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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3879

Mr McDOUGALL(8.38 p.m.) —I rise tonight to thank the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the Treasurer (Mr Costello) and all those who worked to create a budget which offers renewed hope for the people of Australia. I do not have to remind anyone in this chamber that the electoral thermometer is the telephone. We work on an old television network theory that one telephone call represents 500 people who had the same thought but who did not pick up the phone.

In the days following the budget, the calls we had from the people of the Griffith electorate were positive and, in the main, were inquiries for more details rather than criticisms. The sad truth is that the economy we inherited was in such a state of disaster that few believed we could come up with a recipe for recovery without hitting everyone with even more tax. But here it is.

Dr Lawrence —We have just heard this repudiated.

Mr McDOUGALL —And you listen to this: no increase in income tax, no increase in general company taxes, no increase in wholesale sales tax rates and no increase in petrol, tobacco or alcohol taxes.

With the pre-budget clamouring by union leaders, who appear to believe they have the mandate to set policy for all Australians, along with the cries of foul and poverty from the opposition, my electorate office was geared for a flood of calls from alarmed constituents. But we did not start to get the calls of alarm until after the opposition had rifled through the budget documents searching desperately for something—anything—to hold up as a version of a disaster. Then I spoke with a tearful full-age pensioner who had been told that she would be charged an entry fee contribution to enter a nursing home. This disgraceful lie did not come from a member of the coalition.

Sadly for this country, instead of an opposition which scrutinises government policy to come up with constructive criticism, all we have had is scaremongering and misrepresentation of the facts. This has been most evident in the nursing home reform, which, coupled with the minister's aged care structural reform package, has been well received in my electorate—and for good reason.

As I had visited several nursing homes leading up to the budget, it came as no news to me that 39 per cent of residents were in rooms with four or more beds. Nor was I surprised to learn that 75 per cent of our nursing homes do not meet our most basic Australian building standards. But what was of greatest concern was the number of hostel beds being used for nursing home patients. These patients were having to do with unsatis factory facilities—bathrooms not big enough to take wheelchairs, stairs instead of ramps and other similar inequities. The hostel proprietors in my electorate have worked hard caring for all their residents but are suffering from the results of the patch-up job of the last 13 years. While money has been thrown at the problem, not enough time or expertise has been spent resolving the cause.

Following the budget, I met with several major hostels—and in one case the founder of one of the largest hostels in the region. I am pleased to report that they are more than happy with this budget initiative and are anxious to get the new programs under way. Hostel beds which have been vacant can finally be converted to desperately needed nursing home beds. The introduction of an entry contribution for those who can afford to pay will help towards creating a more economically viable nursing home system to support those who cannot pay.

Let us get back to that vital telephone graph. Of major interest in my community was the school to work scheme. As it is such a new and innovative program, it did need some explaining. One of my first meetings was at the Balmoral State High School. The principal, Lesley Englert, is a woman of vision and a dedicated educator. She had honed in on our increase in funding and commitment to the literacy and numeracy strategy. Her first question was how she could tap into this to advance the program she already had up and running at her school. Her concern was that we did not forget the high school students who need help.

We took a long hard look at the statistics. At some secondary schools in my electorate, an alarming 25 per cent of grade 10 students do not pass the standard literacy and numeracy test. This means that they cannot go on to take the Board of Secondary Study course—the precursor for tertiary education. It also means that they do not have adequate reading and writing skills to move easily into the business world and are destined for the unemployment circuit. Fortunately, 95 per cent of these students stay on to do year 11 and 12, and this is when principals like Lesley Englert work at improving their liter acy and numeracy using TAFE literacy modules.

I believe that we must expand our literacy and numeracy program to the high schools or we will continue to allow a forgotten generation to enter the work force without these basic skills, skills which are their educational birthright. The fact that Labor had made no provision to continue this program was a disgrace. We need to reassure the parents, teachers and the secondary school students themselves that, after 13 years of being ignored by the Labor government, help is on the way. As a result of our budget policy all students, primary and secondary, should be able to read, write, spell and communicate with ease and assurance. Besides our literacy and numeracy strategy, school principals I have spoken with are enthusiastic about the school to work strategy. Already, several have suggested we organise meetings with local business people and other relevant organisations to get the best advantage possible for students.

Another response I had about the budget came from parents I met at Villanova College, a private school in my electorate. Breaking the mind-set that the unemployment benefit is a salary paid to school leavers was a point on which they were most vocal. After 13 years of welfare democracy, we now see a second generation of school leavers who expect to live on government welfare rather than income earned. There is a ground swell of belief in my electorate that this can be turned around only if we assist small business to recover and general employment. That brings us to this vital section of the community. We have put in place a 100-day action plan. We have abandoned Labor's proposal to force subcontractors into the PAYE net. We have created an economic benefit from the capital gains tax and we have reduced the provisional tax uplift factor.

My electorate contains a wide range of small business. Many of these are in the retail trade and many in the service industry. A survey I completed prior to the budget showed that just over 50 per cent of all small business in the Griffith electorate are two- to five-person operations. On further investiga tion I found these were mainly a husband and wife team, who could not take a holiday together unless they closed up the shop. On even closer study I found that most of this large group in our community could not afford to take on a third employee and in every case—and I must repeat in every case—we were told this was partly because of the unfair dismissal law.

It stands to reason that a small business of just two people must be doing reasonably well to be able to employ a third person. But it is also glaringly obvious that if this person proves to be dishonest, dishonourable or a disadvantage to that small business they cannot keep that person for the up to nine months it currently takes to go through the dismissal procedure. While there are many other elements of the new workplace bill to be considered, this one I believe has the undivided support of the business community.

I can only presume that those in the Senate who are blocking this legislation have not spent time with the small business operators in their community. I will be reminding the small business operators in my electorate that the coalition government in the lower house has passed the laws to make these changes. It is the Labor Party, the Australian Democrats and a couple of Greens in the Senate who are saying no to the change.

I can cite business after business coming to me asking for a way of avoiding the protracted battle with unions and lawyers when they find themselves in the position of wanting to retrench a staff member. One small business operator with a staff of more than 30 told me she is still paying claims to two people she dismissed last year. They had been caught red-handed in a scam which had resulted in the theft of more than $200,000 worth of goods from her business. Her profit for the first six months of this year has already been spent on defending the unfair dismissal case. This employer did not set out to treat her staff unfairly. She followed all the rules and guidelines set down by the unions and the Industrial Relations Commission. But there is a serious indication that, no matter what advice she took, and regardless of how fairly she believed she had established her working place, she could never cover all the bases once an employee chose to use the unfair dismissal system.

What we are seeing here are good, honest, hard workers being discriminated against because of the handful of dishonest members of the work force. We all know that the success of this budget lies in the strategy as a whole. Unlike the previous government, we have not thrown cash at the problems, but we have prepared a strategy which will create long-term security for all members of the Australian community. It became obvious within days of the Treasurer's budget speech that we had to get the truth out into the community to offset the innuendo and, in many cases, the straight-out lies being peddled by those who are not genuine in their effort and their concern for the future of Australians.

As a result we have had excellent feedback from schools, hostels, nursing homes and community organisations such as the Queensland Carers Association. This large welfare organisation came to me prior to the budget saying they believed they had received less than a fair deal under Labor. The Minister for Health and Family Services (Dr Wooldridge) involved the Carers Association of Australia in its budget planning and, as a result, the Queensland Carers Association now has three programs undergoing trials.

The first program, for residential respite, is already under way. The second program, for a community and home booking service, is about to be established and this will be followed by the introduction of an after-hours emergency service. These additional vital programs for the carers in our community are a direct result of the work done by this government in its budget planning.

To be able to visit with such organisations in less than two weeks after the budget and see such positive action already in place gives a whole new meaning to my job representing the people of Griffith, which has been a Labor seat for the past 18 years.

It has been hard for the Labor lobbyists in my electorate to accept the fact that this budget helps the battler, the breadwinner and, most of all, the families in our community. For generations, Australia has been about fair play and for the first time in 13 years all Australians—and I stress all Australians—are back in the game.