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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2571

Ms HALL (10:01 AM) —It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2008-2009 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2008-2009 that show just how well-prepared the government is for handling the global financial crisis. This legislation is preparing Australia to cope with the crisis and many of the issues that will become apparent over the next few months—and, probably, 18 months.

The Rudd government, in contrast to the opposition, have shown that they are prepared to act now to put in place measures that will put Australia in a strong position in these very difficult and troubled times. This is opposed to the opposition’s approach of doing nothing, being obstructionist and being critical without offering any viable alternatives. It is a real contrast between taking action to prepare Australia for the difficult times ahead and sitting back, folding hands and indicating that you do not have to do anything—all you have to do is knock. If members of this House and the Australian public want to look in detail at what is happening, they will see an opposition more concerned about their own jobs and about fighting with each other than they are about preparing Australia for the future and protecting the jobs of all Australians.

We listen in question time each day to the opposition rolling out examples of workers who lose their jobs. These are people who have families and financial commitments, and it seems the opposition are excited about the prospect of their fellow Australians experiencing such hardship, losing their jobs and being in dire straits over the next few months or longer.

That is in stark contrast to what we have done on this side of the parliament. We recognise that it is going to be very difficult for Australia and for workers, and the Rudd government has decided to invest in Australia’s future, invest in infrastructure and put in place the right sort of protection for those workers who do lose their jobs. Under one of those schemes, newly redundant workers will become eligible immediately for intensive employment services and they will be able to access those services from 1 April this year. This is in stark contrast to the approach of those on the other side. Their approach has always been to make it difficult for people who are unemployed; there is an element of blaming the victims. So when people became unemployed, through no cause of their own, in the past those on the other side blamed—and I am sure if they were in power now they would continue to blame—those people. They are the slaves of Work Choices. They would still like to see Work Choices legislation in place. They care about only one side of the equation. They do not care about the other side of the equation—that is, the workers, the people who support the businesses.

We care about businesses. We are very mindful of the fact that businesses are finding it hard at the moment and we know we have to support businesses, but those on the other side of this parliament, with their commitment to Work Choices, believe that it should be easier for employers to just sack workers and, when they are sacked, not have in place programs like those announced by the Minister for Employment Participation. This program will give workers access to job seeker accounts. They will also have an employment pathway plan with a $550 credit to pay for specific, personalised assistance. They are the kinds of things that workers who are made redundant need and the kinds of things that those on the other side of this parliament have continually ignored.

Once again, I would like to refer to some of the measures in this legislation. Part of it refers to the infrastructure program. Under the previous government, there was a lack of investment in Australia’s future. We had a chronic skills shortage because the government of the day was not prepared to invest in training Australian workers. Under these appropriation bills a considerable amount of money has been put in place for doing just that. There is $43 million for apprenticeships and apprenticeship centres—$38.9 million to help trade apprentices find employers. In times such as these, that is a very important action. If an apprentice loses their job and remains unemployed and is unable to complete their apprenticeship, in the future Australia will lose the services of a tradesperson. The Rudd government has recognised the value of completing apprenticeships and is investing a significant amount of money to assist apprentices in finding new employers. As I have already mentioned, $36.8 million will be used by redundant workers to give them early access to programs.

Those two particular elements focus on the needs of Australia into the future by providing skills training now and linking apprenticeships with employers now, and recognising that employment and skills are vital for Australia’s future. Given the current economic climate, I think it is also worth mentioning that the government is investing more money in GEERS—some $70 million to ensure that workers receive the protection that they need. Also, there is $68.7 million for the implementation of the Nation Building and Jobs Plan advertising campaign. It is all about jobs, all about training and all about the future, and all about providing support and protection for workers now. I cannot help but make the contrast between what the Rudd government is offering workers and what the previous government offered workers. That is evident in the legislation before the parliament, in the policies and the programs that have been released, and it is acknowledged by the people within my electorate—you can see it on a daily basis. My area has a higher level of unemployment than the national average. People are embracing these programs and they really appreciate the fact that the government recognises their needs.

There is another aspect of this legislation that I want to refer to—that is, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government’s equity injection of $580 million will lead to a program of upgrades valued at over $1 billion by the Australian Rail Track Corporation in the Hunter Valley. This injection of funds to the ARTC for 17 projects is really appreciated. I want to refer to a July 2007 report of the House Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services. I was a member of that committee, and at that time we were looking at the blockages between ports and the fact that to maximise the potential of ports we needed to ensure that the rail connections to those ports were at the standard that they needed to be. The committee recommended that urgent consideration by the minister of that time be given to an upgrade of those facilities. I have to say that we would still be waiting for that if it had been left to the previous government. Some of the issues raised in that inquiry included the rapid increase in demand for coal exports and how the capacity of ports was being impeded by poor linkages. In the current legislation before the House, one project that will be funded is the upgrading of the track in that area. The current minister recognises just how important and vital the port of Newcastle is to the economic future of Australia. Because he recognises that fact, a large proportion of that money for ARTC is being delivered to the Hunter. I must say, it is welcomed by all in the Hunter.

Another aspect of investment in infrastructure has been the investment at the local government level. In my area, we are very fortunate that the two local government areas received a considerable amount of money. Lake Macquarie City Council received $2,117,000, and Wyong Shire Council received $1,529,000. Lake Macquarie council chose two projects—and they are excellent projects: the upgrading of the Regatta Walk Foreshore Reserve at Toronto, which is in the electorate of Charlton, and a $1.167 million extension of the Red Bluff shared pathway at Eleebana. This is an outstanding walkway on the foreshore of Lake Macquarie. If you are in that area on any day of the week, you will find people walking around the foreshore. This will be a state-of-the-art walkway. It is something that, like the Fernleigh Track that I spoke about in my three-minute statement, will benefit not only the Shortland electorate and the Hunter area but also anyone who visits the area. There is nothing more beautiful than walking around the foreshore of Lake Macquarie, which is the largest saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere.

You can see how beneficial the investment of funds in infrastructure in Lake Macquarie has been. There is also an extension to the cycleway at Buff Point on the Central Coast and to the Mannering Park pathway, which are also in the electorate of Shortland. Both councils are investing in infrastructure that will be used by the people in the area. There is also additional funding for special projects. Lake Macquarie has, in particular, a state-of-the-art children’s play area. It is designed for children both with and without disabilities. This park is very special; it has been replicated in other areas. The proposal that Lake Macquarie has put in is an extension of that project, and I wholeheartedly support it. I think it will benefit not only the people of Lake Macquarie but also, because of its innovation, other Australians as it is replicated throughout the country.

I cannot finish my contribution to this debate without referring to Building the Education Revolution. I must say that, over the last few weeks, I have been contacting all of the schools in my electorate. I can tell members on the other side of parliament that those schools are ecstatic. They have never had such an investment in education and they are embracing it. Every school will become a mini construction site; every school will have the ability to have capital works programs that have been needed for a very long period of time carried out.

I will just share with the House some of the programs that will be put in place. Some of the projects that the schools in Shortland are looking at are: halls—I think numerous schools have identified halls—admin blocks, as I believe currently some staff are working out of demountables and temporary buildings; libraries; COLAs; and the upgrading of classrooms, walkways and toilet blocks. The one thing that the schools were saying to me time and time again was that they were ready to go, that they could not wait until their projects were approved. They are all putting in their wish lists at the moment and they are all very mindful of fitting within the indicative cap that is being placed on them. Some schools are looking at a combined projects, which I think is very special. One school is even looking at providing a building that will be utilised by a number of organisations in the community as well as by the school itself. The schools are mindful of the fact that their projects will be used from both a school perspective and a community perspective as well.

The Rudd government recognises that we are in hard times. The Rudd government knows that we have to invest in training and infrastructure for the future. By doing that, we are protecting Australia, unlike the opposition that believes that the best approach to handling the global financial crisis is to sit on their hands and do nothing. (Time expired)