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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4728

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (18:15): It is always good to follow the member for Forrest. It is interesting that at the commencement of her speech she raised the idea of thought bubbles. Unfortunately for the people of Australia, the opposition are incapable of thinking or having any thoughts at all that will lead to constructive policies. I understand that she could be quite anxious about the fact that we are constantly thinking and revising and looking at policies that will benefit Australia, and bringing down budgets like the budget we have before us, because her side of this parliament are unable to come up with any ideas. All they can do is be negative. The member for Forrest also mentioned interest rates, and I would like to just remind her that, up to the time the Howard government was defeated, there had been a long series of interest rate rises. Interest rates were going one way, and that was up. It was only when Labor came to power that interest rates started to go down. I am sure the member for Forrest appreciates me pointing that out to her!

This is a good budget and I commend it to the House. I have been contacted by people in my electorate and people that I work with who deliver services to the community, and one of them was very excited about the budget. He said it was a great budget and 'one that will really help our area'. He is involved in the area of employment, and I will touch on that little bit further on in my contribution to this debate.

This is a budget that is in line with the government's plan to bring Australia back into the black by 2012. It is a budget for the future, one that tackles the hard problems and does not ignore them or blame someone else for them. For years we have had a skills shortage in Australia, and this budget is designed to address that issue, not just push it aside and hope it goes away and then blame somebody else for it—for example, blame employers for not training apprentices. The coalition blame anyone they get in their sights. This government is about addressing that skills shortage, about working for the future and about making sure that Australia is in a sound position as it moves through the 21st century.

This approach is in stark contrast with that of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer. I was exceptionally disappointed by the budget response from the Leader of the Opposition. I would have to say it was not a budget response. There was nothing outlined in it. There was no vision. It was very negative. The only commitment he made was to take away from the bottom line of the budget and put a little bit of money into some of his pet areas. If we take that as the opposition's blueprint for the future, we should be very, very worried. There was no vision, just negative attacks and taking money away from the bottom line—as opposed to the budget that was delivered by the Treasurer, moving towards bringing Australia back into the black by 2012. It is interesting when I hear the opposition talking about taxing because, as the member for Dobell said, what government was the highest taxing government in not the last decade, not the last two decades but in Australia's history? And not once, not twice, not three times but four times the Howard government was accorded that prize as the highest taxing government in Australia's history.

Now we have the Leader of the Opposition, a man that is negative and that puts out misinformation. His only solution to the problem is an election and saying to the Australian people, 'Elect me, elect me, I want to be in the Lodge.' We have the problems between the Leader of the Opposition and his shadow Treasurer. It is quite a worry for the Australian people that we have a situation where we have a dysfunctional opposition that cannot give the Australian people anything positive, that cannot give them a view for the future but rather just gets out there giving negative messages and misinformation. I think the Leader of the Opposition works on the principle that if you say things often enough people are going to believe what you say, no matter how outlandish it is or how incorrect it is.

The government steered Australia through the global financial crisis. In the Shortland electorate a number of schools benefited from the investment that the government made in schools. I think in excess of $85 million went into my local schools. But it did not end with the investment in the schools. I have had a number of building companies and tradespeople come into my office and say that if it wasn't for the government's initiative and stimulus package they would have had to close down. Many of these people were not Labor voters. They were straightforward with me and said, 'I am not a Labor voter, but this helped me to survive.' This is once again in stark contrast to what the opposition would have done.

There is going to be an ongoing investment in more MRI machines. We will not see any repeat of the MRI scan scam that happened under the Howard government in the time of Dr Wooldridge. In actual fact, cscan, a group within the Shortland electorate has been given a partial MRI scan, and the Martyr hospital in the Hunter has also benefited under this investment. These will come into effect in November 2012.

This budget is about families; it is about jobs; it is about our seniors; and it is about delivering ground-breaking mental health services. That is something that is vital for our Australian communities. This budget has delivered an increase in family tax benefit A for older teenagers. That benefit has gone up by $4,208 a year, which is an extra $121 a fortnight. That is delivering to families with students who are 16 to 18, a time when they incur a lot more costs than they do in their younger years. So that is a really good initiative in this budget. There is an extension of the education tax refund to cover school uniforms, which once again is a great initiative that will help struggling families. It is an initiative we promised to deliver in the lead-up to the last election. There is $53 million to improve access to dental health. That will train more dentists in our public hospital and have an intern system that will really skill up a new generation of dentists and put in place a system to ensure that all Australians have access to good quality dental care. And, as I mentioned, there is a $2 billion package for mental health services. Prior to becoming a member of Parliament I worked in rehabilitation and did work with people that were involved in the mental health system. I know that for a very long period of time there has not been enough support. This program will put in place mentors, it will put in place programs that will develop living skills. The aim of it is to move people from being dysfunctional within the community with no support to actually finally being able to participate in employment. So the mentors and the services will help them develop the living skills and get the vocational training to be able to enter the workforce and live a more fulfilling life. The $20 million that is going to support school students with disabilities is really needed because there is an increasing number of young people that have disabilities and we need to recognise that and put in place support for those students.

Some of the really important initiatives in this year's budget were the initiatives surrounding employment. There has been a greater commitment to apprentices with $100 million for a national mentoring program, $100 million investment in a more flexible training model for apprentices. That is something that has been asked for by apprentices and employers for a very long period of time. The tax-free bonus for eligible apprentices who reach their key milestones in their training is also something that will encourage more apprentices to train. There is $281 million for additional incentives to help apprentices train. There are plans to reform and update vocational education and training.

In the Shortland electorate, as the member for Dobell also mentioned, there is a cluster of high schools that are working together with trade training centres and the Australian Technical College. The government has put money into that. Previously under the Howard government there was a plan that never came to fruition to put in place an Australian technical college on the southern part of the Central Coast. It would have done nothing to benefit the young people in Shortland electorate. In the northern part of Wyong Shire is the area where there is the highest level of youth unemployment. It is an area where young people have trouble with transport. By putting the facilities in the local high schools, training the teachers, having tradespeople actually working in those schools, it has been so beneficial for the students in that part of my electorate.

The other initiative that is very important which the member for Dobell referred to is that Wyong Shire is one of 10 regions to share in the $304 million that has been allocated to train long-term unemployed. I see the member for Throsby in the chamber and I note that his area has also been identified as one of those areas. It is an area where long-term unemployed will get special assistance in case management and their needs will be looked at. It is all about people that have been unemployed for a very long period of time, and maybe even their parents or their grandparents were unemployed, giving them the skills and training that they need to actually get jobs. As somebody who comes from an employment background, I know how important it is to address those issues on the ground and address them now. The investment and the ongoing viability of the NBN is very important to the people I represent in this parliament. I must also mention that the funding allocation to the Active After-school Communities program is vitally important, particularly in those areas of the electorate that are disadvantaged.

No matter where I look in this budget I can find things that are really good for the people I represent in this parliament. It is a good budget. It is a Labor budget. It is about inclusiveness, community and every group within our community. Businesses, individuals, seniors and families have all been taken into account in the budget. I commend the budget to the House.