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Thursday, 3 June 2010
Page: 5278


Ms REA (11:30 AM) —I rise to give my very strong support to the budget that was delivered by the Treasurer in this House a couple of weeks ago. In so doing I also acknowledge comments that were made by the member for Moncrieff regarding Gough Whitlam. I think it is important to remind the House and those listening that, if he was such a terrible Prime Minister and if it was not for the investment in social infrastructure, support for community services and development through education thus ending discrimination and other measures, my colleague the member for Parramatta—indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister and many other women in this House and I—would not be here. Unfortunately we would see a parliament still full of people mostly like the member for Moncrieff, which I am sure everybody would agree is not necessarily a good thing. We need different perspectives in this parliament and sometimes we need the facts.

I congratulate the Treasurer for the budget that he has delivered, but I offer just one piece of advice to him, which is the fact that he has undersold his achievements in this budget. We heard from the Treasurer that this would be a no-frills budget, a fairly financially conservative budget and measured in its response to dealing with the global financial crisis. It is certainly setting Australia down the path of returning to surplus and is looking at ways in which we could reduce our deficit and be a responsible economic government. However, what the Treasurer has not done is acknowledge that he has managed to do all of that. He has managed to produce a budget that is financially responsible, that sets the nation in good stead for the years ahead, that takes us down a path which will see peak debt halved and will see the budget return to surplus in just three years, which is some three years less than was originally predicted.

He has done that and at the same time also delivered some very key, important economic reforms to all sectors of the Australian community. Whether you are a young person looking for a job, or a woman in the workforce caring for your family, or someone looking at going into the aged care system or someone who is concerned not just about our economic sustainability but about our environmental sustainability with the Renewable Energy Fund, there are a whole range of measures in this budget which deliver some very important reforms and very important initiatives to support the Australian community. At the same time we are doing so in a very responsible economic environment which sees us addressing the issue of the deficit and reducing our debt. I commend the Treasurer on the budget that he has delivered and I think it is a very significant one for the times that we are currently living through.

I will particularly mention a few of the things in here that I think are very important not just to the nation but to the community of Bonner, which is the electorate that I represent. To begin with, we have the health announcements. Nobody can possibly decry the significance of a $7.3 billion spend on health. We all know that wherever you are in this country, whether you are in a metropolitan city or a rural and regional area, there is an issue with accessing good-quality health services when you need them. This budget goes a long way to improving those services for people regardless of where they are. In particular I am very interested to see more around the Medicare Locals and e-health initiatives. There is $417 million for Medicare Locals, a service which will give people the sort of after-hours access to medical advice and care that they currently cannot get. They cannot get it because there are not enough doctors in our suburbs to be able to service that need. They cannot get it because we have not been clever about the way we can use the skills of nurses, doctors and allied health professionals to see more people receiving advice more quickly.

As I have said many times before in this House, we all know—and I know personally as a mother of three—that, if a child is going to get an ear infection, it is not going to happen from nine to five, Monday to Friday. You can almost count on that being the very time it is not going to happen. The fact that people will now be able to seek after-hours advice through GP services, that they will be able to either contact the National Health Call Centre Network or get advice from a nurse or a doctor or be sent to a service in their local area that they know is open after hours and that will be able to see their children, is a fantastic initiative that will not just see extra dollars go into health but see extra dollars go into health that are going to make a difference for the wellbeing of our community.

On top of that, there is the $467 million set aside for e-health and developing e-health records. When I have spoken to my health professionals in Bonner, they have said to me that the one thing they believe could improve the health system significantly is the opportunity for a national e-health system. They see so many people unnecessarily hospitalised or unnecessarily traumatised because, in an emergency in particular, health professionals dealing with that person do not have the data and the background of their overall health record. They do not necessarily know all the medication they are taking. They do not know their past health history. If they were able to access that instantaneously, it would reduce the amount of trauma that people go through when they are being wrongly diagnosed or given medication that is not compatible with other medication that they are on. It can actually prevent people needing to go to hospital because you can provide a much better diagnosis based on their whole medical history. It is a very significant initiative and one that I know is welcomed by the profession.

Of course, health is not the only winner in this budget. We have heard a lot of discussion about environment policy, the issues of climate change and the support for a trading scheme. Personally, I am incredibly disappointed that the opposition did not take the initiative in the Senate to support the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I am very disappointed that the Greens, who have set themselves up as the party that most cares for the environment and is most committed to seeing a reduction in emissions, did not take the opportunity to see a trading scheme go through the Senate when they had it. I think it is one of the biggest disappointments that I and my local community have seen in the last couple of years. But I know that we as a government have not resiled from our commitment to put a price on carbon and to look at ways to get the big polluters and the industries involved to pay their fair share in reducing emissions. Nevertheless, we know that this is an ongoing debate and one that we the government will not walk away from until we get a good result.

In the meantime, the Treasurer has had the foresight to put into this budget some $652 million for a renewable energy fund, because we all know that, if there is one single way in which we can reduce emissions, it is changing our dependence on carbon and fossil fuels. We have to look at ways we can boost renewable energy. It is not going to happen overnight but it is going to happen. It is going to happen with a government that is prepared to put funding into research and development and to support the small initiatives out there that will probably one day become mainstream with the right level of support and endorsement. We are going to encourage the community to reduce their emissions by changing the source of their energy and by looking at ways in which they can seek alternative energy sources that are renewable. So this fund is a significant step in the government’s commitment to dealing with climate change and taking action—not paying lip-service but actually putting in place initiatives and policies that will see genuine outcomes on the reduction of carbon emissions across this country.

I am also very pleased to see that there is $661 million—in fact more than that—in this budget for skills training and support for youth employment and education policies. One of the biggest things that has confronted us and something that industry has been saying for years in this country—and it has become crystal clear throughout the global financial crisis and the government’s response to it—is that, while we were benefiting from a major resources boom and while the accounts of the country were rising significantly, we were not planning for the future to make that boom sustainable. We were not investing in the infrastructure that we need to support our export industry, particularly the resources industry. We were not investing in the ports, the rail, the roads and all of that very important physical infrastructure required to get the stuff out of the ground and get it to wherever it needs to be.

More importantly, we know that industry was also saying that we were not investing in the workforce. We were not putting much-needed programs and policies in place that were skilling up our young people to take advantage of a continued and more sustainable resources boom. Luckily for the young people in Bonner and for the young people across Australia, we now have a Rudd Labor government that understands the cry from industry and has answered their call. This government understands how important long-term secure employment is not just for economy prosperity but for social prosperity. We are putting money into much greater skills and training programs that will see a long-term benefit over the forward years.

As I said, we have invested over $661 million in reforms and programs to increase our skills base. This will ensure that our training system is responsive to the skills that our economy needs to prosper. It will provide the sorts of jobs that people need in terms of economic growth. It will mean that young people, regardless of who they are or where they come from, will have opportunities to contribute to that growth. This will mean that they can seek the advantages of those programs and they can be valuable contributors to economic growth in this country.

The Skills for Recovery Program will provide, over four years, $299 million—nearly $300 million—to look at capacity constraints and to create up to 39,000 training places. It will supply $242.5 million over four years to develop training systems that will support participation, support training and support the link between the training that is needed and the businesses that are looking for employees. The Foundation Skills Package will help 140,000 Australians build core foundation skills such as language, literacy and numeracy.

I know that, when the huff and puff of various debates is set aside, every single member of this House will acknowledge the enormous contribution that people who have come here from other countries have made to the building of Australia. I know that everyone in every electorate across this country can identify those migrant communities and individual people who have migrated here who have built up an enormous strength in terms of their contribution both socially and as part of the economic growth of this country. In fact, we could not have done it without them. Here is a program that will provide support for another 140,000 Australians who, with the benefit of some basic skills—such as literacy, numeracy and language—will be able to continue that very valuable contribution that people from other countries who have migrated here have made.

I also acknowledge the significant contribution in this budget to the aged care system. We all know we are facing an ageing population. We all know that aged care, in a sense, is the elephant in the room. It is the very huge financial and social policy debate that we will have in the next couple of years. If we do not get right the mix between adequate funding and good programs to support both the not-for-profit and private sectors in providing aged care facilities, many Australians will not get in their older years the care that they deserve. In this budget there is $907½ million over the next four years to deliver better aged care workers, greater training, more staff and capital support—that is, all of those things that go into making an aged care facility not just good or adequate but actually a lovely place to be, a place where people will enjoy their retirement and enjoy all the support that they need as they get older and frailer.

There are many other initiatives in this budget that I unfortunately have not got the time to talk about. I just want to acknowledge the increase in funding for international development assistance, particularly in my role as Chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I am so pleased that, even despite financial constraints, we are committing to increasing funding to support our goal in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. I am also very pleased to see the historical increase in funding for legal assistance. We all know that the difference between getting legal aid and not having access to good quality legal assistance can make the difference for a young person between getting their life back on track and going completely off track for the rest of their life, with them being a burden rather than a contributor to our community. It is a very important part of the budget and I commend this and the other programs and congratulate the Treasurer on his efforts.