Thursday, 11 February 2010
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010; Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010
Debate resumed from 10 February, on motion by Dr Emerson:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The management of the nation’s economy is defining the first term of the Rudd government, a government that is successfully steering the nation through the worst global recession since the Great Depression. There is no doubt that the early and decisive action of the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, supported by his economics team—the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner—ensured that we have avoided a recession in this country. The bank guarantee and the economic stimulus plan were critical to ensuring the nation’s economy continued to grow, and we have seen that economic stimulus plan and the confidence engendered through the bank guarantee support hundreds of thousands of jobs across this country.
The Rudd government’s economic stimulus plan is making a real difference in communities like mine in Far North Queensland, including in my own electorate of Leichhardt. In Far North Queensland unemployment doubled and is still above 10 per cent. It would have been much worse if the government had not stepped in and taken action when the private sector was in retreat as a result of the global recession. We need to recognise that. The broader community recognises that. Even the most right-leaning newspaper in this country, the Australian, recognised that when they made the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, their Australian of the Year in direct response to the actions he had taken to steer this country through the global recession.
Yet every step of the way we have been opposed by the Liberal and National parties in this parliament. If those opposite had been in government, we would have gone into recession and thousands more people would have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. I have visited schools and other building projects like roads across my electorate and met with builders, tradies and labourers who would not have had work if it had not been for the economic stimulus plan.
Small, medium and larger businesses have also benefited. The small business tax break has been particularly important in supporting businesses in my electorate. The Assistant Treasurer, Nick Sherry, was in my electorate last year and we met with Ray and Judy Lanarch from PTS traffic management, who have benefited directly from the small business tax break and have been able to expand their business. Derek Ross of Pressure Pumps North Queensland also had a story about a small business that has actually grown during these difficult economic times, and that is a direct result of the benefits that have flown from the small business tax break. So there is no doubt that thousands more businesses would have gone broke and thousands more people would have been unemployed if the government had not acted so early and decisively in response to this crisis. That stands in stark contrast to the continued opposition we have had to our actions throughout these difficult times.
But, as I have said, the government has also given specific attention to regions like the one that I represent in Far North Queensland. We have experienced some of the fastest increases in and highest rates of unemployment in the country. The Cairns region was identified as a priority employment area, and our local employment coordinator, Peter Doutre, is working hard in partnership with local business and community leaders to further develop a jobs plan for the region. The Minister for Employment Participation, Mark Arbib, and Parliamentary Secretary Jason Clare visited Cairns following this announcement to host a Keep Australia Working forum attended by almost 100 local businesses and community leaders.
Following on from that, we have had major projects forums. They were held last year in partnership with the Queensland government, who are also stepping in with a major infrastructure building program to support jobs. We wanted to make sure that local businesses could access those contracts and we had a major project forum to inform local businesses about the projects that are available and how they could tender and get involved in those projects. There have been a range of Jobs Fund projects announced following on from the recognition of Cairns as a priority employment area—projects that are funding a new community centre as well as walking and bike tracks—to further support employment in the region.
The Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy, Craig Emerson, visited Cairns to host a roundtable between the business and banking sectors to discuss the availability of finance in the region. We are in a situation in Cairns where the construction industry has been particularly hard hit because of the GFC, which went on and became the global recession. The banking industry has been in retreat as a result of that. Projects that previously would have got finance have had difficulty getting finance. What we have seen particularly in Far North Queensland is real concern about the banks re-evaluating risk in our region and not supporting the construction industry with projects that are still worth while and should be funded. The minister for small business came to Cairns and got the big banks there, including the Australian Bankers Association. He sat down with local business to work through this problem. I am still not necessarily happy with the way that the banks are responding to some projects in my area but I think it was important for us to sit down and have that frank conversation. We will continue to work through these issues as part of our response to the global economic downturn that we are particularly feeling in Cairns.
Prior to Christmas the Prime Minister visited Cairns to attend a jobs expo organised by Centrelink. More than 100 employers participated and 5½ thousand people attended the expo, and more than 300 people got a job as a direct result of that day. More than 300 individuals and families have had their lives changed by getting a job as a direct result of the government establishing the region as a priority employment area and supporting the jobs expo. The flow-on of more than 300 jobs out of just that day is the sort of thing that this government is doing, not only nationally but locally, making a real difference in local communities like the one that I represent.
As well as visiting the jobs expo, on that day the Prime Minister made a number of announcements to further support jobs in the region, including regulatory reforms to attract new aviation carriers to Cairns. For many years the local tourism industry has wanted to see aviation regulatory reforms that would encourage international carriers into Cairns and encourage them to triangulate through Cairns into some of the capital cities—Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. We have delivered that reform.
The Prime Minister announced almost $19.5 million in funding to establish the Cairns Institute at James Cook University. This builds on a commitment to and construction of a $50 million dental school, strengthening our local education sector. The Prime Minister announced the bringing forward of $60 million in housing economic stimulus projects. They were in the National Economic Stimulus Plan, but there is a real recognition in Cairns that the construction industry is struggling and that the private sector is in retreat. I worked cooperatively with Minister Arbib, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Government Service Delivery, and the state government to ensure that that could happen.
We announced a task force to work with business on cash flow problems they may be facing as a result of the global recession. There are many businesses in Cairns that have been going through some difficult times in an economy dependent on tourism and construction, both hard hit by the global recession. It has seen businesses struggling at times with cash flow. The business community spoke to me and Minister Arbib. We worked with them and Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry to bring forward a task force that is now working with businesses in my electorate.
We announced further support to develop farm tourism, because the tourism industry has been doing it tough with the recession in Japan and we have seen flight cuts. We need to diversify and strengthen the tourism industry. We are doing a lot in that area, but there was a further announcement of half a million dollars to Advance Cairns to further work with the farm tourism sector. Through the Office of Northern Australia and Regional Development Australia, we have made a commitment and we are continuing to work with local business and community leaders to strengthen and diversify our local economy. So it is not only a plan for today; we are also planning for the medium and long term, working with Advance Cairns and Regional Development Australia and supporting that effort through the department of infrastructure and the Office of Northern Australia.
I would like to thank Advance Cairns, particularly their chairman, Russell Beer; their deputy chairman, Rose-Marie Dash; their CEO, Ross Contarino; board member and chair of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce Jeremy Blockey; Mayor Val Schier; and business consultant Tim Grau, who visited Canberra in the lead-up to the Prime Minister’s visit. Working in partnership with them and the government, we have been able to bring forward and successfully secure this very important package to support jobs in Cairns. I would like to particularly thank the Minister for Employment Participation, Mark Arbib, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, Jason Clare, who visited Cairns on more than one occasion to work in partnership with me and the business leaders I have just thanked in developing this targeted response to the unemployment problem we face in Cairns and the broader region.
A lot was done last year, as I have already said, in terms of the Rudd government’s economic response to the financial crisis and support not only for the broader economy but particularly for regions like mine. We are not out of the woods yet, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am very optimistic about the future when we look at what is ahead. The Australian and Queensland governments continue to support the construction industry through nation-building infrastructure projects. The Rudd government alone is funding 2,100 projects representing $460 million in economic stimulus investment in North Queensland. On top of these economic stimulus projects are projects being delivered as a result of election commitments and the orderly business of government, including a dental school at James Cook University; a GP superclinic in Edmonton, which I recently announced; trade training centres, including a marine skills training centre being built in Cairns and trade training centres in the Torres Strait; and the recently announced upgrade of the Horn Island airstrip in partnership with the Queensland government. This is very important infrastructure in my electorate of Leichhardt. There have been social housing projects and upgrades to local roads, including the Bruce Highway and the Peninsula Development Road. Many of these projects are now under construction or will be built this year.
The Rudd government continues to support the tourism industry, announcing this year another $1 million in marketing funding for tropical North Queensland to attract visitors from New Zealand, China and Japan. This builds on a $4 million package announced when Qantas cut flights to Japan and the recently announced regulatory reforms were introduced to attract new airlines to Cairns, as I described earlier. The partnership between Cairns Airport and Jetstar will see 300,000 domestic and international seats return to Cairns over the next 2½ years. This agreement has been supported with marketing funds from the Australian and Queensland governments. This is 100,000 more seats than the number of seats cut when Qantas cut flights to Japan in July 2007. Continental and Pacific Blue have also recently announced new services to Cairns, and we are going to see thousands of Chinese tourists visiting Cairns this weekend for Chinese New Year, supported through marketing funding from the Australian government working in partnership with Tourism Tropical North Queensland. ‘Kung hei fat choi’ to any of those Cantonese Chinese listeners out there. I am looking forward to attending the Chinese New Year celebrations in my electorate this weekend. We have many Chinese tourists already in Cairns—I saw them when I was home last weekend—and I encourage anybody who sees Chinese people around Australia this coming weekend to wish them a happy new year. Chinese New Year is very important to them in the same way that Christmas is very important in this country. I encourage people to make them feel very welcome in what we know is the world’s most hospitable country, Australia, and the country’s most hospitable place, Cairns.
Following the PM’s allowance last year, the Taxation Office is now working with businesses to ensure that those who may be having problems meeting their payments are given every chance to get through these difficult economic times. Last year, working with the businesses in our community, we announced a tax task force. That task force started work in January, and it rang 1,100 small businesses in my electorate in the lead-up to their visit to Cairns during the first week of February to offer support to local businesses. As I said, some businesses have been struggling with cash flow problems as a result of the global recession. A total of 106 businesses expressed interest and 60 have now taken advantage of this service to work with the tax office on financial plans so that they are given every opportunity to trade through these difficult economic times. I would like to thank Minister Sherry for the work he has done in partnership with me and the local business community on this.
So a lot is being done by the Rudd government to support traditional industries like tourism and construction in Far North Queensland, including in my electorate of Leichhardt. We need, though, to continue to diversify and strengthen our local economy. This must be a major focus of the government in partnership with business and community leaders as we move forward. The work of Regional Development Australia will be important in this effort and I look forward to working with Andrew Griffiths, the new chair of this committee, as they develop a roadmap for the region over the coming year. I look forward to continuing to partner with Advance Cairns and its member organisations, including Tourism Tropical North Queensland, the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and the local Cairns Port Authority. There are real opportunities to strengthen the tourism industry, diversifying it into new markets around events tourism, health tourism, adventure tourism and Indigenous tourism to attract new people and new tourism opportunities to our local region.
The region also needs to tap into the resources sector to diversify the local economy. New and existing mines are likely to face labour and skill shortages in the near future, and there are opportunities for Cairns and the region to become a mining services centre for Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The region is also well positioned to become an education hub for Australia and the Asia-Pacific region and needs to seize this opportunity. The Rudd government is investing in a new dental school at Cairns Institute at JCU, a new marine skills training centre, a new school and TAFE facilities. Combined with a well-established aviation skills centre and English language schools, the region can meet most educational needs. These facilities, combined with the region’s friendly people and natural appeal as a tourism destination, make it a very attractive place to get an education.
These are just two opportunities to diversify the economy and we need to continue to work on others such as expanding the aviation and marine services sectors and opportunities for arts and culture, including Indigenous arts and culture. Working together, we can build a better future for our region. That is what I am committed to do, working with the local business and community leaders, working with the executive of our government, to make a real difference in our local communities.
As I said at the start of this speech, the Rudd government has steered and is steering this country through some of the most difficult economic times the world has experienced. It stands in stark contrast to our opponents, who have opposed our action every step of the way. This year is a very important year. We need to continue to roll out our economic stimulus plan, we need to continue to support the tourism industry in my electorate and we need to continue to work on that longer term plan. But there is a real risk this year with an election coming up that those plans will be put in jeopardy because of the opposition. We have already seen Senator Macdonald this week in Senate estimates talking about further delays to the much-needed upgrade to the Bruce Highway in my electorate—a $150 million election commitment. Planning has been done and we have got three options on the table. We are reducing them down to one in the first half of this year and I want to see construction start later this year. It is a $150 million upgrade of the Bruce Highway south of Cairns, much needed to fix traffic congestion problems. The former member delivered no significant funding to upgrade the Bruce Highway south of Cairns, and what we have got now is Senator Ian Macdonald in Senate estimates talking about alternative routes that were ruled out 10 years ago under a planning study done by the state when the Howard government was in power, because they do not have the funding for this election commitment, they do not have the funding to upgrade the Bruce Highway, and they are now looking to delay. Residents of the southern suburbs of Cairns want this highway fixed and they need it fixed, and that is what I am committed to doing. I would appreciate some clarification from the LNP in Queensland as to whether they are going to support this election commitment and this plan to upgrade the Bruce Highway.
Their position stands in stark contrast to our position. We are supporting the economy. We are supporting the country through these difficult economic times. The opposition has opposed those measures and, as we have seen now, the current Leader of the Opposition has said very clearly that he was not that focused on or interested in economics in the past, and now he is the Leader of the Opposition he has got the shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, who in the last week has been out parading in a tutu, and we have got the finance spokesman in Senator Joyce, who has made some pretty unbelievable statements in recent times, including that Australia may have difficulty paying back its debt, when we are envied across the world for the way we have responded to the global recession, steered this country through this economic crisis. We have got one of the lowest debt levels in the OECD. It is scaremongering of the worst type for base political gain. You have got to stack their economic team up against ours. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and the finance minister, Lindsay Tanner, are up against Mr Abbott, Mr Hockey and Senator Joyce. These are the teams that people will have to choose between at the end of the year: a Prime Minister recognised by a right-wing journal in this country effectively, the Australian, as Australian of the Year, as compared to a budgie-smuggler wearing Leader of the Opposition, a tutu wearing shadow Treasurer and a finance spokesperson who is so in pursuit of the one-liner that he will say just about anything to get himself in the media. That is the real choice. Does this country risk having that opposition manage this country through what continue to be globally difficult economic times?
I am optimistic about the future. We have done a lot in Cairns and my region in the past year to support jobs. There is much more work to be done, including the development and implementation of a plan to diversify our local economy. That is what I am about. I will continue to deliver locally our economic stimulus plan and I will continue to deliver our election commitments. We will continue to work with local business and community leaders to ensure that we can support jobs going forward. We do not want to risk this by electing a Liberal-National Party government at the end of this year.
I was very pleased to see this morning the government introducing legislation arising out of recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Such legislation will fix the rort introduced by the previous government at the last election to close the rolls early to prevent young people voting. There are a number of other matters that the government must address to make sure that the democratic franchise in Australia remains as wide as possible, which is after all the responsibility of this parliament, particularly given the fact that we in this country have a compulsory voting system.
In debating the appropriation bills, I would like to raise the issue of disenfranchisement and the need to invest in our electoral system in a wider way. As at the end of September 2009, according to public testimony by Mr Killesteyn, the excellent Electoral Commissioner of the Australian Electoral Commission, just last week, 1.39 million Australians were not enrolled. Fully one-third of these people are aged between 18 and 25. All of these people would have been unable to exercise their democratic rights at a federal election. In the 2007 federal election, 92.3 per cent of the population voted and the AEC estimates that in 2009 only 90.9 per cent were enrolled. This downward trend in enrolment, especially among young people in Australia, is of deep concern. More and more 18- to 25-year-olds are being disenfranchised and turned away from voting booths. During this election year thousands of 18-year-olds will be eligible to vote and it is their fundamental right to vote and to make a decision as to who represents them. Therefore, we have to work very hard to change legislation in Australia to make that more easily possible. All members of parliament understand why this is happening.
Over the last decade Australia has used a very wide system of data matching—for which the Electoral Commission uses the acronym CRU, continuous roll update—to make sure that we are aware of people’s latest changes of address. The Electoral Commission uses this information to match data from agencies such as the Roads and Traffic Authority in New South Wales and electricity boards to work out that someone has changed their address and it takes people off the roll when they move from an address. We, as members of parliament, are all aware of this because we get return mail when we write to people in our electorate. The Electoral Commission, by law, is not allowed to put these people on at their new address, even if they live in the same electorate and even if the commission knows that they are there. The Electoral Commission has to send them a piece of snail mail—hard mail—and the person must write their name on the letter and send it back, saying, ‘Yes, I am here.’ Unless they actually go through that act, those people are not re-enrolled. That is why we had the undemocratic situation at the last election of 800 to 900 people per seat—people who actually lived in an electorate but who had moved house within that seat—turning up to a polling place but being denied their vote. It is a scandal and, in my view, changed the results in four seats at the last federal election. I am sure the Liberal Party in a close election would be very happy that their specially organised system of increasing identity requirements for provisional voters in particular disenfranchised those 800 to 900 people per seat. Political observers like Malcolm Mackerras, Professor Brian Coster and Professor Brent have established that those provisional voters would probably have voted between 50 and 60 per cent between Green and Labor. Slicing off that piece of the salami was the intention of the change to the identity rules for provisional voting.
Let me turn to the issue of campaign donations. Over the past year, both sides of politics have been coming up with various ideas on this subject. The former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, suggested banning donations above $1,000 and substituting public funding as the main source of campaign funds for political parties. He gained some support, particularly in the Sydney media, for this idea. I opposed the idea then and I still oppose it. Taxpayers already spend something like $50 million at election time to pay for the election activities of the major political parties—the Greens, the Liberal and National parties and the Labor Party. To publicly fund political parties would probably cost 10 times that amount if we were to fund political parties over a three-year election cycle. I have the tables worked out by the Parliamentary Library explaining what political parties cost during this year from the electoral returns. This is no surmise or suggestion from Mr Danby, the member for Melbourne Ports, without any firm background to it. The libraries’ sifting of the AEC’s receipts show that the operation of political parties cost $500 million. The taxpayers of Australia have to ask the question: do they want to spend such money on hospitals, defence and education, or do they want to spend $500 million on funding political parties during a three-year electoral cycle?
I think the current mix of private, union and some public funding is a much more equitable formula for the people of Australia. A scheme to make political parties funded by the taxpayer would rob our democracy of one of its most important elements: the support by citizens of the party of their choice. Political parties are supposed to reflect the views and needs of their supporters. If a party cannot persuade its supporters to donate money to it, it does not deserve to survive. It certainly does not deserve to be placed on life support in the form of taxpayers’ money.
Ideas of this kind arise from the belief that campaign donations breed political corruption, since people assume that donors are buying political favours with their money. I think this is a false notion, and therefore I reject drastic changes such as banning political donations to fix what I think is a greatly exaggerated problem. There is little evidence of serious corruption in Australian politics and almost none at the federal level. There is an excellent organisation called Transparency International, which publishes an annual index of corruption rating every country in the world by degree of corruption. In its 2009 index, out of 180 countries surveyed, Australia ranked eighth—in other words, we were assessed as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, ahead of the US, the UK, Germany, France and Japan.
Where there are suspicions of corrupt influence in the funding of political parties the correct cure is disclosure. As many doctors will tell you, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and this is true of politics as well as medicine. Making all donations above a certain minimum publicly known is the best way to prevent influence buying. This is why those opposite, instead of proposing draconian and unnecessary solutions such as banning donations, particularly from unions, which seems to be their obsession, should stop blocking the proposal in the Senate for campaign donation disclosure. Time is running out for this bill to be passed in time to have an effect on this year’s election. I urge the new Leader of the Opposition to pass it without further delay.
Recently published figures on political donations show one startling fact about the donations issue. The Citizens Electoral Council, a fringe political organisation, received donations of $1.8 million in the last year. This is a very large sum for an organisation that gets virtually no support as measured by votes in the elections. We know that the CEC’s godfather in the United States, Lyndon LaRouche, has a criminal record for swindling particularly elderly people via credit card fraud and in fact was jailed by the United States government after an FBI investigation that convicted him of what they call in the United States ‘interstate mail fraud’.
I have called many times for the CEC to be investigated by the Electoral Commission and the AFP, and I intend taking this issue up with the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I believe the same process is happening here in Australia. The bunker in Coburg has a bank of telephones. Those poor, deranged people sit there cold-calling elderly people all over Australia. Once they get their credit card details, they then ring them back and half-convince them to take more money out. When you see the electoral returns of some ordinary people, all around Australia, it is extraordinary—they are giving $25,000 or $50,000 to this completely fringe political organisation—and I think the AFP should investigate.
Turning to the issue of foreign affairs, this week saw Ukraine’s fifth presidential election since declaring independence from the Soviet Union. Australians became briefly aware of Ukraine during the protests and other actions that became known as the Orange Revolution, which took place in the aftermath of their 2004 presidential elections. The protests were prompted by reports of several domestic and foreign election monitors as well as a widespread public perception that the results of the run-off vote between the two leading candidates, Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych, were rigged by the authorities in favour of the latter.
The nationwide protests succeeded when the results of the original run-off were annulled and the revote was ordered by the Supreme Court of Ukraine on 26 December 2004. Under intense scrutiny by domestic and international observers, the second run-off was declared to be free and fair. The results showed clear victory for Yushchenko, who received 52 per cent of the vote compared to Yanukovych’s 44 per cent.
Although the results are not final, democracy seems to be established in Ukraine. It now appears that all the controversy and misplaced hopes for the Orange Revolution have seen Viktor Yanukovych, the loser at the last election, win this election. I must say I have to join many people in expressing disappointment with the former president of Ukraine. The decision just before his political demise to award the Nazi puppet and stooge Stepan Bandera the title of Hero of Ukraine really reflects very, very poorly on him. I think that right across the world people are shaking their heads and wondering what happened to the prospects of the Orange Revolution under Viktor Yushchenko.
This part of eastern Europe is an important issue for Australia in an important way that I do not think people understand. Ukraine is, after all, a country of 50 million people. Ukraine is the largest country in terms of both population and geography in Eastern Europe. It is the second largest country that was part of the former Soviet Union. Its GDP is nearly $350 billion. There are around 15,000 Ukrainian Australians. Perhaps one of the reasons why there is so little interest in Ukraine is that there is no Australian embassy in its capital, Kiev. Australia has embassies in many countries which are arguably far less important in global terms and far less important to Australia than Ukraine—Malta, Ghana, Mauritius, Kiribati, the Holy See and Ramallah, just to name a few. Hopefully we will see this change in coming years.
On 28 January I was very pleased to see that the Minister for Foreign Affairs had a meeting with the Ukrainian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr P Poroshenko. I am told that the main focus of the talks was renewing the diplomatic and consular presence of Australia in Ukraine. After all, the Ukrainians have an embassy here in Canberra. I am told the foreign minister has indicated he will appoint, at the nearest possible time, at least an honorary consul in Kiev with the authority to issue visas. Mr Poroshenko apparently lobbied hard for full-fledged diplomatic representation of Australia in Ukraine. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade position is not yet public but I, for one, will be strongly supporting that. It is ridiculous that in that country full of mining engineers, excellent universities and high-grade technical education, where people should be of great interest to Australia, people cannot get a visa in Kiev. In order to even acquire a tourist visa to Australia, Ukrainians have to apply for a visa to go to Moscow and then, only when they are there, apply for another visa to come to Australia. It is very convoluted. That system could be obviated by an Australian embassy in Kiev, which would much more naturally serve Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia and, of course, the important country of Ukraine with 50 million people.
On another issue of international affairs, the announcement of the International Criminal Court that it was pursuing new charges of genocide against Sudan’s President Bashir brings the situation of Darfur back into the limelight. This catastrophe of two million internally displaced Darfuris, many of whom survive only on handouts from the few aid agencies left there, should be sharply in people’s focus. The upcoming Sudanese elections in April, pundits predict, will be fraudulent. Now more than ever is the time to focus on the situation. Last year’s expulsion of aid agencies by the Sudanese government, following the charges of President Bashir, worsened the situation as to the food, water and medicine available to the 4.7 million affected people in the western region of Sudan. On 21 January Sudan revoked the licences of 26 aid agencies in Darfur. As a consequence, little aid has been reaching the impoverished, the sick and, more importantly, the children of Darfur.
I have spoken previously in this House about the disgraceful increase in gender based violence, particularly against women in the west from Darfur, by the Janjaweed and other Sudanese government sponsored militias. The UN World Food Program estimates that it will need to feed 11 million displaced people in the various regions of Sudan this year alone. A peacekeeping force set up to protect the civilians of Darfur, UNAMID, has repeatedly stated that there is a severe lack of food and water for the population. Ninety per cent of the population of Sudan lives on less than $1 a day. One in seven children dies before the age of five, primarily from preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhoea. One in seven women who become pregnant is likely to die from pregnancy related causes. Only 6.4 per cent of the population has access to sanitation facilities, and an estimated 85 per cent of the population is illiterate. This is an indictment of the regime in Khartoum.
It is pleasing to see that Australia has, following continued pressure from this parliament, some military presence with the international forces authorised by the United Nations in Sudan. Unfortunately, because of the international situation and the concentration on Iraq and Afghanistan, the ability of the mainly African forces to transport themselves around to emergency situations is almost zero. The request for Western countries to provide helicopters so that the mainly African soldiery of UNAMID can be ferried immediately to points of transgression by the Janjaweed militia against the innocent people of Darfur has not been acceded to. The United Nations seems completely incapable of affecting the regime in Sudan.
In my last few minutes, I want to turn to the issue of migration and this government’s wise programs. I am very supportive of the current Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, and the government’s program of skilled migration. I think that his tweaking of the categories is a natural progression for the government as it continues to refine our immigration process. I was very pleased to hear the Deputy Prime Minister and the minister for immigration arguing for the economic as well as cultural benefits of our skilled migration program.
I want to go on the record here to just remind people—including people like Mr Dick Smith, who argues in the Daily Telegraph today against the ability of this country to grow and prosper—of an optimistic and positive view of migration. The 2008-09 immigration figures show that the net tax benefit, after paying for the humanitarian program and for family reunion, was $830 million in the first year. In the 20th year, that level of immigration brings a benefit to the Australian people of $1,760 million. This is in uncontested, unchallenged modelling from Access Economics which is in the budget papers and available from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. If you look at just that one year of immigration, over a 20-year cycle there are benefits of $20 billion plus.
Of course, when you look at the population bulge that Australia has with people my age and older—the baby boomers who are going into retirement and leaving their working lives—one of the sensible ways for Australia to provide for this is by continuing to have an intelligently based moderate, balanced immigration program. We bring primarily skilled people into this country—doctors, nurses, engineers et cetera—who will have the above positive economic effect.
A dear friend I saw last night at dinner, former minister for the arts Barry Cohen, for whom I used to work, had a very combative argument in the Australian on population. He said he had first raised this issue in 1970, when Australia’s population was 12 million. Today it is 22 million, and I cannot see Australia collapsing. Most Australians enjoy a standard of living and quality of life that are the envy of the world and a great improvement on the way we lived all those years ago. In my view, the 6.9 million Australians who have come to Australia since 1945 have made a great contribution to this country. They have supported our democratic norms, invigorated our culture and made an economic contribution as well.
Naturally we have to integrate planning in our cities for sustained water, transport and all the kinds of facilities that we now enjoy. I point to examples. In Perth, the Kwinana-city suburban railway is carrying seven times the traffic that was originally envisaged. The problems that are envisaged in Melbourne growing to seven million people are being catered for by the Victorian government, with many transport innovations and many water innovations, including the desalination plant. Much of the pessimistic world view of Australia—with Bob Carr and Dick Smith—is a very Sydney-centric view. It is to do with problems that exist in that city. I am much more optimistic, and I think the current Australian government has a much more constructive view—(Time expired)
I rise to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010. These bills seek appropriation authority from parliament for additional expenditure of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in order to meet requirements that have arisen since the budget. They add up to around $2 billion. The funds will be directed towards important nation-building programs that will create jobs and help deliver a low-carbon economy. These include additional funds for the Solar Homes and Communities Plan and other energy efficiency measures for householders. The 2009-10 budget firmly concentrates on nation building, and by investing in infrastructure such as roads, education and community infrastructure this budget has helped to create jobs and build more efficient infrastructure.
A particular nation-building project that has recently been completed in my electorate of Deakin is something that I am immensely proud of—that is, the grade separation of Springvale Road. Although there are still a few minor works to go, the major parts are done and the traffic jams are over. It was on 11 January this year that the new underground Nunawading railway station was officially reopened, with traffic resuming on Springvale Road a few days before. This included, for the first time, the complete removal of boom gates and the railway level crossing that had existed since 1882. In recent decades of course this crossing has been consistently congested. Traffic has been delayed. It has created a nightmare not only for drivers but for residents of Nunawading and anyone who has had any need to go across or through the suburb.
At the time of the 2007 election the Australian Labor Party made a commitment to the people of Deakin. We committed to do something about Springvale Road—not just to do something but a genuine commitment to allocate $80 million to the much needed project and to deliver this whilst working in cooperation with the Victorian state Labor government. Unlike the Liberal Party, who for 12 long years in government and many years prior promised to fix the problems at Springvale Road crossing in Nunawading and achieved nothing, this was a genuine commitment to get the job done and, as they say, the proof is now in the pudding. The job has been done and it was done in only two years. Even more than that, the actual construction was completed in approximately six months.
The type of construction and the way it was carried out in particular would be of great interest to many in this House because it has shown us a new way of performing grade separations in urban areas without shutting down railway services and road services for months on end. It has shown that, by working in an alliance configuration, all the jobs required to be done in a grade separation can actually be done concurrently or very nearby. For instance, it means that there are no overnight works for 12 or 18 months whilst rail tracks are lowered. It means that when it comes to noise issues there are lots of things that can be done differently so that local residents are not put out. That is what happened with Springvale Road.
This method was first trialled a few years ago on a project a couple of stations up the line at Middleborough Road. Although there were some problems with that, lessons were learnt along the way and the especially good thing is that they were applied to the Springvale Road project. That meant of course that the project ran very smoothly. It ran ahead of time, and that is a great thing. Many civil and construction projects do not run ahead of time. Sometimes they get caught up by delays that have nothing to do with how good the workers on the job may be but have to do with design or environmental issues. That was not the case with Springvale Road. What has been learnt from this project can be applied to the next job that is done in Melbourne or in another capital city—how things are done quicker, how they are done smarter and how they will save money for the governments of the future. That is a good thing.
A city like Melbourne has far too many level crossings. With more than four million people living in the city now, and with traffic volumes increasing every year, the number of level crossings has remained static for many years. While it used to be quite easy to get across parts of Melbourne, at certain times it is now becoming harder and harder because the city is growing bigger. Not only are there more cars on the road; more train services means that boom gates are down for far longer on all these level crossings.
The Springvale Road rail crossing in Nunawading was well known in Melbourne as the worst intersection in town and rated for at least two years by the RACV as Melbourne’s worst red spot—that is, the most congested. And the congestion was not just at peak times. This was a railway level crossing where you could have traffic jams on a Sunday afternoon—and this is on a six-lane road with three lanes each way. It was very common for traffic to bank up for half a kilometre or more. So there were many people—and it was not only local residents, because it is a main arterial road in the east of Melbourne—who regularly got caught on Springvale Road. The knock-on effect of something like that is not always considered. When a large road like that is blocked many people think: ‘Well, I don’t want to drive up there. It is too crowded. I’m going to drive somewhere else.’ So they start using local streets as rat runs or they go to minor roads which then get clogged. The problem affects much larger areas than the particular intersection or that particular suburb.
The problem had been going on for many, many years, as I was certainly aware. I have lived in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne all my life and as far back as I can remember, and for many years before that, there was lobbying for this project to be done—for the railway to be lowered and for the road to be put over the top. In fact, last year I visited a retirement village on Springvale Road just down from the railway crossing where I spoke to a lady of 92 who said to me that her father had been complaining about that railway crossing in 1945. I really did not know that the problem had been going on for so long. I am sure that there was not as much road traffic then and that there were not as many trains but it sounds as if it has always been a problem.
But it is a great thing that the Rudd Labor government delivered on its commitment of $80 million to complete this project. It is especially pleasing to report to the House that the Victorian Labor government delivered $60 million to build and coordinate the project and that both governments have worked extremely cooperatively together. That has been a great thing. There has not been blame or finger-pointing. There has been communication, which is quite new for this type of project in the urban environment. Many times in the past federal governments would not touch these sorts of projects. But they are needed. They are needed to make our community a better place, to make it more efficient and to employ people. Slowly but surely, as I said, our suburbs have become clogged with traffic.
There is a sense of achievement for local residents, road and rail users and pedestrians who tried to cross Springvale Road. That sense of achievement is immense, also, for local businesses around the crossing whose customers could not get to them because the boom gates were always down or because the traffic was always banked up. It is no longer a toss of the coin as to whether you are going to be 20 minutes late to where you wanted to get to. There are no boom gates. When you drive smoothly past the new underground Nunawading railway station without having to halt and wait for those boom gates to come down yet again and watch as one or more trains go past in succession, that is a very good experience. In fact, you may not even notice you have gone over the railway line, which I suppose is the best measure of success for the project in total—if people do not even know it is there.
The road that is there now, beautifully done, with a fantastically smooth surface, runs over the top of a railway line that carries 218 trains every day—there are not as many on weekends—and those trains are full of people. There were quite often accidents at the level crossing, and 50 serious accidents in five years. When those accidents happened, not only the road but also the railway line was blocked for many hours at a time. Every time that happened it affected literally thousands of people.
As with the construction project I mentioned before, a lot of things were done differently, and a lot of that was project scheduling. How do we do things on a job like that and not put others out? It meant that the road had to be closed, but only for a few days in total. So, even when road closures were notified, often within half the time notified for closure the road would again be open because the work had been completed so quickly. Instead of having the road closed while the dirt was being dug out from underneath to make the tunnel for the train lines, a concrete structure was poured into place and the dirt was dug out from underneath the concrete while the traffic drove over the top. That meant that the road was open for an extra two or three weeks; again, a very good thing for the local people.
More than 50,000 vehicles a day no longer have to run the risk of being stuck in a traffic jam or being caught up in yet another accident. It was only on 29 July last year that the first pile hole out of 400 for the project was bored, which is not very long ago. I was there on that day when it was just the earth waiting to be dug out. Four hundred piles were done in record time. The concrete was poured and it was a very well-run project. I had the great honour, with the Victorian Minister for Roads and Ports, Tim Pallas, and the state member for Mitcham, Tony Robinson, on New Year’s morning, of all days, this year to remove the last boom gate. Even though the road was closed at that time, it was opened not long after. Until that morning, in fact as we took away the last boom gate, the very last trains were still running across that level crossing.
As I said, working hand-in-hand with the state government gave the project a lot of advantages. It meant that, when it came to getting things done, there was not the usual logjam that you get on projects where one side blames the other. This project worked as a model for cooperation. The workers on site worked hours—I certainly cannot overstate this—which I know many of us, even though we work long hours, would probably blanch at. These were the people who did the overnight shifts and the weekends; these were the people who worked over the holidays and on public holidays when, quite frankly, most of the rest of us were at home relaxing and having a good time. It is that dedication and the professionalism of the work that I commend. Of course, the engineers and the project management staff also put in those hours. It was a great team effort all round and, certainly, it is a great pointer to things to come in that area.
I mentioned earlier taking away the boom gates with Tony Robinson. Tony Robinson, the state member for Mitcham, was a long-time advocate of getting this project done. Kirstie Marshall, in the adjoining state seat of Forest Hill, also did a lot of lobbying at the state level to get the project done. The project would not have happened without the great support of the Victorian Labor Premier, John Brumby, and the minister for roads, Tim Pallas. Both of them came many times to view works on the project. That showed the level of interest and also got the news out there that things were actually happening. As I said, the state government contributed $60 million to the project as part of the Victorian Transport Plan. They now have a long list of other, similar projects that they will get done over the coming years—that is, grade separations in urban areas.
I have not yet mentioned the wonderful new underground station in relation to the project. The old Nunawading station was an asbestos cement building that had been put up in the late 1950s. It was a very cold and uninviting place that was falling apart. The new station is underground. It is accessible by lift and stairs on both sides of Springvale Road. It is manned from the first train till the last. It has customer facilities. It even has a coffee shop. These are the sorts of things that are attractive to people and that make them feel like travelling by train. It is all very well to put the message out there that you must use public transport but it actually has to be a pleasant experience for people to want to come back. Using Nunawading station is a pleasant experience. It is an absolutely wonderful design and has been architecturally noted already, and I am sure it will be again.
With a project like this something else which is important is the impact on local employment. This project had about 200 full-time staff on the job, not only in the project management office but also working on the tools. The best thing about that was the money flowing into the local economy—from not only the workers who turned up each day and spent their money at the local shops and the local suppliers but also the local contractors who took out some of the smaller works packages on the job. One of the reasons the station was built so quickly is that it was not built on site; it was built off site. It was prefabricated at a factory in Deakin—at the other end of my electorate—and then brought down and lowered into place. That again saved a number of weeks if not months on the construction. Even more importantly, it kept local people in jobs last year when the global financial crisis was hitting the hardest.
The local businesses that are there now of course will also benefit greatly because Nunawading is now not split into two—you can easily get from one side to the other and if you can see it then you can now get there, whereas only a month and a half ago you might have been able to see it but you would have had to wait a long time to get there as you waited for various trains and/or car traffic to clear. The completion of this project has, of course, been very popular in my local area. But it does concern me that if the Liberals had had their way then the project would never have been funded. I should add that the member for La Trobe was very complimentary when on Monday this week in this place he said:
… in the seat of Deakin at the Springvale Road intersection the traffic congestion has been fixed—I am a big supporter of fixing the Springvale Road …
I congratulate him on that. Of course, it took a federal Labor government to do this, because for 12 long years nothing happened under the Liberals when it came to urban transport—when it came to actually doing it rather than talking, making hot air and making empty promises. Of even greater concern to anyone involved in this and other similar projects was the Liberal and National Party coalition’s attempt on 1 June last year to strip the funding from the national land transport component of the Nation Building Program. It was the Nationals with the support of the Liberals who put up an amendment in the House of Representatives to strip that funding from the program. It would have cut all federal funding from the Springvale Road rail separation project—and not only Springvale Road but also another 40 projects across Australia worth more than $655 million, including $30 million for the Clyde Road project that I know the member for La Trobe is attached to.
So after years of neglect, inaction and a complete failure to do anything about Springvale Road, when the project is fully funded by a Labor partnership between federal and state governments, the Liberals attempted to scuttle the project by withdrawing nearly 60 per cent of that funding. Fortunately, though, this con was exposed by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government in the House on 1 June last year. Fortunately for the people in my electorate of Deakin and the many people who use Springvale Road and its level crossing, these appalling amendments did not pass the House. The Hansard shows the names of those who tried and failed to take this vital funding away. The Rudd Labor government understands local issues and the impact of fixing local problems.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 10.59 am to 11.38 am
I will pick up where I left off before the divisions in the chamber. I want to extend my congratulations to everyone involved in the grade separation of the Springvale Road project. Of course, work on Springvale Road is not the only thing that has been happening in my electorate as a result of budget decisions. There has been other fairly significant investment in the electorate, especially in my local schools. In the brief time I have left for this speech, I can only really say that the National School Pride Program projects which have gone to 40 schools in my electorate, involving funding of $6.125 million, have been warmly received by parents, teachers, principals and students. The funds have been put to such good use, especially in schools where they have ovals they have not been able to use for years on end because, as everyone in Melbourne knows, water is short and many ovals have died off. What this funding has allowed a lot of schools to do is to put in ovals with special drought resistant grasses that maintain a surface and allow the kids of the school to get out at recess, at lunchtime and after school and play and have a healthy education experience instead of being kept inside all the time because there are no outdoor play areas. I commend the bills to the House.
It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010. I would like to turn my attention to some of the commentary that has emerged from those on the other side, particularly since the election of the new Leader of the Opposition towards the end of last year. We have heard a fairly consistent theme coming forward from those on the other side, that this government, the Rudd government, is a do-nothing government. Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. I find it ironic that the very issue of action, whether we do something or do nothing, happens to be a centrepiece of attack from those opposite at the very time that they are mounting a rearguard action against taking action on climate change. For those to come forward, to say, ‘You’ve failed to deliver your election commitments,’ but to do everything—fight tooth and nail—to block the delivery of those election commitments is absolute hypocrisy.
We are not a do-nothing government, far from it. We are a government that has achieved so much in such a short period of time. In fact, I would like to take the opportunity today to run through some of the achievements of the Rudd government in my electorate. Recently it was drawn to my attention, in fact by a member of the Liberal Party in my local community, that there is a website still active that is www.jackiekelly.net. This website continues to be active. It says Jackie Kelly MP (1996-2007) as if it speaks as some sort of political obituary for the time in the office that my predecessor spent. When I had a look at the list of achievements that are put forward on this one page, of what was purported to have been achieved in 11 years, I am prepared to come forward in this place and make a comparison of the things that the Rudd government has achieved for the members of my electorate, the people of Lindsay, in just over two years compared to what is purported to have been achieved over the entire 11 years of my predecessor.
I want to begin with one point—that is, the former member for Lindsay says one of her proudest moments was ensuring that the Badgerys Creek airport would not be built. It was not until this government took the decision just before Christmas to formally walk away from Badgerys Creek as an airport site that that decision had been taken by any government of the Commonwealth. It is fraudulent to suggest that that was not the case. So to hold up as the proudest moment, the proudest achievement, something that was not achieved and something that it took a Labor government, the Rudd Labor government, to do is simply fraudulent.
And just to expose how dishonest that particular comment is, I want to have a look at some comments that have been made recently in response to the Rudd government’s decision to abandon the Badgerys Creek airport site. So if you take on board what the former member for Lindsay says—that is, this issue was dealt with definitively by the previous government—then you would not think that you would still have spokespeople from those on the other side out there continuing to advocate the benefits of a Badgerys Creek airport site. But I see that on 17 December 2009 on radio station 2SM the shadow minister for transport and the Leader of the National Party, the Hon. Warren Truss, said that it was disappointing that Badgerys Creek will no longer be the site for Sydney’s second airport. He said:
Now that’s disappointing because there was a detailed study done at the time and it—
that is, Badgerys Creek—
was the only practical site for a second airport in Sydney.
So even beyond the political existence of the former member for Lindsay, we have those on the other side continuing to stand by their commitment to an airport at Badgerys Creek. This is a government that has taken action, contrary to the suggestions from those on the other side, and delivered the final nail in the coffin of the Badgerys Creek airport. It took a Labor government—it took the Rudd Labor government—to do that. So I have dispatched the first and the proudest purported achievement of my predecessor.
I look at some of the other things that are listed as great achievements and I see ‘delivering a 900-hectare park on the ADI site’. It is true that the Howard government did deliver that outcome, after a several-year community led campaign against its original proposal, which was to allow housing on that site in areas that had been heritage listed by the Commonwealth. It was a community led campaign. The council, of which I was a member and the mayor for much of that period, led a concerted campaign to which finally, weeks before the 2001 election, the Howard government conceded; it ended up agreeing to do what was merely meeting their own obligations under the heritage legislation as it then existed.
The third of the proudest achievements is ‘securing $10 million in federal funding to upgrade Panthers Stadium’. I congratulate the former member for what was achieved there, and that is a legitimate commitment that stands as a part of her record. But I go on and see the other listed achievements, which include ‘$132.5 million to improve the Hawkesbury Nepean catchment’. Not a cent of that money was spent. It was an election commitment made in the dying days of my predecessor’s term in office. To claim it as something that was delivered is dishonest.
The list continues with ‘$169 million for Penrith City Council infrastructure’. I can only imagine that that is the financial assistance grants that were made, because there was never anything specific provided to the Penrith City Council by the Howard government—certainly not in the nine years that I was on the council. Next on the list is ‘$18 million for a medical school at UWS’. That was a great achievement for Western Sydney, after a community led campaign. That particular facility, as important as it is to Western Sydney, is located on the Campbelltown campus.
Next is ‘$4 million for capital works at Penrith High’. If I were to go through and list, school by school, the millions of dollars that the Rudd government has invested in our schools, I would not be able to do that within the 20 minutes allotted to me. Frankly, if after 11 years, on your list of about 10 achievements, you come up with $4 million that you gave to one school, that shows just what an absence of investment in schools there was from the former government.
The list goes on with ‘$4 million for an indoor sport facility at UWS Werrington’. What this document does not say is that that money was provided as compensation to ameliorate the impacts that the move towards voluntary student unionism was going to have on the University of Western Sydney. So it was not even a fresh injection of funds; it was compensation for a policy that had harmed the University of Western Sydney.
I could go on and reflect on the comments of my predecessor where she said that no-one in her electorate went to university or wanted to go to university, where she took on the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney and said that she would ‘cut her off at the knees’ and where she failed to stand up for our local community when it came to the funding cuts that the University of Western Sydney was dealt. But that is the record. It is not correctly reflected in that one-page website that now stands there.
I want to contrast this with what has been achieved by our government, the Rudd government. In education there has been an education revolution. We do not merely identify $4 million that we contributed to one school in 11 years; we can go through the many millions of dollars worth of investment in our local schools. I hear those on the other side suggest that the computers in schools commitment, the digital education revolution, is not being delivered. We said that we would move towards achieving a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio by 2011 for all students between years 9 and 12. It is going to happen, and we are already well and truly on our way to achieving that.
In my electorate alone, most of the schools that received funding received it in the first round, because, up until the digital education revolution implemented by this government, the schools had a ratio of one computer to eight or more students. That was the legacy that was left behind by the former government, and now they stand up—we can only imagine knowing the dishonesty behind their statements—and say, ‘You’re only at one to two.’ Well, we are at one to two and, in the same way as in two years we took it from one to eight or more to one to two, we will finish the job and deliver one to one. That will be the biggest contribution to delivering a digital education revolution in our schools.
Let us look at trades training centres. The former member for Lindsay spoke about trades training day after day for many years and delivered nothing. We have two significant investments in my local community. We have two trades training centres. One is for the government schools—the primary site being Kingswood High—and another one for the Catholic school cluster at McCarthy Catholic College, Emu Plains. These are great investments that will provide additional training opportunities to local students in their local community and, in doing so, assist us to take on the challenge of the skills shortage.
Then we have the Education Investment Fund. At the last budget we had $40 million for a Climate Change and Energy Research Centre at the University Western Sydney. It is not just about investing in our universities but about investing in those areas of study and research that are going to provide practical benefits to our community and indeed right across the globe into the future.
We also have the Better Universities Renewal Funding. Those opposite had left our universities in a state of neglect—and it is no wonder when my predecessor, the former member for Lindsay, said that no-one in her electorate wanted to go to university. That is a lie. I come to this place to stand up for those parents and those students who demand access to educational opportunity—whether it be in trades training centres or at universities. For someone who was elected to represent people to come into this place and to go around the community and suggest that people should be denied that opportunity was scandalous. In my view, that is a centrepiece of the true legacy that was left behind by the former government. As a result of the Better Universities Renewal Funding, the University of Western Sydney received an additional $16 million.
We also have the My School website. We heard so many platitudes from those opposition about performance testing, transparency and accountability but, when push came to shove, they did nothing. You could accept that and you could move on—I would be happy to do that, but I am not going to do that when I come into this place and hear those on the other side get up and say that we are do-nothing government. They did nothing; we are doing something. It is a pretty simple equation, and the sooner they get their heads around that, the sooner we will have an honest debate about the future direction of this country.
I hear the member for Tangney and his interjection. I remember hearing forlorn interjections of that sort from those now in the opposition when we were in opposition—trying to pretend that somehow if you say something often enough people will believe it. The Australian public is a little bit brighter than that. You should think about the points you make and ensure that they are points that actually do have some resonance with the Australian community.
Let us look at health. We have heard much about the appalling record of the now opposition leader when he was the health minister. If you want to stick your hand up for the top job in this country, people are going to have a look at your record—it is not unreasonable. And the member for Warringah’s record is woeful. Let us have a look at his time in managing what is one of the most significant portfolio areas. He cut a billion dollars from our public hospitals, he froze the number of GP training places and he ignored the need for more nurses, despite a shortage of 6,000 nurses across the country. So why should the Australian people believe that Mr Do-Nothing as the minister for health has all of a sudden become Mr Action Man who is going to do something?
Frankly, we have more runs on the board on health than those on the other side were able to clock up in 11 years. In my electorate there has been an almost $100 million investment in the redevelopment of the Nepean hospital. I read out the list of the finest achievements of my predecessor over 11 years, and I did not hear one item of investment in capital expenditure for the big hospital in our community. They just walked away and neglected our health system. We are making real investments. Not only have we committed $96 million towards redeveloping Nepean hospital; we have committed another $17 million towards developing a clinical research school, which will help ensure that we have the skills to deliver healthcare services in our community. So we see once again, inaction for 11 years and lots of action in the last two—and we will keep doing that into the future.
I want to speak about housing affordability. When the former government was in place, it was the states who were the evil ogres in the housing affordability debate. So what did they do about it? Nothing. They said the best thing you can do is manage the economy well—and they did, or so they tell us. And then, with interest rate rise after interest rate rise, housing started to become even less affordable. But it was all the states’ fault! Interest rate rises will happen on occasion. But when you go to an election and say you will keep interest rates at record lows—as they did in 2004—you are being deliberately dishonest. That sort of dishonesty comes back to bite you, and I think it did bite them at the last election. In my local community we have delivered $4 million to Delfin Lend Lease for a road upgrade which will deliver a discount of $20,000 on land sales for 250 homes in that release area. We have a national rental affordability scheme which has delivered 194 units of housing in the Lindsay electorate.
And then, of course, there was the abolition and repeal of Work Choices. Those on the other side were not prepared to go to the electorate and seek a mandate for Work Choices, but, after such a big win in the 2004 election, they realised they were never going to get another opportunity to foist such an unfair set of workplace laws on the Australian people. So they took that opportunity. They hurt a lot of people in the process, and it also brought about their own undoing in the end. The harsh reality is that they have not learnt from their mistakes. The Leader of the Opposition says: ‘It was just a marketing problem. We shouldn’t have called it “Work Choices”. If we’d called it something else, the Australian people wouldn’t have noticed.’ He says he is quite happy to consider bringing back those laws, so long as they call them something else. I think the Australian people are going to see straight through that one, so you are going to have to do a bit better on that front if you are going to present an alternative to the current government, which has delivered on the areas it said it would deliver on.
In the short time remaining, I would like to reflect upon the decisive action the government took in relation to responding to the external threat of the global financial crisis. It was not something we made any election commitment on, and it became a very big focus of the government’s activities throughout 2008 and 2009. At the end of the day, I have a very firm belief that the people in my community want to know that they have a government that is in charge so that when those external threats, those unexpected challenges, come forward, the government has the capacity to step up to the plate, seize the moment and take action to ensure security, particularly in a financial sense, as the government has done. Australia is the only advanced economy in the world not to have fallen into recession. That is the one inescapable fact that those on the other side do not know how to respond to. They do not want to talk about the economy. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition says he is bored by economics. Well, I would probably be bored by talking about an issue where the other side of politics was so dominant. I would want to talk about other issues. That dominance was never more clear or more starkly there to be seen by the Australian people than when those on the other side voted against the stimulus package.
I want to conclude by reflecting not only upon the inaction of those on the other side in voting against the stimulus package but also on the thought that the Leader of the Opposition—the man who now holds himself up as being fit to be the alternative leader of this nation—was not even in the chamber when we voted on the stimulus package. Newspaper reports at the time said he was with a couple of old colleagues, reminiscing and putting down a few bottles of wine in the parliamentary dining room. When the biggest challenge that faced the nation in the term of this government was to be confronted, the Leader of the Opposition was off having a quiet drink. (Time expired)
12:00:16 I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak today on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010. These bills will provide funding to further the work of the Rudd government in a range of areas, including environmental programs, enhancements to the work of Centrelink, and further development of the infrastructure and stimulus programs throughout our communities—amongst other items. When the global financial crisis—or the GFC, as it is known—threatened Australia’s economy, the government responded very quickly and decisively, stimulating the economy and doing everything possible to protect the employment base from the worst effects that the GFC was offering. These bills continue that work through the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan. The government has drawn on the support of Australia’s state and local governments, businesses, unions and community organisations to work together to protect Australia and its people from the threat of a potential recession caused by the GFC.
The Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan progress report for December 2009 indicates that the plan has done what the Rudd government intended: to protect Australia in economic terms. The report indicates that Australia is now the third fastest growing economy of the 33 International Monetary Fund, or IMF, advanced economies. It tells us that we are one of three economies not to fall into technical recession and that also we have the lowest level of government debt—approximately 10 per cent of GDP. This compares with an average of around 93 per cent of gross domestic product, GDP, for major advanced economies.
Without the government’s plan, the report estimates that the Australian economy would have contracted and the unemployment rate may have risen to 8¼ per cent or more, meaning hundreds of thousands of Australians were at risk of losing their jobs. I do not like seeing anyone lose their employment, any more than any other of us does, but I realise, of course, that some people have had that happen to them through this period, and we are doing what we can, obviously, to support them through that. 12:02:22 However, when we think about the alternative outcome, the predicted high numbers of jobs that could have been lost, this is still a very welcome outcome. The report also tells us that the economy would have contracted in each of the past four quarters, shrinking by two per cent over the past year. 12:02:38 Treasury has estimated that unemployment is expected to peak at a point around 1½ per cent less than it would have done in the absence of the stimulus. Treasury estimates that, overall, the government’s stimulus, through its Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan, will support around 200,000 jobs in itself. The avoidance of a recession is due to those early and decisive actions of this government, despite the opposition from the other side.
The government continues to work to protect Australia’s environment, particularly from the threat posed by the effect of carbon emissions on climate change. Its commitments in relation to carbon emissions reductions have been planned for and implemented from the very early days of the government taking office. The opposition, on the other hand, appears to be at sixes and sevens over this whole debate, and we continue to watch with a great deal of interest as they attempt to find a way out of the situation they have gotten themselves into. Coming up with a new plan—though I have to ask: is it a new plan?—that has no funding attached to it is, frankly, just not good enough. This is far too important a matter to be made a political plaything. The Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, announced in January this year that Australia will formally submit its existing 2020 target range for reducing emissions to the Copenhagen accord: five per cent unconditional, with up to 15 per cent and 25 per cent both conditional on the extent of action by others, as set out in May 2009. I believe that the increased use of renewable energy production and carbon emissions reduction technologies is essential to Australia playing its part in reducing the effects of climate change brought about by carbon emissions. Australia simply must be at the forefront of developing and using technologies that reduce our carbon footprint and the impact that footprint has on Australia’s and the world’s environment.
The Australian government’s further investment in the Solar Credits Scheme of $580 million will assist more Australians to install renewable energy production technologies to produce energy not only for their own households and businesses but for Australia’s electrical production system. This increased use and production will inevitably encourage research, development and implementation of new renewable energy technologies which will not just bring environmental benefits but also contribute to Australia’s continued economic development and the generation of new industries’ employment prospects. The solar credits rebate program is working to utilise Australia’s abundance of sunlight and, in places, wind energy. The increased use by the wider Australian community of power generated by the sun and the wind is just one way that Australia can play its part in reducing carbon emissions. Assisting Australia’s electricity consumers to purchase the technologies that will allow them to generate their own power but still reduce their carbon emissions and then be able to sell it back to the electricity system will impact on climate change as well as assist householders to reduce their energy bills. The success of the uptake of this scheme shows not only that Australians want the government to take action on climate change but that Australians themselves are prepared to take action.
On another matter covered in these bills, the Rudd government’s response to the H1N1 virus pandemic continues to be world leading as it prepares Australia for any future outbreaks of the virus. While the impact of last year’s pandemic outbreak in Australia was, in the majority of cases, milder than anticipated, it was unfortunately severe in thousands of cases, including in the cases of many young people and people who had previously been thought not to have known contributing factors to influenza susceptibility. The Rudd government continues its proactive approach to preparing for the possibility of future outbreaks in Australia by providing a further $45.2 million in funding to ensure that Australia is able to effectively manage any future pandemics. Funding will go to the storage, compounding and distribution of antivirals and personal protective equipment; the production, processing and distribution of immunisation consent forms; and, importantly, an immunisation awareness campaign. The government focus is on ensuring that the H1N1 vaccine is available to protect all Australians and that Australians are aware of its availability and the need to vaccinate themselves and their families. The awareness campaign will also ensure that those most vulnerable to the virus—pregnant women, those who are chronically ill, Indigenous Australians and healthcare workers—are aware of the availability of the vaccine and the risks presented by the virus.
The government will also provide the Department of Health and Ageing with $26 million in capital funding in response to the H1N1 influenza virus pandemic to purchase H1N1 influenza vaccine and fund the associated clinical trials. Through this further funding, the government continues to deal proactively with the threat of the H1N1 virus. This proactive approach has been reinforced by Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jim Bishop, who recently reminded all Australians of the importance of being vaccinated against the H1N1 virus, as a second wave could be expected to hit Australia soon.
I am also pleased to see, in a related health and ageing issue, the flow of $12.4 million via the Department of Health and Ageing for the Zero Real Interest Loans program, which will enable capital funding to build and expand residential aged-care and respite facilities in areas of high need. I know, from my own electorate, that there are a number of building constructions underway right now in the residential aged-care and respite world. But I also know that there are pockets around the country with very high levels of need, where this program could have an effect, and I am very pleased to see this money flowing through for that particular reason.
I would also like to use this opportunity this morning to acknowledge the dedication and commitment to service of people who work in Centrelink offices throughout Australia and in particular, if I may, those Centrelink officers who serve within my electorate. My staff and I have always had, and continue to have, a good working relationship with this raft of public servants. We all know in this place the number of times a constituent or family may need some particular advice or help in negotiating their way through Centrelink processes, and I have always appreciated the advice and guidance of these hardworking public servants.
The Rudd government is going to provide $12.4 million to reduce Centrelink’s use of paper based claim forms and correspondence by increasing the use of document scanning and enhancing systems. From 1 July this year, all forms received by Centrelink will be electronically scanned as close to the point of receipt as possible. The efficiency initiative will deliver substantial savings over the next four years as electronic form scanning reduces storage and transfer costs. It will also cut the demand for paper and allow for greater time efficiencies in decision making. As well, from 1 July, fortnightly income-reporting requirements will be able to be met over the internet or by telephone using voice recognition software. This will bring greater efficiencies in assessing job seeker entitlements. These initiatives again demonstrate not only the government’s commitment to providing better services for those Australians who need Centrelink assistance but its approach of delivering services to the Australian people through innovative and environmentally sustainable strategies.
I chair the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth, which worked last year on the carers report. I know from the evidence we took from an enormous number of personal carers and people looking after family members in their own homes about the frustration, the delay and the difficulties that the outmoded methodology of Centrelink was causing them. I know that they are going to be very, very pleased to see these new initiatives come around, particularly the ability to report by telephone. I would like to think that some of these decisions come from the sorts of work that that committee and other committees do in this place. I know that we will be very happy to see that happen.
I would also like to take the opportunity briefly to talk about the initiatives through the stimulus program that I am seeing in schools in my electorate. Whether it be a small Catholic school, a public school or a private school of another kind, I have not seen one word of complaint from any of those school communities, teachers, principals or students about the sorts of improvements that they are seeing on their own school campuses as a result of the range of investments that this government is putting into our school communities. In fact, they are welcoming them. They see the sense in them. They understand the economic connection to them. They understand what that work is doing for our local employment base and small business economy. I am extremely pleased every time I have an opportunity—it happens often, and I am very pleased about that—to see the outcome or the planning that is underway in all of these school communities. It is a really good thing.
At the other end of the scale when we talk about the education revolution is the ANU. The Australian National University, here in Canberra, has also, through the budget of this government, seen a very large investment at the top research end in a variety of ways. I cannot go into them all here this morning, but I have talked about them before in this place. There is a very strong, sincere and worthwhile investment going on at both ends of our education system.
The other thing that I would like to talk about quickly is the My School website. I do not think my office has received one phone call of complaint about the My School website. In fact, the word going around my community is that the parents and the schools are very welcoming of the information and the detail on that site. I was particularly pleased, just a few days ago, to see the first announcement by the Minister for Education, the Deputy Prime Minister, of money going as a result of the information on that website to schools that need to have that investment made in them. That is why that website is there. That is why it is being done. It is not a name-and-shame process at all; it is a process of seeing where the use should be put and where the investment should go and then making it. To see the first tranche of money go through in that way is evidence of that. I know from my own community that we will be very pleased to be able to see how those schools that need improvement will in fact be able to access the program’s reach.
The last thing I want to talk about before winding up is another program of the government which I have also seen very strong evidence of, and that is within the housing area. Other members have talked about housing affordability and so on. What I want to talk about is the programs that have gone through to state and territory governments—in my case, a territory government—to allow the refurbishment of housing that would otherwise be called ‘no longer useful’. For welfare housing in the city of Canberra where there has been an old home desperately in need of refurbishment at a very basic level, the money has not been there to do that in an economically viable way. I have seen more than one tenant move back into an old welfare house which has been able to be refurbished on behalf of the federal government and be resumed as welfare housing. That is a very good thing too. It helps with the list of people who need to get into that sort of housing. It assists the small business economy in this town which is carrying out the work required. While I do not have the numbers at my fingertips, I know that it is making a dramatic difference in Canberra, in my electorate, to the availability of welfare housing. We all know how important that is.
I want to make an observation about the opposition. They continue to accuse us of setting targets and not meeting them: ‘You haven’t done enough computers. You haven’t done enough schools. You haven’t done enough.’ On the other hand, they accuse us at the same time of spending too much money. I do not really think they can have it both ways. We have a very sincere and strong program in education, housing and a range of other areas. All this investment in our people, our communities and our families, has a good, strong economic reason. I would like those opposite to think a bit about this before they start throwing around casual words and accusing us of either not doing anything or not doing enough when, in fact, our whole target is to lift the economy of this country, make it viable, longstanding and strong, ensure that we can handle any threat of a GFC or anything else coming our way and make sure that our individuals, families, schools and small businesses all prosper.
Australia has always been a country of generosity and of hope. We need, however, to ensure that people out there who try to enter Australia are treated humanely and with dignity. Within these appropriation bills the government is continuing to contribute to the international protection of refugees and ensuring that support services are available to meet their specific needs. To that end, the government is providing $63 million to meet the cost of increased irregular maritime arrivals, with a further $11.2 million proposed to expand the Christmas Island accommodation and capacity in response to increased irregular maritime arrivals. On that subject I also want to say to the opposition: please do not use short-term, cheap political labels when we talk about refugees and when we talk about things like the ‘push-pull factor’. Just cast your eyes around the globe on which we live and look at what is going on. Look at the numbers of people fleeing from desperate times and think carefully about why they may be seeking refuge. It is a question about which we all consciously need to think very seriously.
In my opinion, these two appropriation bills continue the government’s work on behalf of our whole community. The work is being undertaken in difficult and challenging global times. It is my pleasure to commend the bills to the House.
At the outset I want to wish Stavros Michael the best on his 17th birthday, on behalf of his mother, the member for Calwell, who unfortunately did not get the opportunity to speak in this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010. We are reminded daily about this government’s initiatives in overcoming the economic crisis. Last week, I had the opportunity to host a harbour cruise in Sydney for the President of the Senate of the Czech Republic, Premysl Sobotka. The former Czech ambassador now Minister for European Affairs in the Czech Republic, Juraj Chmiel, was also on the cruise. As we moved under the Sydney Harbour Bridge he noted (a) the magnificence of the structure and (b) his endeavours to trace a Czechoslovakian company then located in Melbourne which had provided the very necessary rivets for the bridge. I think the company still exists in the Czech Republic.
This is a reminder of initiatives, of infrastructure and of how governments should counter things such as the economic crisis. As we look around the country we can see realities from the Great Depression such as the Great Ocean Road, in Victoria, and the canals that go through our metropolitan areas, and we know of housing construction et cetera. We have heard comments such as those from the member for North Sydney in September. On 2 September, when Stephen Long and Su-Lin Ong commented about this government, Long said that, in Europe, they were talking about the ‘wonder down under’, about this country’s success in countering this crisis compared with most European and North American countries. When that article was written and covered on the ABC, the member for North Sydney said:
And of course if you throw enough money at a problem, some of it will stick and it’s good. It’s good for Australia.
… … …
It is fantastic for Australia that we are showing good economic growth today. We welcome the news but now Mr Rudd has to pull back on the spending.
That was a bit of condescension, a bit of a pat on the back, but essentially undermining the very necessary actions of this government. Those actions were necessary, and we should now reflect on what might have happened. The opposition are running around the country, trying to pretend that this was wasteful expenditure, that it was a meaningless, unnecessary expenditure of taxpayers’ money, and that taxpayers will have debt for no purpose whatsoever. They are trying to put across a line that, now that the government has been fairly successful by international standards, it was not a crisis and there was no problem. We should remember what the alternative was. Even now, despite our success, I look at the latest unemployment figures for small market areas in my electorate of Reid. At the end of the September quarter, when the national figure was 5½ per cent, the figure in the Holroyd municipality was nine per cent; in Parramatta South, which I think includes the suburbs of Granville South, Guildford and Granville, the figure was 13.7 per cent; and in the Auburn municipality it was 11.4 per cent. These figures represent real people who are unemployed. If you look at the trend over that year, you will see that 2,400 people went on the unemployment list in those particular parts of Sydney in my electorate. That is real suffering for those people.
Every family in this country was affected by the Depression. My father left school at the age of 13, forced to work for his family. At that age, he laboured in asbestos, which eventually contributed to his death. My mother recalls, on her family farm, her constant aversion to rabbits. Some people came and asked permission of her father to shoot rabbits, and the next day they saw the skins of pet cats on the fence. The reality was that people walked around this country, they were compelled to work, separated from their families, and marriages were postponed. One of the great anti-eviction riots and demonstrations of the Depression occurred in the suburb of Guildford, where I grew up—Bolton Street, Guildford is a legendary incident. From my knowledge of history, the family of Australian fast bowler Jeff Thomson was involved in anti-eviction riots. These are the kinds of chronic problems that would have been faced by people if this government had not acted strongly. We now have better social welfare protection than we did in the Depression because of the actions of Labor governments over the decades.
But, as I say, what the opposition are trying to put across is that this action was unnecessary, that there was no need for action, that it was all a furphy. They would have us go back to the Depression, with 29 per cent unemployment. They would have us in the situation that exists in the United States, with unemployment at 10 per cent plus. It is a major success of this government. Everyone concedes that the continuing demand in China, with the Chinese government keeping the economy going by pumping money in, has helped Australia. Our dependence on raw materials is a blessing and a problem but, in this crisis, it no doubt helped. But, clearly, if this government had not acted, more people in my electorate and their families, other than those I have mentioned, would have been drastically affected.
When I go around my electorate I see that there is a very significant presence of Lebanese Maronite builders involved in the economy of the Parramatta region. Whilst many of them are personal friends of mine, they vote Liberal. But they say to me that their industry has been saved by government action. Whether it is in regard to measures by the housing minister, whether it is in the area of social housing and the attempt to overcome homelessness or whether it is the first home buyer scheme, they say that their chronically-challenged industry would have collapsed but for the activities of this government. This country has been more successful than the rest of the world. European leaders are saying, ‘We wish we had done the same thing.’ We have been commended by international economic institutions that are normally conservative about the expenditure of government money; they have commended this government for its actions. Even in this economic climate we see in my electorate people whose businesses have collapsed, people who have run out on debts owed to other people, and we see the impact on the economy.
So I join with other government speakers in commending the government’s actions. Like them, when I go around my electorate I see major school construction. This is important socially because, unfortunately, a reality of life in the western world and, more particularly, in this country over the last two decades is the increased inequality in the government education system. Government schools have become more dependent on the local school community to raise funds. It is not the global budgeting of past decades. Each school is, in some sense, required to do more for itself. In areas such as mine—where we have seen a flight from government schools because of religious schools and because of the perception of those schools—it is more and more a crisis.
The government’s measures in relation to the construction of educational facilities are necessary from the point of view of keeping people in employment, making sure that local building companies survive and ensuring that electricians and their small businesses survive. But it is also very necessary socially. What have we seen from the opposition? We have seen quibbling about whether the Minister for Education, the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, will take responsibility for some trees being moved at Unley, in South Australia. We have heard them carry on about where a building is located at Abbotsford or Drummoyne, in Sydney. Next thing, they will be complaining about whether it should be green paint or brown paint on government buildings. We have had them complaining about whether the contractor from a particular small town in Victoria gets the local school contract or whether someone 30 kilometres away gets it. This is evasion; this is irresponsible; this is irrelevant to the major point. On social grounds, government schools and other schools are receiving funds—whether it be for new assembly halls, covered areas or new teaching opportunities. This would not have occurred without the stimulus. I can tell you that, without this funding, schools in areas such as mine are very much challenged. We have seen consistent negativism from the opposition; we have seen a pretence that these measures were unnecessary.
I want to note, as many people have done in this parliament, the irresponsibility of the current finance spokesman for the opposition, Senator Joyce. He has his corny, seemingly throwaway lines—which are obviously very well practised before the mirror for days on end—but this is not good enough, given the responsibility that he now has. He has been shown to be totally erroneous on very significant financial statistics. To him, a billion and a million are the same thing—there is no difference, apparently. He has the United States and Australia both on the verge of economic collapse. What level of responsibility is there in the opposition? I remember that, when they were in government, if anyone talked about the unemployment figure et cetera you were said to be undermining the national interest, unpatriotic or slagging off the country. But this character, who got paid off with a senior portfolio because he helped to undermine the previous leader, not only gets a plethora of statistics totally incorrect but also undermines the country’s interests when the international crisis is not over. We have seen the interest that has been shown in the last few weeks about Greece’s national debt. We know that, although things are improving in the United States, it is still very borderline for permanent recovery. And the opposition, which has historically prided itself on economic responsibility and financial management, puts such a person in this position! It is no good for the Leader of the Opposition to simply not totally back him and hope that he might go in a reshuffle.
No, I said that you have prided yourselves on your analysis of yourselves. America and the world are looking at the failure of the deregulation of the markets; we have seen what the world came to the brink of. The other reason that the opposition are concentrating on the question of government debt is to totally evade their own responsibility in regard to an international climate of deregulation, of let it rip, of basically having no concern about the level of income paid to brokers and bankers. That is the other reason why they have chosen this irresponsible line of conduct in regard to attacking major infrastructure projects. If we go around the country we see it in schools, we see it in major construction projects, we see it in regard to the economy as a whole.
Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The honourable member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.