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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15889

Ms GAMBARO (7:24 PM) —I rise tonight to speak to the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004. In doing so, I give praise to the measures announced in the federal budget that will benefit the people not only of the Petrie electorate but also of Australia. The Petrie electorate has an enrolled population of over 90,000 people. It stretches from Deception Bay in the north to Everton Park, Stafford and Kedron in the south. At the moment, there are about 125,000 people living in the Petrie electorate, according to the 2001 census. The electorate includes a number of outer Brisbane northern suburbs that have experienced incredible residential growth over the last five to 10 years. Some of the northern suburbs such as Mango Hill and Griffin are part of a corridor that extends from Brisbane through to Caboolture, and it has been dubbed the third fastest growing residential area in Australia.

Many of the residents living in this part of the world took advantage of the first home owners grant, which was introduced by the federal government in 2000, and they rely very heavily on a combination of low interest rates and a strong economy to ensure their money extends. Many of these people and others like them across other parts of the electorate have also benefited from the income tax announcements in this year's federal budget.

This budget provides benefits for all Australians, including families, students, senior Australians and the disabled, but among the biggest winners are low-income earners. Over 10,500 low-income households across the Petrie electorate, according to the 2001 census, will benefit from a rise in the low income tax offset to $235—a rise of $85 a year—and an increase in tax thresholds. An office worker, for example, earning $22,000 a year can expect a reduction in tax of $329 a year—that is a 10 per cent reduction in their tax liability whereas a senior Australian couple eligible for a senior Australian tax offset will pay no income tax up to $33,612, which is an increase from $32,612.

The increases in income tax thresholds and in the low-income tax offset will benefit close to 50,000 households in the Petrie electorate, from young families to retirees. It will mean that Australian taxpayers can keep a higher proportion of their earnings after tax. For example, a tradesperson on $55,000 a year will save $448 in income tax. These tax cuts effectively mean lower taxes for around nine million Australians, amounting to around $10.7 billion over four years.

The announcement of these tax cuts, along with spending for defence and for drought relief, is certainly an achievement for this government. In the US, they want to cut taxes by up to $726 billion. But while we are operating in a surplus, the US is operating in a deficit. The real difference between our two countries is that we can afford our tax cuts.

This budget is the sixth budget out of eight budgets in surplus. In 2003-04, that equates to a $2.2 billion surplus. What that means is that more can be delivered to more Australians without running a deficit. And we all remember those under the previous administration. We remember how the word `debt' was a feature of many of those budgets. We remember high interest rates and exorbitant monthly mortgage payments, and we remember low investment and business sentiment and high unemployment. A strong economy with consistent growth rates, low inflation and low unemployment rates equates to low interest rates and even lower mortgage repayments.

A family with a $100,000 mortgage is now saving $329 a month more than they were in 1995 when interest rates were at 10.5 per cent when Labor was last in power. Today, Australia is one of the very few advanced countries in the world to have consistently solid growth and budget surpluses and to honour commitments to defence spending while providing tax cuts. We continue to do better than any of our OECD counterparts, where the average budget deficit for the whole of the OECD is expected to be 3½ per cent of GDP.

As the Treasurer noted in his budget speech, Australia has been knocked around by recent world events, including the war in Iraq, international terrorism, SARS and the global economic downturn. He goes on:

We have been tested. But we are resilient.

And Australia's economy is resilient. The international body, the OECD, says Australia is `... notably resilient to shocks, both internal and external.'

William Pesek Jr., a columnist for Bloomberg News, described the Australian economy as `a role model for the world's biggest economies' in an article following the budget earlier this month. He said that, despite the major economies of the world struggling, in Australia we are thriving. Rather than worrying about high unemployment, low growth and stagnation, we are thinking about how we keep the good times rolling along. He states:

Yes, Australia's been a star-performer for a few years now. And, yes, some investors maybe missed out on the rally in the Aussie dollar. But more likely than not, this economy will continue to outperform most.

The budget is about investing in Australia's future. It is about investing in education, health, security and defence, and providing tax cuts to help Australian families to invest in their own future. It is about providing incentives to small business to keep the economy strong and helping small businesses to go global through a $2.5 million package—the Supplier Access to Major Projects program. It is also about the continuation of the New Apprenticeships scheme. A strong, stable economy is good for business, and good business conditions are good for consumers and for the economy.

This budget is also about helping those who are in need. The budget included $135 million over four years to improve services to assist job seekers with disabilities and $25 million to assist business services that provide employment for people with disabilities. This demonstrates our commitment to supporting the business sector that provides employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Business services currently provide employment to some 17,000 Australians with moderate to severe disabilities. It is expected that over the four-year lifetime of the $135 million budget initiative, around 6,000 job seekers annually will have access to improved employment outcomes as a consequence of the move towards case based funding. It is an effective system because it will ensure that job seekers with disabilities are catered for based on their needs. It also results in an average increase in funding for business services of around 15 per cent and for open employment services of nine per cent. The commitment of $25 million for the business services that provide employment for people with disabilities is an investment that will ensure the vibrancy and sustainability of this sector.

In effect, the government has delivered on these reforms to provide support for both business services and job seekers and to encourage diversity in the Australian labour market. These measures are part of an overall package of $186 million that is designed to assist both job seekers and children with special needs. The allocation of 1,250 new mainstream child-care places nationwide under the Special Needs Subsidy Scheme is very much welcomed in my electorate of Petrie. From speaking with local parents in the Petrie electorate who have children with a disability, I know how valuable the extension of this program will be for these children and their families. This injection of $25.8 million over four years is very welcomed by these families and is part of the federal government's commitment to meeting the needs of the Australian community. It gives parents the opportunity to undertake work or study, knowing that their children's needs are being met through the extension of this program.

There are other features in this budget that demonstrate this government's commitment to providing for our future by investing in education, health and training. There is record funding of $1.5 billion over four years to enhance our higher education system, including $161 million over four years for national education priorities with a focus on teaching and nursing. In addition, there is investment in our education and training system: the budget also includes $3.6 billion over three years to develop a high-quality training system with state and territory governments.

There is $917 million over five years to make health care more affordable, particularly for concession cardholders and veterans, through A Fairer Medicare package. There is also $16.4 million over four years for primary care providers to find better ways to help patients, increased defence spending of $2.1 billion over five years from 2002-03 and an additional $411 million to upgrade domestic security. These investments build on the consistently strong economic performance of the Australian economy with economic growth set for 3 per cent this year. Strong economic growth will not only keep our unemployment rate down but also provide opportunities for job seekers and businesses to grow and expand. This budget invests in the future of Australia; it invests in the quality of life we cherish. It gives Australians both quality of life and equality of opportunity.

One of the areas of need for Australian society, particularly given that we are an ageing population, is in the provision of public health. The Queensland government has again rejected the latest health care agreement from the federal government as contained in this budget. There is a $42 billion federal commitment to the Commonwealth health care agreements for 2003-08 with the states and territories, and that would assist the Queensland government to reduce those long hospital waiting lists. This offer included an extra $10 billion over the current agreement, making a total of $42 billion, an increase of 17 per cent over the next five years.

All that the federal government asked was for the states to agree to match the growth in federal funding of 17 per cent against their own funding. What is wrong with that? But the Queensland Premier has rejected this. As such, he has rejected an additional $851 million in funding that is available now for patients in public hospitals in Queensland. If he signs the agreement but fails to match the required 17 per cent growth, he will still deliver to Queensland's public hospitals 96 per cent of the $8 billion plus, which is an increase of over $2.1 billion under the current arrangements of this five-year agreement. But he does not even appear to be willing to undertake this.

According to the Commonwealth Grants Commission, Queensland is one of the first states to receive a financial windfall from the GST. It is expected that over the next five years—the period of the health care agreement that Premier Beattie rejected for Queensland's public hospitals—Queensland will receive close to $1 billion more from the GST than it would have received under the pre-GST revenue arrangements. This is a sizeable chunk of funding that could be spent on a whole range of areas of need in Queensland, including the ever growing hospital waiting lists.

Today, the Queensland budget was handed down. Among the announcements was a tirade against the federal government over our generous offer of $8 billion for public hospitals over five years. The Queensland government response was a $300 million increase, with over 50 per cent of that amount going in wages to nurses and medical personnel. I do not lament the wage increases for the fabulous jobs being done by Queensland nurses and medical staff, but I do lament the limited commitment of the Queensland government to the sick and needy in the state and the paltry sum they champion when an even greater fund is available by signing the Commonwealth-state health agreement.

There are still some sectors of Australian society that are not aware that all of the GST is returned to the states and territories. Many people are amazed when I tell them that Queensland, for example, will receive over $6 billion in the coming financial year from the GST. Ironically, most people in Queensland are amazed that so much money comes from the federal government, particularly when the Queensland budget has a tendency to be in deficit rather than surplus. From 2000-01 to 2003-04, the Queensland government have received a $1,573 million increase in untied funding from the federal government. That works out at an average increase of 10.3 per cent. The Queensland government are certainly better off under the GST and they know it.

Around 18 months ago, the Queensland Premier was advocating increases in funding for public schools. When the media asked him where he was going to get the additional funds from, he replied:

I'm going to get the money from the additional GST revenue that will flow to Queensland under the new taxation arrangement.

Queensland values the GST and the benefits it gives to them to fund a range of measures. In today's Queensland budget, the GST along with Commonwealth funding comprises almost 50 per cent of state government revenue. But, despite solid increases in the amount of Commonwealth funding that Queensland currently receives and will continue to receive, Queensland has a sad and sorry tale when it comes to the state of the budget.

In February this year, the Queensland government released their mid-year fiscal and economic review. The prediction was for a budget deficit of $741 million—the third consecutive deficit despite record increases in stamp duty, employment and economic growth. Today, that deficit was revised to $350 million, but a deficit is a deficit and the Beattie government seem only capable of returning deficits despite forecasting surpluses. In the area of finance, the Beattie government make a mockery of their `smart state' agenda. On 25 May, the Queensland Treasurer issued a press statement saying that Queensland was in a strong economic and financial position. He even had the backing of Moody's about Queensland's credit rating. Back in January this year, the Australian reported on the poor economic performance of the Queensland government according to Standard and Poors.

Earlier this week, it was estimated by the Property Council that the Queensland government would receive a windfall in stamp duty of $1.2 billion. Indeed, state taxation revenue is at $5.7 billion for 2003-04, and it represents some 26 per cent of their revenue. Couple that, just for a start, with the $6 billion in GST revenue that Peter Beattie is receiving in the 2003-04 financial year. So how do the Queensland government reward the good people of Queensland? One of the wonderful measures that they announced today is that they would increase the threshold on land tax payments but, at the same time, they would increase the minimum amount of land tax payable by 150 per cent. So while they appear to provide a sweetener, they are actually hitting people harder by increasing the minimum tax payable from $100 to $350. That is hardly what I would call a tax cut.

But do not take my word for it. The Beattie government's third budget and third deficit in a row are a disappointment. The Queensland Teachers Union today called it a `dud' budget. Queensland farmers have declared that they are the losers in this campaign and even the Australian Medical Association of Queensland finds fault with the Queensland government. The AMAQ president said on the AAP news wire today that the budget failed to tackle elective waiting lists. She said:

We have 11,000 Queenslanders on overdue elective surgery waiting lists and we need to see specific allocation to address this problem.

What a shame that Peter Beattie did not sign up to the Commonwealth-state health agreement. If he had, he would be doing something now about those waiting lists. Instead, he does nothing. The people of Queensland deserve the same financial commitment and integrity that the federal government makes to all Australians. Queenslanders deserve a future of robust growth and the delivery of services where they are most needed.

I applaud the federal government and the diversity of the 2003-04 federal budget that delivers to this nation in every community—from low-income earners, families, students and veterans to the disabled and the elderly. The federal budget is about protecting, securing and building Australia's future. It is about investing in Australia's future so that we, in turn, can invest in our own future with the surety and knowledge of good economic conditions and, particularly, good national security. I therefore support this bill.