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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4505

Mr DANBY (12:02 PM) —I rise today to speak about the concrete benefits of this year’s budget for my electorate of Melbourne Ports. Every single one of the 15,321 small businesses in Melbourne Ports—from the famous cafes in Acland Street and in Victoria Street, Albert Park, to the St Kilda Road solicitors, to the Elsternwick smallgoods stores—will be better off because of this budget. Every small business will be able to claim a deduction of assets up to $5,000 and their tax rate will be reduced to 28 per cent if they are a company from 1 July 2012. Incentives for individual savings include a 50 per cent tax concession for savings and an increase in the superannuation guarantee to 12 per cent over time. Workers will also be entitled to the superannuation guarantee for a further five years up to the age of 75.

One of the major benefits out of the budget for young people in Melbourne Ports is a training placement guarantee for those under 25. Australia wide, $661 million will be spent on training. There will be 70,000 new training places and 22,500 new apprenticeships over next four years. This very much fits in with this government’s determination to see that there is a skills training program for young Australians, who were so neglected under the previous government, and it fits in with our skilled migration policy, which is designed in a balanced way to fix skill shortages in Australia—concentrating as much on young people getting skilled positions as on immigrants, who help the bottom line of the budget.

The budget also allocates $2.2 billion on providing better access for GPs, primary care and to train nurses, particularly in aged care and the regions. The necessary funds will also be made available so that waiting times at places like the Alfred Hospital emergency department and all other hospitals around Australia should be no longer than four hours.

Despite the budget necessity of reducing the number of childcare centres under construction—and in spite of the Deputy Prime Minister’s fantastic and perceptive work following the collapse of ABC Learning Centres, where she managed to keep in existence a very large number of commercial childcare centres that would otherwise have folded, with all of the attendant problems that parents would have had to deal with—Melbourne Ports is lucky to have secured two of the 38 centres that will be built by the government. Despite some of the local difficulties with one of these centres, in Port Melbourne, I am confident that both are being built. They will ease the strain on the demand for child care in our burgeoning part of the inner city. I might say that the number of young people and young families moving into the area as part of urban consolidation is very evident. Not only will these two government centres be necessary but there are two other commercial childcare centres being built, which I also support and which cover the very top end of the market and are very expensive. It demonstrates the ongoing need for child care.

This budget is good news for Melbourne Ports. It provides additional funding to improve health services, funds additional training places for our young people and provides financial relief for families and small business. This budget also provides for community housing in my electorate—something this government has made firm commitments on. I notice it was criticised recently on Derryn Hinch’s program on 3AW. I do not think Mr Hinch’s interlocutor was aware of the various things that are being done.

On 23 April this year I joined the federal Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek, and the Victorian housing minister, Richard Wyne, together with some great people from the Salvation Army, Territorial Commander Caroline Knaggs and General Eva Burrows, to open the Salvation Army’s crisis accommodation centre in Upton Road, St Kilda. The centre is a testament to the extraordinary service the Salvation Army has given over 20 years in providing emergency housing for the homeless and disadvantaged singles and families in the St Kilda community. The centre will house 11 one-bedroom units and two four-bedroom units for families.

The funding for the centre was contributed by the federal government, which provided $2.3 million through the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan; the Victorian government, which contributed $2 million; and a range of philanthropic contributors, led by Peter Fox, Margaret Jackson and John and Betty Laidlaw, who contributed $3 million. It is a perfect example of a private-government partnership to see that the more disadvantaged in our electorate have a place to live.

If people visit this centre, they will see it is a paradigm for using land, such as this piece of land next to Dandenong Road, which otherwise would not be used. Its various rooms can be allocated according to the size of the family that are in crisis accommodation. I pay tribute to the architects, to the wisdom of the Salvation Army in working with the federal government and to the philanthropists, in particular to Peter Fox for his leadership. Together they have added to the stock of housing we have available for the homeless and for disadvantaged people who are in need of crisis accommodation.

It saddens me that each day outside my office I am confronted with the effects of homelessness on families and individuals. I do not believe it is acceptable in a country like Australia—one that has staved off the global financial crisis and is prosperous—that thousands of Australians need emergency housing. We as a society and as representatives of the Australian people have an obligation to ensure that no-one is left behind from the progress and affluence of our country. Homeless families and singles suffer abject and gut-wrenching poverty which most of us cannot imagine.

The Salvation Army crisis accommodation centre is just one of a number of projects in my electorate to provide emergency housing that the federal government has invested in to the tune of $53 million. Thirty-six million dollars of this is funding targeted to housing projects through the Port Phillip Housing Association, South Port Community Housing Group and St Kilda Community Housing. I have been to most of these projects, and to say that they are achieving their ends is putting it mildly. Of this amount, $5.1 million is for a new building of 17 units in Grey Street, the opening of which I went to the other day; $1.5 million for eight new units in Alma Road; $1.1 million for nine new units in Blessington Street, St Kilda; $1.5 million for 14 new units in Jackson Street; and $5.5 million for 36 new units in Beaconsfield Parade. The Australian government has made homelessness a national priority, and the building of these new facilities in my electorate is a step towards making the changes needed to cut the homelessness rate by 2020.

Another aspect of the budget this week was the accident-prone response of the Liberal Party on economic policy. On Wednesday last week the Liberal Party finally let the public know how they would make changes to the budget. They claimed they would make savings to the tune of $47 billion. One particular program that was not listed to be cut was the school building program. This is despite the fact that, on 12 April, the member for Sturt argued that the third round of the school building program, which has not been rolled out, should be suspended. Perhaps the fact that it was not listed for axing in the budget reply means that members of the Liberal Party have seen the error of their ways, but the ferocity of their attacks against this program with the coming election makes me doubt that. As we have seen, the Leader of the Opposition, in particular, will make all sorts of rash claims if he believes they will bring him political advantage. On behalf of my electorate, I warn the Liberal Party against calling for axing of parts of the school building program in the heat of the election campaign.

The schools in round 3 in my electorate are mostly schools with more complex design issues. This means that, as inner city schools with restricted space require more time to organise new construction, they have been put up in round 3. As Melbourne Ports is one of the most densely populated electorates in the country, we have a very large proportion of schools receiving funding in round 3. Sixteen schools in Melbourne Ports are receiving funding in round 3. All these schools will have their funding scrapped if the Liberal Party comes to power and follows through with the member for Sturt’s plans. This is utterly unacceptable, unjust and even immoral. The member for North Sydney has called the budget ‘a shameless con’, but the only shameless con is the Liberal Party’s claim of depriving our schoolchildren of the new teaching facilities that are economically sensible for the future of Australia.

I might point out to the Liberal Party that I have been through all these projects in my electorate, along with the school principals, to see that we can get the best value we possibly can for the government dollar. It is in the interests of the schools. Why would it be in the interest of any school to try to get the worst results possible? Only in electorates where members have been insufficiently attentive to these things, in my view, has this problem been allowed to happen. I know from the projects I see in my electorate that classrooms need to be built for the burgeoning number of children. There are children there. What would the Liberal Party have them do—be taught in the street? If the Liberal Party continues its campaign for the axing of parts of the school building program, I will be demanding that the Leader of the Opposition come to Melbourne Ports to explain to the parents, teachers and students of St Kilda Park Primary School, the Victorian College for the Deaf, Caulfield Primary School or any of the other round 3 schools in my electorate why they do not deserve new classrooms for their schools. The federal government is investing $72 million in schools in Melbourne Ports, and nearly $15 million of it will be ripped off if the opposition comes to power and axes round 3 of the school building program.

I would like to turn to some other aspects of the budget involved in foreign affairs. I was pleased to see the budget is continuing to make progress towards our commitment of spending one-half a per cent across national income on international assistance by 2015. It has become common practice that whenever governments are looking for easy spending cuts they target international development. I am pleased to see they are resisting the temptation to do this. This should not be a partisan matter. I notice, for example, that although the new Tory-Liberal coalition in Britain has announced ₤6 million in spending cuts they are not cuts in international development. Smart governments of whatever party recognise that international development assistance serves the interests of both the recipient and the donor. Our generous international development programs bring benefits to Australia as well as to those who receive our aid.

While we are briefly focusing on the new British government, I hope it drops its daft policy of the Colonial Office—I am sorry; I mean the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—insisting that the government in Afghanistan negotiate with the Taliban, a truly disastrous idea, promoted by those in the Colonial Office—I am sorry; I mean the foreign office—who think that the dreadful people in the Pakistani intelligence service will give them warning about attacks on facilities in London if their mates in the Pakistani intelligence service are included in the Afghan government. This is one of the most manipulative, stupid ideas I have ever heard of, and I hope that the new government drops the previous plans to engineer that trade-off.

I was disappointed to see the comments made earlier this year by the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Joyce, who attacked this government over our international development program and called for it to be cut. He specifically attacked our donation of $150 million to the World Bank to be used to help to reduce the price of food in some of the world’s poorest countries. This is a foolish position to take, especially from someone who claims to represent farmers. Raising living standards in African countries will create new export markets for our food exports, as they have already done in Asian countries. Fortunately the Australian people have better sense than to listen to such opportunist attacks on our international development program.

In fact, only a fairly small part of our international development money goes to Africa. Much of it goes to assist countries with which we have a direct strategic and political interest. For example, we have committed $323 million over four years to expand our development partnership with Indonesia to tackle key issues such as education, health and governance. Isn’t spending money on governance in Indonesia, where the problem of corruption has been so widespread, in the Australian national interests? Of course it is. That is part of the $500 million a year we will spend in assisting Indonesia. We have an obvious interest in the stability and prosperity of our largest northern neighbour, the largest Muslim country in the world and, to its great credit, a developing democracy. Any assistance we can give them we should maintain. In my opinion the money is well spent. Every dollar you spend in Indonesia on education means that you have to spend less on intelligence and security.

I was in Jakarta recently and had the pleasure of meeting President Yudhoyono and listening to his speech on why Indonesia should continue down the democratic path. I urge anyone who is genuinely interested in the development of democracy in that most important country to read President Yudhoyono’s speech in Jakarta to the World Movement for Democracy.

Similarly to the Indonesian situation, we are giving over $141 million over two years to AusAID and the AFP to step up our civilian assistance to Afghanistan, which will serve to build the capacity of the Afghan government to deliver basic services. We should have learned that military efforts must go hand in hand with civilian assistance if such conflicts as the one we are engaged in in Afghanistan are to achieve their ends. As I have said before, I strongly support our continuing commitment to the conflict in Afghanistan despite its cost in both money and lives—blood and treasure. But that commitment will be futile in the long run unless the people of Afghanistan can see they are getting a better government, better services and better lives for their families as a result of helping to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which bring so much misery to their country. That is why we must maintain our civilian aid programs as well as our military commitment.

My support for international development does not mean that I think there are no problems with our program; of course there are and there always have been. I have seen recent reports of flaws in our international development assistance to PNG, for example, and I was pleased to see an interview with the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Bob McMullan, in which he made clear we are cutting back on spending on advisers and putting more into direct assistance.

I also want to be critical of the $12.7 million we are giving each year to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. This is a single-nation focused UN agency which exists solely to channel aid to the four million people living in the Palestinian territories and other countries. The sad fact is that UNRWA is a refugee organisation which employs 26,000 people, and it is focused on one group. The UNHCR, the refugee agency that covers the rest of the world, only has 11,000 employees. This is plainly totally out of kilter and in fact helps perpetuate the state of dependence on foreign aid and the continuing status of the Palestinian people in these territories. UNRWA should have over the years done what every other refugee agency in the world has done—work to transit people out of dependence and out of refugee status in the part of the world that they are able to live in at the moment.

I am all in favour of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians and I support the money we are spending on assisting people in Gaza and the West Bank. I think we need to look more closely at how we spend it and where we spend it. In my view it would be much better for Australian aid to go to the Palestinians in the West Bank rather than being given in cash to be put in the bank accounts of the Palestinian National Authority to end up God knows where, although I must say Mr Salam Fayyadd, the treasurer of the Palestinian National Authority, is a great improvement on Mr Arafat who used to give out cash in brown bags to leading members of Fatah. By the way, Fatah is conducting an internal investigation into what happened to the entire international aid that was given to them in the 1970s and 1980s, which has disappeared entirely without any accounts and which was used by leading officials of that organisation to buy property in Qatar, Syria and Jordan. The Palestinian people, through their leading political party, Fatah, are demanding their money back from all the leading officials of that organisation. I think we need to look more closely at the endemic waste, corruption and misappropriation of funds that has plagued UNRWA and this kind of funding over the years. One thing I would particularly suggest is that Australian companies should be given tenders to develop sewerage works in Palestinian cities in the West Bank rather than money just being paid directly into a general account of another quasi-government Australians could be employed. This would be a much better use of Australian taxpayers’ money.

I conclude by saying that I commend this budget. I think in so many areas of social concern in my electorate, particularly in education, it is doing a wonderful job. I am very concerned that the claims of the member for Sturt will be activated. All around Australia parents and students who have programs in the third round of the building schools program should be made aware that, if the opposition is elected and the Liberal Party wins office halfway through the construction of these programs, the construction of classrooms for their students will be stopped.