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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5441

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (18:29): I rise to speak on the appropriation bills for 2012-13. When a Treasurer rises to give a budget night speech, it should be a great occasion and ceremony. Unfortunately, that has been trashed by this Treasurer. To have brought down a budget claiming austerity but presiding over spending of $370 billion and an increase in government revenue of some $39 billion, that is increased taxation.

For all the spending that this government does, Townsville received nothing in this budget. We got nothing for the Bruce Highway and we got nothing for infrastructure. We saw Defence stripped bare. We need a government that 'gets' Townsville, that can see that we punch above our weight in our contribution to the economy. We need a government that is prepared to plan for the future of North Queensland and to give us our fair share. Instead, this Labor budget has dudded Townsville and left us in the lurch.

Since he delivered the budget, the Treasurer has boasted about delivering the first of four years of surplus budgets—and he did it with a straight face; it was a credit to the rehearsal that he must have done—supposedly through tough budget cuts. The word 'productivity' to my reading was not mentioned once in his speech. Surely, we must look at the way we do things in this country and reward those who do them more efficiently, faster, with higher quality and better finish. We need to compete in a global market.

I am also struggling to understand why a government that believes it is delivering a surplus also needs to increase the Commonwealth debt limit from $250 billion to $300 billion in the same budget, leaving government debt at absolutely unprecedented levels. When you are making headway on your own mortgage and your home budget, and you are increasing your payments on your mortgage, the last thing you consider is to increase your mortgage limit. It just beggars belief.

This will also be Australia's first carbon tax budget. The real impact of this year's budget on Townsville households and businesses will begin when the world's biggest carbon tax starts on 1 July. We have seen the cash bribes blatantly trying to distract voters. We have seen the $36 million ad campaign which talks up the compensation without mentioning the reason that families need to be compensated. But you cannot compensate for a cascading and compounding tax that will act as a wrecking ball across my local community and my local economy. We will all be paying for this through increased prices, higher energy bills and pressure on local businesses who are still not going to receive any compensation. The pain from this tax is only going to get worse. The budget papers have confirmed that despite falling international prices, Labor's toxic carbon tax will steadily rise for three years. This is all coming despite the Prime Minister's declaration that there would be no carbon tax under the government she leads.

Townsville's small businesses, some 9,000 in number, are the heart of our local economy and they are struggling at the moment, especially in retail. I regularly receive emails from business owners telling me that times are tough and they are having trouble getting their bills paid. They look to this government to inject much-needed confidence into the business community with this budget. Instead, it has all but ignored them. The only people in Townsville who are super busy are the liquidators.

Small business owners are the ones who are prepared to take a chance, often risking their own home to start something new or take on another employee. We should be encouraging them, ensuring there is reward for these risks and opportunities to become more productive for the benefit of their business in the wider economy. Instead, this government is slapping them with the world's biggest carbon tax and offering only mirages of compensation. We drown them in red tape, regulations, fees and taxes. We just make it so hard for them to perform. This government has also abolished the entrepreneur's tax offset, designed to foster microbusinesses to assist them to get started.

It seems as though the only place that this government is prepared to make big spending cuts is in defence. This budget saw the biggest cut in defence spending since the end of the Korean war. Defence spending now is at its lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1938. If you add the deferments and cancellations to the quoted $5.5 billion you will end up with defence copping it in the neck to the tune of $17.1 billion—and we have not even mentioned the submarine debacle. Australia is going to face critical capability gaps that will be felt for a whole generation simply because this Labor government cannot manage its finances.

I represent a city within which exists the largest army base in Australia. Lavarack Barracks is the home of the 3rd Brigade and 11th Brigade. We also have RAAF Base Garbutt and 10FSB at Ross Island. We are home to some 5,000 defence personnel. My defence personnel are the ones who get deployed. Townsville's defence family is the one that trains all the time in preparation for emergencies all over the world. You cannot rip $5.5 billion out of defence without hurting Townsville as a whole, and our ADF personnel in particular. The Prime Minister and the defence minister have been at pains to tell us that no-one in uniform will be affected, but when you delay, defer and cancel things such as this, how can it not have an effect on the troops on the ground? In times of trouble we do not turn to the department in Canberra, we turn to the men and women who are part of the redeployed units of 3rd Brigade, 11 Brigade and RAAF Base Townsville. Those guys deserve first-class training and first-class facilities; it is that simple.

I also worry about the relationship between the ADF and the government. I must be clear here and state that I have never heard a serving officer or member say a negative thing about the government. That is not their way; their way is to faithfully serve their country. We had a welcome home parade for some 1,100 soldiers and RAAF personnel. The Prime Minister and the defence minister had been to Townsville to meet the troops about to deploy. Their plane was grounded due to mechanical error. They could have made the parade for the returning men and women. That they chose to stay away speaks volumes, not about the Defence Force but about the respect in which the ADF is held by these two key politicians.

This was also another Labor budget that ignored the need for fairness for veterans. The Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme, the DFRDB, is not indexed in the same way that age and service pensions are. Every year DFRDB recipients become a little worse off than those on other pensions. After 40 years this has left the pensions of those who served our country in poor shape. It is time we finally did something about it. I am proud that, in March, Tony Abbott recommitted the coalition to fix this problem once and for all. Townsville has a large veteran population and they and their families deserve fair indexation. A coalition government will deliver it and I urge this government to stop giving veterans a raw deal.

I was proud to be the first politician to support the NDIS in Townsville, but we must get it right. The fact that it has been politicised is beyond doubt. The way the funding was announced reminded me of the launch of the MSPT, the mining super profit tax. There were no discussions with the key players, the states. The Productivity Commission recommended that the Commonwealth fund 100 per cent of the scheme. The reasoning was that they are the only level of government capable of raising the expected $8 billion extra annually. To me that reasoning is sound. The announcement of a 78-22 split was made without any consultation with the states. The start of the scheme is underfunded by almost $3 billion. The government has three times refused to create a joint House committee on its establishment. That all this can happen as they raise hopes among the disability sector sounds exactly like that press conference in late May 2010 where the then Prime Minister and the current Treasurer launched the doomed mining super profit tax. If we do not deliver on this NDIS we will only have ourselves to blame. But we have to be straight up with the people and tell them why they need it and how it is going to be funded. We have to ask the community where the line will be drawn and what level of personal responsibility will be expected. We need to have the conversations with people not directly involved now and get them on board. What we have now is pure politics and it does none of us any good.

Townsville is a great destination for visitors, but even after recovering from cyclone Yasi the local tourism industry is still struggling. This reality has fallen on deaf ears in the Labor government. Instead of helping the local tourism industry they have used this budget to cut $8 million from Tourism Australia's budget and have failed to provide the industry with any compensation for the carbon tax, which is threatening around 6,400 jobs in the tourism business alone. This budget increases passenger movement charges to the tune of $668 million and pushes the cost of Federal Police back to the airports. That will only increase the costs to our tourism sector. It surely sends a message that this government simply does not care about this vital sector of our economy. Add to that the carbon tax on domestic airfares and it is no wonder tourism operators have given up hope that this government will do something, anything, for them.

The great disappointment for me in this budget is that there is next to nothing for Townsville and North Queensland. Townsville is a rapidly expanding city. Our population growth is more than double that of the rest of the country. In fact the member for Thuringowa, Sam Cox, in the state parliament said that Thuringowa is the second fastest growing area in Queensland. We need a government that will invest in the region to plan for the future now. Instead, we have a government that has completely ignored us. There is no new funding for the Bruce Highway. This is supposed to be the national highway and it has been in dire need of attention for decades to get more overtaking lanes and pull-over areas and to be flood-proofed, yet this government could not find one cent to help North Queensland drivers and industries that rely on that highway. There was no funding for any road projects urgently needed in Townsville to support the increased traffic in growth corridors. The only reason Townsville residents will finally be able to rely on Blakey's Crossing next wet season is that Queensland's new Liberal National state government responded to the community's 'Fix Blakey's' campaign and saw the need. This was once the Bruce Highway and should have been fixed generations ago. There has also been nothing for the residents of the upper Ross, who are wondering when their main road, Riverway Drive, will be duplicated so that it can handle increased usage.

Even beyond roads, this budget has offered no infrastructure for Townsville. The Northern Beaches is crying out for better services and facilities, as more and more families move to the new developments there. It needs a cyclone shelter, which would act as a large community centre, to give this growth corridor the facilities it needs and the region the heart and soul it is looking for.

In Townsville over recent months we have seen a rise in crime rates, particularly youth crime. We must work together as a community if we are to tackle these problems. I call on the government to work with groups in the community like Neighbourhood Watch and groups that are looking at different initiatives to engage at-risk youth and get them off the streets and out of trouble.

In looking to the future of Townsville as leader of the region we need to be looking beyond just North Queensland. The closest capital city to Townsville is Port Moresby, and its relationship with Papua New Guinea is a vital one, offering numerous opportunities to foster trade, education, aid and research to the benefit of both Townsville and PNG. We have already seen the importance of this connection. Local businesses are developing their trade links with PNG. Curtain Bros have been doing it for years. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry is very active, as are the North Queensland Cowboys. Youth With A Mission provides a vital health service to remote parts of this country as well.

It disappoints me that this country has ignored the opportunity to fund the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University. This research project, headquartered in Townsville and Cairns, will benefit people throughout the tropical world. JCU is highly respected for its tropical research. The AITHM creates the opportunity for the university to use this specialty with its school of medicine to lead the world in tropical health research. Once again, it took the new Queensland Liberal National state government to provide the funding and get this vital project off the ground that this federal government should have taken responsibility for during the 2010 election. The coalition remains committed to this vital health link and we will see that it happens.

I call on this government to start planning for the future of Townsville. We need to be investing in infrastructure projects that will meet the needs not just of today but also of our population tomorrow. We need a government that cares about the future of Townsville and wants to work with the region to achieve the right outcomes. Townsville is a great city in a great state. We should be doing all we can to provide our residents and businesses with hope for the future and reward for their effort and opportunities, not just for us but also for our children. This budget does not address any of these things. We in Townsville are a positive and vibrant people. We will hold this Treasurer and this government to account for this budget.