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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15899


Mr BARRESI (8:21 PM) —It gives me great pleasure to rise in this debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 and speak to a budget that is responsible, that is right for the times and which will help Australia continue to grow. I am pleased to report that at the local level we can see the positive benefits of a number of the policies outlined by the Treasurer on budget night. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Treasurer on bringing down his eighth budget—a budget which confirms and continues the proud record of this government in achieving sound economic management while still being able to increase spending on government programs for the benefit of the community and the people of Deakin. The great economic record of this government is epitomised by this budget. We have seen a continuation of low inflation, of jobs growth, of a low interest rates regime and, at the same time all this has been happening, an increase in real wages for the people out in my part of the world and of course throughout Australia. This is a proud record for any government to boast, and I am certainly very proud of the fact that I am a member of a government that has been able to bring down this most successful eighth budget.

The prudent economic management that this government has become famous for stands in stark contrast to the performance of the economic management and budgets in our states which we have seen in recent times. I particularly would like to talk this evening at some length about the plight of the economy in my home state of Victoria, as evidenced by the budget which was brought down only a couple of weeks prior to ours. It is easy for us to get lost in the number of zeros and the size of the figures in the budget. However, it is when we see local organisations and our communities benefiting from the initiatives contained in it that the figures become easier to comprehend. The bringing down of the federal coalition's eighth budget came only two weeks after the Victorian government's budget. As a result, it does enable us to make a very useful comparison of the relative performance of the two governments as they affect the constituency that I represent in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

In stark contrast to the Victorian budget, the federal government have offered income tax cuts, which include raising the tax free threshold and the tax brackets. In the current climate, and given the global context, that is a remarkable achievement. Australia's economy continues to be a beacon in the Asia-Pacific area. We have been able to deliver tax cuts in a time when we are experiencing a crippling drought; a season of ravaging bushfires; threats of terrorism affecting our tourism industry; and our defence forces in action not only in East Timor but also in the war on Iraq. With this backdrop, giving back to the community tax cuts in the budget was a welcome surprise to the people I represent in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Whilst Victoria can lay claim to a number of unique characteristics, such as the home of AFL football, the Melbourne Cup, the Grand Prix and the Australian Open, there is one characteristic that we are not so proud of. That is, the Victorian government currently holds the trophy of the highest taxing state, which is why the federal government's tax cuts were so welcome. While some may criticise the $4 tax cut in the marginal rate, as being small and insignificant, it is, however, symbolic of the difference between a coalition government and the ALP opposition and the ALP governments at a state level. Such a comparison helps to underscore the excellent credentials of this government. It also helps us put into context the fiscal policies of this government, given that the states rely heavily on national economic activity. By that, of course, I am referring to the growth in GST revenue which goes directly to the states. In Victoria's case, for this coming financial year, their GST take is estimated to be in the order of $6,649 million. Despite that revenue, we still see an underperforming state, as evidenced by their recent budget.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are three core indications that reinforce the notion of an underperforming state government, while having a federal government delivering sound economic management. Firstly, Victoria reaps the highest gambling taxation revenue of any other state—some $1.37 billion, or 37 per cent of total gambling taxation revenue. That share of gambling tax revenue represents 16 per cent of Victoria's great tax grab. Secondly, Victoria recorded a five per cent higher rate of taxation per capita than the Australian national average. Thirdly, Victorian receipts on payroll tax are now $349 million, up 16 per cent from 1998-99; and land tax now yields $146 million, up 40 per cent from 1998-99 levels. Increased taxes, whether they be payroll, land tax or property taxes, have seen Victoria's tax take up from 29 per cent in 1998-99. What does this mean for the mums and dads who are my core constituents in Deakin? It means that their hip pockets are slugged.

The Bracks tax record does not stop there. Stamp duty on conveyancing has increased by 51 per cent, taxes on insurance have increased by 39 per cent and motor vehicle taxes have increased by $102 million since the 1998-99 period. All these hikes have had a dramatic effect on households in my electorate and on their ability to plan and manage their own financial wellbeing. How can it be anything else when they are also then slugged with municipal rates revenue which has now reached $1.64 billion, equating to a 23 per cent increase? At the same time we have seen inflation over this period at around 12 per cent, yet Bracks and his cohorts have increased the rates grab by nearly double the cost of living.

Perhaps the most brazen of all policies in stark contrast to the tax cuts and yet delivering increased spending by this government is that the Bracks government have said that they will index all 300 fines, fees and state charges. This makes them the highest-taxing state in Australia. The bottom line for householders in Deakin is that they are going to have to come up with an extra $1,900 a year because of the Bracks' taxes. Slugging the household leads to an effect on business confidence. We all know that this budget gives us an opportunity to compare the performance of this government, its revenue raising measures and its ability to fund programs in my core area with those of other jurisdictions. It does affect business confidence; it does affect household confidence.

In the May 2003 Yellow Pages Small Business Index, we find that small and medium enterprise confidence levels in Victoria are currently below the national average in Victoria. The business confidence levels in Victoria are the second lowest in Australia. In contrast, however, the Australian economy as a whole is regarded as one of the lowest-taxing nations as a percentage of GDP in the world, according to the OECD data. I know the opposition likes to make out that we are a high-taxing government; in fact, it is a flawed analogy when you look at the fact that it needs to be seen as a percentage of GDP. The OECD ranks Australia as the sixth lowest-taxing nation by GDP.

This is testimony to the work by the Treasurer in pursuit of Australia's interests abroad in securing growth with such consistency. We in Victoria are lucky to have a government looking out for our interests, caring for our welfare, helping job seekers find employment and committed to providing adequate funds to valuable programs and infrastructure projects. It is just unfortunate that the same cannot be said for the state ALP government of Victoria. It is not providing us with the same sort of direction on these issues. The Victorian government's apparent lack of interest in these areas means that the federal government has to step into the breach.

I am pleased to see that, as part of this budget, $10.4 million has been included for the Victorian black spots project. This is a project that I know people in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne have accepted and welcomed quite warmly. We have seen various black spots programs around the place. I also join with my state and federal parliamentary colleagues in welcoming the allocation of $420 million—the residual amount that was part of the memorandum of understanding between the state and federal government—for the Scoresby Freeway. It was included in this budget. I know that, in this year's budget specifically, there was $63.3 million allocated for the 2003-04 financial year for this project. This is in stark contrast to what the state government has allocated to it. That money is in the pipeline. It is waiting on the Bracks government's acceptance that tolls on the Scoresby are not the answer and not in the agreement.

We have had a couple of debates in the last two days on the Scoresby Freeway and Roads of National Importance. We had a debate yesterday after I moved my private member's motion. It is not so much the introduction of the tolls per se, because there are Roads of National Importance and roads around Australia that do have tolls; it is the breach of a promise and it is the breach of a contract which have angered the people in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. That is at the heart of the anger—the blatant lies that took place, the misleading statements and comments that were made not only in the lead-up to the last election but also subsequent to the last election until the announcement by the state government on 14 April.

I have said on many occasions that any polling in my part of the world on issues—and the ALP can verify this—will show that roads and issues surrounding roads take up four of the top 10 places; whether it be road congestion, the Scoresby Freeway, the Eastern Freeway extension or whatever it may be. Roads make up four out of the top 10 issues. The state ALP and the federal ALP know this because, in the lead-up to the last state election and in the lead-up to the last federal election, both party leaders had to concede the importance of roads in the eastern suburbs and make a commitment to funding the Scoresby Freeway.

We have seen the state government renege on its promise, a memorandum of understanding—not just a promise but a contract—between state and federal governments. What we have not seen, though, is whether or not the federal ALP will also renege on that same commitment. We have not heard, but there have been indications. Two of the ALP backbench members from Victoria spoke yesterday on my private member's motion and certainly, by their utterances, there was every indication that the federal ALP was totally in step with the state Labor government on the introduction of tolls.

The Bracks government can use whatever excuse they like. It does not matter what the excuse is; the end result is that tolls will be introduced. It is a breach of promise. It is a breach of a contract between a state and a federal government and certainly the people of the east feel hoodwinked and angry about it. They will show that anger next Tuesday night at a public meeting—which I have already spoken about in this House—in my part of the world: in Ringwood.

One of the areas in which it is somewhat easier to see the benefits of the government's investment—and which has been identified in this budget, I am pleased to say—is children's welfare. Much has been said about this vital social policy area in recent weeks but I fear that the interest in it is transitory. There was certainly a lot of interest in the issue of child welfare, by the media and sections of the community, in light of the debate and controversy in respect of the Governor-General. Child abuse is an abhorrent act and one that must be fought by governments of any persuasion. But I challenge the media and I challenge the ALP—and all those who stood up and argued about the importance of child abuse—to maintain that interest and that rage. One of the biggest armouries a community can have is a group of organisations and institutions that is committed to fight the insidious abuse that is taking place. It is a fight that can be won by improving education, looking at the impact that child abuse can have on the development of children, and recognising possible cases of abuse.

A couple of weeks ago—subsequent to the introduction of the budget—I was privileged to be able to congratulate a group in my electorate on securing federal funding for the work they do. Australians Against Child Abuse, which is located about 100 metres from my electorate office, is a community organisation committed to raising awareness of child abuse. From the National Agenda for Early Childhood, the Australians Against Child Abuse will receive $1 million over the next two years to roll out the Every Child is Important program across Australia.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the government and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, for their support of this program and for signalling their ongoing support for the fight against child abuse. The program is designed to recognise the importance of children's experiences to their development. It acknowledges the purity and vulnerability of children and deserves our recognition. Joe Tucci, the CEO of Australians Against Child Abuse, did not have to sell the merits of the program; they spoke for themselves. This measure will lead to greater awareness of children's rights, and the responsibilities of those who care for them. I congratulate the team at Australians Against Child Abuse on the success of the program and look forward to continuing to work with them on this important social issue.

Another element to the growth of our communities, which has been addressed in this budget, is a capacity for job seekers eventually to find employment. There is a proud record of achievement in Deakin with the unemployment rate currently a touch under five per cent—down from around 5.3 or 5.4 per cent 12 months earlier. Much of the hard yards have been done by the employment service providers in this area. And of course the introduction of Job Network 3 will be an added bonus to the people in the eastern suburbs who are looking for employment. The budget continues a commitment to structured workplace learning which has assisted many people either to further their employment prospects or to gain additional skills or professional development.

Over the last seven years I have had a keen interest in programs that enhance the transitional arrangements for young Australians moving from school to work. In fact I sit on a committee of management for one of the organisations that does such work. The Jobs Pathway Program conducted by KYM—with offices throughout the eastern suburbs—is one such program which looks at the transition to the workplace for kids who do not go on to tertiary studies. We understand that most people do not go on to tertiary studies. It has often been said that 70 per cent of young kids choose not to go on to tertiary studies. So what do we do for them? It is important that we look after the needs of these young people, that we look after their transitional arrangements, and that we help them to find employment and further their skills. The commitment in this budget underpins the government's view that no matter what your goal is in life—whether it is to go to university, into a trade or straight to work—we respect your choice and we will support you as much as we can.

The announcement of the incorporation of the Enterprise and Career Education Foundation and its becoming part of the Department of Education, Science and Training augurs well for the provision of high-quality employment services to the people in the east—in particular, as I said, if young people decide to take the challenging path from school to work. I fully expect that the $13.8 million for the Structured Workplace Learning Program will provide much needed assistance to Deakin students who make this life choice.

Regrettably, however, this increase in funding from the federal government for transitional programs is not matched by the state's efforts for employment growth. I am sad to say that MEGT in Ringwood, located in my electorate—a local employment service provider which helped around 10,000 people gain employment—has had to close its program because the scheme was sacked by the state minister for employment, who provided no justification for the cut in funding. This highlights once again the difference between the two governments: one is a government that can deliver programs, can increase the spending on programs, and yet can also deliver tax cuts; the other is a government that inherited a surplus, cannot deliver on programs, cuts vital programs—such as those run by MEGT, which has helped 10,000 people—and, at the same time, increases over 300 taxes. I congratulate the Treasurer and the government on their eighth budget and on a great record of achievement for the people in the electorate of Deakin and in Australia.