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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1076

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (19:14): I rise to support the two bills currently before the House, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013, which will appropriate $600 million and $366 million, respectively. Obviously, as most students of politics and economics would know, this is the standard fine-tuning process that occurs when you have a budget in May and then in September you have the figures and costings, and this is the usual process.

Tomorrow it will be five years since I have been in this parliament, and I certainly remember that first day in parliament. I know that it will be acknowledged around the nation tomorrow, because that was the day of the apology to the stolen generation. We started the day with a welcome to country—first time ever in the history of the Australian parliament—and then we had the apology. It is amazing what we have seen over the five years that I have been a member of this parliament. I know the member for Shortland has been a member for a few years longer than that. So the member for Shortland can comment on things before Labor was in power and with Labor in power.

In the five years that Labor has been in power I have certainly seen that we have had to make some tough economic decisions to ensure that this nation remains in a strong position, especially when compared to other advanced economies, other OECD countries, and especially over that amazing time of the global financial crisis—something which some amateur historians on the other side of the chamber seem to put a bit of whiteout on and say that it did not occur. If you go to Spain and talk to the young unemployed—with unemployment running at 50 per cent to 60 per cent—they will say that we did have a global financial crisis and the effects are being felt still. Thankfully, under the guidance of Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Gillard and Treasurer Swan throughout, we have seen Australia pull the right levers to make sure that we stay in a strong position.

On 14 September I hope that the people of Australia make a decision based on how this Labor government, the Gillard Labor government, has handled the books. I know people vote for lots of reasons, but I would hope that, when they look at the books and they make their decision on 14 September, they will recognise that, for the first time in history—and the indicators are there—we have got all three of the ratings agencies giving us a AAA rating. If that AAA rating is lost, you pay more for your money. That is just basic economics that most Australians would understand.

I have been out and about a lot in my electorate since Christmas and New Year and, sadly, people are doing it tough. We had a fair bit of water come through—not like the floods of two years before—and people were particularly worried. On Australia Day this year I had a chat to a lot of people in my electorate just to get a bit of a sounding for the year and find out what is going on. I had an awards ceremony on Australia Day where I recognised a lot of the hardworking volunteers from my electorate. Many of them were talking about the people they help and how they were doing it tough.

These volunteers, whether they do a few hours each week at their local school P&C or their P&F or keeping our streets safe in terms of volunteering with Neighbourhood Watch, which has a role for everybody—young or old or anywhere between—or taking time to deliver food packages through the Meals on Wheels program, something which I used to do before my children came along and ruined my mornings or my ability to volunteer outside of this job—do wonderful work. I am particularly proud to be able to recognise the work of these members of my community, and I was particularly proud to acknowledge the winner of the Moreton volunteering prize, which was won by Adele Rice, the founding principal of Milpera State High School. Adele worked at Milpera State High School for 28 years.

Milpera, which is located in Chelmer—one of the wealthier suburbs in Brisbane and in my electorate—is a school that reaches out to new refugee and immigrant children who come from all around Brisbane to this school where they teach English right across the curriculum. Milpera has changed the lives of hundreds of refugee and immigrant children over the years, and Adele played an important part in that. She actually received the James Killen award that I give out, which is actually handed out by Lady Killen on behalf of her late husband, a former member for Moreton, who was from the other side of the chamber but was recognised as a great volunteer in the electorate. My thanks go to people like Adele Rice who make a generous contribution, in particular, and to the many new Australians in the Moreton community.

I am especially proud of the $16.2 billion of investment in the nation's future that has been rolled out all around this land through the Building the Education Revolution program. This is the single biggest investment in Australian schools in the nation's history: 45 schools received over $92 million in investment in education infrastructure in Moreton alone. These projects have resulted in schools and their communities using better, modern facilities that have given schoolkids the best opportunity to learn and to develop into young adults and obtain skilled jobs. We will continue to see the benefits of this program for many years to come.

I note the member for Wright is here. Probably the same thing happened for him. Many of these BER facilities were actually used as flood recovery centres. Certainly, in my electorate two of them were used as flood recovery centres back in 2011 as well. So they are both a community benefit and a benefit for education. These facilities are an investment in our nation's future. It was a GFC stimulus program but they are an investment in our nation's future. Today they are changing the way our students learn and are giving teachers and staff more enjoyable places to work in and the ability to deliver innovative curriculum by having these new places. The bricks and mortar of these buildings are merely the foundations on which long-term educational benefits will be built and will continue to flow to Australian students for years to come, setting up higher skills for the future.

As a former teacher with 11 years experience at the chalkface I take a very strong interest in the schools in my electorate. I am a passionate advocate for the National Plan for School Improvement and it has been great to see so many passionate teachers and parents advocating for their children's future by contacting me by emails and petitions and by knocking on my door, turning up to street stalls and also by letting me know at my son's school. I am an education ambassador, a member of the parliamentary education committee and Chair of the Caucus Education Committee and a parent of two young children, one who is at school, so I do take a great interest in education—and I know that you, Deputy Speaker, do as well with your background. That is why I am pleased to see Labor taking on the difficult task of changing the current education funding model and I will continue to advocate for the implementation of the national schools improvement plan in Moreton and in this House.

The education sector initiatives that we have seen, which I have discussed, are complemented by our National Broadband Network, which is a piece of infrastructure that is not only great for education but also crucial for economic productivity. Unfortunately, productivity in Australia has been flatlining for approximately 10 years. As economists know, productivity is the real indicator of whether the economic engine is finely tuned. Sadly, in the quarter when we came to office five years ago it was actually running at zero. It is starting to improve but there is still a long way to go. That is why we need to invest in education, the NBN and some of those big infrastructure projects such as the Kessels-Mains intersection in my electorate.

This Labor government has remained committed to improving productivity not by lowering wages—that is not the smart way to do it; it is a simplistic way and it does not bring real productivity gains—but by building infrastructure and by delivering services more efficiently. That is what the NBN is about. How have we done this? How have we invested in a productivity boost? Well, obviously by investing in education. I am proud to say that we have doubled the education budget. But we have also done other things to improve it. Our economy has been under strain but nevertheless it has proved to be very resilient, despite the jeremiahs amongst the many people in the community, particularly those opposite, and we have seen investments on the rise and those investments will come to fruition in a few years time once we have moved from investment in infrastructure and into the production stage.

When I go around my schools I take a little sly look, as politicians tend to, at plaques, ones with my name on them, just to say, 'I'm proud of that.' I do see other plaques. I often walk past a flagpole and see the former member's name on that flagpole—a great flagpole, and I love flagpoles as a great contribution to schools. But I would put our 3,000 libraries up against the opposition's 3,000 flagpoles any day. In my electorate I see the improvements of 21 classrooms, three science and language centres, 26 libraries, 21 multipurpose halls. I think they are great contributions.

What else have we done? Obviously we have been investing in doing things smarter, investing in the health agenda, particularly combining that with the NBN, the eHealth agenda and the personal health records. It is not enough just to build classrooms; you also need to give people the opportunity to learn and for the services to be delivered in a new way. This is how we will improve productivity. The NBN, as people who are a lot more savvy than me will tell you, is not just about sending emails and doing a bit of banking and searching Google. It is much more. It is about letting smart businesses, particularly from remote communities—not my electorate—compete with businesses all over the world, particularly as we move into the Asian century with that emerging middle class in Asia. The NBN will also improve health and judicial systems through initiatives like telehealth, connecting remote and regional hospital patients to major hospital networks and giving patients access to specialists with the click of a button rather than having to come down from Cunnamulla or Mount Isa or places like that. They will now have diagnoses made, even by psychiatrists, over the internet. Obviously teleconferencing is one thing that assists business, but the NBN has the capacity to transform how we do things in so many ways, even the judicial system, so that people will not have to travel for miles to get access to justice or to attend a minor court hearing for a minor civil dispute, and that is a good thing. All of these advances will combine to improve Australia's productivity, and I am pleased to be on this side of the House where we are investing in the nation's future and where we are positive that we see the glass is half full, not just trying to smash the glass entirely.

I am saddened to say that the leader of opposition business, the shadow spokesperson for education, has made a conscious effort to move away from the national plan for school improvement. We saw the amazing thing today where he was trying to gag debate on the education legislation. The opposition has opposed an initiative that the education sector strongly supports and, sadly, after their 11 years in office they cannot tick off a lot of things in terms of setting up a national curriculum or fixing the broken education model. The SES scheme had great intentions, but the reality is that in over half of the schools where funding was maintained it did not work. They failed to give more power to school principals and they invested in flagpoles rather than in those other essential things. They are some of the things that we can tick off. From what we can glean between the last election night and what the opposition has said so far, they have a commitment to cut $2.8 billion out of the education system and they we able to reject the Gonski review reforms within half an hour of it being delivered. Surely that is speed reading taken to an extreme. We have had a comment from the member for Sturt that he is prepared to sack one in six teachers, not realising the collegiality that is so important in the education system and not realising the important role of nurturing younger teachers and how much of that is taken up by experienced teachers in the system.

The Labor government is focused on investing in education for all Australian children. Education is something I am particularly proud of, in terms of the opportunities that we had during the global financial crisis. From memory, not every single one of the appropriations that were necessary for the global financial crisis was voted down by the opposition. I should not say that, in terms of the stimulus packages. With one in particular, I remember, the most significant one, the Leader of the Opposition literally slept through the vote—one of the most significant moments in Australian history and he was found wanting. Not just found wanting; found snoring. It was an amazing insight into how he approached the mums and dads and workers that would have been affected if we had not stimulated the economy, and I am proud to have been associated with a government that invested in education and those other stimulus packages that made sure that Australians did not lose the 200,000 jobs that it was projected we would lose. I commend this legislation, the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-13 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013, to the House.