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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4321


Dr SOUTHCOTT (4:43 PM) —This is the third Rudd government budget, and every budget has been different. Remember the first budget? That was where we were fighting inflation. That was where the Treasurer, the finance minister and the Prime Minister were trying to build the biggest surplus they possibly could. Of course, we know what happened. This government has never delivered a surplus budget and probably never will. We have seen the direction of fiscal policy going in completely opposite directions over the course of the last 2½ years. We have had budgets where they have lost control of spending. In last year’s budget they could not shovel taxpayers’ money out the door quick enough in the pursuit of their reckless spending. Contrast this with the record of the Howard government and Peter Costello as Treasurer. Over 12 budgets he delivered 10 budgets in surplus. When was the last time we saw a Labor budget in surplus? You have to go back more than 20 years to see a budget in surplus delivered by a Labor government. I predict it will be a very long time before we see a Labor government deliver a budget surplus.

When it comes to reckless spending and poor policy, the government have proven time and time again that they are the experts. Malcolm Fraser, who knows a thing or two about how bad the Whitlam government was, has said that the Rudd government is worse than the Whitlam government. The Rudd government are economically irresponsible. One example that illustrates this is the insulation debacle. Had they done nothing, there are four people who would still be alive today. This debacle resulted in the tragic death of four young people. We have also witnessed outrageous cost blowouts in the building of school halls, with $16 billion of taxpayers’ money being spent on possibly $8 billion of value.

The centrepiece of this budget is Labor’s great big new tax on mining—a $9 billion tax on mining. This will have enormous implications for my home state of South Australia. This will put the $22 billion expansion of Olympic Dam and Prominent Hill into doubt. These projects are absolutely critical to the future prosperity of Adelaide and South Australia. With the uncertainty surrounding the great big new tax on mining, BHP Billiton have already confirmed that they will put the future expansion of Olympic Dam on hold. But it is not just about mining. In my electorate of Boothby, which is a suburban electorate, there are businesses which operate in the mining services sector. This will have a big impact on local jobs in the electorate. A supplier of drill bits in Boothby had to lay off 67 staff in December 2008 as a result of the global financial crisis. This slug on the resources sector will be just as damaging.

Mining companies will look for opportunities in other markets where governments are more willing to accommodate them. Emerging economies such as Russia, South American countries such as Peru, and similar countries such as Canada have already seen opportunities come from this attack on our sovereign risk. These countries will reap the benefits of this government’s appalling policies. This is nothing more than a shameless tax grab by the government. As a result of their reckless and wasteful spending on things such as pink batts and school halls, they have racked up a $93 billion debt—and this debt will have to be paid back by future generations. The strong growth in the resources sector sheltered us from the worst of the economic downturn. This industry employs thousands of Australians and supports thousands more in related industries and in mining communities.

But the great big new tax is not the only poor decision to come out of this budget. The government are also intent on breaking their election promise to Australian families that they would make no changes to the private health insurance rebate. They are persisting with their attempts to claw back the private health insurance rebate. We all know that Labor have for a long time had a hatred of private health care. Labor see no role for private health care in Australia. Despite all their promises prior to the election, they are the same old Labor: say one thing before the election but do another thing after the election.

According to Australian Health Insurance Association data from 2010, there are 95,787 residents in the electorate of Boothby who are covered by private health insurance. I, like my colleagues on this side of the House, appreciate the important role private health insurance plays in reducing the strain on the public hospital system, in allowing people to access allied health services such as physio and dental and also in facilitating choice of doctor. Yet private health insurance remains in Labor’s crosshairs. In each of their first two budgets they made an attack on private health insurance, and the implications of this are that they will claw back $2 billion from families who hold private health insurance. The former coalition government introduced the 30 per cent rebate for private health insurance back in 1999. In 2005 the rebate amounts were increased for people aged 65 and over: people aged 65 to 69 became eligible to receive a 35 per cent rebate and people aged 70 and over were entitled to receive a 40 per cent rebate.

As I said before, twice already the Rudd government has introduced legislation to wind back the private health rebate, resulting in higher premiums for all private health memberships. Despite this legislation being twice rejected in the Senate, the government is planning to introduce this legislation a third time. This just shows the arrogance of a government which promised not to means-test the private health insurance rebate prior to the last election, and the people it will hurt most will be working families. What working families want from a federal government is security and stability—someone who provides financial security and economic security. They want to see an end to the spiral of increasing pressures on their cost of living, and yet the Rudd government’s attempt to wind back support for the private health insurance rebate will hit these families hard.

Mental health has also been seriously ignored under this budget. The government has ignored the commitment made by Kevin Rudd at COAG just last month for a historic reshaping of mental health. By contrast, the former government delivered on a $1.9 billion commitment to mental health in the 2006 budget. New Medicare rebates were introduced for people with mental illnesses to access improved services from appropriately trained GPs and psychiatrists and, on referral, from clinical psychologists. Yet such practical and much-needed assistance was wound back in the Rudd government’s budget with the decision to exclude occupational therapists and social workers from Medicare benefits schedule support. This was yet another ill-conceived and short-lived Labor plan. It may have survived a week after the budget but not long after that. After there was enormous community reaction to this measure, the Minister for Health and Ageing performed a gold medal standard backflip. It was a backflip which Nadia Comaneci would be proud of and reinstated their access to the Medicare benefits schedule.

On the wider issue of health and hospitals, which has been the subject of a debate running recently, one of the points that the opposition made is that a critical issue for the health sector is the lack of beds. This was the nature of many of the submissions to the NHHRC, and the commission reported that there is an acute lack of beds, especially in the subacute sector in the areas of rehabilitation and palliative care. In my own electorate of Boothby, we have a number of acute care hospitals—the Flinders Medical Centre and the Daw Park Repatriation General Hospital—but there is capacity for more subacute beds. What this means is that many patients are not ready to go home from hospital but their acute care episode has finished. We need more step-down facilities. It is an area which is underdeveloped in Australia, and that is a critical need. That is one thing that the opposition identified and it was not part of the original proposal which the Prime Minister and the health minister put forward.

Secondly, an area which the opposition identified was the area of activity based funding for every public hospital, or casemix. This is well developed in Victoria and well developed in South Australia, but it was very obvious to anyone who has any idea about activity based funding that this would have an enormous detrimental impact on small regional hospitals. I never heard from one Labor Party member from a regional area who identified this problem. They followed their minister and their Prime Minister like lemmings.

It was people like the New South Wales Premier who identified instantly that many smaller hospitals would be non-viable under activity based funding. So we went from the original proposal, which was activity based funding for all 760 public hospitals in Australia, to the position that the Prime Minister made under pressure during the health debate, where he said, ‘We’ll try activity based funding and if that doesn’t work then we’ll give them block funding,’ to what emerged from COAG, which is that there will be a definition of hospitals such that some will have block funding, some will have activity based funding and some will have a mix. Again, this was an area where the Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Service Delivery and the regional members of the government were completely silent on the impact that this would have had. It would have been disastrous.

On the issue of local hospital networks, I am sure many people have heard the Prime Minister say of hospitals ‘funded nationally, run locally’. The centrepiece of this is the local hospital networks. Apart from Western Australia, all of the state governments signed up to this. The idea is that you have a local hospital network built around a principal referral hospital. In my own state of South Australia we had a Generational Health Review which led to three health services in metropolitan Adelaide. Then, following a merger of two of them, we had two health services in metropolitan Adelaide, Southern Adelaide Health Service and Central Northern Adelaide Health Service. One week we had our South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, and his Minister for Health, John Hill, signing up for local hospital networks. The following week they merged the health services.

So, instead of having more local say in our hospitals, we will now have every hospital in metropolitan Adelaide from Noarlunga to Flinders and all the way up to Royal Adelaide, Modbury and Lyell McEwin in the one health service. Instead of the idea of more local say, which the opposition believe is a very good idea, we will have less local say. The health minister, John Hill, said, ‘Local hospital networks were not our idea; that was very much forced upon us and was the price we had to pay as part of getting the extra money from the Commonwealth.’ We have a complete contradiction between what the federal government is saying, from the same agreement, and what the state government is actually going to implement on that agreement.

I would like to touch briefly on the area of transport. One of the big local issues in my electorate is the issue of a freight line which runs through the electorate. In 2007 I arranged for the coalition to support a $3 million feasibility study into improving the amenity for residents along this line and looking at alternatives for the freight line, including the alternative of a northern bypass route. That work has been done by GHD and the report has been sitting with the minister for transport since the end of March. Both the member for Mayo and I have written to the transport minister asking him to release the report so that the community can see what the government is proposing to do with this line.

In this budget, it is worth noting that the government put $1 billion into the Australian Rail Track Corporation, but there is nothing there for this section of the line between Murray Bridge and Adelaide, which is the subject of the feasibility study, which was supported by both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party at the last election. Again, I would ask the transport minister to release the GHD report so that we can see what their recommendations have been, and we would like to know the government response to those recommendations.

Another election promise that was made in my electorate was that the Labor Party promised to fix the intersection of South Road and Sturt Road. It is a major intersection with a lot of traffic and a lot of logjams that build up.


Mr Georgiou —Did they keep their promise?


Dr SOUTHCOTT —No, they broke their promise. There was $500 million put aside for the South Road, and the state government put in $430 million. That money has all gone to Northern Adelaide and to the Superpass. So the money is simply not there to fix this intersection, promised by Kevin Rudd and his transport spokesman, Martin Ferguson, at the last election. Nothing has happened. That, again, is an area where I call on the government to deliver on its election promise to fix the South Road-Sturt Road intersection.

There have been a number of other failures under this government. The Productivity Places Program is a prime example of the failure of this government in vocational education and training. It has been such an embarrassment to the Minister for Education that I am sure she enjoyed handballing responsibility off to the states. Skills training failures do not end there. Labor abolished the Australian Technical Colleges, which offered first-class training opportunities to young Australians whilst enabling them to complete their final years of school. They replaced this gold standard program with the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program. You might remember the promise: a trade training centre in every high school. But this was another promise they did not really mean to keep. For the 2,650 high schools in Australia, there are 13 Trade Training Centres opened. That is, 0.5 per cent of what the government promised they have now got open three years later—a complete failure.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Building the Education Revolution. This program perhaps best exemplifies the jump first, think later approach of the Rudd government. It sounded great in 2007. Let us have a look at the track record. How is it that a Catholic school can build a canteen for one-fifth of the cost of a public school? And, what’s more, the Catholic school’s canteen is useable.

This budget fails to provide for the long-term economic and financial security of Australians. The giant tax grab from the mining companies will see them searching for investment opportunities in other countries, resulting in billions of dollars in potential investment in Australia being lost. This is a government that is very good on spin but not so good on delivering, and very good on talking but not so good on acting. The real story is that this budget is a risk. It poses a major threat to existing and future mining ventures. It is nothing more than a desperate tax grab by a government that loves tax, that has lost control of spending and that is under-delivering like no government we have seen before.