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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5411

Mr MARLES (CorioParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs) (18:11): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012. The 2011 budget is a jobs budget which has been delivered by a jobs government, a government which has been committed to the employment of Australians from the very first day of its election, from the abolition of Work Choices which provided Australians with job security, to the supporting of working people through the global economic crisis where 200,000 jobs were supported—200,000 Australians are working today who would not have been working but for the stimulus package put in place by the federal Labor government. Since its election the Labor government has created 750,000 jobs. This budget will provide for the creation of another half a million jobs over the next two years.

But it is also a budget which is a fiscally disciplined budget that will see the federal budget return to surplus in the financial year 2012-13. It is on track by virtue of the budget we have put in place in 2011. But that has occurred through very difficult spending decisions—$22 billion worth of saving which has resulted in the lowest level of spending increases in the last 20 years, which in turn forms part of an enviable record on the part of the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, in delivering in his time as Treasurer the lowest level of spending increases in the federal budget in political memory. Since the time of the stimulus package during the global economic crisis to the point when the budget will be back in the black in 2012-13, we will witness the most significant fiscal consolidation in the federal budget ever.

What that means in a bigger picture sense is that when during the global economic crisis the private sector was contracting we saw in its place the public sector expand through the stimulus package. Now that the private sector is returning to growth, we in turn are seeing the public sector contract as it should. By contracting in the way that it is through the spending cuts that have been introduced, this in turn will reduce pressure on inflation.

This forms part of a very enviable record that this government has in managing this economy. We kept Australia out of recession, we have delivered an economy which is the envy of the developed world, but, much more importantly than that, we have made very difficult decisions in the heat of the moment where we have got those decisions right and where the opposition has got its decisions wrong. The stimulus package that we put in place during the height of the global economic crisis supported those 200,000 jobs. Those people would be on the dole queues now if Tony Abbott had had his way. Similarly the work we have done in bringing the budget back to surplus, as we will in 2012-13, and the fiscal consolidation which is underway at the moment through disciplined spending cuts, stand in stark contrast to the spendathon that we saw during the Howard years during mining boom mark 1. It stands in stark contrast to the $11 billion black hole that was presented by the opposition in its costings in the lead-up to the last election and stands in stark contrast to the utter inability of the opposition to state where it would engage in spending cuts to bring the budget back to surplus. They say they could have done that this year but they do not explain to us exactly where they would do that or how they would do the hard work in getting there because they have no idea how they would do that.

I said that this was a jobs budget. And it is so because it understands that we will see, as the private sector returns to growth, an increased demand for labour within the Australian economy. And in seeing that increased demand for labour it is very important that we remove the capacity constraints within the economy which existed during mining boom mark 1 under the Howard government. That is particularly so in the case of skills shortages. So there is a very significant emphasis in this budget on training—a $550 million workforce development fund, which will provide 130,000 training places over four years, and the trade apprentice income bonus, which will provide $1,700 to apprentices pursuing occupations where there are skill shortages to encourage them to complete their apprenticeships. In the electorate of Corio there are 5,000 apprentices who will fit that category.

More than one million dollars is going to be provided to employment services within the Corio electorate to provide for additional training and work experience for the very long-term unemployed, of whom there are more than 2,000 in the Corio electorate. That will be a real benefit for those who have been struggling to find employment for a very long period of time.

In addition to training, education is very central to the budget. There are programs such as $425 million to reward fantastic teachers—25,000 teachers around Australia—who are doing such a wonderful job and give them an incentive to do better. There is $200 million to support students with disabilities. Of course, the fantastic computers in schools program continues to be funded out of this budget. It has seen 2,645 computers already delivered to schools within the Corio electorate. The trades training centre program, which is also funded out of this budget, has seen more than $11 million committed to a trades training centre in Geelong, which will be shared amongst nine schools.

Families, of course, are at the heart of this budget. There is a boost to the family tax benefit A of up to $4,200 to support parents with teenagers who are in school or undertaking training. There are 4,600 families in Corio with children aged between 16 and 19, who could receive a benefit of up to $161 a fortnight. As has been remarked on often, the education tax refund is being extended to school uniforms and the childcare rebate now has the option of being paid fortnightly, which will reduce up-front fees.

But for a place like Geelong there is one really important measure in the budget, which I want to make particular mention of—that is, the $24 million package to help Australian manufacturing better engage with the resources sector to better supply, to the resources sector, the products that they make. This is a really important initiative which is going to help cities like Geelong—industrial manufacturing centres—plug into the resources boom which is being experienced in the resource-rich states of Queensland and WA.

As well, there are a number of specific spends in the Corio electorate which I want to highlight tonight. There is $26 million being provided to Barwon South Western Regional Integrated Cancer Service. I want to take this opportunity to call upon the Victorian government to come to the party on this and make its contribution to this wonderful facility, which will see a new linear accelerator provided for radiation therapy, a 32-bed oncology ward, a 24-bed palliative care ward and 20 new accommodation units. Importantly, this centre has a very regional focus, supporting not just Geelong but the entire Western District, including the member for Wannon's area. That will see supported accommodation in Warrnambool, consulting suites in Hamilton and a day unit centre for chemotherapy in Portland, which I am sure the member for Wannon is very happy to hear about. There are a number of wonderful community organisations in Geelong which do important work for people with disabilities and for those suffering from mental illness. I want to highlight their work, because they are the subject of recurrent funding in this budget. Karingal is an organisation that supports people with disabilities in supported employment. The cafes at Shell and Alcoa have become famous for the wonderful services and food that they provide to the workers at both those plants but they also provide an environment where people with a disability are able to work alongside able bodied people and get the support they need.

There are large-scale landcare projects undertaken by Karingal for Barwon Water alongside a number of river reserves but also for Alcoa at Point Henry. Karingal subsidiary Kommercial does fantastic work in the packaging area, doing everything from mail-outs for businesses in Geelong to packaging of brochures to labelling jams to packaging Easter and Christmas chocolates. In all, Karingal provides 120 people who have disabilities with meaningful work, and it is great to be able to highlight their work tonight.

Pathways is another organisation which is supported in this budget. Pathways was started in Geelong 25 years ago and is now one of the largest direct employers of people with serious mental disorders in Australia. It runs a new cafe, called MadCap Cafe, which in fact is right near my electorate office in the Westfield shopping centre. It is going to provide skills and training for people with mental illnesses so that they can, first of all, get out of their homes and do that, but also so that they can go on and work elsewhere.

Clearwater Business Services, which is a program also run by Pathways, employs about 85 people a week. These people all have serious mental disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and clinical depression. Clearwater Business Services provides commercial and domestic property care services such as cleaning, gardening and landscaping and, in the process, provides an enduring, flexible and supportive employment space with small teams of people working with mentors and with careful monitoring of the wellbeing of those who work in those groups. Pathways and Karingal are two fantastic organisations in Geelong and they deserve a mention tonight.

The budget provides a number of infrastructure spends, some of which are done through the City of Greater Geelong—for example, the Kardinia Park netball complex upgrade and the Eastern Beach Reserve restoration; both of which are about $3 million dollar spends.

In highlighting the role that the City of Greater Geelong plays in this I want to focus on a debate which is ongoing in Geelong at the moment about the future of the City of Greater Geelong. In making a contribution to that debate, I think it is important to say that the role of local government in regional Australia has a particular importance which I think exceeds the role that local government plays within our capital cities. I want to spend a moment explaining why that is.

We have been witnessing in Australia over the last few decades a policy drift to the federal tier of government. And that is not surprising, given that we have overcome in many ways the tyranny of distance. We are a population of 23 million people making our way in the global economy. So it makes sense that we have one set of regulations nationally and then we have local service delivery occurring at a local tier of government. The question is: what is that tier of government? Mostly, the answer to that question is: the state governments. But I think it is fair to say that the Victorian government plays that role of service delivery far more naturally within Melbourne than it does within regional Victoria. The Port of Melbourne, Tullamarine, Melbourne's transport system are all issues which are instinctive to the state government, but regional airports, regional ports, regional transport systems are nowhere near as instinctive. Economic development is simply not the same issue for regional cities as it is for Melbourne in the context of the work of the Victorian government. So, in Geelong, we need strong local government. We need a local government that goes beyond the issues of potholes, footpaths and garbage and actually looks at economic development. It is a very critical debate that we are having in Geelong. At the outset, I would like to commend the council, which I think does a great job in the context of its work. Mayor John Mitchell and CEO Steve Griffin run that council very well. The debate in Geelong has focused on whether or not there should be a directly elected mayor, which is an interesting question but in my mind is not the main question.

I want to make three suggestions in the time that I have left as to what are the critical issues for the City of Greater Geelong. First of all, we need a mayor who serves a full four-year term. The fact that John Mitchell has served a number of terms as mayor is a benefit, because he has grown into the job and has provided a continuity in that role. Voters at council elections are entitled to see a mayor emanate from those elections who serves for the full term of the council. Having a directly elected mayor would clearly do that—it would provide the duration and that sense of connectivity—but it is not the only way for it to occur.

The second thing is that we need to see professional councillors. Having part-time councillors, as we do now, makes it simply impossible for those councillors to exercise their best judgment. It means that the judgment that is normally brought to bear on any issue is that which is brought to bear by the council officers, who are professionals and yet who do not have the same connection to the voters as the councillors who need to go back to the voters every election. Having professional councillors will connect the council with the electorate much more. That would be a very democratic reform. And, by the way, these councillors represent a quarter of a million people. We are big enough to have them as professionals.

The third point is that we need to raise the profile of economic development within the council. We need to have the person responsible for that reporting directly to the CEO and directly to the council, a point that I have raised in this place before.