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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 374

Ms NEAL (12:38 AM) —I rise today to speak in support of the government’s package of five bills introduced to give effect to this Nation Building and Jobs Plan. The bills include the Household Stimulus Package Bill 2009, the Tax Bonus for Working Australians Bill 2009, the Tax Bonus for Working Australians (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 and two appropriation bills to secure funds for a range of vital nation building infrastructure investments. The Nation Building and Jobs Plan is another decisive step by the Rudd Labor government in response to the global financial downturn. This $42 million plan contains important measures designed to protect jobs and boost activity in the Australian economy in the short term.

It is estimated that the plan will support approximately 90,000 Australian jobs. It also contains measures that significantly strengthen the economy in the longer term. In doing so, the plan builds a solid foundation for the nation’s emergence from the global recession. It is a statement of optimism and capacity for action by this federal government in the face of an extraordinary situation—a situation that is not of our making.

One of the major objectives of the plan is to promote confidence and optimism among Australian consumers by providing a range of tax bonuses and one-off payments. It is vital that Australians use these incentives to help stimulate activity within the economic sector. I will certainly be encouraging the residents of my electorate on the Central Coast to keep the money circulating, particularly within the regional economy, where I live and where my seat of Robertson is.

The measures provided in the Nation Building and Jobs Plan will help support household budgets in what are very tough economic times. There is a recessionary climate sweeping through many of the world’s major economies at the moment. Australia does not remain unaffected by this significant downturn. In short, the Australian government cannot stop the global economic crisis, but we are in a far better position than many other countries to resist the worst of its impact. These are very challenging times for all Australians. The Nation Building and Jobs Plan is a decisive and bold package of measures designed to meet this challenge head-on. It represents the government’s second major economic stimulus package in just over four months, and together they have injected more than $52 billion into the Australian economy.

The bills within the plan make provision for five key one-off payments of up to $950 which are targeted at low- and middle-income individuals and households. The Tax Bonus for Working Australians Bill 2009 provides up to $950 in upfront lump sum tax bonuses for approximately 8.7 million Australians with a taxable income of less than $100,000. The Household Stimulus Package Bill 2009 provides a further $950 as a one-off bonus payment to single-income families, farmers and farm dependent small businesses, families with school-age children and people returning to education and training.

These bonus payments will have a significant and beneficial effect on many thousands of families and individuals in my electorate. The money disbursed into the economy of the Central Coast through these payments will provide an immediate boost to the regional economy. The payments will also bolster the household budgets of many of my constituents, assisting them to weather the storm, the financial challenges that all Australian households must now face.

The two appropriation bills that are included in the Nation Building and Jobs Plan provide for a range of infrastructure projects as well. These programs will help strengthen the Australian economy in the long term, assisting the nation to emerge in a stronger position once the current economic cycle has passed. But there are also programs that can be brought quickly into realisation. The infrastructure programs will add directly to the demand for goods and services. They will provide a substantial boost to jobs as they come online, which is especially significant in regional areas such as my electorate.

The areas of investment in which these programs will be undertaken are equally important. They also meet a real need in our community and will provide a valuable resource and build on our social infrastructure. These are long-term nation-building projects that will upgrade the nation’s roads and community infrastructure, refurbish our schools, build 20,000 new social housing dwellings and more than 800 defence homes. The plan will also assist households to create more energy efficient homes by funding insulation and increasing rebates for solar hot water systems.

In addition to these measures, the bill provides important new incentives for small business. I am pleased to report that the thousands of small businesses on the Central Coast will, under the $2.7 billion business tax break component of these bills, be able to claim a 30 per cent investment tax rebate when buying eligible assets valued at over $1,000.

I am particularly pleased too that the infrastructure enhancement programs contained in the plan will allow a major refit of the schools in my electorate of Robertson. The 47 primary, secondary, K-12 and special schools in Robertson—both government and non-government—will receive significant new buildings or refurbishments. Students, parents and teachers in Robertson can look forward to new or rebuilt libraries, multipurpose halls, new science and language labs and the renewal of school buildings. Every school in my electorate—like the 9½ thousand schools across Australia—can now plan ahead for the future. The practical assistance given to local schools by these measures will provide opportunities for the many schools in my electorate that have spoken to me about their needs. I have to say that one of the great pleasures I have in working in my electorate is visiting and meeting with these varieties of schools. I am very pleased to say that I have been able to meet with all but a very few of them already. A number of them have raised projects with me that may well come within the scope of this program. Schools like Point Clare Primary School, Mangrove Mountain Primary School, Davistown Primary School, St Edwards High School, Kincumber High School, Brisbane Water Secondary College and others will, I hope, all benefit and be able to bring to fruition the very important projects they discussed with me and which have the support generally of the whole school community.

The Central Coast is an area of rapidly growing population where, historically, growth has outstripped the provision of infrastructure. The Nation Building and Jobs Plan will bring benefits to the region that will go a substantial way to redressing many of these problems. Increases in black spot road funding and in allocations for regional roads are a very welcome component of this plan. The $500 million expansion of the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program under this plan will be welcomed by Gosford City Council, the council which covers the vast majority of my seat. The council has already benefited from $947.4 million provided by this Labor government since the election. This funding has delivered a number of major infrastructure projects to the Central Coast. They include five projects that were among my major election commitments to the people of Robertson. These five projects saw $929.85 million of infrastructure investment delivered by the federal government to Gosford City Council. They included $81 million for the Mardi Dam to Mangrove Dam water pipeline, a project shared with Wyong Council, to the north; $7 million to upgrade Gosford commuter parking station; $900,000 for a community sports precinct at Erina High School; $840 million to provide a dedicated freight rail track from Sydney to the Central Coast; and $680,000 to install CCTV security cameras in three central business districts on the peninsula. Federal funding for these projects has already been delivered to either the New South Wales government or Gosford City Council, who are now in the process of bringing the projects to the construction stage.

In addition to these projects, I have fought hard to ensure that the residents of Robertson receive ongoing federal support for local roads, water supplies, utilities upgrades and vital community infrastructure items. So far this year Gosford City Council has received further ongoing funds from the federal government worth almost $18 million. This includes $1.58 million for local roads projects under the Roads to Recovery program; $4.5 million to help Gosford City Council upgrade water quality on the Woy Woy peninsula; over $2 million in round 1 of the financial assistance grants; $8.326 million in round 2 of the financial assistance grants; and $1.3 million in community infrastructure program grants.

The Nation Building and Jobs Plan will help Gosford City Council even further in its efforts to provide a vital community infrastructure for residents. Gosford council can now plan to complete strategic projects held up by lack of funds, such as playgrounds, community and cultural centres and sporting facilities. The building of 20,000 new social houses and the urgent upgrade of more than 2,500 vacant social houses are important steps towards redressing a chronic shortage of low-income housing in my electorate and right across Australia. I am particularly proud of this initiative in light of the urgent and growing need on the Central Coast. Other members have spoken about the waiting lists and I have to say that, unfortunately, on the Central Coast the waiting time for state housing is now 10 years. That means that, in practice, it is inaccessible for most people.

Again, I must emphasise my pleasure that small businesses will benefit, too, from the 30 per cent investment tax break. With my many years as an operator of a small business, I understand what a great help this can be. Homeowners and renters can get financial assistance to turn their homes into energy efficient dwellings. The solar hot water rebate will increase from $1,000 to $1,600 and will not be means-tested. The government will pay for the installation of ceiling insulation and renters will be helped to insulate their houses.

The Nation Building and Jobs Plan is a comprehensive and timely package of measures that will certainly have a very positive impact on the Australian economy. In regional areas such as the Central Coast the plan will do much to shield local families, businesses and individuals from the global financial downturn. It will put money in people’s pockets and help support family incomes through these tough times. This support will sustain people’s confidence, optimism and hopes for their future and the future of their children. The bonus payments also will help stimulate spending on goods and services within my region on the Central Coast. The one-off bonus payments of up to $950, targeted at people on low and middle incomes, represent great news for the Central Coast economy. In addition, the nation-building infrastructure programs will impact positively on areas of vital concern to the region such as schools, social housing, roads, community infrastructure and energy efficient homes. The major program of refurbishing the schools of the Central Coast is a practical initiative that I am very pleased about, as will be all residents of Robertson as they become aware of it.

I sincerely hope that the opposition will take seriously its responsibility to the Australian people by passing these measures without delay and without displaying the opportunism that I have become accustomed to in a very short time as a member of the government. The Australian people must not be held to ransom by the opposition’s delaying tactics. I commend the bills to the House.