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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4114


Mrs GASH (Gilmore) (19:32): In his opening line of the budget, the Treasurer said: 'The purpose of this Labor government, and this Labor budget, is to put the opportunities that flow from a strong economy within reach of more Australians.' In the aftermath and in the cold light of day, I am struggling to identify how the nation's newfound wealth is being delivered to the constituents of Gilmore. Nowhere can I find what I would call an investment in the future for the region. In fact, if anything, it is over reliant on good luck rather than good management, with perhaps a vague promise of things to come provided we all maintain the faith.

An unfortunate fact of life is that the longer we leave things the more expensive they will become—but, ultimately, less affordable. As an example, perhaps the most profound symbol of economic opportunity along the South Coast of New South Wales is its primary freight route, the lifeline feeding the many businesses that support the population growth of the South Coast—that being the Princes Highway. In turn, these businesses generate jobs and income to support families, setting the criteria for future growth and development not only of the community but each individual within it. There is nothing in this budget that says we will profit from it and nothing in this budget that lends a hand along the way. The Princes Highway has been totally ignored. Extending Main Road 92 from Nowra to Canberra has been ignored. The need for a third bridge crossing over the Shoalhaven River to ease a natural transport choke point has been ignored. That is only the tip of the iceberg, and I will return to this issue further on.

This budget is increasingly becoming an irritant to the broader community. Surveys have shown an overwhelming rejection of the budget within days of it being delivered. Some have described it as the worst budget in 20 years—and rightly so. In fact, I have written this one off, as have the majority of Australians. But what I want to itemise here are the things we need, not what the government thinks we need to have. Our pensioners do not need set-top boxes while their teeth are rotting for want of attention from the public dental health system, which may as well be non-existent.

How long has Labor, both state and federal, been carping about the need for better dental services yet have done nothing about it? In fact, they have removed the highly successful and popular coalition Medicare Dental Scheme and replaced it with a vague promise of better things to come. It is being marketed as something far superior, but we just do not know the details. Sounds like a rehash of the NBN program that has blown out to 10 times the cost first promised with 10 times the time line for delivery.

With the track record of this government, I am not holding my breath, but I do want to say this: for the Shoalhaven campus of the University of Wollongong, the coalition government delivered a medical faculty for both doctors and nurses. The idea was that students trained in regional and rural areas were more likely to stay and work in rural and regional areas. The same can apply to the supply of dental practitioners prepared to work in the public health arena. If they are genuine about delivering better dental care to the regions, I would like this government to deliver the Shoalhaven a dental training facility.

While on the subject of health, I would like to briefly touch on the issue of the government's Medicare Local Scheme, which displaces the Division of GP's model. In my opinion, the Shoalhaven Division of GP's was a very efficient organisation. It served its community well because, as part of that community, it could relate to the issues of concern. The government's alternative, amalgamating the Shoalhaven and Illawarra divisions into a larger bureaucracy, has effectively de-localised the service. I suspect what will emerge is a less responsive organisation, focussed more on mass delivery rather than on specific targeting. This is no reflection on the doctors themselves; rather the inevitable encroachment of government bureaucracy.

The de-personalisation of communities is being accelerated under a government that is hooked on growing bureaucracies. Bigger is not always better, and I think the government is learning a harsh lesson from some of its more ill-starred programs, like the pink batts, the NBN and the BER. It is costing us huge sums of money for questionable returns—money that can be better spent on regions like Gilmore which have genuine unmet needs and are regularly hostage to city-centric Labor governments. Huge sums of money are being wasted to prop up a discredited government--and the lesson has still not been learned.

This government is persisting with introducing a carbon tax despite the fact that the majority of Australians do not want it. It is a tax which will add to the sky-rocketing cost of living that many Australians, big and small, rich and poor are concerned with. Electricity prices are sky rocketing for no apparent reason, other than what seems to be a catch-up phase after years of neglect by successive New South Wales Labor governments. They tried to tell us that the money was going back into New South Wales but what they failed to explain was that, in their view, New South Wales stood for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong. Even in those terms I do not think that Wollongong was particularly well served. Having picked up some of the southern region of Wollongong—namely the Shellharbour area—I am surprised at the neglect those areas have endured. Despite year after year of being taken for granted, lacklustre politicians, corrupt local councils or exploitation, Labor—thanks to the influence of the unions—kept being voted back in. I often scratched my head wondering how people could be so blind but now it seems the penny has dropped and Wollongong is no longer the super-safe Labor stronghold it once was.

Shellharbour relies significantly on the fortunes of the Port Kembla steel industry complex, both directly and indirectly. Yet this government wants to kill the goose that lays the golden egg by imposing a carbon tax. The CFMEU and AWU, many of whose members work in the steel and allied industries, support the carbon tax. How is this possible? I thought they were fighting for the worker. The ex-ACTU lawyer, official of the Community Services and Public Sector Union and now member for Throsby, who is still sitting in the gallery, recently put a motion to parliament strongly advocating the introduction of a carbon tax. His supporting statements made no mention of protecting the interests of the very members he once represented. They are gone and forgotten, it seems. It is a sad reflection of the narrow political ideology of the union leadership, who it seems will gladly sacrifice the interests of the very workers they purport to represent for their own political advancement.

What well-known Labor powerbroker is often quoted as saying 'whatever it takes'? BlueScope Steel has made it publicly known that it cannot compete on the world stage with one hand tied behind its back. I was told that if their competitors paid the same tax they would have no objection. In a highly competitive market, where overseas labour costs are well below Australian standards, why impose an own-goal penalty when there are other ways of reducing carbon emissions? It is plain stupid.

At a time when the government is saying we are living in boom times, how is it that economies are being imposed? If we are living in boom times, why are family benefits being cut? And if we have to make savings to bring the budget into surplus, why are we blowing money hand over fist on asylum seekers, pink batts, set-top boxes, school computers and overpriced school halls and libraries which, in some cases, are not even wanted? If things are going so well, why is the government seeking the approval of parliament to increase its borrowing limits?

The public health system is a basket case, yet this government wants to discourage private health insurance, which actually lessens the pressure on the public hospital system. That is why we will continue to oppose cuts to private health insurance. The government is cutting PBS payments and yet is funding 24-hour superclinics even where there is some question as to whether they can be fully staffed as first intended. In fact, the only promise made by Labor for Gilmore in the last election was that the Shellharbour superclinic would be open by last Christmas. We do not even have a plan yet, and the well-promoted clinic for Shellharbour still has not opened its doors. Clearly, this is another false promise made to win votes. Again: whatever it takes.

The Leader of the Opposition was criticised for not detailing a budget position in his budget-in-reply statement. What he did do was outline a vision and a plan for the future—not a series of questionable promises that rely more on good luck than on good management. Besides, what would be the point for a government that stopped listening years ago and is obsessed by the polls and its own political survival? Over the last 12 months, representations have been continually made to the federal government urging them to increase infrastructure funding in Gilmore—funding that will stimulate economic investment and growth for the region. It is time for this government to show some financial maturity by stopping the frivolous spending, ending the carbon tax uncertainty and redirecting funding to projects that will really produce benefits.

A few short weeks ago, the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government visited Gilmore. I thank him for keeping his promise to me to visit Gilmore. During that visit, four projects which are vital to the growth and wellbeing of Gilmore were put to him through a council briefing. Gilmore needs to have the ability to tap into the mainstream economy, and for that we need an enhanced freight transport route to the markets in Victoria and Canberra. The Gilmore leg from Nowra to Nerriga was finally completed last year. While tourists appreciate the improvement, freight transport remains denied. This road has to be completed now from Nerriga, through Tarago and onto the Federal Highway, but that is now the responsibility of Goulburn-Mulwaree and Palerang Councils. Shoalhaven is anxious to have the matter expedited to enhance economic and commercial opportunities, so our fundamental infrastructure need is anchored to Main Road 92. We asked the minister to assist us with funding in three significant investments. We asked jointly with Goulburn-Mulwaree and Palerang Councils for the upgrading of Oallen Ford Bridge, which currently has a five-tonne limit. Shoalhaven also wants a utility augmentation of the Albatross Aviation Technology Park to satisfy Commonwealth requirements to move civilian contractors off the base. Main Road 92 spills at Nowra Hill and it can be argued that it offers little benefit for the lower Shoalhaven in the Milton-Ulladulla areas, which also have a need to improve their arteries. That is why we have asked that Turpentine Road be sealed—some 12 kilometres that connect to Main Road 92. This would encourage greater use by freight carriers to move freight between Ulladulla and Canberra via Main Road 92 rather than using the challenging Kings Highway from Batemans Bay.

We also asked for funding to help rejuvenate the Shellharbour marina project. It is central to the growth of Shellharbour and the economic benefit of its residents. The minister remarked to me how impressed he was with the international standard of Shoalhaven industry and the way we worked with neighbouring Kiama, Shellharbour and Goulburn councils. I hope the minister has come away with a better understanding of the challenges and constraints the Shoalhaven currently faces and the integral role these projects will have to play in advancing not just the Shoalhaven but the entire Illawarra and South Coast areas. I would again like to thank the member for Hotham for his visit. It was an absolute pleasure to host him. I would also like to thank the Shoalhaven City Council for the generous use of their chambers. With world-class manufacturing and aviation facilities expanding and developing in Nowra, Gilmore can become one of Australia's key economic hubs.

In concluding, I would like to mention a couple of other matters. Much has been said about this budget in the media, much of it not very flattering. My role as a member is to bring to the attention of government the views of the people I represent. There are two significant issues in the Gilmore community. Firstly, this government has allowed itself to become hostage to the Greens agenda. We want a government that has the strength of character to stand on its own two feet and not be beholden to minority radical interests. Secondly, stop the boats. Australians hate queue jumpers and they hate money being spent on people who ignore the rules. Two billion dollars has been cut from family benefits, with the cost of processing asylum seekers having risen by $1.7 billion. Families are doing it tough. Grocery prices are going up, fuel prices are going up, power prices are going up and health costs are becoming unaffordable. The great Australian dream of owning your own home is slipping away for many Australians. Our population is ageing. The strength of our dollar is the enemy of our export industries and the tourism industry.

We did not elect Senator Bob Brown to run this country but that is what is happening with the blessing of this government. It is wrong on so many fronts and this government must now show the strength of character to stop wasting our money on its faulty ideology. We want real investment, investment that will return dividends in bucket loads.

The Prime Minister got elected on her promise that there would be no carbon tax. Now that she has broken that promise she has no mandate. Under the conventions of the Westminster system that binds all ministers of the crown—and if she had any sense of decency—she should go back to the people. If she refuses to do so then she is repudiating centuries of democratic principles to which Australians expect their government to subscribe to and honour.