of its total costs and the other 65 per cent was funded by the Keith community—unlike other community hospitals, which are 100 per cent funded by the taxpayer. Over 10 years this figure has been whittled down to about 25 per cent of total costs, with 75 per cent funded by the community. That was already unsustainable when the state government announced it would cut funding further, by a whopping 60 per cent, meaning the state government was going to fund the Keith hospital only to about 10 per cent of its total costs, compared to 100 per cent for other community hospitals.

This is silo economics at its worst. It is looking only at the savings and not at the costs. The costs will actually end up being five times more than the so-called savings. Yes, members, it will cost the federal and state governments at least five times what the state government thinks they are going to save. This is a hospital that has received over $1 million in capital infrastructure funding from both the Howard government and the Rudd government in recent years, firstly for aged-care infrastructure and then for the doctors surgery. But that will be totally wasted because the aged-care facility of 18 beds will close if something is not done and the doctors surgery will close because the patients will go elsewhere. The St John Ambulance volunteering service will close, and the state will be forced to put in a paid service 24 hours a day on one of the busiest highways—if not the busiest—in South Australia, which is well known for its accidents. They will have to travel further distances.

Between federal and state Labor governments, regional South Australia is slowly being ripped apart. Down in the south-east of my electorate the timber industry is feeling the pain of the Labor Party's sting. The south-east of the state, and my electorate, are built on the timber industry—that is, they were before the state Labor government decided it could sell the forestry assets to refill its coffers. To sell three rotations of forestry, 100 years of forestry, is like selling the family silver and not being able to use that silver for 100 years. It is a mindless decision by the state government, who have overspent because they are following Labor federally. The community has been depressed since the state government announced it would proceed with a forward sale of forestry assets. The region wants to expand and grow the industry. The state Treasurer cannot guarantee that jobs will not be lost as a result of the sale. It really is a sad situation to see the community in. The funds from the sale will, more than likely, be used to prop up the state government after its spendathon in the city. Like most Labor governments, they are citycentric.

Another issue in the south-east—and all over my electorate, for that matter—is youth allowance. Yesterday the Prime Minister and Minister Evans made an announcement on youth allowance. The minister and the Prime Minister think they have done a good job of youth allowance. Both were pleased with their efforts. I am certainly not so convinced, because I have spoken to students and parents who are concerned about Labor's changes. The coalition has been pushing for the government to make the criteria fairer. The maps currently used are ridiculous and do not reflect the difficulties that students from some areas have in getting to university. For example, at Mount Gambier the closest universities are in Melbourne or Adelaide, both about 350 kilometres away. Obviously, you cannot drive there and back every day to go to university—you have to leave home to attend university. But if you live inside the city boundaries you are treated differently than if you live across the road outside the boundaries. We have this really ridiculous set-up, not based on educational criteria but on medical criteria—nothing to do with education, but on medical criteria. So, we have this really ridiculous set-up of two classes of student depending on where you live in the country.

The government has agreed to bring forward a review of the payments to deal with this issue but this is not enough. The answer is simple: the government must commit to changing this unfair legislation so that all students can have equal access to further study. This is not a new issue. Labor cannot plead ignorance about this one. I have spoken in support of regional students many times in this place.

Also down in the south-east is Millicent, a town with a little over 5,000 people. About 700 of those are employed in the Kimberly-Clark factory. The factory uses a lot of our wood products that I spoke about earlier. It produces tissues, toilet paper and that sort of thing. The mill is currently winding down production, which will ultimately result in job losses, because the Labor government has let dumping occur in Australia.

Mr Champion interjecting

Mr SECKER: Labor commissioned a report into dumping in Australia and Nick Champion, the member for Wakefield, knows all about this—in fact, he knows very little about this. The Productivity Commission report, commissioned by your government member for Wakefield, said that there were other countries dumping a quite extensive amount of tissue and toilet paper in Australia, at up to 60 per cent below the cost of production. Under any ordinary WTO rules and regulations, we would be entitled, because the product has been dumped at less than the cost of production, to protect our industry from that unfair dumping with a tariff. But what did this government do? Absolutely nothing.

Mr Champion interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): The member for Wakefield will desist from interjecting.

Mr SECKER: All of the carping and interjecting from the member for Wakefield will not belie the fact that this government did absolutely nothing. It is very interesting that the member for Wakefield suggested that Kimberly-Clark has not invested very much down there. He should actually go and visit the factory because it has world-class production there now. To suggest and deride Kimberly-Clark, saying that they had not invested in the future of their company, is just absolute poppycock. You should go and see the situation before you make stupid comments and make a bigger fool of yourself than you already have.

Mr Champion interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Wakefield will desist from interjecting. He knows it is disorderly.

Mr SECKER: But the Labor government did not take any action. The local community was hugely concerned about the job losses and the effect that it would have on this small country town of Millicent that relies on this mill. The Gillard government was not interested at all in hearing about the Millicent community's concerns, which were evident, because it took no action then and has not taken any action since.

Instead, the Labor government has offered a patch-up solution. This is simply not good enough. Last week the Labor government announced that the budget would contain an initiative to support workers at the Kimberly-Clark mill. Labor has called it the South East South Australia Innovation and Investment Fund. The government says it will provide $10 million over two years together with $7 million from the state government and that the fund will focus on manufacturing and manufacturing services to help create new sustainable jobs and opportunities for the region.

I am hugely concerned that this funding is a patch-up job. This funding would not have been needed if the government had done its job in the first place. If the Labor government had taken measures to protect Australian industries like Kimberly-Clark, that employ so many people, then the community would not be dealing with such a huge loss of jobs and this extra funding would not be needed. In this budget the government spoke about extra funding for roads in South Australia. As a member for a large electorate, I have a lot of roads, as you would imagine, and I always support funding initiatives that make our roads safer. Labor announced $2 million in funding for the Dukes Highway, which is the gateway from Victoria right up to Adelaide. It also links to the Riddoch Highway that heads down to the south-east and Mt Gambier—very important areas. Guess what? At the corner of those two highways is the Keith Hospital that I spoke about earlier. At the 2010 election the coalition announced $10 billion to duplicate the highway from the Victorian border all the way to Adelaide—not $80 million, as this Labor government crowed about.

This is a very important and necessary upgrade of a dangerous highway. So when Labor announced funding for the Dukes Highway in this year's budget I am sure you can understand why many people's ears perked up, including mine. However, when I looked into the detail, as you must do with this government because the truth is in the detail, I found that this funding announcement was not a new one. In fact, when I looked into it further I found it was another re-announcement, so much so that the work that was funded through this program announced in the budget has already been commenced and nearly completed on the Dukes Highway. It was actually announced two years ago. So it was a re-announcement; it was not new money. The Labor government has failed regional Australia once again.

It would seem that this Labor government has a habit of rebadging funding. There was a substantial amount of funding in this budget that was no more than re-announcements. Last week the Gillard government pledged $118 million towards the Lower Lakes and Coorong. I understand how important the Lower Lakes and Coorong are—both are in my electorate. The Murray-Darling system is the lifeblood for so many communities across the country, and at the end of the system are the Lower Lakes. (Time expired)