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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Page: 4855

Mr HALE (5:27 PM) —I rise to make my contribution to the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and related bills. The Member of Parkes is a man I have a lot of respect for—because he has been able to drop weight quicker than I have!—and I certainly value his contribution. I agree with him on education but I think we have once again seen a member of the opposition miss an opportunity to talk their electorate up instead of talking it down. Unfortunately, I think we will have a standard type of speech from those opposite for the rest of the year. They will get in the party room and pick out all the bad things. But we have a standard speech in which we talk about the positives, and I am pretty happy to be able to talk about the positives to the good people of Solomon. I have been around and visited probably 25 schools and I have a heap of testimonials that the BER money has been very good. I acknowledge the contribution that the small business community has made. In particular, the builders have been fantastic in what they have delivered for our schools. We even had a father of a student at the Larrakeyah Primary School who is an architect and he did all the drawings for nothing to make sure that the school could stretch their money further. We have had some really good stories.

The member for Parkes also touched on the Indigenous community in his electorate. I am sure that Minister Macklin and Minister Snowdon would be more than happy to discuss those types of issues. The member mentioned suicide and dysfunction. I would encourage him to make contact immediately with the offices of those two ministers and I am sure that they will be more than happy to talk to him.

As a former mayor, the member for Parkes must be absolutely gutted about the position of the Leader of the Opposition on the community infrastructure program. That program has been fantastic in delivering federal money down to the community infrastructure level, basically through working with councils. The member for Parkes would have appreciated in the last 2½ years, as lord mayors in my electorate have, the infrastructure money that has come into communities. He is absolutely right—often we can bypass the state and territory level of bureaucracy and put the money into the community at the grassroots level, at the council level. I know my mayors have been very receptive to being able to get that extra funding. However, I will be pointing out to my mayors in the next three to four months that the sort of money they have received in the past would certainly be under threat from the opposition, should it become the government. There have been significant amounts of money, up around $8 million, for things like streetscapes, bicycle paths, revitalisation of the CBD area of Darwin and Palmerston and for Litchfield Shire Council roads. Councils have benefited for all sorts of stuff under this government and that is all under threat. I know that the member for Parkes would be very disappointed, in his former roles as a mayor and councillor, at that loss.

That brings me to update the House on some of the great stuff we were given in my electorate from the budget last year and that is now on track. I was happy to open the first stage of Tiger Brennan Drive on Saturday, so that is up and going. That is a $74 million commitment from the Commonwealth to end the blame game between the Territory government and the former Howard government about who was going to fund that project. It is now heading in the right direction. The two bridges will be completed by the end of July, and by November we will have a fantastic road that not only relieves the morning peak hour but lets families get home more quickly to their loved ones during the afternoon. It gives a seamless passage from the rural area into the port facilities, and that is all heading nicely in the right direction.

The GP superclinic that was long overdue in Palmerston is all but finished. It is being fitted out and by the end of July will be operational. The cancer care unit that Territorians have waited for for 10 years is now operational, fully staffed and working. People in the Territory are able to stay in the Territory and get cancer treatment and not have to travel interstate. I had the great pleasure of opening it with the Prime Minister. There have been a lot of other projects, as I alluded to, with the city council. We also have a number of defence projects, including major work that has been approved at Robertson Barracks. The member for Groom, who has just entered the chamber, was with me when we approved works for Robertson Barracks, the RAAF base and Tindal. They are all major pieces of infrastructure that we got out of the last budget.

Before I go on to talk about the budget this year, can I say it surprises me when the opposition talks about how poorly the economy is doing and talks about debt and deficit. When you look at what has happened around the world, our fiscal position is the envy of the rest of the world. I have graphs here that show that. One graph shows that our debt compared to GDP is the lowest. When you look at the net debt overall, this graph shows that ours is dramatically lower than that of any other country in the world. And of course our unemployment figures are the envy of the rest of the world. When you look at the figures and how we have come through the global financial crisis, Australia should be very proud of where we are placed. Obviously, as a result of our Treasury working with the government and with the Reserve Bank, we have been able to guide ourselves through a very turbulent time. We came into government with a lot of expectation placed on us and in October 2008 the global financial crisis hit. Other countries sat and waited. We moved quickly and, consequently, we have got through the global financial crisis in better condition than everyone else. When you look at what is happening in southern Europe, that is certainly the case.

We have also moved on in the last couple of weeks in the debate regarding the resource super profits tax. I will briefly touch on that because in my electorate of Solomon and in regional areas right around Australia and as the member for Parkes alluded to, regional Australia is crying out for infrastructure. I am very nervous about the fact that the mining companies are running a big scare campaign against the government and it will be regional and remote parts of Australia that will suffer. It will be us that will suffer if the tax does not go through because we have waited so long. The Tiger Brennan Drive extension, for instance, cost only $74 million and it waited 10 years. An oncology unit waited 10 years. The GP superclinic and the toing and froing between health services in Palmerston went on for eight or nine years.

I worry for the people in my electorate of Solomon because we contribute a fair bit through uranium mining by ERA and the mines that Xstrata have got down in the Borroloola area. We contribute a fair bit to this economy and yet we have not benefited one bit from it in terms of infrastructure. We have a port that needs about $300 million spent on it; we have an airport that needs to be upgraded. We have been able to give schools much needed infrastructure through the stimulus packages.

But I am really worried that should we be removed from office, it is already being made very clear by the shadow finance minister that there will be cuts. The Leader of the Opposition says exactly the same thing that there will be cuts. There will not be cuts in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or South-East Queensland; there will be cuts to the regional parts of Australia where there are fewer votes, fewer people and less political clout. They are going to be the ones that will suffer at the hands of a Liberal coalition. We suffered for 12 years in the Northern Territory. I cannot think of one project that my predecessor actually delivered for the people in the Northern Territory. I cannot think of one.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Try a LNG plant.

Mr HALE —That is in Lingiari; I am talking about Solomon. There is not one bit of infrastructure. It is that sort of worry that I have: you are out of sight, you are out of mind and you are up in the Top End. I have worked really hard at getting us on the map. I have been able to get us out there and get the projects that I have committed to. But we have others that are in doubt. The people in my electorate need to know that there is $30 million dedicated to a doctor’s college—a medical school—so that we can actually train our doctors and it is in doubt if the Liberal Party happen to win the next election. There are 50 accommodation units at Royal Darwin Hospital for outpatients in doubt. They are the sorts of things, major pieces of infrastructure, that will not occur under the coalition government.

The other thing obviously is the third round of the BER money—some $20 million—that will be scrapped. The shadow minister for education has already said that the BER will be wound back and the third round will not be funded. For me, as a person from Darwin who is passionate about the Northern Territory, I want to live in the Northern Territory, I want to live in Darwin and Palmerston and I want to enjoy the benefits of what Darwin and Palmerston have to offer.

When it comes to the supertax, all Australians have a stake in that mineral wealth and so it is our right to have a share of that. We have a duty to ourselves and to our children to make sure that we benefit from it. I am really worried that if we do not happen to cash in now with the supertax, we are going to miss our opportunity in this country. After 16 years of a mining boom, really, we have not got enough to show for it. The first thing that happened when we came to government was everyone screamed ‘infrastructure’.

We even heard from the member for Parkes. He stood up and had some great ideas, we will put a railway line here, we will put one over the top of the Blue Mountains and we will shoot a road up there. They were all great ideas but he should have been in this place 10 years ago and he could have put those ideas forward to the former government. Unfortunately he was not here.

I thank the small-to-medium sized businesses in my electorate for their dedication and their courage during the GFC. During that time we put stimulus into the economy. We certainly put more money into training and more money into apprenticeships with the Kickstart program and that has been well received. But small-to-medium sized businesses have really carried us through. Through the mining tax we want to reward them by bringing down the company tax level. We want to reward them for their perseverance and dedication during very tough times.

I think the opposition are still in denial about how tough the times are right around the world. We have been lucky. We are the lucky country, as people say. We are lucky that we have been able to come through the tough times. There are other countries that are looking at 20 per cent unemployment. We have seen what is happening in southern Europe. There is absolute carnage in the economies there and that leads to social carnage such as we have seen in Greece.

This budget invests $661 million to help young people in the Territory get skilled jobs. That is really important. So many of our young people, our best and brightest, leave the Territory to go and look for job opportunities. We have a big focus on Indigenous employment, but we certainly need employment right across the board. We put a lot of money into Indigenous areas, as we do for all Territorians. Those sorts of programs, which are really beneficial, are all at risk. Over the next three months, if I do nothing else, I will make sure the people of Solomon know what a risk a coalition government would be. The people of Solomon need to know that Tony Abbott is not on their side. The Leader of the Opposition does not care about how the Northern Territory progresses. I am going to make sure that the people in my electorate understand that Tony Abbott is not a friend of the Northern Territory.

The value of apprenticeships cannot be underestimated. There will be around 22,500 new apprenticeships through the Kickstart program, which is excellent. As a former Australian Apprentice of the Year, I value apprenticeships. Apprenticeships survive the boom and bust cycle of the mining industry. Tradesmen put something back into the community through training. I think I have trained around 10 apprentices myself. You build communities, social engagement and self-esteem.

I have always been worried about the fly in, fly out mentality of the mining industry. I have quite a few friends who fly in from different places. I have a mate who lives in Geelong and works at Borroloola. I have a mate who lives in Perth and works offshore for Conoco Philips—and he has done it for a long time. A lot of social dysfunction is caused by fly in, fly out. What impact is that having on society going into the future? Do the mining companies have a social responsibility to build infrastructure in towns? My worry is that we will put in a lot of money. What people did not know about is the 40 per cent underwriting of infrastructure for mining projects—and I fully support that. I think the tax gives mining companies a real buy-in in Australia’s future. They will say we need better roads on which to cart materials and we need better and safer ports. All those things give the mining companies a big buy-in.

I acknowledge Andrew Forrest and his efforts on Indigenous employment—the Indigenous covenant. It is a fantastic initiative. He is putting something back into the community. I am gobsmacked. They have made such profits that they should surely know that some of that money now has to come back to build vital infrastructure. Once it is gone it is gone, and it will be regional and remote parts of Australia that will suffer, not Sydney and Melbourne. The pie will not get any smaller for Sydney and Melbourne, because they have their own problems within the western suburbs in particular, where people are spreading out into the urban areas. It will be the people of Solomon, whom I represent, who will suffer. It will be the people of Far North Queensland, the Kimberley and even Perth who will suffer if we do not get this right.

Our commitment to health in this budget is something I am very proud of. We hear the cynical view from those opposite. It is easy to sit back and be cynical about health, but it is such an important part of our whole social fabric, just having the opportunity to live a long and happy life. We see there are problems, but let us be honest about it: everywhere you go, there are problems. There are 770 hospitals; of course there are going to be problems. There are fewer people in private health insurance, because they cannot afford it. More people are dropping out of it, putting more pressure on the public system. We need to train more doctors, and we have made a commitment to do so. The number was capped under the previous government. So we are putting in around $7.3 billion.

Sure, there are often interjections from the other side—I would not expect it from the two gentlemen here but from others sometimes—saying it is just adding another layer of bureaucracy to it. If that is happening, we need to get through that bureaucracy, because health is about getting services on the ground, at the grassroots level, to the people who need them the most.

We have put a lot of time and effort also into preventative health. There will be 5,500 GPs and 680 more specialists. We are looking at 800 allied health professionals. I know that that has been well received by a lot of people, because there are long waiting lists for those types of services. There will also be 4,600 additional nurses.

These are all really positive programs that need to be supported. If the coalition happened to come to power at the next election, I can see that all those programs would be in doubt. So I think that as a hardworking local member I need to make it clear to the people in my electorate of Solomon and to the people in the Northern Territory, where my kids live, that voting the Liberal Party in at the ballot box will jeopardise a lot of the good things that regional Australia—all of regional Australia, not just my area—have been able to enjoy over the last couple of years.

In conclusion, I think that this budget is a budget for its time, one that was needed. Obviously, we have had three years of uncertainty; let us be honest about that. When you see what has happened on the global stage, around the world, we have had uncertainty. It was a difficult time to come into power. The good days of big surpluses are certainly behind us. I doubt that even Peter Costello, who is held in pretty high esteem, or Paul Keating, who is probably the greatest Treasurer we have ever had, could have seen it through as well as Wayne Swan has. He has grown into the job very well. If you look at the figures and the graphs, you cannot argue with how we have come through the global financial crisis. This is a very good budget. I have done very well out of it and I will make sure that the people of Solomon know that this is a good budget for them. I commend the bills to the House. (Time expired)