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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5176


Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-MonaroParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (20:04): What a pleasure it is to be able to speak to this latest chapter in the story of the economic management of this country by this government and talk about matters of weight and importance to this country instead of the muck that we have been wallowing in in the last two days in the other chamber. The story so far is a great one indeed. This government has navigated the worst economic crisis in our history since the Great Depression. It has managed the exit from two wars that we inherited from the coalition, the worst floods and fires in our history, the collapse of ABC Learning, the swine and equine flu challenges and all to great success, so what we see at this point in time is the greatest alignment of macroeconomic indicators in the country's history, an alignment that was never seen under the coalition, never matched by the coalition and, in many cases, not matched in Australia's history.

What are they? We now have interest rates of 3.75 per cent, never matched by the coalition. Since the election of this government, if you have a $300,000 mortgage you will be saving $3,000 a year on that. Inflation is around 1.6 per cent and unemployment is 4.9 per cent. I would like to indicate that in Eden-Monaro, the unemployment rate is in fact 2.8 per cent, which is a wonderful achievement that we have pulled together to achieve as a team effort. We have also delivered record terms of trade and record investment. There is a $490 billion investment pipeline in the wake of claims by the coalition that our mineral resources rent tax and other measures would dissuade investment. These are record levels of investment, so it gives the lie to those claims.

We also see, for the first time in Australian history, the major credit agencies—Fitch, Moody's, S&P—rating us at AAA for the first time in our history. This was never achieved by the coalition. Our very, very low levels of debt compared to the international community and all comparable developed countries make us the envy of those countries at 9.6 per cent. If you look at some of the historic figures, during the First World War it was 50 per cent of GDP and 140 per cent of GDP in the Second World War. Many times in our history it has been around the eight, nine or 10 per cent mark. We are on track with our sound fiscal policies and economic management to amortise that debt to bring it down to 0.5 per cent in due course.

This magnificent record of achievement, an unparalleled record of achievement, is a tremendous narrative. It is also part of how this government is achieving the economic reform so necessary for the future of this country—those dead years, Rip Van Winkle years wasted under the Howard government with the boom when we were not investing in the very key measures that were necessary to avoid the impacts and distortions of the mining boom which can create the so-called Dutch disease effect. The things that needed to be done then and were not done are being done now: the investment in infrastructure, the investment in innovation, the investment in skills. A good example of that in my own area is three new trade training centres in Eden, Bombala and Bega; the expansion of the facilities of the Queanbeyan TAFE; and the investment of $3 million in the Wollongong Access Centre facilities in Batemans Bay, offering new vocational and trade training opportunities to the kids in our region. This is contributing in itself to the new apprenticeship levels and jobs in the area that has got us down to that 2.8 per cent unemployment level. We are also taking the benefit from the massive investment in infrastructure and projects.

What also amazes me is that we hear a lot from some members of the coalition who claim to represent rural and regional Australia, but all we saw during their years was the vacation of services from rural and regional areas. They would look at a country school, and what would they do? They would give it a flagpole. My area is a great example of what is happening in rural and regional Australia: $100 million has gone into the 70 schools in my region. When I travel around the 70 schools the parents, the teachers and the kids have nothing but praise for what this transformation of our educational landscape has delivered.

Mr Gibbons: Hear, hear! You won't read that in the Murdoch press.

Dr MIKE KELLY: Absolutely, we did not read it—in fact, we read the opposite. But what we are seeing now is the kids in the country schools getting the same quality of education as kids in the cities for the first time, because new technology that has gone into those schools accompanying the BER—interactive whiteboards, connected classrooms that were not there under the coalition and were not invested in by the coalition—is enabling those kids to get courses, training and teaching that they were not able to get before.

Added to that is the $332 million coming in to Eden-Monaro in investment in our health. When I surveyed my electorate, I had an overwhelming response, over 7,000 responses, and 99.9 per cent of the top priority listed in the survey was health. People in rural and regional Australia suffered the denigration of those services over many years of neglect under the coalition. The billion dollars that was ripped out of the system by Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, when he was health minister is now being redressed by this government. I have seen the investment in primary healthcare facilities with the surgery in Bombala Street in Cooma, the surgery and facilities at the MPS in Bombala, the Queen Street private health facilities in Moruya, the mobile dental services on the coast, the dental surgery in Dalmeny, the brand new primary health service in Tuross Heads and countless facilities benefiting from our after-hours service injection of funding. Now we are seeing the GP superclinic fully operational and functioning in Queanbeyan. There is funding in this budget for the GP superclinic in Jindabyne. We will see next year the work commence on the $170 million new regional hospital in the Bega Valley, servicing our region with state-of-the-art facilities. This investment is magnificent, overdue and highly necessary in a neglected region like mine. This is what rural and regional Australia is getting from this government.

There are other benefits in this budget. This is a budget that delivers for low- and middle-income earners and for all Australians but also delivers some of the big visionary reforms that we were looking for to move this country forward to those new frontiers in disability issues and in aged care. We now have $1 billion towards the National Disability Insurance Scheme and a $3.7 billion funding commitment towards the reform of our aged-care sector, particularly to look after those long-suffering aged-care workers who have really been behind the door in terms of proper wages and conditions over many years. This is historic. It adds to the other historic measures in the improvements in our pension funds with, on a 100-year scale, an increase that we have never seen before, the introduction of the Paid Parental Leave scheme and the mining resource rent tax that finally gives Australians a fair share of the resources that they only get one chance to get the benefit of. These things are historic.

We are also seeing the measures that the health minister announced just earlier here to encourage the health workforce and deal with the health workforce shortages that we have. I will not go over those, but certainly they are having an effect. Just a week or so ago, the health minister was with me travelling around the electorate announcing a new $31 million scheme to really tackle that health workforce issue in our region with new facilities and training facilities and student accommodation in places like Moruya, Bega and Cooma. This is addressing the issue from every end of the spectrum.

Also in this budget we are delivering on the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program that the minister talked about. For the 16.1 per cent of people in Eden-Monaro who are over the age of 60 this will be a very important preventative health matter and one that I know they will welcome, along with the $500 million dental health blitz which will improve dental facilities in rural and remote areas. These are things that people in rural and regional Australia salute and welcome.

The Paid Parental Leave scheme has been taken advantage of by 790 local families in my area. The pension reform that I mentioned is benefiting 27,100 local pensioners in Eden-Monaro, with them receiving an extra $154 a fortnight if they are a single pensioner or, if they are couples on the maximum rate, an extra $156 a fortnight combined. We have seen the carer supplement improvements and the senior work bonuses that are benefiting 27,100 local age pensioners in my area who can now keep working and still earn up to $250 a fortnight and not affect their pension. This is a welcome reform for them and it helps us to encourage the retention of skilled and experienced people in the workforce. We are also receiving benefits through the family assistance payments, the Family Tax Benefit Part A and B injections and the single parent funding. Also my 48,000 local taxpayers getting their tax cuts on 1 July have seen three tax cuts in a row delivered to them now, which has greatly improved their circumstances. In fact, the wage earner in Eden-Monaro now pays $1,200 less tax than in 2007-08 as a result of those tax cuts.

Mr Gibbons: Plus the interest rate cuts.

Dr MIKE KELLY: Absolutely. The interest rate cuts have also enabled them to better deal with cost-of-living pressures. We are also seeing the superannuation benefits that are coming from the mineral resource rent tax, 41,500 local workers are going to see their superannuation guarantee increase from nine per cent to 12 per cent, and the benefits for the 18,200 small businesses in my electorate who will be able to take advantage of the loss carry-back program, the $6,500 asset write-off and the $5,000 vehicle write-off. Many of them have already talked to me about how they have utilised those provisions and how they took advantage of the 50 per cent write-off during the GFC. Many businesses have retooled, re-equipped and taken advantage of those provisions in other ways, as they have all around Australia.

Mr Gibbons interjecting

Dr MIKE KELLY: Now the school kids bonus will help my lower-and middle-income earners deal with the cost of putting their kids through school, not, as the Leader of the Opposition abused them, by wasting that money on poker machines. That was an insult to them of the worst and highest degree. They were certainly not impressed with his attitude to providing them with assistance with the costs of education.

Mr Bruce Scott interjecting

Dr MIKE KELLY: There are 8,250 families in Eden-Monaro, who are expected to receive a total of $400 a year for each child in primary school and $820 a year for high school kids. For the parents of our 14,500 local kids this will certainly be very welcome.

Honourable members interjecting

Dr MIKE KELLY: I mentioned that infrastructure is a key issue. We need to unclog the arteries of this country and improve ports, airports and roads. This budget delivers on the $60 million Bega bypass. It is 40 years since this project was first announced and the land corridor provided for this project. Now, finally, it is to be delivered. The main construction phase of the bypass will commence next month. We have also seen $3,822,000 delivered in this budget for the Roads to Recovery program, which is vital for the struggling councils in my region. We have also seen of course $2.5 million going to heavy vehicle safety road stops. It is important for the virtuous circle that we try to create in our country towns to make sure that their local amenities and sports facilities are dealt with too. We have invested heavily in such projects right around the region.

It is also part of the vision that we have for rural and regional Australia that we are delivering on the NBN and the clean energy future package. It is an exciting time for Eden-Monaro, which is seeing over $1 billion of investment in renewable energy projects. We have the Infigen Capital Wind Farm near Bungendore, which has 60 turbines. Infigen is going to add another 40 and is going to build a 50-megawatt solar farm there. We have a $700 million wind farm project being built around Boco Rock, near Nimmitabel. ActewAGL is drilling a geothermal sweet spot near Nimmitabel. We have Carnegie Corporation doing a wave energy project off the port of Eden. Its first test-buoy will go in next year. Of course, we have Snowy Hydro, the grand-daddy of them all. The Frontier Economics study that the New South Wales coalition government commissioned indicated that our region would be one of the top four in the nation to benefit from the clean energy future package and that there would be 2,300 new jobs generated by that package. My region understands that benefit. It understands that the future of the region is being preserved by the investment in a cleaner environment and our securing a clean energy future plan. The NBN also is so critical to rural and regional economies. I have a $200 million timber precinct investment from Dongwa, a Korean company, going into Bombala.

Opposition members interjecting

Dr MIKE KELLY: Dongwa intends to build a particle-board-manufacturing capacity that is incredibly and totally dependent on the NBN, because of the state-of-the-art equipment it intends to put in. The coalition intends to rip that opportunity out of rural and regional Australia by denying it the NBN. That is a complete betrayal of rural and regional Australia.

Eden-Monaro will not accept having this bright, shining future be ripped from it by a coalition so ready to sacrifice our opportunities and avoid the hard decisions. My community are not that timid, narrow-minded, defeatist, cowardly people the coalition believes them to be. They are ready to reach out and embrace the future with imagination and courage. Eden-Monaro is ready to show leadership. It is a shame that the coalition is only ready to lurk in the shadows, fostering confusion, fear and despair.

Honourable members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Order! Before I call the member for Maranoa, there has been far too much static coming from both sides of the chamber, which is making it very difficult for the chair to absorb the valuable contributions that are being made in this chamber tonight.