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Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Page: 4352

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (17:27): Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom, I congratulate you on your excellent speakership. I have been sitting through today's proceedings and your judgment has been impeccable. The member for Mackellar was in a very interesting position back in 1991 when there was a hung parliament in New South Wales. I did not hear the member for Mackellar, who was a prominent Liberal at the time, suggesting that the Greiner government was in some way illegitimate and that the choice I made at that time in that hung parliament was illegitimate. I take offence at some of the comments she made about the legitimacy of this parliament. The people voted how the people voted.

The issue of climate change seems to have upset some people. The member for Mackellar, who is now leaving the chamber—in disgrace!—would recognise that during my 2010 election campaign I actually ran on the issue of climate change. I was saying that something needed to be done about climate change. I do not think the government has explained its change of heart terribly well, but I do believe that, given the nature of the parliament, issues such as climate change do have some legitimacy. It is unreasonable for the member for Mackellar to claim that the parliament itself is illegitimate because of some words the Prime Minister may have used in a majority situation when she now finds herself in a minority situation where others have some effect on policy mix. One of the things I would like to congratulate the government on—again, the member for Mackellar raised the issue that she believes individuals can spend money better than governments—is that I am delighted that there are no tax cuts in this budget. In the previous eight years, under the previous Labor government and the Howard government before that, an enormous amount of money was going back to taxpayers in an attempt to buy votes with largesse. I surveyed my electorate on a number of occasions and I sensed that they would have much preferred that money to go into health, hospitals, schools et cetera, rather than going back through the taxation system. I am pleased that we have put a stop to these ongoing tax cuts which have become part of the budgetary process. I am also pleased that the middle-class welfare issue is being further addressed. We need to address it. Middle-class welfare has potential implications as great, if not greater, than people at the lower end of the system not working—people we commonly refer to as 'dole bludgers'.

Because of that eight-year period and a number of initiatives, including the baby bonus and others that were put in place over time, people on very reasonable incomes are now assuming that everybody deserves some sort of handout from government. That expectation needs to be nipped in the bud. We talk about generational welfare and generational work for the dole and we are trying to address those issues through various skills and educational programs, trying to break that particular nexus. If we allow the middle-class welfare issue to go too much longer, that will develop another subculture of expectation that government will provide.

The member for Mackellar raised the issue of giving people the money because they will spend it better than government—the final six years of the Howard government did exactly the reverse. They poured money into people's hands through tax cuts and other middle-class welfare to encourage them to vote for them. So the actions of the Howard government in those last years seem very contradictory—and the first years of the Rudd government as well, when that approach was perpetuated. One of the failings of the Rudd government occurred on the second day of the 2007 campaign. There was a very clever piece of electioneering by John Howard on the first day, when he announced $43 billion in tax cuts. Kevin Rudd at the time, obviously worried about the political ramifications of that degree of largesse, agreed that Labor would carry through with those tax cuts as well. Howard, knowing that he was going to lose the election anyway, was able to hogtie the incoming government. So $43 billion went back through the system—$43 billion which, in my view, could have been better spent on hospitals, education and a range of other community initiatives.

Here today we still have the debate about the National Broadband Network and the so-called enormous draw on the public purse. The reality is that it is about $26 billion; the balance will be obtained from the market. So it is potentially far less than the $43 billion that was given back to people in three years through tax cuts, and it is obviously far less when the $27 billion, or whatever the number ends up being, is over a 10-year period. So I do congratulate the government on starting to address what could become structural issues within our society if we maintain this expectation that there will be welfare for everybody. We have rethink that fairly quickly.

I am sure, Deputy Speaker Bird, that you will allow a wide-ranging discussion on a number of issues. I would like to raise briefly a couple of issues which are before this parliament. I think this parliament has the potential to do a lot of good things. There are some enormous issues before this particular parliament. Someone suggested that a hung parliament cannot deal with difficult issues. This hung parliament may well be able to come to a resolution in the climate change debate. That resolution is out there in the ether at the moment with respect to its structure, et cetera. Obviously it could not be in any budget arrangements because there is no structure—whether there will be a carbon tax or other mechanisms to deal the issue. The substantive issue is critical to this country.

I listened to the Climate Commission this morning. It is something that all of us should regard as substantive. We have to bypass some of the petty politics that are going on in this place and legitimately form a consensus on how we work through this problem. It is all very well to use fear tactics because of the short-term nature of each parliament, although I do not think the government has marketed their arrangements well either. But the substantive issue is one the general public wants addressed.

The Murray-Darling guide which the authority put out is a critical issue across six governments. The member for Braddon was the deputy chair of that committee and I thank him and other members of the committee who are looking at that crucial issue. If this parliament did nothing else other than resolve that substantive issue, that would be a significant legacy of this parliament.

The National Broadband Network is probably the most important infrastructure we will see this century, particularly in regional areas. We still have country members of parliament arguing that it is not a good idea, that we should not do it, that only the cities should have this technology and that country kids do not deserve it. The broadband network has tentacles that reach through a whole range of other sectors, including health, education, climate change and aged care, even through to the Murray Darling system. One of the key areas we have noticed from the inquiry of the Standing Committee on Regional Australia into the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been the lack of adequate monitoring of the various river systems and catchments within the basin system. The National Broadband Network has the potential to save billions of dollars, yet we concentrate on costs and whether every house should have it.

The New England electorate fared very well in the budget, which I think was a great one for regional Australia. The Hon. Simon Crean has mentioned a number of issues, but there was something like $4.3 billion in various programs in this budget that will accrue to regional Australia. I am proud of the part that I have played, as has the member for Lyne, in developing some of those processes. The Health and Hospitals Fund, for the first time in history, is being ring-fenced for regional hospitals. That is not to say that city hospitals should not receive their fair share, but normally country hospitals get about 20 per cent. There was a recognised inequity in the system, and $1.8 billion has been set aside in this budget to go to country hospitals and health services. That is an enormous breakthrough.

There will be a similar arrangement with the Education Investment Fund, where half a billion dollars will be ring-fenced for country universities to give them an extra boost to allow them to be competitive in the new tertiary education world. Tamworth Base Hospital was funded through that program—I am very pleased about that. I am delighted that the state government has put in $100 million as well. Something like 50 planners have been working on this process for the last two years, and I congratulate them on the work that they have done. The redeveloped Tamworth Base Hospital will be a significant piece of infrastructure not just for Tamworth and the region but for the relationship that that hospital has with the University of New England in Armidale, the University of Newcastle and the health services to assist in training our young doctors and allied professionals. The University of New England has received more funding as well for a number of programs that help feed off that capacity to teach young doctors and allied professionals in the country.

I am pleased that the Tenterfield area has been looked at in this budget. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport was in the electorate only last week. Planning money has been allocated for the Tenterfield bypass and also for what is probably the last of the crucial deathtraps on the New England Highway—Bolivia Hill. It is a relative short section of road but a highly dangerous one. Many deaths have occurred there, so I am pleased to see that funding. I am also pleased to see that the Chaffey Dam expenditure has been recognised to ensure that the city of Tamworth has a water supply into the future.

I am delighted that more money for mental health has been included. That will go across a whole range of services. I think it is one of the key parts of this budget.

One of the critical issues that I flag to the government and the opposition—I know there are members of the opposition in particular who are very concerned about this issue—is that of the ad hoc development that is occurring with coal seam methane gas. If we are serious about the climate change debate, we must have a very serious look at current planning protocols. We had a fairly ordinary state government up until the last New South Wales election. I wish Barry O'Farrell and his government well. I know Barry quite well. He was one of the minders back in my last hung parliament along with the Hon. Joe Hockey, who used to deliver pieces of paper to me. The issue of coal seam methane gas has to be addressed not only at the state level. I think that if we in this place can show some leadership on the Murray-Darling—for obvious reasons it has failed on previous attempts—we should show some national leadership on some of the activities around coal seam methane gas and coal developments, particularly on floodplains that are underpinned by groundwater resources. There are other issues, but I will raise them on another occasion.