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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 316

Ms KING (8:10 PM) —I have listened in this debate on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills to many of those opposite, and I have just listened to the Leader of the Opposition on The 7.30 Report. Increasingly, in this debate, we are hearing members of the opposition, again, hark back to the golden days of the Howard government and the dark days of the Keating and Whitlam governments. As I listen in this debate to opposition members, I believe they just do not understand the times we are living in today. They do not understand just how serious the crisis is that we are facing. This is not like the last years we lived under the Howard government. It is not like what happened when Keating, Hawke or Whitlam were in power. It is not like anything we have experienced before. We are living in unprecedented times and it requires absolutely strong action from government.

It seemed unimaginable this time last year that we would be experiencing such desperate times. What started at the hands of a small number of reckless financiers in the United States has now made its way into every economy. We are facing an unprecedented crisis, one that is not of our making—a crisis that day by day is making its way into every element of our economy, whether it be the slowdown in demand for our commodities; the reduction in sales of new vehicles; job losses, particularly in the manufacturing sector; or the restriction of the availability of credit for investment. The list goes on.

The people who are bearing the brunt of this crisis are not the reckless US financiers, although we do hope some of them have done so; it is ordinary working families who are paying the price for the greed of a few. It will be some time before we start to make our way out of this crisis. There will be many lessons to be learnt—hopefully, lessons that forever change the way in which nations work together to strengthen and develop economies internationally.

But what we are dealing with now, what is before the House in these bills tonight, is in the face of an unprecedented global financial crisis. What do we as a parliament do about it? What measures do we as a parliament need to take to continue to stimulate our economy now, to avoid the dire growth predictions of Treasury and to invest in our economy so that when we get out of this mess—again, a mess not of our making—we are stronger and able to immediately take advantage of better financial times?

I understand the opposition’s need for scrutiny of these bills. There should be scrutiny. As someone who served two terms in opposition, I understand the frustration that those in opposition feel about not being in the decision-making chair and about the sometimes overblown rhetoric that is often needed in order to ensure that your point is heard. But what I do not understand—at the time we are facing right now, the global financial crisis—is the decision by the opposition to oppose outright the measures in this bill.

The issues facing this parliament are extremely serious. This is not a normal circumstance that we are facing. If we as a parliament fail to act now, it is not the people in this chamber who will be the losers. In the short term, at least, we are all assured of a job. It will be those kids who finished school last year who are desperately seeking work in a shrinking economy. It will be people employed in the building and construction industry—apprentices, electricians, carpenters, plasterers and plumbers—who will find that they have no work. It will be workers in the manufacturing sector who slowly find that their jobs are disappearing. It will be shop assistants, laid off as people stop spending in the retail sector, and it will be parents struggling to make ends meet as their children return to school. In opposing this legislation, the opposition needs to be prepared to explain itself to those people.

I stand before this parliament as a proud representative of regional Australia. Regional Australia is often the first to feel the brunt of any downturn, and we have less capacity to absorb job losses and reduction in investments than capital cities do. That is why the investment in this package in schools and community infrastructure is so important—because it means that every region will share in the investment. It is investment that will not just benefit us today. Improving our schooling facilities and community infrastructure will benefit our communities for years to come. These are the things this package is designed to do.

In my district, all 76 primary schools will receive capital funding to build new infrastructure or upgrade existing infrastructure, such as libraries and multipurpose halls. Our secondary schools will have the opportunity to apply for funding to build new science labs or language learning centres, and each and every primary and secondary school, government and non-government, will be able to access funding for much-needed maintenance. Over 10,700 families in my electorate will receive a back-to-school bonus of $950 to help cover the costs associated with children returning to school. Families receiving family tax benefit B will receive a one-off single-income family bonus of $950, and over 200 drought affected farmers and small businesses will receive assistance with a $950 hardship payment. In addition to this, some 5,200 students and people looking for work will receive a $950 training and learning bonus payment to support their study costs. Many households in my district can take advantage—and I certainly encourage them to do so—of free ceiling insulation and increased rebates on solar hot water systems, two products of which a large proportion are manufactured here in Australia—again, supporting manufacturing jobs. Businesses can benefit from the small business and general business tax break, and people in my district who had a taxable income of less than $100,000 in the 2007-08 financial year will receive up to $950.

That is not to mention the assistance that could flow through my electorate through the regional and roads measures announced as part of the Nation Building and Jobs Plan. These include funding for boom gates at high-risk rail crossings, additional Black Spot Program projects, $150 million to carry out maintenance works on our nation’s highways and $500 million of additional funding for the strategic projects component of the government’s Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. The three projects from my local government areas that were submitted by the local governments as their priority for large-scale infrastructure investment—the Eureka Centre, Doug Lindsay Reserve in Creswick and the redevelopment of the Darley campus of the Bacchus Marsh Secondary College as a Moorabool Shire community facility—are all projects I know that now have a greater opportunity of getting funded under that $500 million. All of these things have combined to result in a plan that provides both direct and indirect support to thousands of people throughout my electorate. This stimulus package is certainly welcome news to those people.

Nobody likes deficits, and entering into a temporary deficit is not something that this or any government would ever take lightly, but this government is committed to working through the financial crisis. We understand just how serious the circumstances are that we are facing—something which the opposition still seems to be in denial about. The government are taking measures to stimulate the economy and to keep people in jobs. We will not bury our heads in the sand on this challenge. We cannot; too many people are relying on this parliament to ensure that the economy keeps ticking over. Entering into a temporary deficit is what this government needs to do in order to see us through, and it is not a decision that we have taken lightly. We have made a commitment to all Australians, and I have made a commitment to the people in my electorate, that we will take all action necessary to respond to the global financial crisis and to support our nation during this period. This government knows that the immediate road ahead will be tough—extremely tough—but we are committed to working through it, and I know the members of my community are also committed to working together to get through it as well. I certainly commend this bill to the House and hope that the opposition manages to change its mind in the course of the evening.