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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5648


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (11:39): I rise to talk on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012 and cognate bills. This is my first budget as the member for Solomon, a role I take seriously and never for granted. While I am in this place I will do whatever is possible to ensure that my electorate of Solomon and indeed the Territory gets its fair share of funding from Canberra.

Despite the endless talk from Labor in the lead-up to the budget, this was not a tough budget. In fact, the Prime Minister was right when she said this was a traditional Labor budget—another big deficit, more borrowing, more debt and more taxes. In November 2010 we were told the deficit for 2010-11 would be $41.5 billion. On budget night it was revealed it had blown out to almost $50 billion. In November 2010 we were told that net debt would peak at $94 billion. On budget night it was revealed that that figure was $107 billion. Not only that but the net debt is set to stay above $100 billion for at least the next four years.

The government continues to borrow $135 million a day, and interest on Labor's debt will be a staggering $7 billion a year. Cumulative interest on Labor's net debt will be more than $26 billion over the next four years. Think of the hospitals, roads and ports that could be built in this country with the interest payments alone. Labor does not like to admit that we have the highest interest rates in the OECD and among the highest home mortgage rates in the world. Unfortunately, Labor's reckless spending and borrowing has seen interest rates higher than they would otherwise be and my electorate of Solomon has been hit hard hit.

Since budget night there has been near universal consensus amongst independent market economists that Labor's budget will have absolutely no impact on the Reserve Bank's need to raise interest rates. But, still, the Reserve Bank is facing myriad inflationary pressures, particularly as the federal Treasurer is predicting the economy will add 500,000 extra jobs over the next two years, bringing the jobless rate down from 4.9 per cent to 4.5 per cent. As a result, it is encouraging variable rate mortgage borrowers to consider fixing their loans as they prepare for one or even two interest rate rises in the second half of 2011.

Although house prices fell in Darwin and Palmerston in the first three months of this year, the median price for a house in Darwin still remains extremely high at $550,000, with a median price of $465,000 in Palmerston. Buying a house in Darwin is becoming increasingly unaffordable even for key workers such as teachers, police, nurses, firefighters and ambulance officers. According to the latest research from Bankwest, Darwin house prices have increased by 69 per cent over the past five years.

In addition to rising interest rates and unaffordable housing, families in Solomon are feeling the squeeze. Since Labor was elected, electricity prices are up 51 per cent, gas prices are up 30 per cent, water prices are up 46 per cent, education costs have risen 24 per cent, health costs have risen 20 per cent, rent costs have risen 21 per cent and grocery prices are up 14 per cent. In addition to this, a $26 a tonne carbon tax would add a further 25 per cent to electricity bills and at least 6½c to a litre of fuel. This proposed carbon tax will in fact see even higher prices for everything in the Territory. But who knows what the final price on carbon will be and what the ongoing impacts will be? The people of Solomon are very concerned about the increasing cost of living and, as I have already stated, they are paying record house prices and the highest prices in any capital city for groceries, petrol and rent, on the back of soaring power bills and interest rates. Unfortunately, the carbon tax will affect every aspect of people's lives and in particular those families that are already struggling to make ends meet. Many of my constituents will simply be unable to afford the power they use. As I mentioned in this place just three months ago, the carbon tax appears to be a tax on remoteness and on the Territory. The tax stands to increase the cost of living and directly impact key industries in the Northern Territory and my electorate such as primary production, mining, tourism and construction. All of these industries will be hit hard by a carbon tax. In just three months, the already high petrol prices in my electorate have significantly increased—without the carbon tax. Last week in Darwin and Palmerston, according to the NT Labor government's Fuelwatch website, the mean unleaded price for petrol was 152.8c a litre. That is up 10.9c from February this year.

How can the Gillard Labor government be trusted when the Prime Minister said before the election 'there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead', and now continues to pursue the introduction of a carbon tax, a tax on electricity and on petrol and a tax that is going to affect all Australians, particularly Territorians, ultimately increasing the already high cost of living? This budget is based on a lie. The carbon tax revenue and associated spending, tipped to be in the order of $11.5 billion, was not included. It is a tax Labor should be ashamed of and a tax that the Prime Minister said would not happen under the government she leads.

My electorate of Solomon is in desperate need of infrastructure to make its economy more productive. As already mentioned in this place by my colleague the member for Hasluck, the Perth to Darwin Highway, in the north of his electorate, is vital for both Western Australia and the Northern Territory in terms of transport infrastructure. Heavy haulage transport engaged in the movement of machinery and goods south from Darwin and north from the electorate of Hasluck is being sadly neglected by this government. Trucks are being forced to operate within a curfew. Gigantic mining trucks being transported fight for space on rural roads, the same roads used by tourists.

In Solomon we are also in desperate need of health infrastructure to give our people better access to health services. Giving credit where credit is due, I was very pleased to see the inclusion of funding for the first stage of a hospital in Palmerston. I have long advocated for better medical facilities for Palmerston and the rural area. Along with the many other advocates for improved health services in the Territory, I will be keeping an eye on this program, making sure that what is promised is actually delivered.

This government has not got a good track record in delivering what they promise. There is a fair amount of spin involved in most of their announcements. This is something my electorate is tired of. I was pleased to see a small increase in the funding for mental health but, as with the hospital finding, I will be watching this carefully to ensure that there is indeed an improvement in services in the Solomon electorate. I want to make sure that this funding does translate into better mental health services for my electorate.

There are more disappointing elements to the budget, in particular that families have been targeted and the perception of a wealthy family is now a family on $150,000. With the high cost of living continuing to apply pressure on family budgets and interest rates, we all know that a family on $150,000 is far from wealthy. In the budget a massive $1.7 billion blow-out as a result of Labor's failed border protection policies was revealed. Families are paying for Labor's failed border protection policies through cuts to family payments.

Many people in my electorate, and family and friends across Australia, have raised with me their concerns regarding the significant expenditure on housing associated with asylum seekers in the Territory. The view is that this money could be spent on infrastructure to build on the Territory's potential and on funding longer term projects within my electorate.

The budget clears the way for $2 billion to be gouged from families through the freezing of indexation of family tax payment supplements and upper income thresholds. Families in Solomon will continue to feel the pinch. For example, a family with two children and a stay-at-home parent stands to lose up to $147 worth of benefits, while a family with both parents working will be $116 worse off. Families struggling to make ends meet on an income of $45,000 will also be hit.

This Labor government's short-sighted measures and poor fiscal management are set to continue the pain for families within my electorate of Solomon. Despite Labor talking down the impact of these changes, the truth is that, at a time when families are struggling with cost-of-living pressures, these changes will hurt two million families in some way, shape or form. I remind this House of the waste by this government associated with the failed pink batts, school halls and solar panels spend up. In this budget one of the biggest savings was on the $1.7 billion flood levy. It is a disgrace that this government has wasted so much money, yet incomprehensibly it could not find $1.7 billion in a $360 billion budget for allocation to natural disasters. It was extraordinary that, given this government's track record of wanton waste and failed program implementation, Labor's big budget eve announcement was a plan to spend $376 million on set-top boxes for pensioners. Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, let me remind the government that a postbudget survey revealed that 60 per cent of pensioners do not want a set-top box. Additionally, we know that Gerry Harvey said he could provide and install them for $168 a unit, compared to Labor's budgeted cost of $400.

The Prime Minister was asked by the member for Denison what Labor would do with the promises made by Labor candidates in seats where Labor did not win. The Prime Minister stood at the dispatch box hand on heart and said, 'Our promises were fully costed, every one of them. Of course they will be delivered. Of course they will. We don't go around making promises that we won't fulfil.' Like the member for Herbert, I also have concerns regarding the statement made by the Prime Minister. Following on from her passionate statement of commitment in the chamber, I wrote letters to the Prime Minister on behalf of my electorate asking for clarification as to when the pre-election commitments made by Labor will be delivered in my electorate of Solomon—promises such as $37,000 for Dragon Boat Northern Territory to maintain their current fleet and construct new dragon boats, and the $1.5 million all-weather world championship level BMX track for the NT BMX. A new music and dance festival, the Big Day Without, was planned in March at Palmerston Senior College, in April at Darwin Middle School, in May at Casuarina Secondary College and in June at Sanderson Middle School. Well, March, April and May have come and gone and no events have occurred, and when I contacted the schools they were not aware of plans for any of these events. Then there was the promise of 1,200 new affordable rental homes in the Northern Territory, priced at least 20 per cent below market rates, under the National Rental Affordability Scheme. This promise was rebadged from the previous election.

It turns out that yet again there is an issue with delivery. Both NT BMX and Dragon Boat Northern Territory have been advised that they do not have the funding, despite all the pre-election hype. These groups now have to apply for grants through the usual process—no guarantee of funding at all. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that these two commitments were also made by the coalition. This is a very tricky government, one that has been caught out before. For example, this government has taken the high moral ground on education in Closing the Gap programs. However, in the lead-up to the 2010 federal election, the Gillard Labor government committed to the Indigenous Funding Guarantee program, which affects schools in my electorate. The commitment was to provide increased funding to non-remote boarding schools that house more than 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from remote Indigenous communities. Like the community groups NT BMX and Dragon Boat Northern Territory, schools such as Kormilda College, St John's College and O'Loughlin Catholic College were under the impression the funding was guaranteed and was to be backdated. Frustratingly, these schools still seek assurance as to whether the promised but delayed payments of the remote rate for remote students based at their school will indeed be backdated to include 2010. I have raised this issue a number of times, and once again I pose the question to the Prime Minister: when can Kormilda College, St John's College and O'Loughlin Catholic College in my electorate expect to hear the government's decision on whether or not this funding will be backdated? Additionally I ask the Prime Minister: when will the pre-election commitments made by Labor in my electorate of Solomon be delivered?

If the coalition were in government, the people of Solomon would have RAAF base houses available to them. The coalition committed to excising the suburb of Eaton from defence, making 396 houses available for a variety of housing options for Territorians. This is in clear contrast to the current situation, where this Labor government continues on its path of waste and mismanagement. Two hundred and five of the 396 houses sit vacant in the middle of a housing crisis. Is this an example of a government that values taxpayer resources? I do not think so. This is a government that expects everybody else to pay for its mistakes. Labor's working families of 2007 have become the forgotten families of 2011.

Debate adjourned.

Ms GRIERSON: I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.