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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5448


Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (18:59): I commend the words of the shadow minister for the environment, who highlighted the challenges faced by many councils. Later in my speech I will particularly highlight the challenge facing the Blue Mountains City Council, who have estimated that the cost through to 2034 will be up to $11 million.

Today I rise to speak about the federal Labor government's appropriation bills. This budget confirms the incompetence of the Gillard government, a government that has established a reputation for broken promises. Despite Julia Gillard saying five days before the last election, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' budget 2012 is Australia's first carbon tax budget—the first of many broken promises from this government.

This government have removed themselves so far from the local community, from everyday Australians, that they have lost all understanding of the genuine concerns of hardworking Australian families and businesses. Quite simply, this government have lost their way. There is no clearer example of this than the government's rationale that a family who earns a combined income of $150,000 per year is wealthy. When was the last time the Treasurer spoke to one of these families? If he had done so recently, he would know that these families are struggling to meet the rising costs of living. A combined income of $150,000 means a police officer and nurse raising their young children, a teacher and truck driver, possibly supporting their children at university while struggling to pay their mortgage. These people are not rich. They are working hard to pay their bills with the hope of getting ahead.

If the federal Labor government were in touch with the Australian community, they would understand that these families are struggling with the rising costs of living. Since Labor took office in 2007, electricity prices have increased by 66 per cent. Gas prices have increased by 39 per cent. Health costs have gone up 25 per cent. The price of education has increased by 31 per cent. And now we are staring down the barrel of the world's largest price on carbon—a tax that will hit families, jobs and businesses at the toughest time. Why won't Labor give Australian families, Australian children, Australian single parents and seniors a break? Why does the government want to put unnecessary pressure on hardworking people?

This comes after years of broken promises—the carbon tax, the company tax, the promise to increase defence spending by three per cent. The list goes on and on and the Australian people are quite simply fed up. We are fed up with the broken promises and the government's failure to deliver on its policy promises and its budget projections. Because of this government's record, the Australian community do not trust the Treasurer's ability to deliver a surplus of $1.5 billion. And why should they? The record speaks for itself. In 18 months its estimated deficit for 2011-12 blew out from the Treasurer's projected $12 billion to $44 billion, and it may blow out even further. The year is not over.

Why should we expect this budget to be any different? If further proof is needed, one only needs to look at Appropriation Bill (No. 2), part 5. If the federal Labor government really believed it could deliver a surplus, why is it moving to increase the Commonwealth debt limit from $250 billion to $300 billion? It is an extra $50 billion—for what? How will it be spent? Is this going to be spent leading up to an election? Australians are right to be concerned about handing Wayne Swan yet another increase in our nation's credit card limit. If the Treasurer and the federal Labor government have no faith in their ability to achieve and manage this supposed surplus, why should the Australian people?

Speaking of increasing the Commonwealth debt limit, why did the Treasurer bury this proposal in Appropriation Bill (No. 2)? To avoid proper scrutiny and a specific vote on the debt limit? It could only be because the Treasurer and the government are embarrassed that government debt levels are at absolutely unprecedented levels. This year the government interest payments on Labor's debt alone are set to reach an alarming $8 billion over the next financial year—$8 billion. What a waste. This money would be better spent on providing better services throughout our local community, protecting our borders, supporting defence programs, providing additional funding to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and maintaining and protecting the Australian lifestyle.

In addition to the waste, this year's budget demonstrates no plan to build a stronger economy, repay debt or create secure jobs. I am genuinely concerned about the impact that this budget and the carbon tax will have on Australians, specifically the impact on the people I represent within the electorate of Macquarie, who work, live and endeavour to build a future. I was at Blaxland Explorers Day only recently, and throughout the day people came up to me where I was working to express their concerns about this budget and this unnecessary carbon tax. Seniors, young families, young couples and single parents are all concerned about the rising cost of living and the lack of support and services provided to local communities by this budget. What is clear is that the Treasurer believes that the government can compensate for the larger cost and impact of this budget and the carbon tax that is set to hit families, small businesses and every aspect of the Australian economy. No-one will be spared, especially not by the token handouts provided by the government to compensate for a dramatic increase in the cost of living.

One such token gesture is the $657,000 within the budget allocated to Blue Mountains City Council to maintain and upgrade local roads. While this may seem like a large sum of money and a boost to the local council, it is not sufficient. I recall in 2007 when a local road, Racecourse Road in Clarendon, was resurfaced. This road is 3½ kilometres long. The resurfacing of this road cost more than $700,000. That was $700,000 to repair 3.4 kilometres. There is more than 717 kilometres of road managed by the Blue Mountains City Council. It is fair to say that the $657,000 in this budget allocated to the Blue Mountains City Council for the repair of local roads will not go very far.

In addition to this, Blue Mountains City Council and Hawkesbury City Council are both set to be hit by the carbon tax, with little compensation from the Treasurer's budget. A report in April to a Blue Mountains City Council meeting stated that the council was liable for emissions generated from its operational landfill at Blaxland under clean energy legislation passed by the Senate in November last year. A review commissioned by the council predicted the Blaxland facility would exceed 25,000 tonnes per year in 2013 to 2014 based on current landfill patterns and would remain above the threshold until 2033-34. According to the report the 'absolute minimum liability' for emissions in 2014 was predicted to be $307,434, rising to $390,284 in 2014 and to a projected $11.3 million by 2034.

Julia Gillard's carbon tax will mean these local councils have to lift their own fees and charges, raise their council rates, cut services or some combination of these hits, all of which will mean more pain for Australians at the local level. Where is the compensation for local city councils within this budget now that they have to accommodate these price hikes as a direct result of the carbon tax? This means councils will have less money to allocate to vital local services such as libraries, parks, youth services, the arts and cultural initiatives. These make up such an important part of our communities and it is a disaster for local councils that they will have to make these sacrifices to pay this tax.

The first priority of a coalition government would be to abolish this carbon tax and reduce the cost-of-living pressures which are soaring under Labor. Along with the concerns that I have regarding the rising costs of living I am also troubled by the government's ability to stimulate tourism. The tourism industry is an important part of the local and regional economy for both Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. Tourism's contribution to Australia's gross domestic product was $73.3 billion or a 5.2 per cent share of the Australian community. In Australia, tourism directly and indirectly employs 907,100 persons, representing 7.9 per cent of total Australian employment—and this is shrinking. Although the sector is already stressed, this budget delivered by the Treasurer reduces the tourism budget by 6.2 per cent or $8 million. Not only has the Labor government cut funding to the sector but it has failed to provide adequate carbon tax compensation for the tourism sector . As a result, according to the Tourism and Transport Forum submission on the carbon tax, the tourism industry stands to lose 6,400 jobs and a cut of 10 per cent from industry profits. What is the government's plan to secure the jobs of those in the tourism industry? Does the government have a plan to stimulate tourism growth, particularly for those regions like the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury where tourism operators are keen to see growth in their sector?

Another important component of the economies of both the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury regions is the contribution made by our wonderful small business owners: 4,515 across the electorate. Under the 2012-13 budget, the Labor government provide no compensation to small businesses for the carbon tax. Small business people who put their houses on the line to create jobs deserve support from government, not broken promises. The coalition government would give small business operators more time to focus on growing their business by cutting red tape and reducing their regulatory burden by at least $1 billion per year. The coalition will also support small businesses by simplifying the administration of compulsory employee superannuation contributions by allowing small businesses to remit their contribution in one payment directly to the ATO with the PAYG payments. The coalition have always supported small business owners in the Australia. We believe they are a vital part of our economy.

The desperate attempt by the Gillard Labor government to bring the budget to surplus also comes at a heavy price for the Australian Defence Force. The government has cut $5.5 billion from the 2012-13 budget, making a total of $17 billion over the last three years. I would like to know why the Gillard government has broken the commitment it made to increase defence spending by three per cent until 2017-18 that was set out in the 2009 defence white paper. As a result of this broken promise and the budgetary cuts, defence spending will be at its lowest level since 1938 as a percentage of GDP.

The federal Labor government needs to explain what impact these budget cuts will have on Australia's ability to respond to disasters or emergencies in the nation and the border regions. It clearly demonstrates that Australia's borders are more vulnerable than ever under this Gillard government and its 2012-13 budget. Paul Howes, National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, confirmed that as a result of these spending cuts the federal government has jeopardised the jobs of 250 aircraft specialist workers at RAAF Base Richmond. This will have a significant impact on the people of Macquarie and particularly the Hawkesbury as Richmond RAAF is a vital source of employment. Labor says that this budget is about creating jobs and economic growth, but the budgetary impact is that a projected 250 specialist aviation maintenance jobs are potentially under threat when the C130H Hercules aircraft are retired. What will happen to that local expertise? What will happen to those 250 workers and their families? The Minister for Defence needs to explain. How does the government justify the loss of these jobs and the impact that this will have on the Hawkesbury community?

This government claims to be for Australian workers. It claims to be creating Australian jobs, but again its record shows otherwise. In last year's budget the federal government promised 500,000 new jobs over two years and now expects to miss its target by 300,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is forecast to increase to five per cent, while the government is cutting $200 million out of jobs service programs.

The coalition would invest over $2 billion to support Australians. This would include, for example, in the area of mental health, an additional 60 Headspace sites. The coalition is committed to working with the states to improve health care and provide added funding towards these fundamental services. The coalition government would ensure access to affordable, world-class health care for all Australians when they need it most by protecting Australia's public health benefits and restoring the private health insurance rebate. Unlike the current federal Labor government, the coalition is committed to bringing hope, reward and opportunity back to all Australians. This budget and the incompetent government is slowly stripping the nation of these vital qualities. It is time we put a stop to it.