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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5155

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (18:34): I am very pleased to be able to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 and related bills, or the budget bills, as we know them. I am particularly pleased to be speaking to them because I know that many of the measures in the budget can best be described as providing accountability—being accountable to the needs of at least the people that I represent in the federal seat of Calwell. To me, that is largely what accountability is: it is responding to the needs of the people that you represent in this place. As I have said many times, Calwell is ranked among the 10 most socioeconomically disadvantaged electorates in Australia. So I welcome, and I know my constituents welcome, the measures that were introduced in the budget, because they are measures aimed at alleviating the pressures and, in particular, the issues that are associated with social disadvantage.

The budget will widely benefit my constituents because it does address the real issues that my residents talk to me about in the daily conversations and contact that I have with them, and I want to concentrate on some of those areas that have been areas of concern and angst in the electorate for some time. In fact, the whole area of dental care and its affordability is one of the issues that have been a matter of concern to me, on behalf of my constituents, since the time that I became the member for Calwell.

I also want to talk about the National Disability Insurance Scheme that is being implemented by the government. I have a very high number of constituents who are going to benefit from this insurance scheme and, as far as they are concerned, it has been a long time coming. It is not a con job, and it is irresponsible and cruel to describe the National Disability Insurance Scheme as such.

The other area that my constituents constantly raise with me—of which I am also aware because I have children and they are at school—is that raising children and paying for schooling is very expensive, no matter what age bracket you are in and particularly if you are in the lower socioeconomic age bracket. In addition, as an extension of schooling and getting kids through school, there is the whole concept of children's future prospects and opportunities. The budget addresses this issue of training opportunities for young kids—I think especially of those young people in my electorate—and, at the other end of the spectrum, for mature residents who either want to re-enter the workforce or have lost their job. A considerable number of people in my electorate, as a result of Qantas's announcement yesterday, have lost their jobs, with some 400 jobs lost from Melbourne airport. These are people who are going to need to find alternative employment. They are lucky; they are in a highly skilled area and they may not need as intensive retraining as others. Nevertheless, they are people who have to either find other jobs or re-enter the workforce in different ways.

This year's budget does have a very firm focus on providing a better future for the people in my electorate. It also has a focus on creating jobs and providing training opportunities. Very importantly, it introduces some significant tax cuts and substantial superannuation increases. In relation to tax cuts, I cannot emphasise enough the importance to lower income earners of lifting the tax-free threshold. In fact, we have tripled the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,000. This is not a small piece of tax reform; this is a major piece of tax reform, and it is one that is going to have an immediate impact on people who live in my electorate. I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, there are some 58,000 taxpayers who will receive a very welcome tax cut on 1 July. For about 48,000 of those, it will be at least $300. And, in my electorate, some 5,000 residents will not have to pay tax at all as a result of the tripling of that threshold. If anything contributes to alleviating the cost and the burden of living expenses, it is this measure. More importantly, it provides some equity in the tax system. So, as things stand, the average wage earner in Calwell will, it is estimated, pay about $1,200 less tax than they did in 2007-08 as a direct result of Labor's tax cuts. This will apply to low- and middle-income families.

The other area which causes angst in my electorate is the whole issue of the ageing population and the pressures that come with that. Pensioners—and there are many elderly pensioners in my electorate—will benefit from one of the biggest ever increases to the pension. Singles will receive an increase of $154 a fortnight and couples an extra $156 a fortnight. Self-funded retirees are also not ignored in this budget. Singles will receive an extra $338 a year and couples $510. Thousands of my constituents will also get a boost to their retirement nest egg as a result of the government's move to increase superannuation contributions from employers from nine per cent to 12 per cent. For the average worker in my electorate—and it is always very important to see the impact of the budget through the prism of the impact it has on your electorate—this will mean an extra $108,000 put away for their retirement. That is no insignificant amount of money.

My electorate has one of the largest multicultural ageing populations in Australia. Calwell has two groups in particular—the Italian migrant community and the Greek migrant community—who were amongst the first to come here in the post Second World War migration. These people are now ageing and they are ageing in great numbers. Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to represent the government at the National Institution for Social Assistance, an Italian organisation which administers the Italian pension for Italian residents in Australia. Among the 250 people who were there, the main discussion was about the needs of an ageing Italian community here in Australia.

These are hardworking Australians who have dedicated their working life to building this country. They came here in the post Second World War immigration program, which was implemented, incidentally, by Australia's first Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell. They have integrated well—yes, they have. The Italian community, the Greek community and the Turkish community, now in their third generation, have integrated well. These once new Australians have now grown old and, although they have effectively built this country, they now in their twilight years have needs which the government must be sensitive to and must be responsive to. This budget commits $3.7 billion towards aged-care reform. This funding will support people so they can live independently at home for as long as they choose and so they will not ultimately be forced to sell the family home in order to meet their needs. This is very important to migrants in particular—they value their family home.

These measures are very good, solid Labor policy. They are the reason I am a member of the Labor Party. This budget reflects my accountability as a member of parliament to the needs of the people who live in my electorate. I can tell you that this particular measure has gone down very well in my electorate and I can also re-affirm that the committee I chair, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, in its very broad-ranging inquiry into migration, has picked up the need for government to tailor its aged-care policy to suit, and to be sensitive to, the needs of a very large ageing migrant community.

I did say that the whole issue of affordability of dental care has been on the table for as long as I have been the member for Calwell, so I am very pleased that the measures in this budget address the availability of affordable dental health. I have received a number of letters from my constituents in relation to this, so I would like to read from a letter from Ms Maria Kowatsch from Attwood, who wrote to me just before the budget. I think she sums up very well the concerns of the electorate. She wrote:

I currently work as a dental assistant, and found that there were many people who struggle with dental treatment and sadly end up crying on a dental chair because they cannot afford to get proper treatment.

This is someone who works with people who are wanting dental care. She said:

I have done some of my own research and found millions of people in Australia, in fact one in three, many of whom are elderly, disadvantaged, say they can't afford to go to the dentist. This creates a preventable burden on the health system. An estimated 500,000 people are on waiting lists for public dental care with average wait times of 27 months and in some cases higher than five years. More than 60,000 avoidable hospital visits are caused every year by dental problems.

This epidemic of dental neglect, which could be avoided through regular dental health checks, has a profound effect on the lives of many Australians. It affects their ability to talk, to enjoy food and maintain adequate nutrition, and to sleep. It can prevent people getting a job, renting a house or securing a loan. Importantly, it also affects their self-esteem. It complicates other health issues, making people more likely to end up seriously ill.

If the government were to bring dental care into Medicare, it would mean oral health is treated like any other part of the body.

So it is with great pleasure that I can say to my constituent Ms Kowatsch that she has been heard by this government.

This year the Labor government moved to allocate $515 million worth of measures to improve dental care across Australia. This money is aimed at improving dental care services and reducing waiting lists. The intention is to lay the foundation for a new way of providing dental services, ensuring those most in need will receive care when and where they need it. This means that a large number of people in my electorate are going to be very happy recipients of a program that will tend to their needs.

Unfortunately I am running out of time. On the National Insurance Disability Scheme, as I said earlier, it was cruel to suggest that it is some sort of con job, and I know that the opposition has suggested that. I have worked for years with Brite Industry in my electorate. This is a wonderful organisation, especially the parents of Brite, that assists people with disabilities in low-skilled employment. Those parents that I talked to for years always talk about their angst and concern about the future for their children and how they will be able to sustain some form of lifestyle. It is just amazing that we are able to be accountable to the needs of those people and that we are able to respond and hear their calls for government to act in the area of public policy that has been neglected for a long period of time. The $1 billion scheme which will roll out over four years and provide support to about 10,000 people with permanent disabilities is a scheme that is widely welcomed and much welcomed in my electorate. I welcome it and want to congratulate the government on having the courage and foresight to implement it. Any suggestion that it is not worthy or that it has shortcomings is just sour grapes from an opposition that did not have the fortitude or the courage to do something about this issue when they were in government. At the very least they can acknowledge that we are heading in the right direction for vulnerable Australians.