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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5372


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:01): The 2012-13 budget handed down earlier this month by Treasurer the Hon. Wayne Swan is a responsible budget and a fair budget. It is a budget which reflects good management of the Australian economy through some very difficult times—difficult times which many overseas countries are still grappling with. We are currently seeing that in the Greek elections—new elections are going to be held on 17 June. We saw it only a few days ago when Tomislav Nikolic was elected as the new President of Serbia. We saw it in France when Francois Hollande was elected as the new President of France, also not long ago. And we saw it in Italy, when Mario Monti replaced Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister of Italy. We are seeing it in many other countries, where the pressure of governments to cope with their struggling economies is causing them serious difficulties. More recently we saw it in the USA, when JP Morgan incurred a loss of some $2 billion; although, even that figure is still under scrutiny.

These are indeed difficult times, which the Gillard government has steered the Australian economy successfully through with relatively minimal impact on Australian life. In some respects that has been a problem for the government, because many people who do not have the good fortune to be able to travel overseas have not been able to see for themselves just how difficult life has become over the past three years in many of the countries that in the past we thought were doing very well.

Again that is also reflected in: unemployment rates in this country, which have dropped below five per cent—I believe the figure is around 4.9 per cent at the moment; interest rates of 3.75 per cent—three per cent lower than when this government came to office; and a budget that is projected to be back in surplus, as promised, in 2012-13.

It is in that context that the budget was indeed framed. And it is a budget which ensures that all Australians share in Australia's mineral wealth; mineral wealth which most Australians do not share in and have not shared in for too long; and mineral wealth from which most of the profits end up offshore. This budget sets out to address this inequity; an inequity which has resulted in what some describe as a patchwork economy—an economy where some sectors are doing very well, others are doing okay and some are struggling. It is those sectors, the ones that are struggling, that this budget provides the greatest assistance to. I want to talk about some of that assistance and, in particular, how it relates to my own electorate of Makin.

In Makin, 8,900 local families are expected to receive a total of $410 a year for each child in primary school and $820 a year for each child in high school, totalling $9.4 million worth of assistance to those families as a result of the school kids bonus payment. That payment will replace the education tax refund. So it is not effectively a new payment; it is a payment that in my own local area some 1,600 families did not access last year. They did not access it either because they were not aware of their entitlement to it or they were not able to produce the receipts. For all the criticism that has been made of that particular payment by members opposite, say it is one measure that I not only strongly support but believe makes absolute sense.

For anyone to suggest that you can send your child to school, whether it is to primary or high school, for less than $400 or $800 for the secondary school child is absolute nonsense. To suggest that you need to have receipts to prove that you have incurred that kind of expense is also a nonsense. Quite frankly, this is the way it should have been from the start, and I congratulate the government for in fact changing the process, which now means that everyone who should be entitled to those funds gets them.

With respect to these benefits, more than 11,000 local families in Makin will receive an increase of up to $600 in their family tax benefit part A payments. That increase will flow from 1 July 2013. There will be a supplementary allowance to help with the cost of living for 7,921 local young people currently receiving allowances—single parents and unemployed—by providing cash payments to help meet the costs of essential services like electricity, gas and water. Singles will receive a supplementary allowance of $210 while couples will receive $350.

I am also pleased to see that only this morning legislation was introduced into the House establishing a National Children's Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission. I think that is a good and very welcome move regarding our responsibility in ensuring that children are protected.

Approximately 55,000 people in Makin will receive a tax cut as of 1 July. Around 46,000 taxpayers will receive a tax cut of at least $300 and, due to the tripling of the tax-free threshold, 4,000 local residents will pay no tax at all. Those numbers apply again to the electorate of Makin, which I represent.

As a result of Labor's tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, the average wage earner in Makin now pays approximately $1200 less in tax than in 2007-08. From July, Labor will put up to $500 into the superannuation accounts of 23,700 local workers earning up to $37,000. From October, local dads and other partners in Makin will be able to apply for Labor's new Dad and Partner Pay Scheme, which begins in January 2013 and is being debated in the House right now.

I would now like to turn to small business. As a result of having been involved in small business, it is an area that I have not only had a long time personal interest in but one where this side of the House is often criticised by members opposite for not providing enough support. Nothing could be further from the truth. With respect to small business, having been a small business operator since the time I left school prior to coming into this place, I understand the difficulties that small business operators face. I understand the sacrifices they make. I understand the risks they take, and I also understand how hard they work—often without any breaks, no paid holidays; without paid sick leave and without any form of work cover. In that respect, I very much welcome the announcements made by the Treasurer in respect of small business, where $6,500 will be provided as an instant asset write-off and up to $5,000 upfront motor vehicle depreciation allowance will also be provided. For companies earning under $2 million, the provision of up to $1 million of lost carry-back will also be a very welcome measure.

Last month I had the privilege of formally opening the new premises of Savill Packaging in my electorate of Makin. Savill Packaging provides catering and packaging products. It is a family-owned business which was established 30 years ago in 1982. On 20 April, its new premises at Langford Street, Pooraka, were officially opened, although they had been operating there for some months. I was asked to participate in the official opening and to address those present. It was a terrific opportunity for me to speak not only to Geoff Phillips and his team, who run Savill Packaging, but also to numerous other local businesspeople who equally run small or medium-sized businesses. It has given me a tremendous insight into the things which are important to those businesses and how they are coping under the difficult economic circumstances which so many others face, and what they are doing to overcome the difficulties they confront.

Savill Packaging ought to be commended in every sense of the word. It started 30 years ago employing two or three people and has now grown to employ 25 people, all of whom are locals. These kinds of companies keep local economies ticking over—locals who live, work and recreate in the area and who understand the area and depend on the 2.7 million small or medium-sized businesses around Australia for their employment. Small and medium-sized businesses in this country form the biggest individual employment sector and it is important that governments understand that. That is why the measures introduced by the government in the budget are going to be very welcome. I also acknowledge that Savill Packaging not only employ local people but also care about the future—many of their products are what we would now refer to as 'environmentally friendly'. They are a great example of people who work hard but care about the local community and the local people within it. I commend them for what they have done to date and wish them well for their future operations.

There are a range of matters in this budget which are going to be important for communities around Australia. The one area on which I want to comment is the commitment of $1 billion over four years to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. As has been said by others in this place, from the middle of next year select launch sites around the country will begin servicing people with disability. From the middle of 2014, some 20,000 people will be supported as a result of this program. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is long overdue and, I know, is supported by members on both sides of the House. Last month, along with members from both sides of the House, I attended a rally in Adelaide in support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We heard and saw firsthand the families and people who will benefit from the investment of money into this scheme. I believe that, if those of us who attended the rally were not convinced of the need for the scheme, we never will be. Quite frankly, not only is it long overdue but our neglect of people with disabilities has gone on for too long and it is time for governments at all levels to do whatever they can to ensure that the lives of people with a disability and their families are given greater assistance. I also welcome the $3.7 billion of funding towards aged care in Australia. Again, like disability, it is an area that has been neglected for far too long. It is an area where the demands on families have exceeded the ability of many families to cope with them. I frequently talk to people in this sector. It is an area that I am personally familiar with because my father spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home. I saw the care that he required during that period—care that my brothers and sister and I were able to support him with but which, in many cases, is simply not there. There may not be the family network support to assist the person in need, and so we rely on a system to provide that support, a system that has been straining under the weight of demands: financial demands and more general demands and, in many cases, not even having sufficient staff. The $3.7 billion of funding will not only provide better care for people in nursing homes; it will also ensure that more of those people remain in their own homes.

Lastly, I want to comment on a matter that I was somewhat disappointed with: that we were not able to fund our overseas aid commitment that was committed to last year to the level that I would have liked. The total overseas aid budget has risen by $300 million, and I acknowledge that. It went from $4.9 billion to $5.2 billion. In dollar terms, that is the largest aid budget in Australia's history and, at 0.35 per cent of gross national income, the highest proportion since 1985. There is continued growth and, in three years, we will be the sixth largest donor in the OECD, up from 10th largest today. We are on track to reach $7.7 billion, or 0.5 per cent of gross national income, by 2016-17. Whilst I would like to have seen more money put into that area, I acknowledge the additional funds that have been committed. (Time expired)