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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29339

Ms WORTH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (11:08 AM) —It is now just over two weeks since the Treasurer stood in this chamber and delivered a budget that provides more for families, more for aged care, more tax cuts, more for carers and more for new parents.

Two weeks later and the silence from the opposition on its own budget details is deafening. The opposition leader has responded in this chamber to the budget. He has addressed a National Press Club luncheon, gone on talkback radio and made reassuring noises on family values but, when it comes to the details, there is nothing. His `ladder of opportunity' may warm the hearts of motivational speakers and his reading books to children may further increase the wealth of J.K. Rowling but, when it comes to telling the Australian people how he intends to run the Australian economy if elected, he is silent. The opposition leader is not alone. His shadow Treasurer also has been developing the art of talking a lot but saying very little. His own party did not want him as their leader, but they now think that the Australian public will warm to his economic credentials. One wonders, from the ongoing confusion in Labor's ranks on economic policy, whether they have any plans at all.

I think that it is very important to highlight the stark contrast between the budget speech of the Treasurer and the reply by the Leader of the Opposition. The Treasurer outlined the clear vision of a government that had kept the economy growing and was able to reward the hard work of Australians, while offering more for families, further tax cuts and a better aged care system. In contrast, the opposition leader's response was high on rhetoric and very low on substance. My concern with the opposition leader is his ability to back up his promises with any plan of action. The Advertiser, in its editorial following the opposition leader's budget-in-reply speech, said that the opposition leader was `long on promises and short on detail' and that the speech `does not show Mr Latham is anything more than a smooth talker'. Political commentator Glenn Milne wrote in the Australian newspaper:

... Latham will have to get off the big shiny ideas and get down into the dirty business of detailed policy—

So far, that detail is very sadly lacking.

The 2004-05 budget should be recognised for providing security for families so they can plan for the future. The improvements in family tax benefits, tax cuts and maternity payments offer families more choices at a time when unemployment and interest rates are at record lows. Importantly, even with these significant measures, the budget remains in surplus. As the Treasurer indicated, the government will not spend money it does not have. In fact, the government has repaid $70 billion of Labor's $96 billion debt. At a time when countries much bigger than Australia have gone into recession, this is a very remarkable achievement.

What must also be recognised in this debate is the success of the taxation reforms in not only greatly improving our taxation system but also providing money to the states and territories. In 2004-05, after only four years since the introduction of the A New Tax System, every state and territory will be better off than they would have been had the tax reform not been implemented. This means that in 2004-05 every state and territory will receive more revenue from the GST than they would have done under a previous system of financial assistance grants and the state and territory taxes that were abolished with the new tax system.

My home state of South Australia will be $130.9 million better off this financial year as a result of that tax reform. This figure builds to an increased revenue of $236.1 million by 2007-08. Across the whole country, we are $1.6 billion better off in 2004-05 and will be $2.9 billion better off by 2007-08. This extraordinary achievement means that there will be no excuses for state and territory governments in not providing important health and education services through the additional money that they now receive from the Australian government.

I congratulate the Treasurer on the announcement of significant tax cuts for Australian workers. Middle income earners have until now been subject to tax rates that are higher than the top tax rates paid in other countries. Bracket creep is also a problem as people cross into higher tax brackets. These changes will make us more internationally competitive and reward effort. I have heard the predictable criticism from some people that the changes to the tax system disadvantage lower income earners but, if you actually look at the nature of our progressive taxation system, such criticism is unfair.

I was interested in the words of the Treasury secretary, Ken Henry, when he talked to a business economists' lunch about the extraordinary progressivity of that tax and social welfare system, in that many people pay proportionally higher rates of tax the more that they earned. Mr Henry gave a comparison of a family, with one child under five years of age, earning just $10,000 a year which had an effective, after tax and social security, benefit of $26,000. The same family with an income of $100,000 had an after-tax income of $67,613. In other words, a family with a tenfold increase in earnings only increased their disposable income by 2½ times. As Mr Henry said in his speech, by international standards, our higher marginal tax rates cut in at quite low levels of income, and our income support payments are subject to a much higher than normal extent of means testing.

The Treasurer pointed out earlier this week that 99.8 per cent of Australian families with children will benefit from either tax cuts or increased family benefits in this year's budget. As the Treasurer also pointed out, if you claim the family tax benefit under the tax system, the effect of the benefits means that a single income family with two children does not pay tax until the family income goes above $40,975.

Many of the budget measures announced this month will greatly benefit people in my electorate and South Australia as a whole. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight just a few of them. I was particularly pleased to see the wine equalisation tax rebates for South Australian winemakers. The government will rebate $290,000 of wine equalisation tax to every wine producer per annum. While the grapes may be grown in country South Australia, many people in my electorate are directly and indirectly involved in the wine industry and therefore will benefit from this important decision.

I also applaud the decisions to provide more aged care places. In South Australia an extra 1,675 aged care places will be created from now until 2006-07, with the bulk of those places being created in 2004-05. A further $438.6 million will be provided Australia wide over the next four years towards building, refurbishing and expanding aged care facilities. The one-off payment of $513.3 million, or $3,500 per resident, will provide for significant investment in improving building standards for aged care homes by 2008.

I also welcome the positive budget measure for veterans, with the government providing $157.7 million over four years to ensure that veterans and their dependants who have gold or white repatriation health care cards retain access to specialist medical services as private patients.

I was delighted to see the government delivering on an earlier commitment to provide funding for local roads in my electorate. The government has announced an additional $26 million in local road funding for South Australian councils over the next three years. The funding is in addition to the $106 million in 2003-04 provided as financial assistance grants to local government in South Australia. In January this year funding for local roads under the Roads to Recovery program was increased by approximately $100 million over five years.

These significant announcements follow my own extensive lobbying and that of my coalition colleagues in South Australia for a more equitable share of local road funding. Under financial assistance grants, councils in South Australia had around 7.7 per cent of the national population and 11.7 per cent of the national roads but received only 5.5 per cent of the local road funding.

I met with the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Senator Ian Campbell, to lobby him on the shortfall in financial assistance grants and to urge him to increase South Australia's share of funding. I would like to place on the record my appreciation of his understanding the situation and fixing it. I understand that the increase in funding has also been welcomed by the Local Government Association and the RAA. Unfortunately, the South Australian government has made the situation far worse by taking away money from its regional road program grants and reducing funding from $2.2 million in 2001-02 to just $700,000 in 2003-04. I call on the South Australian Treasurer to follow the Australian government's very good example and reverse this mean decision.

The government has also delivered on its commitment to provide funding of more than $365 million over four years for a range of local initiatives to help families, children and communities at risk, through a new Stronger Families and Communities strategy. The Enfield Early Learning Service in my electorate have already benefited from this announcement. They are one of the first organisations to receive new funding to continue their excellent work to help children and families in the northern suburbs. I will certainly be encouraging other local community groups around Adelaide to have a close look at the comprehensive package of initiatives and to apply for funding if they believe their idea or project will make a real difference to their community.

Another positive project in the budget is the establishment of a $20 million national community crime prevention program, which will include a community grants scheme to support grassroots projects designed to prevent crimes such as graffiti and vandalism and to improve community safety and security. I can assure colleagues that the feedback from my electorate is that that initiative is very important indeed, as graffiti in inner-city areas can be quite a problem.

As strong as the Australian economy is, there are always significant challenges to be faced by the people of Adelaide. The latest one was the announcement last Friday by Mitsubishi Motors to close the Lonsdale engine plant. While the plant is outside my electorate, there are many people living in my electorate who are directly or indirectly affected by this decision. They work at Mitsubishi, work at factories that supply parts for Mitsubishi or provide other services for the company. If there were ever a case of a cloud having a silver lining, this is it. While the decision to shut down the Lonsdale plant was very disappointing, the decision to keep the Tonsley Park plant operating is very good news for all concerned.

I would like to take this opportunity to wholeheartedly support the actions of both the Australian government and the South Australian government in their efforts to keep Mitsubishi in South Australia and to offer assistance to workers affected by the Lonsdale plant closure. The Australian government is putting in place a $50 million package of assistance measures that involves a combination of labour market program assistance to help those workers as well as measures to attract new investment and create job opportunities in South Australia. Clearly this will help Mitsubishi staff and create valuable investment opportunities in Adelaide.

Apart from very local issues, there are always ongoing external challenges for the people of Adelaide, as there are in other parts of the world. I refer to our ongoing war on terrorism and, in particular, the war in Iraq. It is of concern that we need to keep reminding people—and, unfortunately, some who sit on the other side of this chamber—that a key reason that Australia was part of the coalition of the willing was to stop a tyrannical government inflicting atrocities on its own people. Once again I defer to the words of Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and East Timor's senior minister for foreign affairs and cooperation. He wrote in the Australian on Friday, 14 May that cutting and running in Iraq—as some countries have already done—only gives comfort to terrorists and those who would seek to undermine democracy. He wrote:

No matter how the retreating governments try to spin it, every time a country pulls out of Iraq it is al-Qa'ida and other extremists who win. They draw the conclusion that the coalition of the willing is weak and that the more terrorist outrages, the more countries will withdraw.

He continues:

As a Nobel Peace laureate, I, like most people, agonise over the use of force. But when it comes to rescuing an innocent people from tyranny or genocide, I've never questioned the justification for resorting to force.

Jose Ramos-Horta points out that:

Saddam's overthrow offers a chance to build a new Iraq that is peaceful, tolerant and prosperous. That's why the stakes are so high, and why extremists from across the Muslim world are fighting to prevent it.

As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, I would like to mention a number of the positive initiatives in my areas of responsibility in recent months that will once again benefit from the budget. The Australian government has again shown a strong commitment to its Tough on Drugs strategy. Last month, the Prime Minister announced that $17 million will be provided in additional grants to help tackle Australia's illicit drug problem. This funding, made under stage 2 of the Non-Government Organisation Treatment Grants Program, will assist 62 organisations across the nation, including three in my own electorate, to provide a wide variety of new treatment projects. This is in addition to the funding of $47 million allocated to stage 1 of the same program, which was announced by the Prime Minister in August and October 2003.

The funding will provide new services for treating people struggling with illicit drug problems, with particular emphasis on addressing the emerging issues of increased psychostimulant use and the comorbidity that exists between mental health disorders and problematic drug use. These are issues we need to treat seriously and take action on. Last week, I launched a monograph that showed Australia is not immune to the global phenomenon of an increasing use of psychostimulants. The revised National Drug Strategy monograph Models of intervention and care for psychostimulant users shows there are clear signs that psychostimulant use is increasing in Australia. This increased use of psychostimulants, particularly methamphetamine use, poses significant challenges for law enforcement and treatment services. Subsequent violence, depression and psychosis have serious consequences for the individual, treatment providers and the wider community. This revised monograph and other recent surveys have highlighted the importance of developing a range of coordinated, complementary and innovative interventions focusing on psychostimulants and addressing prevention, treatment, harm reduction and supply reduction.

On the issue of comorbidity, last week I was fortunate to spend a whole day taking part in a forum that was jointly organised by the Australian government and the Mental Health Council of Australia—and which was funded by the Australian government—to look at early intervention initiatives. The forum was attended by some of the top psychiatrists, clinicians, GPs and other medical specialists as well as drug and alcohol service providers. I congratulate everyone who took part in this event. I found it challenging and thought provoking, and there were clear messages about how the areas of mental health and drug and alcohol services need to work closer together to help our young people. I also would like to make special mention of the three young people—Jenelle, Eric and Jane—who not only recounted their own experiences of depression and drug use but provided wonderful input to the debate. The outcome of this forum will greatly inform the government as it moves forward in this important area. I also note that further funding for comorbidity was announced in the federal budget to continue this very valuable work.

Another critical issue for this government and for the health of many Australians is our measures to reduce the incidence of smoking. Tobacco smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death and disability in Australia. It kills more than 19,000 people, is responsible for about 80 per cent of drug related deaths and costs the Australian community around $21 billion in social costs per year. Central to this is our commitment to introduce graphic health warnings on tobacco products. Following extensive consultation with consumer groups, the tobacco industry and the wider community, the government will shortly introduce regulations into parliament which will lead to the introduction of these new warnings.

On another health issue of note, I would like to congratulate the Breast Cancer Network Australia on the launch of the My Journey kit, a resource developed by women for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. I had the pleasure of launching this kit in Melbourne along with other prominent breast cancer survivors, including former Olympian Raelene Boyle and former federal minister Ros Kelly. The My Journey kit contains information on a range of topics, including emotional survival, physical wellbeing, help for partners and families, the importance of a multidisciplinary medical team, treatments, practical advice about what to take to hospital, returning home, going back to work and financial issues. Even with the advantage of my nursing and pathology background and my work in the health portfolio, I would have benefited greatly from the kit at the time of my own diagnosis. This kit has been written and prepared in easy to understand language by women who have been through the experience themselves. In addition, all the major medical colleges, including surgeons, general practitioners, radiologists, medical oncologists, nurses and pathologists, have endorsed this kit. I am very pleased to advise colleagues that the Australian government contributed $200,000 to this wonderful resource. (Time expired)