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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5424


Ms COLLINS (FranklinParliamentary Secretary for Community Services) (19:12): I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and cognate bills, commonly known as the budget. This federal budget really does chart a road back to surplus in 2012-13. It does so recognising that in Australia at the moment what we have is a patchwork economy. We have got some states and some areas of some states really thriving with the mining boom, and we have got other parts of Australia, even parts of the states that are booming, that are really being left behind. What we are trying to do in this budget is address some of those issues. We want to bring some of the lower income disadvantaged people with us. We want to ensure that people receive training and that we have a workforce as the mining boom escalates to allow people to fill those jobs that will become available.

What I have heard a lot from those on the other side as I have been listening to speeches is the legacy that the coalition had when they left government. What they seem to conveniently forget is that there has been a global financial crisis since they left government. What they also seem to forget is that it was the Labor government that stimulated the economy to ensure that the economy would keep moving and keep growing throughout that period. What we know from the figures and from the data of what the opposition proposed to do is that the deficit would actually be bigger if they had been in government during the global financial crisis.

We have spoken in the House many times about the disastrous floods and Cyclone Yasi that have affected Queensland and parts of New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and even my home state of Tasmania. We also are going to need a ready and willing workforce to rebuild those flood-affected areas of Australia. That is why it is so important that we do have a workforce ready and able to provide that work and those skills that are required as that rebuild occurs. Certainly we know that the floods and cyclones cost our economy $9 billion in lost output and that will have an effect on real growth. It is a very significant impact. Those on the other side seem to forget the GFC, seem to not understand the issue in terms of the floods and the impact they have had on the federal budget. We all know that their accounting systems are a little bit dodgy, to say the least. We saw in the lead-up to the last federal election that they had an $11 billion black hole in their costings. So we really cannot rely on anything that they say in terms of costs of policies or where things might be, but it really does get a little bit trying to continually hear about the shape the economy was in when they were in government, because of course we have dealt with the big issues of the global financial crisis, we have dealt with the floods that have affected Australia, we have dealt with Cyclone Yasi and we are now dealing with the mining boom mark 2. What we want to ensure is that the benefits of that mining boom are not squandered as they were when the coalition were in government. We want to build new infrastructure. We want to plan for better hospitals and better health care. We want to have a better mental health system. We want regional health facilities. We are going to be investing right around the country with our $2.2 billion mental health care package and our $1.8 billion priority round from the health infrastructure fund.

As I have been talking about, my home state of Tasmania did have some floods, and there is some work to be done there, but certainly Tasmania's economy is not going as well as that of some of the thriving boom states. We did continue to perform and in fact had the fastest growing economy and the lowest unemployment at the beginning of the global financial crisis, but what has happened in the Tasmanian economy in recent months is that the economy has slowed as the effect of the government stimulus has started to wind up, and it is now just starting to recover. We have had an impact on the forestry, tourism and manufacturing industries, and there are some Tasmanians really doing it tough.

The Australian dollar, of course, has had an impact on Tasmanian exports, as it has on Australian exports. To give a bit of an example of that, in 2007-08 Tasmania exported $726 million of product to Japan, and last year, 2009-10, that figure was down to around $420 million; that is over 40 per cent lower. So some of our export businesses in Tasmania are really struggling, and our 5.7 per cent unemployment rate, whilst historically low for Tasmania, is being masked somewhat by a participation rate that is lower than that around Australia: Tasmania's participation trend rate is at 61.4 per cent, compared to the national figure of 65.6 per cent. I guess that is really why the Tasmanian economy will benefit greatly from some of the initiatives and training in this budget. Appropriate training for Tasmanians will ensure that they are better off and that Tasmania is better off in the long run.

This budget delivers a host of new training opportunities, and it means that more of our disengaged, underemployed and unemployed, including long-term unemployed, will be given an opportunity to build and benefit from an Australian economy. We want to make sure that they are not left behind. In Tasmania there are over 1,900 people classified as long-term unemployed, and I think that they deserve our help and that we should be providing them with the support they need to be able to effectively look for work.

It is expected that from the federal budget 130,000 new training places will be developed nationally from the $550 million Workforce Development Fund. It will be particularly important in the lower socioeconomic areas of Tasmania that have had historic lows in participation in the workforce. We want to encourage these people and get them to join in the workforce. The Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program will assist many Tasmanians; the job-related training program for more than 30,000 sole parents seeking to return to work will benefit some Tasmanians; and, of course, the Australian Apprenticeships Access Program will help vulnerable job seekers develop skills to succeed in an apprenticeship. Then, of course, more than 10,000 apprentices in Tasmania could potentially have access to the apprenticeship mentoring programs and the $1,700 trade apprentice bonus that will support apprentices. This apprentice bonus is really important in Tasmania; there are a lot of young apprentices and this will obviously encourage them to complete their apprenticeships.

One of the things that I am really proud of in this budget is that it delivers $240 million for the Royal Hobart Hospital out of the health infrastructure fund priority round. This is a $565 million project. It is the largest ever single infrastructure project in Tasmania's history. To give you an understanding of what it will mean for Tasmania, it is in addition to the $100 million that the Gillard government has already provided to the Tasmanian state government, and the state government is contributing $225 million. Planning work has begun by the state government on the women's and children's precinct. I would really like to put on record my appreciation of the other Tasmanian members of parliament that have lobbied very hard for this project, going back to the former member for Denison, Duncan Kerr, and my local Labor senators Catryna Bilyk and Carol Brown, and of course the current member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, has also had that as part of his agreement with the government. There is a lot of support for this investment in southern Tasmania in our hospital system, and I was really pleased to see it in the budget. It will mean more beds, more services and better facilities for the communities of Greater Hobart—in fact the hospital serves the whole of Tasmania. It will provide capacity for 195 new overnight beds, a one-third increase, as well as 12 new operating and procedure rooms.

The budget also provides $1.2 million for the new Cygnet medical centre, which I have spoken about in this place before, and that is also from the regional priority round of the health infrastructure fund. These projects will provide not just better health care in southern Tasmania over the long run but also a stimulus to the local construction industry and work for Tasmanians. As I said, the largest single investment project is very important to the construction industry in Tasmania as the Building the Education Revolution projects start to wind up and will provide great support for people in our local community.

I would like to talk a bit about some of the budget measures in my own portfolio that I am assisting the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs with. In that area we have delivered for the most vulnerable in our community: we are providing an additional $83.3 million boost over the four years for emergency relief services. We had a boost in emergency relief services for two years for the global financial crisis, but this is an ongoing commitment from the government. It is an historic boost to the base funding of emergency relief services and is the largest increase in the base funding of emergency relief services since the program began in 1977. It is really significant in terms of those vulnerable Australians or those Australians doing it tough that need our support.

We also have continued funding of the Commonwealth financial counsellors that we did boost during the global financial crisis. They are also funded on an ongoing basis through the budget and will be offered three-year funding contracts to provide certainty for the clients accessing those services and for the workers who are providing that vital financial counselling around Australia.

The budget also includes funding for Foodbank Australia. Foodbank provides a remarkable service to Australians: for every dollar invested by the government they can produce $7 worth of food that they then provide directly to local charities and local non-government organisations to distribute to those people that need some support. We are funding $4 million over the four years—that is $1 million each year for four years to Foodbank Australia. This is in addition to the $2.24 million that we provided to them during the global financial crisis.

This funding is part of an overall package—a boost of $171.9 million over the four years—for emergency relief services, for financial counselling services and for innovative projects such as low-interest loans and matched savings schemes and some micro-finance type schemes. It comes after the government commitment of $15.7 million for emergency relief and financial counselling services in disaster-affected areas of Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales from December last year that we announced on 16 April. That money is to 31 December 2012. It is for 18 months at current levels in those flood-affected areas to ensure those vital services are there for those communities as they recover from those circumstances.

As I have said, this is a budget that charts a path back to surplus. It recognises that some Australians are doing it tough. We have seen that in a range of measures through the budget—whether it be supporting teen mums, and we have our trial site in Burnie, whether it be providing in my portfolio with Minister Macklin the emergency relief services and financial counselling services or whether it be providing support for people with disabilities to enter the workforce—to ensure those Australians who are doing it tough are not left behind. But this budget is also recognising that we are entering another mining boom and that we need to be prepared to be back in surplus and we need to have the skills and the workforce available and ready to take those jobs that Australia will have to support that boost to the economy that the mining boom will have to bring. All in all, I think the budget has been well received. Certainly there has been some criticism from those on the other side in relation to what we are doing to support families. This government has shown remarkable support for families since it came to office. We have increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. From 1 July, that can be paid fortnightly directly to the childcare provider, which helps with out-of-pocket expenses for mums and dads who are paying those bills. That is a very significant change from the 30 per cent provided by the opposition when they were in government, and when they first introduced that 30 per cent you of course had to wait for more than 12 months to receive the money.

So there have been remarkable improvements. We have seen Australia's first Paid Parental Leave scheme, which certainly helps Australian families, which was introduced from 1 January this year. We have seen an extension of the family tax benefit to 13- to 16-year-olds while they are in school. A whole range of measures have been implemented by this government to support Australian families. We understand that there are some issues with the cost of living and that is why we have addressed them so comprehensively over the last almost four years that we have been in government, because we do understand that there are people in our community doing it tough.

There have also been our historic pension reforms and our carer payment increases, so there have been a whole range of measures from this government to ensure that families receive the support they need and that Australians who have been doing it tough receive the support that they need. Overall, this is a good budget. It is a Labor budget and a budget that I am proud of.