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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 12027

Mr HALE (4:55 PM) —I rise today to offer my strong support for the Nation-building Funds Bill 2008 and cognate bills. On indulgence, I would also like to add my sympathy to the family of Lieutenant Michael Fussell, who passed away at the end of last week. Having a strong contingent of service people in my electorate, it is always a worry to me to have our people overseas.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The honourable member does not need indulgence.

Mr HALE —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am new in this place. The main purpose of these bills is to establish Labor’s three nation-building funds: the Building Australia Fund, the Health and Hospitals Fund and the Education Investment Fund. These funds will provide the finances to see nationwide improvements in critical areas such as transport, communications, higher education, vocational education and training, research and health. The Australian government is bringing about real change to the way we look at investing in our nation’s future. This government is committed to responsible economic management and we are committed to smart investment in those areas of the economy that will assist us to grow, invest and build on this nation’s prosperity.

Earlier this year the Prime Minister took decisive and early action to protect the Australian economy from the global financial crisis, which started in the United States and has rapidly spread throughout the world. The Rudd government prepared well ahead for this set of circumstances by ensuring in the May budget that we provided ourselves with a strong buffer for the future. The Australian economy remains sound, but we are not immune from the global slowdown and the real possibility of global recession. There are no easy solutions or quick fixes to the global financial crisis. This is going to be a long, drawn-out crisis which will have a real impact in Australia, leading to slowed economic growth and increased unemployment. We are in a strong position to tackle the challenges that come with global economic uncertainty, yet we do require strong economic management to assist in this challenge.

On 14 October the Prime Minister and the Treasurer announced the $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy to deal with the challenges of the global financial crisis, to support continued positive growth in the Australian economy and to provide practical support for the household. I know that thousands of pensioners, carers and families in Solomon are looking forward to the financial relief they will receive next week. Not only will it mean real and immediate support for pensioners, carers and families; it will also mean an economic stimulus for the hundreds of small business owners in the Darwin and Palmerston area at a time when everyone needs it the most.

To ensure that Australia is shielded from the impact of the global financial crisis, another component of the Economic Security Strategy announced in October was the fast-tracking of our nation-building agenda. To meet the infrastructure needs of Australia in areas central to our economy—areas like transport, communications and education and training—these bills have been fast-tracked through a historic investment in nation building that will ensure our economic security today and into the future.

The investments being made by this government are significant. This year the government will contribute over $12 billion, including proceeds from the T3 sale and the balance of the Communications Fund, to the Building Australia Fund for use in long-term nation-building projects. It will contribute almost $9 billion, including the balance of the Higher Education Endowment Fund, to the Education Investment Fund for education infrastructure and make a $5 billion contribution to the Health and Hospitals Fund for health infrastructure. The government is committed to making future allocations of these funds as budget circumstances permit. These three funds are particularly important examples of the government’s approach to nation building. They are designed to provide in areas where stakeholders agree there are substantial infrastructure gaps.

It is always good to have third-party endorsements of the budget and of these things. All members would recall the dozens of warnings the former government received from the Reserve Bank that it needed to focus on infrastructure spending bottlenecks in the economy and also increase spending on training. I will read a few of the responses to the announcement of the Building Australia Fund from peak organisations not known as Labor sympathisers by any stretch of the imagination. David Crombie, President of the National Farmers Federation, said:

Tonight’s announcement of the $20 billion Building Australia Fund is a positive move towards addressing critical transport and communications infrastructure. Too often Australia’s farmers face inadequate and grossly ineffective national and regional infrastructure in these areas, undermining the farming sector’s strong record of productivity and growth.

The ANZ Bank’s chief economist, Saul Eslake, said that in this budget the Treasurer ‘has created a more compelling vision of how it will deploy the enlarged surplus which it is projecting over the next four years’. This is exactly what the government should be saving its surplus for. I commend the legislation to the House.