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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5427


Mrs MOYLAN (Pearce) (17:29): This budget can only be described as an opportunity lost. Rather than promoting growth and providing opportunity, it has delivered savage cuts and broken promises. It has failed to do much to improve productivity. Incredibly, the deficit has soared to $44 billion for this year, and $200 million will be cut from job service programs just when the economic outlook is so uncertain. Families are struggling with the rising costs of living and business confidence is at an all-time low. There are no coherent strategies to deliver economic growth and no agenda to tackle the structural problems that remove barriers to workforce participation. In workplace relations, the pendulum has now swung too far, with unions back in the driver's seat. Our national airline was crippled by protracted disputes going unresolved until the extraordinary shutdown of the airline propelled the government to take control. BHP has experienced 3,200 industrial episodes in the Bowen Basin alone and the union works on a threatening, stop-start process, where it begins an action and then calls it off.

Historically, unions have been pivotal to improving the lot of workers, but we must be wary of allowing the pendulum to swing too far. Our collective concerns should rest primarily with the right of workers to a fair wage and decent and safe working conditions. We cannot allow our enterprises to be held to ransom and we cannot continue to sanction action which sees a doubling of the number of lost working days due to industrial disputes, as the ABS reported for the period of 2010-11.

In these troubled financial times, we need people with clear heads and fair minds that can end the adversarial mindset between industry and unions. I noted the OECD's qualified confidence in the direction of Australia's financial management, which was reported in today's Australian. However, there are also warnings. There is an acknowledgement that Australia will rely mainly on the mining sector to meet its growth forecast. Personally, while as a member from Western Australia I certainly recognise the mining sector's contribution, I believe we should be working harder to diversify our economy and concentrate on lifting our productivity. Lifting productivity requires a long-term strategy. The US economist Paul Krugman said:

Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.

The key elements to lifting productivity are health and education. The average level of human capital, which refers to the skills and knowledge of individual workers and their ability to use them, is a critical element of productivity. Some earlier studies comparing Australia's low productivity to that of the United States suggest that it is due to the fact that the average level of schooling in the working age population in Australia is about half a year lower than that of the US. The conclusion is that, had Australia achieved similar average years of schooling to the United States over this period, Australia's gross domestic product might have been around two to three per cent higher than was recorded.

While recently the government has spent big on overpriced school halls, we missed the opportunity to spend where it really counts. That is on the best teacher education money can buy, including continuing in-service training and the retention of students in the education and training system, with a strong emphasis on science and technology training and education. While I note that we have given massive handouts to businesses, including $275 million to General Motors, $100 million to BlueScope Steel and $64 million to OneSteel, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, DSTO, funding has again been cut despite an election promise in 2010 that they would receive an extra $138 million in the funding period between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Their budget will in fact be reduced by just over $22 million in that period up to 2013. Although $54 million has gone to encourage studies in maths and science, about $40 million of that will be clawed back in increased HECS fees for students of maths and science. It seems to me that this budget has a lot of pea and thimble tricks incorporated into it. While there has been a token increase the science and technology research, some of the very top science programs and organisations have been scrapped or had their funding scrapped. One of the key ways that we could lift productivity in this country is to remove the barriers to employment for those who are not working and who are currently relying on government pensions, so I was dismayed at the cruel result in the budget on single parents—and it is really cruel. I find it sickening. I heard the Treasurer, in his Press Club speech, talk about the difficult job of raising children and how it is the most important thing that most families do. So why does this government propose to move single parents from a social security pension to a Newstart allowance? They will have to somehow pay rent, food, utilities, fuel and schoolbooks on $265 a week, or $38 a day. I would like everyone in this place to try and live on that.

Such a cruel and unjustified move was not enough to bring the budget into surplus, so the government is also cutting the extra payment designed to help people gain skills or support to study in order to improve their financial prospects and to gain employment. Cutting this benefit will consign single parents raising children to the lowest-paid jobs in society, as they simply cannot afford to upskill or to gain a university degree. Rather than supporting people to gain financial independence, the government is perpetuating the cycle of poverty and reliance on welfare so that it can claim it is delivering a surplus.

It seems strange logic. This is a policy that is unjust beyond belief, and I will not support any legislation that seeks to enshrine these measures in legislation in this place. In the end it is not just single parents who are affected, because we all live together in society and this can only perpetuate cycles of poverty that give rise to many of the social problems we are all affected by today.

As a parent I wholeheartedly agree that raising children is the most important mission that we have, and an incredibly difficult task. So why would the government take $60 a week off 100,000 single parents when their youngest child turns eight, when some of the most challenging years of child rearing lie ahead?

I just listened to the member for Robertson talking about how schools might pool together and use the benefits that the government is now paying to families out in the community; that they might go to the Western Front with this money. I can say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that these kids of single parents will not be having any holidays, and they will not be doing any school excursions because their parents will barely be able to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and in their mouths and clothe them. That is a fact.

Compounding the problem for those on low incomes in this country, particularly single parents, is the lack of affordable housing. I would draw the attention of this House to the rental affordability snapshot report by Anglicare, because it makes very sobering reading.

The other component to a productive nation, though, is health. Very often this is also linked very strongly to those families who are on low incomes and who are struggling. They are struggling to eat healthy food and they are struggling to go to the doctor for a health check-up. So health is also very important to all of us, and last month I had the extraordinary privilege of being a guest of Novo Nordisk at the European Diabetes Leadership Forum. Australia was invited as a member of the OECD. Novo Nordisk is a world leader in diabetes care, and it employs some 30,000 people in 74 countries around the world, including Australia. Corporate social responsibility is at the foundation of all that it does, and in this respect no stone was left unturned to bring the world's leading researchers and clinicians to address this forum. I do thank the managing director in Australia, Petter Solberg, for affording me the opportunity to participate in this outstanding forum.

The theme of the forum was 'Today, we can change tomorrow'. The outcomes of the forum are the subject of a draft document—the Copenhagen Roadmap. This builds on the United Nations Resolution 61/225 on diabetes, to which Australia was a signatory, as well as a recent political declaration of the 2011 UN high-level meeting on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases. The concluding summary of the forum determined that good health equals wealth and that without a strong national policy to put diabetes and associated non-communicable diseases at the forefront, the increasing debt burden threatens to cripple both developed and developing countries.

Diabetes is a silent killer which is a leading cause of major complications such as blindness, limb amputation, cardiovascular disease and renal failure, just to name a few of the complications. This can mean a person must retire prematurely from the workforce. It may mean that another member of the family must leave the workforce to care for them. There is a personal cost attached to the difficulties of people with diabetes as well as a national cost. Undetected and untreated, the malevolent march of diabetes will require a higher cost of intervention. It is important to note that the highest costs associated with diabetes are for the treatment of complications rather than the initial cost of medication that may help to keep a person well.

As obesity is one of the key drivers of diabetes and indeed of non-communicable diseases, I refer members to the excellent paper presented by the OECD called Obesity update 2012. This paper highlights the costs associated with diabetes and the complications that may keep people out of the workforce and ultimately affect our national productivity.

The clinical based evidence presented in the forum once again highlights the urgent need for Australia to restate its commitment to a national diabetes plan and for that plan to be properly resourced so that we can prevent the escalation of diabetes. Unchecked and untreated diabetes threatens individual quality of life, it threatens the financial stability of individuals and families and it becomes an increasing cost burden on the nation.

It is a great concern to me that, although we have had over many years strong bipartisan support for making diabetes a national priority, that seems to have slipped in recent years. One of the programs that we worked hard to fund was the insulin pump program, particularly for children. That has gone through at least one review that I am aware of to make it more accessible. That program seems to have had cuts applied to it in the budget. I met today with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's national Chief Executive Officer, Mike Wilson. He tells me that currently they are providing about 15 pumps a month for children with type 1 diabetes. They are very important for people who have brittle diabetes—that is, diabetes that cannot be treated in the normal way. The government is going to severely limit the number of these pumps that can be provided on the subsidised program to about 50 or 60 a year. This in no way will meet the current demand and it certainly is not providing best practice medicine for children in this country who, sadly, live with the serious impact of type 1 diabetes in their lives.

Finally, I would commend the House to read the full report on the Copenhagen Roadmap and to read the OECD report on obesity and diabetes. (Time expired)