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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4383

Mr REID (10:05 PM) —It is a pleasure to speak on the appropriation bills, particularly with the national economy in such excellent shape with low interest rates, the lowest inflation rate for 35 years and unemployment below eight per cent for the first time in eight years. That puts the Australian community in a very strong position for the future, following the release of the 1998-99 budget.

The budget saw the elimination of the $10.5 billion deficit left to us by Labor mismanagement; the budget is now showing a $2.7 billion surplus, without the need by the government to impose any new taxes. This is a great result to be achieved after a little over two years of coalition government.

Australia under Labor governments, under both Prime Ministers Hawke and Keating, suffered the worst recession in 60 years. Interest rates went up nearly three per cent between August and December 1994, taking mortgage interest rates up to 17 per cent and in some instances more. More than one million Australians lost their jobs during this period, with national unemployment peaking at 11.2 per cent in late 1992.

The Keating Labor government was always a high taxing government and either increased or imposed wholesale sales tax, petrol excise, tobacco excise, fringe benefits tax, the Medicare levy, motor vehicle and company taxes. During that period it drove many small businesses to the wall because of its high interest rate policy.

I have a few matters to report to the House about the state of the Bendigo electorate. The Bendigo electorate has seen many improvements over the past few years. Substantial progress has been made on our transport links, with the Calder Highway being declared a road of national importance by the federal government and the injection and commitment of funds in excess of $100 million to bring this highway up to four-lane freeway status. Telecommunications throughout the electorate has seen a vast improvement, with major upgrades of exchanges, mobile services and call centres, and the expansion of the work force in both the public and private sector.

Unemployment still remains a problem. However, there has been a vast improvement since the bad days of the ALP governments, when national unemployment did reach that 11.2 per cent figure in late 1992. The national unemployment figure at 7.9 per cent is still too high. The coalition has addressed this and introduced a number of employment programs throughout the Bendigo electorate that will have a lasting impact on our environment programs, particularly through the Natural Heritage Trust, the Green Corps, the work for the dole scheme and the black spot road safety program. They have all added to employment in our region as well as providing employment and training for the participants.

During my period as chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, I had the pleasure to be the overseer and an initiator of a lot of major improvements in the small business sector. The report that the committee made to the government on finding a balance in fair trading in Australia has brought about changes to the retail tenancy laws Australia-wide. Further progress is being made in that area. It is introducing a franchise code of conduct. It will ultimately strengthen the oil code for the petroleum industry and will provide equal protection for small to medium sized businesses in equal status with consumers and larger corporations under the Trade Practices Act for unfair or unconscionable conduct, a landmark decision after 20 years of ongoing debate and 17 early reports by governments.

Industry in the Bendigo region now has a clear path ahead, with the government's decisions on the automobile industry and the textile, clothing and footwear industry. The government's decision on the cessation of the book bounty attracted some criticism. Honourable members will recall it. However, the recent success of the book printer at Maryborough in central Victoria in winning a multi-million dollar contract to print Mills and Boon books indicates that Australia is able to compete against the rest of the world in book printing. Australian Defence Industries Ltd is now in a strong position as it moves towards privatisation with a new increased range of defence product, including the bushmaster vehicle and the high-speed engineered vehicle, which are both attracting attention overseas. There has been much interest in Australian Defence Industries from Australian organisations, major Australian manufacturing firms and some of the biggest defence firms in the world. I look forward now to the next stage in the privatisation process of ADI.

The Australian topographical survey establishment at Fortuna is in a very strong position for the future with the recent announcement of a $1.5 million allocation for the development of the Pararay system, which is the state-of-the-art in topographical and map making technology. Further defence expenditure during the 1997-98 budget included $8.9 million on upgrading all of the electrical equipment and mechanical services to enable this facility and project to proceed. Also in the budget there was a $35 million defence multi-user depot allocation, which will be used and built in Bendigo for the use of defence department of Australia.

One thing I would like to indicate to the House is that there has been a marked increase in the population in Bendigo. I want to go back to 1997, because it is a fairly clear indication of the growth. When you look at the population of Bendigo at that time it was around 50,000. There has been a 20 per cent increase—one of the highest growth rates in Victoria—since 1976 to just under 60,000. I am talking only of the city area. The city of greater Bendigo, which extends further, is well over the 80,000 population mark. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, the population of the city of greater Bendigo between 1991 and 1996 increased by 3,786 persons. That figure beat the combined increase of Geelong and Ballarat of 3,473.

Mr Sawford —A very active member.

Mr REID —I thank the honourable member for Port Adelaide. The Bendigo electorate has shifted its emphasis somewhat away from the public sector employment into private sector employment. I am pleased to say that, as a result of this, the population is still increasing at a fairly substantial rate.

Another initiative that I was involved in was relocating the historic post office in Bendigo. That can always be a very traumatic experience. People become very attached to post offices. We relocated it with the assistance of the honourable Rob Maclellan, the state minister for planning. We moved it from Pall Mall to the corner of Hargraves Street and Williamson Street in the heart of the CBD. We converted the former post office—the old historic building is very beautiful—into a tourist information centre. I am pleased to say that it is one of the best tourist information centres in Australia.

Bendigo, Castlemaine, Heathcote and Elmore have all been recipients of substantial federal government tourism funding to develop tourism information centres and for Castlemaine and Mount Alexander there has been the opportunity to develop a major tourist attraction, a Mount Alexander diggings project. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Main Committee adjourned at 10.16 p.m.