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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5431


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (19:41): The Manager of Government Business yesterday accused the opposition of 'standing for nothing', during his reply in the suspension of standing orders. Coming from that side of politics I would say it is a bit rich. The coalition has a whole suite of policies which disprove that mistruth, just one of many offered as fact to the national parliament and the Australian people by this desperate focus-group-driven government.

Essentially the coalition stands for good government, living within our means and ensuring that the best interests of families and farmers are protected, preserved and promoted. Unfortunately, since the Independents gave an unelected Prime Minister an undeserving and unwarranted lift into the Lodge last September, those interests have not exactly been catered for. Families are facing cost-of-living pressures not felt since the 1980s when home loan interest rates, thanks to the Prime Minister we had to have and Mr Keating's recession we had to have, hovered around 18 per cent.

Farmers confront uncertainty as never before each and every day. Families and farmers, who have helped make this country great and who continue, despite adversity, to fight the good fight for the sake of the future and for the need to feed the nation, were the forgotten ones in this recent budget. But they were not the only ones. Small business, miners, the aged and university students were all overlooked or plain ignored by a budget the Treasurer introduced by declaring that it was 'a Labor budget'. He was right about that. It truly was a Labor budget—all spin and precious little win.

Very early in his budget speech the Treasurer referred to the Asian century. It was a term also used by the tourism minister at a recent launch. The Treasurer made the Asian century remark again just yesterday. The Asian century describes the belief held by some that, if certain demographic and economic trends continue, the 21st century will be dominated by Asian politics and culture, as the 20th century is often called 'the American century' and the 19th century is called 'the British century'. I say, 'To hell with that.' I would like to see the 21st century be the Australian century, and it is high time a few people on the other side of the House started thinking the same. There is no reason why Australia cannot be a world leader in so many respects. This government is about making us a world leader in some areas—unwanted areas, I would argue—such as national debt. This government is the first to roll out a fibre national broadband network across a continent of this size, which will cost somewhere in the order of $55 billion and cover about 90 per cent of our 22 million people but will not go to towns with fewer than 1,000 premises. Let me tell you, there are plenty of those towns within the Riverina electorate I represent. This is happening as the United States of America, the mainland of which is larger than ours, is implementing a wireless version which will cost just $18 billion but will cover 98 per cent of its 311 million people.

This government is pushing ahead—or should I say that this government is being led by the nose by the Greens?—to implement a price on carbon when our major trading partners are steering well clear of such a toxic tax. Once a carbon tax is in place at the behest of those unrepresentative and un-Australian Greens, we will become a world leader in exporting jobs offshore. Dare I say it has already started? A carbon tax will do nothing to cool the planet or lower sea levels—not one degree, not one millimetre—but the financial costs will, even as Ross Garnaut indicated in his review update today, be borne ultimately by Australian householders, Australian families.

There is no denying the word 'tough' went hand in hand with this year's budget. In a pre-budget speech the Treasurer said 'tough decisions are required' and 'this will be a tough budget'. The finance minister, in an interview in the lead-up to the budget used the word 'tough' more than 10 times, including four times in one answer. Headlines nationally screamed, 'Federal budget, will be tough,' and, 'That's not a tough budget; this is a tough budget.' Thank you, Labor, Australia got the message. However, what you failed to say is that this is such a tough budget that few will benefit from it. This budget is mostly disappointing because, despite all the pre-budget hype about this being a tough budget, this government has been tough on families—families who are working hard to meet the increasing cost of living. Many are struggling, and this budget seems to have ignored that fact.

We have seen, for the first time in eight years, a budget which has not provided a tax cut for families. For a party which says that they are all about the working family, where was their mention in this year's budget, or is it just tough bikkies? We are seeing support for families reduced at a time when the majority of Australians are facing tremendous cost-of-living pressures. Over the past 18 months we have seen the cost of living for everyday families rise by 4.9 per cent—well above the official increase in headline inflation of 3.3 per cent. For pensioners the increase was 4.1 per cent, for other welfare recipients it was 5.1 per cent and for self-funded retirees it was 3.4 per cent. Since this government came to power in 2007, electricity prices have increased some 51 per cent, grocery prices have gone up 14 per cent and education and health costs have gone up by more than 20 per cent. There have been seven interest rate rises in a row, yet this government continues to borrow money and add more taxes. That is what they are all about: tax, tax and more tax.

We have already seen this government waste billions of dollars on ill-fated, poorly-managed and poorly-thought-out green programs to deal with the deceiving global warming phenomenon. These include failures such as the pink batt insulation scheme and the dreaded Building the Education Revolution plan. And let us not forget Fuelwatch and GroceryWatch.

Ms Rishworth interjecting

Mr McCORMACK: However, once again this ineptitude has been compounded by the Prime Minister's plans to introduce a carbon tax from 1 July 2012. This tax will hit every family, every household, every business and—make no mistake!—every farm in Australia. This government is wasteful and reckless and continues to treat the—

Ms Rishworth interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms S Bird ): I remind the member that there is a method of intervention in this chamber if she would like to use it. We will do it through that method, not through yelling at each other.

Mr McCORMACK: This government is wasteful and reckless and continues to treat the nation and its people with disdain and as fools, by counting new or higher taxes as savings, continuing to deliver policies which lead only to a higher cost of living for all Australians, and doing nothing for the future prosperity of our nation by leaving a legacy marred by debt, the interest on which will rob future generations of their wealth. It is a debt which will have to be repaid by a future coalition government. Before this budget parliament gave approval for the government to borrow $200 billion. After this budget the limit will be one quarter of a trillion dollars. That is what the Treasurer calls 'back in the black'. This is what the first harbinger of debt looks like to the nation's capital. There will be cuts over the forward estimates—that is, the next four years—of $2.133 million for the National Library; $1.762 million for the National Museum; $1.0999 million for the National Film and Sound Archives; $1.373 million to the National Gallery; and, wait for it, $1.632 million to the centrepiece of Australian democracy and what our soldiers, airmen and sailors have worked to fight for, the Australian War Memorial. How disgraceful.

Some of the alarming facts to come out of this budget are that the deficit has soared to $49.4 billion and that net government debt has climbed to $107 billion. That puts government borrowing at $135 million per day, every day. This budget also confirmed how out of touch the Labor government is with Australian families and small business. It fails the essential test: to ease the cost of living on Australians who face higher prices every day.

The new arrangements for taxing company cars will slug small business operators, tradesmen and farmers with increased costs at a time when they are already doing it tough. There is that word again. This measure will impact negatively on those Australians who rely on their motor vehicle to earn their income and who have to travel long distances, including tradespeople, salespeople, couriers, primary producers, small business people and farmers, many of whom live in my Riverina electorate. This new arrangement therefore weighs heavily on my constituents. Many people from my electorate live many kilometres away from their place of work, homes and shops, and travel—that tyranny of distance—is something they have to do.

With this latest Labor scheme, and the rumour is that petrol prices will increase by 6.5c a litre, this government is once again targeting already struggling people. As the member for Riverina, which houses the training base for the Army, defence is obviously a high priority for my electorate and my constituents. Yet the 2011-12 budget has shown that the Gillard Labor government is carelessly indifferent to the ongoing viability of the Australian defence industry sector and, importantly, the jobs it supports and creates.

According to the shadow minister for defence, the budget papers reveal that the total Defence Materiel Organisation resourcing for the procurement and sustainment of equipment reduced from $11.7 billion in 2009-10 to $10.1 billion in 2011-12 and would further decrease to $9.8 billion in 2012-13. In keeping with these figures, by the 2012-13 budget, the Defence Materiel Organisation will reduce its spending on purchasing equipment and sustainment of activities by almost $2 billion in less than four years. That is despite the government's huge list for more training and extra equipment.

The Prime Minister has announced that an extra 21,000 university students are receiving youth allowance. Once again, students in Wagga Wagga, Adelong, Batlow, Coolamon, Gundagai, Junee, Mangoplah and Tumut, considered to be inner regional areas, have missed out. Probably plenty in Labor electorates have too. For some reason they are considered not isolated and are not eligible for the independent youth allowance. Hopefully, the inquiry, which is currently being undertaken, will soon rectify that.

The Treasurer claimed his budget delivered to regional Australia like no other budget. Considering $500 million was cut from regional programs, it is a little hard to comprehend that regional Australia benefited.

Regional Australia has been deprived in this budget, not compensated. The agricultural industry, which regional Australia relies heavily on, was largely rejected. Not one cent of new money was given to roads and rail. And the farm sector, which drives more than $150 billion a year in economic production and which has a job support network of more than $1.6 million, has had its budget slashed by $33 million.

However, the upside of the budget, and the member opposite will be glad to hear me say this, was the health spending for some electorates—admittedly, mostly government or Labor-aligned rural Independent electorates. But I would like to acknowledge and pass on the gratitude of the people of the Riverina for the $55.1 million allocated to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, as part of the Health and Hospitals Fund regional priority round in the budget.

I also acknowledge the $3.412 million given to the Calvary Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Detoxification Facility.

Ms Rishworth interjecting

Mr McCORMACK: I am acknowledging it. These funding announcements will make a positive difference to the lives of Riverina people and those of the 250,000 people who the Wagga Wagga medical facility serves. Mind you, it was not before time. They have endured facilities which have at best been described as dilapidated for too many years to contemplate. I would also like to place on record the fact that the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital rebuild still requires additional funding—somewhere in the order of $130 million. I am hopeful that this or part thereof might be forthcoming in the next Health and Hospitals Fund regional round, with applications to open later this year. Finally, and whilst appreciating that many submissions for funding were received, I am hopeful that the bid by the City of Griffith in the Riverina for $11 million for its exciting hospital project in partnership with St Vincent's will be looked upon favourably in the next HHF round. Thank you.