Monday, 28 May 2007
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008
I am very proud to be able to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008 and cognate bills and to say that Treasurer Peter Costello’s 2007-08 budget is very good news for Australia and very good news for Northern Tasmania and the people I am proud to represent—the people of Bass. The budget provides benefits for diverse groups of people, including working families, seniors and veterans. I note that every taxpayer in Australia will receive a tax cut. The budget is also about being able to afford to fund projects in regional Australia because of the government’s ability to properly manage the economy.
I was listening just now to the contribution from the member for Throsby, in which the comment at the tail end seemed to imply that the government was able to fund what I interpret to be positive initiatives from her point of view only because of ‘good fortune’. A little luck goes a long way, but hard decisions go a lot further. When one reflects on the challenges the Australian economy has faced over the last 11 years and some of the reforms that have had to be made, one would have to say that this budget is not about good fortune but about the government in the past making very difficult decisions and setting up the Australian economy in such a fashion that it was able to afford good initiatives in the future.
One need only be reminded of the state of the economy when the Labor Party was kicked out of office in 1996. I remember well that the national debt—that is, the debt carried by the government—was $96 billion. The ledger showed $96 billion in debt, borrowings from the Keating years which at some point had to be repaid. For every year that debt was carried, an interest payment on top of the principal had to be found. That has been calculated at some $8 billion every year from the annual recurrent budget just to meet the payments owing on that debt. It is also worth noting that in 1996 the Howard government found—surprisingly, because this had not been disclosed—that its budget was in deficit by $10 billion. That does not sound like good fortune to me. The first Costello budget had to be the hardest and had to confront some difficult challenges. Yes, as the member for Throsby acknowledges, we are enjoying good times and a strong economy—an economy where more people than ever feel as though they are part of it and feel as though they are being recognised. So many people, a record number, are able to enjoy the dignity of work, in many cases for the first time. So it is a good budget—it is not about good luck at all—and I compliment the Treasurer for the excellent work that he has undertaken.
One of the highlights of this budget for the regional community of Northern Tasmania is a $13 million contribution to the upgrade of Launceston’s flood protection system. I have been saying for a very long time now that, because of the importance of addressing this issue and because of the cost of the repair bill for this project, there has been a case for federal government assistance. This has been primarily a matter of state government responsibility, which for many years has been fobbed off, but due to the persistence of the council, in particular our mayor, Alderman Ivan Dean, it has been raised as a matter of priority. Having spoken about the flood levees for a long time with both the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Jim Lloyd, and the Prime Minister, I am very pleased with this outcome. While the dishonesty and manipulation from the Labor Party in Tasmania in order to play politics on this issue has been very disappointing, it did not distract me from fighting for the interests of the people of Invermay and, indeed, the wider community. It is well known that, if a flood of the dimensions of the 1929 flood revisited our city, the flood levees are not in sufficiently good repair to hold back that flood. It would devastate our community and it would paralyse the city.
I am also pleased to note that the budget contains $10 million of funding for the Scottsdale Industry and Community Development Fund, of which $6 million relates specifically to a merit based grants program and $4 million is a contribution to the $9 million bill for the upgrade of the roads leading to Musselroe Bay. Organisations with a project that can create or retain long-term employment opportunities can apply for grants from the Industry and Community Development Fund. This, of course, is in response to the crisis that we faced in the north-east community when two softwood sawmills, which were the major employers in that community, were facing shutdown because they were not able to secure softwood resource in the longer term. That is very gratifying for me—we have worked very hard for this fund—and I look forward to taking part in announcing the successful recipients of that fund. Our agenda is quite simple: it is about creating and retaining employment in that community in a way that helps it to survive probably the hardest time in its history.
Also I draw the attention of the House to the provision of the remaining $1.1 million to complete the Australian government’s $10 million contribution toward upgrading the Scottsdale to Lilydale Road. Northern Tasmania is a grateful recipient of road funding from the Commonwealth, and I would like to note that in 2005-06 the Australian government paid a total of $135.2 million to Tasmania. This included the one-off payment of $60 million for the AusLink listed East Tamar Highway and $10 million for improving local roads. Coupling that with the Commonwealth’s contribution in 2006-07 of $74.9 million, I believe I can quite rightly say that the Australian government invests more in roads in Tasmania than the Tasmanian government does. I am advised that this is the only state of Australia where this occurs.
The merger of the Australian Maritime College and the University of Tasmania will go ahead. This will see the federal government gifting the AMC’s assets, which are valued at $61 million, to the university to facilitate integration of the AMC into the university. The merger will be effective from 1 January 2008. It will be necessary for legislation to come before the parliament to give effect to that transfer. The college was established in 1978 as Australia’s national institution for maritime education and training. It is one of the world’s best-equipped maritime training institutions. It had 740 full-time equivalent students last year, and the merger will ensure the viability of that institution as Australia’s national centre for maritime education, research and training. I pay tribute to Malek Pourzanjani, the President of the AMC, as well as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, Professor Le Grew, for the wonderful way in which they have been able to work together for the benefit of all of Tasmania. The AMC is a world-class organisation and the merger will ensure that it can continue to lead the way in maritime training, education and research.
There has been another challenge locally in Northern Tasmania. One of our industries, the ACL Bearing Company in Launceston, has been facing an enormous challenge. It is part of the automotive components manufacturing industry, and times are tough. Times are very tough, and it has been forced to move to make redundant 90 of its workers. I am very pleased to have been able to lobby successfully for assistance to the ACL Bearing Company’s workers—not to the company but to the workers themselves—who face retrenchment. The assistance package which is funded in this budget will be directed at the workers of ACL to help them to retrain or to move into new jobs. When news of the ACL redundancies was announced, I coordinated consideration by three Commonwealth ministers and the Prime Minister’s office of this issue. As part of this package, the Australian government has provided up to $1,000 per worker to assist with costs associated with looking for work, such as training, job interview clothing, equipment, travel or moving house, depending on the individual’s circumstances. This is provided through our Job Network.
Northern Tasmanians, in particular, will benefit in a very important way, in their weekly budgets, from the decision to provide tax cuts to every Australian taxpayer. The federal budget is a clear demonstration of the, I think, now proven fact that only a Liberal government can deliver responsible economic management for the nation, which results in a better standard of living. That is what this is all about. It is not about spending the surplus. It is not about a federal budget which does nothing other than to spend in some areas which have been designated as politically useful. We can bellyache about this all we like, but a federal budget is not just about spending the winnings. It is about making the decisions which allow us to have winnings at all. It is about balancing the budget. It is about paying off debt. It is about treating the budget much as you would treat your household budget. You make sometimes difficult decisions. You do it for the longer term interest. This budget, Mr Costello’s 11th budget, does just that. Despite what the Labor Party would have us believe, this is about much more than just spending a surplus. It is about planning for our future as a nation. It is about rewarding initiative, which history has shown us is something that Labor has been unable to do.
Any current poll will tell us that the Australian people are currently flirting with the idea of a federal Labor government. I would say to the House today that if the Australian people would like to go out on a date with Labor, they will end up paying for the meal. A decision like that would have dire consequences for the Australian economy. It would have dire consequences for the federal budget and those consequences would flow into every household in our country. As we reflect back on the last two Labor governments that were replaced by coalition governments, in both cases it was like a bad room mate, as the Treasurer put forward. In every case, it was the coalition that had to come in and mop up the mess. I say again to the House that only a Liberal government is in a position to make the hard decisions, to do what is right, to make strategic investments in our economy and to provide tax cuts after all of its responsibilities have been discharged, and that has been a wonderful benefit for our economy.
The Tasmanian community in general will benefit from this very sensible budget as well. Taxpayers across the state will receive around $780 million in tax cuts over the next four years. The new tax cuts are on top of the $86 billion worth of tax cuts nationally which have already been implemented by this government since 2002. For example, a Tasmanian single income family on $40,000 with two or three children will be $1,100 per year better off from 1 July this year. A Tasmanian dual income family on $50,000 with two or three children will be $1,250 per year better off. While every taxpayer in Australia will be receiving a tax cut under this budget, from 1 July this year the most significant savings in tax will be made by those people who earn between $30,000 and $40,000, which I believe is absolutely appropriate.
Total payments as a grant to the Tasmanian government have increased by a massive seven per cent to a new total of $2.413 billion. This is including GST payments of $1.64 billion, which is a staggering $117 million more than what the state government would have received under the pre-2000 tax-sharing system. This is tipped to rise to represent a bonus of $152 million in just a few years from now, 2010. This is the new tax system at work in conjunction with an economy which is doing extremely well. As I have consistently argued during this contribution, it is the benefits of good economic management which are felt not by the government, not by politicians, but by everyday Australians in every home around Australia. That is if you do it right, and that is what we are witnessing.
In addition, the entire state of Tasmania will benefit from increased funding for roads—even more than we have heard—health and education. In key budget measures for Tasmania, our local government authorities will receive increased financial assistance grants of 3.9 per cent, representing $57 million; and tied grants for state government programs such as schools and hospitals have increased by 12.9 per cent to $767 million. The funding provision for the uncapped Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme and the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme has been increased to $130 million. These two schemes working together underpin passenger and freight movements across Bass Strait and give great strength and comfort to the Tasmanian economy, and have been a significant contributor to the increase in tourism and industry that we have witnessed in Tasmania in recent years.
I also observe from the budget that the average low-income Tasmanian family will be some $20.50 per week better off through reimbursements and improved payments being made available for child care. The budget demonstrates that the Howard government is extending the benefits of a strong economy to those outside the workforce, including older Tasmanians whose working lives have contributed to building our economy. This paves the way for a stronger Tasmanian community into the future. Bonus and recognition payments will be made to our older citizens by the end of June. These payments are also being made available to our veteran community. On behalf of my veteran constituents, I feel extremely grateful for such significant support being provided to our very valuable veteran community, and I know that this view is shared by both sides of the House.
In the moments remaining available to me, I want to touch on one component of the budget that gives me enormous satisfaction. Realising Our Potential, which has been crafted by the Minister for Education, Science and Training, along with the Minister for Vocational and Further Education, is a massive and comprehensive investment in the education and vocational training sector in Australia. It is part of an astonishing investment of $5 billion that will be paid immediately to a new Higher Education Endowment Fund to provide an ongoing source of funding to our higher education or tertiary sector. It will be a source of funding into the future for capital works, which have been greatly diminished and greatly criticised by the Labor Party. But no-one can be anything but impressed by the size of this payment, which will be perpetual. It will be there for future generations and be managed by the guardians of the Future Fund.
Along with this increased funding to universities, there will be increased funding to students, rent assistance for tertiary students and an extra 3,500 Commonwealth scholarships. There will also be more assistance for apprentices and those in the VET sector. Apprentices in their first and second years in areas of identified skills shortages will be very satisfied with a wage top-up of $1,000. These young people, as we know, struggle with the low income that they receive during their early years of apprenticeship. I know that apprentices in my electorate in Northern Tasmania will be very pleased with this payment. I also note that the extra payment of $500 per year toward training fees for first- and second-year apprentices will be gratefully received.
There is additional funding in this budget for teachers—those people who are given the responsibility of implementing curriculum in our schools. I am very gratified to see that the Commonwealth has continued its $700 tutorial voucher to help students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 meet literacy and numeracy standards—as opposed to just students in the early years, as it was previously. It is great to see that there is real funding for a genuine national curriculum, which the Commonwealth and the states will work on. I look forward to it being implemented by the first day of school in 2009.
There are a lot more things that I could say about this budget. It is excellent for Tasmania, it is excellent for Australia and it is excellent for my community in Bass. It again reminds me of the value of responsible economic management and of making difficult decisions. It shows that only a coalition government can continue to provide the good economic times that so many people are beginning to take for granted. I thank the House.