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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1529


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (16:19): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012. I was not expecting to speak on this legislation at this particular time but I think it is very important legislation that highlights the government's excellent management of the economy.

Under the Gillard and, previously, Rudd government, the Australian economy has been the envy of countries throughout the world. The bills before us today just show what an exceptional job the government has done in looking after the Australian economy. It is important to point out that under the Gillard government there has been a massive growth in jobs and that during the period of the Rudd and Gillard government 170,000 new jobs have been created.

It is really important also to point out that in the last year's sittings over 250 bills were passed through the parliament, which is many more than were passed through in the Howard government period. It really reflects upon the performance of this government over the period that it has been in power.

I have to compare this to the performance of the opposition and their thoughts on how we should handle government. On one hand, you have a government working to return the budget to surplus, whilst on the other hand you have an opposition that has a $70 billion black hole—I should correct myself; it is a $72.4 billion black hole, because the Leader of the Opposition has stated today that he is going to repeal the changes to private health insurance. Those are changes that will benefit the people that I represent within this parliament. They are changes that will deliver more money to the health system instead of delivering to health insurance.

Since the Labor government has been in power, it has committed itself to health reform. Under the Howard government, an inquiry was undertaken into the health system, and a report, The blame game, was tabled in parliament. This highlighted the deficiencies within the health system. It highlighted the fact that cost-shifting was taking place between the Commonwealth and the states. It was the Rudd and Gillard government that undertook to resolve this problem. So we have had a massive investment in health, with money being put into the health system, an increase in the number of doctors who are being trained and more money being spent on hospitals, more beds and an increase in the capacity of accident and emergency departments. There have been agreements between the Commonwealth and the states to really improve the delivery of health services.

I look then and say: well, what is the opposition proposing? The opposition is proposing to take money out of the health system by rescinding the legislation that was passed in the House today—legislation that, as I said, will definitely benefit the people in Shortland electorate. Shortland is an older electorate. Shortland has a large number of people who are on pensions and lower incomes. As I mentioned in my contribution to the debate in the House yesterday, the median income for people living in the Shortland electorate is under $1,050 a week, based on the 2006 figures. The majority of people in the Shortland electorate who have health insurance—and that is 49 per cent of the electorate—will not be affected by the legislation, whilst there is probably in the vicinity of five per cent that it will impact on.

The Leader of the Opposition today made a commitment to rescind that legislation, which would mean that five per cent of people I represent in this House would benefit, rather than the 95 per cent who need to access health services on the ground. We were faced with a chronic shortage of doctors in the Shortland electorate prior to the government undertaking its massive health and hospital reform. That reform, as I said, arose out of the blame game. There is a stark contrast. One side of the parliament provides policies that will benefit the majority of Australians, while the other side of politics provides support and assistance for a very small group of people.

We have heard a lot in this parliament about the Building the Education Revolution program. Every school in the Shortland electorate that has had work done under this program has been absolutely ecstatic. One school with a smaller student population would have liked a bigger school hall, but it was not able to get it under the guidelines of the program. However, I have school after school that has had new blocks of classrooms, with smart boards in those classrooms. People in those schools are able to access the latest technology and are no longer accommodated in leaky demountables.

I think of one school in particular, and that is the Gwandalan Public School. At the beginning of 2008, when the Rudd government was elected, I went to visit the school and met the principal, Don Begg, and the president of the P&C at that time, Melanie Symington, and they took me around the classrooms showing me the work that needed to be done, how the school was rusting, how water was leaking into the classrooms and the rotting carpet. Don Begg had a very busy year that year. He spent his entire Christmas holidays working at the school, painting and giving those demountables a facelift. He filled the leaks and did his very best to make those classrooms functional.

In the middle of last year I attended the official opening of new classrooms. The principal was so delighted. The school had six new state-of-the-art classrooms. The old demountables had gone. The toilets that were falling down around their heads were fixed. The contrast with my first visit to that school—when there was a very unhappy principal and very unhappy president of the P&C—was graphic. You saw the emotions from an excited principal who was so ecstatic about the work that had been done at his school. I would like to encourage the members on the other side of this parliament to talk to their schools. I offer them the challenge of seeing how many of their schools would like those buildings taken away. I am talking about schools in not only the public system—the school I just mentioned was in the public system—but also the private and catholic systems. Outstanding work has been done in all sectors.

The Windale Catholic school has the lowest SES statistics of Catholic schools in the whole of New South Wales, but the work that has been done in that school under the Gillard and Rudd governments has been phenomenal. The children from that school came to Parliament House and visited the Prime Minister in her office. Some of them had not been outside Newcastle until they made this visit to Canberra. When they were in the Prime Minister's office, they thanked her for the money that had been spent on the school. They thanked her for the support that they were getting through the national school partnership program and they also thanked her for actually caring about them. These students are from a very disadvantaged area.

An enormous amount of change has taken place under the Gillard government. We made a commitment to the people of Australia to bring the budget back to surplus. We also undertook to address climate change. Our compensation package, which will come into play on 1 July, will lead to tax reductions for low- and middle-income earners. There is also a compensation package for pensioners. I understand that, once again, the Leader of the Opposition has said that he will take away those measures if he is elected.

Let us look at the situation of the two parties. On the one hand we have a government that is investing in the community and in our young people by putting money into schools. It is also investing in our health system in order to help people when they get to the other end of their life or when they get sick and need to know that there will be a doctor there or a bed for them in hospital and that they will be able to get the health care they need. The Productivity Commission brought down its report on aged-care reforms towards the end of last year. We have a minister who is looking at that report and who is keen to embrace reform in aged care. We have the National Disability Insurance Scheme. As somebody who worked in disability for many, many years before entering parliament, I know that that sector has been underresourced for a very long time. I know that carers and parents struggle every day to care for and provide support and opportunity to disabled members of their family or friends. This scheme will give people with a disability a real opportunity to be active members in our society, to seek employment, to find that employment and to have the dignity that goes with work and being able to make choices about their own lives.

On the other hand, we have an opposition that, if it ever made it to the government benches, would take from the people of Australia. It would take from those people who are most in need. It is not going to deliver on the National Disability Insurance Scheme as it initially promised it would. If it were, it would be a long, long way down the track. It would take from the health system by investing in insurance rather than health care. When it comes to education, I hate to think what an Abbott government would deliver to the Australian people. It certainly would not be investment in infrastructure and it certainly would not be investment in education. I commend the legislation to the House.