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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6195


Dr SOUTHCOTT (Boothby) (20:37): This is another Labor budget with more debt and deficit, and no plan to rein in the rising cost of living. It is another traditional Labor budget, with no coherent strategy to tackle the debt. It is a budget where Labor have cooked the books by shifting the NBN off budget and juggling spending in other areas to create an artificial surplus. If the members of the government were honest and included the NBN in the budget we would continue to see deficits over the next three years. It is an artificial surplus that is so small, with so many budget assumptions, that it is unlikely it will ever be realised.

The 2011-12 budget deficit has now blown out to $44 billion—more than $20 billion higher than originally forecast. Now the government are saying that they can take us from $44 billion in the red to a budget surplus in just 12 months. It would be an extraordinary turn-around to see this. Spending this financial year is almost $100 billion more than it was just four years ago. Now we hear the government talk tough on cuts but it is all just rhetoric. Net debt is going to climb to $144.9 billion in 2013-14, and the budget bills have secretly tried to raise the debt ceiling to a record $300 billion.

What Australia desperately needs—what families suffering rising costs of living need and what small business desperately need—is a return of confidence and a government that will deliver a sound economic strategy which will reduce the cost-of-living pressures and create jobs. We need a safe pair of hands managing our economy. The sad history of Labor shows that they are just not capable of providing this. It was left up to the coalition to pay off the Labor government's debt last time and the coalition will have to pay it off again. I turn to a number of health measures announced in the budget. In this budget $44 million is coming out of the GP superclinics program, which has been characterised by delay and by waste. The extraordinary thing is that the government have quite easily found $44 million in savings in what was one of its flagship health programs. They have claimed that this money was 'uncommitted funding for the provision of development, networking and other operational activities'. The deduction of this $44 million is not going to impact on the construction of a single GP superclinic or a single grant to general practice. This shows the level of waste in government spending at the moment. Forty-four million dollars in savings could be found in the GP superclinic program, but the deduction of this money will cause very little disruption to the program. It is an admission that the program has not lived up to the promise of 2007. After more than four years, only 25 of the 64 promised clinics are open, at least three have required bailouts and two have been scrapped completely—they have not even got off the drawing board. The budget papers show that not until 2015-16 will the last nine clinics become operational. In other words, clinics that were promised in 2010 will not be operational by the time of the next election and will only be operational by the time of the election after that—more than six years after they were promised.

The budget also has a number of changes to the Practice Incentive Program. These changes are in the areas of immunisation, diabetes, cervical cancer and e-health. These changes have been met with opposition from doctors and their professional bodies, including the RACGP and the AMA. I am concerned about the impact that these Practice Incentive Program changes will have on public health. The government forecasts that these changes to the PIP will save $83½ million dollars over four years.

There are cuts to health spending, but the cut which I think is the worst of all is the cut to the immunisation branch of the PIP. The government has announced that it will discontinue the General Practice Immunisation Incentive, which is paid to GPs to ensure that 90 per cent of children under seven attending their practice are properly immunised. This has been a very successful initiative. I saw it as originally proposed by Michael Wooldridge, the minister for health in the previous government. By using general practice, the General Practice Immunisation Incentive saw to it that Australia had high rates of immunisation. Our immunisation rates had fallen: they were well below those of developing countries such as Vietnam.

The government's rationale for these cuts is that there was a change to the immunisation requirements in November 2011 that tethered the family tax benefit payments to compulsory immunisation and that these changes will save $209.1 million over four years. While the government claims that its all-stick-and-no-carrot changes to the family tax benefit A payments caused the GP immunisation incentive to be redundant, this is simply not the case—there are a number of families who are not eligible for the family tax benefit payment and who will now fall through the cracks. This has been a very successful public health initiative. We have seen immunisation rates rise. The government's cuts to the program show that it is not serious about the program. Without high levels of immunisation, the spectre is raised of future epidemics of whooping cough and other childhood illnesses.

The government has increased the targets for the diabetes and cervical cancer PIPs, and general practices must achieve them to receive the incentive to screen for cervical cancer and provide diagnosis and care to diabetes patients. On the one hand this does lead to better quality; on the other hand it is there as a savings measure, so the government expects to be paying less overall for the program. I would be interested to see the hard evidence that shows that increasing these targets will actually improve patient care. It is a matter of raising the bar so that they end up paying less overall on diabetes care and on screening for cervical cancer.

There are further changes to the e-health practice incentive payment, which sees general practice required to participate in the personally controlled electronic health record to receive the incentive. However, it is unclear whether the practice management software will even be capable of interacting with the PCEHR until later this year. How can a general practice comply with the requirements of the incentive payment when the technology will not yet allow them to do so? This is just another example of poorly implemented policy.

In the area of the PCEHR the federal budget has provided an extra $233.7 million over the next two years, despite concerns that there will be very little to show for the last $467 million when it becomes operational on 1 July this year. What we see from the approach to the electronic health record is very similar to what we have seen from a lot of government projects. Rather than go for the approach which was outlined to them in the national e-health strategy which was prepared for the health ministers, which outlined a period of 10 years and incremental improvements and quick wins which clinicians could find easily, they have gone for the big-bang, high-risk solution of the electronic health record.

The latest budget announcement will take the spend on the electronic health record to over $700 million since 2010. On 1 July there will be nothing to show for this. On the budget papers' own targets, only 500,000 people will sign up for the electronic health record in the first 12 months. After four years, less than 30 per cent of the population will have registered for an electronic health record and even less will be actively using it. It remains to be seen what we will have to show for the $700 million on 1 July, but I can assure the parliament that the opposition will be watching this space very carefully.

I will talk a little about the impact of this budget on my electorate. Residents of Boothby will suffer even more under this government's budget. The budget does nothing to ease the cost-of-living pressures that Australians are currently facing. Families will not be helped by this budget. Since Labor was elected, electricity prices have gone up 66 per cent, gas prices are up 39 per cent, food costs are up 11 per cent, petrol prices are up 11 per cent and education and health costs are up by over 25 per cent. This budget will make these costs rise more by introducing the world's largest carbon tax. We will never forget the words uttered by the Prime Minister just six days before the last election: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' This was a complete breach of faith to the Australian people, and this breach of faith will see electricity bills rise by 10 per cent and gas bills rise by nine per cent in the first year alone. The carbon tax will increase the cost of everything for those families in Boothby that are already struggling with the rising cost of living.

I would like to speak about infrastructure as well. The electorate of Boothby has missed out on vital infrastructure funding in this federal budget. The budget has provided $443 million for four underpasses and improvements to the rail corridor in the seat of Adelaide to improve traffic flows and reduce waiting times. Of this, $232 million comes from the federal government with the remainder coming from the South Australian government. This is disappointing news for residents of my electorate who are very concerned about the significant amount of time being spent at the Oaklands railway crossing where a diagonal road, Norfolk Road, and the rail line meet. There is no funding for that. It is also a sign that the Labor government has backed away from the recommendations in the Rail Freight Movements Study, which had options including the Northern Bypass to remove the impact of the freight trains on Hills residents in my electorate. On the issue of the potential for upgrading the current route, the rail freight movement study concluded that there will continue to be amenity issues and potential safety risks to the communities that live in close proximity to the route. Trains will also continue to face the steep grades and tight turns on the existing route. The Labor Party has chosen to ignore this study and go ahead with upgrading the existing line.

These budget changes will also increase the length of freight trains along the Belair freight line. The changes will allow freight trains to add an extra 300 metres, up from 1.5 kilometres long to 1.8 kilometres long. This is going to have a further impact on the residents in the Adelaide Hills, who can see all three crossings in their area blocked simultaneously with a large freight train.

In summary, this is another typical Labor budget with spending out of control, and we are unlikely to see a surplus. If everything goes right we will see a very small surplus, but we all know Labor's track record. They have not delivered a surplus in over 20 years. They expect us to believe they will deliver a $1.5 billion surplus, when their deficit last year has blown out from $20 billion to over $44 billion.