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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15087

Mr CAUSLEY (6:41 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004. It is always interesting to rise in this House after the member for Lilley. He obviously has a selective memory in many of these areas. Having been around politics for some time, I recall that in my earlier days in the state parliament I was dealing with constituents who were struggling with the 16 and 18 per cent Labor Party interest rates and with business interest rates of up to 25 per cent. We had families in trouble. I recall vividly some of the families that did not make that transition; they separated because of the problems with the monetary policy of the day. Of course, that is endemic in the Labor Party, just as amnesia is endemic in the Labor Party.

I am very proud to associate myself with the budget, being the sixth surplus budget that Treasurer Costello has delivered to this House. I am very pleased to be associated with it because it shows yet again just what a strong position Australia is in when we look at the economies of different countries around the world. I have heard commentators in recent days making the rare comment that Australia is in a very sound economic position. That can be attributed to this government—to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer in particular and of course to the cabinet—which has delivered these policies to this country. We have heard quite a lot about the budget recently. I certainly heard the derision from the Labor opposition in question time when they raised the tax cuts for Australia. But when you look at the position of the ordinary people in Australia at the present time and remember, as I indicated earlier, the interest rates that operated prior to this government being elected, you see that families in Australia who are buying $100,000 homes are $330 a month better off under this government.

We also remember the famous accords that the Labor Party had in the past where, in fact, average wages fell, but under this government wages have risen. So in many ways the Labor Party are crying crocodile tears when they talk about the position of the ordinary family. When we look at the fact that this government has got the economic structure right, we can see that people are better off in real terms under this government.

Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, coming from a country area, you would understand as well as I do that unemployment has always been a real problem in rural Australia. Of course, with the present drought situation, that has been exacerbated. I recall that, when I first took over as the federal member for my electorate of Page, the unemployment rate was 16 per cent. Unemployment has always been a problem in that particular area; there are no great industries. It is a nice area in which to live, and people tend to come to that area. At the present time, our unemployment rate is down to 6.2 per cent. I think we have to take some credit for that, because obviously government policies have worked to reduce that unemployment rate.

It is the underlying structures that are important. Governments cannot create jobs but they can certainly put the structures in place such that industry can create jobs. I am sure that this government, being a National-Liberal coalition, understands exactly what is needed to put those structures in place: low interest rates, low inflation and encouragement of industry to invest. They are the issues that create employment.

On the North Coast of New South Wales, other government policies have helped. The Permadrive braking system is an invention that is based in the city of Lismore. Usually inventors have the backside out of their pants, and this fellow was no different when he came through my office some five years ago. He knew he had a great invention, but the issue was how to get it off the ground—how to get it running. I came down here to the government ministers, and I got support from this government. Obviously the company had to raise funds of their own. They floated a company, they raised money locally—the local people had confidence in it—and they managed to get it up and running. Last week, the company signed a contract to supply 750,000 units to the American army. I think it is a good news story, and it is something Australia should be proud of. A little inventor came up with a tremendous invention; in fact, university results have shown that this invention can save between 30 per cent and 50 per cent in fuel usage. The company have just signed a huge contract with the American army. What does that do for local employment? It is fairly obvious that, with the help of this government, the industry will be able to employ 300 or 400 people in the Lismore-Ballina area. That is a huge boost to the employment opportunities in the electorate of Page.

It does not end there, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. As you would realise, the government does have schemes in place—and this budget certainly enhances those—to encourage opportunities that might arise. Aspect North is a company comprising a group of local people in Lismore. They put their expertise together and, with the help of the honourable member for Mackellar, who was a minister at the time, they managed to get a contract for digital mapping with the Australian Army. That company, which started off with a work force of something like six to eight, now has over 100 employees in the city of Lismore, many of them high-salaried employees. That again shows that the opportunities are there. We can encourage those opportunities through the systems and the programs that we have put in place.

Since this government came to power, it has been said on many occasions that a million jobs have been created in Australia. I have heard very little criticism—aside from the opposition here in this House—of the policies and achievements of this government, given the fact that we inherited an economy that was in crisis. The Treasurer has often said that, after this budget, we will have paid off some $63 billion of Labor debt. What that means to Australians is that they are now paying $4.3 billion less in interest—$4.3 billion has been freed up for other programs, such as education and health. Of course, in my area there are quite large overall payments with regard to welfare and retirement. Money has been freed up so that it can be spent in those essential areas. I am sure the opposition does not like to give credit to the fact that that has been achieved. What it does mean, though, is that in the future Australians can be very confident in the fact that they have no overburdening debt and that the money that is raised can be used to service programs within the community and to ensure that services are provided. In this budget, those services are being increased. Payments to the welfare and retirement areas have been increased. We can provide better services, yet we still have the strongest economic growth in the developed world.

I was interested in a comment by the Treasurer the other day. He said that, if you look at the overall debt in Australia compared with debt in other countries—compared with the performance of other countries, particularly in the developed world—Australia stands out. In my lifetime—and I have been around for a couple of years!—I can never remember that happening. I recall that in the past if America had a recession Australia was in grave trouble. We also considered that if Asia got into economic problems Australia would be in grave trouble. That has not happened, because of this government's management of the economy. I am sure the opposition will nitpick at the edges, but the underlying factor is that the economy of this country is strong and is growing at a rate of 3.25 per cent. I do not think you will find that in any other developed country at the present time. Inflation has been kept under control, and that is very important. Those terrible days of high interest rates with inflation running at about eight per cent or nine per cent were always a problem as far as business was concerned. It is now under control, and I am sure that the business community is extremely grateful for that.

If you look at this budget and you consider that, during the last year, Australia was faced with some of the greatest crises that we have faced in many, many years—the September 11 attack in New York; the bombing of Bali; our involvement in East Timor; our involvement in the Iraq war; and the severe drought, the worst drought that I can remember in rural Australia—it is quite incredible that the Treasurer can bring down a surplus budget, because obviously the expenditure that was forced upon the government in those circumstances was not contemplated in last year's budget. Obviously the fact is that we have managed to cover those expenses and still end up with a surplus and, if we look at the forward estimates, we see surpluses right into the future. That surely gives a lot of confidence to Australia that we can carry on that way.

I would like to cover a few more points that are important. We heard the previous speaker talk about this government being the highest taxing government in the history of Australia, but of course members opposite ignore the fact that the GST goes directly to the states. I can recall the last budget I was involved in in New South Wales when I was in the cabinet there, only seven years ago. The total budget was $24 billion. I note that this year the budget in New South Wales is $36 billion. That is a huge increase in seven years. That is the tax take that the state government have, yet they are managing to spend it and they are saying to the federal government, `We should get more funds.'

We have a classic example with the Pacific Highway. Everyone understands the classification of roads, I hope. There are national highways, there are state highways, there are state main roads and there are local roads. The national highway in New South Wales is the New England Highway. This federal government injected some $600 million into the Pacific Highway to try and upgrade that road because it is the most used road in Australia between Brisbane and Sydney. The Hume Highway goes between Sydney and Melbourne. Now, even though the program has been completed and the federal government has honoured its commitment of $600 million, the New South Wales government is trying to cost-shift. It is saying, `Oh, any more improvement of the Pacific Highway has to come from the federal government.' It is not a Commonwealth or federal road; it is a state highway. But we continually hear this.

Members of this House would, for instance, have seen the increase in the funding for TAFE for apprenticeships. I went to a presentation night recently in northern New South Wales where there were presentations to the people who had received awards for their effort at TAFE. There were signs along the back of the wall which intrigued me. We know the commitment that the federal government has to this particular area, but all the signs said was: TAFE New South Wales. These state governments are the most dishonest governments you will ever come across, because they take the money from the federal budget but they just claim it all for themselves and say, `It's state government funding.' That is absolutely incorrect—and we see it time and time again.

Obviously this dishonesty has to be exposed, because there is no doubt in my mind that the states cry poor. I have just indicated to you that, through the tax system, they are getting plenty of taxes. It is a little bit like the Teachers Federation we have at the present time that is out there crying about the fact that the federal government is not doing enough for public schools. Public schools are state schools. The federal government does make a contribution, and that contribution has increased in this budget, if you would take note. But the federal government has not got the responsibility for state schools—they are state schools. Yet we have the dishonesty of the Teachers Federation out there saying that the federal government is abrogating its responsibility. That does not surprise me, because it funds the Labor Party in big ways. There are huge amounts of money that it puts into the Labor Party coffers, so it does not surprise me in any way. The dishonesty about this and the hypocrisy that we see is quite extraordinary.

We heard a debate about forestry yesterday in private members business. It was the Keating government that introduced the RFA process. I did not actually agree with that, because I thought we had gone too far at that particular stage—I used to be the minister for forests in New South Wales—but I accept the fact that you have to try and get an agreement. You have to get a peace deal, if you like, between the extreme green movement who want to lock the world up and the industry that is necessary in rural New South Wales. The regional forest agreements took some three or four years to create. Both governments signed off—you had the federal government signing off; you had Bob Carr signing off—on a regional forest agreement, but, when it came to the election campaign in New South Wales, because he desperately needed some green preferences, Bob Carr simply tore up the regional forest agreement.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I simply have to say to you that one of the problems that we have in this country is the city-country divide. The problem with the city-country divide is that the city does not understand the truth about some of these issues. There is absolutely no risk involved in the proper management of forests. The arguments that are put forward are spurious, they are not based on fact, yet we get the politics involved in this. The federal government has spent millions and millions—and again, in this budget, if you take note, there is money provided by this government for the regional forest agreements—and, at the end of the day, the dishonesty that we hear coming from the Labor Party is quite unbelievable. I have been listening to this argument since 1984, and I have heard the same arguments year after year. Each year, we lock up thousands and thousands of hectares more. You might note that, in this budget, $7 million or $8 million has been provided by the federal government for firefighting. Why is the federal government providing $7 million or $8 million for firefighting? Because the states have got their management out of whack.

The New South Wales state government, which I know more about than other state governments, has locked up huge areas of national parks with absolutely no resources to manage them. During the great fires, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Phil Koperberg, said, `We can't reduce fuel because there are only a couple windows of opportunity during the spring and autumn to reduce fuel.' That is true. But how did it happen in the past? When I was minister for forests in New South Wales, there was a whole section of the forestry department responsible for reducing fuel every year. We also had grazing leases right along the ranges where the graziers—the lessees—reduced the fuel in those windows of opportunity. Now we have the situation where the state governments cannot manage their resources and are calling on the federal government to pay for these huge helicopters to come in. Of course, when you have a fire out of control, even they cannot control it. The state governments have to take some responsibility here and get back to managing their resources.

Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, before I finish I briefly want to mention the Summerland Way, which heads up to your electorate, the electorate of Maranoa. I have to say that the federal government's spending of some $20 million over the last few years has undoubtedly helped the Summerland Way, which is a heavy access road into Brisbane. The state government, again, keep saying, `We've spent a lot of money on this road.' But every time I check the facts, the facts do not add up. (Time expired)