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Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Page: 4401

Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (21:07): I am here today representing the people of Macarthur and raising their concerns about the budget and its impact upon their lives. These are serious concerns because they have been neglected for too long. The decent, hardworking people of Macarthur, the forgotten families of south-western Sydney, are really doing it tough and the government is not paying attention. Not only are these people reeling from cost-of-living pressures but also they see no relief in this budget from a government that has lost touch with everyday Australians. They are also frustrated at the lack of infrastructure being delivered, given the growth that is occurring in our region which will result in our population doubling in the next 20 years.

Next month I will be convening a meeting to discuss infrastructure funding for the region and identifying specific projects with newly elected members for the state seats of Campbelltown, Wollondilly and Camden along with all mayors and general managers for those local government areas. One can only hope that the new direct phone line that New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has to the Prime Minister's office-the bat phone, bypassing the boy wonder of infrastructure—will deliver the appropriate infrastructure to sustain the growth that will occur in our region, because that appropriate infrastructure is something that is sadly lacking and not identified in this budget. Let us hope Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure New South Wales are on the same wavelength and address my community's needs.

Everywhere across this nation, hardworking Australians are feeling the pinch as they try to keep up with increasing cost-of-living pressures and with tax increases in the form of the compulsory flood levy and the looming carbon tax. With the budget as it is, families in Macarthur will feel the pinch even more as family tax benefits are frozen and tight thresholds are introduced. Increases to the fringe benefits tax will also hit the hip pocket of workers and tradespeople in Macarthur as the government continues its systematic crackdown on honest, hardworking Australians.

The Treasurer would like us all to believe that this budget is a responsible reduction in government spending. However, in reality under this budget we will still be borrowing at least $135 million each and every day. The hardworking families of Macarthur, and indeed Australia, are already facing substantial cost-of-living pressures at the current level of interest rates. The increased upward pressure on wages, the sustained high value of our dollar and the excessive amount of government expenditure that has characterised this government is forcing the Reserve Bank to consider raising interest rates in the coming months. This will be detrimental to the wellbeing and quality of life of many families in my electorate if this occurs. Many families in my electorate are already in mortgage poverty and face losing their homes if there are further interest rate hikes. There have been seven interest rate rises in a row, which has increased average mortgage repayments by more than $500 per month. How much more pain is this Greens-Gillard government going to inflict on hardworking Australians?

This budget does not go far enough in reducing wasteful government expenditure to relieve this pressure on interest rates. For example, the government has allowed a budget blow-out of $1.75 billion to deal with the illegal boat people crisis and detention centres, and there is a $21 million advertising campaign for a carbon tax, yet that tax does not even rate a mention in the budget. Such continued wasteful expenditure by this government will only place pressure on interest rates to rise further, placing even more strain on the families of Australia.

The people of Australia are making the tough decisions to tighten their spending in the face of higher costs of living, so why can't this government do the same? In respect of taxes, has the Treasurer considered the huge financial burden that a $26 per tonne carbon tax would add to the already stretched budgets of average Australian families? Most people in Macarthur are conscious of their environmental footprint and want to ensure that there is sensible and practical action taken to minimise our impact on the environment. But I cannot honestly say that there are many people in the electorate of Macarthur who believe any good will come out of this carbon tax. As the Hon. Tony Abbott recently said:

The smart way to improve the environment is not to impose a new tax on the way every Australian lives and works but to reduce emissions via common sense environmental improvements that everyone can support.

This carbon tax is starting to echo past failed policies shamefully pushed to the back of the Treasurer's sock drawer—policies like the bungled home insulation scheme, the massive BER rip-off, Australia's border protection and detention centre crisis, the mining resource rent tax, the computers in schools blow-out, the Green Loans program, cash for clunkers and now the embarrassing set-top box fiasco, just to name a few.

The Prime Minister has thrown around the idea of compensation for low-income families but what compensation is there for a dad who's just lost his job because his manufacturing plant cannot compete with cheap imports from cutthroat overseas competitors? What compensation is there for communities that may lose their main source of employment in mining areas such as the Wollondilly Shire or manufacturing hubs such as Narellan, Smeaton Grange and Williamson Road in the Macarthur region?

While I do welcome initiatives to help welfare-dependent teenage mothers get back to school, along with the support to help long-term welfare recipients get back into the workforce, I believe it is a shame that the government is only trialling these measures, as they could potentially bring positive change to so many struggling families within the Macarthur region. For too long the people of Macarthur have been stereotyped and it is a shame that the pilot program for teenage mums will not be trialled in my electorate even though it was announced in Ambarvale by the Prime Minister. The tough love announcement was not very well received by community leaders. Why announce it in the Macarthur region and then not trial it there? Just using the people of Macarthur as tools to promote policy and then not spend a cent to assist them is beyond comprehension. The Benevolent Society, although welcoming the Prime Minister's announcement, also criticised the removal of payments to parents supporting young children as not helpful under any circumstances.

While I would welcome any money for mental health in the Macarthur region, in reality the government is only providing $47.3 million in new funding for mental health in 2011-12 while cutting $62.8 million from existing programs. The government's policy is heavily back-ended in relation to mental health funding, with 74 per cent—which is $481 million—to be spent in the last two years of the five-year program. The coalition has announced that it will spend $1.9 billion on mental health. This is real money and offers targeted, strategic and real reform.

The Australian Medical Association is concerned that a big slice of the new funding for the mental health package has been cut from existing general practice mental health services and related psychological services. These services are evidence based and were recently positively reviewed, but the money has been reallocated to other programs which are less evidence based. The association would prefer that the funds were reallocated from less critical areas such as the GP superclinic program and the untested Medicare Locals program or the set-top box program than from GP services which help the neediest patients. I agree with the Australian Medical Association that mental health is an area which requires additional investment, not reallocation of funds. It is too simplistic an approach to shift funding from one needy group of patients to another. This is a stealing from Peter to pay Paul policy. Small businesses are the foundation of our economy and need to be supported by the government. Now more than ever they need our support. Small businesses provide a substantial amount of employment and economic activity in Macarthur and I am proud to say that the coalition is committed to annual reductions in red tape for small business as well as lowering the costly burden of regulation. This red tape costs industry more than $1 billion each year.

The coalition is, and always has been, a strong supporter of small business. In Macarthur, small businesses provide the bulk of employment and nationally 95.6 per cent of all businesses are small businesses . B e they farmers, sole traders, cafes, manufacturers, hairdressers, retailers or financial service providers , small businesses are vitally important to Macarthur's success as a region and Australia's su ccess as a nation. In 2008- 09 , small businesses employed roughly 4.8 million people, accounting for 48 per cent of private sector employment .

I would like to digress for a moment and tell this House what a number of small businesses in the Macarthur region have done w orking hand in hand with a group of passionate , dedicated and extremely hard working mums in my electorate. I ha ve spoken about th ese exceptional ladies before. T hey are the mums of The Right Start Foundation and they are working towards building Australia's first Down Syndrome specific centre in the Macarthur region . Glenda Graban , Darien Gray and an army of mothers have banded together with Steve Wisbey from My Gateway , Pro Corp , Ray Hadley from 2GB, Macarthur Credit Union and more than 30 local busin esses to build a beautiful four- bedroom home at the new Oran Park Estate. This house was recently sold for $521,000 and will see $100,000 profit go towards building this much needed Down Syndrome c entre in the Macarthur region . I am very proud to be a supporter of T he Right Start Foundation. My community finds it extremely alarming that groups with special needs such as The Right Start Foundation struggle to obtain funding, but this government sees fit to allocate $10 million to the unions to establish a website in this budget. It is very hard to explain to my community.

I would like to convey a message I received from a constituent in response to the proposed changes to the fringe benefits tax thresholds. He proposed that , instead of punishing tradies , shift workers and commuters who have to drive more than 120 kilometres a day to get to and from work , the government should target investment towards creating productivity centres in and around major population centres.

In my electorate, Campbelltown City Council just held an employment land review to create employment opportunities for people to live and wor k in their own community. It is anticipated that the south-w est sub region of Sydney will need to create 141,000 new full- time jobs by 2036. Federal investment is needed to create these employment lands.

It is vitally important for the Macarthur region to align job growth to population growth and to grow and develop our local skills base to provide more opportunities for growing advanced services such as business and technology parks. A vast majority of employed people in Macarthur have to commute out of the area for work. By investing in local productivity centre s, be they commercial business parks or scientific and high- tech manufacturing hubs, we could not only ease congestion on our major arterial routes but also give many workers a better work- life balance with less time spent on the road reducing their rising petrol bills.

Unfortunately for my constituents , the people of Macarthur have been saddled with a big - spending government that likes to talk the talk but will not walk the walk of responsible fiscal policy. If this government were serious about giving hard working Australian taxpayers real value for money from their taxes , they would no t be throwing away $350 for a set- top bo x which Harvey Norman can supply and install for nearly half the price. What a ridiculous policy.

If this government w ere serious about addressing environmental issues , they would no t be spruiking expensive and untested pet projects s uch as the carbon tax without fully exploring what benefits it will reap for the environment. If it were serious , it would take the time to understand what implications a great big new tax like this has for the Australian economy.

If the government w ere serious about helping Australia's forgotten families , they would not be cutting and freezing muc h needed family payments, n o r would they be treating tradies and workers who live in outer suburban areas like tax cheats and increasing the fringe benefit ta x rate for people driving more than 45,000 k ilometres a year.

If the government were serious about protecting our borders , we would no t be facing a $1.75 billion blow-out in costs for managing detention centres. And now the government has decided that swapping the boats is easier than stopping the boats and is preparing to foot a $70,000 per person bill for illegal immigrant boat people under their new Malaysia scheme. Imagine the good work a number of our local charities could do if they were given that kind of funding. Sadly , I do no t believe that this government is serious about getting Australia back on track. This budget represents a failed government that is leading Australians down a very dark garden path and placing Australia's economic prosperity in peril .

This is a budget hand crafted by a government that has no scruples about openly lying to the Australian people , introducing crippling carbon taxes for which they have no mandate. It i s time that the Australian people had a government that is competent, responsible and effective , a government that Tony Abbott and the coalition can and will deliver.