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Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Page: 11632

Mr ZAPPIA (12:19 PM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Yes, it does. It passes though the very city that I used to be the mayor of, and I can well recall the first train leaving the northern suburbs of Adelaide to go up to Darwin. It was a very significant day for South Australia.

I rise to speak in support of the Nation-building Funds Bill 2008, the COAG Reform Fund Bill 2008 and the Nation-building Funds (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 associated with it. I do so because the bills are important ones which I believe set the scene for some of the major infrastructure expenditure that we will see in this country, infrastructure that I believe the member for Kennedy was alluding to the need for. The bills also set the scene for a much greater level of cooperation between the federal government, the states and the territories. For those reasons they are indeed very significant bills.

When our constitution was established over 100 years ago, I am sure that it was very well intentioned by those who framed it. I am sure that they framed it with their best possible efforts in looking at what lay ahead and therefore how to best structure an arrangement between the federal government and the states. At that time, as we know, the states were six colonies and they operated independently of one another. The reality is that time has moved on. It has moved on around the world and it has moved on here in Australia. Here in Australia the states cannot continue to function in isolation as they did, just as countries around the world cannot continue to function in isolation as they might also have done in years gone by.

We have seen, particularly in the last 100 years or so, the range of international agreements and international frameworks that have been established by countries because they recognised the need to work together. We have to work together because we all face similar challenges. We all have common objectives about where we are trying to get to as peoples of this world. Therefore, we understand that when you face those common objectives you do have to work together. It is recognised that today, more than ever before, we do live in a global village. What happens in one country affects the social outcomes, the environment and the economy of another country.

We are seeing that on a daily basis in respect of the financial turmoil around the world. We are seeing it on a daily basis when we debate issues such as the Kyoto protocol and, here in this country, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. We know full well that that scheme will be dependent on the goodwill and the same level of commitment by other governments. In a similar way, we know that the management of our economy is also dependent on the goodwill and the good management of other economies. Not surprisingly, only in this last week we have seen the Prime Minister attend two international meetings as part of global governance of this world, which is absolutely necessary.

Here in Australia, it is even more so, in that we are no longer six colonies. We are one country. We are all Australian. The states cannot continue to operate in isolation as they might have done, and they cannot continue to compete with one another and to undermine each other as they have done in the past. What we have seen as a result of that competition is quite often an absolute waste and duplication of resources. When one thing happens in one part of the country—and I use the example of an industry that relocates from one part of the country to another—it creates jobs in the part that it locates to but they are lost to the other part. Ultimately, we are all Australians, and ultimately those consequences have to be borne by the national government, the federal government. So it is important that we work together, because the issues facing this country are common to all Australians.

We saw that only today in the debate on the education bill, which deals with a national curriculum and assessment. Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom, you were one of the speakers on that bill. It is another great example of where we need to go to in order to work as one nation, because education, like every other service provided in this country, ought to be consistent wherever you go throughout the country. If that is the case, it will make everybody’s lives so much easier and it will create much better opportunities for people in this country.

That is exactly the process that these bills begin. These bills are about nation building, and they are about states working together with the Commonwealth government. For too long we have seen states working against each other and the Commonwealth playing states off against each other—quite deliberately playing one state off against the other—to disrupt the governments of the day for political purposes. We have seen that for much too long. We certainly saw it in the last decade or more of the previous coalition government, where it was convenient to play one government off against the other and it was convenient to play the Commonwealth off against the states and even the local governments.

In my previous role as Mayor of the City of Salisbury, I can well recall a report being commissioned by the federal government about the issue of cost-shifting that was occurring throughout the country, an issue that was occurring because, again, it was convenient for it to occur. It was convenient for the federal government. It was convenient for the states. It was not convenient for local government, because they did not have any say in the matter and they would pick up the pieces and the additional costs as a result, but it was convenient for the other two levels of government. That is not good government. Good government is about governing with one clear focus in mind, and that is the ultimate wellbeing of the people of this country.

One of the things that have concerned me over the years—and I am pleased to see that in recent years it is starting to be put to one side and there is a level of cooperation, even without the intervention of the federal government, amongst the state governments—is the ridiculous notion of competing with one another for businesses or for sporting entertainment. That created no good for any of the states whatsoever. Ultimately, it was causing taxpayers to subsidise the relocation or the securing of the particular event or business—I am using that as an example for the purpose of the point I am trying to make. We saw that happening quite prolifically about 10 years ago. As I said earlier, ultimately the winners are the people setting up the business or—

Mr Chester —Take back the Grand Prix. We don’t want it.

Mr ZAPPIA —The member opposite interjects about the Grand Prix. It is a classic case of what I am talking about, but I should say that it is my understanding that, since we have had the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, the general community there is pleased that we have got that as an alternative to the Grand Prix. My understanding is that it is drawing greater crowds than the Grand Prix.

I used that as an example of where a lot of time, effort and money goes into subsidising something that is in nobody’s interest at all. Perhaps one state picks up additional tourism value and economic activity at the expense of another—in other words, at the expense of your fellows in South Australia, in this case. I saw that happening way too often across Australia, and it is time that we ended it.

We saw it happening again with the Murray-Darling Basin, and we still see it happening every day now. In the Murray-Darling Basin, the states not agreeing with one another because they were all protecting their own interests in the water supplies that are provided by the basin has caused the crisis that we are now facing with respect to water in this country. It shows how cooperative federalism should have been commenced years and years ago.

I mentioned earlier some of the efforts of the previous federal coalition government. Again, if you look back to the record of the coalition government, you see the states being underfunded, you see education being underfunded, you see the hospitals being underfunded, you see housing being underfunded and you see infrastructure being underfunded. And then the federal government had the audacity to turn to the states and say: ‘It is the states’ fault. They are the ones who are underfunding these areas.’ Not for one minute did they accept the responsibility that they were short-changing the states by underfunding them to the tune of billions of dollars in all of those areas. Again, it was convenient politics.

The electors of Australia could and did see straight through it. After almost 12 years of the coalition government, the electors of Australia voted them out. The areas of education, hospitals, housing and infrastructure were key issues at the last election. They were election issues because people in this country knew that those areas had been underfunded and that a much higher level of funding was needed in those areas to get the services they expect out of government. They were not fooled, and they voted accordingly.

This budget responds to those very needs. It is a budget which allocates some $11 billion into the Education Investment Fund, $10 billion into the Health and Hospital Fund and around $20 billion into the Building Australia Fund. These funds were established in the first Rudd government budget. In saying that, I want to make this point: the coalition constantly tries to claim credit for the strong economy that they left the Rudd government. Because of the strong budget surpluses that we inherited, they try to take credit for the Rudd government being able to allocate these funds. They may well say that, but the first point I make is that the first Rudd budget was a budget of the Rudd government. It was the Rudd government that determined its allocations and its expenditure priorities in May. It was the Rudd budget that committed to set aside funds for these nation-building funds.

If the coalition members really believe that they left Australia in a strong economic state then why were our hospitals and health systems in crisis? Why was our education system, according to world rankings, deteriorating yearly? Why was our housing system in crisis? Why was the Murray-Darling river system in crisis? Why did we not have a broadband system that was anywhere near the standards of other countries? It was interesting that yesterday when we were debating the Aged Care Amendment (2008 Measures No. 2) Bill there were speakers from the coalition who were talking about how the aged-care sector is also in crisis. Again I ask: if the economy was so strong and the previous coalition government was doing such a good job, why did we have all of these crises on our hands? Why was inflation at a 16-year high? Why did we have 10 interest rate rises in a row? Clearly the economy was not as strong under the watch of the coalition as they would have us believe. They certainly did not manage what economic opportunities they had very well at all. It is all right for them to come into parliament and talk about how they left a budget surplus. You can leave a budget surplus, but when you leave all of your infrastructure run down and when you leave all of your services depleted and inadequate, that creates a massive debt for the incoming government, because all of those things need to be responded to sooner or later. The time has come when they do need to be responded to.

Services and infrastructure are key priorities of any government. The fact that the previous coalition government refused to commit real money in those areas is, I believe, a sad indictment on the previous government. If nothing else, not investing in infrastructure and not investing in improved education and health services lowers Australia’s productive capacity. It is like allowing a business to run down. If a business does not invest in research and development or plant and equipment then, while it may well save money in the short term, in the long term it will lead to the demise of that business. That is exactly what was happening to this country until the election of the Rudd Labor government.

The ability of this country to live off the back of our natural resources—an ability which the previous coalition government was entirely reliant on—cannot be guaranteed forever and a day. We need to ensure that our economy remains strong not just because we have natural resources that other countries do not but also because we can compete with other countries in every other sphere. It is my view that the Rudd government is picking up the pieces by allocating funds into these areas. It is doing so in the face of some very tough economic times caused by international factors.

It is interesting commentary coming from the coalition because, when we talk about the tough economic times that we are facing and we look at the Economic Security Strategy of the government and the decisions made by this government in response to the financial turmoil, on the one hand they want to take credit for some of those decisions but on the other hand they criticise them. On the one hand they urge this government to increase spending in different areas; on the hand they talk about the government having to maintain a budget surplus. They want more tax cuts for families but they oppose revenue raising measures. The opposition simply cannot have it both ways when it comes to managing the economy of this country and managing the budget that this government is now managing. They cannot try to take credit for the good components of the budget and then criticise other components of it.

These are bills which, as I said from the outset, get us back on track in investing in nation-building projects and investing in the projects that will ultimately lead to greater productivity in this country. It is long overdue that the Commonwealth and the state governments work as one. I am pleased to see that that process has started. I understand that there will be a Council of Australian Governments meeting in a few days time and I am sure that, as a result of that meeting, we will see other examples of cooperation agreed to between the federal government and the states. I am also very pleased to see that this federal government, as part of that process, has included local government in the responsibility that ought to be shared between all three levels of government when it comes to providing services in this country. It is about cooperation, not just between the states and the federal government; it is about cooperation between local government, the states and the federal government, because they all have a role to play in the provision of the very services that these funds, which have been allocated under the first Rudd budget, will be used for. I commend the bills to the House and compliment the Treasurer and the other ministers that were involved in establishing this framework, which I believe secures the future of our country.