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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4116

Ms CAMPBELL (6:21 PM) —I rise today in an era of unprecedented global financial unrest, uncertainty and upheaval. We are in what is without question a most severe worldwide recession. It is against this backdrop that the federal government has framed a budget which will see emerge from this crisis a stronger and better nation. This is a nation-building budget. It is designed to support jobs, small business and pensioners. It unashamedly charts a course which will return the budget to surplus once this crisis has passed—and it will pass. In its wake there will be better schools, better roads, better community infrastructure and better hospitals. This is true across the country and it is true in the electorate of Bass.

One of the key initiatives of the Treasurer’s budget in Northern Tasmania is a funding injection which will see the Launceston General Hospital all but rebuilt. In the words of the hospital’s chief executive officer, John Kirwan, this investment will future-proof the hospital. Over three years, $40 million will be committed and invested to create an acute medical and surgical service unit at the Launceston General Hospital. Movement of patients between emergency services and acute care will be significantly improved. This funding will tackle deficiencies in current infrastructure by developing a medical assessment unit, redeveloping the day procedures unit, expanding the operating suite and upgrading the intensive care unit and allied health services. It will assist with the hospital meeting safety and quality standards. It is a project which is the result of an outstanding submission made to the Rudd government’s nation-building Health and Hospitals Fund, a fund which is building the health infrastructure for the 21st century while at the same time creating employment opportunities.

What this means for the electorate of Bass and the wider community of Northern Tasmania cannot be overstated. The local economy will be stimulated and jobs will be created, and as the Launceston General Hospital approaches its 30th anniversary it will be better placed than ever before to meet the health needs of a growing community. I will take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedicated staff at the Launceston General Hospital; their collective vision, foresight, passion and skill made the submission to the Health and Hospital Fund possible. Thirty-two projects were funded across the country out of the Health and Hospitals Fund, and I am proud to say that the Launceston General Hospital sits amongst those 32. Jonn Kirwan is to be congratulated. So, too, are professors Berni Einoder and Rob Fassett and Dr Alasdair MacDonald, who have fought long and hard to create a hospital which will stand the test of time. This investment of $40 million over three years will encourage the retention of existing staff at the hospital. It will also make easier the recruitment of the high-calibre staff the community of Northern Tasmania deserves. It is without question a show of faith in the Launceston General Hospital.

This investment is complemented by a further $7.7 million which the Rudd government has committed for additional radiation oncology services at the Launceston General Hospital. This fulfils an election promise which I made to the people of Bass, and I thank the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, for her continued commitment to and interest in the health of our community. The Rudd government has also committed $1 million for patient accommodation services at the Holman Clinic and $500,000 which will be provided to the Division of General Practice, Northern Tasmania, for the Scottsdale Medical Centre. This funding will be used to build a new primary healthcare centre adjacent to the Scottsdale Regional Hospital.

The centre will provide both general practice and hospital medical services as well as access to allied health services. It will improve the nursing and administrative workforce as well as increase access to visiting medical specialists, pathology services and other services as needed by the community. The centre will replace the ageing and inadequate infrastructure that houses the current medical practice—infrastructure that has restricted practice growth and the recruitment and retention of the health professionals who support the development of team based health care. The centre will be completed to occupation stage within 14 months and will represent a significant boost to medical service sustainability across north-east Tasmania.

The 2009-2010 budget also delivers $134.4 million in a landmark package of measures to tackle shortages of doctors and health workers in rural and remote communities in Australia. The reform package introduces incentives based on the principle that the more remote you go, the greater the reward, to encourage doctors to work in some of Australia’s most isolated rural and remote communities. It will encourage doctors to go and work in rural and remote communities and will also help keep them there. The importance of this health package to the people of Northern Tasmania—indeed, to the entire state—is immense. As a government, we are keeping our commitment to communities across Bass that we will support them, that we will respond to their needs and that we are securing the long-term health of the region. At the same time we are building the infrastructure of tomorrow and in the process providing much-needed jobs of today.

This is a responsible and responsive budget. It is a budget which responds to these unprecedented financial circumstances while at the same time taking some tough decisions—decisions which have been forced upon us by the reckless spending habits of the previous government. It has been said many times before that those opposite rode high on the boom provided by the mining industry and the growth of China. Those opposite believed they could fool the Australian people and simply buy their way to electoral success. Budget after budget was used to spend money they clearly believed would keep raining down on them. Fortunately for the former government, the Australian people spoke before they had to begin actually making the hard decisions. That has not stopped them from sitting back and attempting to fool the Australian people into believing they know all the answers, when in fact they have no plan and are completely out of touch with the needs of the economy.

Let us be perfectly blunt about this. Those opposite have no plan to deal with the global recession and are out of touch with the effect it is having on working families and their jobs. Around the world governments are taking action to stimulate their economies, but the opposition leader said that he is happy to let the market sort out the crisis. It is a recipe for disaster. It is that kind of attitude that has landed us in this situation. They have clearly learnt nothing. The opposition have no plan to support jobs and Liberal MPs still openly support bringing back Work Choices. Labor on the other hand has embarked on a program which, as I have said repeatedly in this House, will see the emergence of a stronger and infinitely better-resourced country.

In the Bass electorate, schools, hospitals and councils have benefited enormously from this. I have spoken at length about the hospital, but let us not forget what can only really be described as a mammoth investment in our education system, not only in Bass but across Tasmania and indeed the entire country. This budget builds on more than $7 million in funding through the National School Pride Program, which has seen 50 schools across the electorate of Bass receive up to $200,000. This, coupled with almost $16 million in the first round of the Primary Schools for the 21st Century program, represents a redevelopment of schools in Northern Tasmania which is unprecedented. It will stimulate our economy, it will create employment and it will provide our young people with vastly improved learning spaces.

This budget supports the infrastructure spending committed to councils across the country, the impact of which has been enormous also. Northern Tasmanian councils have shared in more than $1.9 million as part of the Rudd government’s $300 million community infrastructure stimulus package, which is intended to help local communities respond to the global financial crisis. Dorset Council received $288,000, which contributed to projects such as an upgrade of the Legerwood Memorial Park and the reconstruction of the Ringarooma town hall roof. Flinders Council received $100,000, which allowed the council to contribute much-needed money towards infrastructure projects like the Yellow Beach foreshore redevelopment and the Whitemark community hall fit-out. Georgetown Council received $237,000, Meander Valley Council received almost $350,000 and West Tamar Council received $359,000. Launceston City Council’s infrastructure funding of $578,000 allowed it to embark upon eight projects across its municipality, including the restoration of Lilydale Recreation Ground pavilion, the refurbishment of John Hart Conservatory and an upgrade of Albert Hall’s light and sound. Councils were telling me that their finances were as run-down in some respects as their infrastructure.

We on this side of the House know how important these facilities are to communities. A town hall is critical to the lifeblood of many rural and regional communities, and providing the means necessary to restore many of them is something of which this government has every right to be proud. The program, like this budget overall, is committed to supporting the jobs and small businesses of today through investment in the infrastructure we need for tomorrow. It is nation building, but it is also community building, town building and region building.

This budget is about home building. I made it a priority of mine to impress upon the Treasurer the positive impact of the expansion of the first home owners and first home builders grants. In the electorate of Bass, and across Tasmania, builders and builders associations were telling me of the positive impact it was having on their industry. I was delighted on budget night when the Treasurer indicated that it would indeed be extended. This is a measure that has been roundly welcomed by the Launceston Chamber of Commerce, by chambers of commerce across Northern Tasmania and by building industry groups like the Master Builders Association and the Housing Industry Association.

Make no mistake about it: this spending is targeted. It is necessary and it is what this country needs to ensure that we will emerge from this global recession faster than most advanced economies. Part of that recovery involves some tough decisions to reduce debt and return the budget to a surplus, a fiscal position to which this government is deeply committed. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister have made the decisions necessary to combat what is the worst recession since the Great Depression. But what does that actually mean? As others have done before me, I can tell you that it has wiped some $210 billion from the budget—I say again, $210 billion. This is the largest revenue downgrade faced by a Commonwealth government since 1931. Savings, quite frankly, have to be made and the decisions we have taken, though difficult, are absolutely necessary.

I touched briefly on those opposite earlier. I am of the view that their plan—and that is a word I use very loosely—is reckless, irresponsible and garbled and, quite frankly, takes the Australian people as fools, and fools, we know, they are not. Let us look at what those opposite are proposing as their alternative. They are running a dishonest scare campaign on debt. On the one hand they pretend they would not have to borrow, despite the global recession driving down government revenue by $210 billion. On the other hand, when put under pressure about whether they would increase taxes or cut services, the opposition seem completely confused and at odds with each other, admitting that they would have to borrow for the $210 billion collapse in revenues. This makes sense, because even the Leader of the Opposition, who is clearly not short of a dollar, would not expect to cover $210 billion without borrowing. And yet those opposite criticise the government for doing just that. They admit that their debt would be almost as big as ours—90 per cent as big. And we know that their plan—again, that is not an accurate description of the rhetoric of those opposite—would cost jobs.

The Australian people did not cause the global recession, yet thousands of hardworking men and women are having their jobs threatened as a result of it. Our job as a government is to do whatever it takes to safeguard as many of those jobs as possible. We are unapologetic about that. What we have done and what the Treasurer and Prime Minister have worked tirelessly to do is provide employment opportunities through infrastructure spending, through direct stimulus into households and through responsible spending.

At the same time, we are delivering on the commitment which we made to pensioners. Pensioners, I know, are doing it tough. There are more than 17,000 in Bass, many of whom have contacted me directly, and I am pleased that they will benefit through this budget—an extra $32.39 per week to full-rate single pensioners and $10.14 per week combined to couple pensioners. Carers, too, will benefit. The government recognises the vital role that carers play in the community. Those who receive a carer payment will receive the pension increases of $32.39 per week for singles on the full pension rate. As well, a permanent carer supplement of $600 a year for carer payment recipients and an extra $600 a year for carer allowance recipients for each person in their care will be introduced. The supplement will replace the government’s one-off bonuses. The first payment to carers will be made at the end of June.

Small business is also being assisted in these difficult financial times. We have boosted the successful tax break for small businesses in Bass, increasing it from 30 per cent to 50 per cent for eligible assets. This says nothing of the $731 million we will invest over five years to implement a paid parental leave scheme, starting in 2011. This is something about which I and many others on this side of the House are absolutely passionate. For too long Australia has lagged behind the rest of the world when it comes to looking after working parents.

For 11 years, riding high on the mining boom, those opposite did nothing, really, to advance our country. As with so much else, it has been left to Labor to do the things which are fundamentally and morally right. I congratulate the Treasurer and cabinet for taking these decisions when times are tough. We have a plan to return the budget to surplus by 2015-16. Ours is a small deficit by global standards; in fact, it is about half the average deficit of the major advanced economies, and our national debt will remain the lowest of any of the major advanced economies for the next decade.

In all, there are many things which distinguish us from those opposite, not the least of which is the philosophy which underpins this budget. It builds the infrastructure of tomorrow and supports the jobs of today. It maps a plan of recovery and will ensure that our nation is stronger and better placed as we emerge from this global recession. It is a budget which means I can assure the people of Bass that their health needs are being not only understood but responded to. Schools across Northern Tasmania will be better placed to educate our children. This budget funds the beginning of the National Broadband Network. In Tasmania, this will change how we deal with health needs in rural and remote communities. It will change how we do business and how we build networks. The potential is absolutely limitless. This is in stark contrast to those opposite, who have no plan, no idea and no respect for the Australian people. I commend this legislation to the House, confident that it maps a path to a better Australia.