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Tuesday, 7 March 2000
Page: 14075


Mrs DRAPER (8:56 PM) —I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1999-2000 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1999-2000. These bills embody the government's continuing commitment to sound financial management of the economy. We should be proud of the Howard government's achievements and the fact that the $10.3 billion deficit which we inherited from the Labor government has been turned around. The Commonwealth will continue to repay billions of dollars of debt, freeing future Australians from this burden whilst ensuring that Australian families and businesses reap the benefits of good economic management and good, strong, sound policies for Australia.

I would like to quote part of the ACTU's 1999-2000 living wage submission, where the ACTU—and I do mean the ACTU—actually congratulates the Howard coalition for its successful policies. It states:

The Australian economy is clearly characterised by strong economic growth, low inflation, moderate wage growth and improved international competitiveness. Unemployment over the past year has also declined remarkably with the strength of Australia's labour market performance showing encouraging signs for the year ahead.

I will repeat that salient point once more, for the benefit of the members on the other side of the House. The ACTU stated:

Unemployment over the past year has also declined remarkably with the strength of Australia's labour market performance showing encouraging signs for the year ahead.

This is something that the Labor Party were unable to achieve while in office. In fact, under the Keating Labor government, all Australians had to suffer the `recession we had to have' and interest rates as high as 17 per cent—and more for businesses and for farmers on the land. When the coalition was elected in 1996, not only was the Treasury cupboard bereft of funds but it was, in fact, in debt to the tune of over $10 billion—not to mention the l-a-w tax cuts that disappeared completely, as well as the hike in the rates of wholesale sales tax after the 1993 election.

For the benefit of my constituents in Makin, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the coalition's achievements since coming to office in 1996. In the area of employment, 596,300 jobs have been created since March 1996—200,000 more jobs than were created in Labor's last six years in office. The unemployment rate for the month of January 2000 was 6.8 per cent compared with Labor's December high in 1992 of 11.2 per cent. And who, you might well ask, was the employment minister at the time? None other than the current Leader of the Opposition, the member for Brand, Kim Beazley. Well done, Kim.

The 1999 December quarter inflation rate was 1.8 per cent compared to an average of 5.2 per cent under Labor. Today interest rates at the standard variable mortgage rate of 7.3 per cent are way down on Labor's level of 10.5 per cent—not to mention again rates as high as 17 per cent under Keating and the `recession we had to have'. In relation to private health insurance, there has been an increase of almost 300,000 in membership since 1 January 1999 which, of course, as most Australians would appreciate, helps to alleviate the problems with the waiting lists in the public health system. With regard to apprenticeships, there are now 140,000 new apprentices in training in traditional trades—a 15 per cent increase since 1995. In the area of aged care, the coalition is committed to providing quality care for older Australians on a fair and sustainable basis, to meeting the challenge of Australia's ageing population and to ensuring nursing homes meet standards with properly assessed care levels. As well as providing for older Australians in a way in which affords them the dignity and respect they deserve, as part of the coalition initiatives we have committed recurrent funding for residential aged care—nursing homes and hostels. This has grown by 43 per cent since the Howard government came to office.

The government presently provides around $3.5 billion a year in subsidies to care for 135,000 residents in 3,000 aged care facilities around Australia. We have also provided capital funding of $84 million over four years—from 1998-99—to assist facilities in rural and remote areas to meet their capital needs. A total of $28.2 million is being provided to assist in industry restructuring. The coalition has also provided a system of accreditation which applies to all nursing homes and hostels to ensure that the level of aged care services in Australia is of a consistently high standard. During the 13 years under Labor, the quality of nursing homes was allowed to deteriorate. Labor knew of the urgent need to upgrade nursing homes, but failed to act—dismally. They had commissioned a report by Professor Bob Gregory which indicated that the sector needed a capital injection of around $1.3 billion over 10 years. Labor failed to act against the small number of homes that provided poor quality care. Labor abandoned the aged care sector, particularly in regional and rural areas.

In the area of the coalition's Tough on Drugs campaign, I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on his wonderful initiative, particularly in relation to the national illicit drug strategy. As a government, under this strategy, we have committed a total of $295 million towards a balanced approach to the drug problem including for law enforcement, education and treatment. This includes $74.2 million to the Australian Federal Police, $69.9 million to increase protection of our borders, $22.6 million to enhance the capacity of the NCA, $1.8 million for research into drug and crime links, and $1.8 million to AUSTRAC.

Currently in my electorate of Makin, Mr Stephen Trautwein from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and School and Mr Paul Ridley from Valley View Secondary School are running courses for parents of students as part of their `How to drug proof your kids' program. I have a lovely letter from Mr Stephen Trautwein, thanking me for my support for their work in this area. However, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone for their commitment to helping young people and their families in my electorate of Makin. Another particularly important initiative by the government in this area is the recent launch of the national alcohol campaign by the health minister, Dr Michael Wooldridge. Through a series of television commercials and supporting media and print advertisements in magazines, the program targets 15- to 17-year-olds. There is an excellent classroom program for teachers to utilise, as well as a package of information, including videos, to help parents run successful parent nights, talk to their children and take positive action about alcohol problems.

In relation to the environment and heritage, under coalition priorities the Natural Heritage Trust has been established to help Australians repair and regenerate the local environment. It also gives people the chance to identify and solve environmental problems in their local community, and it enhances Australia's reputation as a clean, green nation. The Living Cities program will improve the environment in Australia's urban areas. As part of the coalition initiatives, the $1.5 billion Natural Heritage Trust Fund has been established to target five main areas: vegetation—$430 million to preserve native bushland and restore 250,000 hectares of degraded bushland each year to 2001; land care—$720 million will be used for farmers and communities in the assessment of the extent of water and land degradation, the eradication of feral animals and weeds, and for investment in voluntary land care and other environmental groups; rivers—$380 million has been allocated to improve water quality, water flow and fish regeneration outside the Murray-Darling system through the national river care initiative and the Murray-Darling Basin; biodiversity—$120 million has been set aside for a network of parks and reserves to provide safe habitats for our plants and animals and to save threatened birds and animals such as the albatross, bilby, numbat and mallee fowl; and for coastal and marine issues—$200 million for coastal pollution, including sewage outfalls, stormwater and oil spills and to implement the national oceans policy.

During 1999 we have funded more than 2,500 successful projects under the Natural Heritage Trust as well as related programs. We have also committed an additional $250 million to the trust from the sale of the second 16 per cent tranche of Telstra, signed agreements with all states and territories for them to retain and manage native vegetation and control land clearing, and secured increases in annual spending on sustainable agriculture and biological conservation. The amount spent in 1996-97 to 2000-01 will more than double the amount spent by Labor in its final year.

I would like to note here tonight that a cornerstone of the coalition government's efforts has been the establishment of the Prime Minister's Supermarket to Asia Council in September 1996. The government initially allocated $14.5 million over three years to fund its Supermarket to Asia work. As part of the coalition's achievements, the Supermarket to Asia Council's action plan has the goal of seeing Australian agrifood exports to Asia reach $16 billion by the year 2002 and encouraging at least another 2,000 agrifood businesses to become active exporters to Asia, thereby contributing to stronger rural industries and communities. A total of 10,000 jobs are expected to be created in the Australian economy as the Supermarket to Asia Council's goals are achieved, and a further $23.7 million over three years from 1999-2000 has been committed to continue and augment the government's Supermarket to Asia Strategy. A total of $9.2 million for a food and fibre chains program has been allocated to assist Australia's food and fibre industries build more competitive supply chains into global export markets, based on closer cooperation along the chain from the producer to the consumer, as well as $3.1 million over the next three years for a new industries development program to better identify potential new industries and Australian agrifood products and help overcome barriers facing innovative export orientated rural producers.

A further $6.6 million has been committed to the Supermarket to Asia technical market access program which has increased market access for a range of Australian agrifood exports to Asian markets and is actively negotiating to further reduce technical market access barriers. A Quality Food Australia program has been implemented to allow Australian food exporters with appropriate food safety and quality assurance systems in place to use the QFA logo and benefit from joint promotions and advertising campaigns in selected Asian markets. Air and sea freight export has been established to bring together transport providers and exporters, state governments, airport lessees-authorities and port authorities to generate practical solutions that will streamline the export chain.

In relation to veterans' affairs, the coalition believes strongly that the Australian veteran community deserve generous support, care and compensation through a simple, fair and responsive system unique to their needs. It is also vital that the service of our veterans continues to be honoured publicly and proudly by their fellow Australians and particularly by the generations who have never known or witnessed the harrowing experience of war. I congratulate the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Bruce Scott, on the great work that he has done with the veterans in my electorate of Makin.

In conclusion, I would like to touch on the GST debate and inform the House, for the benefit of members opposite, that the coalition believes in a taxation system that provides for $12 billion of personal income tax cuts, that will reduce the price of diesel in rural and regional Australia, that will ensure that 80 per cent of taxpayers pay a marginal rate of not more than 30 cents in the dollar and that will give states increased state government services such as schools, hospitals and police. That is under the coalition, of course. However, under Labor—with the roll-back, rollover, lay down, roly-poly policy on a destination to nowhere—cuts to services and increases to income tax are the things Beazley is planning for us. We, the electorate of Australia, say, `No, thank you.' I congratulate the Howard government on its achievements and commend the bills to the House.