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Monday, 24 May 2010
Page: 3669

Ms KING (1:11 PM) —I rise to support Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and cognate budget appropriation bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2010-2011 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011. I cannot help but comment on the contribution of the previous speaker, the member for Wide Bay, in this place. I find it passing strange that the member for Wide Bay, in his speech, decided to criticise the government for not continuing with the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, which was a one-off fund as part of the economic stimulus package which has put $1 billion into the hands of local government but which has now got even more money out of it as a result of the spend they have done on local communities. You cannot, on the one hand, claim that somehow that is a cut in the budget because a project fund that was about to finish has finished and, on the other, I remind the member for Wide Bay, vote against it. There would not have been any fund in existence at all had you been in government. It is a ridiculous proposition. It is also great to see the member for Wide Bay, once again, standing up for the powerful vested interests in the mining industry over those of ordinary working Australians.

I support these bills because they represent a responsible budget that strengthens our economy. It is important for us to consider this budget in the context of previous budgets. Back in May 2007, I stood up in this House and debated the Howard government’s 2007-08 budget bills. The greatest failing of that final budget of the Howard government was that it did not address capacity constraints in the Australian economy. It failed to invest in infrastructure, skills, education and health. It failed, across the board, to lay down the foundation of a nation’s future economic growth. The Howard government was happy to ride on the tails of the mining boom, but it was not happy to do the hard yards that were needed to invest in our economy’s future. For too long, the Howard government instead used budgets to buy individual votes to win elections for short-term gain and, although this proved successful for a long period of time for Howard and to some extent for the now Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, it did not prove successful for the future growth of the Australian economy and ultimately for the future prospects of the Australian people.

On coming to office, the Prime Minister and members of the Rudd government made a conscious decision to set up our nation for the future. We said to the Australian people that we wanted to work to invest in the longer term—not just the current election cycle but five, 10 or 20 years ahead. We spoke of the need for investment in infrastructure, skills, training and education. We committed to stop the buck-passing in health by reforming our nation’s health system.

In February 2009 I spoke in parliament in the face of a global financial crisis that was set to wreak havoc on local communities, local economies and economies across the globe. I find it extraordinary when, in talking and debating about the budget, members of the opposition seem to think that the global financial crisis just did not happen or that somehow, as a result of some strange fluke of fate, Australia has managed to survive the worst excesses of the global crisis and that that somehow has happened completely by accident.

The Rudd government and the Australian people were faced with tackling this global financial crisis head-on, and members of this side of the House acted decisively. At that point in time we had a choice: to deliver strong, unprecedented action to combat the nation’s worst global financial crisis in 70 years or not to act and to let the market pave the way. Let me make this point very clear: those members opposite did not want to act. They opposed our economic stimulus.

Members on our side decided to act by implementing a measured and well-targeted stimulus package. Instead of looking at the global financial crisis as an absolute negative, the Rudd government used it as a tool to invest in the long-term sustainability of our nation. We used it, on the one hand, to stimulate the economy by supporting jobs and, on the other hand, to invest in areas that the former Howard government had forgotten—areas like infrastructure, housing, education, road and rail and local community infrastructure. The result is that Australia has outperformed other advanced economies. While advanced economies collectively contracted by 3.2 per cent, the Australian economy grew by 1.4 per cent. While advanced economies were faced with rapid job losses, 225,000 Australian people found work. Without our stimulus, the Australian economy would have fallen into recession, with tens of thousands of jobs lost. Our national unemployment rate is the second lowest in comparison to other advanced economies. The results speak for themselves. These results reflect the hard work of the Australian people, the resilience of the Australian economy and the decisive action the government took in implementing its economic stimulus package. These results did not occur by accident.

The Liberals’ do-nothing approach would have been a disaster for this country. The Leader of the Opposition is quick to attempt to make light of our economic situation. At the time of the implementation of our stimulus measures, the coalition unleashed another of their scare campaigns. They failed to recognise that a global financial crisis was apparent, they failed to recognise the fall in tax receipts and its impact on the budget bottom line and they failed to support our direct action through stimulus measures. Without the stimulus, we would have lost thousands of jobs in this country. Without stimulus, we would have seen a contraction in our economy last year of 0.7 per cent, compared to the actual growth of 1.4 per cent. They are the facts. This message seems to fall on deaf ears with those opposite, who claim to be the extraordinary economic managers of our time. It falls on deaf ears because those opposite do not want to hear our nation’s good news story when it comes to how we have survived the global financial crisis.

The Rudd government has a proud story to tell when it comes to economic management. The 2010-11 budget continues this proud story. The budget reflects the success of our policy decisions over the last 18 months. The budget reflects the strong economic position we now find ourselves in, and it builds on these successes. The successes of the Australian economy through the global financial crisis mean that we now have a strong opportunity to tackle the nation’s long-term needs in skills, training, health, education and infrastructure. This budget delivers on those long-term objectives. The budget is building on hard work throughout the global financial crisis to deliver for the future. Through this budget, we will be back in the black in three years, three years ahead of schedule and ahead of every major advanced economy. Through this budget, we build on our hard work by delivering a stable budget that brings us back to surplus three years early.

This government is well aware of the impact of our ageing population combined with the current cost pressures for families in our health system. The government has put health and hospitals at the forefront of our agenda, and this budget delivers on that commitment to our national health reform. Through the budget, we have invested a further $2.2 billion into the health system, and this brings the total new investment in health from this government to $7.3 billion over five years. Our $2.2 billion package further delivers for our National Health and Hospitals Network. This government has worked hard to deliver that network.

Health reform is also a priority area for me personally, and I am very proud of what we are achieving in this field in the budget. Of this $2.2 billion in the health reform package, we have set aside some $417 million to improve after-hours access to GP and primary care services. Access to GPs is vital to Australian families and is something that has not been adequately addressed in the past. We have also invested a further $355 million to deliver 23 new GP superclinics and 425 GP and primary healthcare clinics across Australia.

Already, in my own electorate, the Ballan GP Super Clinic is up and running. It was opened back in September last year and it was the first in Australia. The clinic has proven vital to the flourishing community of Ballan; in fact, I think it will perhaps drive some of the population growth of Ballan as well. Over recent times, the local health system was struggling to meet demand, and this investment by the Rudd government has gone a long way to improve local health services. The clinic accommodates GPs—some of them new GPs who come into the area—practice nurses, visiting specialists and a range of allied health services. They include physiotherapy, dietetics, nutrition, podiatry, mental health services, pathology and chronic disease management services. There is also a psychologist who operates out of the facility. For the first time this local community has a dental service. The superclinic in Ballan is a great example of what we can do when we work with local communities in enhancing our health system and of what we seek to achieve with our $355 million investment to have a further 23 GP superclinics across the country. I know that members on this side of the House, who know the enormous benefits of these clinics in our communities, as I do, are all working pretty hard to try to get one of those clinics in their own electorates. It is a shame that members of the opposition wish to cut the program.

A further $523 million has been allocated to invest in training and support for nurses. These investments will see nurses better supported in GP clinics and there will be training and education incentive payments for nurses and personal care workers in aged care, and the first ever rural-local scheme for nurses.

The Rudd government plans to deliver on individual electronic health records. This $467 million reform to our health system will benefit patients and benefit our health system as a whole. I find it amazing that the Leader of the Opposition and former minister for health, who promoted electronic health records and who had it as part of his policy platform, said in his budget-in-reply speech that he will axe this important initiative. Coalition members have struggled to find support for cutting e-health initiatives among all of the major stakeholders across the country.

The government also announced an increase to the tobacco excise of 25 per cent. This came into effect on 30 April 2010. This excise increase provides not only an incentive for current smokers to quit but an effective measure to prevent young people from taking up smoking in the first place. This increase in the tobacco excise will be reinvested back into our health and hospital system—a total of $5 billion over five years.

While I am still on the topic of health and hospital reform, I would also like to put on the parliamentary record the Rudd government’s recent announcement to fund the new $55 million cancer centre for Ballarat in conjunction with the state Victorian Labor government. I spoke in parliament back in February this year about the importance of the cancer centre for Ballarat and the surrounding region. In April, it was my pleasure to announce—along with Minister Roxon and the state minister for health, Minister Andrews—that the Rudd government would fund the Ballarat regional integrated cancer centre. This announcement reflects the hard work of my local community and will allow for two linear accelerators, the relocation of one linear accelerator from St John of God Hospital, four radiotherapies bunkers, 16 chemotherapy chairs, a CT scanner and a wellness centre as well. This is yet another example of the government’s efforts to reform our health and hospital system.

Through this budget, we have also worked hard to alleviate the cost-of-living pressures that are facing many Australians. The announcement of tax cuts in this year’s budget was our third round of cuts in as many years. I am pleased to have seen the hard work of the Australian people, particularly in this last year, being reflected in the 2010-11 budget by these tax cuts. These tax cuts, which were an election promise, have been delivered despite the economic circumstances in which we have found ourselves. The Australian people and those across the electorate of Ballarat have worked hard to get through the global financial crisis. These tax cuts are welcome news to those families.

To give you a slight snapshot, the cuts mean that a person earning $20,000 will pay $750 less in income tax in 2010-11, a worker earning $50,000 will pay $1,750 less in income tax in 2010-11 and a worker earning $80,000 will pay $1,500 less over the next financial year. They are significant savings for families. Our tax cuts are also welcome news to low-income and part-time workers. We have lifted the low-income tax offset to $1,500 to provide an effective tax-free threshold of $16,000.

On top of the tax cuts, we are also working to make tax time simpler for families with our reforms to the tax system. From 1 July 2012, taxpayers will have the option to choose a standard deduction of $500 instead of claiming work related expenses. This will increase to $1,000 by 1 July 2013. This takes the hassle out of tax time for many families. Families will not have to go rummaging for receipts come tax time, hopefully saving some precious family time as well.

One of the things that I have often spoken about since being elected is the importance of investment in skills and infrastructure. This budget invests significantly in both of these. We have invested some $661 million to assist people enhance their qualifications by taking up one of the 40,000 additional training place and 22,500 new apprentices as part of our Apprentice Kickstart program. I have spoken to many of the young people across the electorate that have been involved in the Apprentice Kickstart program and it is great to see the investment by this government in young people’s skills through this program continuing.

The other day I was in Bacchus Marsh with Parliamentary Secretary Clare. We spoke with a number of apprentices at the Amber Hair Studio. The take-up of apprentices across the Moorabool Shire has increased by 45 per cent compared to the previous year, with 42 local apprentices getting started between December 2009 and February 2010. The apprentices and their employers who spoke to Parliamentary Secretary Clare and me are delighted by the program. There has been a boost in apprenticeship numbers across other areas of my electorate, with a 77 per cent increase across the City of Ballarat, and an in increase in Hepburn Shire from five apprentices a year to 20 apprentices in 2009-2010. This is an additional 15 young people, who would not have got the opportunity otherwise, who now have their pathway set for a future career.

Our announcement means that until 12 November businesses that employ fewer than 200 people can benefit from a $3,350 bonus payment in addition to the $1,500 commencement initiative if they take on a school leaver in a traditional trade apprenticeship. The Rudd government is absolutely determined to skill up people in my region, and that is great news for local communities.

In addition to our skills program, we have also worked hard to invest in our long-term economic growth through infrastructure investment. Project after project across my electorate is well underway to set up our local economy for the future. Through the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program local governments have rolled out many projects that are benefiting local communities. Projects under round 1 have all been delivered and round 2 projects are well underway. Our funding through the Blackspots Program and Roads to Recovery has also ensured that the local governments have had the funded needed to deliver on local road projects. Not only have we seen a vast improvement in local roads—especially in terms of safety—but this has also contributed to local jobs growth.

This budget further invests in nation-building projects in the Ballarat electorate. They include the Western Highway realignment of Anthonys Cutting, which the Prime Minister and I had the pleasure of visiting the other month for the sod turning; and the Western Highway duplication from Ballarat to Stawell, which the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, and I visited the other month also. Both nation-building projects are incredibly important to my district. They are both projects that are investing in the long-term growth of communities like Ballarat across Western Victoria.

Residents of the Ballarat electorate are already experiencing the benefits of the Deer Park bypass, which I lobbied tirelessly for. Once these two new projects have been completed, the western region of Victoria will have a first-rate highway that extends all the way from Melbourne through to the South Australian border. These projects are setting up Ballarat and the surrounding region for the future. They create jobs in the short term and provide safe and reliable road infrastructure in the longer term. The budget builds further on our infrastructure investment through the new $5.6 billion infrastructure fund. The fund will commence in 2012-13 and will place infrastructure funding at the forefront of Commonwealth spending. We are doing this because we know that investment in infrastructure is one of the most important elements of a productive economy.

I would also like to discuss one of the core challenges faced by not only Australia but other nations, and that is climate change. We are boosting, through this budget, our investment in a new Renewable Energy Future Fund. This reflects our strong commitment to increase the renewable energy target by 20 per cent by 2020. A $652 million investment over four years forms part of our $6.1 billion clean energy initiative. We are using this funding to increase the take-up by business and households of energy efficiency measures. Aside from our new investment through the Renewable Energy Future Fund, the Rudd government is committed to continue our efforts internationally to form agreement with other countries about future action on climate change and on what we do domestically.

There are a number of differences between the Rudd government and the coalition. First, the Rudd government decided to take decisive action to tackle the global financial crisis. Those opposite did not. Second, our appropriations since we were elected have recognised the strong need to invest in our long-term future—in the National Broadband Network; skills and training; local community infrastructure; roads and ports; education; and national health reform. Those opposite have opposed all of these measures. Third, in the wake of a prospective global recession, we made the most of an opportunity to invest in reducing our economy’s capacity constraints. Those opposite missed opportunities during the initial mining boom. Fourth, our 2010-11 budget continues our sound economic management and targeted investment. The alternative government reflects the worst economic management team in the history of the Liberal Party of Australia. Finally, our actions have been supported by key stakeholders—from Treasury to the Reserve Bank, business and community groups and international bodies—and admired by other countries. The alternative from those opposite has been supported by nobody.

I am proud of this government’s strong economic management. The budget reflects our direct action to support jobs and to bring us back to surplus early. The budget delivers a new Renewable Energy Future Fund; tax cuts and a reduction in red tape for small business; investment in health and hospitals; investment in skills, training and infrastructure; better superannuation, tax breaks on interest and a boost to national savings; a standard deduction to make tax time easier; more money to protect our troops and our borders; and a return to surplus in three years—three years ahead of schedule. The budget takes advantage of our strong economic position and sets up our nation for the future. I commend the bills to the House.