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Tuesday, 5 June 2001
Page: 27282

Mr BILLSON (5:34 PM) —On behalf of colleagues on this side of the House, best of luck to the member for Ryan. I rise tonight to speak in support of the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2001-2002. The government's budget this year is, in my view, a combination of some targeted spending that responds to a number of very specific local concerns in my electorate as well as investing in the longer term capacity and social fabric of our country. The Minister for Aged Care is here tonight, and I am pleased to be able to praise the minister for her contribution of additional aged care funding for my community—a popular retirement destination where people come to enjoy the beauty of the Mornington Peninsula. As has so often been the case since the coalition was elected, this budget represents further investment in aged care services within the Dunkley electorate. I am very pleased to be part of that and to be able to secure additional aged care places for the community that I represent. So congratulations to the Minister for Aged Care.

Central to the budget is a reinvestment of the financial benefits of sound economic management. Often in this place we hear the Labor Party talking about how the Howard government has done this and done that, and cut this and cut that. It is always helpful to remember that they are talking about the forward estimates that were left to us by the former Labor government. It is very handy to think about these forward estimates, because in the last year when Beazley and his team had their hands on the Treasury coffers they managed to blow the budget by $10.3 billion. So, even in that most immediate of years in the last budget papers of the Labor Party, they were out by an enormous amount of money. It is always amusing for us on this side to think about what would be the accuracy of these forward estimates of the former Labor government. It is really quite pointless hearing from the Labor Party about what they would have done and what their plans were in the last year of the Keating government, because they were so far off the mark in that final year that the forward estimates amount to nothing more than fictitious nonsense. It is helpful to remind ourselves of that and then think of the restoration that the Howard government has had to achieve in terms of our economic position. We have been able to strengthen the economy, we have been able to cut taxes, we have been able to provide substantial funding for new initiatives and we have been able to look after those who are most in need of our care and support. We have put forward a whole new vision for the welfare system in this country—support older Australians and further strengthen the health system that the member for Ryan was talking about.

It is interesting that it took a Howard government to expand Medicare for the first time in living memory. Those opposite talk about their commitment to Medicare but there is no action. They have a health policy that is carrying forward initiatives that the government has already implemented. There is a dearth of ideas on the other side and there is action on the coalition side.

In terms of our environment, what an enormous investment our country through its government has been able to make in the restoration of our environment and natural systems. This budget contains a further injection of funds into the Natural Heritage Trust—a further $1 billion over the next five years—to continue this work to protect and repair our natural environment. Again, where is the Labor Party on that? We keep hearing these little rumours about how the Labor Party is going to find some money to spend on the things that it wants to spend on, and something that you often hear is that they are going to cut funds to the Natural Heritage Trust. You hear Senator Bolkus making comments about this and that at a very micro level, but he really needs to stand up and make it clear whether the Labor Party is going to continue that enormous, single largest investment in the restoration of our environment that gives cause to people like Senator Lyn Allison, the environment spokesperson from the Democrats, to describe this government as the best government the country has had in terms of restoration and care of our environment. As those initiatives flow through, that is an investment in our future.

At a more immediate level, the budget contained a number of very important initiatives that have responded to some work I have been doing on behalf of the local community about the circumstances of lower income self-funded retirees. Mr Speaker, you would know that there are many lower income self-funded retirees whose disposable income is no more than a part-pensioner would have, yet the self-funded retiree is not able to access concessions and that sort of benefit that is made available to part-pensioners. We changed that a little while ago when we extended the eligibility for the Commonwealth seniors health card to lower income self-funded retirees and we have taken that a bit further in this budget with looking to embrace the telephone concession that part-pensioners have. They are very practical, helpful, meaningful things. Superannuants have gone without—they have been a little frugal during their working life to provide for their retirement. I think it is responsible government to reward those people, to show them that their behaviour is recognised and encouraged by this government, and there are steps afoot to do that in this budget.

The Australians Working Together plan is simply visionary, courageous and just. There are more than 800,000 people on disability support pensions in our country. For some of these people, because of their conditions, the best assistance we can provide is for their care, support and comfort. There are also a number of disability support recipients whose condition may have improved or whose reasons for being on that pension may have changed and whose possibility of returning to work may be able to be enhanced over time. A soft tissue injury, for instance, is something that may affect a person's capacity to carry out a particular type of work. But these people have abilities and have a contribution to make, and I think we have a moral obligation to work with people to support and encourage their full participation in our community, to expand the opportunities available to them to rejoin the work force or to just be part of the things that are going on in our neighbourhoods, cities and communities through incentives, advice, development opportunities for them personally, and also a fair application of mutual obligation requirements. That is all in this budget. That is a visionary plan to help the people who have something to contribute, who may not be getting the support to assist them to make that contribution. We all know about the health conditions of people who are not engaged and involved in our community. Their health deteriorates and there are a whole range of other indicators that suggest that they are not enjoying all the fruits of living in this great country. There is a moral obligation there for governments to do what we have done, and we are leading the way with that visionary, courageous and just plan.

I would also like to talk about the Scoresby transport corridor. I doubt that my colleagues find that unusual; I am regularly talking about the Scoresby corridor. On Mother's Day, the Prime Minister came to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and announced the Scoresby transport corridor as a road of national importance.

Mr Brough —The best Mother's Day present.

Mr BILLSON —The best Mother's Day present for a million and a half people who live in that part of Melbourne—a population bigger than the entire population of Adelaide. That is not to drive home the point about the relative size of these cities, but that is an enormous community that is making a great contribution to our nation. This transport infrastructure will make a very real difference to the lives of people living in that area.

Not everybody commutes to the central business district for their work. There are in that corridor a number of regional centres, hives of economic activity which need to connect amongst themselves. Not only have we made the declaration of the road of national importance but also the government pledged some cash—$220 million of cash. This budget actually puts that cash on the table. Over this and the following out years, $220 million has been put on the table by the Howard government to support that project. The announcement came not only with the designation of a road of national importance but also with an invitation to the state government of Victoria to match the Commonwealth, to put $220 million of state money on the table, so that we could then attract a further half a billion dollars from the private sector to construct this enormously significant piece of infrastructure. What has been the response to that? We have not actually had one. The state government of Victoria have been playing funny political games, which I have characterised as the conduct of reluctant converts.

The state government in Victoria, the Bracks Labor government, actually campaigned against this project when they were elected. Through our advocacy, we were able to highlight what an unhelpful position that was for the future interests of not only the greater Melbourne area but particularly the eastern and south-eastern suburbs, including the Dunkley community. We have managed to turn that position around, and then begrudgingly the state Labor government in Victoria said: `Well, you guys are right. All the facts are there. The communities all want this project. Yeah, we really should do something about it,' and they announced a change of position. But they have done nothing since that. They have gone around claiming that they have put detailed propositions to the Commonwealth government, and that has clearly been proven to be a lie. They had not done that—they had sent up a glossy brochure and an environment effects statement. There was nothing about how the project would proceed. The fact that it was a lie that was perpetuated and that continued to be run through Melbourne media by the Bracks Labor government—in particular, perpetuated by Minister Batchelor—was proven when the transport minister of Victoria and the federal transport minister came together in the first week of January. Do you know what the outcome of that meeting was? They agreed to work together to develop a proposal. If that is not proof positive that there has never been a proposal on the table from the Victorian Labor government, I do not know what is.

We have gone further. Since that time, KPMG have conducted a study on behalf of the joint officials, which was the group of Commonwealth and state officials brought together to look at funding options for the Scoresby transport corridor. The freeway component alone is a billion dollar project. I do not know of many governments that have a crisp billion dollars lying around to pay for something like that with cash and to front-end that money to see that the whole project is done. What we have done is pledge $220 million. It is committed and funded in this budget that we are discussing tonight. We are looking for the state to match us, to have a $440 million government nest egg from which we can go out and attract the balance of the funds from the private sector.

That proposition has been proven to be achievable by the independent work from KPMG that has gone to the joint officials, a report that has also gone to the Victorian Labor government while they are running around saying, `Gee, we don't know what this public-private partnership is.' They have the report. They have a policy called `Partnerships Victoria' that says that these sorts of partnerships will be more common under the Labor government. The Financial Review of yesterday said that the Victorian government are crowing about their plan to increase the proportion of capital expenditure achieved through Partnerships Victoria to about $4 billion of their $6 billion capital works budget over the next four years.

This article was saying that the New South Wales government is going to do the same thing and implement a policy that the Victorian Labor government already have. Yet when you talk about this project, you have the Premier of Victoria and the transport minister of Victoria saying, `Gee, I don't know what this is about. This is an idea that we just can't cope with. We're from the Labor Party. If someone is not paying for it out of taxes up front entirely or we are putting it on the taxpayer bankcard, we don't know how to fund these projects.' It is a pathetic example of how uncommitted the state Labor government in Victoria are. Tonight, I call on them to get serious about this extremely serious project. I call on them to have a look at their own policy, Partnerships Victoria, and realise that this is the way forward to complete the project. If we were able to construct the Scoresby transport corridor in the way the Labor Party wanted, we would be drip-feeding funding and seeing various incremental segments of it built. By the time I got to retirement age, it would probably be done.

That is not the way to secure the benefits of this project. We want the whole thing built—from Frankston to Ringwood. We need the entire project completed in one sweep, as has been recommended by the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development, as we understand and recognise as the only way to secure the maximum benefits for the funding through this project. I say to the Bracks government of Victoria, `Let's get on with it. Let's stop playing funny buggers in the media about this.' You know exactly what this proposal is about. Let us get a $220 million commitment from Victoria, and the Commonwealth and the state government can work cooperatively on how to secure the private sector funding to complete the project. We can talk about how to do that— whether it is through performance based payments, through shadow tolling, through availability subscriptions to the private investor or, as it has been put to me, through making available some of the land use opportunities in the areas that adjoin the project as a way of having the private investors recover the money they put forward. I call on the Bracks government in Victoria to get serious about this project so we can get on with it. They can have a look at their own policies.

I also want to touch on education briefly tonight. Many people from the Labor Party talk and talk and talk about education. Frankly, they do not do a whole lot about it. In Victoria, again, Minister Delahunty, the Victorian Labor education minister, had her budget described as a cruel budget—one of the cruellest education budgets the state of Victoria had ever seen. Contrast that with the substantial growth in funding for government schools that is in this budget we are discussing tonight, the continuing commitment of the coalition to the National Literacy and Numeracy Plan to make sure all our students have those key tools to develop themselves, to take opportunities in further education and to get the best out of their futures. I also mention the extra higher education funding through Backing Australia's Ability, the expansion of the apprenticeships system and the Jobs Pathway program. There is a wide ranging canvas of further investment in education.

Contrast that with the position of the Bracks Labor government in Victoria. You have strike action. You have parents—right the way through from preschool years to secondary school—concerned about the lack of resources from that enormous pot of cash left to them by the Kennett government. Why was none of that invested in the education system? Do you know what the test will be, Mr Deputy Speaker? The test will be when we see what happens from Kim Beazley's budget reply. Remember that night we were here, hearing about all these things that the Labor Party were going to spend money on. This was after they had been caught out with Stephen Conroy, the senator, actually telling the truth. Remember the night when we had that speech? Kim Beazley stood at the dispatch box and said that the opposition will put extra money into education—ya, ya, ya, ya, and on he went.

One of the initiatives he talked about was some funding that needed to be matched by state and territory governments. Won't it be interesting to see what actually happens with that commitment? I think he was talking about $50 million for school facilities and the like, to be matched by state and territory governments. My question is this: what is Victoria going to do? Is Minister Mary Delahunty going to match what Kim Beazley has pledged? Is she going to say, `Frankly, the state government in Victoria thinks there is no cash for kids. We couldn't find any in our state budget, but we'll find some for Kim.' Is it cash for kids or cash for Kim? Who knows? It would be miraculous if, all of a sudden, the Victorian Labor government could find money to help Kim Beazley and the Labor Party with their election campaign when they could not find money for the kids in the first place? Or are they going to come out and say, `No, no, we are not going to spend any of this surplus that has been left to us by the former Kennett government.' Then that just leaves Kim Beazley's education policy in tatters. Already one element is undeliverable. Why? Because the state and territory governments cannot pick it up.

What a contrast. Both of those outcomes highlight the pathetic hypocrisy and lack of vision that the Labor Party have on education policy. Either the Victorian Labor government is happy to fund education if it is politically expedient for the Labor Party—but not for the kids—or it does not fund it and then Kim Beazley's plans are already in tatters. There is an interesting choice to be made there by those who are trying to assist the Labor government with its re-election.

Before closing, I want to comment on one of the sorts of things that have concerned the Dunkley electorate. We still have on the table an offer of $500,000 to assist any state and territory government that wants to trial retractable syringes, so that any needle supply program designed to reduce the harm that injecting drug users are exposed to actually involves a technology that prevents the helpless and the innocent from being exposed to harm when needles are recklessly discarded in their community. We have not heard anything about a state or territory government coming forward to take up that offer from Minister Wooldridge, and that offer still stands. That is another issue that shows there is leadership from the federal Howard government but it is not being responded to by the state and territory governments.

My closing comments are on the question that is on everybody's mind. We have heard, and it has been exposed, that Kim Beazley says he will not increase the overall tax burden on Australians if he is elected. We know that in these budget papers we are discussing tonight the tax burden as a share of GDP is actually trending down. The difference between where we are in the out years under these budget papers and where we would be under Kim Beazley is $3 billion. That is, Kim Beazley will be able to raise $3 billion more under what he is saying he will do, those weasel words that he says when he is not saying, `Oh, Laurie, Laurie, don't ask me tough questions. That is undignified.' When he is not saying that but he says, `We will not increase the overall tax burden—that is Labor policy,' that is a $3 billion extra tax burden that someone has got to pay. Who is going to pay that? Is there going to be a reintroduction of indexation on petrol? Are we going to bump up company taxes? Are we going to get stuck into the ordinary people who are now able to pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar in tax on their income, whom we have given the chance to invest in their future, pay a far more affordable mortgage and set themselves up? Are they going to cop it? Or are we going to see other indirect taxes messed around with by a Labor government? We need to keep the Labor Party accountable here because they stooged Australia in 1993 with the same sorts of weasel words. We need to keep the Labor Party accountable so that they cannot stooge Australia again and cannot destroy all the good work that has been achieved since the Howard government was elected. (Time expired)