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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4087


Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (17:35): I rise today to address the package of appropriation bills for 2011-12. This is a budget that asks families in my electorate of Paterson to do it tough so that the Gillard Labor government can be weak. This is a budget that makes local people pay for the waste and recklessness of the Gillard Labor government, which has wasted their money through failed programs like school halls rip-offs, pink batt fiascos and border protection blowouts. This budget would be a joke if it was not so serious.

One of the most important things in a regional area like Paterson is roads. They are the highways to opportunities that allow my constituents to access education, health services and employment, to name but a few things. But there is not a single new cent—new cent—in this budget for roads. There is $1.75 billion for the border protection blowout, but nothing to boost safety for tens of thousands of drivers. Take for example the feasibility study into the F3 orbital link. That funding has been delayed now until 2015-16. And I am still waiting for the press release from the member for Robertson, Deborah O'Neill, who made much of that promise before the 2010 election and in her maiden speech here in this House. But she has been strangely quiet. Labor did designate $10 million for upgrades to Bucketts Way, which passes through my electorate, but it comes from the existing funding in the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program and is to be spent entirely in the electorate of Lyne. Why? Because Labor sold its soul and shook hands with Rob Oakeshott, the member for Lyne, to take power, and now it is willing to put that deal ahead of the people. I have always been proud of my local councils when it comes to such road funding. Great Lakes, Taree and Gloucester councils have always used a tripartisan approach to the Bucketts Way funding, and that has had some great results. For example, when the previous coalition government delivered $20 million for Bucketts Way, each council chipped in to get the work done to a great standard across the entire length from Taree through to Medowie. This budget undermines that cooperative and productive approach the people of Paterson are so proud of.

The coalition will identify a problem and create a solution. By way of contrast, the Gillard Labor government finds a solution and creates a problem. Labor's plan to give pensioners television set-top boxes has caused a huge outcry in my electorate. Here we have pensioners struggling with the cost of petrol, groceries and health care. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released on Monday 16 May show that the cost of living for pensioners has increased by 4.1 per cent over the year to March, well above the official increase of 3.3 per cent. For families the figure was 4.9 per cent, and it was even worse for welfare recipients at 5.1 per cent. Yet Labor wants to help pensioners out by blowing hundreds of millions and spending at least double the real cost per household to install set-top boxes.

This will become, as the Leader of the Opposition put it, the building the entertainment revolution. It will not work, and I can tell you why. Firstly, Labor obviously has not learnt the lessons of its expensive Home Insulation Program. That scheme put local businesses in my electorate, such as the Battmen in Forster, under severe financial stress. It caused scams to run riot, encouraged unsafe work and saw the cost of insulation blow out. Master Electricians Australia has already warned the government about the risks associated with this new scheme but, true to form, this government will not listen.

That is not even the worst part. In my electorate of Paterson there are whole suburbs that will not and do not get any terrestrial digital reception at the moment because they are relying on analog. When that is switched off next year they will have nothing. So what on earth are these residents going to do with a set-top box? Perhaps they could use it as a paperweight, a stool or a footrest. It is like giving the people a plate with no food to eat. This Labor government has a choice. It can upgrade the television towers in my electorate or it can force people to use satellite instead. Satellite will not have all the local programs, news or advertising. This seems like an easy choice, yet in this budget there is no money to upgrade the self-help transmission site at Elizabeth Beach. This means that each household at Elizabeth Beach will have to apply for Labor's satellite subsidy. I have done the sums, and it will cost Labor more to pay the satellite subsidy to the households in Elizabeth Beach than it would to just upgrade the tower in the first place. Such is the incompetence and waste we have come to expect of this government.

In these appropriation bills Labor has promised to establish a new aircraft noise committee to examine possible solutions for mitigating aircraft noise in Port Stephens. Labor says the committee will examine all options, yet it does not say a single word about implementing those options or committing any money to implementing those solutions. Worse still, the Labor government seems to think this satisfies its 2010 election commitments. This is nothing but an insult to the people of Port Stephens, who are burdened by the current ANEF 2025 through no fault of their own. Their homes could be rendered worthless and their livelihoods are now in a state of limbo. These people—my constituents—were promised a new ANEF by the end of last year. They are still waiting.

This government should be ashamed of its lack of action and for breaking an ironclad promise. Then again, this Prime Minister, in the same week she promised to lift the ANEF, also promised that no government she led would have a carbon tax. The member for Newcastle should also be ashamed for letting down cancer patients across the Hunter. The Calvary Mater hospital missed out on an MRI Medicare licence in the budget despite being our region's largest cancer services providing hospital. On 26 October last year, in a speech in this House, the member for Newcastle said:

I am pleased to say that the state government has this year installed an MRI machine at the Mater hospital, and I am working closely with the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, knowing that they will require some support for the operation of that MRI. The Calvary Mater hospital is the largest oncology service deliverer in New South Wales.

So what is Mrs Grierson's excuse for the nondelivery—that the machine is not operational? In a detailed submission earlier this year the Mater management explained that the scanner would be operating from 30 May, a whole month before this budget takes effect. As the Newcastle Herald reported on 13 May:

Mater medical staff council chairman Aidan Foy said the omission from the budget package was outrageous.

'Inability to get Medicare coverage for it will cause really serious problems for the large number of outpatients we see who will need MRIs,' he said.

'It is completely incomprehensible why a major cancer centre would be denied a Medicare licence for an MRI [scanner].'

That it now may be funded in 18 months shows how much the member for Newcastle takes her people for granted.

Labor just is not able to make the tough decisions. It proclaimed $22 billion in savings but actually soaked up $19 billion of that in new spending. Of the $3 billion remaining, $1.8 billion is revenue from a new tax, the flood levy. So, from a budget of approximately $360 billion, the Labor government has saved just $1.2 billion. That is like saving $1.20 from $360. I would not want to put Treasurer Wayne Swan in charge of my piggy bank account.

I now turn to the impact of this bill on one of the portfolios for which I am shadow minister. The budget is the annual opportunity for a government to show what they believe in and what their priorities are. There is still a lot of uncertainty about what exactly the Gillard government believe in, but this budget proves that they do not believe in the Australian tourism industry. Since Labor was elected in 2007, total annual government spending has ballooned to $406.5 billion, a 49.5 per cent increase, yet the Gillard government's annual investment in Tourism Australia has now gone backwards by $16.2 million in real terms. In this budget the Gillard government prioritised things like the $308 million overpriced set-top box giveaway and the $10 million gift to the union movement so they could build a new website. At the same time, the Gillard government levied a $6.2 million efficiency dividend on Tourism Australia, the statutory authority charged with marketing Australia to the rest of the world. It is very interesting to see this $6.2 million efficiency dividend levied on Tourism Australia because, according to the Minister for Tourism, there were no more efficiencies to be had at Tourism Australia. I would like to draw the attention of the House to question in writing No. 58, which the minister answered in November last year. I asked the minister what cost saving initiatives had been identified at Tourism Australia for 2010-11 but had not yet been implemented. His answer? Nil. So in November last year, the very time the Minister for Tourism would have been putting in his bids to Finance, the very time he would have been preparing submissions for the Expenditure Review Committee, he said there were no corporate cost savings to be had at Tourism Australia in 2011-12. This can only mean one thing: the marketing activities of Tourism Australia will be cut because of this efficiency dividend. At the very time we have a surging Australian dollar, at the very time our two biggest tourist source markets, Japan and New Zealand, have been hit with natural disasters and at the very time when this industry needs the support of the government, Labor are cutting the marketing activities of Tourism Australia.

But this is not the only bad policy decision of the Gillard government that will make it harder for the 500,000 Australians who work in the tourism industry to keep their jobs. This government is doing all that it can to make things harder for our tourism operators. In addition to cutting funding for Tourism Australia, this government has increased tourist visa fees by 33 per cent and increased the tourist departure tax by 24 per cent, while cutting the very services it is meant to pay for by $34 million. In fact, the government's own budget papers said the Gillard Government:

… will reduce operational staff allocated to the passenger facilitation function across the eight Australian international airports.

So the government is making it more expensive for tourists to come to Australia, and reducing the very services they first see when they hop off the plane. The Gillard government completely bungled the tourism industries' industrial relations framework with their so-called modern awards, which were so modern it took us back about two decades!

This government spent more than $100,000 operating the National Long-Term Tourism Strategy Steering Committee. They spent $17,165 on printing 500 copies of the Jackson report—more than $34 for each copy, nearly $1 per page. I would hate to see the Minister for Tourism in charge of printing a Grisham novel. You can just imagine it: walking past the airport bookshop and seeing A time to kill, 'Now just $491 a copy'! The government's extravagant printing budget would be less offensive if they had actually done something with the recommendations in the report, and they have not. I have to say there is a lot of good work in the Jackson report. Many of the recommendations informed the tourism policies the coalition took to the last election. But where is the government's action? They are bogged down in bureaucracy.

The template that became the hallmark of the Rudd government—review, report, repeat—is still alive and well in the Gillard government. The other hallmark of the Rudd-Gillard government has been their inability to balance the books. In this budget, the government announced new savings for 2011-12—the appropriation I am speaking on today—of $3.7 billion, but then it announced new spending measures of $6.3 billion. So the budget position has worsened by $2.6 billion because of the policy decisions taken in this budget.

The tourism industry is wearing the burden of Labor's debt and deficits without having got any of the benefits. The Treasurer's incompetence is making it harder for tourism operators in two ways. Firstly, the Treasurer's reckless and undisciplined spending is putting upward pressure on interest rates. Not only does this make it more expensive for Australian tourism operators to borrow money but also it is a significant factor in the appreciating Australian dollar, which is making Australia a much more expensive tourist destination. Secondly, when the government are out in the market borrowing money to finance their spending habits, they are crowding out private investors who are seeking to borrow money for tourism assets. The tourism industry needs investment and the last thing it needs is for the government to be competing with private borrowers in the marketplace for finance.

The tourism industry deserves more than a throw-away line in the Treasurer's budget speech. The tourism industry deserves a government that will deliver real money and real action to support the industry, and the Gillard government stands condemned for failing to deliver it. What we see from this government is waste, mismanagement, recklessness and an abandonment of the industries that require the support of the Australian government. This government has failed the simple test of one that is there for the betterment of Australia.