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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Page: 4878

Mrs MARKUS (7:07 PM) —I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2010-2011. The assumptions and hopes in these bills are built, you might say, on a house of cards. They fail to invest for the future of Australia, proposing new taxes that will be spent on locking Australia into borrowing $100 million a day to meet the cost of Labor’s reckless spending. Despite the rhetoric, false promises and hope that the Prime Minister and his Labor government have put into this document, all Australians know that this Rudd Labor government is a high-taxing, high-spending, highly reckless Labor government. Their efforts would put the Whitlam government to shame. Today I would like to speak about the impact of this year’s budget on my community—the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. I will also address some of the key issues in the budget facing Australia’s veteran community in my capacity as shadow minister for veterans’ affairs.

Firstly, can I say how disappointed I am by some of the measures in the budget. The resource super profits tax is a huge imposition on the industry and the sector which kept Australia out of recession. Whilst the Prime Minister and the Treasurer would have you believe that this new tax is aimed squarely at the big end of town, it is not. In my own community, small quarry operators will feel the effects of the tax on their profits. Small family businesses employing local people will have to pay the price for Mr Rudd’s attack on miners. I fully support the Leader of the Opposition’s promise to oppose this tax now or, if necessary, to repeal it when in government.

This tax will affect the everyday cost of living for all Australians. In my community, the increased cost of living is already being felt. Electricity prices continue to rise and gas and petrol prices are up. Despite the Prime Minister’s hollow call to reduce the cost of living at the last election, Australians are now feeling the pinch from higher interest rates, reduced growth in real wages and, in some cases, reduced working hours, combined with increasing inflation as a result of higher government borrowing. The people in my community are wondering just what the Prime Minister really meant before the last election.

Because of Labor’s reckless spending, local Landcare operators will face a further funding cut. This government, which promised big things on the environment, has cut $10.9 million from the Landcare program. In my local community, an area of exceptional environmental diversity and sensitivity, local Landcare volunteers and workers are being told to do more with less by the Rudd Labor government. Their Caring for our Country program has not delivered since it was introduced after the election. Landcare funding is provided through that vehicle. Despite all the loud rhetoric on the environment before the election, there has been little action since.

This also goes for the Hawkesbury River, which is an area of extreme environmental sensitivity. Whilst we have had a wet autumn in the region, the river continues to be choked by weeds. The Hawkesbury is a natural icon for my region and for Sydney as a whole. The good health of the river is critical to the health of farmers, small family business operators and tourist providers in the region.

What strikes me as odd is the $18 million environmental bureaucracy that the Prime Minister is creating in this budget. Now it seems that the government is more concerned with collecting data to work out what it should be doing, but there will not be any money for direct action—again: spin, no action. When it comes to waste and mismanagement I have spoken previously in this place about projects in my electorate which have pushed the credibility test, from the failed BER program, with an example which made page 3 of the Australian earlier this year, to the failures in health and hospitals by the combined effort of 15 years of state Labor and three years of Rudd Labor. This government’s enormous failings have touched every corner of this nation.

While road funding across the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury has maintained parity with the record spending under the previous coalition government, the $650,000 in Roads to Recovery funding for this year for the Blue Mountains City Council is a drop in the ocean. As we all know, Labor’s reckless spending is jeopardising the ability of future governments to meet infrastructure challenges.

In our region, of course, the geography of the Blue Mountains presents a very real challenge to the movement of people and goods from the central western plains to the ports of Sydney. This year, of course, marks 200 years since the arrival of Lachlan Macquarie in Sydney as New South Wales Governor. Macquarie dispatched explorers Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth to find a suitable crossing of the mountains. Their track remains largely the route of the highway today. I am very mindful of the need to balance all the interests in planning for improved roads across the mountains. Equally, I want to fully explore all options, including the increased use of rail instead of overcongested roads.

The coalition is of the view that an efficient freight route from the west to the port is an important way to encourage economic growth outside the Sydney Basin, and that it is a piece of infrastructure that is needed in the long term. Across Sydney, and particularly in our region, protecting our way of life by reducing time stuck in traffic and enabling more time to be spent with family is critical. Spending two hours a day in a car to travel 50 kilometres is not a good use of time. We cannot undo the mistakes of poor planning over 200 hundred years in an instant. We have to deal with these challenges now, and learn the lessons for the future. Planning for roads and for infrastructure does not simply mean bigger roads; it means improved road safety, integration with rail and other public transport and investigating new ways to move freight efficiently. I will continue to fight for improved road safety for the Great Western Highway, for Richmond Road and the river crossing to North Richmond—critical infrastructure projects for the future of our region.

Turning to my responsibility as shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, I would like to comment on some of the initiatives in the budget. The budget finally responded to the Clarke review with—you guessed it—another review. Veterans of British nuclear testing in the Australian outback will welcome the adoption of the initial recommendations of the Clarke review, which will now reclassify their service to equivalent hazardous non-warlike service. Submariners involved in special operations missions will also welcome the reclassification of their service and the potential for them to gain access to entitlements under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986.

RAAF personnel who served at RAAF Ubon in Thailand between 31 May 1962 and 27 July 1962 have also had their service reclassified, potentially opening the way for access to further entitlements. But 2,700 veterans of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces, BCOF, are incredibly disappointed, and will have to wait for further review into their service to see whether they will be able to access anything. After all, it was the Rudd Labor government which promised action in this area at the last election. After 30 months of waiting, BCOF veterans have every right to feel betrayed by this Rudd Labor government. As the daughter of a late BCOF veteran, I understand their frustration.

The Rudd Labor government also used the budget to reply formally to the findings of a parliamentary inquiry into the F111 reseal-deseal program. The package of some $55 million will provide further assistance to personnel affected by this program operated by the RAAF between 1973 and 2000. Recently, I met with the F111 Deseal/Reseal Support Group, known amongst other things as the Goop Troop. They feel incredibly let down by the response to the review. They have asked me to make further inquiries with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs about a number of the initiatives proposed. They are concerned that there was no compensation as part of the scheme and are disappointed that the strong rhetoric from the Rudd Labor government before the election has not been followed through in the response to the issues raised in the inquiry. Whilst the coalition is pleased that the parliament’s inquiry has finally been responded to after nearly 12 months of inaction and delay, we are determined to ensure the response is as comprehensive as the government’s spin would have us believe.

The Rudd Labor government proposes the removal of an entitlement from Australia’s war widows, which the government says is about closing a loophole. I plan to speak in greater detail about this measure when it is debated in another bill later this week. However, in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 12 May, the day after the budget, journalist Damien Murphy wrote:

This year the government has turned its hardened eye on merry war widows, widowers and the partner swapping that we understand is apparently rife in retirement homes.

It plans to remove eligibility for some pensions if war widows or widowers enter de facto relationships following the death of their veteran partners.

This change in entitlements will affect future war widows—the spouses of current serving personnel—from conflicts like the Gulf War and East Timor.

Another measure in the budget is the Preventable Admissions and Improved Community Care Program. Whilst it is not clear whether this is new money or reallocated funds shifted around between different programs and departments, it is nevertheless a step in the direction of improving access to care for our veterans and their families. I have stated elsewhere that, notwithstanding initiatives such as this, the best outcome for veterans and their families must always be put first. This program must allow the veteran and their doctor the necessary flexibility to tailor medical treatment to suit the needs of the veteran as well as those of their family.

Beyond the initiatives mentioned in the budget, the document is otherwise remarkable for what it does not say. There is no mention, for example, of the review of DVA funded ESO advocacy and welfare services, despite the review having been completed and sitting on the minister’s desk. There is no indication of a timetable for the completion of the review of military compensation arrangements, which was initially due for completion in March. This is an important review. We need to get it right, but it surely cannot be completely open-ended. The veteran and ex-service community needs some indication of when it can expect to be discussing changes to the system.

The other phantom item in this year’s budget is the long-awaited and still not quite delivered review of war caused disabilities and pharmaceutical costs. Whilst the minister released a 14-page discussion paper on 7 May, the document contained no detailed costings or statistics. The budget gives no clearer indication of this either. Will the costs of the options listed in the minister’s paper be met with new funds or from existing funding? If the latter, where will the funds be taken from? What will veterans lose on one hand to possibly gain with the other? Moreover, the discussion paper deals only with disabled veterans with qualifying service. This immediately discounts thousands of peacekeepers whose service does not carry the qualifying service declaration. Despite some 800 of them currently accessing disability pensions, they would not be eligible for assistance under the minister’s two options, which require a disability pensioner also to have qualifying service in order to access the out-of-pocket pharmaceutical expenses refund. I intend also to ask further questions about this scheme when the opportunity arises. I have already been consulting with the ex-service community on this discussion paper and encourage further feedback from other stakeholders.

We are currently engaged in RSL congress season, and I have already spoken at the congresses of the Tasmanian and the New South Wales branches of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia. At these events I am taking the opportunity to flag five principles for veterans affairs under a coalition government. These principles have guided the development of policy in the area of veterans affairs by the coalition. They are not an end in themselves but they are a solid foundation upon which the coalition will develop credible alternative policies for the next election.

The first principle is to build a stronger economy to provide the assistance our veterans and their families deserve. The second principle is to improve the way we provide support, advice and assistance to veterans’ families. The third principle is to reduce the number of reviews of primary claims by improving the processing of claims—getting it right the first time. The fourth principle is to enhance service delivery for our younger veterans and ensure our older veterans have help when they need it. The fifth principle is to increase Australia’s understanding of the service of defence personnel in humanitarian and peacekeeping roles. I look forward to expanding on these points further in coming weeks and months.

For my community in the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains this budget is a disappointing final step in Labor’s path to economic wrack and ruin. My community has watched this government spend money, stunned at the waste and mismanagement in programs like Building the Education Revolution and the pink batts scheme. Labor will spend $1 billion fixing up their border protection failures, yet the Rudd Labor government expects us to believe that their $1 billion surplus—a surplus that might appear in three years time—is a panacea to the debt crisis they have left Australia in.

My community understands that, when a government borrows money, it is directly competing with mums and dads wanting to borrow money to buy a house, to provide a stable, secure environment to raise their family in. This government borrowing $100 million a day is pushing interest rates and inflation even higher. This can only stop by changing the government at the next election. This house-of-cards budget is a final straw for many working families in my community who believed that Labor would do a better job. They have been proved wrong. Labor has failed the test of economic responsibility, and this budget only proves this point. This budget affects too many people and relies on too many assumptions to be a reliable document for our future.