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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2591


Mrs D’ATH (11:41 AM) —It is my pleasure to be following my parliamentary colleague the member for Blair in this debate. I certainly support his comments about the importance of our rural and regional schools. Although the electorate of Petrie covers outer metropolitan Brisbane, the initiatives that the Rudd Labor government has announced in relation to schools apply to all schools across the country, and that is what makes Building the Education Revolution such an exciting initiative—it does not pick pockets of schools in certain electorates in certain regions across this country; it is there to benefit all students, all children and all households across this country and all of our schools. Certainly those schools are deserving of that support. I rise to speak in support of the Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2008-2009 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2008-2009. These are very important bills to ensure adequate funding flows to the government stimulus packages—both the first one announced in October 2008 and our most recent Nation Building and Jobs Plan package. They will also fund other important initiatives and schemes that are ongoing to ensure that we are delivering for all of our communities and looking after those in most need.

These bills touch on some very important measures—for example, the $34 million of additional funding to ensure that the 241 ABC Learning childcare centres remain operational until 31 March 2009. This provides the certainty that is so desperately needed for families who rely on such childcare places. If parents are unable to have that certainty, they are at risk of being unable to continue in their existing employment or continue with their existing working hours. With the current economic climate this type of uncertainty with regard to employment adds to the pressures already on households. We should not underestimate how important it is for parents to be able to have quality child care and guaranteed childcare places for their children. If we want to have more women in the workforce and if we want to have those skills in the workforce then we have to ensure that adequate child care is provided. Irrespective of your views about ABC Learning itself and how it came to be in such an appalling situation with its finances, you have to put that aside and look at this. This is not just another private-sector business, and the question is not just whether it should have any government support or not. You cannot ignore the fact that there are whole communities and families that are completely reliant on having that child care there for their children so that they can go to work, earn their living and pay their bills.

As a parent who has had two children in child care, I know that one is always torn in two over having quality child care and being in the workforce and that those concerns are eased somewhat when you know you have the certainty of good carers for your children. What happened with ABC was appalling and certainly put a lot of families at risk of losing that certainty. I am pleased that the government could step in to provide some certainty for those families in that troubling time.

This bill also provides additional funding for GEERS, the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme, which covers capped unpaid wages, annual and long-service leave, capped payment in lieu of notice and capped redundancy pay. Again, in the current economic climate this scheme has seen, unfortunately, an increase in demand, and it is the role of a responsible government to ensure that adequate funds are contributed to this scheme at these difficult times.

Importantly, these bills ensure adequate funding for infrastructure and training places, new apprenticeships and apprenticeship centres. It is extremely important that governments, industry—both small and large enterprises—and the general community stay focused on the need to build infrastructure and skills. Although unemployment will rise as a consequence of the global recession, Australia still faces a skills shortage. This is why the Rudd Labor government is delivering on its commitment to build trade training centres in secondary schools across the country. I can advise the House that my local community is seeing the benefit of that commitment, with announcements of two successful trade training applications last week. The Redcliffe State High School, as the lead school in conjunction with Clontarf Beach State High School, Deception Bay State High School and North Lakes State College—those last two schools being in the federal seat of Longman—were successful in their application to build an industry-compliant analytical chemical and physical microbiology laboratory with industry-standard equipment. Northside Christian College were also successful in a joint application with Everton Park State High School, The Gap State High School, Mount Maria Senior College, Northside Christian College and Mitchelton State High School, which is the lead school in that application. Mitchelton State High School will be building a state-of-the-art facility delivering skills in electrotechnology.

I congratulate all of these schools for their tremendous work in preparing their applications and their willingness to work collectively with local schools and the community. This is another benefit of the Rudd Labor government’s education revolution. Not only are we delivering these state-of-the-art facilities so that we have services that underpin a quality education for our children but we are seeing schools that have never before worked together coming together to share in knowledge, ideas and facilities so that the children in their schools can benefit from them. The different facilities will complement each other, and the schools will share that experience. To have not just government schools sharing with other government schools but non-government schools joining in with government schools—whether that be through trade training centres or through funding programs the Rudd Labor government has announced for new facilities, for performing arts centres, for a whole range of things—is a fantastic initiative. With regard to the most recent announcement about building multipurpose halls: again, this is a hall not just for the school but for the community. We are once again ensuring that our schools are building a relationship with the communities in which they operate, which is so fundamentally important. So I congratulate all of those schools for getting involved in these initiatives and putting their applications forward.

On the issue of jobs and their importance, the Rudd Labor government has announced as part of the apprenticeships announcements the Securing Apprenticeships and Traineeships Program. This is extremely important with the current downturn in work. Unfortunately, in my electorate I have too many apprentices who are on stand-down right now because the businesses they were placed with are short of work. I appreciate the efforts those businesses are going to in trying to retain the training contracts for those individuals by not cancelling them and by merely standing their apprentices down for what they hope is a temporary period. The Rudd Labor government has announced this important initiative to try to ensure that, where an employer has no choice but to let the apprentice go because of the downturn in work, we are assisting those who are out of work and out of their trade to get back into an apprenticeship contract so that they can continue and finish their trade qualification.

We cannot have the efforts that businesses have put in over two or three years to train up these apprentices being lost overnight by the apprentices becoming unemployed and having to go back into the general workforce and having their training fall away. We need to pick up those individuals with those skills and help them get back into their apprenticeship so that they can continue. Certainly the Securing Apprenticeships and Traineeships Program will provide a pathway for out-of-trade apprentices and trainees to remain connected to the workforce and to maintain their training. Employers will also be encouraged to retain apprentices and trainees through the provision of an additional completion payment. Not only are we assisting those who are in the extremely unfortunate position of having had their apprenticeship contract cancelled; with this completion payment we are also assisting those employers who are struggling now to hold on to their apprentices.

In tenders for new Australian government funded infrastructure projects preference will be given to businesses that demonstrate a commitment to retain and employ new trainees and apprentices. We should not underestimate the value of that. We as a government have a responsibility when we are putting out for tenders for infrastructure projects to ensure that there is a strong commitment to retaining and employing new trainees and apprentices. I have already spoken about the out-of-trade apprentices and former apprentices and trainees who have not successfully completed their apprenticeships because they were laid off by their employer. During an economic downturn, such that we are seeing globally, employers may find it more challenging to maintain their support for apprentices and trainees. The Securing Apprenticeships and Traineeships Program will assist them to hold on to their employees and assist employers in taking on apprentices, and it will assist our country to continue to build our national skills, which is so important and will be more even more important to grow the economy as we start to recover.

On the important issue of infrastructure, this government is committed to going forward with a national building plan. This plan has become even more important because of the global recession, because it not only serves to build long-term infrastructure so desperately needed across this country but also supports businesses locally, nationally and globally. This program supports jobs in the current slowing economic growth and the pressures that that creates on employment. This House has heard a number of members from the opposition speaking on these bills over the last couple of days take the opportunity to criticise the Queensland government. I believe it is important to set the record straight: the commitment to nation building is reflected in both the Rudd Labor government’s actions and the Bligh Labor government’s actions. The Queensland Labor government is working with the federal government in ensuring that the infrastructure needs of tomorrow are being built today throughout Queensland. With the global recession worsening, what Queensland needs now more than ever is strong leadership and certainty about the future. Anna Bligh is about securing jobs; Lawrence Springborg is about slashing them. As the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government informed the House on Tuesday of this week, every state and territory government has signed up to the $26.4 billion nation-building plan. Queensland, because of the caretaker period, are not able to sign up at this stage but the Queensland government have said that they will sign.

The opposition leader in Queensland is, however, as confused as ever. Last Tuesday Lawrence Springborg said that he would sign up to the Rudd government’s offer of a $6.5 billion road and rail package for Queensland, and the minister thought that here was an opposition leader who actually understood nation building. But the commitment lasted only two days. Two days later, on the Thursday—whether at the suggestion of the federal Leader of the Opposition or the Queensland Liberals or Nationals or Liberal Nationals, whatever they are now—he decided that they wanted the same deal that they were offered by the Howard government under AusLink over the same period of time. If you compare the nation-building program with AusLink, we have doubled the funding. It does say something quite extraordinary that an opposition leader campaigning in a Queensland election is actually asking for less money from the Commonwealth.

Compare this to Anna Bligh’s Labor government, which has committed $17 billion this financial year to Queensland’s building program. It is the biggest building program of any state and will protect local jobs, building better hospitals, schools and roads. The building program will support 119,000 jobs and, in the 17 months since Anna Bligh became Premier, 168,000 jobs have been created. Anna Bligh will protect jobs in the Public Service, like those in health, policing and education—not cut them like the opposition is planning to do. Anna Bligh will fully cooperate with Kevin Rudd and the Rudd Labor government to make sure Queenslanders get the very best from the government’s stimulus package. This includes implementing our Building the Education Revolution by ensuring that every primary school receives a multipurpose hall, state-of-the-art library or other permanent building. I have been working closely with all of the state members across my electorate in conjunction with our schools in delivering on this commitment. I have state electorates that cross over my federal electorate, with the member for Murrumba, Dean Wells; the member for Redcliffe, Lillian van Litsenburg; the member for Sandgate, Vicky Darling; the member for Aspley, Bonny Barry; the member for Stafford, Stirling Hinchliffe; and our new Labor candidate for Everton, Murray Watt, all working closely with me to ensure that there is an ongoing cooperative working relationship locally between the state and federal governments.

Mr Springborg has said he will cut 12,000 jobs from the Public Service. This is the opposition leader who, of course, also said that he would ‘front-end’ Public Service jobs and make some ‘de-necessary’. This is not a person we want to put in charge of the Queensland government and the Queensland economy at a time when this nation is feeling the effects of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. This is the opposition leader who does not believe that we are actually having an economic crisis. His view is that things have never been better. He actually came out on 27 January 2009 and said:

It didn’t have to be this serious. It’s not like the Great Depression. It’s not like the hysteria … it’s not like a war footing. That is absolute nonsense. It is not even a recession.

Only weeks ago Mr Springborg’s economic spokesman, Tim Nicholls, said that they would rather scrap projects—which, I suspect, is also the federal opposition’s position—than have a budget deficit. This would destroy jobs. Mr Nicholls, the member for Clayfield, has come out and said, ‘I have indicated that some projects will be scrapped.’ This is their solution in dealing with global recession. Their solution in supporting jobs is to propose scrapping infrastructure projects and nation building.


Mr Briggs interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! I remind the member for Mayo that if he wants to interject, there is an intervention process whereby he can seek to ask a question. I would ask him to seek that, if that is what he wants to do, rather than interject.


Mrs D’ATH —In the last couple of minutes that I have left to speak on these important appropriation bills I would like to emphasise other important initiatives, such as the employment services funding to support retrenched workers. This is so important. There will be workers made redundant. We need to give these people the best assistance we can by giving them intensive assistance with the equivalent of stream 2 services, such as career advice, a comprehensive skills assessment, skills development training, IT support and stationary support to help with job applications, targeted referral to appropriate education and training and $550 credit to the employment pathway fund to pay for items such as computer courses, heavy vehicle licences, safety boots and work uniforms. This targeted investment will help to support jobs and get people back in the workplace as quickly as possible. Rather than having to wait at least three months to receive intensive personalised assistance, this will become available immediately. These are some of the very important initiatives that form part of these appropriation bills. These are important bills that will support the economy and our local communities. I commend the bills to the House.