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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5393

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (16:55): I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-11. Once again we are seeing a typical old-fashioned Labor budget. It is big on taxes and big on spending, but fails to help households battling higher costs of living. That is before we even get to a carbon tax. This government has abandoned its citizens, who are struggling to make ends meet because of spiralling prices for petrol, electricity and gas, groceries, health costs and home repayments. Beyond that, this dull and unimaginative document will only be remembered for its hit on middle Australia.

In this budget this government could only scrape together $2.7 billion in savings over five years while the total spending will amount $1.9 trillion. That is the equivalent of 14c in every $100. The majority of those savings will not even come until 2014-15. Bear in mind that around one-third of Labor's so-called savings are really taxes—some savings! Under this government this year's budget deficit will rise to $49.4 billion and the forecast deficit for 2011-12 has blown out by $10.3 billion to $22.6 billion. Net government debt has climbed to $107 billion in 2011-12 and is forecast to remain over $100 billion right through the forward estimates. The previous speaker said that it is marvellous that we will have the budget in the black. Having the budget in the black is just part of the equation; the other part is getting rid of the debt of $100 billion.

This year's budget confirms how out of touch Labor is with Australian families because it has done nothing to help them cope with increasing costs of living. Let us be clear here: out-of-control costs force families to try to cope with half-baked Labor policies such as the home insulation scheme, cost blow-outs with school halls, $1.7 billion in failed border protection policies and so on. A Galaxy poll conducted by the Courier Mailas recently as 30 May shows a whopping 70 per cent of Queenslanders have completely lost faith in the ability of the state and federal Labor governments to spend their money prudently. Some of the failed schemes include $20 million for Fuelwatch, dumped; $13 million for GroceryWatch, dumped; and the scandalous $2.5 billion blow-out in the insulation scheme, now dumped. I had a lady on the phone this afternoon from Howard who is still waiting to get her roof fixed because the insulation was not put in properly 12 months ago. Add to that the Queensland government's inability to get health and payroll systems right and its bloody-minded resolve to sell off public assets and it is little wonder that Queenslanders have had a complete gut-full of the Labor Party. At the local level last week, 25 May, the Bundaberg NewsMail carried a report of locals going without food, not using their stoves and favouring blankets over heaters to combat skyrocketing power prices, especially during the winter months. It is frightening that that could go on in Australia.

Can anyone from the government explain to Kim Ross, a disability pensioner in my electorate, why she should have to sell many of her prized possessions to try to make ends meet? Can anyone from the government suggest to me how the Salvation Army's Tom Quinn Community Centre, which does remarkable work, can continue to hand out welfare to locals when they have already handed out $90,000 in assistance this year compared with $44,000 for the same period last year? These are the sorts of scenarios that are playing out in regional Australia and this government is doing nothing to help. By way of an aside, how could anyone contemplate a carbon tax against a background of community suffering like this. It just defies rational explanation.

I want to touch on a few important local projects that the coalition backed at the last election and that Labor has ignored. This year's budget overlooked every single one of these projects. At the last election I could not get my opponent to even match me on obvious things that are required in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. The first is the Fraser Coast’s much admired youth mentoring program, the Triple S program, which requires around $600,000 over three years. The volunteers working on the Triple S program keep disconnected local youth connected with education and keep them in the loop so that they are not removed from school and other disciplinary regimes, but are treated in a much more innovative way. The program had to cease because of a lack of funding from the Commonwealth, and it is yet to be reinstated. I have spoken to the Attorney-General and he has been very sympathetic, but action is needed urgently. I note by way of passing that in the electorate of New England—and I applaud this—a similar scheme was recently granted $1.5 million.

Secondly, fixing the mouth of the Elliott River, which is just south of Bundaberg, is one project that appeals to me. It has been silting up for some time. For me it is one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the Bundaberg region and it is also a public safety issue as navigating the entrance to the river is becoming dangerous. Clearing the mouth of the river will be a big task, and it is one that the coalition was ready to get stuck into with a $2 million commitment to get the job done. Yet, it has been put on the backburner by the current government.

The coalition was also prepared to spend $100,000 to investigate a new bridge on the Burrum River, which would create a more direct link between the coastal communities in Hinkler as well as a new and direct tourist route. At a time when business is so low, tourism really needs assistance.

Mr Perrett: Is Campbell committed to that?

Mr NEVILLE: I am sure I will get a much more proactive hearing from him than I have had so far from the federal minister. Not only did Labor's candidate at the last election ignore this project but it has been ignored in this year's budget as well.

I will now deal with the financial support for building a performing arts centre at the Urangan State High School. This was missing from the budget despite the fact that I had former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese briefed onsite on this project. The facility would be stage 1 of a planned sporting and cultural complex for the school and it would be an asset for students from across the region, as well as the community at large. And let me say that these are some of the most talented kids I have seen in my life. Their music, dance and acting is exceptional. I ask why we have to have these schools of excellence only in the capital cities? Why wouldn't we have one in a place like Hervey Bay and why wouldn't we have one at Urangan High School? An amount of $3 million or $4 million for something like this, with a Commonwealth contribution, is not a big ask when you see the sort of money that was wasted on some of the assembly halls in the BER scheme. But the real sticking point around the region is the government's failure to fund upgrades to the Bruce Highway, and that was the big failure during the recent floods. Under Labor our nation's finances are in such poor shape that the Gillard government's 2011-12 budget was not even able to provide any new money for the Bruce Highway. The only announcements of any significance were reinstatements of previously deferred projects. Even at the local level the government has failed to invest in vital road upgrades that are needed by the sorts of communities I represent.

At the last election, the coalition recognised the need to improve the road network around Hervey Bay. This is one of Australia's fastest growing communities, where infrastructure gets ahead of the ability of the council to pay. It is a typical example of where state and federal governments need to give some assistance. Ten million dollars was on the table from the coalition for three important road projects. Once again, Labor failed to match that commitment. Completing River Heads Road and Old Toogoom Road as well as building the Urraween to Boundary Road extension—that is, the fourth corridor through Hervey Bay—are priorities for the local community. The Fraser Coast Regional Council has them factored into its 10-year capital program. A rapidly growing community like Hervey Bay faces unique infrastructure pressures. Those problems have to be fixed if we are going to improve the efficiency and safety of local roads and ease the burden on ratepayers. I want to see those road upgrades funded as soon as possible. It is extremely disappointing to see those communities missing out under this government

On a happier note, I do thank the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, for providing $47 million for the expansion of the St Stephen's Hospital at Hervey Bay. The government have been well aware of my calls for this project to be funded. I am pleased that they have come on board by providing funding under round 3 of the Health and Hospitals Fund program. It was a very generous grant.

Hervey Bay's distinct demographic profile made it a strong candidate for funding The city and its surrounds are inhabited mainly by older residents and younger families, which means there is a greater demand for medical and hospital services than is experienced in other regional centres. The lack of a comprehensive private hospital facility in the city has added to the strain on the region's existing public health services. So the new inpatient facility in Hervey Bay will not only ease the pressure on the public hospital, which at times has occupancies of over 100 per cent, but also provide easier access to high-quality care and choice for people throughout the region.

So I acknowledge the benefits of this support, but I temper my praise by pointing out to the minister that the government is still pursuing its agenda to slash private health insurance. One way or another, 53,000 people in the Hinkler electorate will be hurt under this plan. The realities of life dictate that if you hit millions of Australians with increased premiums many of those people will dump their insurance, leaving the remaining policyholders with much higher premiums. Of course, the people who have abandoned private health insurance have to rely on the public system, so the dog will continue to chase its tail. The overstretched state hospital regime is slowly crawling out of its difficulties, but Hervey Bay will go back into them again. It really is a sad reflection on the government and its lack of foresight.

Many of those in my electorate who do the right thing by contributing extra money to cover their own health needs—and I include among these pensioners and others who earn less than $50,000 a year, some of them self-funded retirees—are the ones who will really suffer. Along with the middle income earners losing their rebates, the even more vulnerable lower income Australians will suffer through higher premiums. They are the ones who will suffer under this government's lack of planning. Let us not kid ourselves, as the government often does, that somehow only the rich will be affected. All—and I stress all—subscribers, and the private health insurance industry itself, will be affected.

Mr Perrett: They are heading north.

Mr NEVILLE: They are heading north—it is very true. Premiums are heading north. Because the coalition worked on it for 11 years they were going down.

Finally, I speak briefly on mental health. The majority of funding will only become available in five years time, which will be close to the end of the next term of this government if it survives. In addition, hidden in the detail of the budget is $580 million cut in mental health programs coordinated by GPs. Next financial year, the government says it will provide $47.3 million in new funding for mental health. But it will cut $62.8 million from existing programs—when the cuts are taken into account, it turns out that Labor will only provide $583 million in new funding over the forward estimates. That is about a third of what the coalition is promising. This was not a good budget. It was dull, it was unimaginative, it hit the poor and it hit middle Australia.