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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29358

Mr CIOBO (12:35 PM) —I am very pleased to speak in the cognate debate on these appropriation bills and to be part of the Howard government—a government that recently delivered a budget that is most definitely in the interests of all Australians. The budget delivered by the Treasurer, Peter Costello, the member for Higgins, has enabled all Australians to enjoy the dividends that flow from careful and strong economic management. It is a budget that seeks to further protect, secure and build on Australia's future by providing more help for Australia's most important building block—our families—by meeting the challenges of an ageing population, by further bolstering our national security and by investing more in schools, including the establishment of a national values framework for the benefit of the next generation.

Fundamentally, this budget continues the strategy that has produced seven budget surpluses, repaid $70 billion of Labor's $96 billion debt and brought unemployment, inflation and interest rates down to their lowest levels in a generation. However, as I stressed earlier, it does give something back to decent, hardworking Australians, who underpin our strength not only in our social fabric but also in our economic security and the overall strength of our nation. For my constituents in the electorate of Moncrieff on Queensland's Gold Coast it is a budget that I know is particularly welcome. I recognise that different Australians face many varied lots in life. For those on the Gold Coast—Australia's sixth largest and fastest growing city—we face a number of challenges that are unique to our city. These challenges include, for example, the pressures of a rapidly growing population and the consequences of that growth, including the fact that the number of available university places is certainly well below the national average per 1,000 people.

This is an issue that I have spoken on many times in the past, and I am pleased that this most recent budget put into place the appropriate framework and set the parameters so that this government can provide, through the education minister's higher education package, tens of thousands of new places for our universities. In addition, through the Howard government's careful economic management, we have been able to ensure that one of the Gold Coast's greatest needs—the establishment of a new medical school—was able to be met a short while ago.

They are but two examples. In addition, the Gold Coast is a city that is heavily reliant on the tourism industry, which contributes approximately 30 per cent to our local GDP. The important factor that we as a government have recognised is the contribution that tourism makes not only to Gold Coast City but to all of Australia. Employing over 550,000 Australians, it accounts for somewhere between $17 billion and $20 billion of export earnings every year. Again, as a consequence of the Howard government's careful, strategic economic management, we have been able to pay a dividend back to the tourism industry.

Most directly, under the plans of the recently released tourism white paper, over $600 million will be ploughed into the tourism industry over the next 4½ years. A significant proportion of that is the $235 million of new money that will go towards the marketing of Australia abroad. Incidentally, I was very pleased to attend in Parliament House last evening the relaunch of Brand Australia. The new slogan `See Australia in a different light' will focus not only on showing to the international inbound tourist the warm, friendly people that we are but also on encouraging Australians to holiday around this nation. This is another way in which the careful economic management by the Howard government has paid dividends at a very local level to my constituents on the Gold Coast.

They are some of the specifics. In broad terms, despite the fact that we face some unique challenges in our city, we also face challenges that all Australians across this wide brown land experience. That is part of the reason I was very pleased to see such strong support for families in this budget.

As I mentioned earlier, this budget builds on the fact that we have now repaid $70 billion of Labor's $96 billion of public debt. That, in turn, has seen a reduction in interest rates, inflation and unemployment. In this particular instance, I would underscore the fact that this reduction in interest rates is perhaps one of the most profound, yet often unrecognised, points of benefit to Australians as a consequence of a strong economy. The Gold Coast, like many parts of Australia, has experienced a significant property boom in recent years. Many Gold Coasters have made their first purchase of a new home, holiday unit or unit by the beach, and these people would most certainly feel the pinch of an increase in interest rates. I know for a fact that these people would be very concerned at the election of a Labor government, which left Australia with the legacy of a 10.5 per cent general interest rate when we inherited office in 1996. But let us not forget 17 per cent interest rates, when the Labor Party so badly mismanaged the economy and all Australians paid the price. As I have said, this is an often unrecognised but very important facet.

In a very direct way, this budget has substantially increased family assistance and provided measures to help achieve the balance between work and family. There can be no doubt that there is a greater need to achieve balance in this day and age. There are so many families across Australia—including on the Gold Coast—that will benefit from the increase of $600 a year in the maximum and base rates of family tax benefit A for each dependent child. Each family receiving family tax benefit A in 2003-04 will also receive a lump sum payment of $600 per child before 30 June 2004.

Those opposite can claim that to give something back is in some way a bribe to the Australian people, but I completely disagree with that. The fundamentally important factor is the connection between the expenditure and the revenue sides of government. Most importantly, we as a government could not spend a cent if we did not raise it through taxes first. So when the opposition talks about bribes, whilst in the same sentence talking about how they would like to put record amounts of money into expenditure, I have to ask: why is it a bribe? Isn't it simply a case of returning, to the families that need it most, the kind of support that is required? Is it not simply the case that, instead of only ever taking from Australian families, we as a government are able to give something back?

The reality is that there are many other families that also benefit as a consequence of this budget—those on the family tax benefit B, who will benefit from a reduction in the income test withdrawal rate. Women who return to work part time will be among the biggest winners. To provide additional help to families at a crucial time, around the birth of a new child, a new maternity payment of $3,000 will be introduced from July 2004 and increased to $4,000 from July 2006 and $5,000 in July 2008. This new initiative will be nonmeans tested and paid for every newborn child. It is an important new initiative that addresses, at its core, the reality that we as a nation face an ageing population. If there can be some government assistance, some return of taxpayers' dollars to assist young families who may be having their first or second child, then that is a very positive and well-conceived—no pun intended—initiative that needs to be supported.

Another measure in this budget to further help families juggling work and family responsibilities is the provision of 40,000 more outside school hours places and 4,000 more family day care places. I have had the great privilege of going to a large number of outside school hours care centres and family day care centres in my electorate of Moncrieff. I am delighted with the good work they do but I will name just one: the PCYC on the Gold Coast. It runs an excellent outside of school hours program as well as a holiday care program for young Gold Coast children. It not only teaches and instils in children the correct values but also takes some of the pressure off parents who need to continue to work outside of school hours and when their children are on school holidays. It is an important program. Again, I am pleased that this government has been able to achieve those returns to the Australian people as a consequence of solid economic growth and management.

One of the key platforms of this budget has been the substantial tax relief that has been applied—in particular, the increase in the income tax threshold for the 42 per cent tax rate that is being raised from $52,001 to $58,001 in July 2004 and subsequently to $63,001 in July 2005. The income threshold for the 47 per cent tax rate will be raised from $62,501 to $70,001 in July 2004 and subsequently to $80,001 in July 2005. Many Australians will benefit directly as a consequence of the increases in those marginal tax rate thresholds. Many Australians have suffered from very significant personal income tax rates. I am very pleased to be part of a government that acknowledges that we should try to reduce the income tax burden on Australian families.

The Labor Party will say that if you earn more than $52,000 a year you are rich and that people who earn more than $52,000 a year do not deserve to have the increases that this government is pushing through as part of this budget. But I completely reject that notion. Australian families who have an income of $52,000 a year or more are not super wealthy. They are middle Australia. I know that on the Gold Coast, in particular in my electorate, literally thousands of families are struggling to make do on incomes like that. They are not wealthy. They may or may not send their children to private schools and they may or may not have private medical insurance, but one thing is certain: families and individuals will enjoy the benefits of good economic management through an increase in the marginal tax thresholds. I warn all families and individuals that if the Labor Party is elected they will face the risk of having those increases eroded. The Labor Party has not ruled out that it might like to get its hands on that second tranche of increased thresholds for the marginal tax rates. The Labor Party has committed itself to increasing the number of— (Quorum formed)

I must have been getting close to the truth, because the Labor Party decided to call a quorum just when I was highlighting that the Labor Party is putting at risk the increase in the threshold rates for marginal tax. There can be no doubt that the opposition, which claims that it is about reducing the overall level of taxation while increasing expenditure but at the same time ensuring that there are bigger surpluses, really cannot provide the kind of economic framework that it suggests it can—it is just not possible. I can only assume that the Labor Party's calling a quorum during my speech in some way reinforces that point.

In the few minutes remaining, I would like to touch on one or two additional matters that have been addressed in this budget that directly affect my electorate of Moncrieff and the city of the Gold Coast. Principal among them is the significant challenge that our city faces with regard to transport needs. The reality is that the Gold Coast's significant population presents a great problem for transport infrastructure—principally roads. The road system on the Gold Coast is congested, clogged and suffering as a consequence of the rapid rate of growth. What this government, in particular the transport minister and the minister for roads, have done through the AusLink proposal is provide a record amount of funding to try to ease some of these problems.

I am pleased to be part of a government that is pumping $3.1 billion into road and rail infrastructure over the next four or five years. I am pleased that this Howard gov-ernment was able to provide $120 million, as well finding a path for the stubborn New South Wales and Queensland state Labor premiers, when it came to the Tugun bypass. Most importantly, I am pleased that the Howard government is providing $1.2 billion of additional expenditure to local councils across Australia—a large proportion of which is flowing to the Gold Coast City Council to help with our very real and great needs with regard to in some way alleviating some of the congestion on our major roads throughout the city of the Gold Coast.

The final point that I would like to touch on, which is an area that I know is of great concern to many of residents in Moncrieff and those people on the Gold Coast, is the support that this government has provided to older Australians and carers. The government has committed an extra $2.2 billion over five years to expand the number of aged care places and improve the quality of care and facilities. This issue is of great concern to Gold Coasters, and I am pleased that this Howard government's careful economic management means not only more aged care places but more nurses and better aged care facilities. In addition, the government is providing $255 million for a one-off carer bonus to be paid to eligible carers in June 2004 in recognition of their role of caring for a person with a disability.

In summary, the incentives and dividends that all Australians are enjoying in this budget are a consequence of the careful economic management and strong economic growth Australia has enjoyed. It has enjoyed this because of the careful economic management of the Treasurer, and I am very pleased that the Howard government has delivered this to all Australians. (Time expired)