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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5400


Mr SYMON (Deakin) (12:24): I do not support the amendment to these bills moved by the member for North Sydney, but I do speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2012-2013, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2011-2012, as moved by the Treasurer. These appropriation bills build on Labor's election commitments made at the 2010 election and provide much needed assistance and services not only to the constituents of Deakin but to everyone across our great nation of Australia.

Since the last budget debate here in May last year I have opened 15 new Building the Education Revolution Primary Schools for the 21st Century projects in my electorate of Deakin. In addition to that, another two were opened with representation in the electorate and we have also opened a new trade training centre. For most of these schools, especially in the government and Catholic sectors, this was the first major spending on infrastructure for many decades—and for some of them the first since they were built. For anyone who doubts the benefits of the Building the Education Revolution I have a simple challenge: get out there and have a look. Have a chat to the school principal and to the teachers. Talk to the school community and see the difference that the $16 billion that we invested in education has made to our nation's primary schools.

Although I have often spoken about the opening of BER buildings at many schools in my electorate, I have not completed that task in full as yet, due to time limitations in this place. So I will list for the House the schools that have opened their BER buildings in the last year in Deakin. We have Livingstone Primary School in Vermont South, Blackburn Lake Primary School, Rangeview Primary School in Mitcham, Antonio Park Primary School in Mitcham, Nunawading Christian College Primary School, Croydon Special Development School, Ringwood Heights Primary School, Weeden Heights Primary School in Vermont South, Dorset Primary School in Croydon, St Phillips School in Blackburn North, Heathmont East Primary School, St Timothy's School in Vermont, Tinternvale Primary School in Ringwood East, Vermont South Special School, Mullum Primary School in Ringwood, Vermont Primary School and Yarra Valley Grammar School.

These local state government, Catholic and independent sector schools have built brand new functional buildings that have helped to bring their schools into the 21st century. Some have done absolute wonders with existing spaces and some have started from scratch. But, in particular, it must be noted that these buildings were done with thought—and that is a good thing. It meant that there were not mistakes made due to rushing headfirst into a new building project. Most of the problems, though not all, were sorted out at the design stage—and, of course, in construction there are always problems that come along that are unplanned for. But, in every case, these new learning and activity spaces have made the school better for students and their teachers, and I think they have helped to encourage a sense of pride and ownership in the wider school community—after all, it is an asset that they get to keep and use.

These buildings utilise modern designs and have features such as passive heating and cooling and especially modern interiors. I am always particularly taken by the amount of light in these new BER buildings—which of course is natural and not artificial light. I think open teaching and meeting spaces certainly suit the way that our children are taught in schools these days—to the point where many old schools are knocking walls down between classrooms. I think that is certainly a change from the time that many of us were at that level of schooling.

Three of these buildings were the local Maroondah template, which was designed specifically for schools in my area. That was designed for schools that did not qualify for the Victorian state government's full-size building template. It allowed schools to get a larger building and allowed schools to be able to do refurbishments on top of their building. Looking at recently built school halls already around the area and adapting the design to fit the BER guidelines, schools like Ringwood Heights, Rangeview Primary and Dorset Primary were able to get a full-size indoor facility. In the case of both Ringwood Heights and Dorset Primary that was instead of a half-size facility, and in the case of Rangeview and Dorset Primary, they both got to do extra works—whether that involved refurbishment of existing administration wings or classrooms. So they really got two projects for the price of one. There are only 10 such buildings in Victoria, with eight of them either in or near the electorate of Deakin. I think they are a great result. They show how work between the federal government and the state government and the community of those schools has achieved a fantastic result for those schools in the electorate. There are many more schools in Deakin that are awaiting their official openings. Last time I counted, there were about 10 still to be officially opened. As far as I understand, they are all operating, with the exception of one which still has some planning issues. I look forward to informing the House of these openings in the near future.

It should never be forgotten that the Liberal Party, and their partners the Nationals, opposed these wonderful local projects and voted against the funding in this very place in 2009. If the Liberal and National parties had had their way, these buildings would never have been built and schools in Deakin would have been worse off to the tune of $80 million in infrastructure. I have highlighted these BER projects, as they show how Labor in government has delivered and continues to deliver for our local community in Deakin. These projects have made a real difference to the quality of and access to education and training right across the electorate.

This year we have continued our proud record of delivering better access to education for our community by introducing the schoolkids bonus, a payment made to families who receive Family Tax Benefit Part A. At $410 per year per primary student and $820 per year per secondary student, the schoolkids bonus will replace the education tax refund. Unlike the education tax refund, the schoolkids bonus does not require receipts for eligible items to be kept and then claimed at the end of the year on a tax return. The education tax refund was introduced by Labor as a key measure to help families nationwide cover the costs involved in educating their children. Although it was a great measure, it did not completely hit the mark. It is estimated that 1,150 families in my electorate of Deakin have not claimed the education tax refund for the 2010-11 financial year despite being qualified to do so and that a further 3,800 families have not claimed the full amount available. The schoolkids bonus extends the education tax refund concept and provides more money to families with children at school. It will help to cover the almost never-ending stream of expenses that arise from educational activities.

Meanwhile, as good as this Labor initiative to introduce the schoolkids bonus is, in Victoria the Baillieu Liberal government, with no regard to the cost of starting a child at primary or secondary school, has just cut back the education maintenance allowance for local schools. So some parents might see what has been given with one hand being taken away by another. That is not under our control here in federal parliament, but I can say, from a federal government perspective, that we are doing a great thing for families with children in school—not only in Victoria but right across Australia.

It is estimated that over one million Australian families will benefit from this change to the education tax refund and they can look forward to receiving their upfront payments from 20 June this year. Just as we saw with the BER program, the Liberal Party voted against the schoolkids bonus program in this parliament. I think that is because they do not care about the cost-of-living pressures that families across the country are facing—not only when it comes to education but with all the other day-to-day bills households accrue.

This budget will also deliver, through Family Tax Benefit Part A, an increase of between $100 and $600 per year from July 2013 to further assist families with the costs of raising children. At least 1.1 million families will receive at least an extra $300 per year as a result of this increase to the maximum rate of the Family Tax Benefit Part A. Another 460,000 families across Australia will receive at least an extra $100 per year from this measure.

This budget has many benefits for local families and it also has benefits for small business. As we in this place know, some of the proceeds of the government's minerals resource rent tax were going to provide a tax cut for businesses. But this could not happen without the support of either the Liberal and National parties or the Greens in this current parliament. I and many others still cannot believe that the Liberal Party would oppose a cut in company tax rates. I really do wonder who they actually represent—other than themselves. The Leader of the Opposition's company tax policy is to put a 1.7 per cent extra tax on the 3,000 biggest companies in Australia to fund paid maternity leave at a rate of up to $75,000 for six months. W e hear a lot about the impact of carbon pricing, but that impact is nowhere near the magnitude, when it comes to its impact on business, of the opposition's proposed 1.7 per cent tax increase. That will have a huge impact . Whereas we proposed tax cuts, the Liberals were proposing tax increases on business. Because we were unable to get that measure through parliament, this budget introduces a loss carryback scheme in place of those company tax cuts that will allow companies to carry back losses of up to $1 million against tax that they have already paid. The instant asset write-off for small business for items up to $6,500 each commences on 1 July this year and can be accessed not only by those who have companies but also by sole traders, partnerships and trusts. In total, over 2.7 million small businesses Australia wide will be able to take advantage of this tax break.

In the time remaining I must also mention the improvements that this government is making to superannuation for Australian workers. Superannuation is a subject I have spoken about at length in this place, and I will continue to do so. Although superannuation is now taken as a workplace right, I am old enough to remember when it was a workplace privilege. When I started full-time work in 1982, superannuation was generally only for government employees or for management in private industry. Fortunately times have changed, but it took a lot of effort to get that change. If you were not in one of those groups, you generally got nothing in the way of super.

Although I was fortunate to be in an industry that started paying super in 1985, it was at a very low rate. The majority of the population had to wait until the Keating Labor government passed the Superannuation Guarantee Act in 1992. When that came in the standard was three percent, whereas now the standard is nine percent. It took an awful lot of incremental increases to finally build up to that nine percent. The Gillard government has now introduced measures to increase the superannuation rate from nine percent to 12 percent, again through incremental increases, over the next seven years. It will not be until 2019 that we get to the 12 percent super guarantee for workers in Australia.

Another important change to super is that workers earning up to $37,000 per annum will effectively pay no tax on their super contributions from 1 July this year. This change will provide for higher retirement balances for full-time workers on or near the minimum wage and for many part-time and casual workers. It is often forgotten when we talk about super and the balances peoplemight have at retirement and how they can use those funds that many people will never get to that satisfactory level, for all sorts of reasons. Some people spend many years out of the workforce; some people will miss out on super because they work in low-paying jobs; there is unemployment; and there are all sorts of reasons that mean that when a person hits retirement age they will not have what we regard as an average expected balance and therefore income from their super savings.

The changes we are making now are long-term changes. They will take a long time to work through the system for the benefit of every working person in Australia. That is a great thing. As I say, it takes a long time but taking away the tax disincentive for the very lowest income earners is one of the best measures in this budget. It will certainly impact very positively on many people I know of in my electorate of Deakin who do part-time work, who do not have big incomes. I am sure it will make their lives in the future a whole lot better, as it will for low-income earners right across the country. I commend these bills—but not the second reading amendment—to the House.