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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5180

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (20:19): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the protection, because I do want to make this contribution after what I just heard from the parliamentary secretary and member for Eden Monaro. His speech was very comprehensive. We heard a great deal about the rorts being put into Eden Monaro through the regional grants program. While I know that not one cent has gone west of the Great Dividing Range in Queensland, we have heard about multimillion dollar after multimillion dollar of regional rorts going into Eden Monaro. And this is what I am really surprised by: not once did we hear the words 'carbon tax'. I must read the Hansard tomorrow—I may stand corrected and will make a correction if I am wrong.

This budget did nothing for the real economy of our nation. A budget must address business confidence in this nation. I travel extensively in my vast electorate of Maranoa and small business after small business have said they have no confidence in investing in the future. They do not feel they have a future and any confidence will be dampened down with the introduction of the new tax announced in this budget—the carbon tax to begin on 1 July.

The other thing this budget did nothing about was addressing issues very dear to my heart: the city-country divide and the equality of access to health and education. Research papers which have been written show the numbers out there are quite alarming and are getting worse and worse. I will touch on that later.

This government is very good at introducing new taxes such as the mining tax and the carbon tax. With the huge global uncertainty out there at the moment, Europe is in a fragile state and the American economy is trying to recover from massive debt and record unemployment. But this government wants to smash the very economy that creates jobs and wealth for all Australians by introducing the carbon tax, which will cascade through the system. At every point when people purchase a product—food, electricity, registration and fuel for their car—the carbon tax will have a cascading effect. It will hit every element of our economy. It is not rebated to businesses like the GST at each point of sale. It will be passed on to the next level and consumers will have to pay.

We are the luckiest country on earth. In this global uncertainty why would any government want to hit the very economy that is going to be so important to an improving economy in the future? Is it any wonder that Australian people have no confidence in this Prime Minister? Workers are certainly worried about their jobs, but we know that this Prime Minister is only interested in her job.

The government are predicting a $1.2 billion surplus in the 2012-13 financial year. This time last year they were predicting a $12 billion deficit, which grew to $23 billion and now is $44 billion. If they cannot get last year's figures right, how can we possibly believe that in the forthcoming financial year there will be a $1.2 billion surplus, when they were out by $21 billion in the last financial year? It is just fanciful.

We also know that this government is great at spending money. Also included in the budget papers was a facility to increase the borrowing capacity of the Commonwealth from $250 billion to $300 billion. Try going to your bank and saying: 'We've got to increase our debt,' when you have had deficit after deficit. In fact, this government has not brought forward one surplus. They do not know how to spell the word, I am sure.

Mr Gibbons: Didn't you read the budget papers? $1.5 billion.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Now they are trying to say that in the next financial year there will be a surplus of $1.5 billion. Really! Just look at the record. I say to taxpayers out there, the hard working Australians, just look at the record and that will tell the story. The carbon tax will have a very real impact on my electorate—and not only my electorate but also right across Australia. Look at the impact on outback tourism, a significant part of the economy particularly at this time of the year. Southerners from other parts of Australia get out of the frosty plains of the cities and towns and come to western Queensland to see the wonderful weather and tourist attractions that we have out there. But it will cost them more to get there, whether they come by bus or plane or drive in their own vehicle. When they get there the accommodation will be dearer, so it will cost them more to travel. Outback tourism is a significant part of our economy in western Queensland.

Food producers are at the start of the chain of food production in this country. They will not be able to pass on the increased cost of electricity when they pump water, or grow food or fibre or cereal grains, as they do in my electorate. A few weeks ago I was in Stanthorpe looking at the possible site for a new dam which has been on the drawing board for over 20 years. It is a significant salad vegetable production area in Queensland, particularly in the summer months because it has a moderate climate. Those producers will not be able to pass on to the consumer the increased cost of producing that food. They will have to absorb it or not grow it. One of the concerns they raised with me, and others who were with me at those meetings, was that perhaps it would be cheaper to import it from overseas where the Australian carbon tax would not impact on the cost of producing basic food items.

I have two councils—Western Downs Regional Council and the Maranoa Regional Council. They have been identified as great big polluters and they are going to have to pay a carbon tax. Who will pay it? The councils will pay it but who will pay it ultimately? The ratepayers—the pensioners, the senior citizens, the businesses whose costs will be driven up. It is not rebateable. Will the farmers be compensated for the increased cost of production? This government seems to say that what it pays upfront is a compensation for the increased cost of living for a household. But no, the farmers will have to absorb it.

We talk quite often about a two-speed economy in this nation but what we are is two nations in this country that we all so love. We talk of the horizontal fiscal equalisation distribution of the GST revenue to the states. What I would like to see is some horizontal fiscal equalisation of that money, when it is transferred to states, to across the states, to the rural and remote parts of Australia. One particular priority for me is the area of health. The other day I was looking at the work of John Humphries from the Monash University School of Rural Health. To put it this way, if I were to hold up two photos of two newborn babies, identical in every way except that they lived in different Australian postcodes, they would show the difference in postcodes meant a difference of up to seven years in life expectancy. That is because one comes from rural and remote Australia compared to one living and growing up in the capital cities. The Monash University study showed that life expectancy in Australia decreases as remoteness increases. As I said, it is a differential of up to seven years, merely on the basis of the postcode of where you were born and grew up and lived. That paper also went on to say that life expectancy is increasing 20 per cent faster for urban Australians than their country counterparts. So, the lot for those who live east of the Great Dividing Range—anywhere between Port Douglas and the mouth of the Murray River—is that you have a greater chance of living another seven years. For those who live in urban Australia it is rapidly increasing; yet there has been no significant increase for those who live in rural and remote Australia. That is an issue that all levels of government have to address.

I think the big thing here really is access to education, specialist services and primary health care. We need to make sure that we can bring more services to those people who live in rural and remote Australia. Those figures should ring alarm bells for every level of government in this country. I repeat that number: a child born today in rural and remote Australia, just by virtue of the postcode where they were born, has a life expectancy seven years less than if they were born in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or anywhere east of the Great Dividing Range, which is a great divide. It divides this nation into two nations, not one. That is an issue that has to be addressed and it is one of the great passions that I have.

I also want to talk about the issue of access to post-secondary education, because that is another area where we have a great divide. The participation rate in post-secondary education—

Ms Rishworth: You should welcome our skills package.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: I will come to that. The participation rate in 1996 for students from rural and remote Australia was 18 per cent. By 2006 it was 21 per cent. In metropolitan Australia in 1996 it was 28 per cent and in 2006 it was 35 per cent. For those students from remote Australia the participation rate was one per cent. The member on the other side might scoff at this, but I represent a rural and remote electorate and I am passionate about the great divide that exists in this country. We have two nations, not one. I can put it another way. If you look at the population aged between 15 and 64 in Australia today, 27 per cent of them live in regional and remote areas, whereas 19 per cent are higher education students. But look at the participation rate. In 1996, 18 per cent of students from rural and remote Australia participated in post-secondary education. By 2006 it was 21 per cent. In metropolitan Australia the participation rate was 28 per cent in 1996, it rose to 35 per cent and it is still escalating.

What does that tell you? That assistance for students who live in rural and remote Australia so they can afford to access post-secondary education is the issue that must be addressed by government. The parents do not have the ability to send all their children away—these figures confirm it. Governments at all levels have to address this issue. Urban Australians have subsidised urban transport to access university or TAFE colleges. They can live at home and they can have a job if they remain at home. But those who live in rural or remote Australia have to leave home to gain access.

It is an issue of equality of access in the areas of health and education. It is an issue I am passionate about and we as legislators have a responsibility to make sure that we do more than has been done in the past, because the gap between rural and remote Australia and metropolitan Australia in the area of health and life expectancy and in relation to access to post-secondary education is widening. We talk of horizontal fiscal equalisation for the distribution of GST revenue to the states. Tasmania gets more than Western Australia, and we all agree that we should be a Commonwealth sharing in the common wealth. But when some of those funds go to the states why can't it be applied to ensure that your geographic postcode has no bearing on your life expectancy or your education opportunities? Today it does—the postcode where you were born, where you live and where you grow up.

People say, 'They choose to live out there.' Well, that is where their job is. That is where the great wealth of this nation is generated—in the mining sector, in the agricultural sector by the food producers of this nation. They live there and they produce this wonderful food for us, which is so often taken for granted in this country. My time is just about up—in fact it is—but I just want to say that it is a passion of mine, the inequality between people living in rural and remote Australia and those who are living in metropolitan Australia. The gap is widening. It is something that the government did not address in this budget and it is something that I will have on my agenda in the lead-up to the next election. (Time expired)