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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4281

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (10:28 AM) —The member for Cook’s contribution is in a long line of those that we heard from the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Treasurer and the shadow finance minister. It is heavy on opposition. It is heavy on negativity. It has nothing to propose at all. I would have thought the member for Cook, who is a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, may have mentioned the economy rather than trying to run down everything that he possibly could. It is typical of those opposite and what they are trying to concentrate on. They are big on fear, big on smear and that is pretty much all they have. Little wonder that we find today that Malcolm Fraser has resigned from the Liberal Party. He would be ashamed of that contribution we just heard from the member for Cook, a contribution that tried to bring out the worst in Australians, tried to divide people in terms of immigration.

Member for Cook, I do remember the 2004 campaign in Dobell and the sorts of grubby tactics used by the member for Cook, who I think at that stage was the New South Wales Liberal Party director in charge of that campaign. It is shameful that he holds those positions; it is shameful the Liberal Party are trying to rerun that divisive sort of campaign. It is a waste of this parliament’s time that he spoke for about 14 minutes in relation to immigration and divisive issues and did not once speak about any positive plans that the coalition may have. But of course it is little wonder that he did not speak positively about any coalition plans because there are none. There are none there at all. In contrast, we have a budget that is an economically sound budget, a strong budget, a budget for the future. And it has to be put into context of what the world has gone through in the past three years.

Mr Slipper —Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene and ask a question of the speaker, in accordance with the standing orders relating to the Main Committee.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs MA May)—Is the honourable member for Dobell willing to give way?


Mr Hayes —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The convention is that under the appropriation debate there is no intervention.

Mr Slipper —On the point of order: my understanding is that the standing order does extend to the appropriation debate, and I am not aware of any convention to the contrary. I will, however, check. But my understanding is the standing order does extend to this sort of debate in this chamber, and that is why the standing order was framed.

Mr CRAIG THOMSON —I have said no in any event, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member will not take an intervention?

Mr CRAIG THOMSON —No, that is right.

Mr Slipper —Which is his right.

Mr CRAIG THOMSON —Little wonder there is an intervention. They do not like to hear what we are doing for the economy; they do not like to hear how Australia has come out of the global financial crisis in the best position of any country in the world. We have the highest growth, we have one of the lowest unemployment levels and we have the lowest debt and deficit. This budget confirmed that Australia would be back in surplus within three years—three years ahead of where we were last year—and that is because this government has made the tough economic decisions and has been able to guide the Australian economy through the most difficult international economic circumstances that any government in Australia has had to deal with since the Great Depression.

We want to talk about the budget, we want to talk about the positive things that we have both done for the Australian economy and are planning to do for the Australian economy to make sure that ordinary Australians are better off than they were—in stark contrast to the member for Cook, who spent his entire time on a fear and smear campaign that seems to characterise the contributions of those opposite.

Mr Chester interjecting

Mr CRAIG THOMSON —Almost generally. I acknowledge the member for Gippsland, who spent five minutes trying to talk about health the other day, but only got a minute and a half through it. He would have been better to talk about his photo opportunities. I am sure he could fill his whole 20 minutes in relation to that issue.

During his contribution, the member for Cook did not even acknowledge that there had been a global financial crisis. He did not even acknowledge that it had been there. He spoke about the debt and the deficit, but he did not seek to say how this had come about and why Australia is better off than any other economy in the developed world. He totally ignored this. What we put in place in relation to the global financial crisis was a stimulus package, and it went in three stages. The first stage was cash payments made to families and pensioners, people who were doing it toughest. This had two effects: it helped them out in the difficult times and it also meant there was cash in their hands that they were able to spend and therefore stimulate the economy.

In an electorate like mine, where retail is the biggest employer, without that cash stimulus unemployment would have skyrocketed. In the 1992 recession, when there was actual global growth as opposed to the global financial crisis where global growth was negative, unemployment went over 15 per cent on the Central Coast. This time, with the stimulus packages, it peaked at 6.3 per cent. What that means for real, ordinary, working Australians is that on the Central Coast there are 11,500 people who are in jobs but who, if we had gone to those extraordinarily high unemployment levels, if we had done what the opposition said and let the market rip and sorted it out later, would have been out of a job. They are not out of a job, because of the action that this government took.

This government has been concentrating on making sure that people are in jobs. In relation to that, the second part of the package was the investment in infrastructure, and the third part involved long-term infrastructure. The major part of that infrastructure investment was in Building the Education Revolution. On the Central Coast at the moment 106 schools have school building projects that have either just started or, in the case of a couple, just finished—I had the pleasure to attend openings at two of those schools two weeks ago. At the peak, there have been 106 operating building sites, buildings being built, employing over 5,000 people on the Central Coast. Of those 5,000 people, 98 per cent were locals—98 per cent came from the Central Coast. That means jobs were being kept; jobs in my community, the community of the Central Coast, were being saved because of Building the Education Revolution.

Just as importantly, Building the Education Revolution provided for much-needed infrastructure in our schools, both public and private, across the board. I know the member for Gippsland has had a couple of photos taken at schools already, and I am sure he is looking forward to many more in the near future. Overwhelmingly, at every school you go to, the story that is told by the school community, by the P&C, by the headmaster of the school, is that they could never have carried out these works; not in their wildest dreams did they think they would be able to build this library, to build this school hall, to build these classrooms. What it has done for their teaching and their facilities is something they had only ever dreamed of. So Building the Education Revolution has had two effects: the effect of making sure people are employed, and employed locally, and the effect of building this much-needed infrastructure. That has been vitally important.

Other infrastructure has been developed in the area of local government. We were able in my electorate to fund two disability parks, with Liberty Swings. We did not have any disability parks in the area, and now two of those have been able to be funded—one at Canton Beach and one at Long Jetty. We were also able to build netball courts at Wyong. Netball is the sport with the biggest participation in Australia, and the Central Coast is no different. They have told me they had been trying to get netball courts at Wyong for over 10 years so they could hopefully bid to host the state championships. This government delivered in relation to that—it created jobs but it also created social infrastructure that was needed.

There is still more that we need to do in terms of some infrastructure projects. At the moment I have a petition out trying to get our surf lifesaving clubs on the Central Coast rebuilt and refurbished. Unfortunately the Wyong Shire Council—unlike the Gosford City Council, which put aside money to redo their surf clubs—has not put money aside for its surf clubs. Two of them are falling down and three others are in vital need of major repair. I am lobbying the infrastructure minister for assistance so we can maintain this vital infrastructure on the Central Coast. Another vital part of the stimulus package, and part of this budget, is the Apprentice Kickstart program. It was in the stimulus package, and this budget included $80 million to extend Kickstart so that we can increase the numbers for traditional trades and have them trained and ready for the recovery.

It is interesting to note that, last time we had a downturn, during the recession of the 1990s, it was 13 years before the same level of apprentices could be recruited. On the Central Coast, we did it in one year. Two years ago, there were 306 local apprenticeships on the Central Coast. That number dropped during the global financial crisis to 210. With the limited Kickstart program over a three-month period, it went back up to 335—that is, it bounced back to a lever higher than what it was before the global financial crisis. This is very important because we want to see as many people as we can get training and get into jobs. There is a clear correlation between the level of education and training that you have and your ability to get a job. In an electorate like mine, where there is youth unemployment in some areas in excess of 40 per cent, these types of programs are absolutely necessary. Without them we will leave a generation of young people with no hope and no future.

We also have in my electorate the fastest-growing Indigenous population in New South Wales—over 14 per cent of the community is Indigenous—and there are particular needs in relation to providing the appropriate training and skills there. Two weeks ago I was able to announce on behalf of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, money for Youth Connections, a skills centre for Indigenous youth on the Central Coast. These are the sorts of things that the government is doing to make sure that people are employed and working.

The economy is the main issue that we have faced. Having made sure that Australia came through the crisis better than any other developed country in the world—something that as a member of the Rudd government I am very proud of—one other major area that this government has addressed and is seeking to reform is health. This budget was a health budget as well as an economically responsible budget. In this budget an additional $2.2 billion worth of investment was committed to the health system, taking new investment in health to over $7.3 billion over five years and $23 billion over the rest of the decade. This government is serious about reforming health. This government has a track record of sitting down, consulting and taking action to make sure it improves the health care of Australians.

It stands in stark contrast to those on the other side. While the government has been putting money into health, including into more GP superclinics, into having emergency departments have a four-hour turnaround—and for my electorate, with the fifth busiest emergency department in New South Wales, it is absolutely vital that we get that sort of commitment to make sure people do not wait too long in emergency—and into a new e-health initiative, what have we heard from those opposite? They have said: ‘We’re having none of it; we’re going back to the way we were when we were in government. We ripped out $1 billion then, we capped GP places then and we’re going to do it again if we get a chance.’ The new GP superclinics will be scrapped. E-health will be scrapped. Again, they are trying to take money out of our health system. Anyone around Australia who goes to their hospital knows that there needs to be reform. The reform agenda of those opposite is, ‘We’ll cut the budget—we’ll take more money out.’ That is not reform; that is leading the Australian public to a situation where there will be worse health care and worse health outcomes in the future. They should be condemned for what they are doing in relation to health.

Of course, what they say about health is totally hypocritical too. Yesterday during question time the Minister for Health and Ageing gave the history of the support that the coalition formerly had for e-health. In particular the now Leader of the Opposition was a big advocate of e-health. But now, for political reasons, they are going to cut it and make sure it does not go forward.

On the subject of GP superclinics, I have a GP superclinic in my electorate, albeit a temporary one at this stage. While it is a temporary one—and those opposite may scoff and say ‘it’s only temporary’—it has 2,000 patients. It has doctors. It has an ear clinic. It has physiotherapists. It runs a variety of allied health services already, and it has only been up and running for some months. But there are eventually going to be over 100 health staff employed at that clinic, and that will have an incredible effect on the emergency department at Wyong, less than a kilometre away. It will mean that there will be a facility that people can go to out of hours rather than have to go to an emergency department. That is in the interests of anyone on the Central Coast who cares about health.

The other important thing about the GP superclinic on the Central Coast is the value for money that the government has got from it. The government has put $2½ million into this GP superclinic, and the operator—the successful tenderer—is putting in an additional $16 million, so we are getting a GP superclinic worth $18½ million for a $2½ million investment by the federal government. So committed now is this operator to the concept of GP superclinics that it is going to build another one at Tuggerah, without any contribution from the federal government, for an additional $14 million. So we are seeing $32 million worth of private investment in GP superclinics for an investment on the government’s behalf of $2½ million. There are more doctors on the Central Coast, more allied health professionals on the Central Coast and more health outcomes available for people on the Central Coast because of the government’s investment. Of course, the opposition does not want this model to work and would scrap it.

In the time that is left to me, I move to the question of the environment and what we need to do for it, because another thing that the opposition wants to scrap is the $42 million investment in renewable energy. For an electorate like mine, the environment is absolutely vital. We have a very fragile coastline and a lake system that is in the middle of my electorate, and that means that we are more vulnerable than most. This government has put over $20 million into the beautiful Tuggerah Lakes to try to help clean them up over five years. Only a month ago, we had the minister up inspecting some of the work at Ourimba Creek, where they were revegetating the stream bank to stop erosion and make sure that we do the best we can for this beautiful lake system that has often been described as the jewel in the crown of the Central Coast.

We have a stark choice between the opposition and a government that has acted decisively and made sure that the Australian economy has stood up better than the economy of any other developed country in the world. We have a government that is investing in education. We have a government that is investing in health. We have a government that is investing in the environment. On the other hand, we have an opposition that is running a scare campaign and doing little more than that. But, if it is doing anything more than that, then it is ripping money out of the health system. This is a budget for this era, a budget that we need to have and a budget that I commend to the House.