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Wednesday, 6 June 2001
Page: 27433

Mr LINDSAY (5:21 PM) —Last evening, I was observing in no uncertain terms the difficulty that the opposition has with the current budget and the difficulty that it has with its own policies in relation to what it might do if ever it became the government. I was making it clear that the opposition cannot stand up and promise to roll back the GST and to increase spending on health and education and at the same time have a bigger surplus, without making some amendments to the taxation system in this country.

I note that the opposition continues to move around the country promising and saying whatever it needs to to get a vote. This morning I heard another example of this. The shadow minister for small business, Joel Fitzgibbon, has been promising the restaurant industry, as I understand it, that a Labor government would remove FBT in that industry—for heaven's sake, it was the Labor Party that introduced the FBT—and when challenged by the industry and asked to put it in writing, there was no letter—

Mr Ian Macfarlane —What? There was no letter?

Mr LINDSAY —No letter. I think that business and ordinary taxpayers in this country need to understand that these are hollow promises. When the Labor Party comes to government, it will just do what it needs to do—

Mr Ian Macfarlane —Put up taxes.

Mr LINDSAY —The minister is correct. It will put up taxes. I would like to continue on now in relation to a very grave concern that I have along similar lines in relation to defence. Defence is one of the most important industries in Townsville and Thuringowa. We have Australia's largest defence base. We are the home of the ready redeployment force—that is the force that went to Timor and also the force that has been so active in other trouble spots, like Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.

Major questions in my mind remain unanswered following opposition leader Kim Beazley's post-budget interviews. The questions that you really have to ask are: is Labor committed to the funding outlined by the government in the defence white paper? And, if Labor is elected, will Mr Beazley rule out slashing defence funding? I do not think so. Mr Beazley told Laurie Oakes on Channel 9's Sunday program on 21 May this year that a Labor government could pay for its promises by redirecting current Howard government spending. In this year's budget we have record spending, as foreshadowed in the out years, on defence in this country—and well have we done that. Mr Beazley said quite proudly that these figures give the Labor Party plenty of ice for an opposition to skate on, and it is not just the opposition saying that. It is all also being said by Saul Eslake, the chief economist of the ANZ Bank. I do not agree with all of Saul Eslake's suggestions as to how Labor might do it, but he points out that, when governments are putting out new outlays of something like $25 billion into defence over four years, there is plenty of ice for an opposition to skate on if it is looking for a cool $2 billion or $3 billion.

Saul Eslake was asked on the 7.30 Report on 22 May to nominate areas that Labor might cut to fund their promises. Labor could look at scrapping indexation on petrol, which would cost $2.5 billion over four years, or they could look at some of the expenditure totalling $25 billion over four years in the defence white paper which they might think is not necessary. Over three years, the private health insurance rebate is going to be costing about $2 billion per annum, and they might feel it is justified to relocate some of that back into the public health system. Kim Beazley claims to rule out tampering with the private health insurance rebate, so it is difficult to see how he could reindex petrol without the wrath of every Australian motorist rising up. The remaining option, in my view, is scrapping defence white paper procurement programs. By his own statement, Mr Beazley has placed a huge question mark over government funding of the white paper in its entirety.

I welcome the opposition's commitment to release its defence policy before the election. What concerns me is that on 10 March in the West Australian, the federal opposition, effectively, said that defence policy would not be revealed. It is very concerning that you get these mixed messages coming from the opposition, particularly on a matter as important as defence. The defence community and the Australian people deserve to know what the Labor Party has planned for defence. The truth is that the Labor Party cannot release a policy because it cannot fund promises for two new submarines at a cost of $1.5 billion, for a $2 billion coast guard, which is probably the most ridiculous suggestion that I have seen—and that will become clear when the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit releases its findings in relation to its inquiry into Coastwatch—for a $1 billion bombing range and for an Anzac battalion.

Let me tell you what I think is going to happen. I think we are going to see a battalion cut out of the ADF. The question would be: which battalion? Is there a battalion going from Townsville? Is there a battalion going from Brisbane? Is there a battalion going from Holsworthy? This is something that, before the election, we should be asking the Labor Party to indicate quite clearly: what is their policy? The ALP, in my view, must unequivocally endorse the white paper and their spending commitments or release their own policy forthwith. I believe that they have no choice. If Mr Beazley were to face me when I made that request, he would say that it was undignified to answer. I think the Australian people get a bit fed up with this weasel excuse of, `I am sorry, but it is undignified to answer at this time.' So I flag my concerns about defence.

In the budget there were some big local winners for Townsville and Thuringowa. In education, Herbert schools got an extra $3.2 million for the next financial year. That gets passed to the state government, and it is up to the state government to allocate funds to the various schools in Herbert, but I will certainly be watching closely as to where that might go. If I might digress for a minute. I was at the Annandale Christian School on Saturday, opening their new library and administration block. What a mighty school that is and what a fine hardworking ethic exists in that school. The first thing you see when you go to the school is this huge sign, `Welcome', and the friendliness of the place and the caring in the place just pervade the whole of the school ethic. It is terrific to see.

I also might observe that in talking to many of the school principals—and I have spoken to all of the high school principals and many of the state school principals in Herbert—one of the things that come out when you ask them what is their big issue in the primary schools is that 20 per cent of kids that come into grade 1 now are better, brighter and more well equipped for the modern world than teachers have ever seen in their lives. But at the other end of the scale is the 20 per cent of children, one in five, who are coming into primary school who are not as well equipped, who cannot speak properly and who have no social skills—worse than teachers have ever seen before. When you ask them why this is—it is a pretty sensitive matter—if you can get them talking they will say to you that it is to do with parental attitudes: the fact that parents are not home, have no interest in their kids, put their kids in day care five days a week, watch the television rather than watch the kids and do not talk to them. That is terribly sad for our society and our country. Next week I will be opening the new extension at the Southern Cross Catholic school in Murray. I look forward to that. It is also a terrific school with a great school com-munity. The federal government, as it supports education across the board, has provided some $400,000 in capital funding out of $469,000 to do the new extension at Southern Cross.

James Cook University did very well in the budget. It got an extra $2.63 million and it will certainly benefit from the innovation places in the budget and the new regional places that the government has made available. James Cook is very excited about that. It has put in a bid for 120 places and I am hoping that it will be successful, because JCU is going ahead in leaps and bounds as a quality university and as a university that is doing very well. There are 200 extra places at the college of technical and further education as well.

In the health area, Townsville General Hospital did not miss out. Many in the community do not understand the huge amount of money that the federal government puts into our public hospital system. TGH will get pro rata an extra $8.6 million allocated in the next financial year—a huge amount of money for that particular hospital. In aged care there is an extra $1.8 million, and I hope that some of that can go to establishing a nursing home as part of the Rose Bay RSL villas, a facility that is sorely needed at this stage, and I would give every encouragement to the management of Rose Bay to apply for that funding.

In science and industry, CSIRO received an extra $710,000 for the very good work that it is doing at the Davies lab on University Drive under the direction of Dr Christian Roth. The Australian Institute of Marine Science, which is pre-eminent in the world in marine science—it is the leading marine science institution in the world—is based in Townsville and is ably led by Professor Steve Hall, got an extra $964,000.

In the welfare area, pensioners got an increase of $5.8 million, Newstart up $1.01 million, youth allowance up $1.21 million, family benefits up $4.42 million, child care up $1.33 million, disabled support pensions up $3.2 million—huge amounts of extra money pouring into the electorate in family support and income support. Last week I was privileged to open the new Centrelink office in Thuringowa. It is the first time we have had a Centrelink office there. The Centrelink staff in Townsville are just marvellous and so is their customer service ethic. I can tell you, from being on the ground, being in the Centrelink offices, that many of the staff are giving better customer service these days than we see being given by the private sector. Gee, hasn't that changed from the old social security/CES operation! Employees of what is effectively a government department are very proud of the way they look after their customers and set out to always satisfy their customers and leave their customers delighted with their help and assistance.

In the environment, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, also headquartered in Townsville, receives an extra $6.4 million for refurbishment of Reef HQ, which is the largest unassisted free-living tropical reef aquarium in the world.

Mr LINDSAY —Yes, thank you, Member for Dobell. We seem to be having the largest this and the most important that. It is certainly a very important area. I would just digress for a second and say that, when I say that I am from Australia's largest tropical city, people say, `Cairns.' That is a small backpacker's place about 400 kilometres north of Townsville where it rains every day. Then they say, `Darwin,' which is even smaller, then they say, `Rockhampton,' then they say, `Mackay,' and then they give up. So I think our city of Townsville has a bit of a job ahead of it to convince people.

Finally, in defence, there is $500 million in new capital works in a new Army combat training centre—a terrific boost to our local economy and something that our local employment figures will be assisted by. (Time expired)