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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5172


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (16:01): We heard all the leaks which said that this was going to be a tough budget. Yes siree, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister were talking it up all along. This, my friends, was going to be the year of delivery. Well, they got that right! They delivered a $49.4 billion deficit; they have delivered a record borrowing limit of $250 billion; they have delivered a record net debt of $107 million; they have raised their own record borrowing on a daily basis to $135 million per day; they have raised their own record of interest payments on this debt to $7 billion per year—that is, $19,178,072 per day or $799,086 per hour, after hour, after hour, of interest payments alone.

We have heard about the China boom mark 2. We have heard the Minister for Foreign Affairs wax lyrical about the rivers of gold coming to our economy. But we have seen what this government has done with these and we—the people of Townsville—sit back, scratch our heads and wonder what happened. And what do we have to show for it: debt, no plans and no prospects. We certainly have seen growth though. The Commonwealth Public Service has grown by over 20,000 people since 2007. While the Prime Minister was telling everyone that things are tough and we have to tighten our belts, her Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet grew by over 100 new staff. This budget does not deliver what it promised. In fact, the biggest line item in the savings in this budget is the flood levy itself. This government can talk pretty tough, but it cannot back it up.

I take issue, as does my electorate, with the announcement of funding for the Bruce Highway and roads in North Queensland. The Treasurer carried on about the announcement of roadworks in Vantassel Street as though it was brand-new funding. Those of us who have been hit by the continual flooding of the Bruce Highway know that this was already to be done. This flood mitigation work was pulled during the recent floods to aid flood mitigation work elsewhere in the state. The project has been reinstated but surely the Treasurer will not mind if we in Townsville take this promise with a grain of salt. It should never have been pulled in the first place.

In the week prior to the budget, I held a budget roundtable in Townsville. Those in attendance included small businesses in the mining and construction sectors, retail and service industries, and representatives of our region's chamber of commerce and health sector. To a person, they want the waste stopped. They look at the way this country and our state of Queensland are being run and they want the waste stopped. They are sick and tired of being treated like an ATM for any level of government which cannot balance its books. Each and every one of those represented at the meeting have been forced to make tough decisions to keep their costs down. But at every turn they are faced with an increasing number of taxes, charges and regulations from government, which simply does not see anything other than an easy grab. It has to stop. I call on this government to get serious about taxation and deliver on its promised tax summit so that real reform to the way business and individuals are taxed can be discussed and implemented. In Townsville, the message I am getting is that business is simply not hiring. We have seen unemployment rise to 8.5 per cent in my city. While there are significant projects happening in Queensland, Townsville may face skill shortages as professionals in trades chase jobs across the state and the country. All these government charges and regulations are making it increasingly costly to live anywhere, but especially in Townsville. There have been interest rate rises, levies, rising government charges and the like which have added to the pressure on ordinary families. The strain is seen in my office every week when I see broken families and pensioners come to me, worried about where they will get the money to survive. They do not care whose fault it is that bananas are $13 a kilo or that petrol is $1.45 per litre. They just want help, and they do not see it coming from this government.

What they do see coming from this government is a continuation of the failed pink batts and school halls programs. What they do see is a set-top box program worth $376 million being rolled out by the same people who delivered the pink batts program and the solar power program. Somewhere in that meeting surely someone, anyone, would have said, 'Are we sure about this? Haven't we got form on this sort of thing? Haven't we learned any lessons from the last few times we got involved?' Surely someone somewhere said something about it costing $360 for a set-top box to be installed at a pensioner's home. I checked the website of the Good Guys in Townsville and found six different digital TV sets costing under $360, the cost to install a set-top box. So why bother with a set-top box at all? Send them all to Troy Williams and they can get a brand new TV for less than the government is paying. Where is the sense here, and why has no-one in the government stood up in this place and said, 'This is just not a good idea'?

Of course, the whole budget is basically predicated on a lie, and the Treasurer dare not speak its name. That the carbon tax is not mentioned in the forward estimates reduces this budget to a farcical document. He comes into this House and pours scorn on all who dare to question his commitment to the tax. But he is not allowed to include it in his calculations, nor was he a part of the team used to sell the product to start off with. This government does not care about global warming, climate change or climate action. What this government care about is telling Australians that the budget will be back in surplus in an election year, and they do not care how they do it. They simply cannot stop spending. It is only by taxing people that they can do this. This government and the Treasurer want the people of Townsville to believe that the budget will be back in surplus due to economic management but, in truth, they are just going to raise taxes to try to get a result.

I would like to say that the reforms to mental health are welcomed by all of us. It is a good start, but there is still a lot of work to do. I would like to use this opportunity to call for the states to get out of mental health altogether. We need a system where decisions are made and the money gets to the pointy end as quickly and as intact as possible. By having to engage the states in the process, there are extra costs which take vital funds away from the clinicians and the services they provide. I recognise the government's commitment to headspace and the recent approval of the headspace phase 1 at Riverway in Townsville. This is a vital project, and the non-intrusive way in which young people can access services will save this country millions of dollars into the future. I know that the Mental Illness Fellowship of North Queensland has also received funds from this government to establish a proper base in Townsville away from the hospital in a non-threatening manner. I note that Andy Froggatt, their soon-to-depart CEO, has worked very hard to get this up across all levels of government. I thank the government for their support here. I do note though that the new funding is actually outside the forward estimates. I just hope that this is not some sort of accounting trick to appease the sector while not delivering on these vital reforms.

I want to touch on something not covered in the budget but something that surely must be considered. The Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme, or the DFRDB, needs to be indexed correctly. I am not about to take a swipe at this government for its inaction, because it has been in front of the Whitlam government, the Fraser government, the Hawke government, the Keating government, the Howard government and the Rudd government. As well as the Gillard government, all have ducked and weaved on the issue and made those people in our defence forces who have served at least 20 years all the poorer by doing so. The Whitlam government needed cash and took the money for the Defence pensions and absorbed it into consolidated revenue. For that, he told the forces, they would keep all their benefits and their pension would be indexed to the consumer price index, the CPI. Every other pension is also indexed to the male total average weekly earnings, the MTAWE, and the pensioner and beneficiary cost of living cost index, the PBCLI, as well as the CPI, whichever is the highest. This has meant that the DFRDB recipients have slowly but surely slipped further and further behind.

I have a very good working relationship with retired Brigadier Neil Weekes, who is a DFRDB recipient. In one of our conversations last week he asked me if it was fair. When I asked him what was fair, he responded by asking me what was fair or right that DFRDB recipients who have served a minimum of 20 years in the armed services continually are treated as second-class citizens by their government. We as politicians line up every Anzac Day and we let the reflected glory of our men and women of the armed services wash over us at functions and on exercises. But as soon as they retire we drop them like a bad habit. We, the coalition, have finally been able to get this as policy on our side and we will fix this once we have government. But wouldn't it be lovely to be as one House on this issue? It is no wonder that all politicians are treated with scepticism by the defence forces when we are pretty much two-faced in how we deal with them. No, Neil, it is not right and it is not fair.

When it comes to education, I have real concerns about some of the government's plans in this country. I worry about NAPLAN. I worry that it has become the only thing taught in schools. It is the only thing taught in the years that the test is given. It is the only thing taught in the year preceding the examination. My question is: what happens to sport or music or art? These are disappearing from our schools' teaching landscapes as the My School website is hanging schools out to dry. The $400 million being touted as bonuses for high-performing teachers is simply misguided. The sooner we as a country realise that teaching is a calling and the money, while important, is not the sole decision maker for professionals making the career choice the better. I think you would find that most primary school teachers would prefer the money to be spent on additional aide time to assist them with delivery of quality education. By installing a bonus system into schools you are making internal politics and personal relationships more important than providing education to our children. I would also call on the government to recognise the need for funding equity in primary and secondary schools. If we can learn that mental illness can be better treated if detected early—and the cost to the community is lowered if it is treated early—then surely funds must be made available to primary schools to pick up and treat learning difficulties and/or disabilities.

This budget does not provide a decent building block for the future. It is too much of a punt to be taken seriously. This budget fails to address rampant government spending and papers over the cracks instead of bringing in real reform. For the sake of Australia and for the sake of Townsville we must have a change of government.