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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 2993


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (18:39): I rise to speak on this MPI because it provides a good opportunity to put on record the positive benefits that will come out of this federal budget for the Australian nation and for Australia's people and to refute some of the claims put forward by Senator Joyce and those opposite, who continue to run a negative campaign that does not serve them well let alone Australians and certainly does not highlight the fact that this budget very much provides a positive benefit for so many Australians throughout our community. Why is that? It is because this budget is about spreading the benefits of the boom to all corners of our country by delivering a much-needed new financial relief to families and businesses who may be feeling under pressure at this time. We of course are returning the budget to surplus in that process. In doing so, we will provide a buffer in the uncertain global times that may lie ahead and give the Reserve Bank room to cut interest rates, which is another thing that will be very much welcomed by Australian families.

Not only are we delivering a surplus, despite various revenue losses; we are delivering reforms which will make our economy stronger, make our community stronger and provide for a much fairer society. Some of those reforms are groundbreaking reforms. They are Labor reforms. They include the first historic steps towards a national disability insurance scheme, something that is so welcomed by so many in the community sector, including those living with disability and their families and friends. On top of that of course is the much-needed aged-care reform to help senior Australians stay in their homes. That is very much welcomed by those in my state of Tasmania, which has Australia's fastest-ageing population. There is also a big investment in dental care, to deliver a blitz on our public dental waiting lists. That is very much welcomed by those in my home state, as it is by people across the country. As we know, the public dental waiting list has become quite long since the time that the Howard government scrapped the Commonwealth dental scheme. There is a huge investment in our health system, featuring 76 major projects in regional Australia. That is important and welcome for those in the health sector and for those who need to access it. This of course is all part of Labor's commitment to manage the economy responsibly in the interest of working Australians, not just the fortunate few.

There is something in this budget for just about everyone, but I am pleased to see the creation of a National Children's Commissioner. That is an important federal policy that looks to our responsibility to look after children who may be at risk. The National Children's Commissioner will have a broader role in the interests of children and children's policy in this country.

There are a number of other areas that will have benefits for the community. I am pleased to see that SBS has received funding additional to its base government funding over the next four years. There will be something like a 27 per cent increase in funding for SBS, which is important for that national broadcaster. SBS has also received funding to enable it to launch a new national free-to-air Indigenous television service, which will be so welcome to everybody in our nation, not just those of Indigenous background. It will be important in enabling the next generation to understand the culture of our first Australians.

Also in the budget were new, reduced limits on the amount of cigarettes and tobacco that people are allowed to bring into Australia. This is an important complement to some of the tobacco measures that have passed through the parliament. We take seriously the issue of tobacco related illness. Because of that, inbound travellers, who presently are able to bring in something like 250 cigarettes or 250 grams of cigars and tobacco products tax free, will from 1 September this year be able to bring in only 50 cigarettes or 50 grams of cigars. That very much complements our antismoking strategy, which includes, of course, the world's first plain-packaging legislation, the 2010 increase in tobacco excise, a significant investment in antismoking social-marketing campaigns, the restriction on advertising of tobacco products on the internet and subsidised nicotine replacement therapies and other support measures to help people quit smoking and discourage people from taking up the habit. We have done that, and the results are very positive. Something like 15.1 per cent of people aged 14 years and over smoke—that is a 2010 figure—as opposed to 30.5 per cent in 1988. Nevertheless, something like 15,000 Australians die from a smoking related disease every year, so there is still much work to be done.

This government's budget is really about sharing the benefits of the mining boom. It is about recognising that a fair go is not just a quintessentially Labor value but a founding principle of this nation. When the colonies came together to form this nation in 1901 they did so on the understanding that a Commonwealth should always mean exactly that: that the wealth and prosperity created in this country is common to all of us. In Australia we manage that wealth through a process of horizontal fiscal equalisation. This principle recognises that not all states have an equal revenue base. Right now, some states like WA and, potentially, Queensland are flush with mining revenue. They have the right minerals and are taking them out of the ground at the right time. Others, like Tasmania, rely on long-term industries such as manufacturing that are facing unprecedented issues such as the extraordinarily high Australian dollar and changes to freight and shipping conditions out of our state. All states should be able to provide a decent standard of care, and the Commonwealth exists to support states during those times.

That is why Mr Abbott's recent calls for the GST to be distributed on a per capita basis are an attack on Australian values and, in particular, on smaller states such as Tasmania. Tasmanian Liberal senators should be embarrassed by their leader's position. They have been incredibly quiet in relation to their leader's position on the GST. They probably are incredibly embarrassed and probably have been called by various constituents on the fact that they are not standing up for Tasmania and Tasmania's fair share of the distribution of GST.

We know that on 2 May, when visiting Western Australia, Mr Abbott responded to the campaign started by WA Premier Colin Barnett and recently joined by other Liberal premiers to change the GST allocation. In the estimation of these Liberal premiers, the policy of horizontal fiscal equalisation that has served Australia and their own states so well in difficult times, such as times of industry infancy when boom towns were gloom towns, is no longer good enough. Conveniently, it is not good enough right now when Liberal governments are reaping the benefits of the mining boom, but it was fine in 2006-07 when WA was a net beneficiary of the HFE policy. Never one to miss out on a short-term political grab, Mr Abbott said to his Western Australian audience that he was sympathetic to Mr Barnett's argument and that the current distribution of the GST needed to more closely reflect an arrangement based on population. That would clearly disadvantage the smaller states, which, naturally, have a narrow revenue base.

The federal Labor government will not disadvantage smaller states. It believes in the common wealth of this nation. It has provided a budget that does very much spread the benefits of the boom to all corners of our country by delivering to our families and businesses under pressure much-needed new financial relief that is very much welcomed by them.