Title APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1996-97
Second Reading
Database House Hansard
Date 10-09-1996
Source House of Reps
Parl No. 38
Electorate Corio
Interjector Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. J.A. Crosio)
Page 3882
Party ALP
Speaker Mr O'CONNOR
Context Bill
System Id chamber/hansardr/1996-09-10/0048

APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1996-97 - Second Reading

Mr O'CONNOR(9.55 p.m.) —The Prime Minister (Mr Howard) has betrayed regional Australia in this budget. The regional seats held by the Liberal and National Party members have become the forgotten electorates of this nation. When John Howard moved his office to Sydney the ominous signs were there that this government would govern primarily for metropolitan Australia, and this budget confirms that Australians living outside Sydney and other capital cities have become second-class citizens under this government, represented by absentee landlords, coalition landlords, who, like their leader, John Howard, believe that Australia stops at the outskirts of Sydney and other state capital cities.

This betrayal of regional Australia was brazenly stated by the National Party Minister for Transport and Regional Development (Mr Sharp) in a press release announcing the axing of the regional development program when he said that there is no clear rational or constitutional basis for Commonwealth involvement in regional development. There have been few other statements in the House since the March election which rival Minister Sharp's statement of betrayal. In one sentence he has demonstrated just how out of touch with regional Australia the Liberal and National parties have become in barely six months in office.

The minister and the government see no clear rationale for a Commonwealth involvement in the economic development of the great regions of this nation. They can see no clear rationale for an involvement that will stimulate job growth in country towns. They can see no clear rationale for a Commonwealth involvement that stimulates the growth of small business in regional Australia. They can see no clear rationale for providing some hope for our young people in regional areas that they might find a productive job in an expanding regional economic base. And they can see no clear rationale for the Commonwealth joining in partnership with local governments and local communities to empower those communities to take advantage of their economic assets and to participate more fully in the expansion of global trade.   Yes, the betrayal of Australia's regions in this budget has been both swift and comprehensive.

The coalition has made great play on the floor of this House of the fact that it won many rural and regional seats at the last election. I do not deny that political reality. But what has come with that situation is a special political responsibility to the people in those regions, and it is those people who today feel betrayed and abandoned by this cynical government.

One of the great myths that was cultivated by the Liberal and National parties is the portrayal of Labor in government as anti-rural and anti-region. With this Howard budget we have really our first chance to get beyond the rhetoric and compare the performance of Labor and the coalition in government. It is in that comparison that the lies and the broken promises of the Prime Minister are clearly exposed.

It was Labor in government that provided hundreds of millions of dollars to labour market programs, that gave the long-term unemployed in regional areas a chance to acquire new skills and to get a job. It is the Howard government which has cut $1.8 billion out of those programs and denied young people in rural areas a real chance to improve their industrial skills.

It was Labor in government that supported our great universal health system, Medicare, which provides quality health care to Australians in regional areas. It is the Howard government, not Labor, that is closing Medicare offices in the bush and has withdrawn some $800 million from the great public hospital system that delivers quality health care to those people.

It was Labor that provided $150 million for the regional development program which empowered regional communities to stimulate economic growth and jobs in regional areas. It is the Howard government which has abandoned the program on the basis that there is no clear rationale for Commonwealth involvement in regional economic development.

It was Labor which supported the network of public services and public employment in regional areas. It is the Howard government which has closed the Medicare offices, taxation offices, CES offices and DSS offices in regional areas.

It was Labor that greatly expanded the opportunity of young students from country areas to attend universities and TAFEs. It is the Howard government which has slashed funding from those very universities and TAFEs, stopped assistance for students with disabilities from country areas and reduced funding to our secondary schools in regional areas.

It was Labor—and cop this on the other side—which supported our great manufacturing exporters from the regions with programs such as the international trade enhancement scheme, the export market development grants scheme, research and development grants and the innovative agricultural marketing program. It is the coalition who slashed funding to these programs.

It was a Labor Prime Minister who had the vision and the courage to commit the Commonwealth to a target to reduce unemployment in urban and regional areas. It is a weak-kneed Liberal Prime Minister who shies away from such a commitment like Dracula from the Cross. The final nail in the region's coffin is the Howard government's decision to cut $622 million over four years from the funding for the national highway system, those arteries that link the great regions of the country with one another and with their urban markets.

This coalition budget will have a significant adverse impact on the great non-metropolitan seat of Corio, which I represent in this parliament. Indeed, the strong partnerships that have been assiduously developed between the Geelong region and the Commonwealth have now been shattered by this budget. The importance of the public sector to the maintenance of job and economic growth in regional areas such as Geelong cannot be underestimated or understated. It has been estimated that around $1 million a day of Commonwealth money flows into the region through the wages and salaries of public sector employees, through the old labour market programs that Labor sponsored and through capital expenditure on social and economic infrastructure such as schools and roads.

The essential point seems to be lost on this government that public sector employees spend their wages in private sector businesses in their local communities. When a decision is made to construct a piece of social or economic infrastructure, such as the Deakin wool stores and the Geelong manufacturing industry training centre, that work is invariably done by local private firms. The local employment gains are substantial, and the resultant increase in economic activity reverberates through many smaller private businesses in those local communities. It is these businesses that will ultimately pay the price of this government's budget of betrayal.

In Geelong, the Howard government cuts have been most savage. They will leave long-term scars on the local economy and on the disadvantaged in our community. The building better cities program has been abolished, cutting off vital access to Commonwealth funds to local projects such as the Whittington Link redevelopment and the refurbishment of the Geelong Botanical Gardens. There will be no more projects like the Deakin wool stores and the transport interchange which provided over 250 construction jobs and provided a much needed economic stimulus to local construction firms.

The regional development program has been abolished. The Golden REDO, linking the great provincial cities of Geelong and Ballarat, will not be able to access vital infrastructure funds for projects of major economic significance such as the redevelopment of Avalon airport as a dedicated air freight centre. Deakin University in Geelong, which in 1995 was named Australian University of the Year, has had its funding slashed, with subsequent losses in jobs and a reduction in student places.

Local secondary schools, which received essential funding to upgrade their capital assets, have that funding reduced in the first Howard budget. Labour market programs such as jobskills and new work opportunities, which have been extremely successful in Geelong in providing the long-term unemployed with new skills to assist them to find work, are to be terminated. Geelong businesses, which have been the users of these labour market programs and export development programs, will have their access to them terminated or curtailed. Those businesses will also suffer from reduced Commonwealth expenditure overall in the Geelong region.

But it does not end there. Older people in Geelong will be badly affected by the introduction of up-front nursing home fees, increased charges for their home and community care service and the closure of the local Medicare offices in Corio. Older people in Corio and Norlane, along with the unemployed and disadvantaged, will be badly affected by the abolition of the Commonwealth dental program. The Corio community health centre has informed me that it has over 2,000 people on its waiting list for emergency dental treatment. Those people will now not have access to this dental program that offered them some hope of treatment, and they have John Howard to thank for that.

If the budget was not enough, the Howard government is planning to introduce a Kennett-style industrial relations bill that strips away the wages, the conditions and the industrial rights of Geelong workers and unionists.

But nowhere is the deep sense of betrayal more apparent at the first Howard budget and nowhere is it more keenly felt than by the youth of Geelong and by young people in rural and regional areas of Australia. The litany of broken promises by John Howard has left our young people with an acute sense of despair and disillusionment with the current political leadership of this country and with the political processes of our great nation.

The devastating reality of this budget has confirmed the worst fears of our youth that they have been cynically manipulated by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer who seek to treat young voting adults as children by attempting to convince them that you can make a full promise at an election and deliver on half a promise at budget time. To young people, promises are promises. They are not divided by some semantic gymnastics of the Prime Minister into core and non-core promises.

The tragedy of the first Howard budget is that it offers no hope to our young people that the economy will grow at a rate necessary to create the entry level jobs they so desperately seek. The Prime Minister admits in the budget papers that the economy will grow at only 3.5 per cent in coming years. That is not enough to absorb young new entrants to the work force or to dent the numbers of unemployed.

The enormous restructuring that has gone on within Australian enterprises and the economy over the past two decades has meant that those entry level jobs into the work force for our young people have contracted considerably. Many young people in Geelong who have been out of work for long periods of time have come to rely on a range of labour market programs to assist them in obtaining the necessary work skills to make them competitive in the labour market.

In Geelong, the previous Labor government had considerable success through LEAP and through jobskills in preparing Geelong youth for the work force. Some 47 LEAPs involving over 600 long-term unemployed Geelong youth have been undertaken to upgrade community recreational assets and to protect the environment.

Those projects included the Eastern Beach Reserve development, the Limeburners Bay-Hovells Creek development, the Corio recycling and environment project, the Old Geelong Courthouse restoration, the Brisbane Ranges National Park project, the Geelong Cemetery, the Newtown community playground project, the Avalon coastal walk, the You Yangs walking track, Buckley Falls restoration and the Cowies Creek restoration. These are the types of valuable community programs that are now being terminated by this government.

As for students in the Geelong region, they have been singled out for treatment by this government. Increases in HECS charges and changes to Austudy represent a direct attack on the less well-off students in our communi ty. Massive cuts to funding for higher education will in the end mean fewer places, fewer staff and a tragic run-down of one of Australia's great economic and social assets—our tertiary education sector.

But the bad news does not end there. The young unemployed, students and other young low income people in Geelong will not have access to essential dental care with the abolition of the dental health program at the Corio Community Health Centre and the Geelong and Bellarine hospitals.

Disadvantaged at risk young people who have in the recent past received support through organisations such as St Augustines and its stasworks and newstart programs will have their opportunities curtailed by funding cuts to those programs that supported their activities. Young Geelong people who have accessed the successful jobskills programs run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Geelong, the City of Greater Geelong and skillshare to obtain valuable work experience and training will no longer be able to do so with the termination of these programs.

As I stated, John Howard has cynically betrayed the hopes and the aspirations of Geelong's young people for a better deal from the Commonwealth in this budget. This is a flawed budget. It gives vent to the deep-seated ideological prejudices of extreme elements in the coalition and it fails every equity and justice test that you want to put up. Regrettably, it is a budget that has betrayed regional Australia. Nowhere is the sense of betrayal more deeply felt than in those great regions which must now bear the full weight of John Howard's deceit.

John Howard promised the unemployed in regional areas that he would maintain funding for labour market programs—he lied. John Howard promised he would not cut the number of university places at regional universities—he lied. John Howard promised to retain the regional development program—he lied. John Howard promised to retain funding for the ABC and its regional networks—he lied. John Howard promised to retain the export market development grants scheme for regional exporters—he lied. John Howard promised he would retain the Commonwealth dental health program and he broke that promise. John Howard promised that affordable quality child care would be available—

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. J.A. Crosio) —I call on the member for Corio to refer to the Prime Minister by his title.

Mr O'CONNOR —The Prime Minister, John Howard, promised that affordable quality child care would be available on an equal basis to all Australians in regional areas—he broke that promise again.

The cuts to essential programs in this budget cannot be justified on economic grounds. They will increase inequalities in our society and punish those who are already disadvantaged. There are very good reasons why the Prime Minister, John Howard, wants a surplus on the budget so quickly. He wants to absolve his guilt from his previous time as Treasurer because he could never bring the Commonwealth budget into surplus.

There is one solution to the budget deficit of the Commonwealth government at this time. It is within the hands of the government to achieve a consistent level of economic growth that over the next three years will see that deficit rectified. But, on the Prime Minister's own admission and in his own budget papers, the Australian economy will not grow enough to create the new jobs that are required to absorb the unemployed and to create the opportunities for young people and others who are coming into the labour market in future years.

Let us put on the public record once and for all that no coalition government in the postwar era was ever able to deliver a Commonwealth budget surplus. So in one sense we ought to be grateful that this government, after so many years in government in the postwar era, has finally established this as an objective of its economic policies.

The most cynical betrayal in this budget is of the unemployed. The Prime Minister made great play during the election campaign that he had a solution to the unemployment problem in this country and that was the removal of the unfair dismissal provisions in the industrial relations law. If that was an effective solution to our economic problem of unemployment, then why has the budget paper stated very clearly that the Australian economy will grow at only 3.5 per cent and that employment growth will not be substantial? (Time expired)