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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4343

Ms HALL (6:21 PM) —It really does make a difference which side of parliament you sit on. As a member of the government, I see this as a very responsible government with a responsible budget that will halve peak debt and get the budget back in the black in three years—three years earlier than was originally expected. This pre-election budget is very different from the pre-election budgets that we came to expect from the Howard government, which threw bucketloads of money at people after having taken it from them in previous budgets. The Howard government’s budgets were designed to buy votes. They were not budgets for the future. The difference between this budget, as a pre-election budget, and any Howard government budget that was ever brought down is that this one is about responsible economic management and it is about the future.

I am very proud to be a member of a government that has brought down a budget that has the potential to sustain Australia’s strong economy. Last year Australia, like the rest of the world, was facing the global financial crisis. The actions taken by the Rudd government led to Australia performing better than any other country in the world. We are in a great position now, and that is not an accident. It is not just fate that has led us to this position, and that is recognised widely within the community.

Within my electorate, I speak widely with my constituents. One particular conversation I had with a constituent comes to mind.. This constituent, a builder, said to me: ‘How do you think it’s going in Canberra? How do you think your government’s performing?’ I said, ‘I think we’re doing okay,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I think you’re doing okay too.’ He said: ‘All my life I’ve voted for the Liberal Party. I’m a builder and, if it wasn’t for the actions of the Rudd government, I know I would’ve gone under. And I know that all those subcontractors who rely on me for their work would have gone under too.’ That is the kind of difference that the strong economic management of the Rudd government has meant to Australia. This was a long-term Liberal voter stating that he knows that the actions of the Rudd government have led to a strong economy and to him not just maintaining his building company but actually growing it and to it being very strong.

The other point I would like to make is that when we went to the election in 2007 we made some very strong commitments that we were delivered to the people of the Hunter and the people of the Shortland electorate. Those commitments have all been met, and I am particularly proud of two of those commitments. The first is the commitment to fund two stages of the Fernley track to take it through to Redhead. Those stages were opened in October in delivery of that commitment. Further to that, the Rudd government has allocated an extra $2 million to extend the Fernley track to Belmont. It will be 20 kilometres of continuous cycleway-walkway that takes people from Belmont to Adamstown and Newcastle. That is something that is great for the health of the area, great for tourism and also great for the environment. It makes it easier for people to hop on a bike and travel from point A to point B. It is a great investment in the area and for tourism.

The other commitment I want to concentrate on is the Belmont Medicare office. In 1997 the Howard government closed the Belmont Medicare office. It was one of the strongest performing Medicare offices in the area but the problem was that it was in a Labor electorate. The Belmont Medicare office was closed whilst Medicare offices which did not perform as well as were allowed to remain open. It caused a great deal of anxiety to people who lived in this area, where there is an older population, and areas to the south. People had to travel a considerable distance to access a Medicare office. Those people now have their Medicare office back in Belmont. It was opened ahead of time, on 14 December, and it was officially opened last month.

This has been a win for the people of the Shortland electorate. But there have been many wins for the people of Shortland under the Rudd government. There have been massive improvements in health and in education, with each and every school in the electorate having money invested through Building the Education Revolution—money that was very hard to find under the Howard government. It has always seemed very difficult to obtain investments in schools in the Shortland electorate. Money has always seemed to go to Liberal or National held electorates, as with the regional rorts program—sorry, Regional Partnerships program—that was in place under the previous government. That program directed money to non-existent projects in marginal seats. There is now such a difference in terms of openness and transparency, and money is actually going into a Labor held seat. It is wonderful.

Turning to the budget itself, listening to members of the opposition it seems to me that they are focused just on one aspect: the resources tax—a tax that I think is fair to the mining companies. It is a tax on profit, not on output, and ensures that mining companies are contributing their share to Australia. It has been the focus of most contributions I have heard to this debate. The tax will enable changes to the superannuation guarantee, which will increase from nine to 12 per cent and benefit around 8.4 million employees—90 per cent of the full-time workforce. It will particularly benefit those workers who at the moment face the prospect of not very much retirement income. For instance, for an 18-year-old entering the workforce, it will add about $200,000 to their retirement fund. That is quite significant and, I believe, will be really welcomed by Australians.

An area that I have always focused quite a lot on is health. The $7.3 billion boost of funding for better health and better hospitals over four years is welcomed. The $661 million for new training places for apprentices is also welcomed. The $6.6 million boost for infrastructure and the $650 million investment in renewable energy—wind, solar and thermal—are both welcomed. These are things that we really have to concentrate on if we are to make a difference to our carbon footprint. As I said, health is an area that I have always been extremely interested in. I welcome, as I know the people in my area welcome, the announcement of the $417 million to approve after hours access to GPs and primary care services. Under the Howard government there was a chronic shortage of GPs. This was identified in the blame game report that was conducted under the Howard government, when the current Leader of the Opposition was minister for health. When the report was brought down he sat on his hands and did nothing, as opposed to what the Rudd government has done. The Rudd government has increased funds for hospitals and increased the number of training places for GPs and the number of doctors and nurses we are training in Australia. That is what Australians, particularly those Australians in the Shortland electorate, are telling me. They want to be able to see a doctor when they need to. You can notice the improvements beginning already. Twenty-three new GP superclinics will certainly be welcomed, and I will be looking at whether or not a GP superclinic would be appropriate for the Shortland electorate—as I am sure many of the members of the opposition will be doing after the election if the Rudd government is returned.

At this point I have to present a contrast to the response made by the Leader of the Opposition and his shadow ministers—the people who will be responsible for steering Australia’s economy if they are elected at the election later this year. What would it mean in the area of health? I have to start by saying that, when the now Leader of the Opposition was health minister, he ripped a billion dollars out of hospitals, and that was felt. That was felt in my electorate and it caused great hardship. I am sure that it led to the death of Australians because they could not get the treatment they needed in hospital simply because of the act of the Leader of the Opposition.

He is also going to defund or discontinue the e-health system which has been introduced in this year’s budget, a system that he supported back on 8 December 2005, when he said, ‘Without an integrated health record system, effective and efficient team care will be almost impossible.’ It is incredible what a difference it makes when you are sitting on the opposition benches and looking at ways to make cuts and you think that people will not notice it, when cutting electronic records will actually have a big impact on the way our health system works. In August 2007 he said, ‘Failure to establish electronic patient records within five years would be an indictment against anyone in the system.’ Yet here he is saying, ‘If I am elected I will not introduce that system.’ It really shows the depth of the man’s understanding of health issues, remembering that this is the man that did not act on The blame game report, this is the man that ripped a billion dollars out of public hospitals and this is the man that said e-health was good but now says he will not go ahead with it. As well, he will not deliver on the infrastructure needs of GPs and of course he will discontinue the GP superclinics. It really is a mark of the man.

The other area I would quickly like to touch on in the time I have remaining is skills and training. This budget will extend the Apprentice Kickstart program, a very successful program that will lead to training many more apprentices. Under the Howard government a chronic skills shortage arose. Since the Rudd government has been in power we have sought to address that skills shortage. Part of that includes the Apprentice Kickstart program, the training system for the future and the Foundation Skills package. I think those are very important initiatives in this budget.

That takes me to the point of looking at what the opposition has in mind for education. It is going to cancel the Computers in Schools program, something that the schools in Shortland electorate welcomed. It is going to cancel the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program. I can tell you about the trade training centres in the Shortland electorate. In the Shortland electorate on the Central Coast, Gorokan High School, Northlakes High School and Lake Munmorah High School have joined together to provide diverse apprenticeship training for the students in that area, an area that has a low retention rate and a high unemployment rate and where trade training is important. The failed Australian technical college that was to be built down in Gosford has been diversified into schools on the Central Coast. It is delivering a package to the students attending those schools so that they can get the skills they need to go on and become tradies of the future. That is widely welcomed. Those programs in those schools are delivering to the students of the Central Coast. In the Lake Macquarie part of the electorate, St Mary’s College has also got part of a trade training centre, where Catholic education has come together to deliver a diverse apprenticeship experience for the students in those areas. The program cuts to the Quality Teacher program are very short-sighted. It is opposed by teachers both in the public and in the independent schools sectors. It is important that it be noted that, if elected, the Abbott government would finish those programs.

The response to this budget by the opposition has been appalling. This is a budget which has delivered to all sectors of the community, it is a budget for the future, it is a budget that has delivered to the veterans, it is a budget that has strengthened the commitments that have been made to pensioners in the past, it is a budget that will deliver health, it is a budget that will deliver schools and it is a budget that goes across the whole of the economy, making for a stronger economy and building on the gains of the past to see that Australia is positioned well as we move forward in the 21st century.