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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5188

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (17:08): I welcome the Gillard government's disciplined and responsible 2011-12 budget, and I congratulate the Treasurer and his department and staff. This budget delivers the fiscal settings and savings that will keep a lid on inflation and return Australia to surplus in 2012-13 while delivering an historic and comprehensive mental healthcare program and investing further in jobs training and in renewable energy.

That combination of fiscal prudence, hard-won savings and forward-looking investments is, in a nutshell, the hallmark of our government, which has delivered the following significant achievements. It has put in place a response to the global financial crisis that has seen Australia outperform other developed countries. It has reduced unemployment and maintained low inflation growth against the background of the worst crisis since the Great Depression and following a summer of unprecedented natural disasters. It has made the largest investment in schools and the largest single lift in payments to pensioners. It continues on the path to increasing our foreign aid commitment to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015-16.

This budget makes a historic $2.2 billion investment in mental health services. This government has been prepared to make very difficult decisions, such as introducing a carbon price to the economy and adopting world-first plain packaging for cigarettes, often at some political cost, so that Australia benefits now and in the long term.

The budget includes $22 billion in savings by achieving efficiencies in the delivery of government services and by continuing Labor's program of identifying unnecessary and unproductive churn in our tax and payment assistance framework in order to ensure that government payments and concessions are made only when they are for genuine assistance. That is the responsible thing to do and it is the only way to ensure fairness in the system. By creating savings we will not only improve the bottom line but also make possible key investments in critical policy areas and better support for those who need it most.

Despite the strength of the resources sector in WA, there are many people in the Fremantle electorate who are not benefiting from the boom and who, instead, are facing rising costs in the form of state government electricity charges and the rent impact of a severe housing shortage. This is especially true for those on low and fixed incomes. In recognising the patchwork nature of the economy, and also by bringing forward the low-income tax offset, this budget provides $772 million of increased family tax benefits to support parents with dependent teenagers aged 16 to 19 in full-time study.

In addition to the record pension payment increases, made since 2009, which have seen the maximum pension rate increase by $128 per fortnight for singles and by $116 for couples, this budget now expands the work bonus for pensioners, which will come into operation from 1 July. This change follows the same philosophy that drives the government's efforts to support and encourage greater work participation across the board. Those words 'support' and 'encourage' are important, because the approach of this government is to ensure that (1) the system provides incentives for people to move from welfare to work and (2) the education and training and job support framework can enable that transition.

This budget does both of those things. As I have just mentioned, the pensioner work bonus changes mean that older Australians can now work more before suffering a reduction in their pension payments. The government will also be providing $95 million in wage assistance to reward employees who provide work to persons, including older workers over the age of 50, defined as 'long-term unemployed'. In terms of supporting work readiness, the budget introduces the Building Australia's Future Workforce package, whose initiatives include $558 million to deliver around 130,000 appropriately tailored training places; $200 million in assistance to apprentices; and $1.75 billion in partnership with the states and territories for necessary reform of the vocational education and training system. This investment is a distinctly Labor project and it will be particularly welcome in my electorate, which includes areas that have higher than average youth unemployment and therefore presents a clear need to equip young Australians with the skills and qualities that allow them to take advantage of jobs that the Western Australian economy is generating.

Of course, the Building Australia's Future Workforce package follows from earlier steps taken by the government in this area, such as the funding of the Trade Training Centres in Schools. In March this year the community cabinet came to Fremantle. It was hosted at South Fremantle Senior High School, which will be the site of a new $4.3 million maritime trades training centre. Just two weeks ago I accompanied the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Peter Garrett, on a site visit to the new training centre. These are the kinds of substantial training and education ventures that will be the foundation of jobs and productive lives for the next generation of Western Australians.

From a Fremantle perspective this budget addresses a number of issues that have been prominent in my community, and I want to touch on some of those. Mental health reform is the best example of this government's steady progress in tackling overdue and big picture reform. Indeed, there were few larger issues in 2010 than the need for a dramatic shift in the way that mental health care is provided and funded in Australia. It is an issue that I have been engaged in for a long time, not least because acute mental health care is provided through the Alma Street Clinic of Fremantle Hospital and so there is a focus in the Fremantle area on people receiving that care. For too long, mental health care has been the poor cousin within the health services framework and for too long mental health has been poorly understood and inaccurately perceived by the general community. Change has been occurring and I want to acknowledge the courage of ordinary Australians and of prominent people who have come forward and been open about their own mental health challenges, including in this place the member for Goldstein. When people realise that depression or anxiety is an illness and when people realise that it comes out of nowhere to affect footballers, bricklayers, lawyers, musicians, teenagers and politicians and when people realise that it can be treated and that it does not have to be a barrier to participation in life or a barrier to performance at a high level then we will have achieved a cultural shift that allows us to approach this area of health openly and without stigma.

On the night of the Candidates Forum that was held in Fremantle during the 2010 campaign, a candlelight vigil was held to demonstrate the strong desire in the community to see a new and effective commitment to mental health care in Australia. It is no surprise then that the government's historic $2.2 billion mental healthcare package has been well received. I have had a number of emails in the last three weeks welcoming the introduction of short- and long-term measures, including the $433 million for suicide prevention, the $492 million for early intervention when it comes to children and young people who experience or who are at risk of mental illness and the $200 million to support mental health programs for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

I recently accompanied the Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness, Senator Arbib, to St Pat's crisis care centre in Fremantle, where this funding was warmly welcomed. Those who work day in, day out with the homeless, like my friends at St Pat's, are only too aware that mental illness is both a cause and a consequence of homelessness. When the first annual Gimme Shelter concert in Fremantle was being planned five years ago, it was a clear objective of the concert to raise funds and awareness not only for homelessness but also for mental illness. It is fantastic that the federal government has also recognised this link in the budget and provided serious money towards assisting the many Australians struggling with the dual difficulties of homelessness and mental illness.

To drive the long-term reform in this area, the budget provides new funding of $12 million to a total commitment of $32 million over five years for the creation of an independent National Mental Health Commission, which will provide accountability and transparency as well as contributing analysis and direction in the development of the Ten Year Roadmap for ongoing mental health reform. The commitment to increase the national network of headspace centres to 90 has been particularly welcome. Fremantle was fortunate to have one of the first such centres established and it has proved its worth from the moment it became operational.

At a time when the cohort of senior Australians as a proportion of the population as a whole is set to increase markedly, I am a big supporter of initiatives that give effective support and resources to assist elderly people who wish to continue to live independently. As I have said before, wherever this is possible I think this is actually the natural preference of most people and most families and it is also a scenario in which the load on the residential aged care system can be reduced. For those reasons I am delighted that this budget brings with it new increases to Home and Community Care, or HACC, program funding. The latest allocation of $9 million in funding to WA brings the total 2010-11 WA funding to more than $212 million, underwriting services that benefit 66,000 Western Australians or nearly three per cent of the population. Eight providers in the Fremantle electorate are among more than 270 organisations that deliver HACC services. In addition to the extra $396,000 in recurrent funding, four Fremantle providers will also receive one-off funding for new capital including Neighbourhood Link in East Fremantle, which will receive nearly $140,000 for a new bus; Melville CARES, which will receive $40,000 for IT equipment; and, the Villa Dalmacia Social Centre, which will receive $15,000 for vehicle modifications. In each of these cases and through the boost to recurrent funding, this Labor government is making an investment in the wellbeing of elderly Australians and in the peace of mind of their families, while at the same time alleviating the pressure on residential aged care.

That effort to help those who want to live at home has a parallel in the budget with the $72 million Healthy Communities Initiative, which supports local governments who run programs that encourage healthier lifestyles and therefore deliver important preventive health outcomes. Once again, this is funding that provides direct benefits to individuals but also reduces the likely future impact of illness and disease that result from unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices. In my electorate, the City of Cockburn was one of four local governments in Western Australia and the only one in the metropolitan area selected under this program. It will receive $700,000 for its Co-Health Lifestyle Project, which is aimed at those not working full time and at risk of poor health outcomes. It also includes some targeted nutritional education for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, made this welcome announcement at the Cockburn seniors club in my electorate two weeks ago. As noted by the Mayor of Cockburn, Logan Howlett, at the event, the Healthy Communities initiative also complements extremely well the existing projects encouraging healthy lifestyles that are underway in the city of Cockburn and to which the federal government has provided generous assistance, including the Coogee Beach Surf Life Saving Club, the GP superclinic and the Bibra Lake wetlands education centre precinct.

In terms of big picture infrastructure, I am very pleased that the budget provides further support for rail freight into the port of Fremantle. As part of the government's $350 million contribution to the Perth urban transport and freight corridor upgrade project, we are providing funding to the development of the Kewdale Intermodal Rail Supply Chain, and that includes a $27 million contribution to a rail-passing loop near Fremantle port and works comprising stage 2 of the North Quay rail terminal. The project will provide intermodal freight services for the receipt of interstate and intrastate containerised and bulk freight and international and interstate containerised sea freight.

That is the direction we need to go in. By increasing rail and coastal sea freight, and by supporting better freight coordination through the Kewdale intermodal facility, we will see a road freight impact reduction by volume of total freight. More trucks and more and bigger roads for those trucks cannot be the answer to our freight challenge. I am glad that this government is keen to work in partnership with the WA government when it comes to new rail infrastructure and to better roads and freight management yet, quite sensibly, continues to have absolutely no interest in funding the outdated folly that is Roe Highway stage 8.

In conclusion, this budget is a no-nonsense, practically oriented and rigorous blueprint for economic stability, responsible savings and necessary investment in the things that matter for Australia's future—namely, education and training, health service capacity, economic infrastructure and renewable energy. It is marked as a Labor budget by its fairness; its social responsibility, when it comes to protecting and assisting vulnerable people in our community; and its willingness to undertake difficult reform, including reform to Australia's tax and payment assistance framework.