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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15880

Miss JACKIE KELLY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (6:44 PM) —It is with pleasure that I speak tonight on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004. This is the eighth budget I have had the pleasure of supporting. It is another surplus, on top of a succession of surpluses that have been delivered in the face of $10 billion black holes, Asian economic crises, decisive action in Timor, the dotcom crash, 11 September 2001 and Afghanistan. This year was no different, with even more international impacts and domestically the worst drought in generations, reminiscent of the great droughts of the 1890s. What have the opposition offered in way of reply? Whingeing on the size of the tax cuts, as just reiterated by the member for Corio, and totally misleading the Australian public on proposed additions to our higher education and Medicare systems.

Let me remind those opposite, who seek to amend this budget, that between 1996 and 2003 there were 22,400 more university places made available to Australians under the existing no up-front fees Higher Education Contribution Scheme. That was initially introduced by Labor and engineered and orchestrated by Labor with the responsible support of the Liberal coalition in opposition. The 22,400 places are equivalent to three new universities and have more than kept pace with the population growth in the school leaver demographic. Currently, 18.9 per cent of Australians have a university degree.

There is some inequity here. In my electorate of Lindsay, I have the same number of students attending infant, primary and secondary school as there are in Bradfield. In Bradfield, there are 22,972; in Lindsay, there are 22, 911; and in Chifley, next door to me, there are 27,965. However, there are 43,654 people with a university degree in Bradfield compared to just 13,206 people in my electorate. In Chifley, there are only 11,761. In 2001, there were 11,521 people attending university in Bradfield but only 7,229 in my electorate and 6,950 in Chifley. What this suggests to me is that more people in Bradfield are accessing the fully funded places than people in Lindsay. In other words, the taxpayers of Lindsay are funding the university degrees of the school leavers of Bradfield.

Let us have a look at the opportunity of those school leavers in Bradfield to get the TERs required to snare one of those fully funded tertiary places, which have increased under this government to the extent that nearly 20 per cent of Australians have a degree. The median weekly income in Bradfield is $1,759, compared to $1,132 for Lindsay and only $899 for Chifley. In regard to internet access from home, in Bradfield there are 62,035 compared to 34,904 in Lindsay and 30,152 in Chifley.

Let us look at the numbers attending non-government schools. There are 12,590 in Bradfield, compared to 8,327 in Lindsay and 8,297 in Chifley. These figures do not tell you everything but they are good indicators of which HSC students probably have a room of their own at home in which to study, the types of assistance they get at home, the types of facilities they have available for study and the ability and willingness of their parents to pay for extra tuition in subjects in which that student is weak.

Let us have a look at the number of people with no qualifications. In Bradfield, there are 36,737. In Lindsay, there are 53,273 and in Chifley, there are 64,214. Of those with trade qualifications, there are only 9,858 in Bradfield, but there are 18,477 in Lindsay and 15,368 in Chifley. The number of tradespeople in Bradfield is 3,776, in Lindsay it is 13,283 and in Chifley it is 14,236. That tells me that more people would be interested in trades in my electorate because their dad was in a trade and their family influence is that way. They do not have the inclination, the desire or the family support to go to university.

Labor's amendments to this bill basically tell the taxpayers of Lindsay to go on subsidising the university education of the good citizens of Bradfield and that the Labor Party is not in the least bit interested in extending to the school leavers of Western Sydney, where 40 per cent of New South Wales children are growing up, the same opportunity that foreigners have in our universities.

Ms Burke —Foreigners don't pay taxes.

Miss JACKIE KELLY —Dr David Gow, an academic at the University of Queensland, recently wrote:

The Democrats and Greens and other critics of Our Universities—

Miss JACKIE KELLY —like those whingeing opposite—

should see their naive `no fees' policy for what it is. Their insistence on reducing or eliminating tertiary fees entrenches middle-class privilege and, perversely, requires the working class to subsidise that privilege.

Eventually the government will fund more and more HECS places as funds become available, unlike the previous government that just racked up debt. Indeed, the ALP have not shown how they would fund any more places at universities. They just want to stop the addition of full fee places, which any Australian can take up. How are they going to create the opportunities for people whose parents have not been able to buy them a TER and who have just missed out on a HECS place in a course they have wanted to do since they were a child?

Honourable members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Gambaro)—The level of the noise on the left side of the chamber is very high.

Mr Albanese —You're joking!

Miss JACKIE KELLY —In the Western Sydney seat of Prospect, 12.1 per cent are university educated—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Member for Grayndler, I ask you to lower your tone. I am sitting in the chair at the moment and I am unable to hear the member speaking.

Miss JACKIE KELLY —In Chifley the figure is 11.2 per cent; for Fowler it is 9.8 per cent. These three electorates also have amongst the highest proportion of school age children in the country, and yet only a few thousand in each electorate go on to university. Labor would have these people in these electorates fund, through their taxes, the education of students on the North Shore. You wonder what Labor is doing—I do not wonder, really—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Does the member for Grayndler wish to ask a question? The level of noise is very high.

Mr Albanese —I did not say anything.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —And if the member for Grayndler wishes to conduct a conversation, I ask that he sit next to the member for Chisholm and speak more quietly.

Mr Albanese —I said nothing. There is something wrong with you.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I ask the parliamentary secretary to continue.

Miss JACKIE KELLY —I attribute the attitude of those opposite as the very reason they have absolutely lost Western Sydney. In fact, Roozendaal's latest comments on the further loss of seats in Western Sydney are just a classic example of how far removed the opposition are from what should be a vote which goes fairly well their way, but people are just shaking their heads at Labor at the moment and asking, `Where are they?' They are supporting the issues, and having the working classes supporting middle-class welfare!

There are further benefits for the people of Lindsay in this budget package, and that is in the teaching and nursing degrees at the University of Western Sydney. We will be putting teachers back into schools and nurses back into hospitals due to the incentives in this budget. By creating a partially deregulated higher education system, the UWS will be able to capitalise on its strength and more adequately respond to student demand. Students in Lindsay who choose to pay full fees for their university course will be able to access low-interest loans. Students who are from low-income families or of Indigenous descent will be able to apply for some of the 7,000 new Commonwealth learning scholarships that will be provided each year by 2007, and young residents in Lindsay will be able to join in the popular New Apprenticeships scheme.

Consider this: there has been a downturn in the global economic climate, we have been through a war on terror and a war in Iraq, and Australia has experienced the worst drought in generations. In this climate, it would not be unreasonable to assume that any government would be in financial difficulty. However, this government has managed to secure not only a budget surplus but also a tax cut. Much has been made of this tax cut, and particularly by those opposite who fail to understand the principle behind the tax cut.

The tax cut is a recognition that the money is not ours. It belongs to the taxpayers and, as such, it should be returned to them. Those opposite want to deride the size of the tax cut, but nothing in the amendment that they have moved shows me how they would make it bigger. Nothing in the amendment that they have proposed show us a bigger tax cut. If they are not decrying the size of the tax cut, they are decrying the fact that we have a tax cut at all and saying that it should be spent on hospitals and schools. If every person from the opposition to speak on this bill continues in that vein, I will expect every single one of them to write cheques for the exact amount of their personal tax cut from this budget and to send those cheques to their local school and their hospital every year, in perpetuity, with directions on the expenditure.

I have said before in this place that in dealing with economics it is often easy to focus on facts, figures and statistics and to ignore the impact they actually have on people and their families. A reduction in the unemployment rate, stark in percentage terms, really means that people have found work and a sense of self. A reduction in interest rates means that families pay less on their mortgage repayments and it enhances their standard of living and their ability to do other things with their disposable income. These things have the potential to increase the quality of life and the happiness of both families and individuals.

Let us look at health care. Those patients who choose to pay their fees will not have to line up in Medicare offices to get their rebate or their doctor's cheque. This saves time and bother for the time-poor residents of Lindsay, especially working mothers and those with small children at home, who, in the past, have had to go to a Medicare office in order to do some transactions. Anyone who has attempted to get small children on a bus for a particular outing and then back home again knows very well that you may be able to get one errand done on that day but that is it. To be able to transact all your business at the doctor's or specialist's surgery, at the hospital or at the chemist is an enormous boon. It is about dragging our health system into the 21st century where, electronically, the government follows you to where you do your transactions.

It makes sense to allow people to claim their Medicare rebate at the doctor's surgery. The opposition is basically saying, `We'll increase the rebate.' That would go straight into the doctors' pockets; it would do nothing for falling bulk-billing rates. My husband, a specialist, who works on occasion in Dubbo, became ill there recently and could not get to see a doctor because their waiting lists are closed. If you were not a current patient, you did not get to see a doctor. Increasing the numbers of doctors will enhance the rate of bulk-billing. When the numbers of doctors have increased and there is competition—there is enormous competition in my electorate of Lindsay, where the bulk-billing rate remains at about 92 per cent—then the bulk-billing rate will be enhanced.

This government has ensured that there is no means testing for bulk-billing. Furthermore, it is encouraging doctors to move out to outer metropolitan areas and to other areas where there are few doctors. Fifty-seven extra doctors, specialists and registrars have so far been approved to relocate to work in outer suburbs across Australia where there are doctor shortages. That will achieve something in terms of bulk-billing. It is about competition between doctors. The opposition will simply raise rebate levels, which will go straight into doctors' pockets and cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money. The only people to benefit will be the doctors. They can still choose not to bulk-bill. If their books are closed they do not have to deal with the Medicare system, wait for their money or be involved with the government. The government's scheme provides a tremendous incentive for doctors to be involved. It also provides a safety net for concession cardholders where, from January 2004, if they spend more than $500 on out-of-hospital services funded by Medicare, they will have such out-of-pocket expenses reimbursed at 80c in the dollar.

They are key initiatives that have been totally misrepresented and warped by Labor, with their amendment to this bill just showing their total lack of policy and comprehension of the real issues. They will continue to treat the symptoms and not look at the root causes of the problem, as they have done with education. It was not about education being free; it was about the initial barriers to school leavers of education. With bulk-billing, it is not about how much the schedule rebate is—that will not make a difference. It is the number of doctors who are available and the competition between doctors which will make a difference, and the incentives that government offers to doctors to electronically receive their rebates.

Lindsay is home to many members of the ADF. I have RAAF Glenbrook in my electorate; the 5th Combat Engineer Regiment; and Navy, Army and Air Force personnel at the joint logistics organisation at Orchard Hills. Furthermore, there are many ex-service men and women in my electorate. Suffice to say they recognise the importance of Australia's defence policy, unlike those opposite, whose defence and foreign policy consists of cheap political points. This budget adds more than $2.1 billion over five years for defence, bringing the total defence budget to more than $15 billion. This includes an extra $156 million over four years for a new special operations command; an extra $102 million over three years to recruit more military personnel and to improve retention rates; and an extra $70.7 million over two years to enhance security at defence bases around Australia through increased guarding, patrolling and protective services. My old service, the RAAF, gets five new-generation air-to-air refuellers; electronic warfare self-protection for our C130H Hercules transport aircraft and Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters; and ballistic protection for our Sea King helicopters at over $250 million.

For Lindsay veterans, the new local medical officer agreement will ensure that gold and white cardholders have access to free health care. The government will be spending $61 million over four years, which continues programs like community care, which provides project funding for ex-service and committee organisations which support veterans and war widows. Projects include more access to community services promoting healthy lifestyles, and this is of particular importance to many Vietnam veterans in my electorate.

In employment and workplace relations, young job seekers in Lindsay will be required to participate in intensive support job search training as soon as they start receiving unemployment payments rather than having to wait three months. The intensive support is an individually tailored service which helps identify areas where job seekers need most development. They will receive assistance with job applications and interviews, making it easier for young Australians in my area to get their first job. The government will make available an additional 21,000 intensive support places throughout Australia over the next three years.

The budget also provides for the employment innovation fund to begin in July 2003, which gives up to $100,000 for initiatives that tackle employment or labour market related problems in innovative ways. The fund is a way of promoting community based action on employment—something I am sure even the member for Werriwa would support. It addresses specific employment and labour market problems and alleviates the social consequences of unemployment. Local councils, community groups, not-for-profit organisations and Job Network members are just some of the organisations that will be able to apply for these funds. A program like this gets the community involved in helping those who have fallen on hard times back on their feet. Once again, the Howard government has produced a budget that delivers to the people of outer metropolitan Australia. I commend this bill to the House and congratulate the Treasurer.