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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6161

Mr CRAIG THOMSON ( Dobell ) ( 17:57 ): I come to speak on this appropriation bill with a degree of independence that I perhaps did not have in previous contributions, so I think people should listen much more closely to what I have to say in relation to this particular budget. I want to start by saying that budgets in themselves should not be seen in isolation. This budget needs to be seen as part of a series of budgets that the Labor government has brought in since it was elected in 2007. What is important is to look at the economic conditions that were there when Labor was elected in the good times before the global financial crisis had occurred and look at how the budgets had to alter and adapt to the changing global conditions that the government was faced with during that period of time and look at where they are now in relation to this particular budget.

I say with a degree of independence, as I said, that this is a very good budget and it is a very good story that can be told in relation to a succession of Labor budgets. When Labor came into office the cash rate was 6.75 per cent. It is now 3.75 per cent. Inflation was tending towards the high side. There were some comments about the inflation genie being out of the bottle when Labor first came in; it is now around the two per cent mark. The unemployment rate before Labor came in had a four in front of it—and it does again now. So when we look at where Australia was and where Australia is now, we are, on any objective comparison, at least as well off economically as when we were elected.

But the great story is how this Labor government charted its way through the global financial crisis—and how, while doing so, it made sure that Australian jobs, Australian families and Australian households were always put first. On the back of a resources boom, the economy was in good shape when we started. But now, compared to any other country in the world and compared to how things were in 2007, the economy is in great shape. The story of successive Labor budgets has been about the skill, the care and the concern shown in making sure that the Australian community got through one of the greatest challenges the world has faced since the Great Depression—and achieving Australia's current sound economic position.

Those on the coalition side mock the size of it, but the Labor government is returning the budget to surplus. How can they—how dare they?—mock that when you consider what had to be done? The Labor government had to make sure that there were jobs—jobs in areas like my electorate and the member for Shortland's electorate. Our areas are always among the first affected when unemployment starts to rise. The Labor government had to make sure that families were able to get through those periods when we saw unemployment in Spain reach 20 per cent and when we saw riots right around the world, as countries struggled to come to terms with a global financial crisis. We still see those problems in Europe today and the resulting social dislocation, yet in this country there has been barely a ripple—because of the sound economic leadership of the Labor Party. We made sure this country was able to get through those periods and, at the end of it, we are in a position comparable with the position we were in when we started—low unemployment, low inflation and low interest rates. These are the key things for making sure that families—people living in our communities—are able to continue to do the things they want to do.

I will come back and say something else about interest rates at the end of my contribution, but now I will talk about the sorts of things these budgets have enabled in my electorate. We have been able, in some cases for the very first time, to make really good investments in infrastructure and the environment. Tuggerah Lakes, one of the most beautiful places in Australia, was able to take advantage of the Caring for our Country program. The first investment from Caring for our Country was a $20 million grant to Tuggerah Lakes. The 2012-13 budget has continued this program, allocating another $2.2 billion for the period 2013 through to 2017.

Caring for our Country has been a tremendous program and the Tuggerah Lakes project in my electorate has been superbly managed by Wyong Shire Council. It is not always the case that a federal politician can come in here and say what a good job their local council has done in managing money, but Wyong Shire Council did such a good job in managing their $20 million that they actually returned some money. I do not think many councils have ever said: 'We have underspent. Here you go; here is a couple of million dollars you can have back.' But that is in fact what Wyong Shire Council did. It is, again, a measure of this government that we said, 'Let's do some more work. There is more work to be done and we will re-allocate that money.' So congratulations to Wyong Shire Council.

We have been able to start construction at Tuggerah on a $10 million centre of sports excellence, the home of the mighty Central Coast Mariners, the most successful team in the A-League competition. It is a great community asset with swimming pools and a medical centre. It is a superb asset that is much needed in the Tuggerah area—and it was the Labor government that put it in place. One of the things that those in the coalition always complain about, and their foot soldiers on the Central Coast have picked up this same mantra, is the GP Super Clinics. The GP Super Clinic that is close to being completed in my electorate has been nothing but an outstanding success from the moment it was announced.

Ms Saffin: So has mine in Grafton.

Mr CRAIG THOMSON: Absolutely. I hear the member for Page talking about the success of her GP Super Clinic in Grafton. The reason for this is that ours opened immediately, not in its permanent home—that had to be built. They set up a temporary home and we were seeing 2,000 patients within a couple of months. The area in which it was placed, around Warnervale, is one where there has been long-term doctor shortages. Doctors' books are closed and people cannot get into doctors. They end up going to Wyong Hospital, the fourth busiest emergency department in New South Wales. This has had a real effect on the community.

During the 2010 election people would come up to me when I was campaigning and say, 'This is something that we think is really worthwhile locally.' They were referring to the GP Super Clinic. For those opposite to continually go on about how inefficient they are and that they are not open, and so forth, belies the fact of their success, and certainly the success of the one there on the Central Coast.

The Mardi to Mangrove pipeline, the most important piece of infrastructure promised on the Central Coast some years ago, has just been completed. This pipeline guaranteed that the Central Coast's water supply was forever safe. We got to a situation where our water supply was down to about 10 per cent. We were running out of water, quite literally. We are an area where it is anticipated that there will be an additional 80,000 residents in the next 15 years. We did not have the water for this. It was the Labor government that stepped up to the plate. It was the Labor government that said: 'This is vital infrastructure that is needed for this community.' We built this pipeline. We have the situation now where the storage dam is close to 50 per cent full. Within five years it will be totally full. That will be the first time ever the dam will have been full since it was built. It is because of the foresight of this government in making sure that they were able to invest in infrastructure.

One of the great things about the Central Coast, at the moment and for the last 20 years, is the University of Newcastle's Central Coast campus at Ourimbah. We are an area that has one of the lowest levels of kids going on to higher education, an area that has over 320,000 people living in it. The University of Newcastle's Central Coast campus at Ourimbah ensures that local kids have an option to go to higher education. It was not this government that build the university, but it was a previous Labor government that built it. It was founded under the Hawke government. Without a Labor government there would be no university.

In the last three years we have spent $40 million on that campus, rebuilding the library, building new nursing education areas and new sports and science exercise areas. And 96 per cent of the students who go to this campus are from the Central Coast. Previously they had to commute up to Newcastle or down to Sydney. It was difficult. Many kids dropped out and many would not even take up the option. We are now seeing much higher levels of kids going on to get tertiary qualifications, because of a Labor investment under a Labor philosophy, which is to invest in education to give as many kids an equal chance of a good life. And, can I say, there has been no greater example of that than, during the global financial crisis, the massive investment in schools—the biggest investment since Federation. In my electorate alone over $100 million has been spent on our schools, and $13 million for trade training centres, which has seen tremendous opportunities for our schools. Many of these schools would never have got the infrastructure that is now there. It always seems to be those areas with lower-socioeconomic issues that miss out, but not under this Labor government, not during the time of the global financial crisis—this was when there was the investment.

Only the other week I was at Wadalba Community School and was able to look in at how this Labor government's Local Solutions program is working. Wyong council was one of the 10 areas around Australia that is benefiting from this. I sat in on a class where there were half a dozen teenage mums, who were there being taught, doing their schooling with their babies being looked after next door in a childcare centre on the school campus. This was a very important solution. These kids were not going to get through high school. They quite simply could not before this program, because they had young kids to look after; but the Local Solutions program aims at making sure in particular that young women get the opportunity in areas like mine to get an education, to go on and have the opportunity to get good employment. This was a terrific example of a pilot program that is working. Our Local Solutions committees are coming up with terrific local solutions to our particular unemployment problems.

I wanted to finish by going back to interest rates and the cost of housing and mortgages.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 18 : 12 to  18 : 21

Mr CRAIG THOMSON: I would like to finish by talking about the size of mortgages and interest rates. One of the things that governments and oppositions need to look at is what has changed in the last 20 years. Interest rates are now lower than they were when we came to government but interest rates alone are not the measure of how hard people are doing it in terms of paying back their mortgages. We have seen a massive increase in the size of mortgages. Governments need to look at supply side issues and the release of land. We need to make sure that there is more land available. It is the size of mortgages that is making things difficult for families, not just interest rates. This has been a good budget in a series of good budgets that have made Australia a better, safer and more cohesive place than it was before these budgets were handed down. I commend these bills to the House.