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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16537


Mr ADAMS (7:28 PM) —Before I talk about the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004R, I note that the honourable member for Pearce mentioned training and training figures in her speech, and I also heard the minister talk about that in the House today. I think we should be looking at the quality of training in this country. Instead of producing figures in the House—which the minister does from time to time and says, `We now have this many more apprentices'—we should be looking at the quality of those apprenticeships and the actual people who are learning and moving forward with that sort of training. We are just producing figures, producing a few bits of paper, and we are not actually getting the depth for that training that people are making out.

Each year we go through this process of critically analysing what is in the budget papers and what it means for our particular regions. Sometimes we get lucky and some good comes our way, but under this government it has been a constant bad news story for Tasmanians. This is not a budget for the battlers. This is not a formula for families. Nor is it a panacea for the poor. This is the bonus for the business class, those that sit at the front of the aircraft and those who are unruffled at paying more and more private insurance for their medical needs. They do not notice up-front fees for little Johnny or young Cynthia to attend university because they can raise them without their beloved offspring going into debt.

It is a rich man's budget and there are a lot of people out there who are really hurting and will hurt more. This budget is forming a deep divide in the community—something this government is becoming very good at. We looked at the election with the flare of the children overboard; we looked at Australia's involvement in a war that seemed to be more of a spectacle of the Prime Minister fleeting around the world big noting about nothing. We now look at a budget in which the detail is being covered up by threats of security or whether the Prime Minister will lead his party at the next election. It is all smoke and mirrors—now you see a fact, now you do not. The detail of the government is missing. The overall direction in which this country is going is a mystery. There is a big wall being put around the boundaries of our land with only a select few people being able to sneak past the keeper. Yet the government is toying with free trade treaties around the place to make sure that our jobs are shipped offshore and that our manufacturers have to compete with low-wage countries. Even our dollar is causing difficulty with exporters because the US dollar has taken such a dive. It is not an atmosphere to put forward a budget and have it properly considered. We are being hoodwinked into flicking through major issues of health and education in order that the Prime Minister might drum up a bit of fear in the community to cover up the shortcomings. We have to do better than that.

Highlighting the terrorist discussion in the press is also giving people concern that there may be a copycat element at work. I mean, what is terrorism really? The injury of two flight attendants and two passengers in a recent security incident on a Qantas flight to Tasmania did give us cause for grave concern. We must congratulate and thank all those who helped defuse a very nasty situation. The two Qantas staff and the passengers were extremely brave and really saved the lives of all on board. I hope that this will awaken this federal government to the possible dangers faced by travellers in and out of the island state, which has been conveniently ignored in the propaganda. This shocking incident again shows that the federal transport minister has to do more practical things and less public talking about security.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has been under pressure from the airlines to reduce the minimum number of flight attendants on flights as a cost-saving measure. New Zealand allows one crew member per 50 passengers but Australia's regulations specify a minimum of one crew for 35 people. Labor opposes a reduction because it reduces the security and safety performance on board. This shocking security incident shows the important security role performed by flight stewards. We must also take on investigating breaches to regulations as part of an overall security role. The minister cannot continue to ignore the need for rigorous and independent security incident and accident investigations. We must investigate any aviation safety incident in the same way that we investigate those incidents that occurred on the flight to Tasmania. The travelling public deserves that sort of safety and security.

Security at our airports should not have loopholes that allow this sort of incident to occur. But, by the same token, we do not need to have people knowing every detail of the incidents so that others are encouraged to find those loopholes. Tasmanians need to know that they will be safe travelling around our country, because we are reliant on air travel.

I am appalled by what we are doing with our health system. This government's budget is stripping Medicare and handing it to the private sector. Labor will not allow Medicare to be replaced by an Americanised private system under which doctors ask for your credit card instead of your Medicare card and refuse to treat you unless you pay up front—the old system of medical delivery in Australia. Under John Howard, bulk-billing by GPs has gone down by 12 points, from a high of 80.6 per cent in 1996 to 68.5 per cent today. At the same time the average cost of seeing a GP who does not bulk-bill has increased by more than 55 per cent, from $8.32 in 1996 to $13.05 today.

A Crean Labor government will lift patient rebates to 95 per cent of the schedule fee and then take it to 100 per cent, an average rise of $5 for every consultation that is bulk-billed. Country areas in my electorate of Lyons have been affected by the Liberal government's tinkering with the scheme. We have been crying out for some way of increasing the number of doctors in areas isolated from the bigger cities. I mention again Beaconsfield, New Norfolk and Sorell, which continue to seek assistance for better access to doctors—doctors who want to stay and work in the more isolated areas and be part of the community.

Labor has come up with a plan to do just that. Bulk-billing is declining faster in some parts of Australia than in others. Under Labor, to remedy this, doctors who meet bulk-billing targets will receive additional incentive payments. Doctors in metropolitan areas who bulk-bill 80 per cent of services will receive an additional $7,500 a year; doctors in outer metropolitan areas and major regional centres who bulk-bill 75 per cent of services will receive an additional $15,000 a year; and doctors in rural and regional areas who bulk-bill 70 per cent of services will receive an additional $22,500. This is the equivalent of increasing the patient rebate by as much as $6.50 for a doctor in a metropolitan area, $7.80 in an outer metropolitan area and $9.60 in a rural area.

To address the doctor shortage and make general practice sustainable and attractive again, Labor will also provide for more GPs in the areas that need them and more nurses to assist GPs in their work. Labor has also promised to review the system by which overseas doctors can be placed in areas of shortage and make it fit more realistically the needs and availabilities. Labor will also provide additional funds to ensure that veterans with gold and white repatriation health cards continue to have the access to bulk-billing that they deserve. Medicare is not only the most equitable health system we can have; it is also the most efficient.

We are having the same problem with education: it is only for the rich now. For some, the top is unreachable. Just ask students how hard it is trying to work either part time or full time, keep house, do assignments, attend lectures and seminars, go to the library, attend sporting fixtures and still have some sort of social life with friends. Unless their parents are professionals or very wealthy, all students are required to work just to survive. Often this income has to be added to the moneys their parents are expected to pay for the degree undertaken. Many parents just cannot afford to support a full-time university student, a child at primary school, a child at high school and a mortgage.

Added to all these set costs will now be increased medical costs, health insurance costs, more taxes and the list goes on. The Howard Liberal government is indeed the highest taxing government in history. Parents who have children now will have to save $44 per week to be able to afford to send their child to university. That is the assessment at this time. But, frankly, who knows where the increases will end? The Howard government's plan for higher education—including a 30 per cent increase in the HECS fees, doubling the number of full-time university places and the introduction of loans of up to $50,000 at six per cent interest—would place an enormous financial burden on a great number of families. It has got to the stage now where I know of many families whose children are dropping out of university because the fees have become too much. They are trying to work for a few years to build up a small amount of cash to pay for the fees and, most of the time, they cannot get back. We are dumbing down our young people because the financial situation is too much for them. Many of their parents are struggling to make ends meet on low to middle incomes and do not have the opportunity to borrow funds to educate them.

I turn to the ridiculous things that have happened where funds have been sourced by selling properties, such as Defence properties. In Brighton, in the outskirts of Hobart, a property valued at $2.4 million was, for some inexplicable reason, sold for around $150,000 to a Sydney developer. It was sold way below its market value, and it was not in the interests of the community. This highlights a very flawed policy in the way that the government disposes of surplus properties. To dispose of properties such as this for a throwaway price without some community consultation or involvement is ridiculous. An approach dealing with the local conditions should be adopted, which would allow the local government to acquire sites where no competitive bids are received so that the sites could be used for community purposes that would enrich the area.

If the land is sought after aggressively on the open market, where true value is likely to be achieved, then some funds for the community activities should be directed back to the community after the sale. The site that we are talking about has strong heritage values for the state of Tasmania. Many Tasmanians have had an association with this camp while giving service to their country. It is a nostalgic as well as a historical site. The gates, the hospital and the theatre should be preserved for their heritage values. The whole property could have been used as the site for a military museum and could have included activities that are still linked with its past, such as reserve and cadet training. The rest of the block is ideal for mixed housing, a retirement village and a caravan park. If the local council had bought the site for the sum of $150,000, work could have been done to put the site to a more active use for next to nothing. I am really angry that the federal government has given away a part of Tasmania to a mainland investor when they had no right to do so.

It is such a significant site for our local defence forces, especially as the percentage of Tasmania's population who signs up into the forces is higher than in any other state. We owe it to them to honour the memories of their predecessors. All we can do now is demand that the federal government honour its earlier undertakings to the National Servicemen's Association; that the former camp gates, guard house and hospital building be set aside for heritage value and preservation; and that the funds from the sale are provided to start a fund to pay for this as well as a yearly allocation for its continued maintenance. Our veterans believe that this site could be better used and more appropriately developed. I have heard that the buildings on the site are going up for auction in the middle of July and that the rest of the site will be broken up into development blocks.

But there is another interesting twist to this story. An inspection was done on this property recently and it was found that every single building had been relieved of its fittings. Not a single toilet bowl or basin remained. All the heaters and stoves had gone and at least $20,000 to $30,000 in fixtures and fittings seemed to have disappeared. We do not know whether this happened before the buildings were sold or afterwards, but it does not look like it was vandals. Each building has been thrashed with what appears to be a hammer attack on each side of each wall in each building—obviously in an effort to bring the price down—and all the carpets throughout the buildings were slashed. This camp was upgraded to act as a peace haven for the Kosovars who were stationed in Tasmania. There is a caretaker there and no-one is allowed on the site. I would like to know what is going on and how all that occurred.

This budget has some huge problems in the detail, and no-one in government has made me believe that anything has been done about the queries that I have raised. This is the highest taxing government in the history of Australia. It costs you more to get your kids to university, to get them a degree, and it costs you more to go to the doctor—and it will cost people more and more to go to the doctor. This government tries to force people into private health insurance as a replacement for Medicare. I believe that that will be at the expense of good health services for the Australian people. I also believe that the Australian people will reject that at the next election.

I believe that, under a Crean-led Labor government, at the next election we will have a real alternative to this government which is making people pay for everything. Changing from a system of delivering a service to people—like under Medicare, the universal health system—to a system where you make people pay individually for the service they receive is what is happening in Australia, and I believe that Australians will reject that into the future. I think the majority of Australians know that they are going to be worse off under this budget, and I believe that they will remember that when we all come to the next election in this country and I look forward to the majority of Australians electing a Crean Labor government.