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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1504

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (10:46): I am very pleased to be able to speak on the appropriations legislation before us today because this legislation is a very clear way of seeing what the priorities of the government are and what they have been since coming to office. It is particularly important to look at the appropriations that we are considering today, and those that have been made since the government came to office, in the context of the very many challenges that the Australian nation has faced during that time and the way that the government has navigated the nation through them. The spending priorities that are set are a pretty clear reflection of the kinds of priorities a government has for the nation.

It is very interesting in that context to reflect on some of the contributions made by members in this debate, and in broader debates throughout this place, particularly since the commencement of this parliamentary year. I am thinking particularly of those opposite who have contributed to the debate and have largely forgotten, it seems, about two of the very significant things that have impacted upon our economic circumstances and our fortunes generally, namely, the global financial crisis and the significant natural disasters that our country has faced. In the midst of all of these very difficult circumstances for individuals and for our country, this government has consistently shown that it prioritises jobs and that it will support the kinds of social reforms that Labor has always stood for. This includes things like supporting people on a pension, ensuring that families have an opportunity to get a decent level of financial support to be able to look after their children well and provide for their futures and ensuring that our country gets the kind of health and education commitments that it needs in order to become a better country and that its citizens need so that they have a very good quality of life and good prospects in the future. It is extraordinary that some of the comments of those opposite have revealed how little regard they have for such very significant events as the global financial crisis. Indeed, as recently as yesterday, we heard the member for Goldstein speaking in the House during the matter of public importance and mentioning the GFC as some sort of by-line, some sort of anecdote in history, just a blip—

Mr Husic: The Asian economic crisis was more important apparently.

Ms SMYTH: Indeed. He has actually referred to the government's response as 'a panic reaction to the global financial crisis'. This is understating something that the world is continuing to deal with the aftermath of on a daily basis. A panic reaction! So, while this government was committing funding and making appropriations for the protection of jobs in our country, while this government was committing funds to a stimulus package which has been lauded around the world by countries which would far prefer to be in our circumstances today, we see the economic luminaries of the Liberal Party referring to the government's stimulus spend as a panic reaction to the global financial crisis. It really is quite extraordinary. It comes in the context of all of these 'woulda, shoulda, coulda' commitments that we hear from the Liberals so very regularly. If these guys had been in government, quite clearly our unemployment figures would be double what they are now, quite clearly we would be facing extraordinarily dark financial circumstances. I realise that those members opposite continue to look incredulous about the global financial crisis because it is, in their view, a mere byway in history. But we take it seriously and, strangely enough, economists around the world take it quite seriously and I imagine they would not refer to our response to it as a panic reaction.

Once again, appropriations—what you choose as a government to commit the Australian people's resources to—really do reflect one's priorities, and there could not be a starker example of our priorities for jobs, for the growth of this country, for economic stability and economic security than our response to the global financial crisis. So it bears repeating, and repeat it I certainly will, happily.

We do not hear quite so much from those opposite about the detail of what they might have done had they been in office. There are many reasons for that. One is that they are still not entirely sure about where they would take the country on the question of the surplus, should they ever get the opportunity to come to office. So in the context of an appropriations debate it is very interesting to think about what their priorities might be. It is in fact difficult to get a read on most of them because we do not know day to day what any member of their frontbench and all the people behind them might think about a surplus, might think about our future economic prosperity. We still do not have a complete figure on the extent of the black hole. We think it is about $70 billion, but again that changes depending on who you are speaking to and who has pulled out the abacus on any given day on the opposition benches. Most recently and most pertinently in the context of the current debate on the private health insurance rebate means test, we are still not clear what they are intending to do on that—they might repeal it, they might wind it back—or whether their words on this are as hollow as their words on every other significant debate in this country, whether they will actually stand by their bluff and bluster or whether they are just going to go very quietly on it after the debate has concluded in this place.

It has been very interesting to reflect on some of the things that have come up in the context of this appropriations debate and other significant economic debates which occasionally those opposite choose to engage in, depending on their feel at the time. But the things that we are seeking to get on with and the things that we have made appropriations for and will continue to make appropriations for are around the education of our nation, the development of skills and training for young people in our nation, to provide for lifelong learning, to ensure that our children have the skills that they need for future career development but also to ensure the future economic prosperity of our country. I was delighted at the end of last year to have announced in my electorate a commitment by this government to two new trade training centres. We know that, when we came to government, those opposite had so badly underfunded skills and training in this country that electorates like mine really had very little in the way of skills and infrastructure investment. It was enormously pleasing to have been able to visit both of the schools that will be sites for the trade training centres. The first of the schools that I visited was Belgrave Heights Christian College, which has been given a commitment of $1.2 million for a new trade training centre to be built there. That will enable children and young adults from the area to develop skills in hospitality. This is a facility that is going to be able to be used—and I know that the school is very willing for it to be made available for this—by students from right around the hills area. In the hills area there is a great deal of interest in this trade training facility.

The reason this government has committed money to this—the reason we have committed so much to skills and training in electorates such as mine—is we know that a person who leaves school before finishing year 12 will earn around 20 per cent below average earnings. That is the reason this government, through its appropriations and through its policy approach since coming to office, has invested and is investing in trade training. It is for the future.

Unfortunately, we tend not to see terribly much from those opposite on this. We know that they defunded skills and training while they were in office. Belgrave Heights Christian College was also the beneficiary of a very significant BER investment. They are delighted with this government's investment in the school and the benefit for the surrounding community. The principal, Andy Callow, was incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunities available to students at his school. He very generously has extended those opportunities to students at other schools in the area.

The second of the trade training centres—which are, as all of us on this side know, part of a national program to invest in trade training right around the country—to be established in my electorate will be at Hillcrest Christian College at the southern end of my electorate. This will benefit students from areas such as Clyde, Officer, Berwick, Beaconsfield and surrounding areas in the south-east of Melbourne. I was delighted to be able to visit that school. The centre is going to provide skills in the equine industry and that is particularly appropriate for the part of the world in which it is located. I was pleased to be able to speak to the principal, Daniel Pampuch, to get a very good understanding of the kinds of skills that will be on offer for students right around the southern part of my electorate.

These are serious and practical commitments, things that stand to benefit many students into the future. They are just two of the commitments that I could mention. Approximately 61 schools in my electorate have benefited from the BER program. Around 118 projects have been completed or are underway. Those projects involve the commitment of around $110 million in my electorate alone. Schools know the priority that this government puts on education. They know that there are practical and real commitments being made, commitments that were never made under the 'woulda, shoulda, coulda' years of the Howard government. We hear the revisionist commitment to education that those opposite supposedly now have, but we all know better. Virtually all of my schools, it is fair to say, also know better.

These are the things that we are doing in education. We have made very significant commitments to things like the National Solar Schools Program, which schools in my electorate have benefited from. There is an enormous range of things happening right around the country and in my electorate in education that I have mentioned in this place previously and that I will continue to extol the virtues of both here and elsewhere.

Government investment in another key areas has, as so many Australians know, created enormous practical changes, and that is the commitment of this government in health. My electorate has been the beneficiary of some of the appropriations made by this government in health in each year it has been in office. Nationally, the government's commitment to hospital funding has seen an increase of $20 billion since 2008. That is no mean feat, and it is certainly no mean feat in the context of an opposition which maintains its commitment to cut spending in health on things like GP superclinics and a whole variety of other things that this government has done to make practical health improvements for a constituency such as mine. We know that when those opposite were in office they slashed the health budget by $1 billion. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition was principally responsible for that piece of policy work.

In my electorate, I want to focus on the commitment to mental health investment that this government has made. Nationally, this government has committed to $2.2 billion in early intervention and care in mental health. I am very pleased to say that my electorate will be the beneficiary of a regional headspace unit, which will offer support and assistance to so many young people in what is one of the fastest growing areas of Melbourne and one of the fastest growing areas of our country.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11:01 to 11 : 39