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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 394

Ms LIVERMORE (2:08 AM) —The Australian way of life is one of hard work, prosperity and growth. It is a way of life that the Rudd government is protecting with every tool at our disposal as we confront the worst global recession since World War II. That is why the government released its $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan on Tuesday and that is why I have risen in the House this morning to speak on the importance of this vital initiative. As much as anywhere in the country, my electorate of Capricornia is one of the strongest drivers of prosperity and growth for the nation’s economy. We saw and enjoyed the boom of coal prices at the high levels of US$125 per tonne last year, with dozens of ships anchored off port to get the product to export. Unfortunately, in recent months, we have also seen the effects of the unwinding demand for our minerals, especially as China’s economy slows, which in turn has cooled expected prices for our coal by as much as 50 per cent, according to industry sources.

I was in the eye of the storm in the north of the electorate, in Mackay, in December when Macarthur Coal and Xstrata announced that they would axe 410 jobs from operations in the Bowen Basin. Since then, there have been further job losses from the likes of Rio Tinto and BHP. In all, in the Moranbah region alone, the community has felt the hammer blow of 1,500 job losses in six weeks. As much as we Central Queenslanders know we still have much to be optimistic about, it is a stark reminder that no local community is immune from the effects of the global economic crisis unfolding around us and it underscores the need for action to boost demand in our economy and protect jobs.

Job cuts are always painful and difficult, even more so when the people hit by them are people you have been working alongside and building communities with for the last 10 years, as I feel that I have been doing. They are people in the mining communities that I have stood beside watching football matches and sat alongside at school events and other community functions over the last 10 years. So the effects of the job cuts are something I can see personally see. In the long term, we can take solace in the forecast telling us the mining boom has a good long-term outlook and continues to employ some 30,000 workers in Queensland. But in the short term we as a government are determined to stay one step ahead during these challenging times.

The Rudd government is acting quickly and decisively to provide immediate support for jobs and growth. This plan will add half a per cent to GDP growth in 2008-09 and about three-quarters of a per cent to one per cent to GDP growth in 2009-10. This is growth that is needed to support activity in our economy and protect jobs. It will support up to 90,000 jobs over the next two years. It is a decisive and bold package that we must deliver in the face of tough and unprecedented times.

To give an outline of the $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan, the initiatives that are proposed will provide free ceiling insulation for around 2.7 million Australian homes, build or upgrade a building in every Australian primary school, build more than 20,000 new social housing units and defence homes, provide $950 bonus payments to millions of eligible citizens, provide an investment tax break for businesses and significantly increase funding for local community infrastructure and local road projects. All up, it will inject $42 billion into the economy, shielding us from the worst effects of the economic downturn and adding the major benefit of delivering projects that will drive our nation forward into the future. Contrary to the claims by the opposition, the government is spending this money wisely. Large proportions of the nation-building fund will underpin vital infrastructure, safer roads, environmentally friendly houses and smarter schools.

Going to the part of the plan that will see $15 billion invested in infrastructure in primary schools around the country, this week I have been in contact with school principals in my electorate, who are very excited about this concept and can see what these new facilities will mean for their schools—and I share their feelings about this. The $15 billion going to schools will see every school across the country build or upgrade a building, focusing on projects such as libraries, multipurpose halls and science labs. This will support jobs and improve our education system. It goes back to my earlier statement about laying the foundations for future growth and employment in the years and decades to come.

Parents across Capricornia have also expressed support for this package because they can see that it will help them through tough times and stimulate the economy. It will help them cover the costs of school uniforms, equipment and textbooks as children return to school for 2009 and, very importantly, it will give them the confidence and support that they need as we all work together to try and overcome the challenges we face.

The school building initiative will provide local communities with out-of-school-hours facilities and act as a hub for all sorts of activities. Schools with contemporary libraries and multipurpose halls will be permitted to apply for funding for other construction of buildings, so every school will benefit—and that is so much the point about the targeting of this part of the package. It is not just going into one or two schools; it is going into the very small communities right throughout my electorate, so it is really going to make a difference everywhere. All this will create jobs in local industry, both in the construction of these buildings and in the raw materials that will be used.

Likewise, the government’s insulation revolution will create jobs too as we work to insulate the ceilings of 2.7 million Australian homes. Already, local insulation businesses in Rockhampton are talking about expansion and adding extra employees as they anticipate the increased demand. I can say that this will be greatly welcomed in Central Queensland, where high temperatures are a way of life for about five months of the year. The savings on electricity bills from reduced air-conditioning needs will be a great bonus for families that take advantage of this initiative, and these savings have been estimated at as much as $200 per year.

Businesses in Australia will also receive a tax break of $2.7 billion. Small business, which is such a driver of our economy, can claim an additional 30 per cent tax deduction for eligible assets costing $1,000 or more, provided that they acquired these assets between 13 December 2008 and 30 June 2009, to be installed by 30 June 2010. For assets acquired between 1 July this year and 31 December, businesses can receive a 10 per cent tax break where the assets are installed by 31 December 2010. So, whether it is a cafe on East Street in Rockhampton buying a new fridge, a lawn-mowing business in Moranbah buying new equipment or the newsagent at Sarina buying a new computer small businesses across my electorate will benefit.

I am also delighted that the program will increase safety on Central Queensland roads. The government has already pledged $270 million last year for the Bruce Highway—so badly neglected under the previous government—between Childers and Sarina, including $115 million to fix black spots and $20 million more for rest areas. I am in frequent touch with the Department of Main Roads and local motorists, and I know the importance of having safe roads, particularly in the case of the Bruce Highway. This new funding as part of the Nation Building and Jobs Plan will deliver $890 million on top of our other announcements and will deliver 350 additional safety improvement projects under the Black Spot Program. It will bring forward 200 new boom gates and other safety measures at high-risk rail crossings. We have already seen several of these black spots fixed in Capricornia—I think about three-quarters of a million dollars went into projects last year—and I look forward to seeing more of them tended to. After all, it is estimated that, for every dollar spent on the program, the community saves $14 in reduced road trauma costs.

As a member for a large electorate, I also know the importance of good highways and roads in the regional parts of the electorate, so it is noteworthy that regional areas will also have roads tended to. The government will provide $150 million in 2008-09 to help the states and territories fund a backlog of maintenance projects on Australia’s national highways.

This package is about the future of our nation. The government is doing the responsible thing by taking action to protect Australian jobs and the economy. That is why it is so imperative that the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills are passed through the parliament this week. I give this package my full support, and I urge the opposition to do likewise.