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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15652

Mr BALDWIN (6:30 PM) —It is a great pleasure to be able to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 today. This year there are a number of budget initiatives that will have a direct benefit for the people of Paterson. These include roads, defence, health and education.

Before I go into the specifics of the budget, I want to talk about economic management. When a government can manage the economy effectively despite forces outside its control, it can spend the money where it needs it most. There is no question that the Howard government has succeeded in managing the economy despite one of the worst droughts in history, a war, severe bushfires, the threat of terrorism and a downturn in the international economy. The Howard government has been able to pay back a hefty $63 billion of the $96 billion debt left by the Labor Party. This equates to an annual saving of $5 billion in interest payments. This is money that can be reinvested into programs to help families, support people who want to take on an apprentice, hospitals, securing our borders and quality education. It demonstrates the kind of economic management that is responsible, and it has been one of the great pillars of this government.

Let us look at the economic record of the Howard government. The Howard government has had $22.9 billion in total surpluses over the last five budgets. Debt has fallen to five per cent of GDP, Australia's AAA credit rating has been restored and more than one million jobs have been created since this government came into office. Interest rates are currently the lowest they have been in some 30 years, saving Australians about $3,950 on a home loan of $100,000. The overdraft rate for small business has dropped significantly, to around eight per cent, and we have one of the most strongly growing economies in the world.

When I look at the members opposite, I can only wonder what would have happened to Australia if Labor had been in power in the circumstances that faced this country last year. Let us have a look at Labor's record on the economy. The ALP racked up $80 billion of debt in their last five years of office, peaking at 20 per cent of GDP. Labor spent more in interest payments in 1995-96 than in education. Australia's credit rating was downgraded twice. The national unemployment rate was around 8.6 per cent when Labor left office; it peaked nationally at 10.9 per cent in 1992 and at over 17 per cent in the Hunter. Interest rates were 10.5 per cent when Labor left office; mortgage rates peaked at 17.1 per cent in 1990. Small business did it extremely tough, with the overdraft rate peaking at 20.5 per cent in 1989. With an economic management record like this, I can only imagine that Australia would be in real strife right now if Labor were running the country. Thankfully, they are not—not only because we cannot afford to go back to Labor but because Labor ignored the needs of all Australians.

I mentioned earlier that there are some particular funding measures in this budget that have had special significance for the residents of Paterson. Firstly, I would like to address road funding. There are many members here from both sides of the House who represent regional electorates and who understand the importance of road funding to regional communities. Good infrastructure does not just mean a safer trip for motorists. It also is an attraction for businesses and development in communities.

Dungog council, which is in my electorate, has over 100 roads that it has to maintain and upgrade, and it has quite a small income base from which to gather its funds. There is a range of projects that Dungog has been fighting for and that it has achieved through the Dairy Regional Assistance Program and the Regional Assistance Program. These projects are aimed at generating employment and stimulating the local economy. Equally important in Dungog is the need for better roads. It is an issue that I know Mayor Steve Low is very passionate about. Programs like Roads to Recovery are providing much needed funds to councils. So far this program has provided over $1.4 million to council roads in Dungog. I am pleased to see in this budget that the Roads to Recovery funding will continue for 2003-04, with $302.2 million being allocated, and that more funding will be provided to local councils from the Commonwealth.

Another federal road program which is popular in my electorate of Paterson is the Black Spot Program. This particular program provides funding to improve dangerous locations. Again, it provides a great deal of money to local councils. Some $45 million will be spent on the Black Spot Program in 2003-04. Again, I am sure that local councils are looking forward to the funds flowing their way. Since the Howard government came to power, over $7.5 million has been spent on black spots in Paterson. That includes $1.8 million on the Bucketts Way, $2.47 million on the Lakes Way, $300,000 on the Myall Way, over $400,000 on Nelson Bay Road and in excess of $1 million on roundabouts on the Raymond Terrace Road. These are but a few examples of where work has been carried out. Interestingly enough, the Black Spot Program is a program that Labor scrapped when in power—to the horror of many councils. Fortunately, the Howard government understands the importance of such funding; it not only has brought this program back to life but will continue to fund it into the future, because this program saves lives.

Aside from national roads programs that received funding in this budget, some key roads that affect residents in Paterson received funding. It was announced that the Weakley's Drive project will receive $25 million over three years. Many members here will know that this is a project that I have been working very hard to make happen and that I have been very vocal about. The project involves the intersection where the end of the F3 freeway meets the New England Highway. It is, without doubt, one of the most dangerous intersections in the Hunter region. At peak periods, motorists experience long delays to get through this intersection, and its record for crashes has been well documented. One of the major problems with the intersection is that a large range of vehicles have to use this road. There are all the vehicles travelling between Newcastle and Maitland, trucks from Brisbane and beyond to Sydney, heavy trucks from the recycling depot, trucks and buses from the transport hub, school buses, and motorists travelling from Thornton, Beresfield, Tarro and Woodberry. The region itself has outgrown this intersection. In order to keep up with local growth rates, an upgrade is urgently required.

I have spoken about this need many times here in this parliament. Since November 2001, I have put the case in three speeches, in a notice of motion, in letters to transport ministers and the Prime Minister, in a budget submission earlier this year, in a meeting with the minister in my electorate in December last year and in the petition presented on behalf of my community to this parliament. It is this work and effective lobbying by members of my community that resulted in this great budget announcement. Since the announcement has been made, it has been quite interesting to see a number of faces pop up taking credit for the funding. They are faces I have not seen before on this issue, but nonetheless the funding is there and this project will be delivered.

Another project that I am passionate about and that has received funding in this budget is the Bucketts Way. This road links the communities of Krambach, Gloucester, Stroud, Booral and Stratford to the Pacific Highway. It has been neglected by the New South Wales government for many years. Councils such as Gloucester and the Great Lakes have been drip-fed their funding for this road, which is an issue I took to the government during the election campaign. As a result, the Prime Minister committed $20 million to this road and in the recent budget the first allocation of funding was announced. In 2003-04, $3.5 million will be spent on a range of projects. I stress that this road is not a federal road—indeed, it is a state road.

The fact is that the Commonwealth has direct responsibility for two roads that affect the residents in Paterson: the New England Highway and part of the Pacific Highway. To help local councils and speed up the progress of the work of making this road safer for motorists the government will be investing some $20 million on the Bucketts Way over four years. It is funding that councils have welcomed, and I thank the Mayor of Gloucester Council, Barry Ryan, the general manager of Gloucester Council, Norm McLeod, the Mayor of Great Lakes Council, John Chadban, and the general manager of Great Lakes Council, Keith O'Leary, for their assistance and support for this project.

Another road project that received funding is the Karuah bypass on the Pacific Highway. I had the opportunity last week to visit the site of the bypass and look at the construction in progress. It is really an amazing feat of bridge engineering and is expected to be completed by December 2004, ending the long bottleneck at Karuah. The government will increase its funding on the Pacific Highway by over 34 per cent to $57.8 million this year. Defence projects in Paterson also received funding in the budget, which will create local jobs and boost our local economy. The government announced some time ago that it planned to purchase the airborne early warning and control aircraft and that RAAF Williamtown would play an important role in this project. Budget 2003-04 confirmed this role with the announcement that $19 million will be spent on the construction of the AEWAC headquarters. This project has already started and the parliamentary secretary recently visited the site for the start of that construction.

This project has significant benefits to our local area. The AEWAC headquarters will involve around 200 construction jobs and more indirect jobs related to the prefabrication, supply and distribution of material. Once operational, 350 permanent positions will be created at Williamtown. I believe they will start sometime in February. That is around $15 million in extra pay packets coming into Port Stephens, and there will be more families in the area. It also means that the government will be spending $2.1 million over 2003-04 for a child care facility at Williamtown RAAF base. Naturally, with more families coming into the area, support for these defence families is very important, so I welcome this child care facility.

The work being carried out at the RAAF base also means that a sewerage line will be going through the area. There has been a need in the community for this infrastructure for a long time now and the commitment given to RAAF Williamtown through this government and the importance it has in Australia's capabilities will also mean that facilities like the sewerage line will be part of the works to be carried out. That will help further development in the area. The budget also involved the announcement of $515 million in major capital projects for the AEWAC planes. This is a significant investment in Australia's defence capabilities and it shows the importance of RAAF Williamtown in defence planning in the future.

Budget 2003-04 saw an enormous commitment to health care in this country, and the government has been very supportive of health measures in the Hunter region. An example of that is the Maitland After Hours GP Service. This service has been so successful that it has now been granted approval to expand throughout the Hunter region. Last November this government—the Howard government—also announced a grant of $27,654 for the Hunter Rural Division of General Practice to develop and implement an after hours primary Medicare service plan. The after hours service is a project I would dearly love to see up and running in the Forster-Tuncurry and Cape Hawke Hospital.

Earlier this year, I invited the Minister for Health and Ageing to Paterson to meet with local doctors and representatives from the health industry. I would like to see more doctors come into the communities in my electorate, in particular in the townships of Karuah and Lemon Tree Passage. I would also like to see more bulk-billing in regional areas and as such I am particularly pleased with the measures in this budget that encourage doctors to do this. My office has phoned all of the GP practices in Paterson, and one of the problems we have found is that there is a heavy concentration of bulk-billing in some areas and no bulk-billing at all in others. So, it is not evenly distributed throughout my communities. For example, there are quite a few GPs in the Great Lakes area, but no-one bulk-bills. In comparison, the majority of doctors in Medowie, Beresfield and Raymond Terrace offer bulk-billing services. In Paterson, residents can access bulk-billing in Raymond Terrace, Tea Gardens, Beresfield, Shoal Bay and Medowie, but they are unable to access bulk-billing in Nelson Bay, Salamander Bay, Gloucester and Forster.

The initiatives announced in the budget will go a long way to attracting doctors to bulk-bill their patients, and as such I look forward to these initiatives being passed in the Senate to assist residents in Paterson. For example, doctors will receive incentives to bulk-bill 7 million people covered by a Commonwealth concession card and, of course, all Australians will remain eligible to be bulk-billed if their doctor chooses. For example, for doctors in outer metropolitan areas that cover some practices in the Hunter, GPs will have an annual payment of $10,250, while for rural centres it will be $18,500.

Another measure involves reducing up-front medical costs. At the moment there are many people who go to the doctor who have to pay their GP fee and then go to a Medicare office or claim facility. Under the changes proposed by this government, patients without a concession card attending participating practices will only have to pay the gap between the Medicare rebate and what their doctor chooses to charge. Once you have visited your doctor, there is no more to do and no more to pay. For regional areas in particular, I know this will be a very welcome initiative as many areas in my electorate rely on the easy claim facilities and are not as fortunate as those living in the city, who are able to visit Medicare offices.

My electorate also has a significant number of veterans and there are measures in this budget to assist them, with the introduction of a veteran access fee paid to local medical officers registered under the repatriation scheme. At a cost of $61.7 million over four years, GPs registered under the Local Medical Officer Scheme will be eligible for a veteran access fee of $3 for each consultation with an eligible veteran or war widow patient, in addition to the 100 per cent of the Medicare benefit schedule currently paid for gold and white repatriation health card patients.

The government is also committed to free hospital treatment for all Australians. To support our hospitals, the Commonwealth will provide an extra $10 billion to help them run public hospitals under the 2003-2008 Australian health care agreements. This means that over the next five years the federal government will provide states and territories with up to $42 billion to support the provision of free public hospital services. It is an incredible commitment to hospitals and I certainly hope the states sign up to it, even though they dismissed this funding out of hand before they even looked at the detail.

The government will also be putting more funding into training doctors and nurses. From 2004 there will be an extra 234 publicly funded medical school places each year. Students who take up these places will be bonded to areas of work force shortages for a minimum of six years. On top of that, there will be an additional 150 training places added each year to the GP training program. Up to 800 practices will also be able to employ a nurse or an allied health worker with the extension of the nurses program. This includes positions such as physiotherapists.

I will also add some points on education. Over the last year I have had the privilege of visiting many of the schools in my electorate which have benefited from Commonwealth funding. Gloucester Public School, for example, received over $1.7 million from the Commonwealth for the construction of a multipurpose hall, a covered outdoor learning area, a food service unit, a library and four new classrooms; St Josephs at Bulahdelah received over $539,000 for the construction of a building services store, three general learning areas, a library, a physical education store, a canteen and toilets; Salt Ash Public School received $350,000 to go towards two classrooms and to refurbish the administration area; Medowie Christian School received $300,000 for the construction of three general learning areas; and Morpeth Public School received $12,000 for a covered outdoor learning area—not to forget the federal funding for the Forster-Tuncurry campus which has opened this year. There is also a new school being built in Clarence Town, there will be additions at Anna Bay and Soldiers Point schools—and the list goes on. They are but a few examples of how the Commonwealth is supporting education in Paterson. It is investing in our schools and investing in our children's future. In 2003-04, the Commonwealth will spend $6.9 billion on Australian schools, which represents an increase of $528 million on last year.

I am also pleased that the New Apprenticeships scheme will receive $2.8 billion over four years. With a number of businesses in my electorate that take on apprenticeships, this is definitely a program that I am pleased to see continue into the future with increasing investment. This funding will build on the success the government already has in training, which has increased from 142,400 in December 1995 to almost 375,000 at the end of last year.

As I mentioned earlier, I am pleased with the funding that has been allocated to my electorate in this budget. There are also a number of programs that businesses or community groups in my electorate can benefit from, such as the Regional Solutions Program or Saluting Their Service, which I will continue to promote. As a federal member, I take a great deal of pleasure in the partnership you can form to bring a project to life. It is a partnership that this government has been very successful at, and I look forward to continuing that work over the next year. I commend the budget to the House.