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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4709

Mr BYRNE (Holt) (16:47): It is interesting to discuss the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012 in the context of the government's budget this year, which was delivered by our Treasurer. There has been much discussion about this budget. There seems to have been a collective amnesia about what transpired in our country over the past three years which has led in many respects to the way this budget has been framed.

On reflecting on my contribution to the debate today, I cast my mind back to what was actually occurring in 2008, because it does have a very profound bearing on the responsible budget that was delivered by our Treasurer. It is probably worth reminding those here and people more broadly about what was occurring. We basically had the collapse of, initially, the United States banking system, which then spread like a contagion throughout other countries, including and particularly in Europe. As I recall, during that period there was great uncertainty within the Australian community and concern, I might add, amongst governments around the world about whether the world financial system would hold up or collapse. There were banks in America that would not lend to each other; effectively, capital dried up in America and then almost throughout the world. As I understand it, on as many as three occasions during that turbulent period of time in 2008, policy makers, legislators and governments from countries around the globe were effectively looking at the collapse of the global financial system. Here we have escaped the ravages of that global recession, as has been discussed elsewhere. Let's look at what was occurring within Australia before the introduction of the—much-criticised by some—stimulus packages. We had a situation, for example, on a weekend in October where our government through its SPBC, Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee, had absolute evidence that, were we not going to introduce a bank guarantee, there was going to be a run on our banks. That evidence was not just anecdotal, it was evidentiary and it was conclusive, which led to the Australian government underpinning our banks with the bank guarantee—and it did.

I was actively speaking to people in my electorate who, had we not issued that guarantee on that weekend in October, were going to take enormous amounts of money out of their banks, and these were solid banks with triple A credit rating at that time—these were our four banks. These business people saw what was occurring globally and they were effectively reflecting that onto our existing banking system, notwithstanding the fact that it was underpinned by fundamentals. But at that stage when you are dealing with consumer confidence, you have to take measures that restore consumer confidence, so that bank guarantee was put in place and it actually stopped a run on the banks.

The second issue that we dealt with at that time from talking to a number of major employers around the area was that they were tremendously concerned about that consumer confidence and what was actually going to occur, which was major employers in my electorate were going to lay off workers. In fact, they were going to lay off thousands of workers. I would meet very regularly with groups of employers around the Dandenong region, major manufacturers and major retailers, and they would be effectively saying that the government needed to take action; we needed to spend money; we needed to stimulate the economy—and we did through two stimulus packages, and as a consequence of that we saved many thousands of jobs in the south-eastern area.

It is instructive to recall the background which led to these stimulus measures being taken, which have been very heavily criticised but in reality saved a lot of jobs in our region and delivered much-needed social infrastructure in our region as well. It is important to note that in that period of time, notwithstanding the global financial crisis and its potential impact on Australia, as a consequence of the actions that the government took we created over 300,000 jobs in this past year alone.

But one thing we should take note of, and the budget looks at, is that there are still 320,000 young people who are not in education, who are not in employment and who are not in training. In my electorate of Holt, which is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, there is an ever-increasing need to invest in education infrastructure to support the needs of families in our area. According to the statistics provided by our local council, the city of Casey, there are approximately 23,000 Casey residents attending primary school and 17,000 attending secondary school, which adds up to about 18.4 per cent of the Casey population. There are approximately 5,000 Casey residents attending university and an equivalent number attending TAFE.

Now as these statistics indicate, with a large population of young people in my electorate, it has been imperative for our government to invest in education infrastructure in the local area as well as supporting families coping with increasing educational costs. As I have said, in my electorate since 2007 we have delivered 101 educational projects at a cost of more than $129 million. We have seen the construction of new multipurpose halls, performing arts centres, trade training centres and improved sporting facilities at many schools in my electorate.

Before looking at how these projects have made a real difference—and they have made a very significant difference—to the local community, let us look at some of the other measures we have taken in terms of delivering further opportunities to people in our area and ameliorating some of the cost of living pressures that we know they are experiencing. For example, the $1,700 trades apprentice income bonus will be provided for up to 3,005 people in Holt to encourage them to complete critical trade qualifications. There are up to 8,700 families in Holt that could be eligible for the extra $4,200 per child for kids aged between 16 and 19 under the changes to the family tax benefit. With the educational tax refund, which is very important in terms of families in my area, we are increasing the government's investment by $460 million. In addition, payment advances of $1,000 will be provided to meet unexpected family expenses, which happens a lot particularly in areas like mine, and give parents the choice to receive child care support fortnightly.

There are other significant investments, one of which I was particularly proud of and that I think would be supported by those on the other side—that is, the $222 million to support the National School Chaplaincy Program. I presume that that is being supported. I think that is a much needed program that delivers essential support.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr BYRNE: I do not think we were dragged screaming. We have been a very strong advocate for some period of time. Many people and many schools in my area will be talking about this. I do not think we were dragged screaming; I think we were the ones that initiated it and guaranteed it in the forward estimates.

In terms of some of the local infrastructure effected by the stimulus spending, I was certainly proud earlier this year to attend the BER opening of a new multipurpose facility at the Southern Cross Primary School, which was established in 1983. At the opening I had the pleasure of recognising Principal Averil Nunn for her hard work in ensuring the project's success, having worked closely with parents and tradespeople to deliver this important project in Endeavour Hills. I was delighted to open this multipurpose facility and witness firsthand the impact that its construction had on the community and to hear of the many practical functions that the facility will be used for by this school and the broader community. One of the community programs the hall will be used for is the Community Culture Group. So the hall is providing facilities not only for the students but also for the broader community, which was the intention of these projects. The Community Culture Group aims to facilitate the integration of non-English speaking families through dinners, get-togethers and information sessions for up to 50 people. The group was established four years ago and it has grown so much that they now require a bigger space in which to meet. Prior to this group being formed the participants had limited contact in the community. The participants, most of them parents now, have real bonds within their community. The program has also been successful in bridging potential misunderstanding between cultures. It is a real chance for the participants to engage in the community.

Other programs that will be run at the facility include the Mindfulness Meditation Program, financial counselling and classes and parenting help sessions. Principal Averil Nunn has stated:

This project—

the BER project—

has opened the door for the community to strengthen ties and provide role-models to our community, showing that we understand and trust each other.

It is great to see how a new multipurpose facility at this school can have such a positive impact on our local community.

Another facility that I wish to talk about, and one which we certainly initiated, was the trade training centre, particularly the Hallam Valley Trade Training and Skills Hub, which will benefit seven local schools. The federal Labor government has committed $10 million to this project, which is part of Labor's economic plan to provide world-class job-ready training for our young secondary students across the region in traditional and emerging trades. The Hallam Valley Trade Training and Skills Hub is a cross-sectoral trade training centre that aims to provide high-level training in traditional and emerging trades for senior school students at Hallam Senior Secondary College, Fountain Gate Secondary College, Gleneagles Secondary College, Endeavour Hills Secondary College, Hampton Park Secondary College, Narre Warren South P-12 and St Johns Regional College.

The participants in the program will have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of vocational skills training whilst at the same time continue their studies for entry to university or higher education at their local secondary college. We know that our long-term prosperity is dependent on investing in a world-class training and education system and that is why we have made investments in projects like these. The feedback has been extremely positive with respect to this trade training facility and the demand for a facility of its type in this area. We want to give them opportunity. It is one of the great things that our previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said in the famous 2007 election campaign, where he spoke about a trade qualification being the equivalent of a university degree. I think this government has been putting its money where its mouth is with respect to that by providing an opportunity for our young people to go to these sorts of facilities. As I said, a lot of the genesis of the trade training centres came about from seeing the work that people in some of these schools had been doing and responding to their needs to provide those comprehensive facilities.

There is one more thing that I wish to discuss—another BER funded project: the River Gum Performing Arts Centre. During Education Week, which was last week, I had the pleasure of officially opening the River Gum Performing Arts Centre, which is located at the Hampton Park Secondary College.  This was funded through the BER and the National School Pride Program.

The performing arts centre is being constructed on the Hampton Park Secondary College site, and is a shared facility between River Gum Primary School and Hampton Park Secondary College. It is the first facility of its type in Hampton Park, allowing community use for events such as drama school, musicals and other performances. The project overcame some significant hurdles—particularly at the start, because it was not built on the site of the River Gum Primary School; it was actually built at the Hampton Park Secondary College. After extensive negotiations, the project was accepted—it was within the guidelines—much to the delight of the school members and the Hampton Park community and residents.

The principal of River Gum Primary School, Roma McKinnon, basically was thrilled with the opening, because it was the culmination of years of hard work and it is used not only by the students of River Gum Primary School and Hampton Park Secondary College but also by the community. We had Christmas Day performances, graduation ceremonies, and a 'movie with mum' event for Mother's Day this year.

This performing arts centre which had been discussed by many for some number of years came to fruition as a consequence of this federal government funding through the BER program. I was absolutely delighted to launch that facility.

These are just a few examples of the investment that the federal government has made in much-needed social infrastructure in this region—driven by the financial exigencies of the time, driven by the fact that we needed to be putting money into the system. These projects are magnificent projects. They are delivering the community what they want and what they need.