Monday, 2 March 2015
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2014-2015, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2014-2015; Second Reading
In continuation, the other issue I wanted to raise today in relation to this bill is one of extreme concern to many people across Gippsland, and, in fact, I believe, to all regional communities. It is the growing impact of methamphetamines, particularly ice, on the community of Gippsland—the enormous social and economic harm that it is causing our community. It has been the subject of a great deal of public debate and discussion in more recent times, and also the subject of community forums, one of which will be held tonight in Sale, in the heart of my electorate.
To begin with I want to refer to some comments from Mr Clive Allsop, the Regional Coordinating Magistrate at Latrobe Valley Magistrates' Court, whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently. Mr Allsop gave evidence last year to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the supply and use of amphetamines in Victoria. The evidence he gave is quite staggering. He made an extensive submission to the inquiry, but I will just pick out some of the main points. He said:
I have been in the legal system coming up for 50 years in another three years and this is the worst crisis I have seen in all that time. … There are places, particularly in East Gippsland, where ice is being sold at half the cost of cannabis, which of course makes it directly attractive to young children. In one particular area there are kids of 12 who are starting to use ice because it is easier to get than ganja. … I have never seen anything like the impact of this stuff that I am seeing now. … The problem exists through the whole of Gippsland. Drouin, Warragul, Morwell and Sale are referred to as being knee-deep in ice; to a serious but lesser degree, Moe, Bairnsdale, South Gippsland and Orbost. … Family disintegration and family domestic violence is in epidemic proportions as a consequence of ice.
In answer to the question 'What types of crimes are you seeing coming before the court that have a relationship to ice?' the magistrate replied:
Street violence, property offences, burglaries and thefts, particularly rural burglaries. We had a massive spate of rural burglaries between Warragul and Sale. Of course, most farmhouses have guns and that was one of the targets.
He referred to the serious spike in domestic violence:
There is a direct and palpable link between ice and domestic violence. … The worst part of that story is that there are occasions when victims of domestic violence—and I have yet to do a case where a bloke has been a victim of domestic violence—are forced into prostitution to provide the funds for their 'partner's' habit.
This is damning evidence from Magistrate Allsop to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry. The tragedy of the evidence he provided is that in a region like Gippsland, which already has a significant problem with family and domestic violence, to have a magistrate of Mr Allsop's seniority indicating a further serious spike in domestic violence and suggesting that the partners of ice users are being forced into prostitution to provide funds for their partner's habit is remarkably disturbing and of great concern to me as the local member and more broadly to the whole community and to regional committees throughout Australia.
This is happening today not just in Gippsland but, I would suggest, right across regional Australia. I do not have enough experience in suburban areas to have much to offer in terms of that debate. Our families are being torn apart by this drug. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. When Mr Allsop was asked about the comparison to alcohol—which is another serious problem in many regional communities, including Gippsland, and particularly in the Indigenous community in Gippsland—he told the inquiry:
It is also a serious problem, but the impact of ice is greater than the impact of anything I have seen in all my years in the legal profession. I have been a magistrate now for nearly 19 years and I have never seen anything like it. I have been through the cannabis days, the heroin days, the upper echelons of the stuff they stick up their noses and all that sort of stuff. Nothing has had the sudden impact on the community at large that ice has had.
I have raised my concerns directly with the Prime Minister and Minister Nash, who is directly involved in combating this issue at a federal level, and I know they understand the pain and suffering this drug is causing in our communities. I commend the government, and I recognise that the previous government did take some steps in this direction as well. The new coalition government has decided to make ice the focus of the work being undertaken by our national drugs advisory body. The Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drugs has been instructed by the government to provide advice on ice and methamphetamines as its first priority—and I believe that is a good decision by the government. I understand that the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments are working together to revise the National Drug Strategy and make ice the priority target that it needs to be.
I believe this issue needs national attention, state attention and local attention. Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish I could tell you I had all the answers. We espouse our great wisdom at the dispatch box but unfortunately on this occasion I cannot think what the actual answer is going to be. As I stand here today, I can tell you in vivid detail about the impact this drug is having on families close to me and close to people in my office. I can tell you stories of three personal friends whose lives have been impacted and torn apart by this drug in just the past 12 months. But I will respect the confidence of those families and not name names in this place. Do not believe anyone who tells you that this drug is only having an impact on people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, people from the wrong side of the tracks, seasoned criminals or whatever it might be. This drug is tearing apart everyday families today. These are people who have jobs and who volunteer in my community. These are people whose own children have jobs, and they would never have thought that their child would get caught up in this menace.
I have been provided with figures to highlight the increase in methamphetamine use in Victoria—and I sincerely was not aware that the problem had got so bad so quickly. Between 2011 and 2014 there has been a virtual tripling of offences for trafficking, possessing and using methamphetamines in Victoria—and that is all ice. Possession cases have more than tripled and trafficking cases have almost tripled. Unfortunately, the 2014-15 figures indicate that the trend is continuing.
As I said, I do not know what the answers are. I think part of it is undoubtedly about raising awareness, as I am trying to do here this afternoon, and explaining to young people the risks that are associated with a drug such as this and illicit drug use more generally. Of course, we need enforcement. The criminals who mastermind these types of activities and condemn others to a life of misery need to be caught and prosecuted, and we need to support the police in those endeavours. But many of the traffickers in regional communities are victims of the drug themselves. They have been lured into a world of criminality and are forced to participate in order to feed their habit.
We undoubtedly need more resources to provide rehabilitation services in regional areas. I understand that the waiting list in Victoria for publicly funded rehabilitation places is now out to more than 12 months. If you have private funds, you can circumvent that and buy your way into the system at a very significant cost—and only a certain percentage of the community would be able to afford that cost. We definitely need more resources to provide for rehabilitation. Those services need to be made available to us, in regional areas, more. While I accept that the addicts themselves need to be taken out of the environment where they have incurred the addiction, I still think it is good value for regional families if their loved ones are closer to home while they undertake rehabilitation. Also, we need to support the programs that work. To this end, I have written to the government about a program in Bairnsdale which has been successful at diverting young offenders away from jail and helping them to get back on their feet. I hope the government is in a position to support that program into the future. It is about prevention. Undoubtedly, it is about early intervention. And it is about harm reduction and rehabilitation. But it is going to take time and, as I said, the effort of local, state and federal governments, and our communities more generally.
Finally, I want to draw attention to one group in my community that I believe is—potentially, at least—heavily exposed to illicit drug use and deserving of additional attention into the future. I hasten to add in raising this point this afternoon that I have no direct evidence to support the comments that I am about to make, other than the anecdotal information I have received from people involved in country football clubs. I am someone who has had a lot of participation in country football and netball clubs over many years. I think they do an enormous amount of good in our community.
I am concerned that there is a genuine risk—one that requires far more investigation by the relevant agencies and authorities—in the way young men, in particular, are exposed to illicit drugs through the country football clubs in Victoria. This is a high-risk group. It is undoubtedly a target market for those who wish to sell these products. You are talking about young, fit and active men. Most of them have jobs and some disposable income. They are perfect for the market that the criminals are seeking to capitalise on. Ice can spread like a cancer among young men who, almost by definition, have little appreciation of their own mortality.
The high-profile media coverage over the last couple of weeks in relation to the alleged drug use by elite footballers in both rugby league and Australian rules is, I think, a warning siren to our country football clubs in Victoria. If it is happening in the AFL and the NRL, why would anyone think it is not happening in bush football? I continue to be told stories of young footballers using drugs, but I simply do not know how widespread the problem is. As I said, it is anecdotal evidence that is put to me. It is whispered in the change rooms; it is talked about on the sidelines. People point out individual players and say, 'He's on the stuff; he's not'. We need to get to the bottom of this for the integrity of sport and also for the health of these young men.
I want to refer to some comments dating back to October 2013 by a Warrigal police officer, who was actually the Baw Baw police youth resource officer at the time, Kevin McClaren. He claimed then, almost 18 months, that ice use was rife in sporting clubs, particularly football clubs. The article says:
He says he believes many players use ice as a performance enhancer because of its ability to keep the user awake and alert for days on end.
The article went on:
He says drug testing n amateur football leagues should become the norm, as it is in the AFL.
Again, I do not wish to be alarmist, but wherever I go in Gippsland I meet people who are concerned about the impact of ice and the extraordinary efforts that will be required to solve the problem. It will involve all of us in our local communities—from the teachers in our schools and the sporting coaches—right through to the Prime Minister's office itself.
I congratulate Minister Nash, whom I have had conversations with on this issue, for the work, sincerity and effort she is putting into this problem. I congratulate the Prime Minister and his office for their work to date, as well. But I simply warn: there is so much more that we will have to do in the future. I commend members opposite who have also shared discussions with me on this issue. I will not go into naming names, but there are many members who have expressed concerns about the impact this drug is having both socially and economically in regional communities. I commend people like Magistrate Clive Alsop for the work he is doing in trying to prevent the use of ice and also to minimise the harm in the community. I commend members opposite to work with our state colleagues and their communities—in any way they can—to help young people in our nation escape the scourge of what is a very alarming situation. I thank the House.
These three bills propose appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in addition to those appropriated through the appropriations acts that were part of the 2014-15 budget. These bills reflect decisions that were made as part of the 2014-15 MYEFO and changes to machinery of government as part of the ministry reshuffle that took effect on 23 December 2014. In summary, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeks to appropriate just under $1.4 billion for the 2014-15 financial year. Appropriation Bill (No. 4) seeks approval to appropriate just under $241 million for the 2014-15 financial year. The Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) seeks approval for just under $114 million for the 2014-15 financial year.
The additional $1.7 billion in appropriations does not tell the full story. What we do not see are the cuts that were associated with MYEFO. In particular, I want to highlight the cuts that have occurred to Australia's overseas development aid budget. In addition to the $7.6 billion that was cut from foreign aid in the 2014-15 budget, the 2014-15 MYEFO revealed a further $3.7 billion would go on top of the $7.6 billion. This means that the Abbott Liberal government have slashed $11.2 billion from the Australian aid program—a cut at every budget and financial update since they were elected.
Australia's level of commitment to overseas development aid is now at 0.2 per cent of gross national income. Our level of development aid is now the lowest that it has ever been in our nation's history. What an embarrassment for a developed and wealthy nation such as Australia. They have now cut more money from aid than was budgeted for by Labor in our entire forward estimates. In the last budget, 20 per cent of all cuts—one dollar in every five that was cut—came from the one area, and the biggest cut was to overseas development aid.
When we talk about cuts to aid we are talking about billions of dollars. But the aid agencies like to think about what these cuts will mean not in terms of dollars but in terms of programs that could be run. Australia funds a number of very important programs that fuel development, particularly throughout our region in the Asia-Pacific. In terms of programs—money being delivered on the ground—what these aid cuts will mean is in these terms: 1.4 million children could be born without a birth attendant; 2.2 million children may not get to enrol in school; 3.7 million children may not be vaccinated; 4.7 million people may not get access to safe drinking water; and 22 million people in emergency situations may go unassisted. That is the dollar value of these cuts to the aid program.
Plan International, a very well respected international aid organisation that provides programs on the ground, particularly for the advancement of women in developing nations, have recently calculated what the effect of the cuts to overseas development aid will mean for some of the programs that they run throughout the world. According to Plan International, the cuts to aid could mean 220,000 fewer girls will be enrolled in school, 400,000 fewer girls will be immunised, 3,153 fewer classrooms where girls could learn will be renovated or built, 157,000 fewer girls will get better access to safe drinking water, and 750,000 fewer textbooks will be made available to girls by Australia. That is a snapshot of some of the sorts of programs that Australia funds in regions such as the Pacific. In nations such as Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands and places in Africa, that is what the cuts to overseas development aid mean on the ground.
Despite the Prime Minister promising before the election there would be not cuts to the ABC or SBS, we have seen $250 million cut from these broadcasters in these MYEFO figures associated with these appropriation bills. Their revised higher education package of reforms has parents in my electorate and across Australia deeply worried that their children will not be able to afford a university education, while their GP co-payment is designed to put more pressure on the sick and the struggling. But, notwithstanding the pain being inflicted upon the Australian people through these massive cuts, the MYEFO statement revealed that, due to the government's own economic mismanagement, an additional $44 billion would be added to the projected budget deficit over the four years to 2017-18.
Under the Abbott government, the unemployment rate has increased to 6.4 per cent, higher than any time under the former Labor government and the highest that it has been since 2002, when guess who was the Minister for Employment at the time? None other than our nation's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. ABS figures reveal 100,000 more people have joined the unemployment queues since the last election. The number of unemployed people in Australia is now 795,200—the highest in more than 20 years. Earlier, the Reserve Bank warned that stagnation in business confidence would continue to weigh on the economy and send unemployment to 6.5 percent and potentially even higher. Not only did the government slash and burn important and hugely beneficial programs, they also put the boot into a number of important revenue-raising programs, and this is why the government budget position has deteriorated. It has deteriorated between the May budget and MYEFO. If you look at the difference between the May budget and the MYEFO, the fall in revenue is almost exactly equal to the revenue that was raised by the price on carbon and the mining taxes.
There is close to $10 billion wiped out of government revenue and there is additional cost associated with the programs that were put in place to replace them. I speak, of course, of this government's approach to climate change and their so-called Direct Action policy. What the government has done is remove a market based mechanism. Remember, here we are talking about a Liberal government that believed in the sanctity of markets as the best way to produce the most efficient economic outcomes. They have got rid of that revenue that was being raised by the market based mechanism—the $6.3 billion—and they are putting in its place a policy that is going to cost an additional $4 billion over the coming years. Get rid of revenue and put in place an additional program that is going to cost more money—so-called Direct Action. Where do Australians think that that extra $4 billion is going to come from? Is it going to fall out of the sky? Of course not. The Australian taxpayer is going to pay for that. The Australian taxpayer will pay, and this fallacy that the government propagates that they are reducing the burden on households, that they are easing cost-of-living pressure is just that—a fallacy—because Australian taxpayers will pay for the additional cost of Direct Action.
This is the government's approach: we will give a tax break to the biggest polluting companies in Australia—most notably the coal fired power generation companies—and we will lose all of that revenue that we get from them to reduce emissions in our economy, but we will hit the Australian people up for it. We will hit the Australia taxpayer up for it. We will let off the big multinational corporations but hit up the Australian taxpayer.
And what has been the result of that? The result has been that emissions in our economy have gone up. Carbon emissions in Australia have increased since the Abbott government removed the price on carbon. And that is no surprise, because the economy-wide economic incentive to reduce emissions has now been removed, and the biggest polluters in our economy now have no economic incentive at all to reduce their emissions. So, guess what? They are not. Emissions in our economy are going up. Australian taxpayers are paying more for it. But the greatest shame about this policy approach it that really we are handing on the cost to our kids. We are saying to a future generation of Australians that we do not believe that we need to take the necessary action on climate change and we will ask you to do it in the future; we will pass the cost on to you. And every economist worth their salt, every climate change advisor worth their salt, says that the longer it takes you to take action on climate change the greater the cost will be.
I just met with a delegation of parliamentary leaders from Fiji, and I asked them: what are the issues that are topical for Fijians? And the No. 1 issue is climate change. Communities in Fiji, on the smaller islands, are now being displaced by climate change. Fijians do not contribute to climate change; they contribute very little, as do most Pacific Islanders. And they cannot believe that a wealthy nation like Australia, with 22-odd million people, a much bigger country with a much bigger industrial base, is ignoring their pleas, that it is stepping backwards on climate change. It is one of the only developed nations in the world that is moving backwards on climate change. And the people who are feeling the effects are people like the Fijians I just met with. Australians talk about climate change as something that may occur in the future, in 20 or 30 years. But for people like Fijians and Pacific Islanders, climate change is not a looming threat; it is a present danger. It is happening now. Their plea to us today was that Australia needs to do more on climate change, and I could not agree with them more.
And here we have the government wiping out that revenue, $6.3 billion from the budget, and asking Australian taxpayers to fund their new policy. They have done it also in the area of mining tax, where they have given nine of the biggest multinational mining corporations in the country a tax break and are asking Australian taxpayers to pay more—for university degrees, for visits to the GP, through a petrol tax increase and through a high-income-earner increase.
These bills completely highlight the manner in which this government is managing our economy. They are asking the most vulnerable in our society to pay the costs. It is unfair. That is why the Shorten-led opposition has been so emphatic in its opposition to many of these budget measures, because they target the most vulnerable in our community. They target the poor . They target middle-income families and ask them to make a contribution to make up for structural issues within the budget. But at the same time they let off some of the most wealthy and profitable sectors and businesses in our economy—most notably, mining companies and large producers of fossil fuels. Their priorities when it comes to tackling the issue of the budget deficit, their priorities when it comes to ensuring that the budget is on a more sustainable footing into the future, are all wrong. It is not that the opposition is opposed to making changes to the budget, to making changes to many of the programs that are being delivered by government. It is about the approach the government is taking in doing that, by targeting the most vulnerable and poor within our economy.
That is why the opposition has said no to changes to Medicare, to changes to higher education fees and to changes to petrol taxes and the like. And that is why we will continue to campaign for fairness and good policy. We saw it today in Labor's release of a policy on tackling multinational tax avoidance. This is an issue the Treasurer put on the agenda at the G20 this year as something world economies need to focus on. But then when the heat came from big business in Australia he walked straight away from it, because he did not want to upset those who had been particularly big donors to the Liberal Party. And that is wrong. You cannot run an economy that way, and that is why Labor has been opposed to many of the changes that have been introduced by the government.
I rise to support appropriation bills No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 and in doing so highlight the many ways in which this government is delivering for Dobell. In September 2013 the people of the Central Coast voted for a better future, strong representation and a government that would deliver real solutions to address our region's issues. Since my election I have worked hard to deliver directly to Dobell over $72 million worth of infrastructure and community programs. After many years of neglect by the previous government, the families, businesses and residents of Dobell are now receiving proper representation and delivery of much-needed infrastructure and community grants. And I am pleased to say that the government has delivered—or is in some case in the process of delivering—all our election commitments, and we are already starting to see the results.
In total, over $16 million has been invested in local roads. Prior to the election, the government pledged to upgrade The Ridgeway at Tumbi Umbi and Jensen Road at Wadalba. These are two local roads that, as a result of population growth, have seen increased utilisation. Our investment means that local residents can now travel more safely around our community; $1.9 million has been allocated to address notorious road black spots at Berkeley Vale, Holgate, Charmhaven, Toukley and Wadalba. And Gosford and Wyong shire councils have received an allocation of $12 million in Roads to Recovery funding to allow for the maintenance and upgrade of our local roads network. This is in addition to the Financial Assistance Grants which will see the two councils receive $23 million over five years to invest in local infrastructure projects in Dobell.
Last Friday I joined with the Hon. Jamie Briggs MP, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, to announce that work on NorthConnex had commenced. NorthConnex is something that members opposite know quite well. For six years they talked about delivering the M1 to M2 'missing link' but never delivered. In just 17 months this government has delivered $405 million to the project, finalised plans, secured contracts and ensured that construction is underway. NorthConnex will generate approximately 8,700 jobs for New South Wales, providing a boost to local businesses. The twin nine-kilometre tunnels, running under Pennant Hills Road, will bypass 21 sets of traffic lights, provide an alternative route to the Pacific Highway and save motorists at least 15 minutes of travel time. But, most importantly, NorthConnex will mean a reduction in commuting times for the approximately 15,000 Central Coast motorists who commute south from the region on a daily basis. And, for the people of Dobell who commute south every working day, NorthConnex will mean shorter and safer travelling options, less time in traffic and more time with their families.
In addition to NorthConnex, the federal government is also spending $195.8 million on the M1 Productivity Package, which will see much-needed upgrades to stretches along the M1 Pacific Motorway and, notably for the commuters of Dobell, an upgrade of the M1 between Tuggerah and Warnervale from four to six lanes. This government is focused on delivering productivity-boosting infrastructure, which will create and support jobs on the Central Coast, and throughout New South Wales and Australia.
Creating jobs is one of my highest priorities to address, in particular, the youth unemployment issues on the Central Coast. In working closely with schools and education providers it is paramount that we support school leavers with their transition to work and further education. That is why I lobbied for and secured $2.7 million to support new skills and training centres in Dobell. Working with Central Coast Group Training, the Central Coast largest employer of apprentices, the government has already delivered a new jobs and employment centre at Tuggerah. In addition, planning is now underway for a second skills centre, to be located at North Wyong. These two centres are integral in addressing our region's above average youth unemployment rate by providing achievable outcomes and, importantly, skills and job opportunities to our young people.
Government programs have, for too long, lacked coordination and failed to significantly reduce youth unemployment. This is an issue I am working to resolve. Dobell is one of 18 priority employment areas across Australia to have implemented the Work for the Dole program. This means that 18- to 30-year-olds who have been unemployed for 12 months or more and who are receiving Newstart and/or youth allowance are now required to participate in Work for the Dole. I strongly believe that all Australians capable of working should be earning, learning or participating in Work for the Dole. Work for the Dole is an important part of this government's plan to assist young people gain the skills and experience they need to move from welfare to work. In addition to Work for the Dole, many young job seekers are receiving hands-on experience through the government's Green Army Program. Dobell has already benefited from six round 1 projects, which have seen environmental work undertaken at the Central Coast Wetlands, Kanwal, Noraville and The Entrance North.
I have been privileged to spend time in the field with Green Army participants and to hear firsthand the importance of the experience they are receiving through the program. I have also had the opportunity to welcome the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment, to visit our local projects and observe firsthand the value of the program for local participants. Some of those who are participating are studying environmental sciences and are using this program to gain practical experience. Meanwhile, others have joined the program to improve their skills and increase their chances of finding permanent employment.
Recently, I was able to announce an additional four projects for the Dobell electorate under round 2 of the Green Army Program. I will continue to work with local environment groups to deliver Green Army projects and provide this important experience for young job seekers interested in a career in land conservation, horticulture and the environment.
When we talk about the natural environment in Dobell, we are always drawn to Tuggerah Lakes, the jewel in our crown. I am happy to inform the House that the $3.3 million, delivered by this government, to improve Tuggerah Lakes through the Coastal River Recovery program is already delivering results.
Over the years, rapid urban development on the lake's foreshore has contributed to the degradation of Canton Beach, with an infestation of sea wrack. Prior to the 2013 federal election, I took Minister Hunt to Canton Beach to witness this damage. Last year I was able to welcome Minister Hunt back to the same spot at Canton Beach to inspect the results of the reprofiling and regeneration of Canton Beach. The results are truly amazing. For the first time in many years people are now using this beach, enjoying swimming and kayaking on Tuggerah Lakes. We said that we would restore the lakes to their former glory and we are on track to achieving this. Our funding will enable similar reprofiling and regeneration to be undertaken at other lake beaches, including Long Jetty and The Entrance.
The revitalisation of Tuggerah Lakes is vital to the Central Coast economy. Our economy is highly dependent on tourism. By improving the condition of Tuggerah Lakes we aim to attract visitors to the area to experience the beauty of the lakes and, in turn, support our local small businesses and tourist operators.
The government has also delivered $700,000 to complete the upgrade of the Norah Head Boat Ramp. The boat ramp is the only sea-access point in the Dobell electorate and is an essential piece of economic infrastructure. The new boat ramp ensures all-weather access to the ocean off Norah Head and encourages people to take advantage of one of our best assets, which is our natural environment. Sports tourism and the ability to host regional and national sporting championships is my vision for the Central Coast.
Through my personal lobbying, the government has provided $1 million to commence planning studies for the Tuggerah Sports Precinct. This is a project that will deliver economic benefits to the Central Coast through increased sports tourism and, importantly, more jobs. The Tuggerah Sports Precinct will not only enable the hosting of regional and national sports events; it will also provide local sporting clubs access to high-quality sports fields and facilities for local competitions.
This investment will help realise my determination, as the member for Dobell, for the Central Coast to become the sports tourism capital of New South Wales. However, there is more to deliver. For the 9,000 businesses in Dobell, which is the engine room of the Dobell economy, this government is implementing measures to provide support, and practical measures to assist them to thrive and prosper. Over $285,000 has been delivered through export market development grants and a further $150,000 through T-QUAL tourism grants to support local businesses in Dobell.
Last month I welcomed the Hon. Bruce Billson MP, Minister for Small Business, to Dobell, to meet with local business owners and representatives. It is extremely important that we maintain open, consultative dialogue with small businesses. We are improving the environment in which small business operates, and a key component of these changes is our deregulation agenda. Since the election the government have announced over 400 red tape reduction measures, which has resulted in a net reduction of over $2.1 billion in compliance costs. Last October, the government removed approximately 1,000 pieces and over 7,200 pages of legislation and regulation. This was in addition to our first repeal day last March, when over 10,000 pieces and 50,000 pages of legislation and regulation were scrapped, resulting in over $700 million of compliance savings. Unnecessary regulation stifles productivity, deters investment and innovation, and presents barriers to job creation. I understand that you cannot have a strong and healthy society without a strong economy to sustain it, and you do not have a strong economy without profitable business.
In addition, I am working to ensure stronger and safer communities. Through the government's Safer Streets Program, local communities and business centres throughout Dobell will share in $370,000 of new CCTV equipment. This will improve safety at Berkeley Vale, Wadalba and Blue Haven, and will boost business confidence in the Wyong CBD, the Toukley business precinct and the Kanwal shopping centre. Wyong Shire Council will receive funding for mobile CCTV equipment and a new graffiti trailer to combat localised crime, illegal dumping and graffiti. This is just a small snapshot of the $72 million investment over the last 17 months in Dobell and of practical support being provided to local businesses. However, I am also committed to strengthening my local community and empowering people with opportunity.
As federal members of parliament we spend much of our time here in Canberra. This makes the time we spend in our electorate and amongst our community extremely special and most rewarding. One of the highlights of my role is visiting local schools. Since my election, I have worked closely with principals, teachers, students and parents to ensure our children have access to quality education. Our local schools are outstanding. We have dedicated and professional staff who are committed to seeing our school students succeed and our school community grow and prosper. I am proud of the many achievements of young people in my electorate: people like Nathan Conner and Maddison O'Gradey-Lee, who I have spoken about previously in parliament. These young people are outstanding role models for others of their age. I am committed to working with the youth in my electorate and, through the establishment of the Dobell Youth Advisory Committee, I am receiving quality feedback from tomorrow's leaders on the issues that matter to them. It is important to understand and appreciate that the decisions we make today will impact upon our children and future generations.
It is imperative that we engage with them and include them in our decision making, and also that we all understand the importance of getting national debt under control so that our legacy to younger Australian is prosperity, not poverty. On many occasions, it has been my pleasure to share with the House the inspirational stories of local groups and volunteers who dedicate their time to strengthening our community. As a community, we are determined to combat unemployment, mental health issues, family violence and child abuse. These are important issues which I have raised previously in this parliament. Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes, but it is imperative that we maintain constant vigilance and keep these issues at the forefront of the public's mind. Inspirational organisations in my electorate such as Share the Love, LEAP, the Iris Foundation, the Glen Centre, the Wyong Neighbourhood Centre, Next Step, Coast Shelter and Lifeline, just to name a few, have dedicated staff and volunteers who spend their time helping others. These people are the glue that hold our community together and make Dobell the great electorate that it is.
It is exciting that this year marks the Centenary of Anzac, a time where we will all come together and commemorate the legend of Anzac. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime event that will unite us in a common cause. I have had the fortune of working with the dedicated members of our local returned service organisations—in particular, the Entrance-Long Jetty, Toukley, Wyong, Wamberal-Terrigal RSL sub-branches and the Tuggerah Lakes Nashos. The Centenary of Anzac allows us to join with Australians young and old to commemorate our coming of age. The Anzac Centenary grants program will mean all in our community can join in this commemoration. The residents of Dobell should be extremely proud of the time and effort being put into this commemoration by our returned service organisations and the opportunity they will have to mark this special occasion.
This is just a small sample of the tremendous things happening in Dobell. I will continue to work closely with people in my electorate and to be a strong voice here in Canberra. I look forward to the many opportunities I will have to highlight the achievements of the people of Dobell. I am proud to call the Central Coast home, and I will continue to fight for and deliver for Dobell so we can all share in a more prosperous future. I commend these bills the House.
It is now March and we are still talking about last May's rotten, failed and unfair budget—as we should be, because it is what the people we represent are talking about and what they are rightly worried about and troubled by. At kitchen tables and lunch rooms it is the unfairness of this government's policies as expressed in this budget that dominates concerns. Let me be clear: Labor rejects the uncaring austerity of the Prime Minister and his Treasurer. Labor rejects the dishonesty that underpins all this—the saying of one thing before the election and doing another after it. And we stand here, firstly, to hold the government to account for its broken promises made before the election but unpicked through this budget.
The government stood, the day before the election, when through the now Prime Minister—then the Leader of the Opposition—said there would be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions and no cuts to the ABC or SBS, then did the opposite through this budget. Labor is committed to calling out those broken promises. Labor is committed to reversing this deficit of trust and to standing up for fairness and trust in government—an approach that puts people first. Labor is standing up for universal health care, for accessible higher education, for needs-based school funding, support for pensions and the vulnerable and, critically, for fighting for jobs.
It is in this context that I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3), the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) and the Appropriation of Parliamentary Departments Bill (No. 2). These bills propose appropriations from consolidated revenue in addition to those appropriated through the appropriations act that were part of the 2014-15 budget. These bills reflect decisions made as part of the MYEFO which was released on 15 December last year. They also reflect, in part, changes to the machinery of government as part of the ministry reshuffle that was announced on 21 December and that took effect two days later.
In summary, bill No. 3 seeks approval to appropriate just under $1.4 billion for the 2014-15 financial year and bill No. 4 seeks to appropriate just under $241 million for the 2014-15 financial year. The parliamentary departments bill is for appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the four parliamentary departments: the Department of the Senate, the Department of the House of Representatives, the Department of Parliamentary Services and the Parliamentary Budget Office. The shadow minister, in his contribution to this debate, has touched on those matters that are the subject of these appropriations in more detail. These bills assist with the business and the operations of government, and none of this is particularly controversial in and of itself. We do not, of course, oppose these appropriations. However, it does provide an important opportunity to all of us elected to this place to reflect on the business of government generally and, in particular, the business of this government.
I was fortunate to be in the chamber for the contribution of the member for Kingsford Smith, who drew out two critical elements of this government's decision making as evidenced in the budget. He spoke passionately and powerfully about the impact of cuts to foreign aid—of course the largest cut in this budget—and the impact of these cuts on lives in developing countries, in particular, our neighbours in the South Pacific. These are people who are voiceless in this parliament. He highlighted, which I think was especially important, the impact that these foreign aid cuts will have on women in developing countries. He also spoke about climate change. It was interesting that a few weeks ago, some members of the government—I think including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer—started talking about fairness, trying to recast the fairness debate. For them it seemed that this was all about debt and intergenerational fairness. Indeed, the member for Dobell, in her contribution, seemed to touch on these issues. This interest in fairness was newfound a couple of weeks ago and seems to have been short-lived, because we have heard very little of it in this debate. But the real issue of intergenerational fairness goes to the question of how we combat climate change. The member for Kingsford Smith very persuasively set out why it is so critical to act early and in accordance with both economic and scientific advice—two things which are beyond this government.
We have a government which is obsessed with emphasising that Australia is living beyond its means. It says that Australia has a spending problem, yet it refuses to seriously countenance issues of revenue. The Treasurer, as we saw today, likes to beat his chest on multinational tax avoidance. But where is the action to tackle this problem? Last Tuesday the Treasurer was asked by a government member about exactly this, and once again he gave us the benefit of his stale and increasingly unconvincing tough cop routine. There was as usual much heat but very little light. Of course, we saw more of the same in question time today. There is a pattern of behaviour here. In February last year, 13 months ago now, the Treasurer stated:
Some global companies aren't paying their fair share of tax anywhere … I am pleased to say this work is on track for delivery at the Brisbane summit at the end of this year … The globe needs to know who is paying tax where.
I am sure that multinational tax minimisers were quaking in their boots when the Treasurer stated later last year:
It’s hugely important for the globe that companies pay tax on their profits. It is theft when someone does not pay the tax due to the nation.
Surely we could expect this government to act on this theft. Instead we saw early in its life the exact opposite, as the Abbott government reopened tax loopholes closed by Labor in government, allowing $1.1 billion in potential revenue to drain offshore. The Treasurer spoke of balance in this debate today. Perhaps this is the balance he was seeking to achieve.
On the other hand, today we have heard that Labor is taking this seriously through the work of the shadow Treasurer, the shadow Assistant Treasurer and of course the leader, with their announcement of an approach that has been developed in consultation with multinational tax practitioners, academics and industry, and costed of course by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. It is an approach which draws on the OECD's global plans for countering base erosion and profit shifting. It is a sensible approach to a real problem and is in stark contrast to this government's bluster on the one hand and inaction on the other.
There are numerous examples overseas of foreign tax evasion issues being uncovered. Just recently we have seen the leaked HSBC documents expose tax evasion occurring in the UK and around the world. I note that British MPs under a Conservative government will be holding an inquiry into this. This has been a big deal overseas and it should be a much bigger deal here too—hopefully it will be following Labor's leadership today—particularly for a government that must be seeking to address a serious revenue shortfall. But as yet there has been no effective response from the government, other than—and I will touch on this later—to starve the Australian Taxation Office of resources.
Surely underpinning all of this are questions of priorities. We have a so-called budget emergency, yet the Abbott government does not actually want to go after potential sources of revenue. Instead, this government goes after what it sees as soft targets—pensioners, students, the employed, particularly young unemployed people, who would be offered the prospect of six months without any form of support—and, of course, as I touched on earlier and as the member for Kingsford Smith touched on at some greater length, the world's most poor, the largest and perhaps the cruellest cut in this budget. This list goes on. But because the Abbott government has incorrectly, as I believe it will be seen to be, made the very cynical calculation that it can get away with these cuts, it goes right ahead.
The Australian people have taken stark exception to this toxic government and its toxic budget. I remind the House that this is a budget that all members of the government have supported and have publicly advocated for. There is a great irony here: the Prime Minister and the Treasurer claiming that there is an emergency when it is they who have gone some large distance towards creating one. In government Labor recognised that our economy faced very serious headwinds and made some difficult decisions, but Labor did not attack low- and middle-income earners, because it is unfair to ask them to bear this burden. It is for this government to start to explain why it chose, as just one example, to cut pensions but not look at tax loopholes for the wealthy, particularly in superannuation.
Most Australians, of course, are low- and middle-income earners. They are the backbone of our society and they are under siege by this government. We now hear talk of a families package from those opposite but, frankly, nothing they do now will alter the state of play in Australia. This is from a government, I remind members, that wants to make families, on average, $6,000 a year worse off. After 18 months, Australian families have a good idea about this government's priorities.
Consumer confidence is lower now than it was at the time of the last election, and this is hurting the economy. So much for the much-promised adrenalin charge that this government was going to bring. Who could blame consumers, and who could blame people, for lacking confidence with a government like this one? It was revealed last week that wage growth, unbeknownst to the Treasurer, is the lowest it has been on record, despite their rhetoric around industrial relations.
Unemployment is the highest it has been for 13 years—back to the time when the member for Warringah was the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations; it seems that he has an unfortunate knack for high unemployment—and youth unemployment is higher still. Despite this, we see cuts to vital programs like Youth Connections and we see victim blaming in terms of the treatment of young unemployed people. While the member for Dobell might laud programs like the Green Army and Work for the Dole, this ignores the evidence that these programs have done very little for unemployment, particularly for youth unemployment and other cohorts, like Indigenous people. They prefer ideology to rhetoric in this as in other aspects of decision making.
We cannot ignore the impact that this budget has made on the economy. It has torpedoed consumer confidence, which has had flow-on effects throughout the economy. This government has made the same mistake that its counterparts made in Europe: it cut during a downturn. They cut in Europe, and it drove many of European economies back into recession. It did not work there, and it is not working here; it is leaving an enormous human cost.
The recklessness of this government is particularly acute because these lessons from Europe had already been learnt by those in Europe. Former advocates who prescribed the so-called tough medicine have conceded as much, yet this government refused to listen or learn from their mistakes or, indeed, from the Australian people. It is very telling that on the occasion of one of the Prime Minister's many failed resets or reboots, when he gave his address to the National Press Club, he spoke of having spent his summer talking to hundreds of Australians—talking to, not talking with and certainly not listening to or hearing.
I spoke briefly earlier on the impact of cuts to the ATO on raising revenue. It is worth noting in the context of this debate that the government is slashing the number of people working in the Australian Taxation Office—by 4,700 by 2017, in fact. Of these, one quarter will come from the audit team, which has already lost 500 staff members to meet an arbitrary target imposed by the government. Alarmingly, that is expected to rise to 1,000 in the audit team alone. The audit team, of course, is responsible for investigating and enforcing tax compliance by individuals and multinational companies and, unbelievably, the Treasurer has told the tax commissioner to double his efforts through more stringent audits of multinational companies suspected of avoiding Australian tax collections. So this government complains about tax-dodging multinationals one minute and the next it cuts the ability of the ATO to do anything about it. Not for the first time, it is what this government does, rather than what it says, which is instructive.
One of the targets of this government's budget that has particular relevance to the Scullin electorate is pensioners, but it is also future generations trying to save for their retirement. This government is implementing a trifecta of cruelty: cutting the pension, which will hurt current and future pensioners; and cutting the low income superannuation contribution and freezing the rate of compulsory superannuation contributions, both of which will hurt people trying to save for their retirement. Whatever people do, there is pain for them from this government.
It was Labor who introduced compulsory superannuation in this country amidst much opposition from the Liberal Party and big business lobby groups. I note that it is the same Liberal Party and big business lobby groups that we see today claiming that the pension system is unsustainable. In the lead-up to the 1996 election, John Howard promised that he would match Labor's pledge to increase the compulsory superannuation contribution to 12 per cent. It was a promise that he broke immediately upon coming to government.
The Member for Warringah has in this place described compulsory superannuation as:
… one of the biggest con jobs ever foisted by government on the Australian people.
The Liberals have always had a hatred of superannuation but also a hatred for the pension system. It is unclear what exactly they expect people to do, apart from live in a state of destitution and penury—something that they have been explicit about for young jobless people. People should be encouraged, where they can afford it, to put money towards their retirement. A policy which did this effectively was the low income superannuation contribution. It was especially aimed at those on low incomes as they are most likely to have insufficient superannuation funds with which to retire on. Labor recognised that we were facing a demographic challenge of people retiring without funds to support their retirement, so we acted to address it. This is one example that demonstrates the difference between Labor and Liberal. In opposing the policies of this dysfunctional government, we do not seek to block supply but we use this opportunity to highlight the impact of this budget on ordinary Australians and on the Australian economy.
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and the cognate bills currently before the House for debate. As we enter our third week of parliament for 2015, I think it is timely to discuss what I hope to achieve for the people of Hinkler during the rest of my first term.
I entered politics because I wanted to give back to the community that has given me and my family so much. I started my career as an electrical apprentice at Fairymead Sugar Mill, before studying engineering at Queensland University of Technology. In 2002, I established the Australian Safety & Training Alliance, a company that went on to train over 10,000 people in industrial and VET training. Committed to community service, I was a surf lifesaver for over 10 years.
I believe it is this life experience that makes me a common-sense voice here in the Australian parliament. I am a practical person and I have little patience for lengthy bureaucratic processes that cost the taxpayers bucketfuls of money. I just want to get on with it, and get the job done. I strongly align with the Liberal National Party's conservative philosophy that hard work should be rewarded. I believe in a hand up and not a handout.
I have delivered on all of the election commitments I made to the people of Hinkler. I am committed to fight every day to ensure regional Australia gets its fair share so it can continue to be the engine room of the nation's economy. But my main priority has been attracting investment to the Hinkler region and making it easier for people to do business and to create jobs and opportunities for current and future generations. The issues that I will continue to focus on are unemployment, the exploitation of workers in the horticulture sector, country-of-origin food labelling, petrol prices, electricity costs and the need, of course, for more aged-care beds in my electorate of Hinkler.
In the unemployment space, the coalition has made many worthwhile changes, including Work for the Dole. In the first round, of only 18 locations Australia wide we secured two for the Hinkler electorate. I disagree with the member for Scullin—these are programs that have absolute value for people who need to learn the life skills needed to go to work. I quote the former mayor and current state member for Hervey Bay, Ted Sorensen, who has said that Work for the Dole programs give people confidence; they give them a social mechanism, a way to work with other workers, to enjoy a beer after work even, and to gain employment. Every single person that he had placed when he was at council ended up with a full-time position. That is a ringing endorsement of the Work for the Dole scheme.
The Green Army is another great program, and I was very happy to be at Baldwin Swamp park in recent weeks, where I met with a number of people who are working on the program who are incredibly happy to be involved, as are their parents. There are, of course, job commitment bonuses for the long-term unemployed and loans of up to $20,000 to help apprentices complete their trade, with significant discounts when they complete their training. As a former apprentice, I can tell you that my first vehicle was a 1970 HT Holden with a 186 and three on the tree. It was not a 186S, it was just a plain old 186 in cream and white. As a first year apprentice earning some $63 a week on a short week and $74 in a long week, it was very difficult to meet your commitments and bills. Trade loans would have been a fantastic opportunity at the time for me to purchase a vehicle which I would have known was reliable and did not need work. I clearly remember my HT needing a couple of things done, and that took me eight months. I spent the rest of the time riding a motorbike to work in the cold and wet, which was all very disappointing. So there are costs in being an apprentice, but it is great to end up with a trade, and the $20,000 trade loans will be invaluable.
A scholarship scheme for university students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and regional communities is another commitment of this government. Once again, I attended university as a self-funded student. I saved that money during the last two years of my apprenticeship and paid my way through. To have an opportunity to receive a scholarship would have been very helpful to me and my family. We are providing funding to cover the costs associated with relocating to take up a job; we have introduced financial incentives for business too, so if they hire a job seeker over the age of 50 who has been unemployed for at least six months there is some incentive to get that person employed. In an electorate like Hinkler, where the median age is four to five years above that of the state, this is an important measure. There is a $476 million Industry Skills Fund, and I congratulate the minister for industry. As someone who has owned and operated a registered training organisation working in heavy industry, I know this is a real program that provides real skills—$476 million towards skills needed to get forklift operator licences and driver's licences—things that will get you employment. We are overhauling the VET system and Labor's Jobs Services Australia, which in my mind has wasted billions and billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. We do not need 3,000 baristas to be trained in the electorate of Hinkler—we need them to be trained in things which gain them employment; real skills for real jobs.
Jobs are desperately needed in my region, which is why we must continue to support business. Prior to the Queensland election, the former LNP state government committed $11 million for a gas pipeline to the Port of Bundaberg. Many multinational businesses had previously expressed an interest in establishing at the port, but they said the lack of infrastructure was a major impediment. We have very good news on that front—a major multinational, Knauf Australia, announced during the campaign that they would be building a manufacturing plant at the Bundaberg Port as a result of the announcement on gas infrastructure. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly, it is exceptionally difficult to get a large project over the line. This is a project that is worth between $70 million and $100 million. It will employ 200 people for construction, there will be 65 permanent jobs and it will add somewhere around two per cent to the GDP of our local electorate. This program is over the line—the DA is done, the environmental approval is done, wharf access is done, the design is done and the pier tests are done. It is fully funded from their point of view. The sod-turning announcement is over. But now there is significant concern that the newly elected state Labor government will not continue with the gas project, which could be a real blow to the local economy and local jobs.
The gas pipeline, which is absolutely essential, was announced as a direct result of strong representation by me and my colleagues former state member for Bundaberg Jack Dempsey and re-elected state member for Burnett Stephen Bennett. The pipeline was to be funded through the Royalties for Regions program, which Labor has said it will abolish. I call on newly-elected Labor member for Bundaberg Leanne Donaldson to ensure the pipeline is funded. It was not an election commitment—it was fully funded and had been announced months before the election campaign commenced.
Other state projects at risk locally include: the extension of the Kay McDuff Drive, connecting it to the ring road; and flood mitigation projects like cleaning out an old agricultural drain at Moore Park Beach, clearing the Millaquinn Bend, and the floodgates around East Bundaberg. In the southern end of the electorate, around Torbanlea, there was an announcement to improve the causeway near the Torbanlea school. That now looks like it is in jeopardy. Also at risk are negotiations about a land swap to turn sensitive land behind the Mon Repo turtle rookery into a conservation zone, as well as the planned upgrade to the Mon Repo turtle rookery visitor centre; a hydrotherapy pool in Childers; and $26 million to upgrade three Hervey Bay intersections, one of which is an incredibly dangerous intersection, where Urraween Road intersects with the Maryborough-Hervey Bay Road. This is a very important intersection and I would ask the new Queensland state government to ensure that it is funded.
The local state Labor candidates did not make any funding commitments during the election campaign, other than to employ more public servants. Annastacia Palaszczuk said they would not sell assets or increase taxes, but at the same time they would pay down debt and deliver a surplus. I guess that means they will cut government spending, because there are no other options. They are the only three that are available. However, I note that Ms Donaldson let the cat out of the bag when she told a community forum that they would borrow to build infrastructure. It is the same old Labor—they will try to put it on the credit card.
The issues around the exploitation of workers, food labelling and petrol prices all tie back to one thing: the absolute market domination by the supermarket duopoly. Their influence is far too great. They are squeezing our farmers and manufacturers for every last cent, forcing them to the brink. They are increasingly sourcing their products from overseas at a significantly lower cost, where labour is cheap and biosecurity and health regulations are almost non-existent. Our local businesses cannot compete. I only have to look at Kevin Cast, who was the owner of the IGA at Bargara. Kevin was a well-known local businessman who ran a professional turnout and employed lots of local people. Unfortunately a Woolworths store was built right next door to his store in Bargara, and consequently after a couple of years he is out of business. I believe he has declared bankruptcy.
The independent grocery sector employs more people per dollar of turnover than any of the major chains
Independent grocers usually live in their local communities, and their profits stay in those communities. The major chains' profits are sent back to head office; smaller communities are disadvantaged by major chain development, because those profits leave town. Independent grocers stock locally produced fresh meat and vegetables when they are available, whereas the major chains have centrally supplied fresh produce, which bypasses local and even state producers for large-scale producers. This is an issue which directly affects fatigue in the transport sector. The reason we need to continue to put bandaids on the transport sector is the fact that the delivery windows are so small, most times they cannot be met. If you are a long-haul truck driver, it is incredibly difficult to meet the requirements of Coles and Woolworths.
I see today that we have announced that there is a new Food and Grocery Code of Conduct. I am very pleased to see that that is out and about. The Food and Grocery Code of Conduct will come into force from tomorrow, to ensure fair and transparent commercial dealings between retailers, wholesalers and suppliers in the Australian grocery sector. The features of the code include an obligation to enter into grocery supply agreements in writing. The code also provides minimum standards of behaviour in dealings with suppliers, including an obligation to act in good faith and a prohibition against threatening suppliers with business disruption or termination without reasonable grounds—something I have seen a lot of. The code also features dispute-resolution mechanisms to assist suppliers in resolving disputes. Unfortunately, the reality is that to prosecute something under the ACCC—in its current form—costs between $5 and $10 million. Quite simply, if you are up for costs, you cannot afford it. The code is comprehensive and covers contractual dealings such as supplier-funded promotions; labelling; shelf space and positioning; intellectual property; and payments for wastage. The ACCC will be able to take enforcement action for breaches of the code by the retailers and wholesalers who have signed it. It will help to prevent instances of unconscionable conduct, and enhance the ACCC's capacity to take action against misleading or deceptive conduct, and misuse of market power. The code will be reviewed three years after commencement.
The exploitation of workers in the horticultural sector by labour hire contractors is something which I have spoken about in this place many times. Growers are being forced to cut their costs wherever possible, and they rely on contract labour firms to get that done. Quite simply, it is unacceptable. There is slavery in this country, and it is through labour hire contractors, particularly in the hort. sector. It cannot continue and we must act.
Of course, petrol pricing in the local district is a big issue for us. In December, local media reported that a Woolworths spokesperson told them that Woolworths would only reduce prices to reflect the crude oil price when other local retailers did the same. Can you believe that—they will only reduce their prices if someone else reduces theirs! The local price actually increased during the floods, and the ACCC's first Quarterly report on the Australian petroleum industry clearly shows that regional Australians are being robbed at the bowser. They are being robbed. In July 2014 in Brisbane, the price was 153.3 cents per litre. In January 2015, it was 112.4—a drop of 40.9 cents per litre. In Bundaberg, that difference was just 34.7 cents per litre; in Childers it was 34.9; and in Hervey Bay it was an astounding 27.1 cents per litre. Given that the price changes are solely to do with the wholesale price, that is completely unacceptable. Regional Australia has been robbed.
The quarterly examination of fuel pricing by the ACCC was the direct result of intense lobbying. My coalition backbench colleagues and I asked Minister Bruce Billson to issue a directive to the consumer watchdog. In addition to the quarterly report, Minister Billson has also asked the ACCC to conduct at least three specific regional market studies each year into the significant price differences between regional areas and our capital cities. Those reports will examine price anomalies, price gouging, anticompetitive behaviour and other market irregularities, as well as the slowness of major retailers in reducing regional fuel prices as the international price has fallen. I have asked Minister Billson and the ACCC to select Hinkler as a location for further examination. The first regional location will be announced soon, after the ACCC has completed its enquiries. Of course, it is not our local retailers who are doing the wrong thing; it is the major wholesalers and the duopoly. They control far too much market power, not just in groceries but also in fuel and in a number of other areas.
I would like to talk about the issue of electricity, something which is near and dear to my heart, and to my constituents. The cost of living is an issue which affects everybody, but in an electorate where the median income is under $500 a week, the price you pay for electricity is very important. The price has been affected by the Renewable Energy Target; there is no doubt about that. Simply to run the department that looks after the RET and the RECs costs $513 million, according to the last budget paper. In the last minute remaining to me, the question I have is this: where is the Electrical Trades Union on this? Where is the ETU? They are the ones who are supposed to be out supporting their members—supporting the people who work in the power industry—and they are letting this slip by. They are far more interested in trying to win elections than they are in being out and representing their members—and they are the ones that are at risk. I expect the ETU to get up and do what they are supposed to and represent their membership, because the renewable energy system that we have at the moment is broken. That is the bottom line. It will not work, seen from any practical background—and it is something I have a lot of knowledge about. It is very simple: if you intend to produce electricity only between ten o'clock and two o'clock, without a storage system, what do you intend to do with it? The peak use is early in the morning and after six o'clock at night. That is when you require electricity and, quite simply, it will not be produced at that time. The system is broken. We need to get on with fixing it. I would ask those on the other side to line up with Minister Macfarlane and try and sort this out. It is costing billions of dollars to consumers.
We are on the cusp of the 2015 budget being brought down—and yet this government has yet to sell last year's budget to the community. This government fails to understand that budgets are about people and they are about community.
Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, you will appreciate the fact that I regularly speak in this place about the spirit of multiculturalism in my electorate. I have the honour of representing the most multicultural electorate in the country. My community is shaped by the diversity of our people, their cultures and their traditions. However, behind the colour and vibrancy of our community there are significant pockets of disadvantage—areas of high unemployment, families from low socio-economic backgrounds, and a high proportion of people living with disabilities. While there is much to be proud about, there is certainly no denying the fact that my community is one of genuine need.
Since coming to office 18 months ago, the Abbott government has done very little other than introduce policies that will detrimentally impact on the wellbeing of communities such as mine—proposals like cutting education funding, deregulating university fees, cutting healthcare funding, developing a GP tax, targeting family benefits, and abolishing the Schoolkids Bonus. These have all impacted sharply on my electorate. Added to that are the various cuts to family payments. By the way, as a further indication of that, a single-income family earning $65,000 per year with two children are $6000 worse off as a consequence of the cuts that have been applied by this government.
When it comes to a budget that cares for, or caters to, people and communities, this government is certainly not taking care of communities such as mine—communities with significant pockets of disadvantage. Using the example of that family with an income of $65,000, you should not forget that that family is almost 10 per cent worse off. If you take the Schoolkids Bonus into account—$410 per primary schoolkid or $820 for a high school student—then that family is even further disadvantaged. That is why I say this government is doing everything to make life harder for struggling families—with cuts to education and health, cuts to community organisations that do provide vital services to our communities. I am saying that there is more than a pattern emerging here: this is systematic.
I would have thought that investing in education is traditionally one of the most important things for the nation's future—one of the most important things we can do for our future. That is why we on this side strongly oppose this government's decision to strip $5.8 billion out of the education sector. While there is a significant amount of disadvantage in my community, I must say we are producing a number of very intelligent young people who are making the most of the education system and who no doubt will go on to do great things in our community. Last year Tram Anh Ly from Canley Vale High School ranked 3rd in the state for her studies in English as a second language together with Quang Huy Do at Cabramatta High School who scored 9th place. Alexander Thai from Canley Vale High School was also placed in the top 10 in the state in extension maths, while Justin Samreth from Bonnyrigg High School was in the top 14 for standard English. Along with these four, there are going to be many other bright local kids who are going to go on to do great things. They will aspire to undertake higher education to fulfil their potential.
This government's decision to deregulate university fees is creating the real prospect now of $100,000 degrees, and this will shatter the dreams of many local families. The Abbott government is undermining our higher education system and it will put universities beyond the reach of many Australian families—especially students from disadvantaged backgrounds. With the rising costs of living, these families are already working hard enough to make ends meet. I know there is an election coming just around the corner in New South Wales, but look at what has happened to the TAFE system there—vocational education. We are seeing a state Liberal government rationalise TAFE campuses; it is cutting or relocating courses, retrenching skilled trade training staff, increasing student fees by an average of 9.5 per cent across the board. Thousands of people are being denied the opportunities for vocational education and for entry positions for apprenticeships. With unemployment the highest it has been for 12 years and youth unemployment running at somewhere between 15 and 16 per cent, it simply does not make sense to attack TAFE or to cut our investment in vocational education or to deny access to training. Privatising our education sector, stripping funds out of tertiary education and shifting costs onto students will not grow our economy. This is inconsistent with what it is to be a smart nation and a nation prepared to invest in its future.
Many families in my community are also being confronted with increasing family day care expenses, following this government's announcement that it will strip $157 million from family day care services. I have already said that mums and dads in my electorate have to work pretty hard. I recently visited the family day care network in Liverpool and they are staring down the barrel of having either to cut their services due to insufficient funds or to increase their fees. According to the analysis by Family Day Care Australia, the Abbott government will force fees to rise by at least $35 a week. As a consequence there are 133 services in Western Sydney that are now facing closure. This is a real slug to many families in my electorate who are set to lose as much as $741 a year in childcare expenses. These priorities are certainly not consistent with a government that wants to invest in the nation's future.
The priorities of this government are most concerning, especially when they are determined to slash funding to essential community services. Again I describe my electorate as being very multicultural and as an area of great need. Since the beginning of this year a number of organisations in the community sector have lost their federal funding following the government's decision to take $170 million out of the Discretionary Grants program. This is impacting on service quality, efficiency and the sustainability of many longstanding organisations in my community. I am referring to organisations like the New South Wales Spanish and Latin American Association for Social Assistance or SALSA which is based in Bonnyrigg. They have lost funding for their aged-care service improvement grant. These grants have been there for many years supporting activities for healthy and active ageing, including dementia care for people from Spanish-speaking backgrounds—and there are many of them in my electorate.
The Fairfield and Liverpool migrant resource centres are also receiving less funding for their settlement program and are struggling to keep the quality of their services in the face of the fact that my area is one of the most prominent areas where migrants and refugees are resettled—that is, in south-west Sydney. The Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre is also facing a second blow with cuts to the emergency relief program. This program exists to provide special food vouchers for families that have hit absolute desperation. That has now been cut.
Another organisation which does an extremely good job in my community and which I would like to refer to is the Vietnamese Community in Australia—I know that you know it well, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly—led by the President, Dr Thang Ha. Not only have they had their settlement grants targeted but they are also facing the government's axe on their money management project, which provides the local community with financial counselling and advice to reduce the impacts of problem gambling in our community. By the way, Vietnamese make up 22 per cent of my electorate, and problem gambling is a major concern. This is an organisation doing something about it. Their program is now completely under threat.
Another thing the VCA does, and does very, very well, is their Links to Learning project. This service is aimed at students at risk of being early school leavers to assist them to stay at school, assist them with their homework and give extracurricular activities. This is all designed to keep kids at school. This service has a profound impact on the lives of many young people and its cessation will come as an extreme disappointment to many, many families in my electorate.
Another organisation which does extremely well is South West Connect, which provides services in the Fairfield and Liverpool areas. It has lost its partnership broker funding. Since the implementation, this has been a very successful program, bringing business together with students to increase student engagement and enhance retention rates at school. Work experience has meant that more than 5,500 local students have become more job ready through the support of 35 corporate partnerships. Without these partnerships, local students miss out on practical engagement with the real world of work. This program directly targets high youth unemployment, linking young people with job prospects and vocational training.
These are cruel cuts and they are having a devastating impact on our community. It is no wonder the Australian people have lost confidence in this government. The Abbott government has targeted disadvantaged communities, the very people who can least afford to bear the brunt of these attacks.
For instance, there is the GP tax, a ludicrous attack on Australia's world-class healthcare system. Who knows what the fate of the GP tax will be, given the Prime Minister's poor polling at the moment? We all know that Tony Abbott will do almost anything for a vote. He has a reputation for saying one thing before an election and doing the exact opposite after. Whatever eventuates in respect of the GP tax, we know that it is the intention of this government when it comes to health care. We know that their intention is to progressively have a user-pays system. We know that this is about putting the cost on the patients—like what they intend to do in education, putting the cost on the students. This is all about cost shifting, where you can strip the amount of investment in health and education and put it on the students and patients. Patients on low incomes or with chronic conditions will have to dig pretty deep for high up-front payments just to see GPs.
Australia has every right to expect that governments will keep the economy strong, will make smart investments for the future but, above all, will ensure that everybody gets a fair go. On that criterion this government has failed. It has put the job security of Tony Abbott above all else. This is not a government that has lost its way; this is a government that never knew where it was going.
I am pleased to contribute to debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and cognate bills, but I am going to take a different path to those opposite, who often use this precious speaking time to recite talking points criticising the government and so on. I am going to use the vast majority of my time to convey some good news about Tasmania.
A year ago I stood in this place with this wonderful opportunity, with the appropriation bill, to talk about good things in my community. A year on, I can say to you that there has been excellent progress in Tasmania. It is welcome progress, because whether it is jobs, health, education or levels of disadvantage, Tasmania has lagged behind the mainland states for far too long.
The longstanding nature of these problems is clearly apparent when you consider the 1997 Nixon report, which was undertaken by Fraser government cabinet minister Peter Nixon. Mr Nixon laid out five key reasons for Tasmania's problems. They related to governance, debt, suboptimal education outcomes, a business environment that was unattractive to investors and planning processes that were far too complex. Mr Nixon also highlighted the critical importance of ensuring that Tasmania's debt burden remained manageable, that costs on business were kept as low as possible, that Tasmania's industry development policy was focused on our state's strategic advantages and that local jobs were created to address outbound migration.
After 16 years of state Labor government in Tasmania, I am pleased that, with the election of the Hodgman Liberal government and the Abbott-led coalition in Canberra, we are finally making inroads into some of those problems that Mr Nixon highlighted, which have held Tasmania back for far too long. We are finally seeing some of those green shoots of recovery. I am pleased to say that Tasmania is finally off the bottom of the national unemployment tables, with unemployment now at a 28-month low. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the trend is moving in the right direction. Construction work is expanding at the fastest annual rate in eight years, with the state recording an improvement of 15.4 per cent on a year ago. Major projects, both public and private, are underway.
We want those green shoots of recovery to continue. I want Tasmania to be known for the strength of our economy and our ability to provide for our needs into the future rather than being considered Australia's environmental conscience with more than half of the state permanently locked up in parks and reserves. We have to be an economy and not just a national park.
I will give you an example of just how we are delivering on that aspiration. Recently my two amigos from Tasmania—the members for Lyons and Braddon—and I welcomed the Prime Minister to northern Tasmania where he announced a major government investment in five irrigation projects. It involved $60 million in federal funding, $30 million from the state Liberal government and about $30 million from people investing in these schemes from the private sector. It was wonderful news for our community because these irrigation schemes will be an enabler of Tasmania's future prosperity. It is vital because when it comes to farming or converting marginal land into something more productive there has to be a reliable magic ingredient—and that ingredient, of course, is water. These schemes will provide 95 per cent water certainty. They will provide the impetus for expansion and diversification of Tasmania's agricultural production. This investment reinforces the government's commitment to infrastructure as a foundation for future growth. These projects will help our community thrive and generate jobs.
How will they do that, you ask? They will allow us to grow more. They will allow us to leverage our advantage, which is clean, green, fresh produce. They will allow us to sell into those growing middle-class markets from India to Asia. Here is Australia perfectly positioned, in what people often refer to as the Asian century, astride the Pacific and Indian oceans. That middle class is currently around 500 million and is projected to grow to 1.7 billion in the next 15 years or so. These projects will enable us to leverage into that trifecta of free trade agreements that Minister Robb negotiated in 2014.
One of the other important thing that this irrigation scheme investment does is demonstrate that we are ending the dam phobia perpetuated by the Greens party and their fellow travellers which has so badly affected our water policy for too many decades. These new irrigation schemes early in their implementation will generate over 150 direct full-time jobs on top of the 7,000 new jobs that have been created since the election of the Hodgman Liberal government in Hobart. So when I say to you that we are making progress with the economic revival of Tasmania it is with some confidence.
In the next couple of minutes I will highlight some of the things that the coalition is doing in this area. I mentioned in some of my recent speeches that Prime Minister Abbott came to Tasmania on 15 of August 2013 and launched the economic recovery plan for my state of Tasmania. It was with some sadness that I heard the then Governor-General when she opened this 44th Parliament singling out one state that needed that help more than most, and that was my state of Tasmania. Since those speeches and since the Prime Minister launched that economic recovery plan, the Major Projects Approval Agency has been established in my home city of Launceston. Since its launch, the agency has been actively supporting projects, with a total investment value of over $700 million.
In Tasmania today, we are encouraging people off welfare and into work, including through the Tasmanian Jobs Program, which commenced on 1 January 2014. It offers an incentive payment of $3,250, GST inclusive, to employers who provide full-time, ongoing work to job seekers who have been unemployed for long periods. I can also report that the Joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Economic Council has been established, with the Prime Minister and Treasurer as members. The council has met on three occasions since the 2013 election.
I can also tell you that the 2014-15 budget provided $24 million over three years to establish a world-class centre for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research. The funding is being delivered by the University of Tasmania. The government is also progressing the acquisition of a new icebreaker and provided $9.4 million in the 2014-15 budget to maintain Australia's presence in Antarctica.
$38 million has been allocated to extend Hobart airport. Development approvals are expected to be sought this year, and the airport's master plan is due to be submitted to the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development in the last quarter of this year. $400m in funding is being provided over the next decade to upgrade the Midland Highway. Goodness me, isn't that long overdue? Projects are being developed with the Tasmanian government, with seven works projects approved by the Commonwealth so far and six projects under construction and expected to be completed by mid-2015.
We have completed the promised Productivity Commission review into Tasmania's shipping and freight. The government is consulting with the Joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Economic Council and other stakeholders on this report. In that area, I hope that we do something in the near term about fixing the coastal shipping regulations which Labor brought in in 2012. They were a sop to the Maritime Union of Australia. As we have seen, they have driven up the cost of shipping for Bell Bay Aluminium in my electorate of Bass by 63 per cent. So in terms of making shipping more attractive, to get those international ships coming to Tasmania, I hope that that is one of the things that we deal with in the near future. I have certainly been making representations to ministers in that regard.
We have committed to completing five-yearly reviews and extending the regional forestry agreements to provide resource security and a stable investment environment for the sector, starting with the Tasmanian regional forestry agreement. We have established a fruit and vegetable industry task force, and the Minister for Agriculture released the task force's industry growth plan on 1 October last year.
Over $100 million has been delivered to the University of Tasmania for research funding, including $13 million for the Sense-T project. This project centres on better information to consumers about food products, and has the potential to boost information, technology and communications in Tasmania. Mr Deputy Speaker, you can probably sense my excitement about some of the projects that we are rolling out in Tassie because they will make a real difference, particularly in areas that need it most. The north-east of Tasmania is at the top of the list.
In addition to the five irrigation schemes that I mentioned before, one of which will be in the Scottsdale region, we announced $34 million for north-east freight roads last December. With an additional $8.5 million on top of that from the Hodgman government, we will be widening Bridport Main Road right across to the East Tamar Highway. Between now and mid-2016 work will be undertaken on Emily Street, Edward Street and Waterhouse Road to facilitate the increasing number of heavy vehicles accessing Bridport Main Road in this area. It is only one component of our important $1 billion record investment in world-class infrastructure across Tasmania to help create new jobs and grow the state's economy.
Last August, I joined my friend and state health minister, Michael Ferguson, in announcing $23 million to improve access to elective surgery in Tasmania for patients who have been waiting longer than clinically recommended waiting times.
Work is also about to commence on the $6 million, federally-funded North Bank redevelopment to transform what is currently an unsightly industrial mess into something that is more beautiful and family friendly on the wonderful Tamar River.
Recently I hosted our outstanding environment minister, Greg Hunt, in Launceston, to inspect progress after one year of our $3 million, three-year program for a healthier Tamar River. We are doing that by tackling sediment problems, reducing nutrient run-off, undertaking riverbank stabilisation and improving wastewater management. One of my constituents accompanies me every time I go to look at the Tamar River. She is sitting in the gallery today—Christine Nikolic, the love of my life, Tasmanian princess, from the kingdom of Riverside. It is wonderful to see her in the gallery. She is someone who grew up in Launceston and has seen the difference that we have made to the Tamar River.
Just the other day we were down at Seaport. Last year on 21 June there was the lowest tide of the year. Normally you would find mud at Seaport, an unsightly, stinking mess that puts off tourists. Today, as a result of the investment of this government, there is 3½ metres of water above the mud at Seaport. That is something the Tamar River has not seen for a very long time. I am proud that we have partnered with the Launceston Flood Authority. I am proud that Karl Krause, who has come up with a magic way of moving that silt, costing about $1.18 per cubic metre, means we are making a difference to this wonderful river in the centre of our city.
A few weeks ago I opened the $2½ million Blue Derby mountain bike trails in Derby in my electorate. The next two Australian championships are going to be held at those trails. This is Olympic standard mountain biking terrain. We anticipate 10,000 to 15,000 by 2017 will be using these mountain bike trails. If you want to see what a difference world-class mountain biking trails can make, look up Fruita in Colorado in the United States, which has transformed that region into the mountain biking capital of the world. I want Derby to have that sort of reputation as well.
We want Northern Tasmania to be much more of an entry point for our state. People, when they think of Tasmania, often think about Hobart, Salamanca and MONA, and Port Arthur. I want them to start thinking about landing in Launceston and thinking of Launceston as a hub, be it for mountain biking adventures, enjoying the best food and drink that you can in Tasmania, or going to play a game of golf at Barnbougle, which is the 11th best golf course in the world. We are looking to give people more reasons to use Northern Tasmania as an entry point for our state.
With Mayor Albert van Zetten, a couple of weeks ago I inspected Invermay Park where Ricky Ponting first made his mark as a young cricketer. We are redeveloping Invermay Park to make sure that it is useable for more weeks of the year. We are fixing the drainage problems and putting up some lighting. I think that is going to be magnificent for the multiple users of that facility.
There is $900,000 to upgrade Flinders Island Airport. I could go on and on. I have literally another hour's worth of things I could talk to you about, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point I want to make to you is that the investments of the Liberal government are making a real difference in my community, which needs this investment more than any other state. I am pleased to be a member of the Abbott coalition government that is delivering for my state of Tasmania.
I must pay tribute to the previous speaker. It was one of the better addresses I have heard in this place. He is a man who is conscious of the needs of his electorate and can articulate not only the aspirations for his electorate but also the achievements. The outgoing Liberal government in Queensland told us what they were going to do if they were re-elected. We are not interested in that. We are interested in what you have done. I was in a government and a leader in that government for some 10 years. We were never interested in telling you what we were going to do, because if we were going to do it, we would have already done it. So we told you what we had done. I very much admire the member's contribution.
The honourable member for Leichhardt is in the chamber. He would agree with me that the situation in the outlying first Australian settlements is fairly unfortunate. There is diabetes now in epidemic proportions. Diabetes is another name for malnutrition. You cannot afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. You have no work available to you so you do not move around very much. In one council in my electorate—but I am quite sure it would be the same in the Cape York area—I asked the entire council whether they had relatives dying of diabetes, and every single member of the council had some close relative dying of diabetes. The situation is far worse in the Torres Strait than there. I think you measure a people based on its poorest people; and, if that is the measure of us as Australians, then we will be judged fairly harshly by history, in spite of the very excellent work done by the member for Leichhardt. There are a lot of people in this place who are very conscious of the environment—in my opinion, far too conscious. They are preoccupied with trees and animals but they are not particularly interested in the fate of human beings. It amazes me that our First Australians could be left in the situation they are in, and we never hear a word from those sorts of people about that situation.
I myself find nature and our natural environment very fascinating, and I pay tribute to some of the great naturalists in the Kennedy electorate or, if you like, in North Queensland. Peter Radke and his wife, Ann, are at Yuruga Nursery. He one of the best naturalists in the country and a trained scientist—but, infinitely more importantly, a self-trained scientist. Steve Malone in Julia Creek is truly one of the people in Australia who best understands our environment and how we interface with it.
Steve Malone, Robert Hacon and a number of others have done their best to bring to the attention of this nation an environmental holocaust called the prickly acacia tree, which has wiped out seven million hectares of what were described on the sun map of Queensland some 20 years ago as the best natural grasslands in Australia, as they most certainly were: the Mitchell and Flinders Downs country of Australia. They spawned Qantas and the Labor movement, although some people may not regard that as a necessarily good thing these days. Waltzing Matilda was written there. The Royal Flying Doctor Service was established there. Seven million hectares of that beautiful, natural pasture has been wiped out. The Julia Creek dunnart, the most threatened species in Australia outside of Australian farmers, is under very real threat from the approaching prickly acacia. So, what you do about it?
The way it happens is really pretty simple. Weeds get washed away in flood times. When the floodwaters break the banks of the river, they stretch out and provide a wonderfully moist environment upon which, in our dry land, at the end of the dry season, there is no ground cover. So there is no competition really for these plants, and they run away on the riverbanks. But that would not happen if the riverbanks were lined with irrigated pasture, and in North Queensland there is no excuse for us not doing that except for the restraints, constraints and impositions of government. If every single landholder were allowed to irrigate up to a maximum of 300 hectares, then we would not have drought in North Queensland, because almost every single station property has access to a critical river that runs every year. I have mentioned many times in this place that my own family has lived on or near the banks of the Cloncurry River for 120 years and it has run every single year in those 120 years, and yet it is 500 kilometres from the sea. We do not have a shortage of water. We have a shortage of water for 90 per cent of the year and a very destructive abundance, a superabundance, of water for the other two or three months of the year.
If you built a little weir or a small dam, or if you just permitted the people to have up to 300 hectares of irrigation land—a landholder might own five acres; well, give him five acres of irrigation land, just let him do that—it would go a long way toward solving the problem. Far be it from me to propose the building of dams; but, in our country of Australia, to my knowledge, in the last 30 years there has not been a single irrigation dam built. Here is the driest continent on earth going through one of the worst drought periods in its history, and there has not been a single damn built, not a single weir built, anywhere in the country. But we have people parading around North Queensland talking about the Northern Australia task force. I am not denigrating the honourable member for Leichhardt; I think he does everything that he can do. But please do not come around telling us what you are going to do; either do it or shut up.
If you want a lesson from Queensland, people in other states, look at the government in Queensland that had 72 seats and had left their opponents with seven seats in the parliament—72 to seven—and how they lost the next election. Just wander around telling us what you are going to do and then go and sack public servants, hell west and crooked, and tell us you are broke; and then decide to build a $5,000 million tunnel in the middle of Brisbane and then tell us you are broke. As Robbie Katter, the state member for Mount Isa, said: 'You say you have no money but you've decided to allocate $5,000 million, one-tenth of the budget of Queensland, to building yet another tunnel, which makes Brisbane the most tunnelled city in the world per head of population.' It is almost double its nearest rival, which I think is Tokyo. But, as he said, what do you get for your $5,000 million? A few thousand people get home a bit earlier to watch television. That is a wonderful achievement for $5,000 million! Now, if that $5,000 million had been used in the north to build a dam west of Townsville, it would have irrigated 120,000 hectares of land forever—forever. There is no lack of water in the river; the Burdekin River is the third biggest river in Australia.
We could produce ethanol instead of putting CO2 up in the atmosphere. Yes, ethanol will put it up but it will pull it back down again so there is no growth. Of course, I am no fan of An Inconvenient Truth, the film by former US Vice-President Al Gore. All the same, his first solution to CO2problems is ethanol. Every country on earth has moved to ethanol—every single country on earth. China, India, Japan, half of Indonesia, all of North America, all of South America and every single European country have signed up to 15 per cent ethanol.
This country has no petrol. It is one of the few countries on earth that has absolutely no solutions to its petrol problem. It was self-sufficient. In 2002 we sent $1 billion overseas. Now we are sending $25 billion a year to the Middle East to buy petrol, because we have no petrol. If you want to have a look at the cause of the Second World War, it was pretty simple: America cut off petrol to Japan. What was the war in Europe about? It was a drive to the oilfields. The great battle of the Second World War was Stalingrad, and that was all about oil. In my first year out of school I was handed a rifle. I had to give two telephone numbers and I was on my way to fight Indonesia—we were at war with Indonesia. What was the war about? It was about petrol. The Indonesians had seized the oilfields. That is what it was about.
We cut off the Indonesian's food supply. If you fight a war about cutting off somebody's petrol supply, how angry are you going to get when people cut off your food supply? The Indonesians have a very limited access to protein. The national dish is rendang.
I live in a country that within two years will have no manufacturing base. When the motor vehicle industry closes down it will take down 72 per cent of Australia's manufacturing. What is left? The last whitegoods factory closed in Orange last year or it closes early this year. There are 20,000 jobs that will vanish in the coal seam gas industry in Queensland when it finishes its development phase this year. There are 15,000 jobs to go in the coal industry. There are 3,000 in the sugar industry. The steel industry has said that there has to be a reserve resource policy, which this government has no intention of doing. Nor does the ALP have any intention of introducing a reserve resource policy, which every other country on earth has got. I am very familiar with it, because we had one in Queensland. That is how we were able to get the aluminium industry. We had the cheapest electricity in the world. Now that we have the second most expensive electricity in the world what do you think is going to happen to the aluminium industry. I think that we can say goodbye to the aluminium industry and most mineral processing, because we now have the second-highest electricity charges in the world. That is another marvellous success story of marketism, of the free market.
In Queensland and in the rest of Australia we had an average household paying $640 a year for electricity for 10 years. At the start of the 10 years, in 1990, it was $640. At the end of that 10 years it was still $640. There was no movement in price. Then the incoming ALP government, along with their federal colleagues with their great leader Mr Keating, decided to deregulate the industry and semi-privatise it. It was a marvellous success story! We went from $640 a year, which it had been for 10 years, straight up to $2,400, and it is not stopping there.
The steel industry has said that if there is no reserve resource policy on gas it cannot survive, so that is 50,000 jobs there. The aluminium industry has no hope of survival rate where it is at present. It is just congealed electricity, and electricity charges are the second-highest in the world, so add 25,000 jobs to that. The fertiliser industry has gone. The food-processing industry has gone. But this we know: 55,000 jobs in the motor vehicle industry have vanished; 15,000, arguably 20,000, in the coal seam gas industry; 15,000 in the coal industry; and 3,000 in the sugar industry. That, we absolutely know.
If the federal government thinks that it is going to survive the loss of some 200,000 to 300,000 direct jobs in this country over the next two years it believes in the tooth fairy. If it thinks it is safe then it should look at Queensland. Extrapolate the figures from the Queensland election to the federal figures and then tell me whether it is going to be governing this country at the end of next year. I very much doubt that.
All we are asking is that they build the Galilee rail line. Do not wait for some foreign corporation to build it. Build the Galilee rail line. Every single millimetre of the 3½ thousand kilometres of rail line in Queensland into their coalfields was built by the government. I might add, it was built by my government. I was a party to it. I say that very proudly. Introduce ethanol, for heaven's sake instead of sending $25,000 billion overseas every year. Pull the brakes of the from farming industry and we will have $10 billion a year in prawn farming, the same as Thailand has with much less suitable coastline than we have. It was the Liberal government that destroyed the prawn-farming industry in Australia. It went from $600 million down to about $35 million. If you unleash the irrigation potential of the north, even in a very minor way, say, 100 million a year, you will take the cattle industry to 10,000 million a year in North Queensland alone. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and cognate bills. I am taking this opportunity to talk about issues that range from bridges to berries. Some would say that is a strange theme, but I assure members that it does make sense. The last 16 months have been extraordinary for a first time member of parliament. Initially, the thought of working with all sides of parliament for the overall better positioning of Australia was inspiring. It was not long before I realised that there is a great deal of point-scoring and a lot of rhetoric from those who wish to be in government and are in a constant state of debt denial. It is unbelievable to see them in action, posturing and complaining about so-called cuts in expenditure. We have made changes to stop spending imaginary dollars from the previous government's imaginary surplus which they were never going to achieve
The people of Gilmore get it. They know there is a problem with national debt. They know we have to work hard to get rid of the billion dollar a month interest payments. And, finally, they know that I am working hard to get as much as possible allocated to Gilmore to improve job prospects and community amenity and keep the national debt contained. The people of Gilmore know the process is slow and steady, with gradual improvements over time.
Let us start with the idea of bridges. There is really only one bridge that is of great importance to the residents of Gilmore, the third river crossing at Nowra. The NSW government dedicated $1.6 million towards the project. This money was to determine the best location for the new bridge after tests and extensive community consultation. The next $10 million was my election commitment, and I can say that this money has been delivered to Roads and Maritime Services for the design, engineering, structural planning and roads integration, with possible land acquisition and environmental studies. This is a necessary stage of the process and only after this is complete will we have an accurate estimate of construction costs.
I have been meeting with advisers and the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development on a regular basis to continue lobbying for this project. The bridge is so important and I will continually be reminding the minister of the need for this infrastructure. The residents of Gilmore, the businesses of the South Coast and the thousands of visitors to the area know how important this bridge is for economic growth, urban growth, tourism and local convenience. I will proudly continue to lobby to fulfil this project. I will work with my state colleagues to garner as much funding as possible for the Princes Highway, through joint projects. That includes the recently announced $2.95 million from the federal government, in conjunction with $3.1 million from the New South Wales state Liberal government and $300,000 from the Shoalhaven City Council for the Flinders Road and Princes Highway interchange and an upgrade for the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Programme.
We committed to an additional $5 million dollars for roadworks in Gilmore to improve safety and fix roads that assist our residents. Part of this allocation was for a section of Turpentine Road to be completed. Since then, an additional $824,000 has been allocated from the federal Black Spot Programme funding. The council has now added funds so the whole of Turpentine Road will be sealed. This is a tremendous outcome for our region; not to mention, there is also the almost $2.5 million for further road black spots in Gilmore. Add this to the Roads to Recovery funding and there is almost another $6.5 million for roads in the three council areas: Shoalhaven, Kiama and Shellharbour.
You might wonder why I am so passionate about roads in Gilmore. It is an electorate of almost 5,000 square kilometres. I travel from north to south visiting the different villages. You guessed it: I drive almost 50,000 kilometres each year. Of course, apart from my own use of the roads, our whole community depends on road transport for its very survival. Residents of Gilmore have to drive for appointments, for shopping, to get the children to school and to get to the beach. The distances are not just a couple of blocks; sometimes, it is around 10 kilometres to the nearest shopping centre and it is just not the general store.
More importantly, the hidden small manufacturers and small businesses depend on the roads to get their materials to their place of production and get their finished product to the transit hubs. You have often heard me speak of the time in my life when I was a fudge manufacturer. Once a month for almost 17 years, I would drive from Kiama to Moruya and sometimes to Bega to deliver hundreds of kilos of fudge. Even for a business as unlikely as a fudge manufacturer on the South Coast, the importance of our local roads is hugely significant.
Road infrastructure is critical to our regional businesses, for every delay is a lost opportunity. I well remember the time in the early 90s when the Princes Highway was cut by floodwaters. The large freight trucks could not pass through, so my family would load up our delivery van and use an alternate route to get our one tonne weekly delivery of fudge to Queensland. In our later years of operation, we were sending pallet loads and sending 20 to 30 tonnes a day. However, I digress. This is purely to show why I am passionate about improving roads in Gilmore; the roads are our economic and tourist arteries. They cannot, under any circumstances, be traffic blocks for economic growth and opportunity for industry and tourism.
This brings me to the new proposed alignment of the bridge. The decision has been made for it to be on the western side of the existing bridges. I admit, I was a bit surprised by this decision; but when I looked at the aerial photos, the alignment was completely logical. Talking about aerial shots, HMAS Albatross is the base of helicopter excellence. In October last year, the $700 million dollar helicopter aircrew training system—HATS—was confirmed and it is to be invested in our base. I cannot describe how proud I was to be present for the signing of that agreement. In fact, every time I visit HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell I feel a great sense of community pride. Perhaps it could be because I recently found out that my great-great-grandfather joined the Navy in 1916.
However, I do not believe that is just why. The local TS Shoalhaven cadets, the helicopter pilots, the entire workforce on the bases, captains and Commodore Vince Di Pietro are such great examples of our uniformed and non-uniformed community leaders working in the Defence industry. I am just completely proud of them all, as well as being convinced that the investment by my government is well-placed and well-deserved. This is not the only investment that has been made on our base. We have the Romeo helicopter program and it is absolutely brilliant. This is a further investment of just over $3 billion dollars. The funding will allow the Navy to acquire a total of 24 Romeo helicopters. Each and every one of them is to be based at HMAS Albatross. The first one arrived just a few months ago. We are so thrilled. Defence is already one of the Shoalhaven's largest employers, with over 2,000 local residents employed by Defence or a Defence-associated industry. With all of this local investment, it is clear that Defence is very pleased to call our region home.
I would like to speak for a moment about the significance grants for the Anzac Centenary. Gilmore has 12 really special projects that were funded. I would like to thank committee members Bob O'Grady, Barry Young, Kim Kearney, Allan Hurrell, Fred Dawson, Stanley Berriman, Don Handley, Barry Edwards and especially Rick Meehan and Clyde Poulton for their extensive work behind the scenes, with timely advice and the preparation of the submissions. It is outstanding.
The grants have been allocated to villages that reflect the diversity of Gilmore. Warilla RSL Sub-Branch have an adopt-a-digger program for local schools, as well as funds for a great service recognising World War I at the Shellharbour Village War Memorial. Shell Cove Public School will be installing a commemorative plaque on a large rock structure in their school grounds. Kiama Municipal Council has some extra funds to go towards the restoration and stabilisation of their leaning memorial arch. Gerringong RSL Sub-Branch will be installing a new flagpole and plaque in Gerringong's park at the site of the lone pine tree, which was planted some years ago in addition to starting a new dawn service. I commend the tireless efforts of Bill Popple and Garry Hingle on this project.
The Shoalhaven Anzac Centenary Committee will also be holding a very special commemorative dinner. Clyde Poulton of the Vietnam Veterans, Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Association will also be coordinating a re-enactment of the Waratah march—including a steam train—from Nowra to Sydney, working with local schools, veterans and businesses. Nowra RSL Sub-Branch will also be publishing a centenary edition of that same march. Shoalhaven City Council should also be congratulated, along with the work of Margaret Simoes and Tania Morandini. They have developed an exhibition entitled In Memory, honouring the Aboriginal servicemen and servicewomen of the South Coast. Huskisson RSL sub-Branch will be constructing a remembrance court in Voyager Memorial Park to honour the service men and women lost in World War I. Sussex Inlet RSL sub-Branch will be rejuvenating their World War I memorial to place a lasting legacy for the tight knit community. Milton-Ulladulla RSL sub-Branch are also building an ANZAC memorial to commemorate the centenary of Gallipoli, and, last but not least—because this one was a good one—at Ulladulla High School the history teacher is harmonising the energy of students, the local show society, the men's shed, and the Lake Tabourie Museum to set up a new display space that will change each year to commemorate the four years of World War I. We are also hoping to have a poppy colouring-in competition for our primary schools, a short story or poem contribution, and a red poppy drive so the whole region is covered in poppies. It is an impressive range of local endeavour, with talents and ideas being unlocked by the local distribution of almost $125,000 in centenary commemorative grants from our government.
I have taken this opportunity to cover a vast range of achievements and projects that have been delivered by the coalition government. This is only the beginning, and we have many challenges to meet. There are still problems that need community feedback and prioritisation. There are national issues that need resolutions and pathways to move this country forward.
We have employment issues. As I spoke of earlier last week, I am greatly saddened by the closure of our iconic paper mill in the Shoalhaven. Gilmore really does not need another increase in local unemployment, and the affected families will have a huge task adjusting to such a change. It will be very difficult. I have organised a number of avenues to help, but the preferred action, of course, would have been to keep the mill in production. The owners have had to make a very difficult decision. Over the past few days, I have also met with the Minister for Industry, the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, the Minister for Social Services, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, as well as our Prime Minister, the Hon. Tony Abbott, to discuss further opportunities for the government in any avenue that we can help.
I began this presentation with the concept of bridges and berries, and I chose this theme because the issues I have put forward have direct relevance to everyone living in Gilmore. We actually do have some small-scale berry producers in the region, but they only sell fresh berries, not frozen ones. And that is one of the issues that is being discussed by many families in Gilmore, and, in fact, in many regions across Australia. The concern about hygienic food, labelling and Australian production will be a pond-rippling issue for quite some time. Local Gilmore families want to support Australian growers and suppliers, but the current labelling requirements actually make it fairly difficult.
Last week I attended a briefing on this. Labelling has been an issue of national significance—would you believe—since 2002. There have been inquiries and recommendations through all different levels and colours of government, yet there has not been a universally accepted or applied change for our labelling requirements. It crosses several portfolios, so that is part of the complications. Once again, my experiences in fudge manufacturing give me some insight into packaging and labelling. It can be done, and it does not have to be expensive. Australians want Australian made products, but there is so much confusion over the terminology that buyers have really no idea what they are buying. Often a business will use a twist of phrase to encourage the buyer to think that something is Australian, and yet, some industries believe that 90 per cent content requirement is too high a bar to set as the benchmark, and that a 50 per cent transformation—something like a product being crumbed and packed in Australia—allows it to have the label 'Made in Australia'.
There is even support for the view that if 50 percent of the cost of the product is packed here, then it can have 'Made in Australia'. I mean, seriously, this really is an inappropriate application. There really does need to be an overhaul. We need to be consistent. It needs to be readable and understandable to help our mums and dads.
The current concern about frozen berries is actually not a new industry issue. There have been similar issues arising from imported products in the past. The berry issue actually brings to light the need for a packaging review to ultimately help our mums and dads buy products for their families. There are multilayer portfolio responsibilities for labelling, and the Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane, is determined to draw together this expertise as well as garner information from the community to help resolve this very important issue.
It is actually time we built the bridges between manufacturers, growers and consumers, whether it be for berries or any other Australian product. So, the theme of bridges to berries is not really that bizarre. It is the task of a community leader to draw together opinions and views and to advocate for community expectation and community need. That is our job. That is why we are here, and that is what we are supposed to be doing: getting on with the job of doing the things we need to do for our community.
I know the member for Gilmore is a very community minded member of parliament, but unfortunately I do not see a major achievement of government as conducting a cooking competition.
Rather, I must say, members of the electorate that I represent are coming to me in a very distressed situation. They are distressed because they are worried about health care. They are worried about the education of their children and grandchildren, and they are worried about the impact that this harsh government—this Abbott coalition government—is having on them, on their lives and on all people in their families.
Regarding the point that the member for Gilmore made about packaging, I think knowing what you are eating and having it clearly marked on the package is important, but the other thing that is really important is that the quality and the purity of the food is known and that a consumer can really be confident the food they are about to eat is not contaminated. That is an issue that has been raised with me in my electorate, and I encourage the government to look past the labelling to actually looking at ensuring that the food that is packaged is safe and that consumers can eat it with confidence.
These budget papers demonstrate that the Abbott government is unable to govern for all Australians. We see time and time again in this House that the government is pushing small sectional interests. We all know that those on the other side of the House made a move towards good government a couple of weeks ago, but we are still trying to find evidence of that good government. When people phone my office and when I meet people in the community, their comments about this age of new government are anything but flattering.
These bills do absolutely nothing to address the unfairness of the May budget, an issue that has been raised with me time and time again. Constituents ask me to stop measures that this government has tried to introduce. But the bottom line is that the government has the numbers in this House. Unfortunately, those opposite are arrogantly ignoring the people in their electorates. If they were listening to what their constituents were saying, I am sure they would be hearing exactly what I am hearing.
This government is really not in tune with what Australian people want. And these papers contain no new ideas whatsoever. It is more of the same old diatribe, more of the same tired ideas that we have seen from this government since it was elected. It is pushing an ideological agenda. With respect to workplace relations, it already has credentials on the books, with its commitment to Work Choices in a previous parliament. Then there is its attack on Medicare. We on this side of the House appreciate that the Prime Minister has very little respect for Medicare. As health minister, he used to stand up in this parliament with a smirk on his face—I emphasise 'a smirk'—saying that he was the best friend that Medicare ever had. We have seen him demonstrate just what sort of a friend he is. I would certainly hate to be his enemy. We have probably seen a bit of an example of what it means to be his enemy in the way that he has treated people in this parliament and in his attacks on Gillian Triggs.
This government talks about Medicare. There have been many, many attempts to ram through this House its unfair GP tax. It has not introduced the legislation into this parliament, because it knows it will not get through. It tried to do it by the back door, through regulation that was supposed take effect on 19 January. But the government pulled the plug at the last minute, because not only the people that I represent and the people that each and every member of the other side of the parliament represents but the doctors themselves were up in arms about this government's assault on Medicare, this government's assault on the good health of all Australians.
The plan that this government has for Medicare is diabolical. It means that if you have a chronic illness you will have to pay a lot of money to go and see a doctor. On an ongoing basis you are going to be hit with surcharges. If you are a pensioner or a senior and you are lucky enough to find a doctor who will bulk-bill you, you should be okay. But it is a two-tier system that is designed to end Medicare as we know it. It is a system that is about watering down Medicare. It shows the ideological hatred that those on the other side of this House have towards universal health care, because that is what it is—an attack on universal health care. And it is the Australian people who will pay for this attack.
Then we come to the $100,000 university degrees. I was fortunate enough to go to the University of Newcastle during orientation week. I had a petition with me that students could sign, stating their objection to the changes that this government had in the pipeline for universities.
Ms Scott interjecting—
The member for Lindsay may support these changes, but I can assure her that the university students at the University of Newcastle were lining up to sign the petition. We had three people working on that stall, and university students were constantly signing the petition, because they did not want legislation introduced into this House that led to a 20 per cent cut in funding to universities, they did not want legislation that deregulated fees to allow universities to charge basically whatever they want to, and they particularly did not want savage cuts to regional universities like the University of Newcastle. These changes will have an impact on mature age students and a great impact on people from lower paid background.
Ms Scott interjecting—
The member for Lindsay continually rabbits on while I am speaking, but no matter what she says it will not change the fact that this is unfair, that this is going to undermine our university system. There is a real prospect of $100,000 degrees. But those on the other side of this House really are not too concerned about it.
I have talked a lot about the unfairness of the May budget. I think this is borne out by the fact that the gap between the rich and poor in Australia is growing bigger and bigger, with 12.8 per cent of all Australians living below the poverty line. That is after taking into account their housing costs. As well, 17.3 per cent of children are living below the poverty line. Many, many families are living lives of stress and deprivation due to poverty. Those on the other side of the House are keen to implement more policies and changes that will make this situation even worse.
At the same time that we have growing poverty, we see that the richest 10 per cent of Australians had almost 50 per cent of the growth in income over the past three decades. Income inequality has continued to grow and it is getting worse. At this rate, we will soon have an American-style split between the working poor and the super rich. This growing inequality of income is made much worse by the increasing cost of housing.
How do this government address this inequality? They address it by cutting funds to services that provide support for those people who are really struggling to make ends meet. They have cut community grants, they have cut funding for homelessness service providers and they have cut money to groups that provide emergency services. This is the Liberal way. This is the way that those on the other side of this parliament believe things should be. They are quite happy with the burgeoning inequality in society, and they are quite happy for the wealthiest Australians to become even wealthier. At the same time, they are happy to cut funding to community organisations and a large number of charities who provide welfare services across Australia. We on this side of the House believe that that is totally unacceptable.
Another area is unemployment. Unemployment has increased, and what is the government's response to that? Its response is to make young people under 30 wait six months before they can get any sort of income support. Once again, it is throwing people into poverty and not understanding the real issue. The real issue is not that people are unemployed, because they choose to be. The real issue is not that if you are under 30 then you must go for six months without receiving any income support or that it is your problem and not the government's. The real issue is that jobs are disappearing under this government. The real issue is that this government has a one-sided approach to addressing unemployment, and that is to punish those people who lose their jobs and those people who are unemployed.
This is once again driven by the government's ideology of attacking those people in the community who are least able to look after themselves. It is driven by their ideology of attacking the sick, the poor and working families; cutting pensions and attacking seniors; and ripping funds, as I have mentioned, from groups that support those people who look to government to support them. This government has no new ideas, just this harsh ideological approach to governing Australia. This harsh approach has no idea whatsoever; it is directed towards inflicting the greatest amount of hurt upon people.
You might ask: what is the Labor Party's approach to this? It is very, very different indeed. We do not think that you attack those people that can least afford it. We believe that some of those multinational companies out there should contribute a lot more towards the welfare and the budget in Australia. We have a plan that will bring in $1.9 billion in revenue, as opposed to the Abbott government's attack on families, the sick, the poor and the seniors in our country. At the same time, our plan will provide $45 million more than the combination of this government's attacks on Australians. It is not broken promises and it is not the lack of vision; it is the hurt that this government is causing.
Why should a company such as James Hardie have a tax advantage over other Australians? We believe that loopholes should be closed so that large multinational companies stop sending profits overseas and avoid paying their taxes. That is fair. That is ensuring that the big companies and multinational companies contribute to our country. That is what Australians want. They want to see that it is not just ordinary, average Australians that become the lifters. We want to see some of those supporters of the government do a little bit of heavy lifting.
I find these budget papers extremely disappointing and I urge members to go back to their electorates and talk to their— (Time expired)
I rise tonight in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-15 and cognate bills. In doing so, I would like to share with the House some of the very positive economic activity taking place in the outer suburbs of Western Sydney. So much work has been done with regard to the innovation corridor—a corridor of smart jobs that will not only create new and emerging industries but will also create the jobs, and the smart jobs, of tomorrow.
As it stands today, Western Sydney suffers with job deficits of anywhere between 180,000 and 220,000 jobs. The Penrith Business Alliance further estimates that two-thirds of the region are forced to commute every single day to work—that is about 65,000 people. Most of these people make the trip by car along the M4 to their place of employment. This daily commute, this exodus from the region, can take anywhere between two to four hours a day. Let us think of the damage to our local economy done by this leakage of people leaving our town every single day and the disruption to all of those families, not to mention the immense effect that it has on our nation's productivity.
I am proud to be part of a government that has a vision for Western Sydney, that has a vision for our nation and one that is getting on with the job of delivering that vision. In January, I was very honoured to host the Treasurer. First, I took him to a suburb called Jordan Springs—one of seven new housing developments going up within my electorate at this point in time
This development was awarded the prestigious 2014 best master-planned development in NSW by the Urban Development Institute of Australia. It is developments like Jordan Springs that have driven economic growth in New South Wales from last in our country to the state performing best in our country.
Later I took the Treasurer to meet local business innovators and they discussed with him the amazing opportunities they saw for Western Sydney. One particular opportunity is that of the Sydney Science Park—a 287 hectare mixed use development in Luddenham. As its vision statement clearly says, Sydney Science Park will be a new centre of excellence in the key growth areas of food security, energy and health. This internationally recognised epicentre for research and development will employ 12,200 professionals, educate 10,000 students and provide quality residences and infrastructure to cater for them. Spread across 287 hectares in the growing Western Sydney region, Sydney Science Park will be home to the Baiada laboratories, the research and development arm of one of Australia's largest privately owned food groups. By bringing together the industry's best and brightest, this multibillion dollar precinct will help drive growth, productivity and competitiveness across the food and agribusiness sector.
This development will bring together thousands of jobs and scientific minds to study some of our agricultural industries. Over and above the value of the land, the Baiada group are pledging to invest in the vicinity of $2.5 billion into our region. This private investment further complements the $3.6 billion investment the federal government, together with the New South Wales Baird government, is investing in the roads of the 21st century. These roads will improve the vital arteries that connect our regions. In my electorate of Lindsay, this will include the widening of Northern Road and Elizabeth Drive, and there will be improvements to Bringelly Road in the electorate of Macarthur.
This is very exciting news for the people of Western Sydney. I am proud to be part of a government that is delivering for the people I represent. In February I was honoured to host the foreign minister. We oversaw the beginning of the development of the Sydney IQ medical research park in Werrington, a location where already $28million has been made available by the federal government and the University of Western Sydney. This soon to be Sydney IQ business park will be home to 450 new jobs. Thanks to the work of the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, the member for Mayo, the coalition government has further provided a consignment loan of $70 million to the New South Wales state government to immediately commence works on the Werrington Arterial—a vital piece of infrastructure that will provide a link to Sydney IQ, ultimately delivering 6,000 jobs to this region in medical research and technology. How can you not be excited by this? I have already mentioned 12,000 jobs, and now there are another 6,000 jobs—directly out of the policies of this government.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs in opposition worked hard on the free trade agreements that were ultimately delivered by the current Minister for Trade and Investment. These free trade agreements have had a massive impact; we are seeing the first fruits of these labours growing and coming to life in the electorate. Later in the month I will be honoured to have the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is in the chamber tonight, come and visit the electorate of Lindsay. He will meet a delegation of Chinese businessmen who are coming to Lindsay to see how they can further be part of this emerging services industry so these services can then be provided back to China. This is exciting news for Western Sydney, this is exciting news for Australians, and it is exciting to see so many members of our executive getting on board and working hard to deliver smart jobs for tomorrow.
Under the free trade agreement the University of Western Sydney have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Beijing University of Medical Research whereby the University of Western Sydney will be working to accredit and do all of the research trials on Chinese medicines. Globally, this is a $170 billion industry. This is where Western Sydney can really carve a niche for itself. An initial injection of $20 million from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine will establish a world-leading centre in traditional medicines and will provide the catalyst to get the accreditation facility up and running. Penrith council reports a staggering average of $100 million in development proposals coming across its desk every month as people see the potential in investing in this thriving region. At the other end of it, we also have to look at the commitments from this government to ensure that we make this all possible.
Only a few weeks ago I was honoured to host the Prime Minister in the electorate of Lindsay. We went out to Castlereagh, where we met with hundreds of local people who were wanting to meet and shake the hand of the Australian Prime Minister. We looked from Castlereagh across the Penrith Lakes scheme, a 200 hectare site that was once the Castlereagh quarries that provided in the vicinity of 70 to 80 per cent of all the sand for Sydney developments over the last 50 years. This land reeks of opportunity. Within the next six to 18 months this land will be handed back to the New South Wales state government and together with the state department of planning and the state department of sport and the Penrith council we are now developing a plan that will develop this crucial region.
I think I have clearly demonstrated how this government is focused on the people of Western Sydney and is clearly focused on delivering growth, jobs and opportunity for all Australians. But the work does not stop there. Let us discuss WestConnex, Australia's largest urban road project—one that will ease congestion by allowing those travelling east from Penrith into the city to bypass 52 sets of traffic lights. It will provide 10,000 jobs to the people of inner Western Sydney. But it does not stop with WestConnex. What about NorthConnex? How many people in the region dread Pennant Hills Road—the pain of Pennant Hills Road—particularly as people travel up into the Central Coast for their summer holidays? NorthConnex will allow a bypass of Pennant Hills Road. I am sure that the member for Parramatta, who is also here tonight, would also like to see a bypass of Pennant Hills Road; it would also very much benefit the community in Parramatta. These are projects of vision—projects that will get the outer Western Sydney suburbs moving. The coalition government is working together at both state and federal levels. No longer will the people of Western Sydney be taken for granted, and no longer will they be left behind. I believe we have the opportunity to lead the world.
With all this development, I am also acutely aware of the spectacular and beautiful bushland that we in Western Sydney are custodians of; in particular, the Cumberland Plain Woodland, a critically endangered habitat. With so much development, we must carefully manage the competing priorities in order to care for this bushland. I would also like to applaud the efforts and the work of the Minister for Environment, not only for his long and consistent support but also, more to the point, his belief in protecting our native bushland. I would also like to record the work of so many local conservationists, including Wayne Olling, Lisa Harrold, and Geoff Brown; and Indigenous groups like Muru Mittigar, Kevin Kavanagh, and the Deerubbin Local Aboriginal Land Council—all working together to protect our bushland and to preserve our Indigenous heritage. Working with all of these local environmental stakeholders, the Minister for Environment is delivering 10 Green Army projects over the next four years. Together with land acquisitions, these projects are designed to build the connectivity of the Cumberland Conservation Corridor, a strategic arc of a natural corridor that will link flora and fauna, so that we can preserve what is so special and unique about our region. This is a vitally important project. Some of the areas earmarked still have platypus populations, while a number of creek lines are recognised as extremely rare examples of pristine environments which link back to pre-colonisation and into our Indigenous heritage. There is still so much work to be done in this space. I call on the state government to ensure that all biodiversity credits created—from all of the development right across Western Sydney—stay in Western Sydney. My own opinion is that I would love to see those credits invested into the Cumberland Conservation Corridor.
I am very pleased to confirm that there will be 10 Green Army projects in Lindsay—another excellent government initiative for which the minister for environment and heritage must be congratulated. There are only 350 projects awarded around the country, so receiving 10 within Lindsay is an amazing achievement. Almost all of them will be focused on restoring, where possible, the integrity of the remnant of the Cumberland Plain bushland. Some of the work will be carried out in conjunction with other groups in the area, like the Indigenous enterprise group Muru Mittigar, a well-respected cultural Indigenous centre for the local region. They will run nurseries, including the propagation of plants as well as seedlings, and they will roll out the projects. But here is the best news: Muru Mittigar say that at the end of the project they are aiming for a 90-per-cent employment rate for all the participants of their Green Army projects.
Western Sydney has one of the largest Aboriginal populations in the country and—as we have spoken about with the Close the gap report just a few weeks ago—providing Aboriginal employment is absolutely crucial. Working with the Green Army on this sort of project—a project that will deliver a 90-per-cent employment rate at the end of the project—is a noble cause for Muru Mittigar, and I applaud Peter Chia and the team at Muru for what they are doing. We are not only investing in keeping the green lungs of Western Sydney healthy; this is also a program of investing in jobs. And Muru Mittigar has the runs on the board to secure such a remarkable outcome. Since they began, Muru Mittigar has placed over 1,000 local Indigenous Australians into ongoing work and full-time work. That is an impressive record by anyone's standards. My interest in doing my bit for the economy is—along with the plan outlined by the Penrith Business Alliance—to create a further 40,000 jobs in Lindsay over the coming two decades.
On the coffee table in my electorate office, I have a brochure, circa 1960 or 1970. It is a detailed vision for what our forefathers thought was possible for our region. For 30 or 40 years, the vision pretty much stayed idle. But today, with this coalition government, we are seeing a vision and a life come to fruition. I would like to congratulate and thank my community and this government for delivering for the people of Western Sydney. (Time expired)
These bills, the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and related bills, expose the Abbott government's mismanagement of the Australian economy, its poor financial management, and the disastrous effects that its misguided policies are having on the budget's bottom line. The Abbott government's financial strategy is indeed in tatters, its budget is a mess, and its attempts to blame Labor for that mess are wearing thin. The Abbott government has now been in office for nearly 18 months It is halfway through its first term, and it is ready to bring down its second budget—it still has not got its last budget through the parliament, and it still does not wish to claim any responsibility whatsoever for the nation's deteriorating financial position. How long can a government continue to remain in office and claim no responsibility for the state of its budget? Can I suggest to members opposite that, whilst they are continuing with that spin, it is not being accepted by people out there in the community who, after this government handed down its budget nearly a year ago, said: 'It is now up to the government of the day to take responsibility for the nation' economy.' And yet the government will not do that. It is clear that this government has lost control of its budget.
According to a media report released in the last couple of hours by Peter Martin and Gareth Hutchens, the government has spent $380,000 on focus groups to test reactions to this week's Intergenerational Report. The government has money to spend on focus groups but then cuts every last penny from community groups around this country and justifies that by saying that we have budget crisis, a budget disaster, intergenerational theft and other constant spin lines that I hear each and every day in this chamber from the Treasurer and members of the government.
When the Abbott government was elected the independent, Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook projected a $24 billion deficit in 2014-15. I understand that deficit has now blown out by $16.4 billion, again according to the Abbott government's Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook—that is after taking into account all the cuts this government has implemented in the meantime. I further understand that, according to the government's own forward estimates, the deficit will blow out by $44 billion. It is the government's own policies that have brought the budget to this very position—policies that have caused a loss of confidence throughout the country and in turn a fall in government tax revenue and an increase in government expenditure. Tax revenue falls when businesses do not invest, when businesses close, when more people are unemployed or working fewer hours or are only working part-time. Conversely, welfare costs increase when more people are unemployed. Business confidence also falls when businesses see savage cuts to government departments and a government in disarray, as we see each and every day.
This is a government that simply denies the obvious and continues to perpetuate the spin that it was elected with—that is, the scare campaign that it ran about debt and deficit at the last election. That scare campaign has now caused the government to box itself into a corner through its own dishonesty. It is a government that thinks that every difficult situation can be fixed by cutting government funding or washing its hands of government responsibility. This is the flawed ideology of the extreme right-wing ideologues who have taken control of the Abbott government. This is a government that foolishly believes that austerity measures work, and it is too blind to see the damage already being done by the Abbott government's cuts after 18 months in office.
The bills appropriate an additional $1.7 billion to pay for the policies, election promises and blunders of the Abbott government. It is $1.7 billion of additional debt that arises solely from Abbott government decisions and expenditure incurred on the Abbott government's watch. It is $1.7 billion of expenditure after taking into account savage cuts to the ABC, to family payments, $11.3 billion of cuts to foreign aid—to mention just a few areas. Whilst the Abbott government adds $1.7 billion to government expenditure, it simultaneously squeezes more money out of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society under the guise that it has inherited a budget crisis. I spoke only today of $270 million that has been cut from some of the most valuable community organisations that provide essential front line services across this country.
Whilst the government tells one story to voters—painting a picture of a country burdened with debt and need for austerity measures—it tells a different story to the rest of the world in its Australian Trade Commission report, where the real state of the Australian economy is revealed. Amongst the findings, the Trade Commission report states that over the past 23 years, Australia's economy has achieved real GDP average growth of 3.3 per cent per annum and Australia is the only developed country to have recorded no annual recession over this 23-year period. Australia's forecast economic growth rate between 2015 and 2019 is the highest amongst the major advanced economies. At $1.5 trillion Australia's economy is forecast to be the 13th largest in the world in 2015. Even during the global financial crisis years, the Australian economy continued to grow at a rate of 2.7 per cent—higher than many other developed countries—though members opposite continually forget that the last Labor government presided over the global financial crisis and managed it well. That is exactly why it grew by 2.7 per cent throughout those years. Were it not for the policies of the previous Labor government we would not have the statistics that I have just mentioned—statistics which the government likes to use when they are talking to people in other countries about the strength of the Australian economy.
When we look at key economic indices, notably productivity levels of 16 out of 20 Australian industries rated above the average productivity of global competitors in the same sector. In particular, there was strong productivity growth of 1.9 per cent in 2012-13 and 2.6 per cent in 2013-14. Over the last 23 years of consecutive growth, labour productivity has recorded a compound growth rate of 1.8 per cent, while real unit labour costs have fallen by 0.5 per cent each year. In other words, in all of those years, productivity in this country continued to grow. Those statistics completely contradict the Abbott government's spin about the need to improve productivity by cutting back on workers' wages, conditions and entitlements. We see that time and time again in this chamber: members opposite come in and talk about the need for industrial reform. What they are really saying is that there is a need to cut the wages, conditions and entitlements of our workers in order to boost productivity. The truth of the matter is that Australia rates very highly in comparisons of productivity with the rest of the world. I am pleased to see that, at least in their published documents that they give to other countries, the Abbott government acknowledge the true state of affairs with respect to that.
The most notable statistic in the report is that in 2015 Australian government debt is forecast to be 16.6 per cent of GDP. That figure compares with 74 per cent for the Euro area advanced economies, 80.9 per cent for the USA, 39.1 per cent for Canada and 27.2 per cent for New Zealand. Even New Zealand, which has the closest rate, is at almost twice the rate of Australia in terms of its debt ratio.
The coalition government's dishonest spin about government debt, blown out by its own inflated figures, simply does not stand up to scrutiny. We hear the Treasurer every day come into this chamber and talk about the huge debt that this country has—I have no idea nor have I been able to ascertain where these figures have come from.
The debt crisis is being used to mask the coalition government's own incompetence and to justify its savage cuts on Australia's lowest income earners; to cut higher education funding; to dismantle Medicare; to cut $878 million of funding to research and science; to cut $80 billion to schools and hospitals; to change the indexation of pensions; and to cut Newstart payments to 26 weeks for under-30-year-olds. I could go on and on about the cuts made by this government since coming to office.
In its spin on debt and deficit, the coalition government constantly refers to intergenerational theft and the debt that is being left to future generations. I suggest that it will be a much greater debt left to those generations if you cut funding to our health and education systems and if you cut funding to those areas which create jobs and employment for the people of this country, which is exactly what this government is doing. This is a budget driven by the same misguided right-wing ideology that you will find in other capitalist countries around the world, and which is proven to have failed—an ideology of cutting taxes of higher income earners, cutting essential government expenditure, cutting wages and labour costs and cutting social payments. This results in your own citizens having less money to spend and being less able to maintain a stable economy. Then the government desperately attempts to find new markets by entering into poorly negotiated free trade agreements in order to boost income in the country.
Driving down wages through so-called deregulation and cutting government expenditure does not work, as several countries have already found out from experience. Nor can policies of one country be simply applied in another, as each country has distinctive characteristics and distinctive strengths and weaknesses which dictate how particular policy settings will play out. The effects of these policies are already becoming clear, despite the spin and fudging of the figures by Treasurer Hockey.
Unemployment is the highest it has been since mid-2002—that is, for over a decade. Even worse, the underutilisation rate is now nearly 15 per cent and, as Tim Colebatch points out in an excellent analysis of unemployment trends in 2014, for every new 100 adults added to the Australian population workforce, only 46 new jobs were created and, of those, only 28 were full time. Underemployment and unemployment reduce people's spending ability and, not surprisingly, retailers are experiencing some of their worst results, with retail sales growing by a weak 0.2 per cent in the month of December.
Reducing Newstart payments when there simply are no jobs is the heartless policy of highly paid ministers and multimillion dollar earning private sector executives who would have no idea what it is like to try and live on $38 a day. Just as foolishly, it causes the economy and government finances to go in the wrong direction, to which the government's response is then more austerity. For example, under this government unemployment has risen by over 75,000 people across the country. If all of those people were on Newstart, the cost to taxpayers would be about a billion dollars a year. That is without factoring into account the lost tax revenue and other social costs that they might otherwise be entitled to. It would have cost the government far less to have supported the car makers of this country than to chase them out of Australia and now pay the unemployment benefits that arise and the other ongoing social costs.
This is a budget that, as I said from the outset, is in tatters. The government has indeed lost control of its budget, and its spin is also wearing thin for the Australian people. This legislation is testimony to the fact that the Treasurer has lost control of his budget. It ought to be condemned for what it is. I support the amendment moved by the shadow minister on our side, and say to members opposite, 'Stop trying to spin lines to the Australian people—they are simply not accepting it.'
An interesting thing occurred a month or so ago, when the people of Greece, in the majority, elected a government that stood on an anti-austerity platform. I think there were large numbers of people around the world who were a little incredulous at that outcome. This was not because we do not have great affection for the Greeks. We do—we recognise Greece as the birthplace of civilisation and democratic government in many respects. But the thing that struck as passing strange was that for a country that was so fiscally challenged, for a country so beset with debt and deficit, the majority of Greek people actually elected a government that said, 'We can ignore the financial challenges we have. The pathway forward is more spending. Sure—as a country, Greece is absolutely up to its eyeballs in debt, but don't worry—we'll spend our way out of it, we'll borrow more money and we'll go forward more strongly than ever before.'
Anyone who has dealt with debt—be it a personal loan, be it credit card debt, be it a mortgage, or perhaps on a larger scale, be it in an enterprise or be it in government—recognises the folly of that approach. But that is not to say that there is not a certain siren song to that message. That is not to say that there is not a false attractiveness about being told when times are tough, 'Look, things don't need to be this tough. You're the victim here. You need to recognise that you don't actually have to undertake any of the financial hard work that goes with the circumstances you are facing but rather you can just wait and ask for more money, ask for more time or ask for others to do the heavy lifting when you yourself don't want to do it.' Instinctively, it is attractive. It is an attractive thing to say to someone who is burdened by a problem, be it financial or be it being overweight. I am overweight. If somebody said to me, 'Steve, you don't need to worry about the hard work that goes with making the right meal choices or exercising. She'll be right. We'll do it another way,' instinctively, it would be attractive. That is precisely what happened in Greece.
This is the same siren song that we hear from the Australian Labor Party today. I have seen Labor members stand up in this chamber in this debate around the appropriation bills and the budget and say how the Australian people have been unfairly punished, and I have heard Australian Labor Party members explain to people that it is quite okay because Australia's debt-to-GDP ratio is not that bad in the grand scheme of things—'Hell, compared to Greece we look fantastic! Compared to Japan, you would say Australia never looked better.' You hear Labor members make this claim but if you know something about the history of this nation you know that our low debt-to-GDP ratio has nothing to do with the Australian Labor Party.
The former Labor government in six short years took us from $50 billion in savings to a pathway where we were approaching $667 billion of anticipated peak debt. Why? It was not because of any financial management on the part of the Australian Labor Party, no. The Labor Party just ran around and said that, pretty much, people could have whatever they wanted. That was their political formula for success. It was to not say no at any stage but just to say yes—'If economic times are tough, rundown the assets, go into debt, borrow more money and say to the Australian people, "But we are doing it for a good reason. It's to save Australia from the GFC."'
They made promises about $80 billion of spending on health and education. They pushed it out beyond the forward years, beyond the budget estimates, into the out years so that they could say of their great vision, 'Look at us: we're the wonderful Australian Labor Party. We are going to put all this extra money into health spending. Don't worry, Aussie kids. We'll look after you. We're the Australian Labor Party and these are Labor values.' That is the kind of rhetoric that we hear from the Australian Labor Party. Day in and day out, it is the same old broken refrain. They say to Australian children, 'We've got your back, kids. It's all right. We're going to invest in your future.' But the money is never on the table. The money is always beyond the forward estimates.
When I went to see school projects in my electorate when Labor were in government and I would see some Labor senator standing there, chest puffed out, crowing about Labor's great vision under the Building the Education Revolution, I would turn around to the students, parents or teachers who were there and say, 'I hope you enjoy this facility. I genuinely do.' I do hope they enjoy the facility that they paid for because they are going to paying off that facility for the next 20 or 30 years. Children in grade 6 will be paying off Labor's debt to build that school hall for 20 or 30 years. So I hope they enjoy those facilities because they are going to be paying for them for a very long time.
Labor says, 'Don't worry about the debt-to-GDP ratios. Australia's is low.' That is just because of the fortitude of the previous coalition government which for 12 years worked and scrimped and saved to make sure that we paid down Labor's debt from last time to zero. Labor members say, 'Oh, no. It was the rivers of gold.' There is always a convenient excuse when you are in the Australian Labor Party. You must get it when you sign up. You must get your membership form and then get a book of excuses. Labor say, 'But it was the rivers of gold.' They conveniently ignore the fact that the terms of trade were better under the Australian Labor Party than they ever were under the coalition. If you want to talk about rivers of gold, the rivers of gold never ran so wide or so deep as they did when Labor was in power, and yet Labor still managed to spend tens of billions of dollars more money than they were able to recoup in revenue.
I can very comfortably say not only to my children but to other Australian children, 'I will never succumb to the temptation to tell you just what you want to hear.' Rather, I was elected into this chamber to stand up for what I know to be right, to reject a failed so-called pragmatic approach that says to future generations, 'We will steal off you to pay for today's spending.' That is Labor's approach. That is the Greens approach. That is the Palmer United approach. But it will not be the coalition's approach. I will never be part of a government that says to future generations, 'It is our right to put you in a worse position than we want to live in today.' Thank heavens our forefathers never did that. Thank heavens past generations of Australians never succumbed to the lazy, sloppy approach of the Australian Labor Party that says, 'Ah, she'll be right. You can pay it back in the future.' We have had bouts of that approach. Thankfully, they have been shallow bouts. But it was the coalition that did the heavy lifting to make sure that we paid down that debt back to zero.
If you want to see what happens when you adopt Labor's approach, look at the United States's debt-to-GDP ratio. Look at Japan's debt-to-GDP ratio. Look at Europe's debt-to-GDP ratio. Look at what happens when countries box themselves into a fiscal corner, where debt and deficit is so bad that unemployment spikes to 25 per cent, 27 per cent or 28 per cent in southern European countries. Look at what happens when countries get themselves into a situation like the situation Greece got itself into, because that is precisely where this nation will end up if we adopt Labor's policy pragmatism. That is precisely where this country will end up if we follow, to the logical conclusion, Labor's approach that says that we do not need to worry about fiscal discipline.
I readily concede that Labor's approach makes them more electorally popular. Sure, it is easy to be Santa Claus. It is easy to say to people, 'You can have whatever you want.' It is easy to run around the country saying, 'We're opposed to reductions in education and health'—even though, incidentally, that is not real, because they were always in the so-called out-years.
The Labor Party runs around saying, 'We're appalled by reductions in foreign aid spending.' They run around saying, 'We don't like what is happening in terms of defence. We don't like the reductions in the motorcar industry. We don't like that there have been changes made to industry policy. We don't like that there have been changes proposed to Medicare. We don't like that there are proposed changes in relation to Welfare to Work.' All these things Labor is opposed to but, unfortunately, there is a price tag attached to every single one of them.
The hypocrisy is laid bare when you consider that the Australian Labor Party today is still opposing billions of dollars worth of savings that Labor themselves announced. They announced them, they booked them as savings, and now they stand opposed to them in the Senate. Australians know that that is rank hypocrisy of the type that they have come to expect over the years from the Australian Labor Party.
I am proud to be part of a government that is involved in prudent decision-making and prudent investment. I am proud to be part of a government that does not tell people what they want to hear, but rather gives them the state of play as it actually is. We still have very significant challenges. We know that the budget deficit is still in the order of $30 billion or $40 billion. These are not insubstantial amounts of money; these are significant amounts of money, and they represent very real challenges.
There are still an array of important projects that this government has been able to fund out of the existing budget. And I am certainly pleased that the Gold Coast, Australia's sixth largest city, has been a beneficiary of a number of measures in the budget—reasonable measures; measures that are sustainable; measures that are funded appropriately; measures that are important because they meet priorities of the people that I represent. The city has been the beneficiary, for example, of road funding, CCTV, Green Army projects, and even Commonwealth Games funding. These are important projects that matter to my electorate. They are projects that, sure, would be considered by some to be modest. But they are important projects because they make a difference to people's standard of living and they make a difference to the productivity of our city.
I am not going to stand up and make lofty claims about what a coalition government will be able to fund and be able to do. We have to live within our means. That is priority No. 1 for any government. The appropriation debate that we are having tonight really encapsulates the difference between this side of the parliament and Labor's side of the parliament. We will take the necessary action to make sure, as a country, that we live within our means and that we put downward pressure, over the medium to long term, on Australia's debt-to-GDP ratio and the level of debt and deficit. I cannot, in good faith, allow policy settings that see us borrowing $100 million a day, allow a situation where we spend $1 billion a month of borrowed money to pay interest on the debt that Labor left behind—forecast to reach $2.8 billion a month. That is $2.8 billion a month of interest repayments—borrowed money, every last dollar of it—to pay for the failed policies of the former Labor government.
So, I am pleased that the coalition is prepared to take hard decisions—sometimes unpopular decisions—that are in our national interest because they put as on a pathway to sustainability. We will make changes that are appropriate to reflect what we need to do in order to get reforms through the Senate, but the fundamental problem remains that the Labor Party, the Greens and members of the crossbench remain obstinate in their opposition to the tough but fair decisions that we have to make. There is no greater equity—not one!—in the life of any country than for one generation to leave the nation in a stronger position to the generation that follows it. That is something that Labor rejects but it is something I and the coalition will always embrace, and that underpins our policy approach, always.
I think we have just seen one of the big problems in the debate on the economy at the moment, in that we have a government, which, on the one hand, is supposedly proud of its budget and proud of its appropriation bills, but which still thinks that the thing to do is to spend 15 minutes—in a rather biased way, I would have to say—attacking the opposition.
Every time I gave a speech in a debates on appropriation bills when we were in government, I always enjoyed speaking about the achievements of the government, and what was in those bills because I was very proud of them. As a nation, we want to address what are quite serious budget challenges. I do agree with the previous speaker in relation to that because there are changes in the world—including changes in the countries with which we trade and changes in the way that Australia earns its revenue—that have to be addressed. But we will not be able to address those serious challenges if the economic debate gets down to the level that we just heard from the government speaker—and not just because of the inaccuracies, which were all over it, but simply because they are very hard issues and there needs to be a level of truth and civility when we deal with them.
I want to speak today about the latest quarterly Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry small business survey, which came out earlier this week. It is a survey established over 18 years ago which examines the business conditions of firms employing fewer than 20 people. People on both sides of this House recognise how important businesses of that size are. That is where our innovation comes from. That is where the pure research, the early stages of R&D, come from. That is where the break-out ideas come from. Small businesses are also the driver of so many of our communities—the local fruit shop and the local drycleaner, as well as our most innovative companies. They are incredibly important, and we all agree on that.
This survey is particularly robust. It is quite extensive in its scope, and the report is quite detailed. But a number of the results in the survey are really quite worrying, and both sides of this House should worry about them. The media statement for the survey says:
… small business experienced painful trading conditions in the December quarter, with all indicators except for wages and other labour costs in contractionary territory.
"Some small comfort can be taken from the fact that the selling prices, profits, employment and investment indexes all rose, but they all remain mired in negative territory.
It also says:
The index of Expected Economic Performance fell markedly for the fourth consecutive quarter—
and that is perhaps the most significant part because that is the indication of how businesses feel about the future, about the next year and the year after that—
and has now been below a 50 reading for three quarters—
that is, in a row. It also reveals that small businesses are expecting future decreases in profits, employment, overtime, investment and selling prices. There are bits of good news in this survey as well. Once you go into it, you find little bits of hope here and there. But that is the story, overwhelmingly, in the media statement and, as you read the report, that is the thing that comes across, overwhelmingly—that small businesses, businesses with fewer than 20 people, believe these are very tough times and things will not improve.
I talk to business a lot. I come from a business background and I spend a lot of time talking to my local businesses, and they have known that something was wrong for quite some time. There has been a sense of unease for probably a year and, in the entrepreneurial sectors, almost despair that things are not moving. They keep looking to the government, they are expecting something from the government that is actually about growth and they are seeing very, very little of it. They see no sense of direction and no commitment to the future. There is also incredible uncertainty in a range of sectors, which is largely inflicted by the government and the piecemeal, almost knee-jerk, way it approaches the development of policy.
We live in a world of incredible opportunity. Our neighbours to the north are growing rapidly. The world both shrinks and expands at the same time. As we get closer together in terms of the capacity of technology, as businesses start to move across borders, as services move freely across borders, the world shrinks; and, when it shrinks, the opportunities expand like an explosion. The opportunities just expand every time the world gets smaller because of its connectedness. And the entrepreneurs of the world know it. The entrepreneurs in our suburbs and in our communities know it, and they are looking for leadership from the government to see what we are capable of, where our prosperity will come from. The only time we hear the government talk about 2050 is when they talk about how much the pension will cost. That is the only time you hear them talk about it. You do not hear them talk about where our prosperity will come from. You do not hear them talking about what the opportunities are, what the new markets are.
You can bet that even the competition review, which we expect to come down shortly, will deal with the competition between existing businesses and existing markets. You can bet it will not talk about this incredible expanding world, this explosion of opportunity, and how Australia competes in that. Similarly, when the Intergenerational report comes down, you can bet that it will extend who we are now, our current expertise, our current sources of revenue and our current areas of enterprise into the future. You can bet that it will not say where our prosperity is going to come from as businesses, where our country is going to generate its revenue and how we get from here to there.
One of the things that particularly concern me about this government is in the area of education, especially when we are talking about 2050. We know, for example, that our skills and capacity as a nation are actually in decline relative to the rest of the world. We know that from the reports on science, technology, engineering and maths, from the incredibly detailed studies of how Australia compares to the rest of the world in those areas, and we know that we are slipping—and we have been slipping for some time, under various previous governments. The blame can be sheeted home to both sides of this House over many, many years for the fact that we are falling behind in those areas and, in particular, falling behind in those areas relative to the rest of the world.
The natural advantage that we had because we inherited an extraordinary education system from our, essentially, British forebears and then, more recently, from many of our skilled migrants. We inherited a very, very well educated population and a way of educating others. But, over time, our competing neighbours, particularly to the north, who are now growing so fast, have been catching up and in some areas they are actually ahead of us. In the major cities of China, like Shanghai, a 16-year-old is already a few years ahead of our 16-year-olds in maths. We are already falling behind.
Yet we are not having a discussion in this House about how you invest in the future capacity of Australians. We are not having that debate, and we should be. We should be realising that a 35-year-old in 2050—a person who, arguably, might then be coming to the end of their highly creative input because the world will be moving so fast—is someone born this year; and the first two years of life, where a child learns so fast, is a bigger indicator of the success of that child at school and at university than any other period of their life. Yet we are not discussing that at all here.
We are not talking about how you prepare a population for the world that we are moving into now, a world of incredibly rapid change and a world where we no longer have the advantage that we inherited. We have done very well with it; we have an education system which teaches people to think. It is an education system that our neighbours to the north are now trying to copy because their education systems have not taught people to think. We are incredibly creative and we teach people to think for themselves and think independently in our education system, and that is a great advantage. It is a great advantage, but it is an advantage which will fade as we are copied, as other nations come in and take our expertise and recreate it in their own schools.
We should be having very, very real conversations about the budget issues. We should not be talking just about government revenue, which the government seems to focus on a great deal. It seems to think that the only way to deal with the revenue-expenditure issue for a government is to cut spending, particularly to lower income and less advantaged people. But we are not having a discussion about how you actually raise the nation's revenue. Where does the revenue come from? We seem still to be a nation that is talking about mining, about what we dig out of the ground and what we grow in the ground. We sell it overseas, raise taxes from that and reduce taxes for our population, and they spend the money and buy bigger houses—and so it goes around. But we are not standing in this House talking about how we can encourage our small businesses and our big businesses—particularly our small businesses, because they are better at it—to innovate in this rapidly changing world and to link our innovation to the innovation that is happening around the world. As the rest of the world shrinks and you find innovators getting together and working together across borders, we are not even having that debate in this House. We are not having a debate about the fact that Australia is one of the worst performing countries in the OECD in spending on innovation and R&D. We did not get to that point in a short period of time. We actually got that way, with bits of ups and downs, through various governments. I could argue that we are better than you, but it is beyond that. We are now one of the worst performing countries in the world in innovation and R&D. Innovation and R&D is what will drive national revenue, and we are not doing it. We are incredibly poor. When you talk to successful businesses, relative to struggling businesses, one of the key things that a successful business will tell you is restraining their growth is access to capital, particularly access to venture capital. The struggling businesses tend to tell you it is red tape and government, but for the businesses that are doing very well that is low down on their list, and they will tell you that venture capital is a major issue.
When we are talking about budgets, appropriations and budget issues we cannot simply have a discussion about where you cut. We cannot have just that conversation, although we do have to have that conversation. We lived in the Howard years during one of the biggest booms the world had seen in probably 100 years. Countries all over the world boomed, as did we. By the time the Howard government lost office we had the eighth-lowest debt in the world. We did reasonably well at paying off debt and had the eighth-lowest debt in the developed world. But during that time a lot of the boom money was spent on middle-class welfare and in tax cuts. There were decisions made then and in the government that followed that put us in a position where we cannot have a budget discussion that talks just about cuts. We cannot. We have to have a discussion that talks about where a country's prosperity comes from. It comes from its people and from its innovators and it needs a government that recognises its role in leading that debate, in finding the areas we have not even been yet. It needs a government that does not consider that when you look at the strengths of the Australian economy you look only at the things that we were good at last week. You cannot do that; the world is changing too fast. When you look at the areas that the government chose to prioritise you see it was mining and mining technology and it was agriculture. It was things that we already know we are good at.
In my community three of the most successful businesses around manufacture, in large manufacturing plants in suburbs like Rydalmere, dietary supplements which they sell to China. They sell them to China because Australia is known as a country that knows how to be safe. It knows how to produce a safe product of high quality. That alone is valuable. There are countries around the world that are adopting our standards holus-bolus but not importing our skills. They are not importing our skills, because we have a government that does not recognise that quality and standards are actually a valuable commodity in their own right and not only make our goods exportable but make our people and services exportable.
We have an enormous amount to talk about when we are talking about prosperity in this nation. We have an enormous amount to talk about when we are talking about bringing a budget back into balance over its cycle. Over a cycle you need to do that. We have an enormous amount to talk about, but as long as we have a government that is willing only to cut and to cut the most vulnerable, and as long as we have government members who simply want to stand up here, in their opportunity to talk about the future, about budgets, about growth and about prosperity, and spend their entire time taking shots at the previous government in slightly, in some cases extremely, exaggerated ways we are going to get nowhere.
I strongly urge the government to lift its gaze, to consider the full range of options and to stop this nonsense of saying that this cut is the only way it can be done, that the only way we can bring the budget back to surplus is to cut this particular group of people and that if you do not do it your evil and do not understand and are turning us into Greece. Not only is it nonsense but it really does not help. Lift your gaze, be a government and support the very people in our community who will make this country prosper.
I too rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and cognate bills and to take note of some of the comments that the member for Parramatta made. I was able also to catch the end of the speech made by the member for Moncrieff. I heartily endorse and echo the statements he made during the final five minutes of his speech. The member for Parramatta spoke about enabling small business and helping with funding for small businesses. I remember that during the 2007 election campaign, when I was first elected, I was taken to a technology park in my electorate. There were some fledgling businesses there who were funded by a program called Commercial Ready. Do you know what happened to that program, Member for Parramatta? It was scrapped by the new Labor government. The Rudd Labor government scrapped the Commercial Ready program, and two of those businesses that were in my electorate of Swan went to Singapore and got funded in Singapore. Why doesn't the member for Parramatta remember what her government did when it was in power, instead of trying to tell us that we are not doing the job of looking after small business?
I am pleased to join with my colleagues in endorsing the important funding measures before the House, which will help ensure the government continues to meet important obligations to all Australian people, no matter their race, religion or socioeconomic status. One of these prime obligations is the protection of their safety at our borders and in our communities. I say that this is one of the government's primary obligations and coalition governments throughout Australia's history have been recognised by the Australian people for taking this very seriously and for being proactive in developing policies that appropriately meet this obligation.
In my electorate of Swan, protecting our borders, law and order have consistently been two of the top issues raised with me since I was elected to this place in 2007. They are the top issues not because my constituents walk through Swan and constantly feel unsafe but because they understand that without law and order on our streets then this is exactly how they would and unashamedly should feel. It is also because they know that if our border protection officers were not preventing drugs and weapons from hitting our streets by diligently screening every person and every piece of mail that arrives in our country, then again their safety would be compromised.
It is for these reasons that I unreservedly endorse the approval of additional appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund that are being sought in the cognate appropriation bills before the House, as they seek to further bolster the protection of Australians through a range of measures. This includes $558 million being directed to the Department of Defence for overseas operations, because—unlike those opposite—the coalition government is one which understands how integral a country's defence force is. Rather than stripping $16 billion from the Defence portfolio as those opposite did, this coalition government has been working with the Department of Defence to carefully and methodically implement a fully funded white paper.
Now, I am sure those opposite will be shocked by this concept, but the reason this government has been systematically working through the Defence budget mess that was left to us—just as we have been forced to do with every other government portfolio—is because those are normal processes for implementing good policy and running a good government. The examples I could give of the Labor Party's inability to govern this great nation would take me well through the night and probably into tomorrow. I just heard member for Moncrieff give some great examples as well.
The real kicker has always been the former Treasurer's promised surplus. All members on this side of the House are still trying to figure out where good old Swanny put it, but it has never appeared. This is despite the member for Lilley promising this imaginative surplus on more than 500 occasions in the 2012-13 financial year. There were no surpluses. They were nowhere to be found. The only thing the former Treasurer and the Labor Party delivered for this country is $200 billion in deficits, including $123 billion of future deficits. That is their only legacy. It is a legacy they should be ashamed of and one they should be working with the government, instead of against it, to fix.
Unlike those opposite, this government recognises the value of our Defence Force and every member of its personnel not just for their ability to respond to threats against our country but also for their ability to assist in cases of great tragedy. Most recently, we witnessed this when Australia's Defence Force played a key role in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight, MH370. It is a search which I am saddened to say remains ongoing nearly one year on. I also welcomed the Assistant Minister for Defence's statement in this place earlier today, announcing this government's objective to recruit and develop a larger, more representative, culturally and linguistically diverse Defence Force to strengthen Australia's operational capability and to better reflect this country's multicultural society.
While this coalition government recognises the importance of adequately funding and appreciating our Defence Force personnel, I highlight that we also recognise the importance of developing and protecting our nation in other ways to ensure its long-term sustainability. It is because of this recognition that a key election policy of this government was to deliver the infrastructure of the 21st century to make our industries more productive, to create jobs and to alleviate congestion for road users. In my electorate of Swan, Western Australia's largest ever infrastructure project—the $1 billion Gateway WA—is now well on its way to competition, surpassing its 60 per cent completion mark just last month. I am very pleased to inform the House it is also six months ahead of schedule. Works on the $1.6 billion Perth Freight Link project—which runs from the Kewdale industrial hub in my electorate of Swan to Perth's other major industrial hub, the Fremantle port—are also progressing, with the key focus of this project being to boost productivity for Perth's freight network. These are works that will benefit my home state in the long term thanks to funding efforts by this government and the WA state Liberal Barnett government.
Despite the enormity of these projects, my cabinet colleagues also heeded my calls for vital environmental funding to ensure the future sustainability of two of Perth's most iconic rivers, the Swan River and the Canning River, which run through my electorate of Swan. I was very pleased to welcome the Minister for Environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt, to Swan recently to formally launch the Swan-Canning Rivers Recovery Programme and highlight how this funding commitment will be utilised to safeguard the river systems' future biodiversity through weed eradication, practical community action and local government initiatives. I know that there are many volunteer groups within the Swan-Canning river catchment area. I know that they are very happy about the fact that this government made the commitment of a million dollars for that area to improve the biodiversity and to get rid of noxious weeds, particularly the hydrocotyle weed. Those community groups are led by many good people, like Russell Gorton, who is with the Wilson Wetlands Action Group. He has welcomed the opportunity to be engaged with other local groups to make an impact on the Swan and Canning rivers' biodiversity area.
Members opposite may ask how we managed to achieve all this on time and on budget. The answer is actually very simple, even though it was something those opposite have never managed to achieve. I also note that during those two terms when we went to elections promising a million dollars for that area, neither the Labor Party nor the Greens matched that offer. We developed a good policy, we costed it appropriately and then we managed it like a good government does.
Now, as I previously mentioned, key aspects of the cognate appropriation bills that are before the House today relate to defence, foreign affairs and counter-terrorism measures. As members know, Australia's Customs and Border Protection Service plays a vital role in protecting the safety of all Australians. It is with this in mind that I am therefore also pleased to join with my colleagues in endorsing funding measures outlined in Appropriation Bill (No. 4), which includes just under $35 million for officers to perform additional counter-terrorism activities.
On Monday, I welcomed the Prime Minister's national security statement, which outlined the government's latest move to combat home-grown terrorism, including the appointment of a national counter-terrorism coordinator and revoking the citizenship of any Australian proven to be involved in terrorism. This is necessary because the fight against terrorism simply cannot be won unless we are proactive about protecting our country and our people. It is funding such as this $35 million, which is outlined in the Appropriation Bill (No.4), that will help ensure Australia is best placed to respond to potential acts of terrorism on our home soil.
I have witnessed firsthand on more than one occasion the integral role Australia's Customs and Border Protection officers play in meeting Australia's national security objectives and combatting terrorism. In fact, it was only recently that I welcomed the opportunity to join with the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon. Michaelia Cash, at Perth Airport's Customs House, which is within my electorate, to see how our Customs and Border Protection officers are working to keep every Australian safe, and to understand the scope of prohibited items that organised crime syndicates, in particular, try to smuggle through our borders every day. As was highlighted to me that day, from January to October last year over 12 kilograms of methamphetamine, or ice, 1.5 tonnes of molasses tobacco and over 2,000 prohibited weapons, including firearms knuckledusters, automatic knives, and laser pointers, were seized from air cargo by Perth's customs officers. While this is a significant achievement, Australia also has, for many years, recognised the abilities of detector dogs, which are often able to find even the most sophisticated concealed illicit imports.
Because the coalition government recognises the importance of bolstering security, whether it be on a local, state or national front, that in February 2014 we committed $88 million in funding to boost Australia's customs and border protection measures. This significant funding commitment was specifically focused on increasing screening of international mail and air and sea cargo, while an additional $8.5 million was also committed to expand our Detector Dog Program. In the 2014-15 budget we also committed a further $480.5 million toward a four-year package to bolster the enforcement capabilities of Australia's Strategic Border Command and our intelligence, trade and travel systems, and for workforce measures and training. In the case of national security, members would be aware that the government has also committed an additional $630 million over four years to counter-terrorism measures and has strengthened our intelligence agencies' ability to prevent and disrupt domestic terrorist threats. That is more than $1.2 billion in funding toward these crime preventative measures, before we even look at the number of local initiatives that are being rolled out in communities across Australia.
As I have stated, the prevention of crime in any form is a primary priority of this government, and it is consistently raised as a concern in my electorate of Swan. I am pleased to update the House on my work responding to these concerns since being elected to this place to fight for funding for a number of crime preventative measures in Swan. This has included a local action campaign to have additional security guards hired, increased CCTV and street lighting to reduce the rate of crime at Lynwood Village Shopping Centre, in my electorate of Swan, particularly in the shopping centre's carpark at night. Similar crime issues are also prevalent in another local government area of my electorate, the City of Belmont, and in particular at the region's main shopping centre, Belmont Forum. Many constituents from this area have contacted me over the years to raise their concerns about the rate of crime at the shopping centre and its surrounds. To respond to these concerns, I again initiated a local campaign to secure funding for the crime preventative measures, which, I am pleased to inform the House, were delivered by this government in our 2014-15 budget. At that time, I welcomed to Swan the Minister for Justice, the Hon. Michael Keenan, to join with me in announcing the government's $100,000 commitment to install additional CCTV around the perimeter of Belmont Forum and Belmont Village to help bolster Belmont Police's ability to find and prosecute criminals in the area. These are funding commitments that I am very proud to have secured for Swan, because I believe that there is nothing more important than protecting our communities and ensuring that every man, woman and child can feel safe at their local shopping centre or playground, and, most importantly, in their own home.
Unfortunately, as my latest crime prevention campaign has revealed, this is not always the case, with many people in my electorate becoming the victims of crime purely because of where they live. I have been told repeatedly by constituents throughout my electorate that they believe living near a train station increases the level of crime in their suburb or in surrounding areas. This is also the key reason why residents in South Perth, which is another locality in my electorate of Swan, have repeatedly opposed plans by the West Australian state government to build a train station in the area. In fact, 71.9 per cent of respondents to my Tackling Train Crime community survey, which I distributed last October to residents and local business owners along the Armadale-Thornlie train line throughout Swan, specifically stated this belief. By way of background, the aim of the survey was to gain direct feedback about the perception of passenger safety on Perth's train network and the safety of those who live or work along the train line, as I do not believe the state government's current transit security model is adequately protecting passengers.
In my electorate of Swan and across Australia, it is clear that the coalition government is doing everything it can to deliver the infrastructure, services and protection our communities need. But, like everything in this world, our policies need to be sustainable. Gone are the days of cash splashing by those opposite, and in its place is a government focused on delivering policies on budget and ahead of time, as is the case with the Gateway WA project in my electorate of Swan.
The reality, though, is that there cannot be a sustainable Australia when we are still strangled by nearly $250 billion in debt. That is something this government has always known, so it is time those opposite got on board and recognised the good policies we are rolling out across Australia and the budget savings we are still generating, despite their inherent opposition to fixing the budget mess they left us with. I commend my cabinet colleagues and I commend the cognate bills to the House.
We have heard from many of the speakers before me on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and cognate bills that the bills are basically about supply—they are about appropriations. In the beginning of my contribution to this debate, however, I did just want to point out the contradiction within the government's argument. They say that this bill is about saving money. They say that they have had to cut savagely to get the budget back into surplus, or close to surplus. But yet, as we have heard from people on my side of the House, what we have seen in these bills and in the MYEFO is a $44 billion blow-out in the budget deficit over the forward estimates, compared to their original budget in 2014-15. Yet, at the same time that they have this blow-out, which would suggest to a common person that they are spending big, they are also making some pretty savage cuts in areas that affect so many in my community.
Still, the government have on the table their cuts to pensions and the pension indexation. And the pension is not for millionaires; it is a very modest retirement income. People on the pension will be losing money as a result of decisions this government has made. The government's 2014 MYEFO also contains massive cuts to foreign aid. Yet the government are saying that now, more than ever, at this very complex time, we need to engage in foreign policy and do what we can to help. Every day in question time we hear question after question on foreign policy. If the government were serious about stemming the violence occurring overseas, they would not have cut funding to education and other aid programs.
There has also been $250 million cut from the ABC and SBS, despite the Prime Minister saying before the election that there would be no cuts to the ABC and no cuts to SBS. In my electorate of Bendigo, we know too acutely how this cut will affect us. Not only have we lost Bush Telegraph, a popular radio program for a number of ABC listeners in the bush; we have also lost the broadcasting of the WNBL, the Women's National Basketball League, for 2015-16. This Saturday will be the last broadcast match of the WNBL by the ABC, ending a 35-year relationship between this elite women's sports league and the ABC. The ABC says it is a direct result of the $250 million cut by this government.
There is a broader problem with this cut as well. It is not just the WNBL; it is also women's softball and a number of other women's sports. If we are ever going to get any form of equity in elite sports, there needs to be broadcasting. The ABC is a path to building a commercially viable operation. To lose funding, with broadcasting being so critical to the development of the WNBL, is disappointing. In my home own, the local coach of the Bendigo Spirit, Bernie Harrower, has said that this could mean that the Bendigo Spirit loses lots of sponsors. In fact, two sponsors have already indicated that they will not be supporting the club next year without those broadcasting opportunities. This means that the basketball club will have less in their kitty to pay their players.
Basketball Australia and the coach of the Australian Opals have told me that our current WNBL is the third best in the world and that opportunities for women to play in their home country at an elite level help to build the Opals. The loss of the WNBL would not only be a problem for fielding a strong Opals team; it would be a loss of really positive role models for young women. At a recent Bendigo Spirit match, I spoke to a father who said that, just as he likes to sit and watch football with his young son, he likes to sit and watch basketball with his young daughter. To me, that speaks to the problem of these funding cuts and how, again, for such a small amount of money, the government is missing the broader responsibility of equity and ensuring that women can continue to have the same opportunities as men when it comes to elite sport.
There is also a revised higher education package of reforms and the GP tax, both of which seem to be unravelling; we are not sure what is going on. Today we heard that the government might drop its GP tax—but we do not know. Today we heard that the government is still going to push ahead with its higher education reforms— but we do not know. All of these assumptions in the budget bottom line of 2014-15 still incorporate the GP tax and the harsh and unfair measures that I have outlined.
There are a number of other cuts that will hurt the Bendigo electorate, including cuts to health and hospitals, with a cut of $25 million to the Bendigo hospital over the next two years. The GP tax has been rejected over and over again by rural doctors. They simply argue that it will put pressure on emergency and urgency waiting rooms. There is no clear indication from the government about what they will do for urgency care. Currently, local GPs on rotation staff urgency care units in regional towns with fewer than 8,000 people. These GPs essentially work overtime on weekends, on rotation. If a patient presents, they bulk-bill them automatically. That is how they are paid for doing that work. If we enforce a compulsory GP tax or co-payment—whatever language you want to use—they first have to say to the person who presents at urgency care, 'Where is your $5?'—or $7 or $20, whatever the government wants to put forward—before they treat the patient. The doctors in my electorate have said that their chances of recovering that money are limited. It also creates an unfair burden on doctors and medical staff who just want to treat a patient in an urgency care situation. As one doctor in Woodend said to me, when he does his rounds of the urgency care or aged-care facilities in Kyneton, is he expected to have his accountant next to him collecting the $5 or $7 or $20 before he treats the patient? He even suggested that perhaps the government could look at having a system that operates like a coffee card, where you pay for nine trips and get the 10th trip for free, and maybe people could start paying up-front. Those are the kinds of debates and conversations that are happening as a result of this government's plan to introduce the GP co-payment. Again, I come back to the point that they are proposing all these drastic cuts and imposing extra costs on some of our most vulnerable households, yet they still have this massive blow-out in their budget. It suggests that their funding priorities are not the priorities of the Australian people.
Another big cut in my area is to the Australian Emergency Management Institute. The story is a classic one of: 'Really? Seriously, did the government make this mistake?' The Australian Emergency Management Institute's home is at Mount Macedon and currently employs 50 people directly and 20 contractors. It is the place where we bring our emergency management professionals—whether state or federal—together to brainstorm, learn, teach and pass on best practice when it comes to emergency management. That description does not do justice to the quality of the courses and the work that they do there. Post every bushfire season, post every flood and post every cyclone, they get together.
The loss associated with the closing of this facility by this government is not only limited to the redundancies they need to pay out to the people there who chose not to relocate to Canberra and to the cost to the local community of losing public sector jobs; the government has now discovered that to re-establish that institute in Canberra is more expensive than keeping it currently running at Mount Macedon. To hire people in Canberra with skills equal to those who worked at the Mount Macedon facility will actually cost the government more in salary dollars. Because this is the public sector capital and wages are higher here than they are at Mount Macedon, it is going to cost the government more money to shut down this facility and move it back to Canberra. Perhaps that is a small part of the reason why this government's budget is blowing out.
Another cut which the government says is necessary and which is impacting on my local community is the cut to local government assistance grants. A local government in the city in Melbourne might not be that fussed about this cut: they can whack up parking meters or introduce parking meters. That is simply not possible in regional local government areas. In areas like the Loddon Shire, for example, where they have a very large geographical area but are reducing the rate-paying base, these cuts will just put more pressure on fewer and fewer ratepayers.
The City of Greater Bendigo, which is the largest local government area in my electorate, believes that this freezing of the indexation of local government grants will cost the city about $2.7 million. Again, that is not a lot in the broader context of the federal budget but it means a lot to the local government area who, as we speak, are debating whether they pull out of delivering HACC services and community based health services for their community, and are talking about closing childcare centres. This is what happens when this government chooses to target small organisations and regional organisations. They think that, if they trim a bit here and a bit there, it will all work out in the end. Where they are targeting their trimming is having a massive impact.
We have also heard this week in parliament about the cost of cutting Community Assistance Grants. These grants go to organisations who help those in financial stress get out of trouble. In my electorate, the Bendigo Family and Financial Services found out on Christmas Eve that they would no longer receive funding. This is an organisation that runs on the smell of an oily rag. They have 10 part-time employees and 70 volunteers, and these people get together to offer small loans to people seeking help, emergency food relief as well as financial counselling services.
As one client said to me: 'I sat down. They looked through my debts and they helped me work out what my priorities were. They said to me that, 'If you come in here every week for the three months, collect a food hamper and spend the money that you were receiving on paying down these debts, then you will get yourself out of trouble'.' This man said, 'It was a big deal for me to admit that I needed to live off food relief and handouts for three months to get myself out of debt, but I would not and have been able to get myself out of debt if it was not for the financial counselling and support from this organisation.' Today, as I speak, the organisation is counting down to when their funding will run out. I am concerned about the number of families who will not be helped in the future, because this government has cut their grant going forward.
The fuel tax increase, job cuts at the ATO, country students finding it harder to go to university, Gonski funding that has gone missing and our schools saying that they are worse off, the GP tax and attacks on pensioners—the list goes on and on about what this government is doing to regional communities. Again, it comes back to the initial point that I made: in these three bills the government is spending an extra $1.7 billion— (Time expired)
The Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and cognate bills collectively seek to authorise approximately $1.74 billion in additional expenditure since the 2014-15 budget to provide for the ordinary annual services of the government; capital works and services; payments in respect of the states, territories, and local government authorities; and to fund the services of parliamentary departments.
A particular government program that I would like take this opportunity to highlight is the Emissions Reduction Fund, which will support Australian businesses and households to take practical and direct action to reduce emissions and improve the environment. The objective of the Emissions Reduction Fund is to help achieve Australia's emissions reduction target of five per cent below the year 2000 levels by 2020. The government has provided $2.55 billion to establish the Emissions Reduction Fund, with further funding to be considered in future budgets. The Emissions Reduction Fund implements a long-term framework for stable and sustainable climate change policy. It provides incentives to seek out innovations that reduce both costs and emissions.
I cite a practical example of industrial innovation within my electorate. Engas Australasia Pty Ltd is a company based in the Neerabup Industrial Area which specialises in the distribution of blended hydrocarbon refrigerants used in air-conditioning and commercial chiller applications. These environmentally-friendly refrigerant gases have both zero ozone depletion impact and negligible global warming potential when compared with conventional hydrofluorocarbon chemical-based refrigerants, which are widely used in industry. Furthermore the hydrocarbon refrigerants are more energy efficient with tests indicating that air conditioning and refrigeration compressor units using the new gases can save up to 50 per cent in power consumption costs.
Currently, the environmental performance of Australian buildings is measured by the National Australian Built Environment Rating System, which is a national, industry-recognised rating system that measures the energy efficiency, water usage, waste management and indoor environment quality of a building and its impact on the environment. It does this by using measured and verified operational performance information, such as utility bills, that is adjusted for the size and use of the building and converted into a star rating scale ranging from one star to six stars, representing market leading performance.
The heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industry in Australia is a $6 billion a year industry which employs 170,000 individuals. There are approximately 45 million installations of vapour compression-type refrigeration and air conditioning units in Australia. These units consume 22 per cent of the total amount of electrical energy generated in this country and are responsible for 12 per cent of national carbon dioxide emissions, amounting to 64.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. The safe use of refrigerants is specified by regulations and industry standards. Australian Standard AS1677-1998 includes comprehensive procedures for the safe use of all refrigerants including hydrocarbons. The Hon. Bob Baldwin, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, has visited the Engas Australasia factory and showroom in Neerabup to view the operations and testing facilities first hand. The directors of the company, Messrs Brian Foster and Selwyn Wallace, have invested a considerable amount of resources to raise awareness and promote the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants as an alternative to the conventional hydrofluorocarbon chemical-based refrigerants which are widely in use. They have been met with considerable opposition from larger competitors, and have experienced bureaucratic obstacles in having their product accredited in Australia.
The introduction of more energy efficient and environmentally friendly refrigerants represents an innovative direct action that will achieve measurable benefits in emissions reduction based on the evidence provided. It is likely to have a major impact, with approximately 45 million vapour compression-type refrigeration and air-conditioning units in Australia. Internationally, most major economies are committed to meeting emissions reduction targets. On 12 March 2014 the European Union Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbon chemical refrigerants. Presidents Obama of the United States and Xi of China reached agreement in principle at their San Francisco summit in early June 2014 to use the institution of the Montreal protocol and its proven methods to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbon chemical refrigerants by 2030. Similarly, the G20 nations, representing 85 per cent of global economic output, signed an agreement in September 2014 to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants by two-thirds below present levels by 2030.
Last year, the government introduced the Carbon Farming Initiative Amendment Bill 2014, which established the Emissions Reduction Fund. The Emissions Reduction Fund expands on the Carbon Farming Initiative by extending the scope of eligible emissions reduction activities and by streamlining existing processes. The ERF has three elements: crediting emissions reductions, purchasing emissions reductions, and safeguarding emissions reductions. Engas Australasia is in the early stages of participating in the Emissions Reduction Fund compliance process. Subsection 106(1) of the act empowers the minister to make, by legislative instrument, a methodology determination. The purpose of a methodology determination is to establish procedures for estimating emissions abatement from eligible projects—setting rules for monitoring, record keeping and reporting. These methodologies will ensure that the emissions reductions are genuine.
The Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee is an independent expert panel that will advise the minister on proposals for methodology determinations. The minister will also consider any adverse environmental, economic or social impacts likely to arise as a result of projects to which the determination applies. The ERAC must include in its advice to the minister the committee's opinion on whether the proposed determination complies with the proposed offsets integrity standards to be set out in section 133 of the act. The offsets integrity standards require that an eligible project should result in carbon abatement and that the amounts are measurable and capable of being verified; the methods used are supported by clear and convincing evidence; material emissions which are a direct consequence of the project are deducted; and estimates, assumptions or projections used in the determination should be conservative.
Offsets projects that are undertaken in accordance with the methodology determination and approved by the Clean Energy Regulator can generate Australian carbon credit units, representing emissions reductions from the project. Project proponents such as Engas Australasia can receive funding from the ERF by submitting their projects to a competitive auction run by the Clean Energy Regulator. The government will enter into contracts with the successful proponents which will guarantee the price and payment for future delivery of emissions reductions. The Emissions Reduction Fund will support a wide range of energy efficiency projects in industrial facilities, such as upgrading boilers, improving control systems and processes, installing co-generation facilities, and increasing the efficiency of compressed air systems. These projects will improve business productivity while also cleaning up the environment. Project proponents wishing to implement projects such as the introduction of blended hydrocarbon refrigerants are required make an application to the regulator under section 22 of the act. They must also meet the general eligibility requirements for an offsets project, set out in subsection 27(4), which include compliance with the requirements set out in the draft determination, and the additional requirements in subsection 27(4A) of the act.
The Emissions Reduction Fund will support Australian businesses to take practical, direct action to improve their energy efficiency. The benefits of lower energy consumption include lower operating costs and improved competitiveness for businesses. Similarly, commercial building owners will be able to generate emissions reductions from energy efficiency projects for large offices, large shopping centres, hotels, and data centres. These projects will allow businesses to reduce their operating costs. To date, Engas Australasia has undertaken a number of hydrocarbon refrigeration demonstration projects, including the re-gassing of commercial coolrooms and freezer units in suburban supermarkets, and air-conditioning in office buildings and in motor vehicles. Considerable interest in the technology has been generated from potential overseas export markets. The proprietors of Engas are entrepreneurs who have invested significant resources in developing and marketing this innovative new product. During this time, they have encountered opposition from large industry competitors and have battled red tape from bureaucracy. The economic development and export market potential arising from the successful testing and accreditation of the technology is significant. All that is required is an accessible and equitable assessment process.
In conclusion, the passage of this bill, the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015, and related appropriations bills will ensure the continuity of the government's programs and the Commonwealth's ability to meet its estimated expenditure obligations for the current financial year, including for existing and new programs in 2014-15. In particular, the Emissions Reduction Fund is an example of a program which will support Australian businesses—such as Engas Australasia—to take practical, direct action to reduce emissions and to improve our environment.
This debate in the chamber tonight on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and related bills is a very important one. It is a debate that needs to take the time of this parliament because of its significance, not only for the people of Australia today but also for the generations that will follow.
It is critically important to understand that the appropriations bill will, in the way that has been set forward, do much to help start the budget repair process that is so necessary for our country to be put on a sustainable financial path. Why is it necessary to be put on a sustainable financial path? One only needs to look to examples overseas to realise how critical this is. If one were to take, for instance, the example of Ireland where they had a net debt to GDP ratio of something like 11 per cent just before the global financial crisis; after the global financial crisis hit, in six short years that figure went up to beyond 30 to 40 per cent of net debt to GDP. It goes to show how quickly a budget situation can deteriorate. Currently, Australia's net debt to GDP is around about 15 per cent. But we cannot take for granted the position that we find ourselves in. It requires action, and it requires action today. This is why we have a focus on this Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2014-2015 and related bills, to ensure that we can put the Australian budget on a financial footing that is strong—and one that will reward future generations, not take from future generations. Would you like me to continue, Madam Speaker?
I am very happy to continue on this subject because there is so much to say about the importance of having a sustainable budget. The budget is an issue that is going to come very much to the fore on Thursday of this week when the Intergenerational Report is delivered to the parliament—