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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14942

Mr LINDSAY (7:28 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for your call tonight during the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004. The government has abandoned the battlers of Australia? I wonder if the honourable member understands some fundamentals in the budget process that underpin support for the battlers of Australia. I guess the best thing that a government can do is to run a sound, well-managed economy that keeps interest rates at record low levels and inflation way down—that is the best thing that you can do for the people of Australia, and that is what the government have been doing. The government have been doing it because from 1996, when we were first elected, we took the really difficult decisions. The honourable member talks about the opposition taking difficult decisions. Goodness me, I remember those days in 1996, when it was extraordinarily difficult to bring the budget back into line. Thank goodness that the Howard government did it.

Thank goodness, with the experience of the very many unexpected things that have happened over the seven-year period, that we are able to bring back a soundly managed economy that runs budget surpluses. It is to the credit of Treasurer Peter Costello that he, along with the ministry, took those tough decisions and made sure that we were able to run a very soundly based economy. I think this is a period in Australia's history that will be looked back upon by the scholars of history as an indication of how a government, in fact, can run a soundly based economy.

The fundamentals underpinning the budget are protecting, securing and building Australia's future by taking responsible decisions to protect the Australian economy. A lot of talk goes on about, `You could do this,' or, `You could do that,' but fundamentally the budget that was delivered on 13 May did just that, and thank goodness it did. There are a lot of nuances, and the previous speaker, the member for Fraser, was right about what might happen with the Australian dollar, where it might go and what the risks are. There are many other risks as well. But goodness me, this country has had to deal with so many unexpected pressures in this changing world—most of them coming from external influences, such as a weak world economy or in the context of terrorist threats, of homeland security and so on. We have been able to deal with that because we had a strong budget and we are running a strong economy. We want to keep Australia's economy strong. We have a commitment to stronger national security—that is, creating the conditions to allow for a more confident economy and a more secure future for Australian families.

I think Australian families understand that, yes, there are some difficult choices. But the Howard government is a government that has been prepared to stand up for difficult choices, and it now has a long track record where it has made some difficult decisions to ensure that we are able to keep the economy strong. Of course, we have been able to do that at the same time that the international economy has certainly had some grave difficulties. We have been able to do that by building on defence and national security—which is very important in my electorate. We have been able to cut personal income tax. We have been able to preserve Medicare. We have been able to increase access to Medicare. We have been able to pour a whole lot more money into education.

In summary, I think I am a member of a government that is the only government in the world that has delivered a budget this year that has been able to provide for massive unexpected spending on a military operation, massive spending on new security arrangements to keep Australia safe, massive increases in health expenditure, particularly through Medicare and through the Australian hospitals agreement, and massive increases in education, while at the same time delivering tax cuts to all Australians and a surplus as well. That is the trifecta in one. I was very proud on budget night to see all of that delivered.

Turning to my own electorate and being a bit parochial about this—and I think it is important to be a bit parochial about this—I represent Australia's largest tropical city, which is the Townsville-Thuringowa region, a city that is booming at twice the state growth average. Some say it is the work of the local member—I like to hear that. Certainly we do a lot of work to make sure that the city powers along. Townsville has done very well out of the federal budget this year. I am very proud that one of the centrepieces of the budget was the delivery of a super centre of research for Townsville. This is the newest super centre of research in Australia, and it is being delivered in North Queensland.

We have been able to arrange a formal affiliation between the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University. This formal affiliation will be called AIMS at JCU—the Australian Institute of Marine Science at James Cook University. AIMS at JCU will be a science powerhouse because of the opportunities. In fact, the director of AIMS, CEO Professor Stephen Hall, calls it the `Harvard business school of tropical marine science education and training'. We cannot do any better than that. We are building on the centre of gravity of tropical marine science that exists in Townsville, through AIMS, through JCU, through the reef CRC and through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is headquartered in Townsville. It is a huge resource of marine science; we lead the world. This new super centre of research, this new cluster, will attract the highest quality postgraduate students from around the world. It is a marvellous result for our region.

There were big increases in Defence spending in Townsville. Not only do we have the most significant tropical marine science centre in the world; we also have Australia's largest Army base—Lavarack Barracks. We also have a very significant RAAF base, RAAF Townsville. Huge amounts of money were provided in the budget for Defence for new capital works. The redevelopment at Lavarack Barracks and RAAF Townsville has pumped $103½ million into the Townsville economy this year. Some marvellous work has been done by the contractors, Leightons and Theiss, at the two respective projects. On top of that, there are a number of ancillary projects. We expect to have another 100 accommodation units built on base over and above the 1,004 units that have been built in the last year. They will cost $12 million extra and that will circulate through the economy. More work will be done on the combat training centre. On top of that, Operation Safe Base, an Australia-wide operation, will impact positively on Townsville. More people will provide the enhanced guarding, patrolling and protective searches to make sure our bases are safe.

Lavarack Barracks is home to Australia's ready deployment force. The battalions in Townsville respond within 24 hours anywhere in the country. We are on the shortest notice to move—and well we might be, because virtually all of Australia's overseas operations in the last 10 or 15 years have been mounted out of Townsville. There is also a landmark figure of almost half a million dollars to implement the defence injury protection program, which was a very successful pilot program in 2001-02 that resulted in a reduction in injuries of over 70 per cent. It is good to see that that project will become a full-time project in Townsville.

That was not all the good news: there is more! James Cook University has had its biggest boost in years from this budget. Do not let me hear anybody say that the Howard government does not support higher education. The boost that James Cook University got in this budget delighted the senior academic management of the university. They could not believe that the government delivered so much. A number of regional programs in the budget were of great benefit to JCU. The AIMS affiliation will also benefit JCU, which will become the most significant regional university in the country. It will become a regional sandstone. I was very disappointed that the opposition called James Cook University a second-class university. It made me very angry. Senator Carr was responsible for making the claim, and he made it publicly. James Cook University is also very angry. The university is under-taking world-leading research in its immun-ogenetics program, through the medical school, as well as in marine science and earth science. The Labor Party consider JCU to be a second-rate university. I hope they continue to say that loud and long because I know that the 8,000 students in Townsville will not be very happy about that and neither will the academic staff.

We have been able to reduce the regional loading for the university in the budget. JCU is in the top five for extra funding out of the 32 regional universities. It delights me that we were able to achieve that. This budget will also give us an increase in base funding in the year 2005, which will be another $9 million for JCU. An additional 210 nursing places will be provided at regional universities. JCU has a very significant nursing program, so it will benefit from that initiative. It will also benefit from the new Commonwealth learning scholarships, particularly for students who have to come from rural areas of North Queensland. JCU students themselves will benefit from the approximately $3.7 billion in financial assistance to students through new student loans. To cap it all off, the Commonwealth Education Costs Scholarships are there for regional students as well. It is just a delight to see that that has happened.

When the state government brings its budget down on 3 June, I hope that it can match the increases that the federal government have provided in areas such as health and education. Parliamentary Secretary Worth might be interested to know the Queensland figures. Since the Howard government came to power, funding for state schools has increased by a massive 69.2 per cent. If anyone ever tries to say that we do not look after the state school system, they can be shown to be completely wrong. This year I would like to see the state government match the federal government's contribution to state schools. Let us see whether they deliver that in their budget.

It is the same with the funding for hospitals. The parliamentary secretary will be aware that the government have offered additional funding of up to $42 billion under the Australian health agreement over the next five years for funding of public hospitals. It is a 17 per cent increase in real terms. We want to see that matched by the state governments. It is a very interesting situation indeed in Queensland. There have been terrible problems week after week at the Townsville Hospital. It is a world-class hospital, but there are new problems every week. The extra money that has been offered by the Commonwealth should be pumped into hospitals like Townsville Hospital, but Premier Beattie has said, `We don't accept the Commonwealth's offer.' Queensland stands to lose $851 million because the Beattie government will not match the Commonwealth's increase in spending. Secondly, it will not be transparent about where it spends its money and will not show us that it is actually spending the increases on hospitals.

State governments have become pretty cute about these things over the last few years, so the Commonwealth government has decided to insist that its increased funding for hospitals is actually spent on hospitals. But the Beattie government is refusing to sign up to that. I wonder what that means. I wonder what has been happening over the last several years. I wonder if funding destined for hospitals never got there and it went somewhere else. The Commonwealth government is going to stand its ground and, if the Beattie government does not sign up to a great deal—an extra 17 per cent in real terms over the next five years—Queensland is going to miss out on $851 million of funding. I will be looking at that very carefully.

In the few minutes that I have left, I would like to comment on ALP Medicare policy. I could not believe what Simon Crean announced in his budget reply. He said to the whole of Australia that people who live in regional areas—like Townsville—are second-class citizens. ALP policy is that people who live in regional areas are second-class citizens. Do you know why? What he has done is announce a Medicare policy which says that, if you are in a capital city, doctors will get an extra amount of money if they bulk-bill 80 per cent of their patients. But, if you live in a regional city, doctors will get an extra amount of money if they bulk-bill only 75 per cent of their patients. If they live in a rural area, doctors only have to bulk-bill 60 per cent. How can you run a policy where you expect more people to be bulk-billed in the capital cities than you do in a city like Townsville, the capital city of Northern Australia? What a discriminatory policy. We will not be treated as second-class citizens, and we will reject the Australian Labor Party whenever they treat people in regional Australia as second-class citizens. I invite them to continue to do it, because it means the Howard government will be in power for a long time.

There are two final matters. I saw the managing director of the ABC in Senate estimates today. Something I would like to see for Townsville is the replacement of ABC Radio National, which has a transmitter in Townsville, which I think two and a dog listen to. I would love to see its program feed change to ABC News Radio, a much more relevant program these days. It is the radio equivalent of Sky News television. People want up-to-date information. They want to be able to turn on, get what they need and turn off. I think that that particular transmitter would be much better used if it was used as a feed for ABC News Radio. I challenge the ABC to have a look at the listenership of Radio National in Townsville and, when they find what it is, to change to News Radio.

Finally, just a big hi to the men and women of HMAS Newcastle, which I sailed on in the not too distant past. They are a great crew. I will have some more words to say about that at a later time.