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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15096

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (7:21 PM) —The parliament has before it Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2003-2004 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004. Because I introduced the second two bills I am going to concentrate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004; I will not technically be speaking on the second two bills. Like most other members and most people around the country, I was immensely proud when the Treasurer rose in the chamber to deliver the budget this year. This country has faced a difficult international time. We had September 11 and October 12, we have had perhaps the worst drought in Australia's history and we have had all the challenges created by SARS and the war against terror. The world will never be the same again and this country has not hesitated to take a very strong stand in pursuit of freedom.

The previous speaker referred to the war on Iraq. The government was prepared to stand up and be counted and to take a very strong position, which made sure that the UN Security Council resolutions carried by that body over a very long period were able to be enforced. If Australia was not prepared to join the coalition of the willing, we simply would not have been able to take the position of pride that we take in the world today. As part of the coalition of the willing we have seen the fall of Saddam Hussein, and we have seen now that the people of Iraq have an opportunity for a democratic future. Everyone talks about how appalling the regime of Saddam Hussein was and yet I find it bizarre that some members opposite still oppose the very strong stand taken by the government, by President George W. Bush and by British Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair. We find that they do not talk much about Tony Blair these days, but he had the courage of his convictions. He was prepared, in the face of strong opposition in his own party, to take Britain in as part of the coalition of the willing. The countries of the world can be particularly pleased that Saddam Hussein has gone and particularly pleased that the threat to international peace which was posed by his regime has now been removed. The chance of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists is now substantially reduced. That, of course, is a particularly positive outcome.

I am privileged to represent the central and southern Sunshine Coast in the federal parliament. The electorate of Fisher is singularly blessed. It is one of the most beautiful areas in the country, one of the fastest growing areas in the country and an electorate in which many people aspire to live. Like other electorates around the country, the electorate of Fisher will benefit substantially from the very many initiatives contained in the budget which was delivered by the Treasurer a short time ago. It will benefit from reduced income taxes, stronger defence, support for the disabled and more funding for higher education and health. Additionally, it will benefit from the initiatives relating to the war against terror, which will make Australia a safer place for all Australians.

In last year's budget, there was a major upgrade of Australia's defence and security—a move that most Australians were pleased about. We did not know how close to home the terrorist threats would become. All of us would recall exactly what we were doing when we heard about the unfolding tragedy of the Bali massacre on October 12. Eighty-eight innocent Australians, many of them young, were killed in Bali at the hands of criminal terrorists. I want to say that I am pleased with the way the Indonesian authorities have worked to find and charge the perpetrators of these outrageous crimes. Currently in Indonesia the trials of some of those people are underway. October 12 and September 11 showed us as that, as a nation, we cannot take our security for granted. Historically, Australia has been a safe country and we are very fortunate that we have been safe. We have tended to say that we are a long way from hot spots of trouble, but we saw with the events of October 12 just how close to home tragedy can be. We see that terror can strike anywhere; therefore, it is important that the government take a very strong stand to upgrade Australia's security and border protection in this year's budget. That is an initiative that will be welcomed by all Australians.

As a nation we have had a tough year. We have been tested by terror and war overseas, we have had the most extensive drought ever recorded in our history and bushfires have ravaged life and property. We were also tested again as the international economy turned down. But the proof that our economy is one of the most resilient is in the presentation of a budget that, against all odds, is in surplus and also provides $2.4 billion in personal income tax cuts for all Australians. Those opposite and some others in the community suggest that the tax cut should have been higher. Any tax cut would ideally be as high as any government could possibly make it. But this government has brought about sound economic management. We brought in a surplus budget, we paid for all the expenses that Australia needed during this financial year and, because there was an amount left over, we were able to return that, by way of a dividend for sound economic management, to the Australian people. It is appropriate that this government should return the proceeds of responsible economic management to the Australian people. The ALP, of course, always likes to spend money—

Mr Melham —Hear, hear!

Mr SLIPPER —The member for Banks says that he likes to spend money. He was part of the government that built up the massive debt levels we inherited upon coming to government. He was part of the government that also saw a $10,300 million budget deficit at the time this government was elected. We all recall that, during the election campaign in 1996, the Keating government said that their budget was in surplus and yet, on the Monday after the election, the bad news came to the incoming government that the previous government had lied, had not told the truth, and had misled the Australian people. We now have a situation where this government has been responsible. It did not create the problem but it has certainly accepted the responsibility for fixing it.

It is interesting that the member for Banks claimed that when he was in office people could get into a hospital. People ought to appreciate that this government is spending close to $1 billion extra—and this was mentioned in the budget—to boost and enhance Medicare. We are preserving the two key elements of Medicare: firstly, the universal access by anyone who wants to use the public hospital system in a free way, so there are no hospital charges; and, secondly, universal access to the Medicare rebate for anyone who goes to a doctor. The government has also brought in some initiatives to encourage doctors to bulk-bill pensioners and those who are holders of concession cards. There are rewards for doctors who do that—they are given access to direct billing for the Medicare rebate proportion of their bill. We have been accused of trying to destroy Medicare—that is a sick joke. When you spend close to an extra $1 billion on maintaining Medicare, how on earth can you be accused of trying to destroy it?

Also under the ALP, private health insurance was collapsing and people were not able to afford to go to private hospitals. That placed an intolerable strain on Australia's public hospitals. We are very pleased about our private health insurance rebate, because that has meant that many more people are now able to access the private hospital system, meaning that others who are not able to afford private health insurance have access to the public hospital system. With every last cent of the GST going to the state governments, the states will have an unprecedented opportunity to fund their constitutional responsibilities. If they are prepared to accept those responsibilities, we will see the states pouring money into health, pouring money into education and pouring money into roads. Instead of the states taking those chances to spend money where they ought, they simply whinge, whine, complain and say that the federal government is not giving them enough money. We are giving them the wherewithal, the financial ability, to meet their constitutional responsibilities—that is a positive thing.

On the Sunshine Coast we have the Sunshine Coast hospital at Nambour and we have the Caloundra Hospital. Those hospitals are chronically underfunded by the Beattie Labor government. State Labor members claim that the reason we have long waiting lists at Nambour hospital is inadequate federal funding. The reason that people have to wait so long for services at Nambour and Caloundra is that the Beattie government simply is not funding Sunshine Coast hospitals to the extent that it should. In my view, it is dishonest for the Labor government in Queensland to try and shift the blame to the federal government; it is also inappropriate. I am calling on Premier Beattie and all of the state members on the Sunshine Coast who represent the Australian Labor Party to go in there and fight for the Sunshine Coast, to make sure that we get our fair share of hospital funding and, equally importantly, to make sure that get our fair share of road funding.

It is incontestable that the Beattie government has a love affair with the Gold Coast. The Beattie government does not hesitate to spend money on access roads for the Gold Coast; yet the Sunshine Coast is very much the poor relation. It does indicate what a very poor brace of Labor representatives we have at state level on the Sunshine Coast. Chris Cummins, the member for Kawana, is particularly ineffectual, as are the members for both Noosa and Glass House, Ms Molloy and Ms Carolyn Male. On the one hand, we find that this government is bringing in a responsible budget which will benefit all people, including those on the Sunshine Coast; on the other hand, we find that the Labor government in Queensland is chronically underfunding infrastructure and services on the Sunshine Coast, to the extent that one of the fastest growing areas in Australia is being severely taxed by the failure of the Beattie government to meet its funding responsibilities. All taxpayers will receive a tax cut, and this is a very positive initiative of the government. The feedback that I have had from people right across the Sunshine Coast is that this tax cut is very much welcomed.

The University of the Sunshine Coast is also a major winner, as a result of the education initiatives announced by the Treasurer in the budget. The University of the Sunshine Coast is a wonderful institution. It is only a few years old, it is a greenfields university, and it was not previously an institution of higher education or a technical college. It started off as the Sunshine Coast University College and for a time was affiliated with the Queensland University of Technology. The member for Fairfax and I, along with state coalition members on the Sunshine Coast, took the fight to the former coalition government in Queensland and sought to have the University of the Sunshine Coast become an independent institution. It always had its own act in the Queensland parliament, so it was technically independent. But the fact that it was called a college meant that it did not have the same opportunity to compete as it would if it had the standing that the name of the University of the Sunshine Coast would be able to enjoy. Because Minister David Kemp and the state government were able to work together, the University of the Sunshine Coast became a completely independent institution, not only at law but also by way of perception.

This has meant that the University of the Sunshine Coast has been able to attract students from right around the world. I enjoy a particularly good relationship with the University of the Sunshine Coast. The current education minister, Dr Nelson, has been to the University of the Sunshine Coast, and he has been particularly impressed with what is being achieved. This government recognised the important role of regional universities when the Treasurer handed down the budget. The government has secured funding to recognise the unique contribution made to local communities and students by regional higher education institutions. From the beginning of next year, the Howard government will provide an additional $122.6 million over four years to support students at regional campuses, and this will be of great benefit to the University of the Sunshine Coast.

This is part of the commitment of the Howard government to invest an additional $1.5 billion in higher education funding over the next four years. By providing extra money to regional campuses like the University of the Sunshine Coast, the Howard government is recognising the higher cost of delivering education outside capital cities. Under these new arrangements, the University of the Sunshine Coast will be eligible for a five per cent loading, which will be incorporated into the new Commonwealth grants scheme. This loading has been determined on the basis of regionality, size and distance from the capital city of Brisbane.

Financially disadvantaged students from regional and rural areas will also benefit from the introduction of Commonwealth accommodation scholarships and Commonwealth education costs scholarships. From the start of 2004 the Howard government will provide 1,500 students with $4,000 per year for up to four years to assist with accommodation expenses. A further 2,500 students will be eligible for $2,000 for up to four years to assist with educational costs. Job network providers and other community organisations on the Sunshine Coast will also benefit from the budget with an allocated $135 million over four years to community organisations which provide disability employment services. This will provide job opportunities for people with a disability. It will give them the chance to get a foot on the employment ladder and a start in life. It will also boost local employment on the Sunshine Coast.

As I have previously indicated, residents of the Sunshine Coast are pleased that the federal government has invested more funds to secure the safety of Australia and the safety of our borders. The security of our people and our nation is our government's highest priority. I have mentioned before the threats of international terrorism, and the fact that Saddam Hussein has gone will reduce the chance of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists. The government has been prepared to take some tough decisions. They are not cheap decisions. It is very easy to walk away from one's responsibilities, but this government has been prepared to take the tough decisions and it is not going to apologise for that.

The government will invest an extra $2.1 billion over five years in defence spending. A new special operations command will also be established to provide 334 more combat and support personnel to supplement Australia's existing special forces, including an additional commando company and a maritime terrorist capability. Defence logistics will receive a boost to improve the combat readiness of our FA fighter jets and Hercules aircraft, as well as our range of transport vehicles.

Protection of our borders has always been a major concern to my constituents. I regularly poll my constituents on the issues of concern to them, and border protection and national security are always ranked very highly amongst matters of concern. The government will further upgrade security at our shipping ports, airports and other facilities. More shipping containers will be X-rayed, while improved border processing systems will identify and track persons of concern. Australia's quarantine and customs services will continue to play a crucial role in enforcing the integrity of our borders.

I mentioned before the initiatives with respect to Medicare. I have received very positive feedback from my local community about the Medicare initiatives. Under the ALP, Medicare was really going nowhere. Under the ALP, Medicare was in fact in need of being fixed. This government has been prepared to look at the needs of Medicare and take some difficult decisions. I think there is a broad consensus in Australia that Medicare has done a good job. This government has been prepared to look at the Medicare system and has been prepared to fix it where it is required. I think that people are very disappointed when the government is criticised for its attempts to refurbish Medicare and is accused of being the wrecker of Medicare. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The budget delivered in 2003 by the current government is a budget of which we are all singularly proud. It is a budget that delivers economic growth, a budget surplus, responsible tax cuts, a defence boost and enhanced security. There is also a tremendous investment in education. This is the sort of budget that we never saw from the ALP. They were prepared to do anything and say anything to crawl into office. They breached their election promises, whereas this government has placed a very high store on meeting its commitments to the Australian people. I commend this bill to the House.