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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4054

Ms BURKE (1:45 PM) —I rise in support of the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2009-2010 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2009-2010. Unlike the member for Dunkley, I realise that we need a budget with nation building for recovery as its centrepiece. We need an economy that is stimulated and helps cushion Australia from the full impact of the global recession while also laying the foundation for a strong and more prosperous future, a budget that realises that we need to build, and build upon infrastructure. Unfortunately the previous government did not do this.

On a national level, this is a budget that focuses on supporting jobs today by building the infrastructure we need tomorrow. We are committing to a historic $22 billion investment in national infrastructure including $4.6 billion to improve rail networks across Australia; $3.4 billion to upgrade highways across the country; $3.2 billion for public hospital infrastructure, modern cancer services and medical researchers. Part of this will be used for the Peter MacCallum Institute in Victoria, and that is a great boost for our state. There is $1.5 billion for new solar technologies including up to four large-scale solar generation projects; $399 million to expand port infrastructure to boost Australia’s exports; and $4.7 billion to start building the National Broadband Network, improving vital communications infrastructure. These various infrastructure projects were all left off the agenda by the previous Howard government. Since coming to office this government has made nation-building infrastructure a top investment priority. The budget reinforces our commitment to investing in significant infrastructure that will provide increased productivity and underpin future economic growth.

This budget also addresses two important social issues by increasing pension payments and introducing a historic paid parental leave scheme. Both are things, I think, that our government can be truly proud of. We all know that many seniors in our community do it tough. I have spoken to countless seniors in my electorate about the weekly struggles they face to get by on a pension particularly those on a single pension. This budget recognises the fact that people in the community who are getting on in age deserve support from their government as they approach their twilight years. These are the people who have seen us through some of our darkest hours and we should support them in their old age.

Under our reforms single pensioners will receive an increase of up to $32.49 a week and couples $10.14 per week combined. This means that the total assistance for single pensions will increase from $304.90 per week to $336.68 per week. For pensioner couples it will increase from $497.36 per week to $507.50 per week. All of Chisholm’s age pensioners, disability pensioners, carers and veteran income support recipients will benefit from these increases, and I have had many thank my office for this increase in payments. This will make a significant difference to the lives of some 20,000 pensioners that live in my electorate. When combined with the one-off lump sum payment provided to pensioners in December last year, the increase in payments represents the government’s unprecedented support for pensioners. When it comes to issues such as pension reforms, I am very proud to be part of a government that listens to the community, and I welcome the extra support provided to pensioners in this budget.

Self-funded retirees, again, a large group in my electorate, will also benefit from the budget. We recognise the fact that self-funded retirees have had their income severely affected by the global recession, perhaps more than any other demographic, and they have borne the brunt of the global financial crisis. Therefore, from 1 July 2009 the government will have the minimum amounts self-funded retirees have to draw down from their account based pensions halved for 2009-10. This extends the drawdown relief provided by the government for 2008-09, recognising the impact of the global recession. This change will assist pensioners’ account balances to recover from capital losses associated with the global recession. It will reduce the need for self-funded retirees to sell assets at a loss in order to meet the minimum withdrawal requirement in 2009-10.

In order to prepare Australians for future economic and social challenges, this government has taken the historic step of delivering a paid parental leave scheme. This is a scheme that will make a genuine difference to young families across Australia. I know what it is like to juggle the demands of working and having a new baby. This combination of work and family life is difficult to manage and I believe it is imperative that the government do what it can to support families handle these competing demands. Admittedly, I did not have to forgo salary when I had my children as I was still working in the parliament but, having worked on many paid parental leave schemes in enterprise bargains throughout the finance sector, I know the great benefit they have delivered to many and it is terrific that we have now done it for all.

As of 1 January 2010 the scheme will provide the primary care giver with 18 weeks post-natal leave paid at the adult federal minimum wage. It will be of particular benefit to low- and middle-income families where mums have been left out of the picture for far too long. This scheme brings us into line with other advanced nations. It is responsible and sustainable reform and has been broadly welcomed by the community, and I am proud to offer my support to such an important initiative and commend all those who struggled so long to see it happen.

This government is committed to rebuilding and modernising Australia’s education system. After years of neglect by the previous government, this budget includes $1.5 billion in recurrent funding for universities and students, with $491 million being committed over four years to uncap the number of public university places from 2012. This means that anyone who is eligible for a place of their choice can secure one. Additionally, $394 million of new funding will encourage greater participation of low-income students in higher education. These two funding measures adhere to the notion that all Australians deserve the best possible education outcome.

Within my electorate of Chisholm this is greatly welcomed. Indeed, Chisholm could be described as a very large university town. It includes Monash University, Deakin University’s Melbourne campus, the Box Hill Institute of TAFE and the Chadstone campus of GippsTAFE. Last week I was privileged to be joined by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister for a tour of the Chadstone campus of GippsTAFE. I am sure that a whole lot of people were looking at the news and wondering what I was doing at the Gippsland TAFE, but the Gippsland TAFE have an amazing little facility in my electorate at Chadstone. It used to be owned by the SEC—it was where you did your linesman training. I was joined there by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister when we announced that GippsTAFE would be receiving funding of $16.2 million for redevelopment under the Education Investment Fund. This was exceptionally warmly received by GippsTAFE, who have struggled for many years to have the site recognised and to have this funding. Indeed, when we came and said that the funding was coming and that the Prime Minister was coming to visit, I do not think that I have seen happier people than all those involved at GippsTAFE.

The funding will provide new training facilities at the campus which will be used to help train workers to build the $43 billion National Broadband Network. It will become one of a series of technical colleges across the country with specialty facilities to provide training for NBN workers. This means GippsTAFE will support some of the, on average, 25,000 jobs each year it will take to construct the National Broadband Network over the next eight years. I was speaking with some of the younger workers at GippsTAFE last week and they were genuinely thrilled that the government is providing such support to young job seekers looking to secure apprenticeships. At GippsTAFE they are training apprentices and also providing pre-apprenticeship training. In Victoria, they are also training everyone from the Northern Territory. It is a vital part of the power generation system that our great nation relies upon.

GippsTAFE’s redevelopment is one of 31 projects funded in the budget as part of the $934 million round 2 funding from the Education Investment Fund. This fund represents this government’s commitment to tertiary education. The site will be transformed. It will be transformed into part of education into the 21st century. It will not only play a key role in delivering a sustainable future through training and research but also act as a demonstration site for new and emerging technologies. It will also go on doing its great work of teaching people to be linesmen.

The budget also includes $1 billion in recurrent funds for research and innovation, which includes $512 million to support researchers across our universities. Included in this funding is $8 billion for a new biological lab at Monash University. Monash has benefited greatly in recent times from this government’s commitment to higher education research and innovation, and it is truly thankful. It was successful under round 1 of the education investment announced in December last year when it received $89.9 million to build the New Horizons Centre, which will bring together disparate science and engineering expertise in a new world-class research facility. This is a fantastic project that will see the university cement its place as one of the country’s most important educational institutions. It will develop the Clayton Innovation Precinct into the most significant technology and innovation hub in the Southern Hemisphere. The $8 million announced in the budget will support a new laboratory within the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and it will be established as a partner of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. The EMBL, as it is known, is a world-leading research organisation supported by 20 European member states and five major laboratories in Germany, France, Italy and the UK. I was recently privileged to be at the opening of ARMI, where this great research is going on, and to see the groundbreaking work that is happening there.

Australia became an Associate Member of the EMBL in March 2008 and this will be the first partner laboratory to be established outside of Europe. It is a great honour indeed. As a former Monash student, I am glad to see the institution continue to thrive and for the government to support such a significant project. Monash is not just a very large institution in my electorate but also one of the largest employers. It is a great facility and we need to continue to fund it to do the great work that it does.

This budget sees $3.2 billion committed from the Health and Hospital Fund to invest in hospital and medical research infrastructure. This funding includes $1.5 billion over seven years to expand and modernise key public hospital infrastructure, $1.3 billion over six years to modernise cancer services and $430 million over six years in supporting cooperative research precincts. The Monash Health Research Precinct is in my electorate and will be receiving $71 million over three years to build new research facilities. The precinct is in partnership with the Monash Institute of Medical Research, Prince Henry’s Institute and Southern Health. It unites the largest healthcare services provider in Victoria with two leading Australian medical research institutions. It is committed to fostering the translation of basic research knowledge into clinical practice. The new facility will train Monash students and work with the Deakin School of Medicine to provide translational and clinical research opportunities. It is a major investment that will increase the research capacity and capability of the precinct. It is a great recognition of what a terrific area we have—Monash University and Monash Medical Centre working in combination for the betterment of our country.

Embedded in the budget is important reform that signals a change in the direction of our treatment of asylum seekers. I welcome the government’s decision to abolish the arbitrary 45-day rule that resulted in some 40 per cent of the community based asylum seekers living in dire poverty. The former Howard government introduced legislation whereby all asylum seekers who had not applied for protection visas within 45 days of arrival in Australia were denied the right to work and were therefore given a bridging visa E with no work rights. These visas deny work rights and access to medical services to individuals and families, many of whom are later determined to be refugees with genuine protection needs. Under the changes announced in the budget, a fair and more flexible arrangement will be put in place which recognises that people who have complied with Australia’s immigration requirements should not be deprived of permission to work. We have put many people into the community and literally forced them to starve or rely on charity. I have campaigned long and hard with many in my electorate to see this great new measure happen and I welcome the fact that the government has seen its merits.

This decision recognises and supports the human rights of those on bridging visa E to access work rights and medical services while their visa application is processed. You might think that that is a short time frame, but I know one family has been living in these dire straits for over nine years. Fewer protection visitor applicants will be reliant on friends, families or charitable organisations for support while waiting for their application to be considered. They just want the right to work. This announcement will ease the burden on local charities and community stakeholders who commit huge resources to assisting people forced into a limbo situation where they can live in Australia but are not permitted to work. I have witnessed firsthand the problems this rule has imposed upon asylum seekers in my electorate and I welcome this new stance, which stands in stark contrast to the unfair and inhumane policy advocated over so many years by the previous government. I would like to put on the record my incredible thanks to the Hotham Mission and the Asylum Seeker Project, and many other churches in my electorate, which have literally housed, fed and supported these people through many years of trying to have their asylum recognised.

This is a budget that supports jobs and delivers the important investment needed to strengthen the economy for the future. It invests in nation-building infrastructure—road, metro rail, ports, clean energy and universities. It delivers a fair go for pensioners and a sustainable pension system and introduces for the first time a paid parental leave scheme. With the worst global recession since the Great Depression wiping $210 billion from the government’s revenue, we have been forced to prioritise and make the hard choices necessary to chart the course back to surplus. Despite some decisions not being popular, we are putting the national economic interests first to ensure Australia emerges from the global downturn in the strongest shape possible.

I am impressed by the reaction to the budget within my electorate. Many see this as doing great things and this is on top of the money we are all obviously giving to our primary schools. All of the primary schools in my electorate are exceptionally grateful for the BER money that is coming for the first time and recognising the need to build within the infrastructure within our primary school community. It comes on top of great work we have been doing within our secondary schools and it redresses many of the wrongs created by the previous government. I am impressed by the way this difficult budget has been delivered and I commend the bills to the House.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.