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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4275


Ms McKEW (Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (10:00 AM) —As I was saying last night before the adjournment debate, by contrast with the extraordinary and unprecedented investment that the Labor government has made in education at every level—including in the provision of computers in secondary schools, national partnership agreements to ensure quality teaching in schools and trade training centres in secondary schools—the Leader of the Opposition, who once wrote a book saying that the best teachers need to be paid more, now says that he will axe a program that is designed to do just that, and that is Labor’s $425 million Smarter Schools program.

This is the same opposition leader whose Coalition economic principles talks up the importance of school based apprenticeships and traineeships but who also decides to cut trade training centres in schools, such as the one being built in my electorate right now at Epping Boys High School. So, under the Leader of the Opposition, there would be no computers in schools, no money for quality teaching and no trade training centres. This is the same opposition leader who tells voters they will have to distinguish between remarks made ‘in the heat of verbal combat’ and, in contrast, ‘calm, considered, prepared, scripted’ remarks that can be taken as ‘gospel truth’.

This budget is a landmark budget, and would be purely on the basis of its allocation of record investment for health and hospitals—$7.3 billion in funding for new Labor’s National Health and Hospitals Network, the biggest reform to the Australian health system since Medicare. It is a reform that has come just in time for at least one hospital in my electorate. Just recently, the Prime Minister came to my electorate and held a community cabinet meeting in Epping. On the same day, I took him to Ryde Hospital. Ryde has had its problems over the year but it is a much-prized local medical institution. You should have heard the cheer that went up around the Ryde Hospital site when the Prime Minister told over 100 staff just how important it was to him that hospitals like Ryde have a secure long-term future. Labor’s national health and hospital reforms will give security to many local hospitals and the patients who depend on them around the country.

The federal budget funds hospitals like Ryde to meet a number of specific targets in the rollout of our health network. The 24,000 people who present at Ryde Hospital emergency department every year will benefit significantly from the budget’s $750 million investment in reduced waiting times. There will be a cap of four hours on waiting times, to be progressively implemented from 1 January next year. Patients waiting to have elective surgery at Ryde and other hospitals will also get their procedures seen to more quickly through the $800 million investment in extra hospital capacity to cut elective surgery waiting lists. The pressure on Ryde Hospital emergency department will also be relieved by the new Medicare Locals service, which will ensure better after-hours access to GPs. As Ryde Hospital has a particularly heavy case load of older patients, it will also benefit greatly from the Commonwealth’s decision to have the Productivity Commission consider all aspects of funding for the aged-care sector.

One other important point I would like to touch on—and I talked about this in the first part of my speech last night—is the importance of productivity. Of course this is absolutely linked to the greater efficiencies that will come to our health system from our investment in a network of electronic health records. This budget allocates $467 million to introduce personally controlled e-health records, a move that is long overdue and which has been applauded widely across the medical profession. But there is one glaring omission. We know from the opposition’s hot-potato effort with last week’s budget reply that the coalition has ditched the notion of support for e-health. It has gone. Once again, we see the gap between what the Leader of the Opposition believes in and what he does.

As the Minister for Health and Ageing reminded us in question time only yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition was all for e-health in his previous incarnation as health minister in the Howard government. It was so important to him that, in his first speech as the new health minister, he gave his government five years to implement a national scheme. He went further and said that a failure to do that in five years ‘would be an indictment against everyone in the health system’. That is written down; isn’t that the gospel truth? It was clearly more than a thought bubble because, again, the now Leader of the Opposition referred to this again in August 2007, as the sun set on the previous government. He said that e-health records ‘would mean safer, better, more convenient and more efficient health care’. Not only does the Leader of the Opposition now not deliver what he says he believes in; he wants to stop the government from delivering as well. So I would say that he is unreliable and unfit to lead.

On another important matter, many young families in the Bennelong electorate will also be welcoming the government’s move to lift the superannuation guarantee levy from the present nine per cent to 12 per cent. Interestingly, I recently addressed the Epping Chamber of Commerce and a local businessman even suggested that it should be lifted to 15 per cent. There are certainly more than 20,000 small businesses in Bennelong which will also benefit from a reduction in the company tax rate and the ability to instantly write down assets up to $5,000.

I would like to conclude by putting this budget in the context of what is happening in the rest of the world. Certainly my constituents in Bennelong pay a good deal of attention to events right around the world. Interestingly, earlier this month the Economist magazine produced a graph which compared international economies and how they are managing deficits and net debt as a percentage of GDP. Thanks to the Rudd government’s timely stimulus and our prudent economic management, we are now in a position to return to surplus in three years—that is, three years earlier than expected.

When you look, as the Economist did, at the G7 average of net debt as a percentage of GDP you will see that that average for G7 countries sits at around 90 per cent. Australia’s is set to peak at six per cent of GDP. That is a phenomenal achievement. I invite members to contrast the dire financial situation that we are now seeing unfold in Greece and in other countries in Europe and the instability which that has caused for markets and consider how the Rudd government’s decisive action supported our economy and jobs through the global financial crisis. It confirms to me the Rudd government’s credentials as a responsible economic manager with a long-term vision for the future. I commend these bills to the House.