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Monday, 31 May 2010
Page: 4679

Ms VAMVAKINOU (5:19 PM) —I am pleased to speak this evening in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and the cognate budget appropriation bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2010-2011 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011, which support the 2010 federal government budget. What a contrast between the economic environment in which this budget was delivered in 2010 and that in which the previous budget of 2009 was delivered. We went from our economy being in a vulnerable position, with a budget forged in the most challenging of global economic circumstances since the Great Depression, to a budget formulated in a position of economic strength. These circumstances are the result of a fiscal policy reflective of a government directed by the highest standards of responsible economic management, a government willing to put forward tangible social and economic programs that not only helped us avoid a recession in the immediate term but delivered on-the-ground projects to prepare our nation and our community for the future.

When I spoke to the previous budget of 2009, I did so in the knowledge that it was the Rudd government that would be responsible for ensuring that the people of my electorate of Calwell would continue to play an active part in the economic life of this nation. I did so knowing that it was the federal Labor government’s economic and social policies that would serve to protect my constituents from the full brunt of what even the former Howard government Treasurer, Peter Costello, described as an ‘economic tsunami’. What allowed this economic tsunami to circumvent Australia were the measures undertaken by the Rudd Labor government’s economic stimulus plan which, through a nation-building package, delivered huge investments to communities across Australia. I am very proud to see that these huge investments, particularly in my electorate of Calwell, strengthened our local economy, helped families across the board and will serve to help us secure much-needed growth into the future.

The constituents of my seat of Calwell were amongst the highest recipients of federal government funding, with over $142 million for over 170 projects having been delivered. The amount of social and economic capital reflects the federal government’s commitment to communities across Australia, a perfect example of which is my electorate of Calwell. There is no doubt these investments have helped avoid what would have been a huge rise in unemployment and the closure of many small businesses which ultimately form the backbone of our economy in both the local and national context. Instead of a contraction in our national economy we have in fact seen economic growth of 1.4 per cent. While other advanced economies have gone backwards, Australia is moving forwards. Through measures in this budget, the government will seek to halve peak debt and get the budget back into surplus in three years time. That is three years earlier than previous projections.

With the unemployment rate on its way down, this budget is important because it delivers much-needed tax concessions for working people, for seniors and for small business owners. Following the budget announcements, many of my constituents approached me and made phone calls to my office. While they acknowledged the ongoing investment in our local community, they also wanted to know how measures in the budget translated for them on the ground, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods and in their communities.

I will go first to the tax cuts that were announced. Those tax cuts alone mean that, at the end of the day when the third round of tax cuts takes effect, people will no doubt have more money in their pockets to spend, to save, to invest or to put towards things which are important to them and to their family budgets. So, with necessary infrastructure investments needed for the sustainability of our modern economy having been provided, workers have also now been provided with added support that is much needed, particularly by lower income earners and those who will even benefit from relatively modest increases in the money they earn. There are certainly many low-income earners in my electorate of Calwell and I know that this measure, in particular, is very important to the way in which they manage their daily life and expenses.

I am also conscious of those who in the name of economic flexibility—and I refer to the former Howard government—had ignored matters for far too long. These are the underemployed in our community, which the previous government only remembered when it came to stripping away their rights at work. These are workers who are most vulnerable to economic fluctuations. Thanks to the 2010 federal budget these workers will be able to earn up to $16,000 and not have to pay income tax, which is up from $11,000 in the 2007-08 federal budget. Along with other initiatives this will have a direct impact. Who are these people that will benefit? They are the working mums who often have to work part-time. I mention working mums because the reality is that they are ultimately the ones who, in juggling home and work, often miss out. It is our role as a socially progressive government to address this reality, and this budget seeks to do just that.

In supporting workers in my electorate of Calwell, whose jobs were protected by the timely action taken by the government to avoid what would have otherwise been a crippling recession, the Rudd Labor government is also supporting the 10,290 small businesses in Calwell who will enjoy the tax breaks. That is much needed support for small business owners who form the backbone of the economy that drives growth and prosperity in my electorate of Calwell and also across Australia. When we are looking towards an economy that will be in surplus three years ahead of time, when we are looking towards providing Australians with an economic recovery that will be sustainable into the future, this government has given businesses, such as the 10,290 small businesses in my electorate, much needed tax relief in addition to a cash flow boost and a strong incentive to continue to invest in productive assets.

As the opposition, of course, likes to whip around its scare campaign against the resource super profits tax it is denying the 10,290 small businesses in my electorate as well as some 720,000 small businesses across Australia their much deserved and much needed tax breaks. The coalition fails to understand that government has a responsibility to ensure that the economic opportunities from our resources boom benefit all Australians. As mining companies and their executives take advantage of our resources we need to ensure that, through sustainable management of our resource wealth, communities across Australia receive their fair share of the economic pie.

The flow-on effects of this important government policy will give employees a stronger and fairer superannuation guarantee of 12 per cent of their salaries and wages, which will strengthen the economic environment in which 8.4 million Australians will one day retire to. In giving something back to workers in small business this budget also looks to our senior citizens who are an integral part of our community. The tax changes will increase the income threshold for eligible senior Australians both for singles and for each member of a couple. In doing so the government acknowledges the contributions that our senior Australians have made throughout their working lives to make Australia what it is today and does so while recognising their continued input into the economic life of communities across Australia.

It is important to recognise that these announcements are able to be delivered only as a result of the decisive action taken by the federal government. It is action which kept our economy strong during the global recession. We are able to deliver to working Australians precisely because the government’s fiscal policy provided the basis from which workers were able to retain their jobs and precisely because circumstances allowed small businesses to continue operating and to therefore continue employing people.

Expanding on this and in light of our productive capacity and sustainable growth I very much welcome the announcements of the new Skills for Sustainable Growth strategy. In improving the quality and accessibility of training, Calwell job seekers will receive language, literacy and numeracy support to address the barriers to sustainable employment and local workplace productivity. Under this program eligible job seekers will receive up to 800 hours of free accredited training and, in a diverse electorate such as mine, this will be of particular benefit to our young and newest Australians as well as to our Indigenous Australians, who have long been affected by the scourge of unemployment.

At a time when Australia will be cheering the Socceroos’ endeavours in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, I am pleased to say that our local junior athletes, as a result of the 2010 budget, will receive assistance in achieving their sporting dreams, as announced by the Minister for Sport, under the Australian Sports Commission’s Local Sporting Champions grant program. The up to $18,000 available for youth sports stars wanting to compete in state and national events provides our community in Calwell with 24 individual grants and two team grants. Put simply, the chance to tap into this funding program has been doubled for our junior sports stars, which I know will help provide these young athletes with much-needed support in what can often be the most exciting and challenging times of their sporting careers. It will also provide support to parents—and I know this from having spoken to young people in the program’s administration last year—because parents are often very much burdened by the costs related to running their kids around to training and so on. None of us, I am sure the chamber would agree, would want to see our budding superathletes of the future miss these opportunities because their families could not afford to sustain their training.

With regard to the continuation of the government’s strong commitment to innovation, I would like to draw on some reflections I have made in the past in this chamber. As Chair of the House Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation—and of course, importantly, as the member for Calwell, which has a very large manufacturing base—I work closely with the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, and we assist by examining, reporting and making recommendations regarding areas of policy that affect these industries. As such I would like to take this opportunity to commend the minister for his continued efforts, which are aimed at ensuring that strong and viable science, research and manufacturing industries remain an integral part of our national economy and our social framework.

The textile, clothing and footwear industry employs over 45,000 Australians across the country, generating exports that are worth $1.6 billion, as well as contributing $2.8 billion each year alone to our national economy. The employment patterns within this industry, particularly in regional economies, ensure that entire communities across Australia are strongly supported by the development of these industries. My electorate is one such community that would obviously benefit greatly from the government’s commitments. That is why the initiatives and programs introduced by the Rudd Labor government are crucial to promoting capital investment and innovation aimed at ensuring that Australian made products continue to be a driving force for our local, regional and national economy. Through an additional $5 million, which brings the total level of funding for the government’s Textile, Clothing and Footwear Strategic Capability Program to $35 million over five years, more companies will be able to access this program. Importantly, by reducing the total eligible expenditure of projects from $1 million to $500,000, it addresses the issue identified whereby companies were finding it difficult to get funding support for smaller projects.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express my full support for the budget’s inclusion of a commitment to increasing the level of our development and humanitarian assistance to the tune of half a billion dollars. This increase is important because it recognises that, as we move beyond the current global economic environment, we do so in the company of the world’s most vulnerable. In Australia in particular we are all aware that we have managed to avoid the sorts of economic pitfalls that have befallen other countries. I think we have a moral obligation to assist them and do our bit at a level that is reflective of our wealth, so I welcome that measure.

In closing, I want to say that the delivery of this budget was made possible not only because among the major advanced global economies Australia was the only country to avoid recession, not only because we were able to produce the second lowest unemployment and not only because we maintained the lowest debt and deficit but also because we did so while maintaining our AAA credit rating. Importantly, we did so while also maintaining our rights at work; the Rudd Labor government did not use the working rights of Australian people as a scapegoat for the upheavals in the global economy.

And, importantly, we do so with record investment in long-term infrastructure projects for Australia’s long-neglected roads, rail and ports. Through the Roads to Recovery program, the Hume City Council, in my electorate, will receive an extra $894,331 to assist with the maintenance and upgrading of local roads. This is in addition to the additional $89 million allocated to the ongoing Western Ring Road upgrade project, which I know will relieve a lot of the traffic congestion associated with the area immediately adjacent to my electorate.

The budget before us is good for our economy, it is good for working Australians and their families, it is certainly very good for pensioners and senior Australians, it is good for businesses and it is good for the long-term social and economic viability of communities right across Australia and, in particular, my electorate of Calwell. It is on this basis that I welcome the government’s announcements and commend the bills to the House.