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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1765

Mr GEORGANAS (6:17 PM) —I am pleased to be able to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011. They contain appropriations both for ongoing work and for new measures of this government for the service of the Australian people and the national interest. A number of programs are funded through these bills, and I want to express some views from the electorate of Hindmarsh demonstrating support for these programs.

There are a few issues that have generated immediate, strong and apparently unanimous support within the electorate of Hindmarsh. One such issue is the new agreement between loggers, environmentalists, the Tasmanian government and the Commonwealth, which Deputy Speaker Adams would be in tune with and very aware of. The plight of the Tasmanian wilderness has been in the public’s consciousness since at least the mid- to late-1980s, and from that time a substantial portion, it seems, of the Australian public has had a love affair with the pristine wilderness—and rightly so—the temperate rainforest, the old growth pines and the open, scrubby regions of that most beautiful state that the Deputy Speaker comes from. So it is my pleasure to support that agreement on behalf of the many constituents of Hindmarsh who want our beautiful natural heritage preserved. The Commonwealth has committed $22.4 million to help this collective response to the issues and challenges facing the Tasmanian native forests and the industries that until now have exploited this all too fragile and irreplaceable treasure.

I also appreciate the opportunity to speak in support yet again of the strength of the government’s response to the global financial crisis and resulting worldwide recession. One of the vehicles used to deliver the economic stimulus which fuelled the economy and kept public confidence high was the Building the Education Revolution. There have been thousands of very successful, highly prized and economical building works undertaken in schools in all our electorates right across the nation.

The coalition’s irrational opposition to this program has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to be hyperinflated and insubstantial. As I go to the openings of different BER projects in and around my electorate—and I am sure all the members on our side who have seen these projects firsthand would agree—I see the work that is being done and the need for wonderful buildings that will equip our students with the tools for better learning. But I also see another side to it: each and every one of these BER projects employs anything from 20 to 100 people. When you multiply those numbers by the thousands of BER projects that are being undertaken across the nation, you can see why our economy is the envy of countries abroad. You can see how easily we created nearly 300,000 jobs from the infrastructure projects that took place around the country. I see it firsthand. I make it a point to talk to the builders, the architects and the people who are working on these sites, and they all tell me that they had to employ extra people and take on apprentices. This, of course, is one of the reasons that today we are in the position that we are in with our economy and why we are the envy of other economies around the world. Yet the coalition opposed these programs and, as I said, their opposition has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to be hyperinflated and insubstantial. Even if you totally ignore the very favourable audit reports, speaking with the people in the schools can only confirm that the BER was an inherently good program.

The people in the school communities in my electorate have given me direct feedback, and I am sure that this has also been the case with members in other electorates. This direct feedback consists of nothing but excitement, appreciation and pleasure at the investments of the Commonwealth in their school communities. Let us face it: most schools do not typically get new buildings. Under the previous Howard government, the majority of schools got new flag poles. They are great, but when it came to schools getting the learning tools that their students require to equip them for a better future we did not see too much when the opposition was in government. The previous government limited itself to investing in flag poles and the odd shade sail, and that was hardly enough to improve education outcomes. But we have built brand-new buildings—including brand-new libraries—that are equipped as learning centres of the future. Schools will have those substantial things for ever and a day. This government has built $2 million libraries, gymnasiums and state-of-the-art classrooms. The BER program was a two-point attack: (1) a better education system for Australia and the future of Australian students and (2) ensuring that we injected money into the economy to keep jobs and the economy going.

The difference between the opposition and the government could not be starker. As I said, the people I speak to—parents and school communities around my electorate—absolutely love the work that is being done, and I have heard nothing but praise for the BER program. While the opposition wants to try to kill off what remains of the BER program in the non-government school sector under the guise of using the BER funds to pay for the flood reconstruction—in other words, take the money away from it and use it for the flood reconstruction—I and this government are absolutely committed to honouring our commitments by paying for the remaining projects, so ensuring that we keep jobs going and that schools do receive the buildings that they deserve to be able to teach their students.

Within these appropriation bills, there is the provision of almost $70 million for the payment of non-government school facilities that have been completed earlier than expected. Also, the amount of $48 million is being brought forward from the last financial year for the payment of trade training centres in non-government schools. This is another suite of projects that is very strongly supported in the community, and this of course raises the ire of the opposition. It is remarkable that the opposition has moved so far to the right that it does not even support funding of private education anymore.

While we on this side ignore the opposition’s spite, I say well done to the schools, communities and those involved in the construction of these schools’ prized new assets. I am sure they will help give students an even better education for many years to come. For example, in my electorate Ascot Park Primary School had refurbishments of $125,000. The Building the Education Revolution multipurpose hall for Ascot Park Primary School cost $1.7 million. Cowandilla Primary School—my old primary school—received $150,000 for structures, fencing et cetera but also $630,000 for the Building the Education Revolution new construction of classrooms and $1.8 million for a multipurpose hall. It was fantastic to go to their Christmas show this year, where we did the official opening of the BER project for this particular hall and saw the Christmas pantomime that they put on.

The list goes on and on: Glenelg Primary School, Grange junior and primary school, Henley Beach Primary School, Lockleys North Primary School, Lockleys South Primary School, Our Lady of Grace Primary School, Immanuel College, St Mary’s Memorial School and St Peter’s Woodlands Grammar School. Every single school received some form of desperately needed facilities that the former government ignored for many years.

Other funds these bills allocate include $14.6 million to double the capacity of the Connecting People with Jobs relocation pilot project to 4,000 places, which will help unemployed people to relocate to Queensland in order to take up jobs in flood affected areas where the rebuilding will be taking place. It includes joint projects with the USA to reduce the cost of solar electricity technologies, which is a great area; helping the fight against obesity and other health problems; the continuation of the Active After-School Communities program for this calendar year; and funds towards the global fight against diseases, including AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, in our region and beyond.

There is also additional funding for the ongoing development of the most critical Murray-Darling Basin Plan. There is funding to meet the cost of establishing the National Broadband Network and, importantly, the establishment of new management of what used to be Telstra’s universal service obligation. One area that is really important is bringing forward funds from 2013-14 for the purchase of water licences from willing—I stress willing—sellers within the Murray-Darling Basin. This is a huge issue for South Australia. We are at the bottom of the river and we know that the opposition does not want this to happen. We know they oppose more water being sent down our stretch of the Murray River and we know they see their interests with upstream irrigators, not the communities of the Riverland, the Lower Lakes, the Coorong or the Murray mouth. I anticipate them voting against this measure here in this House of Representatives when it comes up. Labor is committed to restoring the health of our precious river system for the benefit of our economy and for the benefit of our communities and the water dependent environment.

Lastly, I would like to make mention of the appropriation of funds for the introduction of the fair entitlements guarantee to protect employee entitlements when an employer’s business enters into liquidation. This is not a problem limited to the old company or employees of John Howard’s brother, the man whose bankruptcy was the catalyst behind the current General Employee Entitlement and Redundancy Scheme setup. Constituents in my electorate are still trying to get a fair deal from the GEERS agency. They and workers yet to encounter such circumstances need something better. We need something much better. Companies that spend their employees’ legal entitlements, their superannuation and their accrued benefits are nothing but thieves. We cannot tolerate employees having their legal rights ignored and trampled on and their property taken against their will by companies with no conscience.

The Gillard Labor government’s protecting workers’ entitlements package will provide the strongest protection of employees’ entitlements that Australian workers have ever had. It consists of three elements. The fair entitlements guarantee will protect workers’ entitlements, including redundancy pay, annual long service leave and up to three months of unpaid wages. Compliance measures will be strengthened to secure the superannuation that should always have been in the bank. Deliberately fleecing fellow Australians of their super of all things really is unforgivable. Strenthening corporate and taxation law will give the Australian Securities and Investment Commission increased powers to hold rogue companies accountable.

In conclusion, friends I have been speaking to who returned from overseas—from England and Europe—in the new year have commented how people in those countries envied the way our economy rode out the global financial crisis as a result of the global recession, which I spoke about earlier. They recognise how incredible our economic management has been. Many people look at us as a model of how we endured that difficult time. This government’s stimulus—specifically in the case of these bills, the Building the Education Revolution and other stimulus packages—was an absolute, clear success both for the economy and the schools and schoolchildren who will use their new facilities for decades to come. This is a matter of history.

Our economy is strong and unemployment remains around five per cent. But we need to address the outrageous corporate theft of employee entitlements by companies going into liquidation. We need to ensure as best we can that the prosperity of our time is paid to those who earn it and we need to pay our due share. We will do this through paying for school building works completed ahead of schedule, paying for overdrawn water from our rivers and getting companies to pay the wages, conditions and superannuation they owe their employees by law. Each sector of our society must be encouraged to play its part and pay its share.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! It being approximately 6.30 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.