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Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Page: 4355

Mr PYNE (SturtManager of Opposition Business) (17:42): I am pleased to follow the member for New England in this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012 and its cognate bills, particularly on the subject he finished with—the Murray-Darling Basin—which is important to him. He obviously has a key role with respect to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan over the coming months. As a South Australian and a person who has had a longstanding interest in the Murray-Darling Basin and how it affects my state and my city, it is the first subject I want to touch on in my contribution to the appropriations debate.

Back in 2000, as a backbencher in the Howard government, I raised the issue of the Commonwealth taking over control of the Murray-Darling Basin from the states. I was regarded as something of a radical for making that suggestion, and I was told it would never happen. I note that, 11 years later, most people who study this area of government policy think that the Commonwealth should and must take a much greater role in the management of the Murray-Darling Basin and that it should not be left to the state governments, which have mismanaged it for the 110 years since Federation. I am disappointed that in this budget there is very little to give any comfort to South Australians, particularly to people in Adelaide, about the future management of the Murray-Darling Basin. Again, the government seems to have dragged its feet and squibbed the hard decisions with respect to the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the allocation of the necessary resources, or the bringing to book of the resources that have already been allocated, for the Murray-Darling Basin.

The delays in the implementation of the plan since December last year have been significant. Despite Mike Taylor, the former Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, stating in advice to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, that 'given the processes prescribed in the act, the proposed Basin Plan must be released in early 2011 at the very latest', the Prime Minister and the minister for water have delayed that release until well after the inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia, which is being chaired by the member for New England, into water reform is due to report—until after May this year at least—and potentially later. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority said that finalisation of the draft plan could take in the order of 40 to 50 weeks if there is a reasonable level of agreement on the plan and much longer if there is significant disagreement at the ministerial council level. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority advised the Gillard government that current timelines cannot be met and yet, in spite of those comments from the authority and the obvious incapacity for those timelines to be met, Minister Tony Burke and the Prime Minister continue to insist that timelines will be met and are on track. For people in South Australia, Adelaide and the Lower Lakes and right through the Murray-Darling system it is vitally important that timelines are met and it is vitally important that the work is done. It is also vitally important that parochial state interests do not, once again, hamper a solution to the issue of marrying and balancing the different requirements of population, environment and industry in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The government has also failed in this budget to progress investment in water-saving infrastructure projects, despite many of these projects having the potential to assist in meeting water reductions required by the sustainable diversion limits. There still exists significant scope for infrastructure projects to improve efficiency within the Murray-Darling system and storages. These savings are wasted as the government, instead, focuses quite obsessively on buybacks rather than on ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is built in the Murray-Darling Basin.

In 2010, another deferral until 2015-16 of $450 million in infrastructure spending was announced, which is well beyond the forward estimates. This is a significant underspend of the almost $6 billion, the $5.9 billion, that was set aside by the Howard government for water efficiency upgrades. It contrasts with the government's massive overspend on buybacks, which highlights the complete neglect of the program of infrastructure that can deliver real win-win outcomes for communities and the environment. Labor has systemically underspent and ignored infrastructure upgrades but, at the same time, overspent on buybacks. This lopsided approach means the government is buying water out of regional Australia while refusing to invest in the future of regional communities through proper infrastructure projects.

The lack of a plan outlining where water needs to be bought from has seen a patchwork of water sales resulting in continuing higher costs for water users in the area. Targeted water buybacks could minimise costs for other users and deliver increased water savings. For a long time the government has been flying blind on purchasing water without knowing where it should be purchasing that water. In some cases water is actually being purchased where it does not even flow into the river system. I am, as a South Australian and a member for a marginal seat in Adelaide, disappointed that the budget, yet again, has not focused on the needs of the Murray-Darling Basin community in meeting the requirements for the future of that whole basin for the people, not just of South Australia, but everyone who lives in it including the member for New England, who is chairing that very important committee.

The budget also attacks people with private health insurance, again. The Labor Party has an ideological opposition to private health insurance and in this budget has decided to means test the rebate on private health insurance. This will further hurt families and drive up costs for people with private health insurance at a time when cost-of-living pressures in our community are enormous. People can ill-afford to see rising costs and rising bills in private health insurance, which families will do their best to hang onto because they regard it as important for them and for their children.

In my electorate of Sturt 72 per cent of people are covered by private health insurance. Means testing the private health insurance rebate is a direct attack on those 72 per cent of people who value private health insurance. I say to all of those people—since I received about 53.5 per cent of the vote in Sturt—that there are some people with private health insurance who are clearly voting for the Labor Party. What they need to understand is that, if the Labor Party gets its way on the private health insurance rebate, costs for those people will increase.

I also wish to comment on mental health. I was the parliamentary secretary in the Howard government with responsibility for mental health. As I was saying earlier, I think I was the longest serving parliamentary secretary in the Howard government. I did the job so well it was felt that I should stay in that role until the dying days of the Howard government in 2007. I was delighted to have the opportunity to be a parliamentary secretary, particularly with responsibility for mental health. In that time I founded headspace and appointed Pat McGorry to be the head of it. I put psychologists and social workers on Medicare in a $1.9 billion package of spending. To put that in context, the previous largest announcement of spending by a federal government on mental health was $110 million. So $1.9 billion was regarded as an enormous entry into mental health, which is essentially a state government responsibility by the federal government. Tony Abbott was the minister for health at the time. He had overall responsibility and I had responsibility as the parliamentary secretary. I think it was one of the best things the Howard government did.

Mental health is one of the most critical issues facing Australia. No member of this House would disagree that mental health has been the poor cousin in the health system for far, far too long. Everybody in this House would know of families, or individuals, or even their own family, extended family or friends who have been touched by mental health issues, which extend to drug, tobacco and alcohol use, all of which are essentially self-medication for people with mental health issues. Allowing psychologists and social workers to access Medicare meant that people who otherwise would not be able to afford to could continue to get the treatment they needed. The government's mental health announcement is welcome in terms of extra funds being spent on mental health but I hasten to add it is not the $2.2 billion claimed by the government. It is much more like $583 million of new net spending on mental health. We are grateful that there is more money to be spent on this important issue but it is only $583 million, not the $2.2 billion trumpeted by the government.

Even within that mental health envelope of spending, there is a tightening of the criteria for people to access psychologists and social workers to reduce the number of times that patients can see the person they need to see. I think this is retrograde step. I hope that members of the Labor Party in government and the Independents on the crossbenches who support them will lobby the minister and the Prime Minister to change that policy. It would be a very bad and retrograde step for people with a mental illness to not get the assistance they so desperately need for the times that they need it.

We know that when people with mental illness are not getting medication or assistance or the kind of support they need from professionals they are more than likely to become homeless and more than likely to break the law in order to survive. It is no surprise that an enormous percentage of people in Australia's prisons have a mental illness and an enormous number of people who are homeless have a mental illness. The last place there should be cuts found by any government, whether it be an incoming coalition government or the current government, is in mental health.

Specifically with respect to South Australia, I would like to comment on a number of other changes in the budget. I am very disappointed that the government has decided to scrap the extension of the O-Bahn track in my electorate and in South Australia generally. It was promised by Wayne Swan the Treasurer in 2009. It was meant to cost only $61 million. It was to extend the route down Hackney Road, up Rundle Road, along East Terrace, then through Grenfell Street and Currie Street to West Terrace. Construction was expected to start in 2009 and be finished in 2011 but a series of delays and excuses have meant this has not happened. The federal government has now announced that the O-Bahn trackway extension has been entirely scrapped and that is a disappointing outcome of this budget for the people of Adelaide and the people of South Australia. The acting transport minister at the time said that the state government would not find the necessary funds in order to meet that commitment which means that extension will now not go ahead. So South Australians are missing out.

I could go on with some of the more general changes that affect South Australians. In my electorate of Sturt the freezing of the family tax benefit part A and B supplements will affect 9,304 recipients and 6,779 recipients respectively at a time of rising cost-of-living pressures and real pressure being felt in households across my electorate. As a father with four small children I can tell you it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet. If it is so for us as members of parliament, imagine how hard it is for people who are not so fortunate. This is not the time to be cutting benefits for families; this is the time to be extending a hand to families who are in need and to be ensuring that they do not fall behind.

South Australians will be paying around $7.7 billion of the government's debt and deficit back to the people who we borrow the money from, the financiers from around the world and in Australia. South Australians will account for $7.7 billion of that $107 billion of debt that was announced in the budget. Other people in my electorate will be damaged by the government's fringe benefits tax changes, which will leave tradies and workers and ute men, as they are often called, $3,000 worse off in increased taxes. In my electorate there are 12,125 such businesses which will be affected as a result of these government changes to the fringe benefits tax.

Many commitments the coalition made before the last election in my electorate have not been funded in this budget but they will be funded under a coalition government. The Campbelltown Leisure Centre, black spots roads funding, the Burnside Hockey Club, the Blue Eagles Soccer Club, the solar school at Charles Campbell High School and St Francis of Assisi Primary School and the Campbelltown oval sports hub will all be funded under a coalition government. I look forward to that day.