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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4300

Mr TURNOUR (11:49 AM) —I support this budget. It is a budget that continues to build on the strong work that the Rudd government has done to steer us through some very difficult economic times. It is about responsible economic management, and it is about taking tough decisions. This is a budget that will see us halve peak debt and get the budget back into surplus three years earlier than had been expected. Three years from now, three years earlier than expected, the budget will be back in surplus.

The budget is about taking decisive action to continue to support the Australian economy. There are new investments in health and hospitals, new investments in skills and infrastructure and there is a new Renewable Energy Future Fund to help tackle climate change. There will be tax cuts and less red tape for small business—there are plenty of small businesses in my electorate of Leichhardt—and better superannuation and tax breaks, providing a boost for national savings. There will be a standard deduction to make tax time easier for working families—a tick and flick system—and a third round of tax cuts to put more money in working families’ pockets to help them with cost-of-living challenges. There will also be money to protect our troops and our borders—and still we will return to surplus three years ahead of schedule.

This is a strong budget—a budget delivered by a strong economic team, led by our Treasurer and our Minister for Finance and Deregulation. That team stands in stark contrast to the three stooges act we saw on display last week, with the Leader of the Opposition’s budget reply basically passing the parcel to Mr Hockey, the shadow Treasurer, who then passed the parcel to Mr Robb, the shadow finance spokesperson. None of them could actually come up and deliver a budget response. They ended up in a news conference saying they were going to cut things. But the only thing about being cut was when Mr Robb’s media adviser was up the back telling him to cut himself, to stop speaking because he was basically making a fool of himself—as they were of themselves with their economic irresponsibility.

This is a solid budget. It builds on the work we have done to steer this country through some very difficult economic times. Let us talk about tax cuts, for example. A working family in Leichhardt earning about $20,000 will pay $750 less in income tax in 2010-11, a worker on $50,000 in my electorate of Leichhardt will pay about $1,750 less in income tax during 2010-11, and a worker in Leichhardt earning about $80,000 will pay $1,550 less in income tax in 2010-11. That is real money going into the pockets of working families in my electorate of Leichhardt. It is the third round of tax cuts that we have delivered as a government, and it is part of important ongoing reform and support for local families.

Small businesses, as I have said, will benefit. They are going to benefit because we are introducing a mining super profits tax—a tax that ensures that all Australians, including those Australians in Far North Queensland, share in the wealth from natural resources that can only be dug up once. I have an electorate built on small business. There are thousands of small businesses in my electorate of Leichhardt. They are going to benefit from the instant write-off of assets valued at up to $5,000, which kicks in from 1 July 2012. They will also benefit from the tax cuts, from 30 per cent to 28 per cent, that we are going to bring in earlier for small businesses. It will assist thousands in my electorate and the 720,000 small businesses across the country.

These initiatives will be lost under the opposition. They have said they will not support our mining super profits tax, so those small business tax cuts are gone. They have said they will not support the mining super profits tax, so superannuation increases from 9 to 12 per cent are gone. They have said they will not support the mining super profits tax, so increased investment in infrastructure, like that in mining states like my state of Queensland, is gone. That is the stark difference between the opposition and our government: steering the country through some difficult economic times and making some tough decisions to make big mining companies pay more but ensuring the benefits of that flow through to small business; flow through to working Australians in terms of increasing their superannuation, their retirement income; and flow through to better investment in infrastructure—roads and rail and ports. Those are nation-building commitments and that is what the government are about.

Let us look at some of the benefits in my own electorate from the budget. I like to think of myself sometimes as the member for roads. I am about investing in roads and building roads, and we know that is particularly important in regional Queensland, where I come from. The former member for Leichhardt did bugger all when it came to roads. He is actually ashamed of what he did when it came to roads. He is actually starting to claim things that I have had built during my first term. We built a $40 million bridge over the Mulgrave River, the Desmond Trannore Bridge. That was built in my first term, but the former member, who I am now running against, is trying to claim it is something he delivered.

We have a $150 million upgrade of the southern access road, and initial funding is at $20 million as part of this budget. The former member did nothing about the traffic congestion in the southern suburbs of Cairns. We have a $150 million commitment as part of $1 billion-plus plan to upgrade the southern access road. I worked hard to get a commitment for that, and the money is in the budget this year.

We have additional funding in the budget this year for the Peninsula Development Road, which stretches up through Cape York to Weipa—a very important mining town of the western coast of the Cape York Peninsula. We need to continue to upgrade that road and we are. We have a $15 million investment going at the moment, bitumening the road through to Laura, and we are building on that investment with another $3.4 million. The former member had 10 years plus in office, and I think he got $5 million put into the Peninsula Development Road during that time.

All this builds on the work we are doing to fix up black spots in Smithfield, on the northern beaches of Cairns. The roundabout near the shopping centre is being improved at the moment. That is due to the Rudd government, and we have seen another two or three roundabouts on the northern beaches fixed. We have five railway boom gates being installed in Leichhardt, including one in Aumuller Road in Cairns, where we recently had a serious accident. There are also boom gates in Thomson Road in Edmonton, McCoombe Street in Cairns, Anderson Road in Woree and Minnie Street in Cairns. All those are in my electorate of Leichhardt, but there are plenty of other boom gates being upgraded through investments by the Rudd government.

In the Cardwell Range, the Bruce Highway is being upgraded. This is a significant investment that we need to make to ensure that the range is safe into the future. Tragically, people have died there in the last few years, so we need to do upgrades in that range, and that is what we are doing. There is investment for that in this budget. So we are doing a lot about roads, and that is very important to the economy in places like Cairns and Far North Queensland generally.

We are also investing very significantly in education. In my electorate of Leichhardt, I was very pleased to see—and I knew it would be there—the $19.5 million in the budget for the Cairns Institute. This was a commitment made by the Prime Minister late last year when he came to Cairns in direct response to the difficult economic times and high rates of unemployment that we have experienced. Unemployment hit almost 14 per cent, and we recognised that we needed to do things to support jobs in the interim. That is what our economic stimulus plan was about. We provided a jobs expo. But we also need to diversify and strengthen our economy in the longer term.

The Cairns Institute will be a tropical innovation hub linking research with commercial opportunities, driving economic development and providing critical infrastructure planning research for Australia’s far north. The institute will include 125 research staff working on issues of significance in the tropics, including marine and climate science, public health, social and community welfare and Indigenous development. As I said, this is about diversifying the economy. We are not only providing the tropical expertise we need locally but also providing it for Northern Australia as a whole and for the Asia-Pacific region. The Cairns Institute is a very important part of our vision of Cairns as a hub for the Pacific region that links in and provides information to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and other Pacific nations. They will directly benefit from research undertaken by the Cairns Institute at the James Cook University through investments like this.

There is also the $50 million investment in building a dental school and $30 million in infrastructure. Again, that was built in my first term, and the former member is now trying to claim it. He cannot think of any significant infrastructure that was built during his more than 10 years in office, so he is trying to claim roads and education infrastructure being built during my first term. It is an indictment of him and his failure to deliver—and he has got the temerity to run again. He is trying to get back up, yet he delivered nothing during his 12 years. He has no new ideas but wants to claim investments and construction that are happening on my watch, such as the new dental school at James Cook University and our investments in the Desmond Treloar Bridge on the Mulgrave River.

The budget also had some fantastic investments in vocational education and training. As I said, unemployment has been tough in Cairns, but we saw some good news last week: unemployment dropped from 12.4 per cent to 10.4 per cent. So we are heading in the right direction and there is some light at the end of the tunnel. We know that we need to support jobs, but if people cannot get a job it is very important that they get into training. That is why our productivity places are very, very important. We also know that helping people to get into training can help them get into a job.

One of the important things that we did in the budget was extend Apprentice Kickstart by $80 million. It meant that Apprentice Kickstart could start on 12 May and run through to 12 November. It produced some fantastic benefits for my own electorate of Leichhardt. We have just been through a global recession, and luckily—not luckily, but through a lot of hard work and good management by the Rudd government working in partnership with businesses across the country—we managed to avoid a technical recession in this country. But places like Cairns effectively have been in recession and have been doing it tough. When unemployment gets into double digits you have to say that you are in a recession. In the previous recession, during the 1990s, apprentice commencements in key traditional trades fell 34 per cent, and it was 13 years before we recruited the same number of apprentices again. Thanks to the Rudd government, we have done that in one year, not 13. In a place like Cairns, where we have been really hard hit by the global recession—as we are reliant on tourism and reliant on construction—we have seen apprentice starts hold up; we have not seen them decline like they did in the 1990s.

From December 2008 to February 2009—so from not last Christmas but the Christmas before—we saw 140 apprentice starts in Leichhardt, and that was not long after the global recession started. But from December 2009 to February 2010 we were hard hit. What do we find 12 months or so into the global financial crisis? Thanks to well thought out, serious policy to support training and to support apprentices in places like Cairns and Leichhardt, we see 201 apprentices starting work. Even though people are losing their jobs, the construction industry, other builders and other sections of the economy such as cookery are still putting apprentices on. Why? It is because we almost tripled the start-up commencement bonus for apprentices for businesses. We increased it from $1,500 to $4,850.

We know that we are not out of the woods with the global financial crisis. There are still some difficulties in Europe at the moment. In places like Cairns, even though unemployment is in decline, we need to do more and we need to continue to support local jobs. So I was very pleased to see in the budget an $80 million extension of Apprentice Kickstart. It is these sorts of initiatives that really can make a difference to young people, to provide them with a future when they may be looking around and thinking, ‘Unemployment is in double digits, so what is the future for me?’ Businesses get a leg up, they get a bit of a kick-start and they continue to put apprentices on. That is the record. Those are the facts on this government’s investment in education.

Let us have a look at the stark contrast that we get from the opposition. I have already talked about the three stooges act of last week, with Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey followed by Mr Robb. But look at the detail—at the things they are going to cut. They talked about discontinuing some of the program they announced. There will make very significant cuts in education, which will impact local schools in my community and impact vocational training in communities like mine. They are really going to undermine the quality of teacher training in places like Cairns, Cape York and the Torres Strait because they announced significant cuts to education. They are going to cancel the computers in schools program, they are going to cancel the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program, they are going to cancel the Productivity Places Program and they are going to cancel the smarter schools teacher quality program.

This is what we get from Tony Abbott: high risk and poor policy. We are going to see the opposition cut education funding in critical areas that would otherwise support high school kids getting a decent education. There are plenty of schools in my electorate that have not yet got their computers. They are going to miss out. There are plenty of schools in my electorate that have not yet got their investment in trades training, and they are going to miss out. I cannot believe that the opposition will cut funding for teacher quality. We know that the My School website has been a success, but it has identified areas where we need to make improvements. We can provide good-quality infrastructure, but we need to continue to support and lift the standard of teaching. Tony Abbott said he would cut investments in his budget reply, and that is an indictment on the opposition.

Let’s look at health care. We know that health was a key part of this budget. This budget was about responsible economic management and bringing the budget back to surplus in three years. It was about making critical investments in education and also, particularly, in health. We saw over the Easter recess the Prime Minister working hard negotiating with premiers to deliver good-quality reforms in the health sector. We saw Mr Abbott off on his bike, cycling. While the Prime Minister was working hard, it looked to me like Mr Abbott was playing hard.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms S Bird)—I just remind the member to refer to everyone by their titles.

Mr TURNOUR —One was working hard on policy; the other one was working hard on developing his physical attributes. One is a hard worker and an ironman when it comes to national policy; the other one is a hard worker and an ironman when it comes to his sporting achievements. We are in the national parliament here: it is about being an ironman on policy, not in the sporting arena.

People in my electorate of Leichhardt want to see reform in health care and they welcome the announcements we have made about providing more than 6,000 new doctors, cutting emergency department waiting times and providing new hospital beds. The investments we have made in elective surgery have already made a difference to many people in my electorate, who have had hip replacements, urinary surgery and other types of elective surgeries that they would not have necessarily got without those increased investments. The commitments in the budget build on that very good work. There will be an extra 5,000 aged-care places and tough new uniform national health and hospital standards. These are national reforms that will have an impact locally. We are about having a health system run locally but funded nationally, for the first time ever, and the reforms build on work that has already been done—such as improving local cancer services in Cairns through our new radiation oncology facility. We have already delivered a new MRI scanner for Cairns Base Hospital, a GP superclinic and a new dental school, which I have already talked about.

And what do we get from the opposition? We know that when the opposition leader was health minister he cut $1 billion from public hospitals, he cut GP training places—and we have a doctor shortage—and he left a national shortage of 6,000 nurses. This was what Mr Abbott did as health minister in the former Howard government. In the budget reply, we see he wants to cut almost another $1 billion. Mr Hockey announced $822 million in cuts—actually, he did not identify them; Mr Abbott passed it on to Mr Hockey who passed it on to Mr Robb, and Mr Robb announced $822 million in cuts. So Tony Abbott, the opposition leader, cut out almost $1 billion when he was health minister under the former Howard government. I am sure this is just the beginning. He also cut e-health.

… without an integrated health record system, effective and efficient team care will be almost impossible. Queues will be longer and costs will be higher as health professionals under pressure keep asking the same questions and ordering the same tests.

Who do you think would say that? The opposition leader. He wants to cut e-health by half a billion dollars, but he said e-health was critical, was important reform. That was on 8 December 2005, a few years ago. Let’s see what the opposition leader said in 2007:

Failure to establish an electronic patient record within five years, I said, would be an indictment against everyone in the system, including the Government.

And he went on to say further things.

What we know about this government is that we have steered this country through some difficult economic times. We have delivered a budget that will bring us back into surplus three years early—a very responsible budget. What we know about the opposition is that they are about cutting health, cutting education and not supporting a fair share of our natural resources being distributed to all Australians. That stands in stark contrast to the actions of this government. (Time expired)