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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4472


Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (16:29): Now I understand what living in parallel universes is like. It occurs here every day—totally different worlds. Speaking on the appropriation bills before the House, I point out that our nation's economy under the leadership of the federal Labor government is 13 per cent larger than when the global financial crisis hit—the same GFC that those opposite have refused ever to acknowledge; the same GFC that Labor steered our economy through, avoiding recession when other nations floundered. Revenues are now dramatically reduced by the impact of the high Aussie dollar—which, of course, is because so many nations in the world are investing in our dollar because it is safe, sound and reliable—and the lower resource prices because of the fall in commodity prices.

Federal Labor's economic management has kept debt low. It has created over 960,000 new jobs in Australia. It has kept interest rates lower, helping families with their mortgages. We have experienced moderate wage growth and moderate inflation rates. Under Labor, Australia has retained its triple A global credit rating with the three big global rating agencies—Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor's—one of only eight nations to do so and something those opposite have never achieved.

Australia's economy under federal Labor's sound fiscal management has remained incredibly strong, incredibly resilient, while many nations around the world remain in recession and continue to experience high levels of unemployment and poverty. Our economy is indeed the envy of the world. CommSec chief economist, Craig James, was quoted in the Australian Financial Review earlier this year, saying of our GDP figure:

Australia has a Goldilocks economy - not too hot, not too cold, in fact just about right.

Inflation is under control, unemployment is low, the economy is growing at a 'normal' pace and our government deficit and debt levels are low compared with other advanced nations.

This remains the case. Australia is doing remarkably well in the face of global adversity, though you would never know it, listening to the doom and gloom of the economic vandals opposite who would slash and burn if ever in government—just as their Liberal state counterparts have illustrated around the nation, particularly in my state of New South Wales where we see TAFE cuts, where we see health cuts and where we see Public Service jobs disappearing.

Australia is also the happiest country on earth, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, on 28 May:

Australia is still the world's happiest nation based on criteria including income, jobs, housing and health, despite some signs of a slowing economy, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Australia kept the top spot for the third straight year, leading Sweden and Canada—

And who has been in power in those three straight years? A Labor government led by Julia Gillard! But we did lead Sweden and Canada, according to the Paris based group's Better Life index—

when each of the 11 categories surveyed in 36 nations is given equal weight.

More than 73 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 in Australia have a paid job, above the OECD average of 66 per cent, while life expectancy at birth in Australia is almost 82 years, two years higher than the OECD average, the survey showed.

In contrast to that happy nation and these facts, the opposition remains on a relentless trail of negativity designed to scare the Australian public. No amount of fear mongering by those opposite will ever change the fact that Australia is a leading nation on a global stage and one that is increasingly being recognised for its economic strength.

The opposition claim they have costed policies, but they are yet to be seen. All we have heard repeatedly is a mantra: hope, reward and opportunity. Well, you had better hope—hope that they are not in government, because who will they reward?—the ones who need it least. And opportunity?—only for their friends. It is a hollow mantra, concocted by Liberal spin merchants who have created low-grade immature attack websites about chooks and offensive misleading billboards about asylum seekers. When it actually comes to developing and costing policy the Liberals feel they are more capable of performing stunts than presenting a credible alternative government and credible alternative policies.

Similarly, they hide their leader from interviews—particularly long ones—with the media and they prevent him from fronting audiences such as the ABC's Q&A. In fact, it has been over 1,000 days since the member for Warringah, the Leader of the Opposition, last appeared on the program. Why is he hiding?

Mr Tudge interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Aston will cease—

Ms GRIERSON: I think it is because the Libs want to tiptoe past the election, tiptoe into a campaign, without any firm costings—

Mr Tudge interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Aston is defying the chair.

Ms GRIERSON: Instead, they will commission an audit report. Just remember, it is code for: 'We will do an audit. We'll get someone else to do it. We'll be the nice guys, so someone else will say "The sky is falling; the country's going broke" and we will have to do more cuts than we ever thought we would need to do.' That is exactly what has happened all around the country as conservative governments come to power. Just as the Queensland Liberal government has done, they will cut to the bone. Take the 2010 election. Treasury analysis shows us that Tony Abbott and the Liberals had an $11 billion black hole in their costings. In 2013, following the Liberal leader's budget reply, they have already revealed a further black hole. It is getting bigger and it is getting blacker. There goes the happiness. They promised $5 billion worth of savings but they will not exactly say where they will come from. How will this be filled? The only way is that it will be cut to the bone.

We already know that the Leader of the Opposition plans to cut the Schoolkids Bonus, a program that has helped thousands of families in my electorate at a time when we are also investing into the retail sector. They are supposedly the friends of small business over there. Small businesses have benefited from the Schoolkids Bonus. Round January and February, a time when there is a lull, the benefits have just poured in because families have spent the bonus and it has been great for everyone.

The opposition have also said they will slash 12,000 public servant jobs in Canberra and 20,000 around the nation. They also intend to lower the tax-free threshold, increased by Labor to $18,200. They will lower it again down to $6,000. There is no incentive for work there. This will hurt the lowest paid workers in Australia including many families in Newcastle and, of course, it particularly hurts young people and women. As Professor Phillip O'Neill wrote in the Newcastle Herald on Monday 27 May:

There are over 37,772 public sector jobs in the Hunter region, says the 2011 census, about 16 per cent of the region's jobs.

How many of these workers and their families would be affected by cuts under any Abbott government? How many community members would be hurt by a loss in services? It is a scary thought.

Only Labor governments do stand up for families and only Labor governments stand up for jobs. Only Labor budgets set the path for a stronger economy, a smarter nation and a much fairer society. Our Labor budget delivers $14.3 billion for DisabilityCare Australia. We truly can be a civilised society, ensuring that all Australians with a significant disability receive the individualised support and care required regardless of how they acquired their disability. No Australian deserves to be left behind.

Our National Disability Insurance Scheme has bipartisan support but it took a federal Labor government to put it on the agenda and make it a reality because that is the Labor way. It follows in the footsteps of Medicare and the age pension as a great Labor reform and one I am incredibly proud of. Until that commission of audit gets its hands on it, it apparently has bipartisan support. If that commission of audit ever comes into fruition, I think social agenda issues will be the first things cut. But with an additional $300 million in Commonwealth funding for the launch site in the Hunter, the biggest in our nation, I know how much the people of my region and electorate care about the NDIS.

Paralympic gold medallist and proud Novocastrian Kurt Fearnley tweeted on budget night::

One step closer to getting out of last place in the OECD in aiding People with Disability out of poverty. todayisagoodday.

It is long overdue reform and I am proud that Labor is delivering that reform. Prior to entering parliament in 2001, I was a principal at a school for students with many complex special needs. I witnessed first-hand the difficulties faced by those students and their triumphs. I know how much extra resources mean when you are scratching to put together a 12-month plan. We want the NDIS. For me to know it is going to benefit everyone is a very heartening experience. But this is not just a social reform, it is an economic reform as well.

Deloitte Access Economics tells us that closing the gap between labour market participation rate and unemployed rates for people with and without disabilities by one third would result in a cumulative $43 billion increase in Australia's GDP over the next decade in real dollar terms. Today, however, just half of working age Australian with disabilities are employed in the workforce. This is a real case for the change that Labor is bringing.

Our budget also delivers $9.8 billion for better schools under our National Plan for School Improvement. It has been informed by the independent Gonski review of school funding, the most thorough funding review of Australian schools funding in 40 years. We know education is the key to future opportunity for our youth. We know that this additional funding will boost the performance of students, preparing them for high-skilled and high-wage jobs, those jobs of the future that are going to become more common but also require a higher attainment. After 30 years in education under the existing funding formula, I know how disparate it was, how disadvantaged our students were—

Mr Tudge interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Aston, you will refrain from interjecting

Ms GRIERSON: whenever they had a disability, were Indigenous, were low SES, were from non-English-speaking backgrounds, were attending small schools or were in rural and remote schools. I have had experience in all of those schools to tell you and everybody here in this chamber and in this parliament that a needs based formula has been the missing formula for great success.

Mr Tudge interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Aston is ignoring the chair and the member for Aston is warned.

Ms GRIERSON: Yes, we are the nation that has the highest attainment by women in education, and I am proud of that. But too many people are missing out. The gap between those that are achieving and those that are not is about three years. We can do better than that and we will.

Labor's plan to lift the education performance of Australia's youth by investing in schools and teachers is contrasted by those opposite, who would reduce school funding from $16.2 billion over the next six years. Investment into our schools is the real hope, the real reward and the real opportunity, not the reductions and the cuts that will be offered by those opposite. How offensive for the opposition education spokesperson, the member for Sturt, and the member for Paterson to visit schools in the Hunter region, in particular Irrawang High School in Raymond Terrace. It is an area I worked in so I know it very well. They claimed that there is no need for additional school funding, with the member for Paterson suggesting that the reforms are a 'con-ski'—rubbish.

In a letter to the editor in the Newcastle Herald a former pupil at the school criticised the pair for visiting stating:

For NSW schools, such as Irrawang, Gonski means an additional $5billion, which will go towards greater resources, increasing and improving teaching standards and support, as well as benchmark funding with additional funds to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Such funding would help the very students that make up a vast number of the Irrawang High School community, such as those from low socio-economic backgrounds and indigenous students, who make up 11 percent of the student population.

Such schools in Hunter region electorates are in dire need of this funding as students past and present, teachers, parents and the community have all attested to and have all advocated for. Having an education background, I know the significance and dire need for this additional funding.

When discussing education policy with the Prime Minister over the years, my support for areas I was not happy with was always conditional on needs based funding. To see the partnership program, to know that schools I had been principal of will finally get that extra support they needed meant I was absolutely willing to have those discussions and walk out with full support.

Our Labor budget also sets in place $1 billion for our plan for Australian jobs, driving innovation within our manufacturing sector and delivering an industry participation plan for investment projects worth over $500 million. We also made this an industry partnership with innovation precincts, joining together industry and researchers to drive innovation for further success domestically and internationally.

Industry and researchers in Newcastle are in the process of preparing a bid to become an energy innovation precinct. With our well established local business and industry and our world-class research capacity in clean energy with the CSIRO Energy Centre, Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources and the University of Newcastle, there is great potential for Newcastle and the nation to benefit from Newcastle becoming an industry-led energy industry innovation precinct. It has been interesting to hear Geelong people talking about the Newcastle example. Yes, we were a one-industry town many years ago but we no longer face that dilemma.

I am very proud to be supporting this budget. Labor budgets do build for our future and ensure a stable economy while supporting jobs. It is a combination of DisabilityCare Australia, our investment package for better schools, our plan for Australian jobs and our National Broadband Network—the largest infrastructure project in our nation's history—that prepare our nation for the opportunities and challenges of the future. Only a Labor government can achieve this. I am proud of the final budget being handed down in my term in parliament.