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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5402


Senator CAROL BROWN (2:35 PM) —My question is to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery, Senator Arbib, in relation to the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan. Could the minister advise the Senate on the progress of the Building the Education Revolution schools infrastructure program as it is rolled out across the country as part of the economic stimulus plan? Isn’t it the case that this program, the largest school modernisation program in Australia’s history, is already providing work for tradespeople and small businesses in every state and territory? Is the minister aware of any details of the Building the Education Revolution schools infrastructure projects that have been completed?


Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —I thank Senator Carol Brown for that question. Yesterday, as the Senate might remember, I talked about Yandina, a state school in Queensland, which was the first school to be completed. I am happy to inform the Senate that the second Primary Schools for the 21st Century project has now been completed and that is in Tasmania. It is the Ouse District High School in the Derwent Valley K-12, which now has a new multipurpose hall, which will be used by students at the school and also by the local community. It is a great result for that local school and also for the state of Tasmania.

As senators would know, these sorts of projects are going on in every primary school across the country. Senators opposite may not want to hear the good news because they voted against it. They voted against the Ouse school getting that funding and getting those facilities.

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator ARBIB —Senator Brown also asked about the employment aspect of this construction. I am proud to say that 35 workers have worked on this site, on this high school—and it is not just tradespeople; it is also apprentices—covering apprentice carpenters, joiners, electrical, mechanical services, plumbing, painting, plastering, glazing and concreting.

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Arbib, resume your seat. When there is silence, we will proceed.

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! When there is silence we will proceed!


Senator ARBIB —Thank you, Mr President. This is good news. We know the Liberal Party hates good news as to the economy, but it is good news for tradespeople. It also builds on the other work we are doing with the stimulus. The Tasmanian senators should listen to this because they voted against it. In Tasmania they voted against the Brighton Bypass and transport hub. They voted against 27 Black Spot Program projects getting funding. They voted against $4 million going to community infrastructure programs, and $7 million for the Launceston stadium. (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order on both sides! When there is silence we will proceed.


Senator CAROL BROWN —I thank the minister for his answer, and that is good news for Ouse. I wish to ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of suggestions that the Rudd government’s economic stimulus strategy is no longer necessary and should be rolled back?

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Continue, Senator Carol Brown.


Senator CAROL BROWN —Can the minister confirm for the Senate that the economic stimulus construction projects are currently underway, and that in about 12 months time there will be around 35,000 individual construction projects around the country? Can the minister explain how these infrastructure construction projects support jobs both directly and indirectly in communities? What would be the consequences of rolling back the economic stimulus?

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator Sherry —You want another 200,000 unemployed, do you? That’s what you want!


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Sherry, the time for debating this is at the end of question time! When there is silence I will call the minister.

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order on both sides!


Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —As Senator Carol Brown said, there will be 35,000 infrastructure projects getting underway over the next 12 months. I do note the comments by the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Wentworth, that the stimulus package should be wound back or that it should be stopped. This just goes to show the faulty judgment that the member for Wentworth has. What would happen if we rolled back the stimulus project? What would happen to those projects? More importantly, what would happen to small business? What should we do? Ring Garry Bannister Constructions, which is on the North Coast, employing three extra workers and 15 contractors, and say to Garry: ‘Sorry Garry, you don’t need to work on that school anymore. Put down the tools, the stimulus is over. Don’t bother worrying about the school hall.’ What about we ring up Defcon Constructions?

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Minister, resume your seat.


Senator ARBIB —They hate hearing this!


The PRESIDENT —Resume your seat! The time for debating this, as I have pointed out, is at the end of question time. I am sure both sides would be interested in debating answers. That is the time to do it, not across the chamber during question time.


Senator ARBIB —They used to care about small business. They used to claim to be the champions of small business. Now they could not care less. ‘Let’s just roll back the stimulus— (Time expired)


Senator CAROL BROWN —Mr President, I thank the minister for his answer and I ask a second supplementary question.

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Resume your seat, Senator Carol Brown. I cannot hear you because of the interjections that are taking place. I now call Senator Brown.


Senator CAROL BROWN —Is the minister aware of roughly how many small businesses operate in Australia and how many Australians they employ? How does the Rudd government’s support for small business and tradespeople, through the economic stimulus, compare with any alternative proposals? Is the minister aware of any alternative small business plans?


Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —Yes, I can answer that. There are 1.9 million small businesses employing 3.8 million Australians. Senator Heffernan has made some comments regarding the stimulus, and I will get to Senator Heffernan, but yesterday I raised some of the applications for the Jobs Fund through the stimulus package. I talked about Andrew Robb’s, but they keep coming. Today I received an application from John Forrest, the member for Mallee. But it does not stop with members in the other House. Senator Ian Macdonald has contacted my office for the Carpentaria Shire Council. And there is a second one from Senator Ian Macdonald. Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells: the champion of the Illawarra, and where is she asking for funding? Not for the Illawarra, but for the Italian Forum in Leichhardt. Senator Heffernan has also sent me one, and what does he say about the Jobs Fund? He says:

I am confident the Jobs Fund program will create and support local jobs. It will build up community confidence and morale and support and improve community services.

(Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Johnston is entitled to be heard in silence when he asks his question.