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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4706


Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (16:32): We heard an extraordinary set of words from the Treasurer in question time today. I know he has been a bit rattled and is a bit nervous these days, but it was really quite an extraordinary comment. He said, 'Business employs a lot of people.' Well, you have got to be Sherlock to get that one, don't you—that business employs a lot of people! He might need a few other economics lessons as well. It is actually the real world out there that creates wealth and creates income. As governments, we do not do that. Governments and parliaments do not create wealth. Those members of parliament who get the opportunity to form government actually take money away from the businesses who employ people and redistribute it. They are the wealth creators—the real world out there and the business community. So thank you, Treasurer, for stating the obvious, that business employs a lot of people. But what you are doing in your budget and with your carbon tax is ensuring that business employs a hell of a lot fewer people.

Do not believe the coalition; do not believe me—all you need to do is visit manufacturing hubs right around the country. Go from one end of Australia to the other, to a small or medium sized family firm, a successful firm that is innovative, that has evolved, that competes, that works on a very small margin. Ask them whether they will be able to employ a lot of people when your carbon tax comes in. Ask a large steel fabricator whether they will be employing a lot of people when the carbon tax comes in. You know what? They will tell you that they will not. They will tell you that they do not live in a protected economic environment. They will be priced out of the market by imports that do not have a carbon tax imposed on them. So this is a tax on Australian innovation and on Australian business and it will not reduce emissions. By sending them to less efficient countries, by sending manufacturing to countries that do not have the same environmental laws as we do, what will happen is that we will actually increase emissions. This genius of a Treasurer, who admitted today that business employs a lot of people, is doing his damnedest as part of the minority Gillard government that is beholden to Bob Brown and to those loopy people who occupy those Green spots in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, and is beholden to their less than mainstream approach, shall I say, to job creation in this country.

We knew that the Treasurer was in trouble on budget night. In the over nine years it is now that I have had the privilege of representing the people of Indi in the House of Representatives, there is one thing I have seen on budget night. That is the Treasurer's own colleagues, at the conclusion of the budget speech, applauding him. They applaud him, go up to him, pat him on the back, give him a hug and some of them give him a kiss. Guess what was missing from this year's budget: there was no applause. The galleries were empty, the Labor backbench was rather morose and you knew that poor old Swanny was in for a very difficult time. Perhaps the problem is that he is out of his depth. He is out of his depth if he has only just realised that business employs a lot of people. He is out of his depth in delivering a budget that will enable Australians to be innovative, to build businesses and to take this nation to even higher living standards and greater employment.

It is quite fascinating that, for a government so obsessed with spin and symbolic gestures, they failed on this occasion with that very symbolic gesture—that is, giving poor old Swanny a clap and a pat on the back.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Indi will refer to members by their title or the electoral division they represent in this place.

Mrs MIRABELLA: Yes, I will do so. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It was an admission of course that the back bench and, indeed, the front bench do not harbour confidence in the Treasurer that the Labor Party have appointed. I am sure they can do better, and I am sure there are discussions about how they can do better and about who is the best possible option amongst their ranks to take over the position.

What was heartening was the fact that there is a glimmer of hope for the Australian people—that, in that silent protest without the clapping and the pat on the back, just perhaps there was a reflection of the protest out there in the community against the carbon tax and against the direction the government is taking this country. I know there are good people on the other side who care about their communities, who care about employment and who care about financial security for families in their electorates. They know that the path on which this Treasurer and this Prime Minister are taking the country will damage, sometimes irreparably, some of these industries and will cause severe financial anxiety and crisis for families who work in manufacturing and who lose their job. It is a time for those members to have their voices heard.

The ego of one member of parliament, even if they are the Prime Minister, should not override the considerations and concerns, and in fact the responsibility that we have, that we make the best possible decisions. People trust us. They do not think that their governments would willingly make decisions and enact laws that would damage their country. They still like to believe that a government will make laws that will improve this nation, that will improve our way of life and our standard of living and that will unlock to a greater extent the potential that we have. What they are seeing is a government that is deliberately, wilfully, recklessly, negligently going on a path that it knows will destroy jobs and industries in this country for the sake of one person's political ego. It is very difficult to see a situation where the current Prime Minister, having had a very successful go at backstabbing and frontstabbing the former Prime Minister to have his job, will have the courage to say she got it wrong as well.

So it is against this background of great anxiety and concern and increased costs of living across the board in this great nation of ours that we contemplate the budget and the issues raised in it. We see normal, ordinary Australian families paying the price. Make no mistake: for every budget blow-out, there is an equal cut somewhere else. In last year's budget, Labor's asylum budget blew out by a massive $1.75 billion, or a 240 per cent increase on last year's estimate. Interestingly, there has been a $2 billion cut to family assistance payments by way of a freeze of the indexation of the family tax benefits for three years. What this means is that a quarter of a million families will be worse off. Even families struggling to make ends meet on incomes of $45,000 will be hit. This is a boat tax on Australian families. Why? Again, because of the Prime Minister's vanity and inability to say she got it wrong; that maybe other political parties—other governments of different hues—have good ideas; that Nauru was in fact a good option and a good idea; and that she might perhaps pick up the phone to Nauru. But no: her political vanity will not let her do that, and history will judge her for that.

In a desperate attempt to deliver a tiny surplus in 2012-13, the Labor government need to offset any cost blow-outs with equal or larger cuts elsewhere. With their absolute failure to provide basic competence in the protection of our borders, we are now seeing this impact on Australian families. From a practical perspective, what this means is that the rising cost of living will hit families even worse.

Labor like to claim that they are making record investments in regional Australia, and as a member who represents a rural and regional area I take a keen interest in policies and grants that purport to assist electorates like mine. But this budget actually tells a very different story. Far from increasing new investment, they have actually cut regional funding by a whopping $500 million. This budget proves that the government's so-called commitment to regional Australia is nothing but some more spin. Just two months ago, the Minister for Regional Development, Regional Australia and Local Government promised $1 billion for the Regional Development Australia Fund, but the budget papers show that just $150 million of this fund will be spent before the next election. We have seen $350 million cut from the Priority Regional Infrastructure Program; $100 million cut from the Building Better Regional Cities program; and $50 million redirected from the Regional Development Australia Fund for projects in the seat of Lyne. When the Labor Party talk about delivering for regional Australia, this is actually code, because what they really mean is that they are delivering ransom money to those who have kept them in power.

Another major announcement in this budget was funding for mental health. The coalition are extremely proud that we have shamed the government into acting in this very important area and are pleased to see some new money directed towards mental health. But, as the member for Sturt has pointed out, the actual investment is not quite the $2.2 billion that the government would have you think they have invested. In fact, there is only $583 million worth of new money. While we on this side of the House are pleased to see the government actually start to take notice of this very important issue that causes great for so many communities and families, I know that many of these families and communities feel let down.

In slashing the MBS patient rebate for GP mental health plans to help fund the mental health package, the government has devalued the role of the family doctor, which effectively means people will now have to pay more to see their family doctor for vital mental health care advice and referrals. Again, this is policy on the run, robbing Peter to pay Paul, rather than long-term planning or ideas about how to deal with this insidious problem of mental health in our community. So, whilst we do welcome some extra funding here, there is more to be done.

It should be remembered that during the time of the Howard government it was Tony Abbott, as Minister for Health and Ageing, who extended Medicare to psychologists and social workers in a package worth $1.9 billion. Also, we took a $1.5 billion mental health package to the last election that represented a very real boost of new funding—not repackaged money cut from elsewhere but new funding. So we have a genuine record on this and a genuine commitment going into the future.

An issue close to home in my electorate is communication black-spot funding. I share the disappointment of my constituents in north-east Victoria who are frustrated by poor mobile phone, radio and television coverage. It is quite clear that basic communication issues are nowhere near the government's radar. The obsessive focus on a gold-plated, overpriced NBN has meant there is no money available to address critical deficiencies across many parts of rural and regional Australia, particularly in bushfire and disaster prone areas.

Whilst I welcome Minister Burke's investment of $845 million in this budget towards irrigation infrastructure, I will watch very carefully to see if this is actually invested. The Howard government set aside $5.7 billion and to date we have only seen around $500 million of that being invested in irrigation infrastructure.