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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4317

Ms LIVERMORE (4:23 PM) —Australians are right to feel proud when they look at this year’s budget, proud of what we have been able to achieve as a nation in riding through one of the worst economic downturns the world has seen in the last 50 or so years. Australians can be proud of the way that our economy has weathered that storm. Australians can also feel confident when they look at what the government has put forward in this year’s budget, confident about the way in which the government managed our passage through the worst of the global financial crisis and the global recession. Of course we avoided a recession in this country thanks to the stimulus measures that the government put into the economy in 2008 and 2009. People can also feel confident in the way that this budget is preparing Australia for the future, preparing our country and our economy for the upswing in growth that we know is coming. We can already see the beginnings of that in the figures in this budget. We see that unemployment has now peaked at 5.3 per cent and is predicted to drop from that point. We are also seeing that growth is returning to the normal and even very positive levels pre the global financial crisis which came on us in 2008 and 2009.

Those opening remarks were about this year’s budget, but I want to cast back to last year’s budget, the 2009-10 budget. We have seen a government initiative in that budget come to pass in my electorate. We secured funding from the regional cancer centres program, which was a big part of last year’s budget. When I was talking in the debate on the appropriation bills last year not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have been so successful in that program.

Just six weeks or so ago the Prime Minister was in Rockhampton announcing that we have secured $67 million for our own regional cancer centre at the Rockhampton Base Hospital. This was something many community members and organisations, I and my state Labor colleagues hoped for, lobbied for and campaigned for for many years. We wanted to see Rockhampton or Central Queensland become more self-sufficient in the delivery of cancer services for people given that diagnosis.

Currently we have only five chemotherapy chairs at the Rockhampton Base Hospital, and this is a very fast growing region of 250,000 people. We also do not have any capacity to provide radiation therapy. This $67 million on top of the $76 million for the expansion of the hospital, which was also in last year’s budget, will enable a great expansion of services to cancer patients in Rockhampton. Lifting the number of chemotherapy chairs from five to 16, very importantly commissioning two radiotherapy bunkers and constructing a third bunker will change things substantially for people dealing with and living with cancer in Central Queensland. People will be able to access a much wider range of services at home in Central Queensland and not have the extra stress at this extremely difficult and distressing time and expense of having to travel to Brisbane and be away from their family in order to get cancer treatment.

We hope that, with this funding for Rockhampton and similar funding for cancer centres right around Australia coming out of that program, we will see a reduction in the differential that is now there between cancer patients in metropolitan areas and cancer patients in rural and regional areas. At the moment the gap is far too wide between outcomes for people diagnosed with cancer in different parts of Australia. That was the reasoning behind the government’s investment.

I am really thrilled that this government has been able to deliver that for the people of my electorate. It also illustrates that, when the government is managing our economy and looking to frame our budgets, it has an eye very firmly on the priorities that really matter for people. This budget continues in that tradition. It continues to invest in the things that are priorities for the nation and certainly for my electorate of Capricornia. Health, education, skills development and infrastructure are all central in this budget and they are priorities for my electorate.

Those priorities in the budget are set in a framework of fiscal discipline, and that is really clear from even the most basic consideration of budget figures. You can see that the government has taken the tough decisions that needed to be made. We put very tight constraints on ourselves when it came to framing the budget such that we will see it return to surplus much sooner than was anticipated in last year’s budget. In last year’s budget, the return to surplus was anticipated in 2015-16; in great news for this country and a credit to the government’s fiscal discipline, we will now see the budget return to surplus in 2012-13, three years earlier than was anticipated. We have done that by keeping strictly to our promise that extra spending would be funded through offsetting savings and by restricting real spending growth to two per cent per year. People can be confident that, when it was appropriate to spend money last year to provide stimulus to the economy, the government did that quickly and effectively. Now that it is time to start winding back that stimulus, setting ourselves up to achieve a surplus budget and cutting back on spending, we have taken those decisions.

You can compare that kind of discipline and forward thinking to the opposition’s conduct over the last couple of weeks; their response to the budget has really been all over the place. Even as late as question time today, we were still trying to figure out what they are committed to in the area of spending promises, how those things will be funded and what will be discontinued—which is a word I think we will hear a lot more of as we dig into the opposition’s commitments before the election to find what they actually stand for in taking the country into the future.

Something that takes us away from those very headline oriented figures to a much more local story is the funding increase to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. That is not something you would see all over the headlines in the media but is something I was very pleased to see in the budget papers. I say that because the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park authority has been doing a really good job in the last five years in reaching out to communities right along the Queensland coast. For many years GBRMPA was very much associated with Townsville and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Cairns, but in the last few years it has opened offices in places like Rockhampton and Mackay. The staff in those offices have been doing a really great job of building community awareness around the fact that the reef is just as much on our doorstep in Central Queensland and that, correspondingly, we have a responsibility, just as people in North Queensland do, to take care of the reef to ensure that the things we do in our businesses, our households, our communities and our land management take account of their impact on the reef and we do everything we can to mitigate that impact.

That $12 million goes towards a few areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s duties to manage and protect the Great Barrier Reef. There are three components. The first is a $4.2 million increase to the baseline funding of GBRMPA. That is simply to take account of the fact that declining tourist numbers on the Great Barrier Reef have led to a decline in revenue to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. There is an environmental management charge that tourists going to the reef pay, so when you see the sorts of falls in tourist numbers that places like Cairns have suffered in recent years it shows up in the bottom line for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. At the same time, its job in protecting the reef and increasing the resilience of the reef to deal with the challenges that the reef faces has not declined, so things like maintaining scientific research around the reef, enforcement activities and building partnerships with Indigenous groups or other stakeholders in the reef’s health and future—such as tourism bodies, fishing organisations and governments up and down the coast—still have to be maintained and are part of GBRMPA’s responsibilities under the relevant legislation. The increase in baseline funding is really good news. As someone who greatly supports the work of my local GBRMPA officers in Mackay and Rockhampton, I am pleased that their future is assured.

The other funding is going to what is called Improving the Outlook of the Great Barrier Reef. Last year saw the release of the Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2009, which is basically a bit of a check-up on the reef. It is a report to government on the health and the outlook of the reef. We know that the reef is under pressure, whether that is from climate change, greater activity on the reef—as we unfortunately saw with the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 just a couple of months ago—or population growth on the coastline. The region is impacted on by all of those pressures.

The job that the local GBRMPA officers have been doing has raised community awareness about what we can all do in reef communities and reef catchments to increase the resilience of the reef. That is being done through the Reef Guardian school program, which has been very successful. It has mainly been geared towards schools and local government authorities until now. I visited a number of the schools in the past couple of months, including Mirani State High School and The Hall State School. Byfield State School was recently awarded recognition for its latest achievements as a Reef Guardian school. It has been a very good program, particularly in communities where the reef is on the doorstep but it is not so much a part of day-to-day consciousness, as it might be in Townsville or Cairns.

The additional money for the Reef Guardian initiative is really welcome. It will allow the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to look for opportunities to expand the program, including to the fishing industry. I encourage them to think broadly about the fishing industry, including the recreational fishing sector, and to look at ways that farmers can be recognised and rewarded for their efforts, which are substantial in the areas of modifying practices and adopting best practice in order to protect the reef and minimise impact on the health of the reef. I mention that because it is something that does not get a great deal of notice and it is not mentioned in the context of the budget, but it is important and I will see the benefits of it in my electorate as local Great Barrier Reef Marine Park officers are able to do more of their good work.

I might just quickly go to some of the other things that I think will be welcomed in my electorate. The one that really stood out to me was the funding for 425 GP clinics to receive grants to expand what they do. The reason that that caught my eye is that I know there are already GP clinics in my electorate applying to the government through what I call the regional medical infrastructure program—I know the name has changed now—to do precisely that: to expand their practices to make room for visiting allied health, to co-locate with allied health professionals and to have space for training new GPs and junior doctors. So there is already a demand out there for doctors to do that—to effectively turn and run private practices into a form of GP superclinic. So I really welcomed the announcement of that funding for 425 clinics around the country to get that help to expand their practices, expand the range of services that are available in their practices and of course thereby improve access to medical services in communities.

I was very disappointed to see that that is actually one of the areas that the opposition is planning to cut. It was identified as something that would be cut. I think that is a very short-sighted move by the opposition and it is something that I imagine GPs would be telling them about quite loudly, based on the interest that I have already seen in my electorate from doctors wanting to take the initiative and do those things.

I am also really pleased to see the expansion of the headspace program in the context of a committee inquiry into youth violence, I got to spend some time with the people running the headspace program at the Gold Coast earlier this year. I think it is a terrific program that should definitely be supported and expanded. I would love to see a headspace program coming to Central Queensland and I will certainly be talking to stakeholders in my electorate and also the health minister to see what is possible there. I think that is recognition that young people do need that additional support. The government has responded to that need.

This budget is cause for relief for the Australian community, that we have ridden out the worst of the global financial crisis and have confidence that the government has managed us through those dark days and is preparing the country so that we are well placed for growth and continuing strength in our economy.