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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5108

Dr KELLY (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support and Parliamentary Secretary for Water) (4:39 PM) —I very much appreciate this opportunity to support the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011, the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2010-2011 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011. In debating the passage of the 2010 budget, we are faced with a very clear choice between the government’s decisive plan for prudent, responsible financial management and a set of erratic, serious threats from the opposition to slash jobs, cut services and simply oppose for opposition’s sake. This budget represents the government’s commitment to sound economic management and exemplifies the government’s determination to continue investing in the future of this country. The beneficial effect that this budget will have on our economy and the specific benefits that are expected to be felt in my seat of Eden-Monaro will be profound.

First and foremost, we should reflect on how remarkable in all the circumstances is the government’s success in producing a budget that will deliver a surplus within three years—three years earlier than previously forecast—and halve net peak debt within three years. That in and of itself is an extraordinary achievement, recognised by all credible commentators. I noted, for example, that on 31 May the Australian reported comments from the French economist Christine Altuzarra, who works for a French agency that rates at-risk countries. She stated:

Australia has without doubt the prize for excellence in all categories, as much in terms of its debt or deficit.

The French newspaper Le Monde is also quoted as having reported that:

Australia is in a situation that any country in Europe would envy …

noting that our stimulus package enabled us to avoid a recession. The only risk that Le Monde cited to cloud our horizon was the threat of overdependence on Chinese demand in the mining industry, and this is precisely the situation that we now seek to address with the RSPT—a situation that the coalition remains blind to and betrays the national interest on by seeking to prevent us from acting upon this challenge.

This time last year we heard the opposition in this place positively crowing about the fact that the budget was headed for a deficit. Faced with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the government made some hard but responsible choices to keep our economy on track. Those choices meant accepting a temporary deficit and, while we on this side of the chamber were prepared to do the hard yards, all those opposite could think about was scoring political points. Instead of seeking to work with the government, the opposition did the only thing it really knows how to do: it opposed and resorted to its scaremongering routine. When this government rolled out a stimulus package to keep our economy from sinking into recession, it opposed it. This government delivered improvements to schools, invested in rail, ports and roads, delivered direct funding to councils for local projects and gave families a one-off payment to keep them safe and help them weather the worst effects of the economic crisis. When we did all that, and invested heavily in schools and infrastructure to keep local tradies in business, the opposition did everything it could to stop us.

So it was throughout the past year that this government got on with the job of managing the economy, steering our country through the global financial crisis, while the opposition threw rocks from the sidelines. Here we are, 12 months on, and what has happened? Thanks to the responsible actions of this government, Australia has avoided slipping into recession. Two hundred thousand jobs have been saved—that is, 200,000 incomes that are currently being spent in our economy. The alternative would have been a drain on our welfare coffers and the creation of massive social dislocation—200,000 reasons for the government to be proud. The simple fact is that this government has made good on its promise to the Australian people to deliver prudent, responsible financial management. When this government was elected in 2007, the Australian economy was the ninth strongest among the 30 OECD nations. Now, it is estimated that this budget will make our economy the fifth strongest among those nations.

I am particularly proud of our health measures. In addition to making our economy stronger, this budget will fund reforms and deliver investments where they are most needed in that respect. This year the budget will deliver a fully funded and historic reform to our health and hospital system, the likes of which we have never seen before. New health announcements include investments that will improve access to general practitioners and primary health care delivering better after-hours services, upgrades to around 425 GP and primary health-care clinics across the nation and new GP superclinics, one of which I am proud to say is based in Queanbeyan and is well underway. Our nurses, including aged-care nurses, will be provided with $523 million of additional support and training, strengthening the backbone of our health system. A new $467 million e-health initiative will modernise our health and hospital system, help reduce the duplication and cost resulting from poor patient record handling and help reduce the mistakes in treatment, estimated to be around 80 per cent, that are also caused by this deficiency.

An additional $2.2 billion will be invested in the health system, which will take the government’s new investment in health reform to $7.3 billion over five years and $23 billion over the rest of the decade. This government is taking responsibility for the majority share of hospital costs as well as full policy and funding responsibility for GP and primary-care services and aged-care services. I can confirm that my electorate of Eden-Monaro overwhelmingly welcomes this proposed reform.

In relation to apprentices, the government is planning for the future skill needs of our economy—one of the great neglects of the 12 Howard years in relation to dealing with the capacity constraints on this economy, which included infrastructure. We have invested in a record number of apprenticeship places through the Apprentice Kickstart program. In fact, the government is investing almost $80 million to support around 22,500 new apprenticeship places in traditional trades that are experiencing shortages. This funding will be targeted at helping small and medium businesses with fewer than 200 employees put on more apprentices.

The economic downturn particularly hurt apprenticeships but, with the support of employers and young people, Apprentice Kickstart has been a great success. Thanks to Apprentice Kickstart we are training more electricians, carpenters, plumbers and bakers. During the 1990s recession the number of new apprentices starting in key traditional trades fell 34 per cent and it took 13 years before we recruited the same number of apprentices again. Thanks to the Rudd government, we have done that in one year—not 13 years. I am proud to say that, as a result of this program, an additional 214 apprentices were signed on in Eden-Monaro over this year’s summer period alone.

I was recently joined in Queanbeyan by the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Mark Arbib, to speak with local apprentices about the Apprentice Kickstart program. The overwhelming feedback we received was that this program is helping young kids, both male and female, to take up trades in industries where we need them.

The Australian government remains committed to the challenge of climate change. The government will be providing $652.5 million to establish the Renewable Energy Future Fund to support Australia’s transition to a low-carbon pollution economy. The renewable energy fund represents an economically responsible approach to tackling climate change and will form part of the government’s expanded $5.1 billion Clean Energy Initiative. The fund will provide additional support for development and deployment of large- and small-scale renewable energy projects in solar, wave and geothermal energy, and the take-up of industrial, commercial and residential energy efficiency, which will assist local businesses to reduce their energy consumption. Action on climate change continues to be a high priority for me personally, and I look forward to the possibilities that this fund will create for us in Eden-Monaro. Our potential in this area is virtually unlimited.

The budget will bring welcome relief for families, low-income workers and seniors, who will receive their third round of tax cuts in three years. For three years in a row this government has helped working families to balance their own budgets by delivering tax cuts. We on this side of the chamber have been unwavering in our commitment to deliver these cuts. As a direct result of these cuts, this year a worker earning $20,000 will pay $750 less, a worker earning $50,000 will pay $1,750 less and a worker earning $80,000 will pay $1,550 less.

Thanks to the tax cuts delivered by this government, from 1 July 2010 low-income workers across Eden-Monaro will be able to earn up to $16,000 and not have to pay income tax. That is a $5,000 increase from the previous minimum of $11,000 in the 2007-08 budget. This budget will also increase the amount of income a senior Australian eligible for the senior Australian tax offset can earn before they pay income tax or the Medicare levy. The budget changes will increase the income threshold eligible senior Australians can earn tax free from $29,867 to $30,685 for singles and from $25,680 to $26,680 for each member of a couple.

The government will make it easier to fill out tax returns in the new reforms announced in this budget. From 1 July 2012 the government will give people the option of choosing a standard deduction of $500 rather than tallying up all their work related expenses. The standard deduction will be increased to $1,000 from 1 July 2013. As a result taxpayers across Eden-Monaro will soon be able to forget about the hassle of shoeboxes full of receipts and the cost of getting their tax done at the end of each year. These changes will make life that little bit easier for families in Eden-Monaro at tax time each year and provide a bit of extra cash to help make ends meet. It is worth noting though that, if people want to continue claiming expenses under the existing system, they are welcome to.

When I travel around and talk to people in Eden-Monaro about tax they want to see a less complicated system, one where everybody pays their fair share including the mining industry. In addition to individual tax cuts, which I have mentioned earlier, small businesses in Eden-Monaro will get tax relief as well and an easier tax return process with the ability to instantly write off assets worth up to $5,000. Businesses that pay tax at the company rate will receive additional tax cuts. As a result Eden-Monaro businesses, which are the lifeblood of our region, particularly small and medium enterprises, will be able to spend more time growing their business and less time managing their bookkeeping. In addition to tax breaks to benefit individuals and businesses, this government will increase the superannuation guarantee from nine to 12 per cent, a measure that will increase our national savings and deliver benefits to all Australians.

I am also proud of the Landcare funding, something that is close to the hearts of many residents in Eden-Monaro. Landcare was officially formed by the Hawke government through an alliance between the National Farmers Federation and the Australian Conservation Foundation. Through this budget the Rudd Labor government will continue that tradition with increases in funding from $35 million in 2009-10, to $36 million in 2010-11, and $39 million in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14. The government has invested $81.6 million in 630 Landcare projects with many such projects achieving great results in my own electorate. The government highly values Landcare and the thousands of volunteers who dedicate their time and energy to improving our environment. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, recently addressed the National Landcare Forum in Adelaide and argued passionately that Landcare will be the answer to challenges we face into the future such as climate change, food production and environmental protection. Similarly, overall Caring for our Country funding will increase next financial year by $15 million to $423 million. The Australian government’s $2 billion Caring for our Country program is aimed at protecting the environment and supporting the uptake of sustainable farming.

We on this side of the chamber are justifiably proud of our achievements and committed to delivering the responsible, prudent financial management that our economy needs along with investments for the future where they are needed. The coalition, on the other hand, have opposed us at every step of the way providing no credible policy of their own, just opposition for opposition’s sake and a devastating attack on the programs we need to secure the economic future of this country.

In particular I am focused on the Public Service job cuts that threaten our region. These people provide an invaluable service to Australians in my region through outputs from Defence, Medicare, Centrelink, education and others, and they also provide a major source of other employment and services through their demands for the rest of the economy in the region. In the seat of Eden-Monaro thousands of Queanbeyan, Jerrabomberra and Bungendore residents work in the Commonwealth Public Service. Current figures estimate that in excess of 20,000 people make the daily commute to the Australian Capital Territory for work either in, or dependent on, the public sector. That is up to 20,000 families that rely on the public sector component of our regional economy and 20,000 incomes that are spent on tourism in Batemans Bay, Moruya, Narooma, Merimbula, Bega, Cooma, Jindabyne and all through our the region.

So it was with great alarm that I observed the federal Leader of the Opposition stand up in this place recently and promise to cut 12,000 jobs from the federal Public Service in 24 months. Not only is this an affront to the hard-working public servants that live in Eden-Monaro, it has dire implications for the Eden-Monaro economy. This threat includes the Commonwealth services shopfront and call centre currently under construction in Batemans Bay. To make matters worse these job cuts are not based on any kind of analysis or examination of whether they are necessary or achievable and specifically where the axe would fall. No reference has been made to functional reviews, to maintaining outputs or increasing productivity. I demand that Mr Abbott clarify before the election which jobs he intends to cut in the Canberra-Queanbeyan area and whether the Batemans Bay centre is under threat.

Mr Abbott’s approach would be likely to trigger a massive exodus from the region and cause a decimation of the delivery of government services the likes of which we have not seen since the coalition’s last assault on the Public Service in the Howard government’s 1996-97 federal budget. We know that the Howard government cut 30,000 Public Service jobs, following the 1996-97 budget, after saying that it would only cut 5,000. This is yet another example of why the coalition cannot be trusted on this issue. We know that the gospel truth in this case is that those opposite are supporting a plan that will adversely affect the livelihood of a great many people. It is a plan that is about as constructive as Work Choices, with far fewer details. This would be compounded by Mr Abbott’s threat to can our school building, computers, and trade and training centres programs, the renewable energy fund and the CPRS, the company tax reduction and superannuation guarantee, the infrastructure funds and skills program, the health reform plan and the National Broadband Network. These would all be gone, and they are all so vital for my region. In return, we would get a return to Work Choices. What kind of trade-off is that?

In conclusion, let me emphasise that in debating this appropriation bill we are effectively debating the government’s plan for our nation’s economic future. We weathered the worst of the economic crisis due to the decisive action of this government and despite the carping and negativity from those opposite. Now we have a plan to take our nation forward, a plan that will return our budget to surplus, reform our health system, simplify our tax system and increase our national superannuation savings. For their part, those opposite have responded with the usual predictions of gloom and doom, ignoring the successes of the past 12 months and hoping that the Australian people will confuse a vague list of slash and burn threats, particularly against our regional economy, for a genuinely comprehensive, visionary and decisive plan to secure our economic future.

The choice could not be clearer. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the government to deliver a health system that is funded nationally and run locally. I look forward to delivering the high-speed National Broadband Network our region is crying out for, employing more apprentices to service our future skills needs, providing effective action on climate change, creating a simplified personal and business tax system, increasing superannuation savings for working families and increasing funding for local Landcare projects. I look forward to opposing at every opportunity Tony Abbott’s plan to cut 12,000 jobs from the Public Service, which would affect the incomes of 12,000 families from Eden-Monaro and which would be the biggest kick in the guts our region has ever experienced.