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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1504

Senator McEWEN (3:11 PM) —It is a great privilege to be able to participate in this debate on the day that the Rudd Labor government and Treasurer Wayne Swan will deliver the first budget of the Rudd government. It is a budget that will go a long way to address the reckless spending of the former government, reckless spending that has meant that working Australians and their families are in a situation where they are facing interest rate rises—12 interest rate rises in a row—and an inflation rate of 4.2 per cent, and where the cost of living is outpacing their wage increases. Every senator in this place, I am sure, would have heard from their constituents about how difficult it is, if you are on an average wage, to make ends meet. We are looking forward to the budget tonight. For once, after more than a decade of the now opposition being in government, working Australian families will have a budget that addresses their issues.

It was very interesting to hear today the opposition finally taking some interest in healthcare issues. Of course, healthcare issues are always of interest on budget day. The neglect of health care by the opposition when they were in government has meant that the Rudd government now has an opportunity to deal with healthcare issues. The increase in the income levels for the Medicare surcharge will be a very welcome initiative for working Australian families. As we have heard, from 1 July 2008 the thresholds for the Medicare levy surcharge will increase from $50,000 to $100,000 per annum income for singles and from $100,000 to $150,000 for families.

During question time I heard government senators ask opposition senators many times which one of them was going to stand up and say that somebody who earns $51,000 is a high-income earner. Of course they are not. People on those sorts of incomes are desperate for some kind of income relief, particularly when they are attempting to pay interest rate rises. A constituent who is a single-income earner and is about to come off a three-year fixed term interest rate on her mortgage said to me just yesterday that she expects that the increase for her will be in the order of $100 to $150 a week because of the interest rate rises that have occurred in that period. She is desperate as to how she is going to find that money. I can tell you that working Australians like that woman, my constituent, will welcome this initiative to ensure they have more money in their pockets.

The Rudd government have already made numerous commitments to improving the healthcare situations of Australians. The former government failed to address GP shortages and struck more than $1 billion from the hospital system, so the Rudd government are coming from a long way back to try and address those situations, but address them we will. We have already committed some $600 million to reducing waiting lists and elective surgery lists. We have a range of initiatives to try and improve healthcare services for Australians who desperately need them. We made announcements about GP super clinics that have been very well received in areas that are going to get them. We are going to improve funding to our healthcare workforce to provide training to around 24,000 mental health professionals, and we are going to encourage more mental health nurses to stay in the workforce. We have committed to bowel cancer screening for all over 50 years of age as we know that bowel cancer is one of the biggest killers in Australia. The initiatives that we are taking in the healthcare industry are going to be very welcome. I was also surprised to hear the criticism from opposition senators about the Rudd government’s initiative to try and stop binge drinking amongst young people. What a disgraceful response it was from them to criticise an initiative which is intended to ensure that our young people do not become hospital statistics because they have too ready access— (Time expired)