House debates

Tuesday, 20 October 2020


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2020-2021, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Second Reading

7:11 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

It would be trite to say that this has been a tough year for all Australians, but it's been particularly so for those in my electorate of Cowper. They've copped a triple whammy: they had the end of the very long drought, then severe, devastating bushfires and then the irony of devastating floods—and then coronavirus—all in the space of four months. On behalf of the federal government, we were handing out federal support packages for all four situations: drought, fires, floods and coronavirus. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank all the people in Cowper and, in fact, all the people across Australia, for what they have done for each other. During the drought, we saw Australians donate to get hay and water out. Then, during the fires, volunteer firefighters were putting their lives on the line and, indeed, losing their lives. Then, with the floods, we had the SES, and people were stepping up and volunteering and donating. I'd like to thank all the people in Cowper for what you have done.

Such extraordinary times call for an extraordinary budget, and I'm proud of this coalition's budget. This is a once-in-a-century shock that requires an unprecedented level of support across the economy. The government's initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic provided $299 billion in support. It was exactly what the Australian people needed, because it has helped us get to this point, and the budget will help to get us through. This budget is a strong economic plan to enable local businesses to get through the triple crises of COVID-19, bushfires and drought—and, in some places, floods—and provide them with the confidence and the hope to continue. That's what we do as politicians: we provide hope to people of the land. We may not agree on everything, but our intent is there. We want the Australian people to succeed, and we want Australian businesses to succeed.

One of the biggest successes of this budget has to be the extension of the instant asset write-off scheme, and you would only understand that if you have run a business. It might escape you if you've worked in the public service all your life, and I'm not suggesting that's a bad thing. What I'm suggesting is if you've worked in business you understand how important this instant asset write-off is. It means you are not carrying the debt, the millstone around your neck, of a substantial purchase for the whole of the year. What you're doing is writing it off instantly, and what that does is put the money back in the coffers. And because the money is there and it's accessible, what happens? The business can grow. You can put more people on or, God forbid, put some money in your back pocket for your hard work, for the slog of the day. This instant asset write-off has been extremely well-received.

I received an email from Rodney Mole. He is the manager of RM Diesel in Kempsey, and he said, 'The instant asset write-off has allowed us to purchase a new test bench and surface grinder to recondition and overhaul diesel engines. It has allowed us to fast-track the upgrade of essential business capital. The new equipment really helps the turnaround time in our busy workshop. We mainly serve transport and agriculture, so better efficiency from us gets them back on the job faster. It's a win-win.' That's a real person saying that we've just bought this, we've implemented it into our business and people who are coming to us are getting their machinery back quicker for them to work, because we've been able to do that because of this instant asset write-off. This is huge. So it's not only assisting businesses, but it will—and can—create jobs.

Treasury estimates that the $4 billion JobMaker Hiring Credit scheme on top of the instant asset write-off will support 450,000 jobs by giving employers incentives for each new job they create over the next 12 months for someone who's been on JobSeeker or youth allowance or a parenting payment. And I'll concede: there are plenty of people on JobSeeker, youth allowance and parenting payments in my electorate. We've been hit hard. The predominant industries in my electorate are tourism and hospitality—the first ones to get hit and the last ones to come out of it. So this plan to create 450,000 new jobs by contributing $200 a week to employees for somebody under 30 and $100 a week for somebody under 35 will create incentive for employers. And I know that, because I talk to them and they've told me so. I've spoken to many business owners over the past two weeks. The principal from PRD Real Estate was one. He said he's going to put on three new young people to support his senior staff in his real estate office. The director of Hopkins Consultants in Port Macquarie said that the job-hiring credit will give him confidence to hire a young civil drafting and design trainee. And of course we can't forget that the wages for new apprentices and trainees have been subsidised too, and that's in any size business in any industry. We're not targeting anyone. We're just allowing that to happen, allowing businesses and industry to get on with the job and employ young people as apprentices and trainees. That's a $1.2 billion measure where employers will be eligible for 50 per cent of the wages for a new or recommencing apprentice or trainee up to $7,000 a quarter. That's substantial. When you're an employer, that is a substantial amount of money if you're considering whether or not to put someone on. That $28,000 a year will make the difference. It has made the difference. People are already putting apprentices and trainees on.

And of course there are the tax cuts. Australians work hard. They deserve to have more money in their back pocket. There is no point taxing the Australian worker to get out of debt. It has never worked in the past. Why would it work in the future? That's why we haven't done that. We're giving them tax cuts. Low- and middle-income earners will receive up to $2,745 of relief compared with 2017-18 and high-income earners will receive $2,565 of relief compared with financial year 2017-18.

We cannot forget the record infrastructure investment. This infrastructure investment will make a huge difference in my electorate. Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, I know how concerned you are about the road toll. I know your advocacy for reducing the road toll. That's why in the election there was an additional $490.6 million for the Coffs Harbour bypass. This is effectively the last link in the M1, with the exception of the Heatherbrae bypass.

Over the years there have been thousands of deaths on this road. This will address that very issue, and I'll address the social and economic benefits. This will create safe passage for residents of Coffs Harbour, Cowper and Australia and those visiting our shores when we finally open the borders. This will create 12,000 new jobs over the life of the build, and 80 per cent will be local builders, local tradies and local labourers. For five years there will be an additional 12,000 jobs. Every single day it will take over 12,000 vehicles off the road going through Coffs Harbour. It will improve the amenity, the safety and all of Coffs Harbour for the benefit of those living in Coffs Harbour.

In addition, there was the much smaller and quieter investment of $1.5 million to seal a five-kilometre stretch of The Hatch Road near Port Macquarie. During my campaign—and you know that this is my first time in this place—I became aware that that road had been ripped up about 10 years ago by the local council. In the past 12 months that road had been resealed with crushed concrete containing crystalline silica. Many may not be aware that crystalline silica is the new asbestos.

Along this five-kilometre stretch of road there are 80 residents on small farm allotments. Kids live there. The school bus goes down there every day. There is an equestrian centre where kids go to learn how to ride. Every time it was dry—and it was dry for a very long time—and a car or a truck drove down there, plumes of this crystalline silica would be sent into the air, across the fields, into the water catchments and onto the roofs of the homes. They're not on town water there and that crystalline silica would wash into the water tanks when it rained.

I was very pleased to see in this budget $1.5 million to seal that road, because the little things are so important. I think the saying is, 'The smallest fish are the sweetest.' The little things, this $1.5 million, means more to the community of The Hatch Road than the $491 million for the bypass, because it's about their health, their safety and their amenity.

There are numerous benefits in this budget. But one that I'm very, very pleased about is the $5.7 billion towards mental health. Because this has been tough. This has been tough for all Australians, particularly young Australians. We have seen a tragic spike in youth suicide all over Australia. It doesn't discriminate. It doesn't discriminate between cultures. It doesn't discriminate between economic classes. I was really pleased that this government has recognised that and has ensured that we're going to be there for those who are having mental health challenges, particularly the youth. I was very happy to be at the groundbreaking of the new headspace in Kempsey. They have been getting by with an outreach centre, but now they're going to get their own youth centre. One in four young people who walk through that door will be Indigenous.

So this is a good budget. It's providing for all Australians, and it's providing for those Australians who are less fortunate. I certainly am proud to get out there and tell people that I'm proud of my government.


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