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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4292

Mrs D’ATH (11:08 AM) —I am pleased to rise to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and the cognate bills. I will start on a positive note and say how pleasing it was to hear the comments of the member for Gippsland, in that he is a member who does not believe in opposition for opposition’s sake and actually talked about one of the positive programs in his electorate, as I hope many other members in this chamber will also do.

These appropriation bills are a very important step forward in delivering a secure and fair economy and country for all Australians. The legislation continues the commitment that the Rudd Labor government made in the 2009-10 budget to work to bring the budget back into surplus as soon as possible and to do that with a fiscally conservative forward program for expenditure. What this budget does, and what the appropriation bills provide for, is to ensure that there are strict spending limits to help bring the budget back into surplus within three years—and, of course, this is three years earlier than expected and ahead of every major advanced economy. We should not underestimate how important that is and how well Australia is doing, even with the instability in the global markets right now. Australia is in the best position possible to deal with those downturns—and the instability that is occurring at the moment—because of what the Rudd government chose to do in late 2008 and 2009 by stimulating the economy when it most needed it. It is now working to get the budget back into surplus and do so at a much quicker rate than what was originally predicted just 12 months ago.

What these appropriation bills do is build on the success of the stimulus package. And our responsible approach to the economy will now deliver new investments in health and hospitals, in skills training, in infrastructure; a new Renewable Energy Future Fund to help tackle climate change; tax cuts and less red tape for small business; a standard deduction to make tax time easier for working families; a third round of tax cuts; more money to protect our troops and our borders—and still return the budget to surplus three years ahead of schedule.

There are three different tax cuts that are provided for as a consequence of the budget and the appropriation bills. Firstly, there is a simplified automatic tax deduction, which means that more than six million Australian taxpayers will, from 1 July 2012, be able to simply tick a box rather than collect receipts, and will pay about $192 a year less tax on average by 2013. Again, we should not underestimate this. This might be seen as a minor change, but it is a significant change in the way tax returns are done in this country by normal households out there.

Another tax cut, of course, is the 50 per cent tax break for the first $1,000 of interest on savings, from 1 July 2011, and modest income tax cuts for every Australian taxpayer. An Australian taxpayer on average earnings will save $450 a year from 1 July this year. I will talk in more detail shortly about some of those tax initiatives.

We are also about helping small business. That is what this budget sought to do. That was also announced in the Stronger, Fairer, Simpler Tax Plan. The tax break available to Australia’s 2.4 million small businesses will become available on 1 July 2012.

I have already stated that this budget will provide for benefits in health. I have to say, it was very pleasing to see that we are going to provide local GPs with financial support for many medical centres, to put on qualified registered nurses and to ensure that our local communities have at least three GPs employed. Our local communities will be able to have the equivalent to a full-time registered nurse, if they choose to employ one. This will assist not just the clinic itself, in jobs and in the way it goes about supporting the community, but it will help many patients. I know that, in my community, I have many elderly patients, and these nurses will be able to go and do follow-up care and home visits to assist. We know that proper health treatment is not just about what the GP does when you walk into the surgery, or what your doctor does when you are admitted into hospital; it is also about what happens when you go home. What is a minor ailment or something that can be controlled can quickly get out of hand if it is not monitored. That is what this can ensure. It can help monitor how people are managing with new medicines or, if they are changing dressings, they can ensure that that treatment is working the way it is supposed to. It can ensure that a person’s problems do not end up escalating and needing hospitalisation or more serious treatment.

The appropriation bills also seek to provide more doctors when they are needed in after-hours care and I will be talking shortly about the proposed additional GP superclinics. I already have a GP superclinic being constructed in my electorate. I know that my local community is very excited about this facility, because it will bring the training of GPs, which is non-existent in our area, together with a dental school and specialists all into the one centre. Situated on hospital grounds straight across from the emergency department, it will take significant pressure off the emergency department. We will see approximately 30 per cent of presentations to the emergency department move over and be treated in the medical centre, which will be open seven days a week until 10 pm each evening and it will be bulk-billing.

What the appropriation bills also seek to do with the budget is improve superannuation. We know that superannuation is extremely important. It is about providing a secure future for all Australians. We all need to invest in our superannuation. I am a big supporter of ensuring that individuals also make co-contributions and put additional funds into their superannuation, because we all have a responsibility to ensure that we have the finances in place to provide a fair standard of living once we retire. But it is also the government’s responsibility and the employer’s responsibility and I am very pleased to see that we are lifting the superannuation guarantee from nine to 12 per cent. I believe this is long overdue. Having said this, it is phased in in a sensible way. It does not happen overnight. It is not putting a three per cent burden on employers in one quick hit. This is phased in over nine years. It will provide benefits in the long term, especially for those going into the workforce now or for those who are very early on in their careers, and will provide an increase in what they will retire on. I certainly support the initiative. As we know from some of the figures from this announcement, for an 18-year-old entering the workforce on average weekly earnings, the superannuation reforms will add $200,000 to his or her retirement income—and that is a positive move forward.

Another superannuation measure that is equally important is the government’s offer of generous tax breaks to older Australians, with low super balances, to help boost their super. This is very important because there are many older Australians who got into superannuation later in their working careers and do not have large sums of money sitting in their superannuation balances. Workers over 50 with total superannuation balances below $500,000 will be able to make up to $50,000 in concessional superannuation contributions. Further, the government will provide a contribution of up to $500 to individuals with a taxable income of up to $37,000. This will help low-income workers who currently receive no or negative tax concessions on their superannuation guarantee contributions. This will effectively eliminate the tax that low-income people pay on their super.

To allow older Australians to stay in work, if they choose to, people aged between 70 and 75 will now be part of the compulsory superannuation guarantee. Currently, employers are only required to pay the guarantee until the age of 70. I have had a number of people in my electorate raise this issue. They are doing part-time work, they are 72 years old and they want to know that they are still getting that contribution into their superannuation. This is a great announcement for our seniors who are still in the workforce, and we want to make sure that superannuation continues to grow on their behalf.

As I said, we are making key investments in health and hospitals, with a $7.3 billion funding boost for better health and hospitals over the next four years. We are investing $661 million in skills and training, which will include 70,000 new training places and support for 22,500 apprenticeships. This is fantastic. The Kickstart program is part of this initiative and it has been very successful across the country. We went over our target of 21,000 apprentices during the period from December to February. This program will now be extended to the end of the year and I think that is a fantastic initiative. Businesses and apprentices in my area have benefited from the program. I have gone out and met apprentices who have been employed as a consequence of this program. One of the group training organisations in my electorate said to me after the December intake that there are consequential benefits from this—it is not just about apprentices getting jobs; we are also providing more incentives for businesses.

With group training organisations, apprentices move around to various employers. What the group training organisations are finding is that, because of the two payments in the system, the employers are retaining the apprentices for longer because it is part of the requirements for the funding. That is building a stronger rapport between the apprentice and the manager and the business. That is a great thing in itself because there is more chance that the apprentice will stay with a single employer for a longer period. The training officers employed by the group training organisations are normally very busy running around trying to place apprentices and find new places for them when an industry becomes volatile and an employer needs to let someone go. But because that instability has not occurred the training officers can spend more time finding new businesses and new places. It has been a win-win situation all round with this program. I am out there encouraging businesses to take up this initiative and put on more apprentices.

Another very positive announcement in the budget appropriations this year is our further commitment to renewable energy. This is an important initiative. We do not have a carbon pollution reduction scheme currently being implemented in this country. Consequently, the government has little choice but to redirect its energies to addressing climate change in other ways until we can get an emissions trading scheme in place. We are doing that by focusing on the renewable energy sector, which is a great thing. But we have heard the member for Gippsland being critical of the government. He has said the government is gutless and we have not followed through with the emissions trading scheme. But the opposition should be absolutely honest with the Australian people on this issue. There is one reason alone why this country does not have an emissions trading scheme being implemented right now. There is one reason why companies do not have certainty about an ETS in this country right now. The reason is that the opposition have chosen to block this legislation time and time again. They came to the table and prepared to negotiate in good faith, but when the time came for them to vote on a proposal that they had negotiated with this government, they rolled their leader. That is how passionate they were to make sure that this country did nothing to address climate change. Consequently, we have a new Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and complete opposition to climate change. Unfortunately, that is what we have heard in their latest announcements as part of the reply to the budget.

I have just spent more than 15 minutes talking about all the positive things that the Rudd government is doing in terms of these appropriation bills and the budget that we have just announced. What the Australian people have as an alternative is a party that are about cutting and slashing funding and programs. Of course anything to do with climate change is out. They are striking that out straightaway. They would discontinue the AusAID climate change funding. They would discontinue low-emissions assistance for renters. They would remove funding for the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative. They would reduce funding for the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships Program. They would discontinue the Carbon Trust and Climate Change Foundation campaign. They would reduce funding for the green car initiative. All of these initiatives would be scrapped if the coalition came into power. That is how committed they are to climate change. They should be honest with the Australian people when they talk about the Rudd government and why we do not have an emissions trading scheme in this country right now.

The opposition also say they would scrap the resource super-profit tax if they came to government. What would that mean? The early start to company tax rate cuts for small businesses, lowering the company tax rate, would go. Small business instant asset write-off and simplified pooling would go. The resource exploration refundable tax offset would go. The state infrastructure fund would go. The increase in the superannuation guarantee to 12 per cent would go. Increasing the concessional contribution cap for individuals over 50 and the superannuation guarantee age limit from 70 to 75 would go. The government’s superannuation contributions tax rebate for low-income earners and the 50 per cent discount on interest income would all go. Phasing down interest withholding tax on financial institutions and standard deductions for work related expenses would go.

We as a government have announced all these things and are still able to bring the budget back into surplus in three years—three years earlier than projected a year ago. The opposition are going to slash all those programs because they cannot manage to bring a budget back into surplus and deliver on all of these programs. And I have not even started on all of the funding they would cut for schools and in health. The medical profession, the pharmacists and the divisions of GPs have been screaming for e-health. They all want it. This is a positive thing.

The Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and the shadow health spokesperson have previously said they fully support e-health, but they are going to scrap it because they cannot manage a budget. They cannot bring it into surplus and provide programs, so we will have no programs anymore. This is an important initiative that they are going to scrap. They will scrap the 23 additional GP superclinics that we have announced. There will be no more of those. All of those benefits and improvements in delivering primary health care in our communities will be scrapped.

Let us look at the computers in schools program. Secondary schools, public and private, already have one computer for every two students in grades 9 to 12 and are waiting on the next round. We said we would deliver all of these computers by 2011. If Tony Abbott and his party get in, those schools can completely forget about seeing those computers, because the computers in schools program will be scrapped.

Trade training centres will be scrapped. The Smarter Schools teacher quality program will be slashed. The Productivity Places Program will go. All of these initiatives will be scrapped. All of those schools that have not yet built their halls or libraries can forget about it. They are not going to get that sort of funding and those sorts of facilities under a government led by Tony Abbott. The budget in these appropriation bills provides a secure and fair future for all Australians. (Time expired)