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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 5416

Mr RIPOLL (5:17 PM) —I thank the chamber for the 13 minutes I have left to speak on this matter. I enjoy listening to opposition members’ speeches about budgets and policy, because they are ‘gunna gunna’ do a lot of ‘gunna gunna’. But they had twelve years to ‘gunna do something’ and unfortunately they did not find the time or opportunity or enough in the boom times to deliver on the ‘gunna gunna do’ things.

I am proud to stand here and talk about the things we are actually doing and the things we are actually delivering after only 2½ years of being in government. In this budget, we are strengthening and broadening the economy and taking very important steps to make sure there is fairness in the things that we do. We have a simpler tax system. We have a long-term plan for better superannuation. We are also talking about less tax for business, and especially for small business. The opposition are supposedly friends to small business, but they could not find it in their hearts in 12 years to lower tax rates and do more for small business.

Just as importantly, if not more importantly, the Commonwealth is providing vital infrastructure and playing a key role in, for example, Queensland and Western Australia—the mining states, where you need that infrastructure. You need government to be in there making sure that infrastructure is delivered.

We also want to make sure that all Australians share in the benefits that come from the economy. We want to make sure they get a fairer share of that. We want to make sure that we continue to have a positive impact on jobs, a positive impact on growth and a positive impact on savings. No report is more indicative of that than the Intergenerational report, which shows us—and I have time to mention only a couple of facts—that by 2050 there will be twice as many 65-year-olds and four times as many 85-year-olds as there are today. The most startling figure of all—which government needs to sit up and take notice of—is that today there are about five Australians working for every person aged over 65, but in 2050 there will only be 2.7.

So the government has to take very serious policy decisions today. We have to make sure that we do the right things for future generations. It is not just about what is popular today; it is about what needs to be done in terms of the economy in the long term. One of the key things that we can do to sustain the national economy is to reduce company tax. It is one of the biggest things we can do. Reducing company tax is something that you would expect the Liberal Party to champion. Reducing company tax below 30 per cent was almost thought impossible, but it will be a Labor government that will reduce it below 30 per cent, to a magic number: one with a ‘2’ in front of it. That is something that the Liberal Party should take note of. We want to fund that. We want to make that happen, and we can make that happen. We want to get the company tax rate down to 28 per cent. We want to make sure we can boost the retirement savings of individual people, so that they have got something to show for it and are more independent in their retirement. They are the things we want to do. And we want to make sure we increase infrastructure spending, as we already have, through a range of things.

Before I get onto that, I want to congratulate the Treasurer, because I think he has done a great job in very tough times. I have always had the view that it is easy to be a good treasurer when times are good but much more difficult, complex and painful to be a good treasurer when times are tough. And those are the times we are facing now. Wayne Swan has been the Treasurer during the global financial crisis, and I think it is testament to the hard work that he has done as Treasurer—and also to the hard work done by the government—that Australian debt has been kept low, making sure that we are at the lowest end of the OECD in terms of government debt. And we have kept jobs strong. Numbers of jobs have actually grown when in other economies they have fallen. We have kept the national economy strong, but we have also kept growth strong. So people have not only their jobs but also their pay packets.

We hear the opposition talk about ‘wasting money’, and I keep thinking, ‘What are they talking about when they say “wasting money”?’ We are certainly not ‘wasting’ it on schools or education. We certainly could not be ‘wasting’ it on health and other great programs like that. I find it really interesting to hear the opposition talk about computers in schools and say that they would end this program. I would find it hard to go up to a year 9 or year 10 student and say, ‘You’ll be one of the ones who misses out if the opposition is elected, because they do not want you to have some of the latest technology—technology that you already understand and use at home but you can’t quite access in your school.’ I think every child should have those opportunities.

We are doing a range of things in education—things that might have been thought impossible but which are taking place right now. Drive to any electorate in this country and go and look at any school, and you will see the growth in employment, the jobs created, and the school buildings that are going up, whether those are new skills training centres, science blocks, libraries or halls, or refurbishments—whatever that school needed. There was no qualification, in or out, in terms of what the school needed; it was up to the school community to decide. I think that has been one of the greatest programs that this country has seen in over three decades—a real investment in schools and a real investment in education for our kids. It is also a real investment in job creation.

In my electorate, there have been over 512 projects—512 individual projects that had real people working in them, creating real things. They have been creating a lasting legacy that will help young people to learn better, to learn in better environments, to provide what those schools had been begging for but could never fundraise for. Some schools could never have contemplated that these projects would happen in their lifetimes, they were so significant. Under Building the Education Revolution in my electorate, there were 46 schools, 153 programs and funding of $107 million plus. Under the National School Pride Program, there were 46 schools, 91 projects and funding of $7½ million. Under Primary Schools for the 21st Century, there were 43 schools, 61 projects and funding of $99 million. Under Science and Language Centres for 21st Century Secondary Schools: one school; one project of $1.3 million. I do not know how the opposition can claim that this is a waste of money. But I can assure you that when I talk to the parents, the students themselves, the teachers, the school principals and the school communities, they are thankful, and they are thankful for a good reason because these are the sorts of facilities that they have been trying to build or have wanted in their schools for many years but could not achieve—certainly not through sausage sizzles or chook raffles.

We have done a lot on the economy to manage it through the global financial crisis. One of the most telling signs is the fact that Australia has maintained a very strong position in terms of its fiscal balance and its finances. We have maintained our AAA credit rating, and we have actually cut taxes in the last three budgets and will continue to cut taxes in the budgets to come.

When it comes to health, we have started the National Health and Hospitals Network program, which is going to deliver better hospitals. In the wasted 12 years that the former government had, they had opportunity. There were things they could have done in health. But, while people screamed for more beds or a better system, a national system, a better approach to hospitals and hospital funding, the then government sat and did nothing at all—except for one thing. They did rip out a billion dollars worth of funding. We are creating a thousand new nursing training places and we are going to double the number of GP training places as well. We are investing in new cancer research and treatment centres, desperately needed facilities, desperately needed people and desperately needed training places. We have invested billions of dollars in this area because it is something that needs to happen.

I want also to talk briefly about a very important segment of our community, and that is our seniors, who have contributed all their lives to the economy in good times and in bad times and who ought to be rewarded. One of the greatest things we could have ever done—that any government could have ever done—was to actually listen to seniors, particularly single seniors. They really needed some assistance with the pension, and that is exactly what they got from us. For single pensioners, there was an increase of $100 a fortnight, or $200 a month, and for couple pensioners an increase of $76 a fortnight, or $152 a month. That is something that has not been seen for over 30 years, something that many people thought was not possible. That is a huge ongoing commitment, budget to budget, year on year, into the future from the Rudd Labor government. Not only did we do that but we also understood that pensioners needed more than that. They also needed an increase in rent assistance. At the same time, we accompanied these increases with an increase in the cut-out amounts for income and assets so that pensioners had more in their pockets—they could keep more of these increases.

One of the greatest things we did on coming to government—and it is still part of the work we are doing in these budgets—was to abolish Work Choices and to restore fairness into workplaces. That might be something that the opposition scoffs at, but for ordinary working people it was an important, fundamental, structural rock in terms of maintaining their ability to have a decent workplace, a decent job and a decent pay packet at the end of the week.

I want to mention briefly also the resource super profits tax. While a lot has been said, there are a number of facts that just cannot be escaped. The fact is that there needed to be taxation reform in the resources sector. The best way to do this—as agreed by the miners and as agreed by everybody, it seems, except perhaps the Leader of the Opposition—was through a profits tax based system. There is perhaps one other, Clive Palmer, who does not accept it, but everybody else does. All agree that this is the best method forward because not only does it provide in the good times; it also provides in the bad times when the booms are not there and the royalties just are not flexible enough. There is so much more that can be done.

As the smoke and fog lift and all of the misleading arguments that are being put forward about what this tax represents become clearer, ordinary people in the community have a better understanding that this is a tax that will help them. It is a tax that provides from a resource that belongs to all Australian people and it will help keep this economy strong in the good times and in the bad times, particularly when the boom times end for a period, as they always do in cycles. They boom and bust. This tax will actually provide for the mining companies as well. This is absolutely the best way forward and is something that ought to be supported in this place as well.

Most importantly, it provides for a very generous cut to the company tax rate to below 30 per cent, down to 28 per cent. The many hundreds of thousands of small businesses in this country have yet, perhaps, to fully comprehend what that means to them and what that means to all companies in Australia—that significant decrease of the company tax rate to below 30 per cent. I think that is something that has been long awaited and is very important but can only be delivered through the proper application of tax reform, and that is exactly what this government is doing.

It is always a tough job being a reformist government. It is always a tough job when you take on issues of taxation, but in the end you do it, you hold the line and you believe in what you are doing because it delivers for ordinary people, it delivers for the economy, it delivers for every single Australian and it delivers for small business people in this country. It ensures that we sustain the economy for jobs, for growth and for national savings. It underpins what will be the case in 10 years, 15 years or 20 years time.

I recall in debates in the past that, when it came to reform in the taxation area, there were always calls about it being the end of industry and that there would be no more jobs—and they were always wrong. The reality is that mining and the resource sector will continue to grow, as will our economy, as will jobs and as will the fair share of profits from the resource tax to make sure that all Australians get their fair share of what is, in the end, their resources.