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Thursday, 28 August 1980
Page: 930

Mr DEAN (Herbert) - Before dinner we heard a somewhat irrational outburst from the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), who tried to make out that the Budget we are discussing in this debate this evening was a document which contained absolutely nothing. Of course, the outburst had to be irrational because in fact the document does contain a great deal, and a great deal is worthy of analysis. However, it is not my purpose this evening to go through the benefits of this year's Budget in great detail. Nevertheless, I think that in something of an overview, some comments about it are warranted.

The Budget has produced and will produce a good number of benefits. At the outset it is important to take note that it does so within the framework of a balanced domestic budget - indeed, a domestic budget which contains a slight domestic surplus. At a time when we are looking for responsible, economic performance, that is something of an achievement. Within that framework of a balanced domestic budget, let us look briefly at some of the benefits that are contained in it.

Let us bear in mind for a start that there is a very substantial, real increase in defence expenditure at a time when we of the free world cannot say with any real confidence that we are without danger in this world. On a more personal level, let us consider the fact that this Budget has done something for the self-employed small businessman that has not been done before, and that is to extend to him some of the benefits of superannuation that he might not otherwise receive. Let us also consider that the same sort of benefit is being extended to the employed person whose employment does not cover him with what we would normally call superannuation.

Let us remember that this Budget incorporates the tax cuts that commenced on 1 July 1980. The Opposition seems to be making great play of the fact that it is promising, in some sort of pick-a-box way, $300m worth of tax cuts. But from 1 July this year there were tax cuts to the taxpayers of this country worth over $600m in this financial year. The bulk of those cuts, much as the Opposition would try to disguise it, go to families, the people who most need it.

Following that point, we should bear in mind that the Budget contains other benefits for those who are most in need. By way of example, in the social security area there are some improvements. They are not necessarily across the board improvements but they are improvements for those most in need, improvements for those who are unemployed and would like to earn more without losing the unemployment benefit, improvements for those who are handicapped or to their parents who have a need for some assistance. These are areas in which the Budget contains a great deal of benefit. Let us consider that the Budget also has provided a very significant increase in funding for manpower training programs of one sort or another. I will not go through the detail- it is in the Budget documents- but the increases are there and some 230,000-odd young people and older people will benefit from those manpower training programs.

It is quite clear that to talk about this Budget as a Budget of nothing is quite irrational. I make the point again that those sorts of benefits have been achieved within a Budget that is a balanced Budget domestically and therefore provides some sort of flexibility for this country in the future, the flexibility perhaps in the future to consider further tax reform. It is a Budget that maintains a monetary and fiscal discipline which has been recognised widely by the business, manufacturing and commercial interests of this country, by the people who are investing, by those who are expanding, and by those who are providing jobs. That recognition is there. It is a discipline then that is creating a sense of stability, a sense of confidence that this country has been building on for some years now, and I am confident will be able to continue to build on. This Budget builds on the groundwork of previous Budgets brought down by the Fraser coalition Government, Budgets which have been aimed above all else at tackling the great problem of inflation but also at creating a stable economic environment for growth in the 1 980s. I hardly need to remind the House that the 1980s is a most promising decade for this nation.

As I said at the outset, it is not my purpose to try to go through the Budget in detail to prove the benefits it has, to prove the good things it will do, in answer to the irrational outbursts of the honourable member for Port Adelaide. Rather, I would like now to turn to some of the benefits this Budget contains for the north Queensland region, part of which I represent. This Budget certainly does not neglect or ignore the need for a proper partnership of government in the overall enterprise necessary to develop the remoter parts of this nation. As far as the electorate of Herbert and the north Queensland region are concerned, I firstly bring to the attention of the House the fact that there is a projected expenditure incorporated in the Budget of $5m to upgrade Townsville airport for international purposes.

A number of people might ask why a relatively remote and isolated outpost of the nation would deserve that sort of expenditure. In 1978 the report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism made the point that of all the international visitors who came to this nation, on the latest statistics available, only about 4 per cent of them ever got north of Brisbane. Yet north of Brisbane are to be found some of the great attractions of this nation, whether we are talking about the Great Barrier Reef east of Queensland, about the wonders of the Centre, including Ayers Rock, or about such great places as Kakadu National Park, the Katherine Gorge, or whatever. Yet the whole vast north Queensland region, indeed the northern Australian region, was not attracting a fair share of the tourist traffic. So it was that we had a proposal from Qantas Airways Ltd, Australia's long-haul flag carrier, to start using a north Queensland airport as an international gateway, and to start using it from February next year.

This Budget has recognised a need for the total development of a north Queensland region to add to the accessibility of that area.

I hope that some of the communities of north Queensland will forget their parochialism and will remember that the use of a north Queensland airport for international purposes will be of benefit to the whole of the north, and again I stress that that is not necessarily just north Queensland but the whole of northern Australia. I hope that, knowing that we will have an upgrading of Townsville airport, knowing that we will have an international gateway into and out of the northern region through Townsville, the northern community will be ready with the necessary smile, the necessary infrastructure and the necessary enthusiasm to promote the wonders we have to promote.

I turn now to the question of the Burdekin Dam. Today the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) answered a question about that project in Question Time. This matter is foreshadowed in the Budget documents, so it is relevant to consider it in the context of this year's Budget. On page 76, Budget Paper No. 7, under the heading 'Burdekin Dam Project', the following comment is made:

It was announced in June 1980 that the Commonwealth Government has agreed in principle to assist the Queensland Government in the construction of the Burdekin Dam. When complete the project will provide irrigation for an additional 45,125 hectares adjacent to the existing Burdekin Irrigation Area for sugar, rice and horticultural production. Commonwealth and State officers are currently preparing a report to the two Governments on possible financing arrangements for the project.

As honourable members heard this morning in this House, those negotiations have been completed satisfactorily. They have been completed on the basis of the Commonwealth Government undertaking to meet the cost of the actual dam in the overall Burdekin project, with the State Government agreeing to take on the preliminary works which are under way. The State Government also will be responsible for the associated irrigation works. So far as north Queensland and Australia are concerned, this is one of the more imaginative projects to have been conceived for this country. The Burdekin Dam will be a mighty dam which will open up great tracts of country for the benefit of the whole nation. The Burdekin Dam is not just something that will be useful for north Queensland but its sheer size and scope will be enough to ensure that it is of national significance and will have a great contribution to make to the nation as a whole. Obviously that project will provide employment, stability and growth in the north Queensland region - the sorts of basic infrastructure requirements on which the overall development of one of the more remote parts of the country depends.

I turn now to defence and make the point that it has been announced earlier this year, and the Budget takes account of it, that there is to be an upgrading of the defence of this nation. Already this evening I have mentioned the real increase in defence spending. The north Queensland region is to receive its share of that. In the first place, Lavarack Barracks at Townsville are to be upgraded. As a result, an additional 600 defence personnel will be posted to the barracks. New houses will have to be provided for them, and there will be between 200 and 250 new houses for Army or defence personnel provided in Townsville. Also being considered at the moment by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Public Works is stage 2 of Lavarack Barracks, which involves an extension of the barracks costing in excess of $6m. The work largely involves the workshops and supply areas. The Public Works Committee completed its public hearings earlier this week. I expect that it will make its report in the near future. The planning is at a stage for tenders to be called in March next year to enable that expansion to take place. The Budget that the House is considering this evening provides for that expansion. It provides for the additional houses, the development of stage 2 of Lavarack Barracks and for the additional concern about defence in the north.

Two smaller concerns in money terms - but nevertheless they are important - are the Australian Institute of Marine Science located just south of Townsville and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which is based in Townsville. Both of those organisations have been specifically directed by the Government to have concern in particular for tropical waters and the Great Barrier Reef region. I do not wish to take up the time of the House this evening to go into their areas of responsibility in detail, but in broad terms they are concerned about the tropical waters and the reef region. Both of those organisations have received in this Budget substantial increases in funds. The funding of the Australian Institute of Marine Science has increased by something like 30 per cent to 40 per cent, and it will provide additional support staff and equipment to enable it to undertake and maintain first class research in the region of the reef and on the reef itself. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is carrying out its duties under its Act to zone progressively sections of the Great Barrier Reef as a marine park, has received a Budget increase this year of something like 70 per cent. That will permit the Authority to continue its task, with the necessary support staff and equipment, of preparing the various zoning plans, submissions under the Act.

I mention briefly that, nevertheless, there are areas of concern to northern Australia that have not necessarily been covered adequately in this Budget - at least not as adequately as some people might require. It is pleasing to notice that the Government has decided to continue the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy, a subsidy which is important for those involved in the sugar growing industry in particular. I think that subsidy has continued for some two years at the level of $20 a tonne. The decision in this year's Budget is to continue it at $20 a tonne. It is pleasing at least that the subsidy is being continued because the Industries Assistance Commission report of three or four years ago recommended that the subsidy be phased out. It is being continued. At the same time, during a period when overhead costs - by that, I mean the fuel overhead costs and also the costs of the fertiliser itself - have increased, the subsidy has remained the same. There is a concern that perhaps the level of that subsidy, whether or not it is justified, deserves further serious consideration.

One welcomes in the Budget the Government's decision to undertake a complete review of the tax zone allowances presently contained in the Income Tax Assessment Act, allowances which have not changed for quite a considerable period. We would have liked some recognition of some of the difficulties of living in the more distant and remote parts of the nation by way of improvements in this Budget in the tax zone allowances. In any event, we welcome the complete review of those allowances which is to be undertaken. Those of us who come from the more remote and northern parts of the nation can only hope that that review will be undertaken quickly and that it will reduce itself to tangible benefits for those of us who live in the north.

The final point I mention is one of concern - that of roads. This financial year the Budget contains some significant improvements in road funding in some areas. In particular, most welcome is the quite substantial real increase in funding for the national highway system which, in terms of coastal Queensland, translates to the Bruce Highway. I have detailed the deficiencies of the Bruce Highway in this House many a time and the fact that at least there is a substantial real increase in funding for that highway is very welcome. Nevertheless, a concern still exists in the north Queensland community that the new five year road program announced by the Government, however much of an advance it is - certainly I will not criticise or decry it - may not be enough. There is a view that the whole matter of road funding needs very detailed, careful and close study. Roads in this country will remain the most important way for many people to communicate, whether it be the farmer who has to drive to his local town to buy produce or to post his mail or people who live in a large provincial city such as Townsville who nevertheless sometimes have to go to Brisbane. Roads will be the most important way, most of the time, for most of them for communication purposes. Therefore, it is a most serious matter that roads get the scrutiny, consideration and funding that they require. As I said, there is a concern that, however good the Budget allocation is for roads this year, much more needs to be done.

Overall I hope I have demonstrated, quite contrary to the irrational outburst of the honourable member for Port Adelaide, that this Budget does contain much that is substantive, much that is a gain and much that contributes further to the economic confidence and stability of this country. It is a Budget within a balanced domestic budgetary situation which will enable this country to progress further for the benefit of all who live in it.

Debate interrupted.

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