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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2150

Mr ZAHRA (9:40 AM) —It is becoming very clear that there is a very significant disconnect between what ordinary Australian people—in particular those in country districts—are feeling and what the Howard government is doing in response to those people's concerns. You would never find a better example of this than in the budget recently brought down by the Howard government. In my electorate—and, I suspect, in your electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, and in the electorates of other country members of parliament as well—a very large percentage of people will get no benefit at all from the tax cuts. In fact, the figures reveal that only six per cent of people in the electorate of McMillan earn incomes of more than $52,000 per year. So only six per cent of people in my electorate will get any benefit out of the tax cuts.

At the same time as this is happening, no additional support is being provided to ordinary age pensioners, who in many parts of rural and regional Australia are having to put up with increased rates as the value of their properties go up, increased costs of insurance and, because of the GST, the increased cost of living associated with their ordinary grocery and other expenses which they pay week to week. We know that people are doing it tough. We know that hardly anyone is getting any benefit out of these tax cuts. But still there is no support from the government for pensioners or for those people who have been identified as finding it particularly tough going at the moment.

We know as well that, in the Gippsland region, bulk-billing is down. You get no better illustration of that than in the West Gippsland region in the area around the Baw Baw Shire—Warragul, Drouin and Trafalgar—where bulk-billing has declined from 63 per cent in 1996 to 44 per cent. We know that dairy farmers are struggling with a very low milk price and the federal government still continues to do nothing to provide a fair dairy market so that people can get a decent price for their product. We know as well that the federal government has been handling the import risk assessment for importing apples and pears from New Zealand in a disastrous way, which has created a lot of uncertainty for local apple and pear orchardists. We know that schools funding, as delivered by the Howard government, favours the category 1 schools, mostly based in Melbourne and Sydney.

There is a massive disconnect between what is going on in ordinary people's lives in country electorates in Australia and what the Howard government is doing. Whilst it might be seen in the newspapers that things are very close in the opinion polls, it is my belief that people are quietly very angry with this government—very angry indeed—and that will be shown on the day of the election.