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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29348

Mr BALDWIN (11:48 AM) —I rise to speak in support of the budget. This is the Treasurer's ninth budget in succession, and I want to pay tribute to the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance and Administration for the hard work and planning which have gone into every budget since the Howard government took over in 1996. Discipline and consistency are key traits of this government's budget. Sticking to the plan and staying focused on the ideals expressed in the election campaign of 1996 have paid off.

Our idea was to create an economic environment in which people could be relaxed and comfortable. It was mocked, it was ridiculed and it was the antithesis of then Prime Minister Paul Keating and his Labor team. In 1996, when I first campaigned for the seat of Paterson, the electorate was moody and ready for a little stability. In my local area, the Hunter region, in 1996 the unemployment rate was 8.1 per cent. Bear in mind that at the height of the `necessary' recession—necessary according to Labor—in June 1993 unemployment in the Hunter was at 12.6 per cent and in Newcastle was much higher. Nationally unemployment was 8.2 per cent and Labor's average over the 13 years was 8.5 per cent. In 1996 mortgage interest rates were at 10.5 per cent and Labor's average was 12.75 per cent. In 1996 inflation was at 3.7 per cent and Labor's average was 5.2 per cent.

In 1994 the then Prime Minister of Australia told small business: `This is as good as it gets.' The electorate did not believe Labor then, and they should not believe them now. `Relaxed and comfortable' were the goals, and a good economic climate helps business to plan, grow and employ more people. Workers can have faith that their jobs will be there tomorrow. They can plan for the future of their families. Today, mortgage rates are at seven per cent, and our average over the past nine years is 7.14 per cent. Today's unemployment rate is 5.6 per cent, and our nine-year average is seven per cent. As I have said previously, unemployment in my area, despite the closure of the BHP steel plant five years ago, is lower today, at 7.7 per cent, than it was 11 years ago, at 12.3 per cent. Today inflation is at two per cent and our average is two per cent.

In 2004 the Prime Minister is telling business there is more to be done. Unfair dismissal laws are holding back small business and reducing employment opportunities. The state governments have to recognise that the unfair tax regimes they preside over need reform. I will come back to that later, but I would now like to talk on government debt. Call me a historian or call me an old harpy, but I will keep referring back to 1996 to compare the state of the government's finances under Labor. It is not ancient history; it is recent history. And it is relevant history because most of the old team are still over there on the other bench.

By 1996, Labor had racked up $96 billion in government debt. This debt had to be paid off and, as many people with credit card debts will know, if you do not pay off your debts you end up paying more interest. Paying interest means you do not have money for real purchases—in our case, services. When you reduce the interest obligation you free up money for services, and that is exactly what this government has done. Government debt has been reduced from $96 billion to $25 billion. Reducing this debt has freed up $5.6 billion dollars annually to spend on services. This is money that is much needed in electorates like mine as states neglect roads over and over again for years and years.

I will talk now on road funding. Apart from a small section of the New England Highway at Weakleys Drive, I do not have one federal road in my electorate. And if my nearest neighbour, the member for Hunter, had his way, I would not have one federal dollar spent on any roads in my electorate. The member for Hunter was quoted in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday, 15 May as saying that the federal government should not fund the state roads or local roads. Rather, the money should be put into the New England Highway, which is part of the national highway.

When I think about the Pacific Highway, as I said in this House earlier, Greg and Cath Campbell come to mind. Cath and Greg Campbell—who lost their two children, Jessica and Rebecca, and Greg's mother, Barbara, in an horrific road smash earlier this year—came to me and said, `Fix this road.' It is the only thing I can do. Even today, I still feel a deep sadness to the point of feeling physically ill when I think about Greg and Cath Campbell and what they have been through. That is why I am relieved—not pleased but relieved—that the federal government will spend another $93.2 million on the Pacific Highway in New South Wales in the next financial year.

Work on the Pacific Highway in my electorate includes: the completion of the Karuah bypass; the start of construction of 11 kilometres of dual carriageway between Karuah and Bulahdelah in the Great Lakes region; and duplication of 9.7 kilometres of highway south of Taree, including the overpass at Nabiac. I understand that a further announcement of work under this government's land and transport plan, AusLink, will be made by the transport minister in June. But I put the transport minister on notice: I am now fighting for money for the F3 extension and I am fighting for money for our coal rail corridor to make sure that our region does go ahead.

I was also pleased to see that in the budget the Buckets Way has received funding for the second year in a row. Over the four years, $20 million will be spent by the Commonwealth on this state regional road. At the moment, road works under way or completed include: replacing the Cromarty Creek bridge and rebuilding the approaches to Cromarty Creek; roadwork at Davies Cutting; roadwork at Wards River up to Lamans Creek in Stroud, to Dog Trap Creek and to the roads north of Stroud Road. Those are the current road works.

From 1 July this year, $6.5 million will be spent on road works near Belbora and Bakers Hill; work north of Wellard's Lane to Jacks Road intersection; work south of Gloucester; work at Lemon Grove Road; work north and south of the Booral turnoff; work on the rehabilitation of road near Stroud Road, Alderly Creek and Wards River—

Mrs Crosio —Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.

The bells being rung—

Mr Lloyd —Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to alert you that the bells have just started ringing now. There was at least 60 seconds when there were no bells ringing and I would ask you to take that into account.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wilkie)—I will do that. We will restart the timing. (Quorum formed)

Mr BALDWIN —The problem is that the Labor Party does not like to hear about sound investment in roads which their state colleagues in New South Wales withdraw funding from. As I said, there will be rehabilitation of road near Stroud Road, Alderley Creek and Wards River, and the replacement of the southern and northern Kundibakh Creek bridges. When the total $20 million work is finished, this road will be a testament to the good financial management of the Howard government, which has delivered better roads in my electorate.

This road has become a personal badge of honour. I believe this road should be rebuilt to provide a safe thoroughfare for motorists to towns like Stroud and Gloucester. As more grey nomads take to the roads on holidays in their retirement, they will use this road to go to Armidale. It will open these towns up more and more to tourism.

Personally, I think it is wrong that the Carr Labor government do not co-fund this road, a road which is their responsibility. It is wrong that the state Labor MPs in the area have not spoken out once for the people in the area to get this road funded by their state Labor government. That reflects the attitude of the old Keating regime: `If it isn't in Sydney, forget it.' Premier Carr can find another $20,000 a year to buy the vote of the Deputy Speaker in the New South Wales parliament but not one cent for the Buckets Way. Another road in my electorate that is being funded under the budget is the Weakleys Drive interchange: $1 million this year, $1.5 million in the next financial year for planning and then $22.5 million in the year after that.

Now I will address aged care. The old saying `we're not getting any younger' is truer now than it has ever been. We are getting old—all of us are—and we need more aged care and we need to keep improving the standard of care our older Australians get. My electorate is largely coastal—and it is the great Australian dream to retire to the coast and go fishing or to walk along the beach. While people are active and able to live at home when they first retire, there comes a time when they are not able to live at home without help, or they have to go into aged care facilities.

The Treasurer announced an additional 27,900 aged care places to be allocated around Australia over the next three years, including 13,030 in 2004. Labor calls it pork barrelling—but pork-barrel away, because I am happy to get some of these aged care beds in my electorate. If getting just one of these beds means a person receives quality aged care 10 minutes from their husband or wife, or their daughter or son, then pork-barrel me, please. The government will also provide a one-off payment of $513.3 million in 2003-04 to providers, or $3,500 per resident bed to help them improve aged care home standards.

Post budget, I have been asked by retirees over the past two weeks, `What's in it for me?' There is $2,772,000 for the 792 beds in my electorate to improve the facilities they provide. Great Lakes Nursing Home at Bulahdelah, with 51 places, will receive $178,500; Hillcrest Nursing Home and Kimbarra Lodge Hostel at Gloucester, with 45 beds, will receive $157,500; Lara Aged Care facility at Dungog, with 52 places, will receive $182,000; Stroud Community Lodge, with 25 beds, will receive $87,500; Myall Lodge Hostel at Hawkes Nest, with 10 beds, will receive $35,000; Raymond Terrace Gardens Nursing Centre, with 50 beds, will receive $175,000; Salamander Bay Aged Care Facility, with 60 beds, will receive $210,000; Bill King Aged Care Facility at Fingal, with 47 places, will receive $164,500; Harbourside Haven, with 146 beds, will receive $511,000; Tanilba Bay Hostel, with 41 beds, will receive $143,500; Kularoo Gardens Centre for Aged Care at Forster, with 134 beds, will receive $469,000; Forster Tuncurry Nursing Home, with 80 beds, will receive $280,000; and GLACIA at Tuncurry, with 51 beds, will receive $178,000. That is a great investment in my electorate. Aged care is an issue. Even though we have increased the beds by nearly 50 per cent since we came in in 1996, more needs to be done.

Other national budget aged care measures which impressed me included an extra $877.8 million over four years to increase wages for aged care nurses—we have to pay the people who care for our loved ones a wage that recognises their worth and their contribution—extra funding of $101.4 million over four years to expand education and training places for aged care workers and nurses, because we need more aged care workers not fewer; the introduction of additional payments for dementia and palliative care residents who have higher care needs; and increasing the maximum daily rate of the concessional resident supplement from $13.49 to $16.25 a day and indexing this payment. The great thing about these aged care spendings that I have just spoken about is that they are not on the back of tax increases; they are on the back of tax rebates, and they are sustainable.

Another important area for my electorate is defence. I was lucky last week to meet one of our serving defence personnel who has just come back from Iraq. (Quorum formed) It is painfully obvious that the Labor Party want to silence me and not hear about what we have delivered in the electorate of Paterson. The Labor Party simply do not care about the Hunter, and that is why they have lame-duck members in the Hunter Valley. They do not want to hear about the money we have invested in RAAF Williamtown—money for child-care places, money to bring in the Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft and the $50 million to upgrade the FA18s. The Labor Party care nothing about the people of the Hunter. That is reflected by their members and the lack of contribution they make. They are a Labor opposition that do not want to spend money on the defence of Australia or on providing infrastructure for our fine serving men and women. They are a disgrace in the way they have carried on. They are a disgrace in the way they have stopped me putting to the people the things we have done for Paterson. There is more. They will not silence me. I will continue on through other avenues to explain exactly what is in this budget for the people of Paterson. All I can say is: compare what we have done. Compare how we have brought down unemployment, inflation and interest rates to the increasing taxes of the state Labor government of Bob Carr, a mate of the member for Werriwa. This will be a sign of things to come in the electorate should Labor ever take power. (Time expired)