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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31754

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (10:33 AM) —For various technical reasons, partly because I introduced some of the budget bills and because I summed up the budget bills on behalf of the government, I was not able to speak as I often do with respect to the budget itself, so I would like to traverse some of the matters that I would otherwise have covered in a budget speech. The Howard government's ninth budget is great news for Sunshine Coast residents, offering assistance to families, students and couples, with tax cuts and a boost to people's retirement savings. The budget, importantly for an area with an ageing population like the Sunshine Coast, includes increased funding for aged care, boosting the number of places available as well as improving the quality care our older residents deserve.

This year it was my pleasure to attend the opening of a new aged care facility and the extension of another. The $11.3 million Southern Cross Care aged care facility was built as part of the first stage of the Caloundra Rise Retirement Estate. It includes 40 high-care and 60 low-care places for the region. It was opened by the Minister for Ageing. I opened the extension to the Caroline Chisholm aged care facility at Currimundi. The new facilities include 40 high-care and 38 low-care places. This means that the facility, which opened in 1996, can now provide Australian government funded residential care to 118 older members of our Sunshine Coast community, including special care for residents with dementia. Older, frail people and people with disabilities can also receive a variety of types of support to help them remain in their homes.

Just recently, the Howard government has helped to establish in the Fisher electorate a Sunshine Coast regional office of Carers Queensland, which is part of a nationwide network. The new office has received $755,000 from the Australian government as part of a joint federal and Queensland government Home and Community Care program. Sunshine Coast families will also benefit through the additional $19.2 billion, to be provided over five years, including a new maternity payment of $3,000 for each newborn child from July 2004, increasing to $4,000 in July 2006 and $5,000 in July 2008. This will be available to all families. Families will also benefit from a huge boost to child-care places to help take the pressure off families attempting to juggle the responsibilities of work and children. An additional 40,000 outside school hours child-care places and an extra 4,000 family day care places will also be provided.

Labor argues that there is nothing in the budget for Australians earning less than $51,000 a year, but there is in fact a great deal on offer through the tax cuts in previous budgets, the More Help for Families package, the government's commitment to help people boost their retirement savings and by increasing the HECS threshold for repayment from $25,348 to $35,000. Tax cuts also mean that the overwhelming majority of taxpayers, who earn between $21,600 and $63,000, will not face any increase in their tax rate as their income increases.

The Australian government is also committed to funding the infrastructure important for an area like the Sunshine Coast, which has one of the most rapidly growing populations in the nation. After successfully managing the Australian economy and paying back $70 billion of Labor's massive public sector debt, the Australian government, in this budget and through its AusLink and Securing Australia's Energy Future announcements, is providing lasting and permanent dividends, rather than spending taxpayers' money on interest payments.

I have been working with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to ensure that the Sunshine Coast is recognised in the allocation of infrastructure. In fact, I believe infrastructure and ensuring the Sunshine Coast's road link to Brisbane is so important that, prior to the last election, I identified seeking funding to update the Bruce Highway as one of my core objectives—an objective which I am pleased to say has been very successful. The worst bottleneck—the area between Caboolture and Brisbane—will be upgraded to six lanes, and this means that people will be able to travel to the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane much more quickly, and 80 per cent of people traveling to the Sunshine Coast do so by road. There will also be additional money to upgrade the Bruce Highway north of Caboolture, and this is particularly important.

The Sunshine Coast tourism industry will benefit not only from the commitment to upgrade the Bruce Highway to the Sunshine Coast but also through other commitments, including the gifting of the ex HMAS Brisbane to Queensland to be sunk as a dive site off the Sunshine Coast. This will bring 15,000 dive tourists a year and create 70 to 100 new jobs, and it will boost our local economy, including the tourism industry. I have been working on this issue for some time. I am pleased that the Premier of Queensland has finally signed the deed of gift and that all of the benefits will flow through to the Sunshine Coast as soon as the ship is sunk. Now that the ship is state government property, I urge the Premier of Queensland to sink the ship off the Sunshine Coast as quickly as possible. I think this is really important because the benefits that will flow through to our local economy will be very substantial. People will come from around the nation and around the world to dive off the Sunshine Coast—which is, of course, the most desirable part of Australia in which to live.

Mr Randall —Rubbish!

Mr SLIPPER —My friend is wrong. It is the most desirable part of Australia to live in. People move from Western Australia and the rustbelt areas of southern Australia to the sunbelt because it is a tremendous area. We welcome people. It is a wonderful area which I am privileged to represent in the Australian parliament. I thank the House.