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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4487

Mr SYMON (10:44 AM) —I assure the member for Herbert that this is only the first of my many terms in this place. I rise to speak in strong support of the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011, the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2010-2011 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011. This is a budget that firmly concentrates on responsible economic management by getting the budget back in the black in three years—and that is three years early. The Rudd government will halve the previously forecast peak debt. The measures in this budget will create a stronger and more secure economy for Australia’s working families. By delivering the third round of tax cuts as promised in the 2007 election campaign, the Rudd government has ensured that a taxpayer on average earnings receives another $450 a year in their pocket. That is around $9 a week. That may not seem like all that much to those on the other side, but it is a great help to those working people and working families whose entire incomes are consumed by life’s necessities, not by life’s luxuries. Over the past three years, a working person on $50,000 to $70,000 per annum has been around $1,500 better off due to the delivery in full of our promised tax cuts.

But of course there are other tax cuts within this budget that benefit working people and working families. A tax break of 50 per cent for the first $1,000 of interest on savings is an excellent boost to the millions of people who save a few dollars in the bank for a rainy day but who up until now have been stung every year at tax time with full marginal rate tax on their interest earnings. Our simplified automatic tax deductions, also known as the tick-and-flick tax return, will mean that from 1 July 2012 more than six million Australians will not have the hassle of having to save their receipts in a shoebox for a whole year just to have their accountant at tax time say, ‘No, those ones are no good; just give me a few.’

A $500 deduction is available in 2012 and $1,000 in 2013. Importantly, this means that the average taxpayer who chooses to use this system will pay an average of $192 less tax per year in 2013. Furthermore—and I know this quite well; I have seen it firsthand many times—if the taxpayer is employed in a white-collar or retail job, the benefits may be even larger. As anyone who works in those types of industries knows, when it comes to tax time and the claiming of refunds, there is not a lot there to claim. I used to see it firsthand in the construction industry. I worked on the building site, and at tax time I could claim quite a lot in expenses. But a person who worked inside a site shed on the same building site and did an office job could not claim such expenses, even though they worked at the same workplace. So I think this is a very good benefit for people who have a white-collar background, who do not run their own business and who receive wages.

An even greater long-term benefit for working people in this budget is the raising of the super guarantee charge to 12 per cent from the current rate of nine per cent. With incremental rises starting in 2013, the rate will rise from nine per cent and will reach 12 per cent on 1 July 2019. That gives plenty of time for employers, unions and others involved in the industrial process to adjust to these changes. Ninety per cent of Australia’s full-time employees—about 8.4 million people—will benefit from this three per cent increase in retirement savings. For workers on lower incomes, the Rudd government will provide a contribution of up to $500 per annum for workers earning up to $37,500. This effectively refunds the tax contributions paid on super guarantee amounts up to that level.

I have been a long-time advocate of superannuation for everyone in Australia who works. This is something that most people accept these days, but that was not always the case. The original legislation, which those on the other side of the House most certainly did not like, started the super guarantee at three per cent. That seems so small these days, but when I started full-time work back in 1982, a long time ago now, most working people did not get super—not a cent. I think it is quite true to say that at that time super was for public servants and chosen company executives. In fact, I worked for four years before I ever received one cent of superannuation. And I was one of the lucky ones: I worked in an industry where super came in earlier than was legislated by parliament. In 1986, I and the many others who worked with me in that industry started receiving super at the rate of $9 per week. That seems small these days. But the rest of the working population at that time were getting nothing, and for many years after that they got nothing. It was not until 1993 that the super guarantee charge kicked in and working people actually got to put away money for their retirement.

The problem with that, and it is a very big one and we are still to face the full implications of it, is that people of my age or people older than I am have only worked with super for part of their working lives. And so when it comes to retirement some very valid questions can be asked: do I have enough to live a comfortable retirement? Is there enough money in the super account? Invariably, if you have not spent your full working life receiving super, the answer is going to be no, there is just not enough there to build upon. One of the measures in this budget will extend the $50,000 superannuation contribution cap to over 50s with super balances below $500,000. That is important because it gives some people the chance to catch up, to hopefully have a bigger nest egg for their retirement. Measures such as these will increase Australia’s superannuation savings pool by $85 billion over the next decade. As an example, for an 18-year-old just starting out on a working career on average wages, these changes will mean an extra $200,000 in their super account come retirement.

While I am on super, another improvement to the superannuation system is the extension of the compulsory superannuation guarantee to working people up to the age of 75 instead of the present limit of up to the age of 70. Indeed, it was only last week that I was contacted by a constituent who was very concerned to find out that her last 18 months of employment gave her no super. Her employer had not bothered to tell her that, as she had turned the age of 70, they no longer had to pay compulsory superannuation contributions to her account—and they did not. It was only when she subsequently left employment and checked up with her super that she found she was in that situation.

What might have been a good provision at the time the superannuation guarantee was brought in—that is, the 70 years of age provision—is not so good anymore. Successive governments have encouraged people to work longer. The compulsory retirement age is gone. If we want people to work longer, we need to make sure we encourage them, not discourage them. But the thing that concerns me the most about this subject is if we look at the figures that were not released with the opposition’s budget reply speech, but subsequently came to light through last week’s National Press Club debacle, we see the disturbing information that all of these changes to super that I have spoken about will be gone. Gone would be the increase in super for working people from nine to 12 per cent, gone would be the extension of the super guarantee for those people who choose to work up to the age of 75, gone would be the concessional contribution cap for the over 50s, and gone would be the super contributions tax rebate for low-income earners. That is what we get if we have an Abbott-led government.

At the 2007 election the Australian Labor Party made a commitment to the people in my electorate of Deakin. We committed to fix the traffic nightmare that the Howard Liberal government had failed to lift a finger to fix for 12 long years—that is, Springvale Road. Well-known to people throughout the eastern suburbs, this railway crossing—a railway crossing with 218 train crossings every a day, intersecting a six-lane road with 50,000 vehicles on it—meant that transport was very difficult around the eastern suburbs. If you wanted to head in a north-south direction, chances are you would try to find a road other than Springvale Road to do it on because you knew there would always be a traffic jam there. It had been that way for many years. Indeed, I have spoken to older people in aged-care homes who have told me of problems with the crossing going back in time to before I was born, to a time before it had boom gates. It has always been busy, and in many cases it has been dangerous. There have been fatalities there and there have been many, many accidents.

Last year’s federal budget made the commitment of $76½ million to the project, and the state Labor government came through with $60 million. The project started, the project finished, and that is the best thing. It is good to be able to stand up in this place and talk about what is going to be done; it is even better to be able to follow it through and make sure that it is done. And the Rudd government has done that with Springvale Road. It opened on time and it opened on budget. It is a great result—not just for the people of Nunawading, where it is located, but for everyone who commutes in or around the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

It is also a great result for commuters who use the station. What was an old, small, drafty, asbestos-ridden station that was built between the 1950s and the 1960s and not very often staffed is now a brand-new structure with security cameras and a proper public address system that is staffed from first train to last. It is an architectural statement as well. It is a great addition to the suburb of Nunawading. The new station has much better access for people with disabilities, unlike the old station, where we had problems with the ramps leading to it and the closeness of the station to the road where the buses parked.

Also, the new station, as I have mentioned before in this place, has lockable facilities for cyclists. It is quite a good system. It is remotely controlled from a control centre. There is a swipe card that allows you to access your bike when you need to. And there is security. As many people who want to use bikes know, if you leave your bike at a railway station just chained up, the chances are that when you get back on the train that evening you may end up walking home. So this is also a great improvement for our local transport.

That project is a beacon for what else can be done in terms of transport in Melbourne. There are so many level crossings that still need to be upgraded. They were built, to be fair, when the traffic load was nothing like what it is in what is now a very large city. These crossings were built when there were still red rattlers running around the place. Although the red rattlers are gone, the level crossings are not. The state government has committed to putting a program in place to start to get rid of these crossings. These are the sorts of infrastructure projects that should have been undertaken continuously right through from the 1960s to now. There is a huge gap and it is going to take a long time to catch up. But, if we do not do anything now, that catch up is never going to happen.

The Rudd government has invested not only in the Springvale Road underpass but also in much smaller local projects. One that springs to my mind is the notorious black spot in Ringwood East, the Dublin Road railway crossing. It is next to the shops. That has been another problem area, not so much for traffic jams but because it is dangerous, and there have been many accidents there. Last year, an amount of $396,000 was put forward to fix this problem. I am very happy to say that that project is now underway. It is not finished yet but works are underway and it will be finished soon. It is one of those projects that needed to be done years ago. It will mean that pedestrians will be safer and that hopefully motorists will be safer. Even the train commuters who have to walk through a lot of this area—a problem caused by boom gates being down and there being a T-intersection right where the railway line is—will be safer.

Talking about infrastructure, there is so much happening in my electorate that is only happening because of funding from the Rudd government that I hardly know where to start. I will start with the new soccer pavilion that is being built at Ringwood’s Jubilee Park. Last year the funding was announced and this year I can stand up in this place and say that work is underway. The old pavilion—again, asbestos-ridden—was nearing the point of condemnation by the local council because of its disrepair. It is now gone. Now there is a slab and building starting of what will be a brand-new multipurpose pavilion not just for the use of the soccer club but for the use of all sorts of other clubs, too. There will be a synthetic pitch. There will be lighting so that it can be used at night. There will even be facilities for women to use, something that was not thought of when the original stand was built in 1962. In the same facility, we will have the boxing club, which has been looking for a home in Maroondah for many years. Its last home was also condemned due to access problems. It was in the current Ringwood Central Community Centre. That is a good thing for local sport.

I also mention some of my local businesses that contacted me last year and said that the 50 per cent tax rate for investment was such a great thing. They are saying to me, ‘We really like the provisions in this budget—the provisions that allow for instant deductions for the cost of assets up to $5,000 purchased by small businesses, sole traders and partnerships.’ For example, a purchase of $5,000 under the system that the government intends to bring in would be a $5,000 tax deduction rather than the $750 tax reduction that it was in the first year. Measures like that are a great support for small businesses, encouraging them hopefully to expand and put on more staff in what are still economically uncertain times internationally.

The Primary Schools for the 21st Century program has been a fantastic program for every school in my electorate. Some buildings are finished, some are partly finished and there are a couple that are due to start. Of the ones that have been finished, the quality of the workmanship, the usefulness of the assets and the appreciation of the schools is fantastic. They are a great result for our local community. They are also so different to each other—some schools have chosen libraries, some have chosen halls, some have chosen refits and some have chosen some very innovative learning centres. In fact, I was at one only a couple of weeks ago that was a learning and discovery centre. It was an open plan learning space, and when I was there the students were learning about cybersafety. That is a fantastic thing to do at school, because far too many people think that it is the job of parents to teach their children about that—and I agree that it should be—but far too many parents do not know much about turning on a computer, let alone how or where their children should be accessing the internet.

It is now 16 months into the program, and I have schools such as St Luke’s with its now complete discovery centre. I have schools such as Blackburn Primary, which has a wonderful multipurpose hall and a full-size basketball court. That is a $3 million job and it means that the school, which for so many years has been bursting at the seams, can have an indoor assembly with more than just the children present. This is a school where formerly, if the full complement of 450 children and a sprinkling of parents turned up to an assembly, the parents would have had to stand outside the building and put their heads in the window to see what was going on—there was not enough room. I have been to many assemblies and concerts there where that has happened. We also have schools like Burwood East Primary, which up until now has not even had a hall. In fact, I have been to assemblies there in the rain and in the baking heat. The children are only small and cannot stand that sort of thing very long, but they now have a brand new assembly hall, and that is a great thing for that school.

The National School Pride Program has meant so many benefits to all schools across the electorate because of the number of things they were able to do as a result of it, whether it be doing those maintenance jobs that could never be done because there was not enough money—fixing rotted-out window frames at Mitcham Primary School, for example—or completely redoing an oval with new grass so that it could be used all year round by the students. That happened at many schools, such as Ringwood Secondary, Heathmont East and Laburnum Primary, which put a running track around its oval. The kids are out there in droves using it, and it is really great to see. It is great for a school to give its children the message, ‘We want you to get out and exercise.’ There are also schools such as Nunawading Christian College, which has got a fantastic new indoor hall and meeting area. That school added onto its existing building—it leveraged off that and made it even better. This budget is good for working people and for working families, and I commend these bills to the House.