Monday, 28 May 2007
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008
I rise to address Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008 and the cognate bills. As I do so, it is important to put this budget in some context by looking at Australia over the last couple of decades. I go back to some of the headlines from the times. For example, in August 1986 the headlines read, ‘Budget axe on welfare, jobs and wages’, ‘Health slashed by $300 million’, ‘Medicare levy up’, ‘Petrol and diesel up by 3 cents’, ‘New taxes’—a whole range of things. In August of 1990, a headline read ‘Slugger Keating: old, sick and jobless hit.’ An article began with, ‘Treasurer Paul Keating delivered a penny-pinching budget which left pensioners and families feeling punch drunk last night.’ These were headlines in 1993: ‘Rises in sales tax on thousands of consumer items’ and ‘Tax rates on annual long service leave rising up to 48.4 per cent’. Compare that with the headlines in the same paper for 2007: ‘Tax cuts for all, billions for education. The budget attracted widespread acclaim from business, family, environmental groups.’ That is quite a contrast. It is important that we recognise that that contrast has made a real difference for families in Australia because Australia is no longer struggling under the burden of $96 billion of Labor debt. Because we have paid off that debt, there is some $8.5 billion every year that was paid on interest that we can now invest in health, education, defence, roads, infrastructure and other things that benefit our communities. The broader economic policies—the things that have put downward pressure on mortgage rates and have seen them at historic lows—mean that the average rates under the coalition are down around 7.2 per cent versus the average rates under the previous Labor government of 12.75 per cent.
In the electorate of Wakefield, which I am privileged to represent, I look at the large number of areas which are expanding rapidly with housing. As people take on mortgages, they have a dream for themselves and for their families. They are investing in the future and relying on having a government that will keep the economic settings for and focus on running an economy that will keep interest rates and inflation low. Inflation is at 2½ per cent compared to the average inflation under Labor of 5.2 per cent.
People may think this is out of date because it is about old Labor governments. Despite record growth in things like the GST, from which every dollar goes to the state and territory governments around Australia, on a net basis the state and territory governments—which are all Labor—are in deficit again. They are spending more than they are bringing in again. So you can see that the leopard has not changed its spots and that Labor will still spend its way into deficit, which is in stark contrast to the coalition government.
I will mention a few areas that I believe are important, such as health care for veterans. As somebody who served in the Defence Force for over 22 years, I believe we owe a huge debt to our veterans, and it is one that we have to honour. In 1996, the government then was spending around $1.6 billion on health care for veterans. This year in this budget, it is spending $4.7 billion. That makes a difference on the ground so that we can afford to work with the veterans at the Peter Badcoe centre in Wakefield in South Australia. Rather than condemning them to be itinerant residents of various buildings that are run down and leftovers from Defence, we have been able to invest in a new facility for those veterans so that they can have a counselling centre that not only helps Vietnam veterans but also increasingly reaches out to recent veterans from Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, the Solomons and Bougainville. That is an investment. When people look at it and say, ‘That’s great,’ they need to make a link to the fact that the only reason we can afford to make those investments is that we have a government team, a Prime Minister, a Treasurer, a finance minister and other members of the cabinet who can take the hard decisions that put the economic settings in place to give us those budget surpluses.
In direct funding for the environment, Australia was one of the first nations in the world to consider greenhouse problems and actually set up a greenhouse office. That is something most people do not recognise. This government put tens of millions of dollars into the Waterproofing Northern Adelaide project so that we can make better use of the stormwater that falls in the electorate of Wakefield by re-using it and taking demand off the Murray River. That is significant spending that we could not have had in the days when Treasurer Keating was slashing money from things like health. The Bolivar pipeline extension is another program we are looking at to re-use water in the horticultural sector, and programs continue right down to the community water grants that so many schools have benefited from in the electorate of Wakefield.
In this budget, some $477 million is going to support the construction of new facilities in Wakefield for the Defence Force. Why are we doing this? We are doing it because this government recognises the importance of a viable and sustainable Defence Force and, in contrast to the previous Labor administration, which cut numbers, cut two battalions out of the Defence Force and decreased spending in 1996 to $10.6 billion, this year the coalition is spending over $22 billion on defence. This is about the only government that has ever consistently—for some seven years now—spent in excess of the three per cent of real growth that the white paper has called for in the Defence budget. We are seeing a growth in numbers, and the relocation of a new battalion to Edinburgh in Wakefield will bring benefits not only to our Defence Force personnel, who now have the opportunity for a rotation from their northern bases, but also the flow-on effects both in construction and in the broader community. The schools, the parents and friends organisations and the sports organisations will now have these defence families involved with them.
We are seeing real work towards reconciliation with Indigenous people. We are seeing some very local examples, like the Salisbury High School Reconciliation Ball, which has been running for a number of years now with funding support from the federal government; through to very practical things like the Marni Waeindi lifelong learning project, which is seeing health outcomes for Indigenous people as they learn to work with their own communities and learn about health skills and becoming health professionals; through to the homework and support programs running in local schools, where Indigenous children are given the additional support they need to get the educational base so that they can make their own way and make choices to determine their own future—free from handouts—in our society. That is real reconciliation.
Total spending on health has gone from some $17.9 billion in 1996 to $51.8 billion in this last budget. What does that mean? It means that in towns like Gawler in Wakefield we have seen over $500,000 put into the Gawler health service so that there is an after-hours GP clinic, after-hours accident and emergency health care and additional doctors. We have seen funding go into regional areas such as Clare to make sure that there are training opportunities for young GPs.
We have seen mental health initiatives—things like Headspace, which the Northern Division of General Practice is running across the cities of Salisbury, Playford and Gawler in the electorate of Wakefield to connect our young people with mental health professionals and others who can assist them. In the vital area of apprenticeships, we have seen the number of apprenticeships grow from some 152,000 back in March 1996 to 404,000 today. Some of those are traineeships but the majority are traditional apprenticeships. The number of traditional apprentices has increased dramatically since 1996. We are taking more steps to encourage that—things like the Australian technical college; the Defence apprentice scheme, so that young people can join the Defence Force and take up an apprenticeship; and the Commonwealth funded Northern Advanced Manufacturing Industry Group, which is a group of industries that come together to engage with high school students to give them, and their teachers, an insight into what the manufacturing and advanced industry sector is about so that those young people have the motivation to hang in there at school. Rather than dropping out, they see a future. They see an employer who has an interesting workplace, who has an interest in them as young people, and who is investing—along with the Commonwealth government—in making that connection between our young people and the industries that want to employ them.
What else does this economy do? It is not just about having surpluses; it is about having the capacity to invest in things like our infrastructure, like funding for roads, which has gone from $1.6 billion in 1996 to $3.4 billion in this year’s budget. That has meant that things like the Roads to Recovery program have been able to be extended. In Wakefield, it has meant that we have seen things like $5 million going into West Avenue, which is connected to the growing industrial area of Edinburgh Parks and Elizabeth West, so that we are seeing more investment, with companies like Hirotec coming in and investing in manufacturing plants in Wakefield, as well as a number of defence industries and other companies that are now diversifying into the mining sector as well as the automotive sector.
We have seen a significant investment in Main North Road as a result of this last budget. The condition of Main North Road, which is a state road—running particularly from Gawler through to Clare—has been atrocious. Yet this budget has, for the first time, seen a significant investment by the federal government into this state road. I certainly call on Mr Rann and Mr Foley, as they lead up to the state budget in June this year, to at least match that $6 million to fix this road which is causing so many problems.
We have seen investment in things like the corner of Angle Vale Road and Heaslip Road, where families were literally in fear for the safety of their children. I had an email today from a family who have actually sold up and left Angle Vale to move to a different town because of the atrocious traffic conditions in that town, and the state government has consistently refused to fund an upgrade to that intersection. I welcome the funding that has come out of the strong economic management of this government that has enabled us to partner with the council so that they can put traffic lights into that intersection and provide safety for that community of Angle Vale.
Federal funding for government schools has gone from $0.9 billion in 1996 to $1.9 billion today. At Kapunda High School, we have funded the new science labs, and at Craigmore High School we have funded significant upgrades. As a result of the Investing in Our Schools program, some 62 schools have received nearly $7.3 million for 150 projects that have been put in through the Investing in Our Schools program. We have seen mandatory literacy testing for children. There was none in 1996; whereas now it is tested at four different points through a child’s education, which enables us to identify where additional resources need to go. Rather than sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that it does not exist, we have put in place a structure whereby we can work with teachers through things like the Boys’ Education Lighthouse program, things like professional development for teachers, so that teachers can further develop themselves, and receive bonuses, over a Christmas period. All those things are properly the responsibility of the state government, but this government, through its good economic management and the fact that it has the resources, has now taken the initiative to put those in place.
The $5 billion endowment fund for higher education is a significant investment. What that means on the ground is that we can now look with more confidence to things like Roseworthy Agricultural College, where we are working in partnership with Adelaide university to create a veterinary school to give the young people in South Australia the opportunity for the first time not to have to go interstate but to be able to train as a veterinary doctor in South Australia; to study in the agricultural sectors, including aquaculture; or to specialise in areas such as biosecurity, which is an area of growing need in Australia.
We are also seeing a great amount of work put in to helping those people who are unemployed, not only through things like the Green Corps program but through Boystown, which we have funded to come down to Wakefield so that they can work with young people who are disengaged from school, perhaps in trouble with the law, and who no employer would touch with a 10-yard barge pole. Because of its economic management this government has the ability—it has the surplus—to put money into programs like that to make it possible for these people to re-enter the workforce. The decrease in the long-term unemployed has been a real plus; it is a really good outcome from this government.
We have seen expenditure on child care. Because we uncapped childcare places, we have seen additional private providers set up in Clare and demolish the waiting list such that there are now vacancies in childcare centres there. In Kapunda we have seen viability subsidies of nearly half a million dollars so that in that small country town a childcare provider can set up on the hospital grounds and provide that service for people. We have also seen the number of aged-care places grow from 141,000 back in 1996 to 208,000 this year. In places like Balaklava and Gawler we are seeing Eldercare, ECH and others build large new facilities to make sure that we have good quality aged care for the elderly who have gone before us.
I refer also to the respite carers program. We have put in money to make sure that carers can have respite from looking after those who have a disability. I think it is significant—as we come up to a deadline facing the state governments to step up and accept the offer made by the Commonwealth through the Commonwealth State/Territory Disability Agreement—that the good management of this government and its team has meant that we are able not only to match the previous money that was put up with indexation, but to put up an additional $400 million. And we are able to make the offer to the states and territories that if they are prepared to identify the areas of unmet need for people with disabilities, the Commonwealth will match it to 50 per cent. That has never been offered by the Commonwealth before. Why can we do that? We can do that because of the good economic management of this government. That economic management is not just because of the leader; it is also important to look at the team behind him. I think that is something that the Australian public really needs to consider going into the future.
We have not just ridden on the back of a mining boom and a strong world economy. People forget things like the Asian recession and the US recession. They forget things like the SARS crisis. The Australian Treasury made the comment that SARS has severely disrupted the economies of some of Australia’s major trading partners in the region and that this is expected to reduce GDP growth in East Asia—and that has occurred in an environment where the global economy is already subdued. So when the Leader of the Opposition sits there in his bright, new, shiny TV ad and says, ‘Me too! I’m an economic conservative; I’d do what they’ve done,’ do not believe it. Remember back to Mr Latham, the man who signed the big cardboard cheque. How much credibility did that have?
Look at the current Leader of the Opposition and his support team; it is completely made up of union members. Look at the people coming in, like Greg Combet, Bill Shorten, Doug Cameron, Don Farrell, Richard Marles and Kevin Harkins. All of these people are coming in to join people like Martin Ferguson, Simon Crean and Jenny George—all previous union secretaries and officials. What you can see is a team to which economic reform and the concept of economic conservatism is a complete anathema to the way they have conducted themselves over the last two to three decades in this country.
As we come up to the election later this year people will look at the things that have been delivered in bonuses and support for the aged and elderly, in education, in defence, in roads and in a whole range of sectors. They have been delivered because of good economic management—the ability to take hard decisions and to reward the efforts of individuals. Let us not go back to the days of domination by a group who represent only 15 per cent of the private sector workforce. Why should a group who represent only 15 per cent of the private sector workforce dictate to the other 85 per cent how things should be run? They have opposed every significant reform that has enabled this country to see out the US recession, the Asian recession and the SARS crisis and still end up with record numbers of surpluses, record low unemployment and record low inflation. Why would you want to trust all of that and the future of your family and the wellbeing of your family to a team who have opposed all the changes that enabled that?
The budget this year is a good example of the credentials of not only the Prime Minister but the team behind him. I welcome the budget and I particularly welcome the benefits it brings to the people of Wakefield.