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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 4019


Mr ZAPPIA (7:42 PM) —I rise to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2010-2011 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011. On 11 May the Treasurer delivered his third budget for the 2010-11 year and beyond. It was a responsible budget. It was a fair budget. It was a prudent budget. It was a budget that struck the right balance at a time of continuing global volatility and uncertainty. It was a budget keeping Australia’s economy strong while securing Australia’s future. It was a budget that reinforces the government’s sound economic credentials. Having carefully steered the Australian economy away from recession, Australia is now projected to have a budget surplus in 2012-13—that is, three years earlier than previously predicted. Significantly, national debt will peak at just 6.1 per cent, which is less than one-tenth the average of other advanced economies. This was a budget that from all credible economic commentators got a tick of approval.

It is a budget that even the opposition have been unable to discredit, and so the opposition have had to resort to the desperate line that the Australian people should simply not believe the budget forecasts—forecasts, I might say, that have been produced by Treasury and which, to my knowledge, have not been refuted by any reputable economic analyst. The opposition produce no evidence, no analysis or any expert authority to support their claim that the budget forecasts are not achievable. But, typical of the opposition, if you cannot credibly argue a case with facts, you resort to a fear campaign and simple rhetoric. If you say something often enough, people may believe you.

What was more telling was the opposition’s erratic response to the budget. It began with the Leader of the Opposition’s budget reply speech, a reply which highlighted several points. Firstly, the opposition leader simply does not understand economics and he has no economic credibility. I am not surprised that people like former Liberal leader John Hewson and former Treasurer Peter Costello echo these sentiments. Secondly, it was a budget reply aimed at appealing to the extreme sectors of the Liberal Party. Thirdly, it was a budget reply lacking the detail that the Australian people are entitled to expect from the alternative government. The opposition leader squibbed and passed that responsibility on to the shadow Treasurer, who, we were told, would reveal all at the National Press Club address on 19 May. We know what happened at the Press Club. Only at the end of his address did the shadow Treasurer provide journalists with any details of the opposition’s budget strategy. Why? So that he could not be quizzed by journalists on the alternative budget. He then passed the opposition budget response on, like a hot potato, to the member for Goldstein, who in turn had to be saved by a staff member. No-one in the opposition wants to take ownership of the opposition’s budget response.

What was just as noticeable was the half-hearted, lacklustre response to the budget by both the member for North Sydney, the shadow Treasurer, and the member for Goldstein, the opposition shadow finance minister, in their appropriation addresses to parliament only yesterday. I listened to both of them. I would have thought that from the two economic spokesmen of the opposition we could have expected a more passionate display in their responses to the budget—if they genuinely believed in what they were saying. Clearly, they did not.

The opposition leader did, however, in his budget reply, reveal his core beliefs. What we saw from the opposition leader’s budget response was that the real Tony Abbott was once again exposed and that the opposition leader wants to take us back to the past. He wants to bring back Work Choices. He wants to cut thousands of Public Service jobs. He wants to cut health and education spending. He has form on that because, as we all know, he cut $1 billion out of the health budget when he was Minister for Health and Ageing in the previous government. He opposes superannuation. He stands, first and foremost, for big business and multinational companies and his pretentious support for small and medium businesses has now been exposed.

But it goes further. The opposition leader has admitted that he cannot be believed unless he is providing a scripted reply. What has now been exposed is that even his scripted announcements cannot be taken as ‘the gospel truth’—to use his words—after it was revealed by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation yesterday that previously announced scripted opposition policies, such as allowing small business to carry back tax losses, getting rid of the means testing of the baby bonus and family tax benefits and reversing the tightening of concessional superannuation tax treatment, have been axed, whilst funding for the so-called ‘green army’ commitment and the Toowoomba Bypass has been substantially reduced. These were scripted, gospel truth commitments made by the opposition, and it is clear that even they cannot be relied on because either they have been axed or the funding has been dramatically cut.

The government’s management of the Australian economy in the face of the worst global recession since the Great Depression has been the envy of other advanced economies. Notably, not once in their budget responses have opposition members acknowledged the global financial crisis. I was pleased to hear that the member for Wentworth actually did that just now. He is probably the first opposition member to do so. Do they really believe that the Australian people have no understanding of the global financial difficulties that Australia has had to deal with and that we still face? Time and time again they credit former Treasurer Peter Costello’s surplus with having saved the economy when it was confronted by the economic crisis that we have endured over the last 18 months or so. I remind members opposite that, even if they want to believe that—and I certainly do not—Peter Costello is no longer in this House. He deserted them some months ago.

I am particularly concerned that, if elected, an Abbott government would cut Building the Education Revolution funding and the funding for trade training centres. I have spoken with most of the schools in the Makin electorate about their BER projects. Without exception, they are very appreciative and supportive of the program. Last Sunday I was at the Torrens Valley Christian School for the official opening of the school’s new covered outdoor learning area and new arts and science classrooms. Torrens Valley Christian School commenced in 1980 as a non-denominational reception to year 12 school. It is not a wealthy school, but with the hard work of the school community and some government support along the way it has grown to be a school of around 600 students. I have visited the school on several occasions, including jointly with the Prime Minister to see the school’s guitar-making program, run by John Fox. I know parents whose children attend the school and I hear nothing but praise and compliments about Torrens Valley Christian School.

Last Sunday parents and teachers told me that the BER funding provided to the Torrens Valley Christian School by the Rudd government has enabled the school to deliver on the school’s long-term vision years, perhaps decades, earlier than otherwise would have been possible. The beneficiaries of the government’s funding will be the young people and teachers who otherwise would never have had those facilities. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the leadership role of school board chairman Andrew Ferguson and principal Nigel Bennett as they continue with the next of the BER capital works already underway at the school.

A fortnight earlier, I was at Modbury South Primary School, with the Deputy Prime Minister, for the opening of their new school hall. Adjacent to Modbury South Primary School are Modbury Special School and Modbury High School. All three of those schools are getting new facilities. All three of those schools, from my discussions with them, are very appreciative of what they are getting. Most of the schools in the Makin electorate have their BER projects underway—but not all. The opposition announcement that they will cut BER funding if they are elected will place at risk and disadvantage St Agnes Primary School, Our Lady of Hope School, Ingle Farm Primary School, Modbury West Primary School, North Ingle School and Salisbury East High School, which I understand have not yet commenced their BER projects. The children, teachers and parents at those schools will, quite rightly, want to know why their schools have missed out if the opposition blocks that funding.

For small business, the government’s 2010-11 budget provides a company tax rate cut from 30 per cent to 28 per cent from 2012-13 and a company instant asset write-off for assets under $5,000. Of course, the opposition would also scrap this provision yet continue to claim that they care for small business. The opposition may well be the friend of big business, but it is the Rudd government that is the real friend of small business. Since coming to office, the Rudd government has supported small businesses with a series of measures including: funding of business enterprise centres around the country, the bonus tax deduction increased to 50 per cent for asset purchases last year as one of the government stimulus measures, cutting of red tape in areas of state and federal regulation affecting businesses, simplifying the superannuation payment system for small businesses—and I could go on and on with measures taken by this government to help small business.

Most importantly, however, this government through its stimulus packages has assisted small business and medium-sized businesses by keeping many of them afloat during the global economic downturn. The infrastructure and BER projects that opposition members voted against, criticise at every opportunity and want to cut are overwhelmingly providing work and income to the nation’s 720,000 small businesses. In my own electorate I speak to many of those small businesses on a regular basis. I have spoken to many of them who have won contracts through the Building the Education Revolution or through one of the other infrastructure projects that have been funded by this government since it came to office. I know how grateful they are that this government committed to the stimulus packages. I have been told by many of them that were it not for these projects they would have run out of work.

Members opposite, who voted against all of these measures at every step of the way when we introduced the stimulus packages last year, come into this place and say that they support small- and medium-sized businesses. They should be supporting each and every one of these projects that the government has committed to, because these projects are in essence underpinned by the work that is being carried out by small businesses. I also know, from speaking to people in my community, that there are plenty of mums and dads who know they have still got a job because of the stimulus payments.

We know that we have an ageing population. We know that total pension payments will rise and that living on the pension can be difficult. That is why the government when it came to office significantly increased pension payments for single pensioners and why, since then, it has reformed the pension increase index as well. It has also supported pensioners with a whole range of measures, from support through the health system to support through utilities payments and the like. But, even with all that support, we know that it can still be difficult if you are on a pension. So, unless we put away more money into superannuation funds for the future, Australia is heading for a major dilemma. It does not take a lot of common sense to see that. Yet the opposition fails to see this obvious consequence and has also opposed this measure—that is, putting more money into superannuation—thereby denying millions of Australians a quality retirement. Furthermore, over the next 10 years this measure will increase the nation’s superannuation pool by $85 billion, and those funds will undoubtedly be invested in other nation-building projects.

This government plans to increase the superannuation guarantee from nine to 12 per cent by 2019. Even that amount could perhaps be increased further, because we know that prices will continue in future years to eat away at whatever money people save. By investing in superannuation funding, we are trying to ensure that there is a real future for the working people of today’s Australia. Yet members opposite, who I am sure in most cases have their own superannuation funds and are trying to ensure they have something to look forward to when they retire, are prepared to deny the same support to the 8.4 million working people around this country. I find that incomprehensible. Simple logic tells me that not preparing for retirements in this nation in the years to come is incomprehensible. Simple logic also tells me that most members opposite would have superannuation funding support for themselves, yet they are not prepared to do what they can to support their fellow workers.

Other speakers on this side of the House have talked about the government’s investments of $661 million for skills, $652 million into a renewable energy fund and an additional $2.2 billion for the health system, the delivery of the third year of tax cuts for working Australians, the simplification of tax returns for 6.4 million Australians, the 50 per cent discount on interest income of up to $1,000 and the $700 million contribution this year towards a new $5.6 billion infrastructure fund over the next 10 years, taking the government’s infrastructure funding to $37 billion.

The last matter I want to focus on is the resource super profits tax proposal, which has been discussed in this chamber at length today and on previous days. The tax underpins some of the Rudd government’s key budget commitments and I make these observations about it. Firstly, all the revenue raised from the RSPT will go into superannuation for the nation’s 8.4 million working Australians, reducing company tax from 30 per cent to 28 per cent, building national infrastructure for the future or providing resource exploration rebates. In other words, it all goes back into the community. Secondly, as has already been highlighted, over the last decade resource tax and royalty payments have fallen from one dollar in three of mining profits to one dollar in seven. In 2008-09 mining profits were $80 billion higher than in 1999-2000, yet the government collected only an additional $9 billion in revenue.

Thirdly, the RSPT effectively replaces resource royalties in which royalties are paid on volume regardless of whether a profit is made. Fourthly, mining companies will also benefit from a reduced company tax rate from 30 per cent to 28 per cent. Fifthly, these are national resources owned by the Australian people which can only be sold once. To ask that the Australian people get a fair return on their resources is not an unreasonable ask. When you consider that a similar tax applies to the petroleum resources and that it did not stop the $40 billion Gorgon project from going ahead, I doubt very much that the fear campaign being run by both the mining industry and members opposite will stop the mining from going ahead. It is absolute nonsense.

Whilst any industry, whether it is the mining industry or any other for that matter, is making a good profit, then it will continue with a project. It is my view that the fear campaign that is being run by members opposite and the mining industry itself is not doing the industry any good whatsoever. But it is also my view that once this tax is put in place the mining companies will get on with their job of mining, investing on behalf of their investors and developing the mines that they have already earmarked. I doubt very much that any sensible business operator will set aside a venture if it is profitable and this tax only applies if there are superprofits being made.

This is a budget that continues to deliver for the Australian people and builds on the Rudd government’s commitments to date. They are commitments which began the long hard road of ensuring that every Australian has a future they can look forward to and which rebuild this country to the country that we all would like to see in the years to come. I commend these bills to the House.