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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26903

Mr LLOYD (4:31 PM) —What a great day it is today for the Australian community. Today really is the culmination of five years of good government. We have seen in the budget this year the culmination of sound economic management. It is very easy to talk about economic management and not realise what it means; but I am very proud to be part of a government that has worked hard to make the tough decisions, to make the reform decisions that we needed to take to give this country the great future that it deserves and to give it the great future that it was robbed of by the Labor government when they were in office. They left us with a huge debt burden, and we have managed to pay off $60 billion of Labor's $80 billion debt. That might not sound like a great, fancy achievement; but what it does is save Australia $4 billion every year—$4,000 million every year in interest payments. This money, instead of being wasted on interest payments, can now be returned to the Australian community in benefits and services they deserve and are entitled to.

I am very pleased that the budget has been able to provide a one-off payment to prisoners of war of the Japanese. This is something that I have lobbied for on behalf of the veterans in my electorate for some time, and it is pleasing that we have been able to provide that money not only to the prisoners of war who survived but also to surviving spouses. In my electorate alone, I understand that I have 28 surviving ex-prisoners of war of the Japanese and some 84 war widows who will be affected by that one-off payment; so it is a very significant thing for the veterans of my community.

I am also very pleased that the war widows pension for widows who remarried before 1984 has been restored. This was something that many war widows have made representations about to my electorate office over the past five years and it is something that I believe is long overdue. But, again, it is something that we could only do because we had the money in the budget to be able to provide the services and facilities that we really believe should be given to the people that made this country.

Older Australians will benefit from sound economic management. The income tax cuts, by raising the tax-free threshold to $20,000 for singles and $32,612 for couples, were described by opponents as being tricky. I cannot see that it was tricky, because it was backdated to 1 July 2000. At least our tax cuts are delivered, which is more than was done by the Labor Party when they were in government. We have delivered them now, this year, right this instant, so that people can have the benefit of them. We have also increased the threshold for senior Australians with the Medicare levy, from $13,550 to $20,000 with no payment of the Medicare levy until income is above that amount. Of course, the extension of the Commonwealth seniors health card is very important for self-funded retirees; and the limit has now been increased to $50,000 for singles and $80,000 for couples. This is a recognition of the commitment that self-funded retirees have made to this country and of the commitment that they have made to fund their own retirement, and a recognition that many of them—particularly those that were on the lower end of the scale of self-funded retirees and needed medications—were really suffering and being disadvantaged by not having access to the health care card; and it will of course enable them to have discounted pharmaceuticals and access to cheaper medicines.

We have increased the range of aged care services, with some $425.9 million for aged care services, which is important in areas such as mine, where we have a higher than average number of retirees who have come to the beautiful Central Coast of New South Wales for their retirement. Another, smaller, amount—it is not a small amount really—is the $1.2 million for a Safe at Home program for personal alarm systems for older Australians. I am very pleased to see that is in the budget, because one of the issues that keeps coming up all the time in my electorate office is law and order and safety. Obviously, law and order in New South Wales is the responsibility of the Carr government; and I am disappointed that they have not put the services and the police numbers that we need in our electorate to provide the quick response times that we need. I know that many older Australians are living in fear. They are frightened, they will not go out at night and, in some cases, they will not even go out in the daytime. I think that is an absolute travesty, and we really need to focus, both the state governments and the federal government, on ensuring that we do attack problems of law and order and lawlessness and ensure that older people particularly can feel safe walking down the street and in their own homes.

There was an increase of continued funding for dementia facilities—another $10.8 million for education, support and assessment programs. It is fortunate that, in many ways, our life expectancy through better health care is increasing all the time. It would seem that, as our life expectancy increases, there is a significant increase in dementia. It really is a major problem as people get older, and we need to continue to put a great deal of effort and money into that.

Another very notable program in the budget is funding for government schools. I have been angered and disappointed by the political campaign that has been run by some aspects of the Teachers Federation and others from the Labor Party about the amount of funding that goes to government schools. We have continued to increase the amount of government funding that goes to government schools. It is important to recognise that an additional $238 million over four years is continuing to build the coalition's commitment to government schools. Commonwealth funding has grown by almost 42 per cent between 1996 and 2002. It just shows that, by addressing the sound economic fundamentals of the Australian economy, this government has a track record that is enabling us to deliver services and benefits to veterans, to older Australians and to everyone in the Australian community.

I heard one of the Labor members who spoke prior to me talk about retirement benefits. I suspect that opposition members may be more concerned about retirement benefits than are some of us on the government side. Although they claim that the government is in trouble, I do not believe it is, because we have a great track record. The Australian community knows that what we are doing is the right thing for the community. The government is providing the money that we need in order to give the Australian community the services that it deserves. If we had not addressed that deficit, we would not have the money that we have now which we can return to the people who have worked hard, who have built this country, who have made this country great and who deserve to be recognised for the contribution they have made, particularly our older Australians and our veterans.