Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2022-2023, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Second Reading
We know how important this budget is for people all over Australia, but I can tell you it is particularly incredible for the people of Lingiari. This budget represents the largest federal government investment in the Northern Territory in a long, long time: $2.5 billion will flow into the Territory, building critical infrastructure, supporting major projects and providing better livelihoods for Territorians. This funding will have tangible impacts on the ground and will go a long way in addressing much-needed social and economic challenges.
One key area this funding will go towards is our roads. Anyone who knows the Territory knows how important our roads are. Roads are how we connect to our communities out bush. They're how we make sure our supply lines are strong and that food, petrol and other necessities arrive on time. Good roads mean we can build our regional economies and lead to employment opportunities and better access to jobs. Good roads—safe roads—can be the difference between life and death for people out bush.
In this federal budget, $550 million in new funding was committed for our roads. Just last week I had the privilege of travelling out to Yuendumu with the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government to announce $350 million for the sealing of the Tanami and Central Arnhem highways. Already, in the community, there is a lot of talk about how the road can lead to greater economic development, with roadhouses, petrol stations and campgrounds needed to support the many travellers along that road. I will be working very hard to make sure our communities benefit from the funding committed and are able to capture the economic benefits of this federal funding.
Another $200 million will go towards the Northern Territory Strategic Roads Package, bringing the total to $332 million. That covers roads like the Mereenie Loop Road in Central Australia and the road to the Santa Teresa community, or Ltyentye Apurte, where, in the past, there were a lot of deaths of dialysis patients. People couldn't come in, particularly into Alice Springs, because that road had been cut off. The Papunya and Areyonga roads will all be getting much needed access roads. For years our communities called on the previous government to seal these roads, and to save lives and ensure good connectivity to our regions. Well, one of the things that I have campaigned very hard on is letting those communities know that the federal Labor government has heard their call, particularly in terms of good roads. We have listened. And I'll be working really hard to get that tar on the ground as soon as possible. There will be a lot of discussion with the Northern Territory minister who has responsibility for making sure that those contracts and the tar get on the ground as quickly as possible. The federal minister and I have met with the Northern Territory ministers to make sure that we can get that happening ASAP.
Central Australia is a unique part of this country. It has become a melting pot of multiculturalism that is an amazing place to live in and to travel to. However, after a decade of neglect from those opposite, the region has been left with immense social and economic issues. These issues have been targeted by the Labor government in this budget through a $120 million Central Australia Plan, which is being delivered in collaboration with the Alice Springs Town Council—and I have to acknowledge the mayor of the Alice Springs Town Council, Matt Paterson, who worked very hard with both the coalition government and also Labor in opposition to make sure that Alice Springs would benefit from either government—and also the Northern Territory government.
This plan and investment will provide a much-needed boost to the region through the creation of a CBD master plan and redevelopment of the CBD in Alice Springs; upgrades in infrastructure at the Gap youth centre, which will provide needed and necessary safe spaces for our youth to go to; and the development and construction of a national Aboriginal art gallery, which will become a national attraction. This is an exciting time for Central Australia, and I look forward to seeing the reinvigoration of a great town that will thrive under a Labor government that doesn't forget about regions.
There is also, in terms of infrastructure, $10.9 million which will go towards supporting infrastructure in a lot of our remote communities. We know that young people out in communities certainly need that infrastructure to keep them not only healthy and well but also staying in their communities. I also spoke yesterday about the needed and necessary funding for homelands. We have at the moment a crisis with overcrowding in our communities. The homelands funding will enable those communities to get people back on country and also relieve a lot of the overcrowding that has been occurring in those communities.
During the election, I did say and the mantra was that the Territory always does better under a Labor government. Many may scoff, but when you've lived in the Territory—I was born there and I've never left the Territory—you see $2.5 billion investment in infrastructure, and not just any infrastructure but road connectivity, information technology, mobile phones and mobile connectivity, is really important in terms of this budget. People often talk about regional Australia. This is a great budget in the Northern Territory, not just for regional communities but also because it will provide infrastructure and needed connectivity for remote Aboriginal communities that have suffered. I know that members opposite don't like to hear it, but they have suffered in the Northern Territory over the last 10 years under a Coalition government. So it was great to see the investment from the Labor government of $2.5 billion—the biggest investment ever of any government into infrastructure in the Northern Territory. I am proud to stand up and applaud the Labor government, because those communities that are benefiting from all that needed infrastructure certainly have been singing the praises of the government for delivering on that.
I rise to speak on the appropriation bills and, really, to comment more specifically on the budget which underpins these appropriation bills. I think it's pretty clear this was a stinker—an absolute shocker of a budget. We know that it's been an absolute stinker, because the Labor Party do not want to talk about this budget. The Labor Party, I think, went out to sell this budget for one morning, got a sense of the reaction from the Australian public and how they felt about this budget, and quickly retreated and have sought to talk about everything other than this budget.
I've been involved in a number of budgets as a Treasury minister, and I have to say, when waiting for this highly anticipated budget that the government spoke about in opposition, I didn't think we would end up with something that was smaller than most MYEFOs that I have been involved in delivering over the years. Indeed, this budget is remarkable, in one sense, for what it doesn't do, which is that it doesn't grasp the opportunities that we gifted them with an extremely strong economy. It also did two very destructive things to the Australian economy. At the moment, with rising inflation, rising interest rates and rising power prices, there are two things you wouldn't do in that environment. The first is that you wouldn't run larger budget deficits, because every additional dollar that the government spends is essentially a dollar that the Reserve Bank will try to take out of the economy via a higher cash rate and therefore higher mortgage rates for your average Australian.
We saw the final budget outcome for the 2021-22 income year coming in at $100 billion better than expected, with a budget deficit of $32 billion. It's extraordinary, in an environment where we had lockdowns and where we suffered along with the rest of the global economy with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, to have had a $100 billion turnaround and to have delivered a $32 billion deficit. You would have thought that a responsible incoming government would have taken up the cudgels of that improved economic performance and that improved budgetary performance and understood—if we had a Treasurer that understood—that in this environment you need not to run higher budget deficits. Instead, we've got a budget deficit projected for this year of some $37 billion, which is higher than the deficit that was run in the middle of a pandemic.
Again, for those Australian out there watching, for every additional billion dollars that the government spends, the Reserve Bank governor has to take a billion dollars out of the economy via increased interest rates. That's the first fundamental error of this budget—pouring more fuel on the fire.
Secondly, in an environment where we've got skills shortages, we've still got global supply chain issues and we've got issues with sourcing product in a whole range of sectors—and as housing minister in the former government I can tell you it's most acutely felt in the building industry—what's the second thing you wouldn't do in that environment and with all those factors that are driving inflation to record highs? You wouldn't put in place industrial relations changes that are going to gum up the economy and make it even harder to do business in this country—indeed, harder for every single mum and dad business out there to do business in this country. What will that do? It will push up inflation.
What are the two things that economic students sitting at university—economics 101 courses at every single university—or even, indeed, our year 11 and 12 students who are studying economics would say you can't do? You can't place higher inflationary pressures on this economy, which is exactly what this budget has done in the two most fundamental ways. The government inherited an economy that was the envy of the world and a budgetary position that was improving rapidly, and they have squandered that entirely and worsened the problems that Australians are now feeling.
What is the consequence for Australians? The consequence is that your average Australian family need to find an additional $2,000 between now and Christmas for the failure of these decisions in this budget. Members of the government might think that a couple of thousand dollars is loose change for them. Well, I can assure them that for the Australian families out there that have to find that extra money—whether it's to fill up their car, whether it's the eye-watering prices they are now facing at the supermarket or whether it's the letters that they keep getting from the bank saying their mortgage has gone up again—that is going to make this Christmas a lot harder. It will also give them more uncertainty about their future and less confidence about their future.
The other striking aspect of this budget was the, I think accidental, honesty of the government that one of the key planks that got them elected was false. On 97 occasions before the election, the Prime Minister and his senior ministers and backbenchers promised that they would deliver power price reductions of $275. If you go to the House of Representatives Hansard and look up the number 275, it is not a number that you will see uttered from the mouth of our Prime Minister. Indeed, when the Prime Minister is counting, he goes from 274 to 276. He can't say the words 'two hundred and seventy-five dollars', yet before the election he promised Australians that was what Labor would deliver. Instead, in the budget, what did we see? We see that power prices are expected to increase by more than 50 per cent, which I think is the experience of most Australians when they look at their bills.
Labor have a short memory. When the now minister and then shadow minister, the member for McMahon, was making these promises, he forgot that he was part of a government where we saw power price rises, on average, of nearly 13 per cent per annum. That was during the Rudd-Gillard government. Over the duration of the coalition government, between 2013 and 2022, we saw average price rises of 0.3 per cent per annum.
It's undoubted that the mismanagement and the expected policy disasters of this government are going to lead to energy poverty for this country. It's clear from the budget papers that Labor themselves expect their policy decisions to impose this additional burden on households. But, as importantly as households—to go back to my earlier remarks—we are going to see a perfect storm for business in this country, particularly small businesses in highly competitive areas, who can't just pass on price increases.
They're going to have militant unions knocking on the door, to make life harder, to foment distrust and conflict between them and their employees. Let's remember that in small business—I grew up in a small-business family, so I can tell you—the employees of the business are like family. Small-business owners pay their staff first, the rent second, the suppliers third, the tax fourth and the power bills fifth, and they pay themselves last. Those people now will not only, as I said, have the militant unions knocking on the door; they will also be seeing massive energy price increases that are going to make running their business even harder, when they were promised a reduction.
To touch on a couple of my portfolio areas, it was very revealing in the budget to see the government's expectations and the grim picture that they painted about the NDIS, which is in stark contrast to what Minister Shorten said before the election. Before the election, he gave confidence to more than 500,000 NDIS participants and their families. He said to them that the scheme is sustainable as it is and anyone who talks about sustainability, particularly those nasty Liberals, just wants to undermine the scheme. He also said, and had people believing, that no plan would ever go backwards under his watch and that some utopia was going to arrive when the great minister took the helm of the NDIS.
What do we see now? We see them backpedalling at a million miles an hour, trying to set the scene. We now have the minister saying: 'Actually, I was wrong. Perhaps there are some sustainability issues. Perhaps there are cost increases that need to be managed.' Now he's blaming the states. He's out there saying that the states have to pick up more responsibility. It was him, when he was a minister in the Rudd-Gillard government, who got completely outplayed by the states. They completely outplayed him and the Prime Minister at the time to ensure that, largely speaking, the states' contribution to the NDIS is capped and managed. And who picks up all the upside? It's the Commonwealth.
So thank you, Minister Shorten, for delivering that core problem which you are now saying is an issue for the scheme. You didn't say it before the election, but you're saying it now. Well, I can tell you that more than half a million NDIS participants and their families heard you loud and clear before the election when you said that there were no sustainability issues—none—with the NDIS and that plans would not go backwards under your watch. So let's see where this goes. The budget, I must say, paints a pretty bad picture.
Also, in the Housing portfolio, there was the farcical announcement that Labor was going to build a million new homes over five years. That was the headline—a million new homes over the five years. Then we drilled into the detail and asked some questions—'Oh, it's an aspiration to build a million homes over five years. It's actually not us as a government building those homes over five years; it's the businesses-as-usual private sector that will build those million homes over five years. And, in fact, what we've done new in this budget is an agreement with states and territories to have more meetings to solve these problems at some point down the track.'
Now, in the last five full calendar years before the budget, Australia built more than a million homes—1,029,000 homes. So what are Labor saying? They're saying, 'Well, starting from 2024, we'll build fewer homes over those next five years than were built in the preceding five years'—under our watch. That is a farcical announcement. It is the sort of hollow announcement that you make when you have a budget that is, quite frankly, less impactful than the average MYEFO. It's a pretty shameless tactic that was appropriately dealt with by the media in regard to how farcical it was.
In the Social Services portfolio—another one of mine—the biggest additional spending measure in social services in the so-called bread-and-butter budget, outside of the CPI increases, was the $217 million that was dedicated to wind back the cashless debit card. They are spending 217 million precious dollars to have more alcohol and drugs flood into vulnerable communities. There will be more alcohol and drugs to fuel the dysfunction and the violence that we know occurs in so many of the communities where the cashless debit card has been so successful.
It's a budget that fails on so many measures. We saw hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure ripped out of Victoria. In my own seat alone we saw $4 billion cut from the East West Link. We saw $34 million cut from train station car parks at Heatherdale and Heathmont, and it won't be long before people who are back on public transport will be searching for those car parks in the morning and won't able to get one. They also cut $50 million from Dorset Road, one of the most dangerous and congested roads in my area. Why did they cut all that? They did it to give Daniel Andrews his $2.2 billion for the Suburban Rail Loop. This budget fails on every measure.
I rise to make my contribution on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023. In May, the Australian people and the people of Werriwa voted for change. They voted for a government that would confront the challenges ahead of this nation—a government that not only would react but would seize the opportunities before it. For far too long Australians have become disillusioned with the effectiveness of government. They had a federal government that reacted only when it was politically necessary, and then didn't take the decisions that would build a better future for Australia and the generations to come.
It is the task of the Albanese government to repair the relationship people have with the government and repair the budget left behind. Government can be a force for good. It can implement policies that directly benefit the life of every Australian. Two weeks ago, the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, began the process of restoring faith in the government on behalf of the Australian people. With the first Labor budget in almost a decade, the Albanese government has begun implementing promises made to the Australian people.
The budget provides responsible cost-of-living relief. It recognises that the largest strain on budgets of Australians right now is that of inflation. We know that Australians are doing it tough. They have been for the last three years. Our country and indeed the world have been battered by crisis after crisis, and there is a possibility that the world will experience another economic downturn. In uncertain times, I've seen the resilience of the Australian people and the resilience of the constituents of Werriwa. This budget contains $7.5 billion in targeted cost-of-living relief to ease the pressures on Australian families.
Our government took a policy of cheaper medicine to the election, and from 1 January the cost of medicines on the PBS will fall by $12.50, a saving of upwards of $300 a year for those on regular medicines. In Werriwa I spoke to a local pharmacist, Natalie, who owns Chemistworks in Edmondson Park. She told me that she's had to have difficult conversations with patients about what medicines they can do without and which they can ration, because they simply can't afford them all. No-one in this country should ever have to make that decision, especially as these decisions directly affect their health and quality of life and have the potential to cause further burden on the health system, not to mention the stress it causes professionals like Natalie.
This budget also contains funding for cheaper child care. Beginning in July next year, 1.2 million eligible Australian families will have access to cheaper child care. In the electorate of Werriwa, that's 7,400 families. They will have more affordable child care. Families that earn a combination of $90,000 will save almost $1,100 a year. These families can then choose to work an extra day or spend time on something that's important to them. This is an investment not just in the economy but also in the health and wellbeing of Australians. For those who want to work extra days, this will remove a barrier that is in the way currently. The childcare policy will do that whilst helping family budgets.
The Albanese government understands, however, that this cost-of-living crisis must be met with structural reforms to strengthen the Australian economy. That's why the government has committed to expanding paid parental leave to six months which will be shared amongst both parents. This is an economic reform that will have a massive social benefit as well. More women will be able to participate in the workforce, and men will be able to participate in caring.
As the world went into lockdown in 2020, Australia suffered because of our position at the end of the supply chain. This can't continue. Manufacturing must be here. Skills must be available here. From PPE to clean energy technology, investing and making things in Australia is important. This budget contains serious investment to re-establish our manufacturing and energy sector, creating the National Reconstruction Fund, which will invest $15 billion in expanding the industrial capabilities of Australia and creating well-paying jobs. Australia is a country that used to build things, and it will again under this government.
Supporting our industries will ensure that the energy system is less vulnerable to global shocks in the energy market, and a single energy policy commitment—rather than 22 failed policies—will give the energy sector the stability and certainty it needs to transition to a cleaner, cheaper and more resilient grid. The budget makes targeted investments in that path, as the government has laid out. The government has moved to establish a Rewiring the Nation Office, which will manage $20 billion in funding to upgrade, strengthen and grow transmission infrastructure. With renewable energy entering the market, energy infrastructure must be prepared, so that Australians can benefit. Our industries will also benefit from cheaper and cleaner energy. We have seen recently how vulnerable our energy market is to global shocks. Werriwa residents need lower power bills to help with the cost-of-living increases that the previous government knew were coming. The transition to cleaner energy is an opportunity for Australians to benefit.
The investment the Albanese government is making will be met with the necessary funding into skills training. Workers are the backbone of our country, and ensuring that workers can access the training they need for future jobs is critical. Next year, 180,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational education places will be made available, part of the commitment to provide almost 500,000 fee-free places. Additionally, the budget invests in creating 20,000 new university places. Our government is committed to ensuring Australians can acquire the training they need for the future and to securing better futures for them and their families.
The budget is also the first step in closing the gender pay gap and advancing gender equality in the country. The Albanese government has put women at the centre of the budget because improving the material conditions of women is both good for the economy and good for society.
The decisions of government can make a difference: cheaper child care, extended paid parental leave, supporting a minimum wage and aged-care wage increases. The budget will provide funding to support women's safety at home and work and in the community; $169.4 million over four years will be used to provide an additional 500 frontline and community workers to support women and children experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence. As part of the Albanese government's commitment to Respect@Work, $42.5 million will go towards implementing the response to its recommendations. This government is determined to end gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. The government's Housing Australia Future Fund will commit $100 million for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence, as well as supporting older women at risk of homelessness. Our government has also committed to gender responsive budgeting. Key measures will be assessed on their impact on women so that there will be a complete picture of the consequences of policy decisions.
This budget is a refresh on the last nine years of wasted opportunities. It is a responsible and reform driven budget. That's why the finance minister, Senator Katy Gallagher, and the Treasurer, the Hon. Jim Chalmers, went through the budget line by line to undo the damages caused in the last nine years. Their audit identified $22 billion in savings that could be reprioritised and better spent on the services Australians care about.
We're investing an additional $437.4 million over three years to support the NDIS to hire more staff and to provide greater support to participants. We're providing $229.7 million to strengthen Medicare and GP grants so that general practices can provide better services to patients. These are the types of investments Australians want. The previous budget was riddled with unnecessary and unfunded proposals that wasted time and money. These savings will be better spent investing in the Australian people.
The Albanese government is committing to getting Australians through these increasingly uncertain times. From one crisis to another, there has been no respite for many, and the government understands that. Our government is under no illusions that there are tough economic times ahead, but we are determined and ready. The Albanese government will get on with the promises made to the Australian people: fixing aged care, building our manufacturing capabilities, getting wages moving again, and implementing our economic and social reforms. We also want to confront the challenges we are facing today, whether it be short- to medium-term cost of living, the inflation crisis or the longer-term climate crisis. We won't shy away.
The Australian people want a government that provides solutions, that works for them and that takes responsibility and acts, and this is what our first budget does. It keeps the promises made to the Australian people and begins the process of repairing their trust in government. I commend the bill to the House.
There is no doubt, it is beyond dispute, that Australians have it very tough at the moment. Cost of living is going through the roof, inflation is going through the roof and energy prices are going up. As we saw in this budget, it has never been tougher to balance the budget. Unfortunately for the Australian people, Labor have missed the mark with this budget. It's not delivering solutions today to the Australians who need support. In fact, it's showing that things are going to be worse under Labor. It's only getting harder to make ends meet, and there is no real hope for Australians coming out of this budget.
We need to understand what's at stake here. We can talk a lot, and I will talk a little bit, about the numbers, but just last week I was in the electorate of Casey and filled up the car with petrol—and I did note how expensive it was—and I went in and was speaking to the service attendant, and she was telling me a story of the day before, when a couple had filled up their car and had gone in to pay and started crying. The reason that they started crying is they did not have the money to pay for that fuel. That is the reality of what we're dealing with with this cost-of-living crisis. It is literally people not having the money to pay for their petrol, for their food, for their energy—to have to make choices.
Those people need solutions now, and, when we listen to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, every solution they provide is something into the future. There are some good initiatives in this budget that we support as well—I'm not denying that—but every solution they come up with is about things happening six or 12 months from now. The reality is that when you literally cannot afford to put petrol into your tank or to pay your electricity bills or to eat food, you don't care about what's happening in the future. You need support now. And we're not getting that support in this budget for Australians.
In my electorate of Casey, we're also having infrastructure being ripped out of our community, which I will touch on. I must say, sitting in this House listening to many speeches from those on the government side, they are very happy, as is their right, to brag about and celebrate the many investments that their communities are getting. It's hard not to smirk with the irony when, about six to 12 months ago, they were complaining about the very same practice, but that is the way politics works. It's really clear when you look at this budget, when you listen to the Prime Minister or when you listen to the Treasurer that this isn't about solutions for real Australians. This is actually a budget full of politics and spin.
It's not really surprising that it's a budget that is all about politics and spin. I'm a big believer in business and I spent my career in business, and the first thing we always did was have a look at who's making the decisions and understand their motivations and their history. So I thought I would understand the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, the two figures that are making the decisions on this budget that are affecting Australians. What's their experience in business and in the real world outside of the Canberra bubble?
I had a look at the Prime Minister. I wanted to understand his history. It's well documented. He's been in this House since 1996, which is a great achievement for the Prime Minister, but it does show that he's spent a lot of time in these halls on an income that's guaranteed every week. That's not a criticism. It's just the reality of our roles, and I acknowledge I now have that luxury as well. But I looked back; we've all had a career before politics. What did the Prime Minister do? Surely he spent some time in business? No, the Prime Minister was a union official and a staffer before he entered this House. So he's never had to make those decisions to employ people and make choices. The Prime Minister has no experience in business and has had guaranteed income for a long time.
Surely our Treasurer? He does have a PhD, I do note. He hasn't worked in business—I'm jumping ahead; I'm going to ruin the punchline—but he does have a PhD. I thought, 'Oh, well, he's got the economic qualifications to manage the economy, so that should give us some comfort.' But then I thought I would actually have a look at this PhD that the Treasurer has. It's actually not in economics. It's not in finance. I am happy to put my hand up and say that I had made that assumption about the Treasurer, running our economy, who is a doctor and has got a PhD—I assumed it was in economics, and I've been under that assumption for a little while. But then I did the research. The great thing is our histories are all there. The PhD is in political science. I was like, 'Wow.' I did an arts degree, majoring in politics, so there's nothing wrong with that, but I don't know whether it equips you—
There is nothing wrong at all with majoring in politics, but I was surprised by that. I was a little concerned that the PhD was actually on the former prime minister Paul Keating. I think every Australian will remember that former prime minister Paul Keating is the man who talked about 'the recession that we had to have'. He did oversee that terrible recession 'that we had to have'. It's a concern that the Treasurer's political idol is Paul Keating.
The Treasurer has also, unfortunately, spent his whole career in this building. He bragged at the budget that he'd been in 17 budget lock-ups—more than anyone in this House. While he thinks that that's a great advantage, I think it's a great concern for the Australian people because I've already seen within six months in Parliament House that you can really lose perspective on what's happening out in the community. So we've got a prime minister and a treasurer who have never worked in business and have spent their whole life as advisers and chiefs of staff. It really does explain why this budget has no solutions for Australians and is full of politics and spin.
Not only is this budget about politics and spin, but it abandons the people of Casey. Two weeks ago I received a phone call from the CEO of the Yarra Ranges council. She was deeply concerned. They'd just received an email saying that the Roads for Community project in Casey—a $150 million project that had bipartisan support in 2019, with $150 million over 10 years—that would seal much needed roads in Casey had been cut by this government.
This government, in 2019, supported this project. Again, the internet is great, because everything is on the record and you can find it. So I went back and had a look. Who was the shadow minister at the time who made the commitment and talked about how important this investment was for the communities of Casey? Anthony Albanese was the shadow minister for infrastructure. He's now the Prime Minister signing off on every decision. In 2019 he supported sealing the roads, but today it's not important. And to make it worse, this is in comparison to the government's decision to support Suburban Rail Loop—a $2.2 billion investment to support his friend Daniel Andrews. It has not gone through Infrastructure Australia as a project. I don't mind the Suburban Rail Loop if it stacks up, but we don't know if it stacks up because the Auditor-General has said there are question marks. Infrastructure Australia has not looked at this project.
The Roads for Communities project in Casey is delivering today. It is a partnership between the federal government, the Yarra Ranges council and the community that co-contribute to sealing these roads. There is already a track record over three years of delivering these projects on time and on budget. In many cases they're actually delivered earlier and under budget, and that's with COVID. So we were here and we heard the minister for infrastructure today talk about projects blowing out. Well, this one's not. It's being delivered and they've supported it. This project, as I said, was bipartisan. It's sealing dirt roads in the Yarra Valley, in the Dandenong Ranges in my electorate, that are much needed. This need has become worse because, like many electorates across the country, we have been significantly impacted by flooding. So those dirt roads that aren't sealed are in even worse condition today than they were when this project was signed.
One of the great honours and privileges that we have in this House is to represent our constituents and be their voice in this House. I could talk more about the Roads for Community project, and I have been inundated with calls and emails from people in my electorate who are deeply concerned. I will read, with his permission, the email I received from Mark from Belgrave Heights about this very issue, and I quote:
We have had federal funding promises to seal roads in my area for several years now. I have recently been told that the promised funding may be rescinded. This is absolutely devastating news for me, my family and all residents in my local area. The unsealed roads are not only damaging on cars but they are hazardous, especially with all the rain we've had recently. Potholes, eroded road edges, corrugations and large 'run-off' chasms routinely appear, with imminent danger that these pose. My youngest child is a P-plater and she almost rolled her car driving down the severely eroded Mt Morton Rd the other day. I am writing this to you with heavy rain (as I type!) hitting my window with the understanding that the recent grading of Mt Morton Rd will be effectively undone now. The only permanent solution is to keep the federal promises of funding for local council roads. I implore you to push for these federal promises to be upheld by the current Labor government. Thank you.
Mark, I'm here fighting for you and fighting for the constituents and residents of Casey, because we have been abandoned by this government. They're prepared to support the Suburban Rail Loop, but they're not prepared to support a project that was needed in 2019 and is needed more now.
It gets worse. The Victorian state government is responsible for delivering road projects, and, unfortunately, the fact is that the Victorian state government is not great at delivering projects. That brings me nicely to the Wellington Road upgrade, which again was committed to, with bipartisan support, in 2019. The Victorian Labor government has done nothing to deliver this project. In three years, the Victorian state Labor government has done nothing to deliver this project.
Government senators interjecting—
The state government is responsible for delivering roads; the federal government funds them—those across the aisle do know that. We provided the funding, and the Victorian Labor state government failed to deliver.
This duplication is much needed for the safety of the residents in the Dandenongs, to get them out when bushfires come and to allow emergency services to get in. The local Country Fire Authority labelled Labor's decision to cancel this project as 'really distressing news for our community'. Our communities know they have been abandoned by the federal Labor government and the Daniel Andrews state Labor government. That's on top of the infrastructure commitments I made to Belgrave, Lilydale and Mooroolbark community centres that are not in this budget, all investments that would have improved women's sport and community safety.
Another project that is important to me and our constituents is the Lilydale Youth Hub. This was funded in 2020 using a $4.1 million grant from the federal government. Funding for this project runs out in December this year. I met with the Lilydale Youth Hub and had the opportunity to see the great work they were doing during the campaign, and I committed $3.5 million at that time to extend the project for another three years. But, in the election, the results were the results, and Labor didn't match that commitment. We're not in government, so it can't be delivered. I'm not going to sit here and pretend that it was bipartisan, because the Labor candidate and Labor opposition at the time clearly had no regard for the mental health of the residents of Casey, even though it was the highest priority on the council's wish list.
What is interesting is that the CEO of the Lilydale Youth Hub wanted to meet with the new minister to discuss the project, explain how important it was to our community and ask them to consider the funding now that they are in government. The minister would not even meet with the CEO. To make it worse, two meetings were arranged and then cancelled. The CEO was prepared to do these meetings over Zoom or in person. Those opposite will sit there and talk about how great this budget is, but the minister has had six months and doesn't even have the courtesy or time for a 15-minute conversation about the importance of mental health in the Lilydale Youth Hub. This is a project that is delivering for our community. I have one quick quote before my time runs out. This is from a parent:
Our beautiful and brave young person is not only still alive because of this wonderful and all encompassing service, but also has many friends that they have met through Pet Therapy, Creative Arts and social connection programs.
This is a program and a community hub that is saving lives in Casey, and the minister does not even have the time, courtesy or respect to meet with the organisation to understand their needs and how they can help. This budget is a disgrace. It does nothing for the residents of Casey. It leaves us abandoned.
I'm very pleased to rise to speak on the all important Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023, the Labor government's first budget. It is a budget that has been crafted for a very difficult time—after profligate spending by those opposite with no real economic dividend. Nine years with not an economic dividend to show for their investment; a trillion dollars of debt with nothing long term to show for it. This is a budget that starts the all-important budget repair task but also, importantly, makes those investments that are so important at this time to start that building, that economic investment, that economic reform that's so desperately needed in this country.
It is a difficult time when it comes to cost of living, and there were some politically easy things to do, but this government has had to take the responsible course and make cost-of-living support where it was responsible. It does deliver and it does start the building blocks for a better future, particularly delivering on many of our election commitments: our cheaper childcare plan, better access to healthcare and medicines, cheaper and cleaner energy, expanding paid parental leave to six months, more affordable housing, getting wages moving.
I want to talk about Labor's cheaper childcare plan. This is an incredibly important reform that will make child care more affordable for around 1.26 million Australian families. Under these measures, which are going through the Senate right now, I hope—with the bells ringing—is indeed a package that will ensure that no family will be worse off. It is, importantly, investing in families and—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 1 6 :21 to 1 6 :40
I rise also to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023. I had some great concerns in my previous role, when I looked after Safer Communities Fund projects, and also in the electorate of La Trobe, where we had what I can say was a severe hit when it came to infrastructure funding. One of the previous programs which was committed to back in 2019 was a $300 million roads package to seal unsealed roads throughout the Dandenong Ranges. This was strongly supported by the local councils, the Cardinia Shire Council and the Yarra Ranges Council. This was pretty much the No. 1 issue up in that area, in suburbs such as Emerald and, in particular, Cockatoo.
It all started with a roads action group called craig21. They approached me about sealing Caroline Avenue, I think it was, behind the Cockatoo Primary School. They said how dangerous it was for parents picking up children in that area. Then we had other suburbs, such as Gembrook, Beaconsfield, Beaconsfield Upper, Avonsleigh, Mount Burnett, Guys Hill, Maryknoll, Clematis and even going over to Menzies Creek in the electorate of Casey, as well as, locally, Pakenham Upper.
There are a number of reasons why this project is very important. As someone who lived on a dirt road many years ago—I actually lived on one for 17 years—I know that it's not only in summer, when there's dust and the annoyance of always having a dirty car or the potholes when you're driving in after a rainy patch. And, obviously, you can imagine how bad it is now, Mr Deputy Speaker Stevens. But there are also issues when it comes to road safety. My background is as a former police officer. If you have a car coming around a corner at speed and you want to get out of the way, it can actually be quite dangerous if, when you get out of the way, you have a gutter beside you.
In particular, the big issue is when it came to bushfires, and this is a point that has been put to me by council and even by the CFA. In the event of needing to evacuate during a bushfire, if you have a road that is sealed, you will have the kerb and channels. At the moment, it has a gutter at each side. If it's smoky or conditions are bad and people are in a panic to get out of there, they will get stuck in the gutter, and this obviously becomes an issue. This actually happened a number of years ago. As an example, Yarra Ranges Council told me about what happened in Mount Evelyn on a dirt track. Fundamentally, Bill Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, who was then the Labor opposition leader, and Simon Curtis, the Labor candidate for La Trobe, matched this funding. They came out and said, 'We will match this funding.' There was a big article in the Star. It was great news that there was bipartisan funding for the unsealed roads project.
The other one which was also matched was Wellington Road. Wellington Road is one of the main thoroughfares if you're going up to, again, Cockatoo, Gembrook and Emerald and also if you're cutting off and going up into the hills and the Dandenong Ranges and into parts of Berwick in my electorate and Officer and Beaconsfield. This is part of the fastest-growing electorate in the country. That work on Wellington Road was vital; it was $110 million. I hear the Labor Party's made a song and dance, saying, 'Hang on, you didn't put enough money into it. It's blown out to $670 million.' The funding we committed was based on advice from, I believe, Cardinia shire, which said the total project would be $210 million. We put half that funding in that project. It is such a vital, dangerous road where we've had fatalities, particularly on the Harkaway Road-Wellington Road intersection, which is such a dangerous road. It's a project that I previously committed to back in 2007. Some residents ask, 'Why hasn't this been fixed before?' We actually did commit funding back in 2007, when we had nowhere near the population living in the electorate. It was a big issue at the time.
I must say I was very annoyed with the Yarra Ranges shire, which diverted the funding after 2010, but it did so with the blessing of the then transport minister, who is now the Prime Minister. The last letter I wrote before I lost my seat in 2010 was to the transport minister at the time, Anthony Albanese, to say, 'Do not allow this funding to be diverted.' Sadly, that's what happened. It got spent elsewhere. There was another election commitment, of $110 million, back in 2019, which was matched. Now it's been scrapped, so we've lost $410 million in that area on what was a bipartisan approach on these two vital road projects. There is a state seat called Monbulk, which covers pretty much all those areas I've spoken about. It wasn't a seat we were targeting in the state election but, boy oh boy, I can tell you now it is right in the race because the residents are furious that they've had $410 million cut from them.
The other project I spoke about earlier was the Safer Communities Fund. The first stream of the Safer Communities Fund was infrastructure funding brought in that awful terrorist attack in Christchurch in New Zealand. It was to make places of worship safer. The biggest beneficiaries in Australia, when I looked after this program were our Jewish community, for obvious reasons, and the Muslim community. There were a number of others, though, who missed out when they applied for funding—for example, Hindu and Buddhist temples and Sikh gurdwaras. I intervened in a number of these projects for the simple reason that if I hadn't intervened they would never have got their funding up. One in particular that greatly concerned me—they came to visit me two or three times in my electorate—was a temple in Tarneit. The abbreviation is SMVS, otherwise known as the Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha. They had, sadly, been firebombed and had had amazing amounts of vandalism occur. I'm just going to quote from an online Indian newspaper. The article's heading is 'Jason Wood calls Joanne Ryan "Lazy Labor member (who) can't be bothered" to visit when Hindu temple attacked.' The member for Lalor made a statement in parliament about this article, when she said she actually visited the temple on two occasions. I make the point, and this will be very interesting for Labor members to listen to, that this is an article from an online Indian newspaper The Australia Today. The author is Jai Bharadwaj, who has written a further article in The Australia Today, in which he says:
SMVS temple's management committee told The Australia Today, "Member for Lalor Ms Joanne Ryan has visited the Temple once 6 years ago and recently once for a Diwali function in the year 2021."
The article states:
The Australia Today is given to understand that Ms Ryan did not visit Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha (SMVS) temple even once after more than 10 attacks in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Each time the attack happened on the temple local Member of the Victorian parliament and Member of the Federal Parliament Joanne Ryan's office was informed and help was sought.
The Australia Today can also reveal that when the Temple management committee approached her for help as a local federal MP, Ms Ryan even refused to write a supporting letter for SMVS Temple's Safer Community Grant application.
The one thing I cannot believe is, obviously, members of parliament not bothering to go to support their local constituents. But, worse still, when they were actually under attack—and they were under attack, as we've heard, 10 times—we had the new Labor government come in and scrap the next round of $50 million for the Safer Communities Fund. There was a second stream of funding, for early intervention for high-risk youth. Going back to my days in the police force, the most important thing to stop young people going down the wrong path is to either keep them in school or, if they've gone into incarceration, provide them with assistance and help when they get out.
In round 6, we initially put $20 million on the table. Incredibly, we had 420 applications, of which I think 370 met the eligibility criteria, so we extended the program to $120 million worth of funding in total. What we were doing was going up the chain. After the first $20 million was used up, we looked at the next projects for $50 million until we got up to the $120 million mark.
That program has been cut, and I make a very valid point. In the first round of this program—I think it was round 5 of the Safer Communities Fund, where we had the $20 million for high-risk youth and the $10 million for infrastructure—there was another $5 million for admin costs. So, when we extended the program by another $100 million, we didn't have to readvertise it. We didn't need to spend any more money on admin costs, because those costs were already covered. The new Labor government are saying they're going to have another program. There are two problems with that. It's going to take at least 12 months to develop and we're going to have to wait till the next budget to see what's in there. And, sadly, it's going to have all the extra admin costs incorporated in it. Sadly, when it comes to keeping places of worship safer and when it comes to supporting youngsters who've been involved in crime or are at high risk—and, can I say, at least 20 per cent of the funding went to Indigenous communities—those communities, in the future, will miss out until something else happens.
Overall, the federal budget has been very disappointing for people of faith in particular multicultural communities when it comes to their temples. It could be a Sikh gurdwara; it could be a Buddhist temple; it could be a Jewish synagogue; it could be a Muslim mosque. They won't be getting any funding from the Safer Communities Fund. There's no funding they can access to make them safer if any sort of incident takes place.
When it comes to the road funding, that $410 million of unsealed roads funding for the hills—when I say 'the hills', I mean the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne's south-east—and the Wellington Road funding, I would like to let everyone know that the Liberal candidate for Monbulk, Gareth Ward, who's doing a mighty job out there, totally supports these projects. He's telling me that people are shocked that the Labor Party has cut this funding, specifically because it was a bipartisan commitment by the Labor Party and, obviously, the Liberal Party.
It's devastating for residents, who are getting phone calls from the Yarra Ranges Council and the Cardinia Shire Council at the moment, saying, 'All those roadworks which were planned for sealing your road in January or February have now been abandoned, and all the construction teams are being put off.' It's devastating for the area. On that note, I'll leave it there. It wasn't a good budget at all for those two groups. For those who care about safety when it comes to road funding in the hills, it was devastating.
by leave—I was talking about Labor's cheaper child care plan and, of course, the great economic productivity that this would unleash. We've got women—mainly women—and men as well wanting to work more hours in a time of labour force shortages, but child care just is too expensive. So it's a really important budget there. Other targeted investments that are right for this time include an investment in education to build a stronger and more resilient economy and, of course, the fee-free TAFE places. It was really exciting to have the Minister for Skills and Training in Adelaide, where he struck the agreement last Friday to deliver these places to South Australia. But there are also 20,000 additional university places for disadvantaged Australians. We're investing in the National Reconstruction Fund for a future made in Australia and delivering on nation-building projects, and I will talk a bit more about that. We are supporting older Australians, whether that's through expanding the concessions card or our work bonus income bank top-up. These are all things that very much go to the heart of our Labor budget.
In my portfolio, I was very, very pleased, as the Minister for Social Services, and very proud that we announced an extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks. Labor introduced paid parental leave in 2011, and this budget delivers the biggest boost since its creation, giving every family with a new baby more choice, greater security and better support. Labor announced it will add an additional six weeks of paid parental leave for families, bumping up the total leave payable to 26 weeks—a full six months. Our plan will invest more than $530 million in progressively scaling up the scheme, reaching the six months paid leave in 2026. This will benefit mums and dads and is good for children, but, of course, it's a huge boost for the economy, ensuring that women in particular stay connected to the workplace and promoting shared care. Promoting shared care is a good economic dividend because it means that the unpaid caring responsibilities are more equally shared, and this was a big message coming from our Jobs and Skills Summit.
On Friday, I was very pleased to launch the next steps of our Early Years Strategy—a commitment made by this government to have a whole-of-government approach to the first five years of life, ensuring that children of families get the support they need in those early years. It was wonderful to join the Minister for Early Childhood Education to launch our announcement of our summit and the process going forward. This budget provided the investment for developing that Early Years Strategy, which is critically important. We also, in this budget, delivered on our election commitments to provide $12.4 million over four years to increase support for playgroups and toy libraries. This will support increased access to community run and volunteer run playgroups nationally, with a focus on regional and remote locations and where we know that gaps exist. Playgroups support families in the early years and encourage improved early childhood development outcomes. They also provide support to many people, so this is really important. In addition, we also announced our commitment to toy libraries. Toy libraries are such a clever idea. Often run by volunteers, they are places where it is affordable to borrow toys. We know our children grow out of toys so quickly—they move onto the next thing—so a toy library enables that investment to happen so that people don't have to put up their own money but can borrow the toys. But it's a sustainable way as well. A lot of people have talked about the attraction of toy libraries, not only because of the cost-of-living aspect but also because of their important sustainability aspect. This budget delivers on that.
I'm very proud to be part of a government that has made a commitment to end domestic, family and sexual violence in one generation. One woman dies every 10 days at the hands of her current or former partner. This is unacceptable and it has to stop, and it should not be seen as inevitable. I'm very pleased that, in this budget, we've been able to announce a record investment of $1.7 billion to support a whole range of activities in prevention, in early intervention and in response and recovery. Part of that was $100 million for up to 720 additional safe places for women and children leaving violent situations.
In addition, we know that frontline workers are very important in supporting women in need, so we need to make sure that there is a greater investment in our frontline workforce. This was a commitment also made by Labor in the election, and I'm very pleased that in this most recent budget we made sure that there was a provision of $169.4 million over four years to fund 500 frontline workers. This is a crucial boost to this workforce and something we definitely need. We also had to prioritise new measures with close to $40 million in additional support for the escaping violence payment to ensure that we could adequately respond. Unfortunately, the previous government rushed this payment and, as a result, it needs some significant work done on it to make sure that it is working for women who want to access it.
In addition, there was $25 million over five years to encourage innovative responses to address the behaviour of perpetrators and $12.6 million over two years to extend the program assisting temporary visa holders who are experiencing family and domestic violence. In total, $104.4 million will also be provided to continue and expand the role of Our Watch, a really important institution that is ensuring that we are properly researching and understanding prevention in many groups.
I've talked about my portfolio, but there have been many very good investments in the seat of Kingston in this budget. Over the last nine years I have lamented so many times in this place the lack of investment in our health and hospital system. The previous government just completely ignored our primary health system and ignored our health and hospital system, so I was pleased that in this budget investing in our healthcare system is a high priority, with a $2.9 billion package to strengthen Medicare, driving an innovation to revamp Australia's primary healthcare network. In addition, cheaper medicines will result from this budget, something that's been very much welcomed. Many families are telling me the cost of medicines is really hurting them.
There has also been an investment in the Flinders Medical Centre, which is the medical centre I was born in. As pressure has mounted on this medical centre, it has desperately needed investment. This budget delivers $200 million towards expanding our Flinders Medical Centre. We have also seen the commitment for a Medicare urgent care clinic in the southern suburbs of Adelaide, a critical investment to ensure that local residents can get timely health care. This is new investment in health care in our community, which people have been crying out for for so long. We will also be establishing a new facility at the Repat with 24 beds as part of an older persons care unit, ensuring that those in the southern suburbs have timely access to quality health care.
In this budget, there has also been an important investment towards delivering an entry and exit ramp to the Southern Expressway at Majors Road. The former Liberal government, whether it was the state or the federal government, refused many, many times my request for this funding, despite the now state Liberal leader and local member saying it was his No. 1 priority. He actually took a video of himself driving down this road saying it was his No. 1 priority, but, unfortunately, he has not only abandoned that promise but also spread misinformation about the impact that this project will have on the local community. In fact, there will be minimal impact on Glenthorne National Park, Riding for the Disabled and all the other areas. It will not affect the current bike paths but will provide new and better bike paths. I think that the local member was trying to cover up for his lack of action after saying it was his No. 1 priority in a video. This is a good investment. It will better connect the southern suburbs to the North-South Motorway, which of course we will continue to see progress on.
There were other facility upgrades in this budget across my electorate. There were really important commitments to local reserves and local parks but, importantly, also to our urban rivers. I think often the focus comes off our urban rivers, but they are critically important to the natural environment, particularly in outer suburban areas, so this is incredibly important. The investment in the Paul Murray Recreation Centre, home to the growing Hub Gymnastics, is a really important investment.
This was a budget that not only delivered nationally but also delivered locally. It was a budget right for the times that was about economic productivity, growing our economy in a responsible way and not adding to that difficult problem of inflation that we are currently facing and that has made it difficult for families. This was responsible and it was right. I commend the budget to the House.
My constituents wanted two things from this budget. They wanted the government to honour commitments made to my community of the Redlands, and they wanted real action to address the cost-of-living crisis being felt right across Australia. Labor has failed on both of these counts. While the Treasurer fancies himself as an economic commentator—he fancies himself as the inheritor of the Hawke-Keating government's legacy of reform—this budget does nothing to address the challenges facing Australia's economy. It does even less for the communities that I represent in this place. This budget does nothing to assist household budgets. In fact, the spending contained in the budget will simply create more inflationary pressure at a time when we can least afford it. There is no credible plan to deal with the sources of inflation or to help families deal with immediate cost-of-living pressures. This budget confirms that your cost of living is going up, your electricity and gas bills are going up, your tax payments are going up, government spending is going up and employment will go down. Real wages, of course, are also forecast to go down.
Just before the election, the Prime Minister told Australians that they would be better off under a Labor government. This appears to be just another broken promise. There's been a few of those in the very short life of the new government. They promised cheaper energy, but Labor's own budget numbers confirm that electricity and gas prices are expected to rise sharply over the next two years. Treasury has assumed that retail electricity prices will increase by 50 per cent. Retail gas prices are up some 40 per cent in 2022-23. They promised increasing real wages, but Labor's forecasts reveal that wages will fall over the coming years. They promised to bring down the cost of living, but there is not one measure in this budget which will help families struggling with the cost of living this year. This budget also shows that inflation will remain higher for longer, and Labor has no plan to address it.
They promised to get quite a bit to my local area, too, which isn't forthcoming in this budget. The Albanese Labor opposition made $4.6 million in local sporting and community commitments in the electorate of Bowman during the recent federal election. Just to name a few of these commitments, there was $500,000 to expand the premises and provide more support for victims of domestic violence at the Centre for Women in Cleveland; there was $1.9 million for health infrastructure support, including an expansion of their facilities, at the Yulu-Burri-Ba clinic at Dunwich, North Stradbroke Island; and there was a myriad of different supporting club commitments as well. These clubs and associations were waiting anxiously for news on the budget to see how and when they would have these commitments honoured by the new government.
The government was quick to point us in the direction of two different funding streams contained in the budget papers: $1 billion over five years from the 2022-23 Priority Community Infrastructure Program, which includes a closed grants program to deliver the government's election commitments; and $349.9 million over five years from the 2022-23 Investing in Our Communities Program to deliver small-scale community sport and infrastructure projects across Australia, which is also a closed grants program to deliver the government's election commitments. I note that those two funding streams are over five years, beyond the forward estimates. These were commitments that were made for this parliamentary term. Not only are they outside of this parliamentary term; they are outside of this budget cycle. They go beyond the forward estimates. Who knows what will happen? I think the last few years have taught us that we cannot predict what is happening in the next year or two, let alone the next five.
Let's leave the issue of timing to one side for the moment and look at the quantum of funding. These figures give me a beautiful insight into how the government will be approaching this type of community funding, a government that has made such a virtue of how it doles out our public funding fairly and evenly across the country. The $4.9 million committed to Bowman projects represents a mere 0.341 per cent of the total funding within these two streams. When I attempted to calculate this using Microsoft Excel, it rounded down to zero. I had to adjust the number of decimal places to get it to show. As I stand here as one of 151 members of this chamber, my community should receive a 150th of the share of this funding. Instead, we are receiving just over a one in 293 share. So why does my community get about half of what we're due? Is it something to do with the fact that the Liberal Party has held the seat for 18 years? I think we all know the answer to that.
Then we go to the big commitments made by the former coalition government for projects in my electorate, which the new government is required to honour in order to complete these projects. The first of those I'll mention is the Wellington Street and Panorama Drive intersection upgrades, which were announced back in January 2019. This is $15 million. There have been some delays from the Redland City Council in terms of getting this program shovel-ready, and, with the increase in costs and labour at the moment, it is certainly a challenge, but there is absolutely no clarity from the budget on the future of this project. We've also got the Redland Hospital stage 1 expansion project. Back in May 2019, the then federal Liberal-National government committed $30 million to this project. I understand that $13.2 million of that is yet to be paid and is expected to be payable by the state Labor government, at least, upon acceptance of a progress report for that project.
There have been considerable Queensland government delays. I gave another speech in this chamber a few weeks back on the nature of those delays and how disappointing it's been that the state Labor government—despite the fact they have received federal funding for this project—have failed to deliver it so far. There's still a whole section of funding for that project that's still required to come from the federal government. There's no word from the new federal government on where the rest of the funding for this project will be coming from.
Of course, there's one that's very close to my heart, and that is the Head to Health facility in Redland Bay. We are underserviced in a big way in terms of mental health facilities in the Redlands. The previous federal government announced $3.4 million over four years to deliver a new Head to Health facility in the new satellite hospital that's being built at Weinam Creek in Redland Bay. When I wrote to the minister to ask what's happening with this funding, I was informed that they're going back to the drawing board. They're going to go back and ask the state governments and the primary health networks to resubmit their proposals for this funding. There's no word and no clarity on the future of appropriation in this budget—certainly nothing that gives my community any peace of mind.
Let's zoom back out to the national level. The Albanese government has again failed to limit taxes imposed on Australians. Under Labor, the tax paid by Australians will increase by $142 billion over the forward estimates. They have abandoned the 23.9 per cent of GDP tax cut, which the previous governments stuck to, and they have no plan to reduce spending. Of course this budget, and the media commentary many MPs engaged in in the lead-up to it, delivers no certainty for the 10 million Australians who are looking forward to their legislated tax relief due in July 2024. I note we have another federal budget between now and then, and I look forward eagerly to see where the government goes on that front. I think we all know where they're going with it. In fact, this budget is already adding new taxes. Despite ruling out these changes before the election, Labor will hit retirees and investors with a new $555 million tax, depriving investors of franking credits which they have previously relied on. Labor's sneaky new tax will slug people who have invested their own savings in superannuation.
Despite tax increases, we have discovered there is already a $1 billion hole in Labor's budget. At the election, Labor promised a crackdown on multinational tax avoidance to the tune of $1.9 billion over the next four years, but, lo and behold, the budget confirms that this measure is now expected to generate only $950 million, resulting in a $1 billion black hole in Labor's first budget. Sadly, Labor have waved the white flag on productivity, and GDP growth has been downgraded significantly. That is of significant concern because one of the beauties that we have had as a nation for a very long period of time has been the strength of our GDP growth. The Treasurer may have written a PhD on Paul Keating, but that 1980s spirit of boosting productivity is completely missing from this budget.
I want to go back and dwell on those local projects that we are still waiting for news on from the current government. I have outlined the fact that the Bowman electorate is going to receive half of what we should be entitled to when it comes to those local, small-scale election commitments the previous government made. Of course they are not going to be as ambitious in a seat they haven't held for 18 years. They're not going to be as generous. We didn't see as many then shadow ministers and now ministers coming to my electorate and making big promises, but I'd really encourage them to come.
I would love to take a Labor minister around and show them some of the projects in my electorate that require funding, and projects that were funded by the previous government which have now had a cloud put over them by a complete lack of clarity about what the future holds for those projects. Unfortunately, they can rely on the state government being very slow in delivering a lot of these projects. That has become a feature of the Queensland Labor government. We have seen a lot of federal funding brought to the table for big projects, and unfortunately the state Labor government are becoming very tired and lazy in getting around to actually spending that money on the projects that we need in the Redlands.
This budget fails Australian families at a time when they really need a plan to address cost-of-living pressures. I've been doing a lot of doorknocking in my electorate; it's one of the things I like to do most when I get there. There's beautiful weather in South-East Queensland at this time of year, and I've been making my way around the streets of Bowman and talking to families about issues of concern to them. They are talking about the erosion of the value of their dollar. That is the No. 1 concern for them, and this budget offers no hope on that front. They are talking about the increases in energy costs. They are talking about broken promises of the Labor Party in terms of the plans for $275 for household energy bills, which have now been abandoned. The government can't bring themselves to admit it. There is absolutely nothing in this budget that I can point to for them as to relief on cost of living.
The appropriation bills will of course, as is appropriate, pass through the parliament. The budget is set in stone and it won't change. There is an opportunity for this government to reflect on what they have actually delivered with this budget—or what they haven't delivered in this budget. Take a look, as they prepare over the Christmas period to deliver a May budget, and reflect on what this country actually needs to get us ahead. What do we actually need to put downward pressure on inflation? It's not more government spending. That's the last thing we need. We need concrete action. We need action on energy prices and we need to make sure that we are not spending too much government money at a time when increasing cost pressures across projects are making it harder for the private sector to get things done, as well.
I will finish by laying down a challenge for the Treasurer. Please stop commenting on the economic challenges facing our nation and start taking the steps necessary to address them. That's what the people of my electorate want to see. Yes, of course we want to see more funding for local projects. Yes, we want to see our hospital upgraded. Yes, we want to see the Redland Bay Head to Health facility delivered as promised by the previous government. Yes, we want to see the Wellington Street and Panorama Drive intersections upgraded. Yes, we want to see the car park at Redland hospital upgraded as well. But take the time to get this right in May.
The Treasurer needs to change gears from PhD student to the head of the ministry of the Treasury, the person with chief responsibility for our national economy. I encourage him to get to work on a budget next May that actually delivers for Australians.
The Albanese government's first budget delivers for the people of Brand and will ensure that no one is left behind. The Albanese government will deliver cheaper child care for the people of Brand. Over the last eight years, childcare costs have increased by more than 40 per cent, which is a huge cost to families and a disincentive to parents, especially mums, to go out and do more paid work and continue their careers. Under the government's plans for cheaper child care, around 7,000 local families in Brand will be much better off. As an example, a family earning a combined income of $120,000 a year with one child in early education and care will be more than $1,700 better off. This plan is good for children, good for families and good for our economy. It's an important education and economic reform, and this government is taking action through offering cheaper child care to more families across Rockingham and Kwinana to address cost-of-living pressures.
As outlined in the October budget, the Albanese government is investing $2.4 million to upgrade Thomas Oval in Medina. Keeping active and connected is so important for the local community. Participation in community sports contributes to physical wellness, creates strong social bonds and improves mental health. Upgrades to the facilities at Thomas Oval will pay benefits for years to come, especially for the very enthusiastic local rugby league players. The improvements will mean a great deal for sporting clubs like the Kwinana Titans rugby league and Kwinana Titans touch football clubs. The upgrades will mean local people in my electorate will have a better place to take their kids to play sport right there at home in Medina. The people of Brand have every right to expect that these kinds of flexibilities be of the same standard as those offered in other metropolitan cities. I think it will mean that in the future we will see more NRL sporting legends come out of Kwinana. I've got to admit I'm an Aussie Rules fan; I'm new to NRL. I'm slowly catching on, and I'm loving it more and more each time I see a game, so good luck to all those teams in Kwinana.
The budget included $135 million to open 50 urgent-care clinics across Australia over the next four years. One of these clinics will be based in Rockingham near the Rockingham General Hospital. The clinic will be tailored to meet the needs of the Brand community and will help ease pressure on the local hospital's very busy emergency department. That's good for everyone across Rockingham and Kwinana who needs urgent care. It means that families will get to see a doctor sooner.
The Albanese government's first budget also includes an investment of $46.7 million for 10 additional veterans and families hubs across the country. This investment more than doubles the size of the existing network. There will be $5 million going towards a new veterans centre in my electorate of Brand. This centre will be a one-stop shop for veterans and their families to access assistance from government, health services, ex-service organisations and community groups. My electorate encompasses Garden Island and HMAS Stirling naval base, the largest naval base in the country, and has a large defence population. Around 4,000 Defence personnel call Rockingham home, and their families do as well, of course. Over 5,000 veterans also live across Rockingham and Kwinana. This veterans hub will be of enormous importance to the local community, which welcomes the Defence Force and always has, ever since Stirling began its great part in our community of Rockingham.
I would now like to take the time to acknowledge some of the magnificent work done by community organisations and individuals in my electorate over the last few months. Last month, the City of Rockingham hosted the Rockingham Seniors and Carers Expo. Just like in previous years, the expo was a huge success thanks to the enormous effort of everyone involved. It's an enormously popular expo, and, of course, it has not been happening because of COVID, so everyone was very pleased to be back in the Mike Barnett Sports Complex to see the expo. I want to congratulate all the stallholders who attended and thank everyone who took the time to come and talk to my team and me as I walked around the venue, to ask questions or even just say a nice hello. Seniors are an important and integral part of our community, and it's crucial that they have access to the most up to date information and the best care possible. The Rockingham Seniors and Carers Expo offers people the opportunity to ask questions in person and explore options about care and the many other services available to them. I attended the expo alongside my state colleagues—the member for Warnbro, Paul Papalia, and the member for Kwinana, Roger Cook—and both of their teams. Our stall provided information on Labor's plan to put the care back into aged care for the people in our communities as well as millions of people across the country.
Across from our stall at the expo were representatives from the Southern Communities Advocacy Legal and Education Service, or SCALES. SCALES provides free legal advice, assistance and advocacy to people living in the City of Kwinana and the City of Rockingham who would otherwise be limited in their access to legal services. SCALES also provides vital support to women fleeing domestic violence. Last year, SCALES was the recipient of a grant facilitated through my office, which was used to renovate their family violence unit. Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit the clinic and catch up with some of the workers and volunteers. I was reminded of the vital importance of services like SCALES, and I was inspired by their unwavering commitment to the community. SCALES is just one of those many community groups right across the country, particularly in my electorate of Brand, that work so hard for the people of their community—of Rockingham and Kwinana.
I'd like to acknowledge one of our community's outstanding volunteers, Mr Owen Farmer. Owen is a past winner of the City of Rockingham Community Citizen of the Year Award, and I have known Owen for many years. In fact, when I first got elected in 2016, he was one of my first volunteers. Aside from helping me to get elected, he has worked tirelessly—arguably much more importantly—to advocate for people in our community, particularly those impacted by homelessness. In October, he teamed up with the Salvation Army and the City of Rockingham's deputy mayor, Hayley Edwards, for the Rough it for Rockingham initiative. Rough it for Rockingham involved a sleep out held in conjunction with World Homeless Day and aimed to raise both awareness and funds for those in our community living rough. So far, Rough it for Rockingham has raised nearly $25,000. I really want to thank everyone involved not only for this initiative but for your ongoing commitment to those that are doing it tough in our community, particularly over the winter. Owen has supposedly announced his retirement from his advocacy and activism. I'm sure he doesn't mean it, and I'm sure he will be back out there. He is a tireless worker for the community. Thank you so much, Owen.
At this year's Perth Airport WA Tourism Awards, two organisations in my electorate were recognised as some of the top tourism operators in Western Australia. The Rockingham Visitor Centre took home silver in the visitor information services category, and the Rotary Club of Palm Beach was also awarded silver in the festivals and events category for last year's Channel 7 Rockingham Beach Cup. The Rockingham Beach Cup is held every year and combines a day at the races with a day at one of Australia's most beautiful beaches—that is, Rockingham Beach. The 2022 beach cup took place last weekend. Unfortunately, I could not attend, as I was overseas, but I have been in the past, and it is a fantastic celebration of horses and racing but also of the local community. More than 20,000 people flocked to the beach in their best outfits and fanciest hats to watch on as jockey Kate Witten rode horse Decoy Noxious to victory. I'd like to congratulate the Rockingham Visitor Centre and the Rotary Club of Palm Beach for their tremendous achievements and also, of course, congratulate Kate Witten for winning what I think is one of the biggest events in Australia's racing calendar. I'll take no argument from those in Victoria!
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my friend and colleague the Hon. Alannah MacTiernan MLC, who is bringing her long parliamentary career to an end. Remarkably, and possibly uniquely in this country, and perhaps anywhere in the world—it's hard to know—Alannah has served at all levels of government in Australia. She first became a member of the WA Legislative Council in 1993 and then became a member of the WA Legislative Assembly from 1996 to 2010. She went on to become the mayor of the City of Vincent, in the metropolitan area of Perth, from 2011 to 2013. She then moved on from the City of Vincent and became the member for Perth in this place for a term from 2013 to 2016. After that she returned to state politics and again became an MLC at the 2017 Western Australian state election. It's hard to keep track of Alannah. Since that election she has been a minister in the highly successful McGowan government of WA.
Anyone who knows or has met Alannah knows what a force she is. There are many members in this place now who worked with her while she was the member for Perth, and I'm very lucky to have worked with Alannah in her role as the current Minister for Regional Development; Agriculture and Food; Hydrogen Industry. She attended the Northern Australia Ministerial Forum recently in Darwin and, as always, had so much to contribute.
In Western Australia, Alannah MacTiernan is a legend. For my community she literally changed the lives of many people. Some people might forget this, but as the minister responsible for infrastructure at the time she was responsible for the construction and ultimate opening of the Mandurah rail line, which travels about 70 kilometres from Mandurah, in the south, to the Perth CBD. This changed Rockingham and Warnbro and Kwinana and Wellard—four of the stations along the rail line.
As someone who grew up in Rockingham, to get to Perth when I was a young person you had to sit on a bus from Rockingham to the city for at least two hours, so you kind of didn't go or you had to wait until someone turned 17 and got a drivers licence. Or you'd sit on a bus and get annoyed. You couldn't get out of town to go and visit other places. I bought my first home with my husband in Shoalwater Bay before the rail line was constructed and used to commute up to the University of Western Australia by car. It became one of the most depressing experiences. When you have to take long commutes on crowded roads with no public transport availability, it can really make a dent in your attitude to work and also to your home life.
What Alannah did, and what the state government at the time did by investing in the southern suburbs railway, changed the lives of many. It made what was around a two-hour commute on a bus or an hour and a half by car into a 35-minute rail commute. To this day, I sometimes get on the train from Rockingham up to the city instead of driving to Perth. It's only when there are risks involved that I cannot do it, but it is certainly the easiest, most convenient way to get around. It allows easy transport, and it was delivered by Alannah on time and on budget.
I've had the chance over three elections to campaign in the towns of Rockingham and Kwinana. Sometimes I campaign with Premier Mark McGowan who, some might be aware, is enormously popular in Western Australia. You'll go through shopping centres with him, and people come and say hello. But when I go to shopping centres and campaign with Alannah MacTiernan in my home town of Rockingham we are literally mobbed. People love that woman because she delivered so much for them—important infrastructure that changed their lives and enabled them to access affordable transport from their homes in the outer suburbs of the metropolitan area into the city. They didn't have to do the long car trips.
I know people may think I'm over-egging the importance of public transport, but can I tell you that after spending a year driving in a car for an hour and a half, back and forth to Perth, the change that it made to my life and to others was enormous. Aside from that, she has done so much in other portfolios—in regional development and in agriculture. She has shown her enthusiasm for Western Australia and all of its potential. In regional development, she is an advocate for mining and resources, just like all Western Australia ministers are. She knows the value of that industry to our state and, therefore, our country.
Alannah deserves a quiet retirement. I'm not sure her personality will permit that, but, in any event, I do wish her and her family a fun retirement. I thank you for your friendship, Alannah, and for all the great advice you gave me as I set out to become a member of this place, and I wish you well.
In my role as the shadow assistant minister for regional development and member for Mallee, I am passionate about regional Australia and I am passionate about my home electorate. Mallee is the largest division in Victoria, comprising over one-third of the state, with 83,412 square kilometres in my electorate. That is a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of infrastructure is required to meet the needs of Mallee residents. The 12 local councils in Mallee are committed to getting their local projects off the ground and ensuring residents and visitors alike benefit from them. Many of my fellow coalition MPs represent country areas too, with the same desire to see their electorates prosper. But, before a sod can be turned, before a switch can be flicked or before a contract can be signed, there needs to be one key thing, and that is funding—funding which turns a dream into reality. That word buys materials, pays wages and ensures projects get off paper and into bricks and mortar. Without funding, there are no projects and no progress.
Labor's axing of the Building Better Regions Fund round 6 and the Community Development Grants Program in this year's budget robbed the regions of that funding that they desperately need. For Mallee, the removal of this funding was far reaching and hurts so many people. For example, it impacts family businesses which rely on tourists who would visit and stay at Beaufort, from funding applied for by the Pyrenees Shire Council. It takes away the opportunity for students to study medicine in Mildura at La Trobe University because their biomedical wet lab funding has been taken away. This is a crying shame. Time and time again, our best and brightest students with a goal to become a doctor or an allied health worker need to leave the regions and go to the city in order to study. And time and time again, we lose them permanently. They fall in love, find a good placement near the hustle and bustle of city life, and spread their wings. The problem for smaller regional towns is that most don't come back. Being able to train healthcare workers locally at La Trobe University in a wet lab would help solve that problem. No longer would all potential doctors and nurses leave the region to study in the city. They can choose to stay, to do their placements locally, and contribute significantly to solving the regional healthcare crisis.
Minister King, the minister for infrastructure, paints all projects delivered to the regions under the Building Better Regions Fund and the Community Development Grants Program, as pork-barrelling—as favouring coalition seats. It is the ultimate hypocrisy, given what we know. Minister King's government will describe coalition funding for the regions as a rort, all the while granting $2.2 billion of funding to the state Labor government which is heading into an election next week. This funding is not for regional projects in Mallee but for Dan Andrews's suburban rail loop—a project the Victorian Auditor-General has stated he has yet to see the economic rationale for. While Labor like to say that Infrastructure Australia should approve large-scale projects such as the Suburban Rail Loop, they have not sighted it. Let's face it, the promise of the Suburban Rail Loop in Melbourne helps Labor's re-election in contested urban seats. I understand Minister King doesn't see it this way, but it cannot be seen as anything but politicisation, given her views on regional funding by the coalition.
It is the role of every politician in this building to deliver for their electorate. The coalition delivered for Mallee, Wannon, Bendigo, Ballarat, Parkes, Maranoa, Durack and Grey—all regional seats—because we represent regional seats. Given the Liberal and National parties represent the majority of regional communities, they are therefore more likely to benefit from a regional grants program than the Labor Party, which unsurprisingly represents fewer regional electorates.
The National Party supports our regions; we fight for our communities' interests. I have invited Minister King to visit and meet with stakeholders in my electorate and see how important the projects in Mallee are. She is welcome to drive up the Calder Highway, if she can get through, and tell people in Mallee why they don't deserve the funding. She can explain how the funding we have delivered or had promised in the election amounts to corrupt rorting of the system.
History provides some salient evidence of the pot calling the kettle black. In 2013, under Labor and the prime ministership of Kevin Rudd, Minister King was the Minister for Regional Australia, Local Government and Territories. Labor had the Regional Development Australia Fund, with Minister King having the power to sign off on or scrap projects. It was a predecessor to the Building Better Regions Fund, designed to ensure regional Australia genuinely got its slice of the pie. It was in this period that the Australian National Audit Office highlighted some interesting facts. Fact No. 1 is that more than a quarter of all projects approved by Minister King under rounds 3 and 4 of that fund had not been recommended for funding by the advisory panel. Fact No. 2 is that 80 per cent of decisions Minister King made to not award funding, even though they had been approved by an advisory panel, were located in coalition held electorates. Fact No. 3 is that Minister King approved 23 projects worth almost $91 million that the advisory panel specifically recommended not to fund as they did not represent value for money or failed to achieve the objects of the program according to the Australian National Audit Office. These projects were of course in Labor seats. Fact No. 4 is that, in round 3 of the Regional Development Australia Fund alone, 93 per cent of recommended applications that were rejected were from coalition electorates.
The Australian National Audit Office has already reported on the merits of the Building Better Regions Fund, despite what Minister King says. It acknowledged that Building Better Regions was well designed in a number of respects, and the last two rounds were structured to support communities through tough circumstances, including drought, bushfires, floods and the ongoing effects of COVID-19 in regional communities. We know the Audit Office is non-partisan; it gives a straight-down-the-line account and fair judgement, which is all that regional Australia should be expecting from their minister. Again, I call on Minister King to reflect on how she can ensure the regions get their fair share—and, by 'regions in Victoria', I do not mean Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong.
When Australia was in the middle of the pandemic and cities looked like ghost towns, it was our regions that continued producing, and their reward has been only lip service from the Labor government's recent budget. But the coalition has given them the model to change this. We have a proud record when it comes to infrastructure spending in the regions. We delivered record investments across Australia, supporting 40,000 jobs. The coalition government increased the federal infrastructure investment pipeline in the March 2022-23 budget to $120 billion to create new jobs, keep people and freight moving and drive economic growth. The coalition's last budget also announced an additional $17.9 billion for road, rail and community infrastructure projects across Australia.
We know that Australia relies on its regions, and the regions know they can rely on the coalition to deliver. Labor has a chance to show the regions that they can rely on them, too. If they do so, I would be the first to congratulate them. They may not have started well with the cuts to regional infrastructure funding, including to projects such as the $6.4 million Sawyer Park pavilion upgrade applied for by the Horsham Rural City Council, or the cut to the $3.5 million re-imagining Robinvale project applied for by Swan Hill Rural City Council, or the $845,000 Dunmunkle child care applied for by the Yarriambiack Shire Council. The good news with that particular application is that the state government, both sides, have approved that funding. I heartily congratulate the Yarriambiack Shire Council on their persistence and their diligence in fighting for this childcare centre.
There's the $1 million Beaufort Lakeside Tourism Park development applied for by the Pyrenees Shire Council, also applied for in the Building Better Regions funding; there's the Mildura Clay Target Club's $1.6 million upgrade, which was applied for by the company Green Range; and there's the $5.1 million Nexus Accommodation project applied for by the Birchip Cropping Group. The Birchip Cropping Group is outstanding in its innovation in drawing scientists to a regional area to look at agriculture for the future. It desperately needs accommodation and has had its extensive business case and the plans drawn up. It's now waiting for potentially another program to rise. These projects were all projects under the Building Better Regions round 6 funding.
As for the Community Development Grants Program, Labor cuts have affected the Mildura Tracks and Trails—13½ million. It's an incredibly important project for tourism to link the Murray from one end to the other to improve healthy lifestyles for everyone who wants to travel to the regions. La Trobe University and Cann Group in Mildura lose out on $5 million for research between medical cannabis growth and La Trobe University, a fantastic project that would again see scientists rise in our regional areas. Davis Park in Nhill is set back $1.6 million that it will not be receiving from the current government. La Trobe University Biomedical Wet Lab I've already spoken about. Deledio Reserve in Dunnolly, $3.6 million. Karinie Street reconstruction project in Swan Hill, $2½ million. And upgrades to Castle Crossing Road in Nangiloc, currently dealing with major floods, will desperately need even more funding than the $290,000 promised in the Community Development Grants Program.
Despite the current poor outcome for regional communities in Mallee, they are typically quite understanding. They don't hold grudges and work on solutions. It's time for Labor to assure country people that they will not abandon the regions. Help our Mallee towns build childcare centres to get their children looked after and give parents the option to get back to work. Help the Mallee tourism industry get visitors back to our beautiful pristine Mallee country, particularly once the floods have dispersed. Help regional education to train our next workforce and to keep our local brightest sparkling in the regions. Do these things and Labor will be giving people in Mallee the infrastructure funding they deserve. I am calling on Labor to show respect to the regions. I will always fight for the people of Mallee and for regional communities across Australia, but I call on Labor to step up and do the same.
In May this year, the people of Newcastle joined voters from across this vast continent who went to the polls to elect a new government, a Labor government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. I am so very grateful to the people of Newcastle for the faith they have entrusted in me to represent them once again, giving me this opportunity to stand on their behalf in this Australian parliament. I have never stopped standing up for Newcastle since my election in 2013, though at times it was incredibly challenging to push from the opposition benches for progress from a coalition government that never really understood us Novocastrians and never really understood our region. But I'll admit that it is much, much better to be in government, although I am very conscious of never taking a single day or moment of this for granted. We have a big agenda and we are getting stuck in. I'm thrilled to be part of a Labor government determined to build a better future for Newcastle.
Newcastle has always been a forward-thinking and progressive city, and Novocastrians are smart, full of initiative, gritty, determined and incredibly engaged. In fact, in my first speech in this parliament, back in 2013, I paid tribute to Sharon Grierson, my predecessor as the federal member for Newcastle, and to her vision of Newcastle as a centre of excellence for clean energy research and innovation. I thank those former Rudd and Gillard Labor governments for believing in Newcastle and investing in our future. Now Labor has once again returned to government, we're building on that vision and ensuring that Newcastle remains at the forefront of opportunity and progress in all forms of energy, as well as in education, health care, aged care and infrastructure. We're making sure that women's equality is at the heart of all our policies, because what's good for women is good for everyone. It's good for our economy. It's good for our society. This government understands that if you have a big tent and include everyone in it, there is actually more to be gained than by leaving people excluded.
Newcastle was overlooked by the former coalition government for nearly a decade. Now Labor is getting on with the big reforms that will change lives and the local projects that will help shape Newcastle's future. We're delivering on commitments that we made to the Australian people, including cheaper child care. More than 7,300 families in Newcastle stand to benefit directly from those changes. We're expanding paid parental leave to 26 weeks and remedying gross anomalies that, perversely, have disincentivised some parents from being able to take leave because they haven't fitted the traditional model of a family unit. We have now made massive investments into social and affordable housing. There is perhaps no issue that concentrates the minds of people in my community more than the fact that we are seeing generations of Novocastrians being priced out of homeownership and increased levels of homelessness, particularly amongst vulnerable people in our communities. We are delivering on long-overdue climate action and we are delivering cheaper medicines and accessible health services. We are less than six months into government and we are not wasting a second.
I now turn to some of the very localised commitments that we made during the election and that I am enormously proud of delivering. The first—and I note that the member for Hunter joins me in the chamber right now—is the saving of the GP Access After Hours service in our region. The GP Access After Hours service at my local Calvary Mater Newcastle hospital was forced to close its doors on Christmas Eve after years of cuts from the coalition government. At the same time, the operating hours were reduced at the four remaining clinics at the Belmont Hospital, Maitland Hospital, John Hunter Hospital and the Toronto Polyclinic, which sits in the member for Hunter's electorate. All of this was at a time when we were in the midst of a global pandemic and people needed access to quality health care more than ever. It has been a vital service not just during pandemics; I can assure everybody in this house there is not a single family in my electorate that has not made use of this service. It has been vital for every family in our region, but the Liberals turned off the lights and stripped away access to affordable and accessible health services in our region. That was the thanks.
The Christmas present to Newcastle was to close the Calvary Mater clinic doors on Christmas Eve. Labor is restoring that funding as a priority and is making sure that the GP access after-hours service is sustainable long into the future. This funding will mean patients are able to access face-to-face and telehealth primary-care services outside of usual business hours because—guess what!—kids don't get sick conveniently between 9 am and 5 pm. These services will be bulk-billed and delivered by local GPs and registered nurses and will significantly reduce the pressure on our emergency departments. What you earn or where you live should never determine your access to affordable health care.
We have also helped the Kaden Centre in my electorate. Last year I was told that the Kaden Centre exercise clinic for cancer patients was being forced to close its doors. The Kaden Centre provides affordable, individualised exercise programs for oncology patients, some of whom travel long distances to access the support that this centre provides. There is nowhere else in our region that provides the kinds of oncology exercise programs that are provided through the Kaden Centre. I knew we could not afford to lose this vital service, so Labor has provided $1 million to reopen the Kaden Centre and keep it functioning as an integral part of cancer care in our region and beyond.
Let's think about climate change. Our Labor government is taking climate change seriously, and that is why we have delivered on our election promise to set a 43 per cent target to reduce emissions by 2030. This is a baseline. If we can do better we will do better, but to keep us on track we've reinstated the Climate Change Authority, stocked with leading scientists and experts to monitor the targets and provide specialist advice to government. We're investing in solar banks, electric vehicle infrastructure, upgrading Australia's electricity grid, rolling out 10,000 new-energy apprenticeships and skilling the clean energy workforce. That's not all, but it's a very good start.
With our highly skilled workforce, our abundant resources, our industrial expertise and our superb rail and port infrastructure, Newcastle is poised to take full advantage of the new-energy industries. That's why we are investing $16 million for a new-energy skill centre at the University of Newcastle to train the workforce of the future. We're also investing $100 million in a green hydrogen hub at the port of Newcastle. Newcastle, our region, has powered Australia for generations, and investments like these mean that our region will continue to drive forward the next generation of growth and become a new-energy superpower in our region. This new facility will test and invent solutions to global challenges when it comes the use of hydrogen and other new-energy industries. The skills, the techniques and the technologies developed by this project will enable local industry to grow to its fullest potential. We are thinking ahead and we are planning for the future, because that's what Labor governments do.
The Australian Labor Party has always known the value of access to education, which is why we have created almost 1,000 additional new places at the University of Newcastle and we have committed to fee-free TAFE for skills-shortage sectors. I think former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam put it best when he said:
Everybody in Australia is entitled … to the same educational facilities, whether it be in respect of education at the kindergarten or tertiary stage or the post-graduate stage.
I note we are soon to mark the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam as our Prime Minister. His vision and the work of successive Labor governments mean that we now have close to half of all students who complete high school going on to receive a tertiary education, whether that is at university or TAFE. Whether you are in Newcastle or Sydney or Wilcannia, everyone should have the same educational opportunities from the very start. I know that in regions like ours there are people who have really struggled to gain access to tertiary education. Those 937 additional Commonwealth supported places at university are going to open the doors to a whole lot of kids who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to benefit from a quality tertiary education. At a time when so many of our communities are undergoing massive change, a quality education is never more important.
When we look at schools in these past few years, it's been especially difficult for a lot of Australian kids in school, which is why our government is investing $474.5 million over two years to help students bounce back. All schools will benefit from the $203.7 million Student Wellbeing Boost. A new voluntary mental health check tool will also assist schools to identify students who are struggling so they can get the help they need. The Schools Upgrade Fund will provide $270.8 million to support improvements in ventilation and air quality as well as larger refurbishments to public schools. The government will also deliver on our commitment to help tackle the teacher shortage, investing in bursaries worth up to $40,000 each, and expanding the High Achieving Teachers program to attract our very best to what is the most important of professions.
We are investing in transport infrastructure, and rail in particular plays a significant role in connecting people to their families and employment opportunities and improving accessibility and liveability of regional communities like Newcastle. We have committed $500 million for early works for high-speed rail between Sydney and Newcastle, and in the meantime we are working on faster rail. No more talking about it; we're making it happen. Labor's National Rail Manufacturing Plan will ensure that more trains are built right here in Australia by local manufacturing workers. Every dollar of federal funding spent on rail projects will go towards creating local jobs and providing a sustainable industry.
Newcastle Olympic Football Club is one of the many sporting organisations that were dudded in the government's infamous sports rorts—cheated by almost half a million dollars despite their hard work and excellent submission, which an independent assessment gave a higher score than other projects in then government-held seats which did receive funding. That's why Labor has righted this wrong and returned funding to the Hamilton Olympic sporting club.
We have invested $4.7 million to begin the process of restoring sand to Stockton Beach. We will also fund feasibility studies to identify additional sources of sand to fix what has been a terrible oversight and a critical need in that community. This critical funding would not have happened without strong advocacy and activism of the Stockton community. Their role in the fight to save Stockton Beach has been crucial, and I thank them for their courage, determination and commitment. This victory is yours.
I am committed to the people of Newcastle in representing them in this parliament and delivering for our city.
This budget is really a missed opportunity for rural and regional Australians. It's missing programs for rural and regional Australians and missing projects for rural and regional Australians. If regional Australia were a dartboard, the walls around it would be full of holes. The government isn't spending less, but it is spending less in regional and rural Australia. The regions, including my electorate of Nicholls, are suffering the same cost-of-living pressures as the rest of Australia. The median weekly family income is $1,682 according to the 2021 census data collected by the ABS, and that is significantly less than the median of $2,136 for Victoria and $2,120 nationally, so the people in my electorate are doing it particular tough. For 30 per cent of renters in Nicholls, their weekly rent payments are greater than 30 per cent of their weekly household income, and for those who are in their own home with a mortgage, at the time of the census, 11.5 per cent had monthly payments equal to, or greater than, 30 per cent of their household income. But of course this has got worse because, since the census, interest rates have gone up and up and up, in a bid to curb rapidly rising inflation. The proportion spending more than a third of their income to cover their mortgage will have surely risen significantly, and more rate rises are being flagged. These families in Nicholls are under pressure on multiple fronts. More of their income is going to just keep a roof over their heads, while at the same time they are paying more to put food on the table and put fuel in the family car.
The budget, which enshrines ambitious emissions targets and a rapid transition to renewable energy, places even more pressure on families. Under this budget, the cost of living of many Australians—most Australians, but particularly people in my electorate of Nicholls—is going up. Power prices are going up by more than 50 per cent, and gas prices are going up by more than 40 per cent. Taxes are going up, with $142 billion more in receipts to be collected. Unemployment is forced to go up. Real wages, despite the rhetoric of this government, are forced to go down, and interest rates, as I have already said, are continuing to go up. It's a high-taxing and high-spending budget that does nothing to help families get ahead. Families in Nicholls needed a budget with a clear plan to tackle cost-of-living pressures on families. Instead there has been a commitment that: 'We'll try.' I think the government is out of its depth on energy policy. It has a plan but, as the budget forecasts clearly show, it is a plan to heap greater cost on families while it recklessly pursues its emissions agenda. We need to respond to climate change and we need to reduce emissions, but we don't need to put a wrecking ball through the economy to get there. We don't need to burden families with the soaring costs of energy that are forecast in this budget.
For Nicholls, the budget was not without merit. Two very important projects committed to by the coalition when it was in government were confirmed in the budget. There is $3.3 million under the Community Development Grants Program towards the construction of a new multisports stadium in Yarrawonga—a necessary project that has the backing of the Moira Shire Council, the community, user groups and the Victorian government. The second project, also under the Community Development Grants Program is for $600,000 for Shepparton Foodshare. Foodshare is an amazing volunteer based community organisation that does such important work, including offering relief to families during the recent floods in my electorate. When we had the COVID lockdowns last year, I was part of the volunteer effort that went around taking food to families that couldn't leave their houses because they were locked down. Supermarkets couldn't deliver because so many people were locked down, so Foodshare organised an army of volunteers to take necessary food supplies around to locked down families. This organisation, Foodshare, has never had a permanent home. It has relied instead on the generosity of commercial property owners, but, of course, they keep being bounced around. Their temporary base was actually flooded during the recent crisis. They relocated to another shed and continued their important work, but Foodshare needs a permanent home, and the $600,000 community development grant will give them one.
Those grants were finally confirmed by Labor after they had already flagged their intention to scrap the community development grants. I mourn the loss of the community development program because it did so many really good things in my electorate and in others, but I'm pleased that those two necessary projects were funded. I think that the program has fallen foul of the mistaken view of this government that any non-competitive grant scheme is simply a slush fund for pork-barrelling. It's a politically convenient view, but it ignores the fact that local members are part of their communities—and never is this more true than in regional areas—and are better placed than isolated bureaucracies in Canberra to make sensible determinations about community priorities and needs. Who could argue that grants supporting children to participate in organised sport and stay healthy and socially connected in a regional town, or funding to provide a dedicated base for a community organisation like Shepparton Foodshare, which in turn provides basic food parcels to those in need, are not merit based?
I want to make the point, too, that there was a third community development grant project supported and really driven hard by my predecessor, Damian Drum, in the seat of Nicholls. The Nationals backed a multimillion dollar grant and worked with the community to upgrade the terminal at the Bendigo Airport. That airport is in the Bendigo electorate, which was held by Labor for many years, and is still held by Labor, but this project was supported on merit because of the potential to attract commercial airline services to operate from the Bendigo Airport. Those services would benefit the constituents of Nicholls but also, mainly, the constituents of Bendigo. The flawed premise that any money hard won by the Nationals and dedicated to supporting regional Australia is somehow inappropriate or open to abuse underpins the attitude in this anti-bush budget, and I think that Bendigo effort by my predecessor really underlines that.
The Regional Accelerator Program, a grant program intended to administer over $2 billion over five years across a range of sectors, was scrapped in this budget. Broadly, the program was to target support for regional businesses and communities to access funding for local priorities in infrastructure, manufacturing, industry development, skills training, research and development, and education. We had tranches of funding: regionalisation; modern manufacturing; the critical minerals accelerator; supply chain resilience; Australian apprenticeships initiatives; the Trailblazer Universities Program and education infrastructure; a centre for digital agriculture, innovation and adoption hubs; recycling modernisation; and export market development.
How did this look in Nicholls? I was advocating for a lot of projects as a community leader and a community member before I entered parliament. In an apolitical way, I wanted to work with whichever government was in, whether it was here in Canberra or the Victorian state government. One of the worst things that besets our community is the long-term, critical shortage of health, aged-care and community care workers at our local hospital, Goulburn Valley Health, which is the major regional health facility in Nicholls.
Double the current number of workers is required for the future. Acute shortages already exist in nursing, midwifery and allied health. Often, the best solutions are the solutions that communities come up with themselves, not those that come as a thought bubble from one of the very good workers here in the bureaucracy in Canberra. To improve the recruitment and retention of these workforce groups, La Trobe University, Goulburn Ovens TAFE and Goulburn Valley Health, the hospital, proposed a purpose-built centre of excellence in rural nursing, midwifery and allied health education in the Goulburn Valley. It's called the GV Rural Clinical School, and it's designed to service the mission of each of these organisations that we need to grow our own health workforce.
Through the provision of place based, state-of-the-art learning, teaching and research facilities designed for professional development of student and qualified rural nurses, midwives and allied health clinicians, the partnership would offer flexible undergraduate and postgraduate nursing and midwifery programs. I'm such a big believer in the fact—and I've seen the proof of it—that regionally based tertiary education is what helps develop people in regional areas and what helps a workforce train and work in regional areas. I'm a beneficiary of it. I did a bachelor of applied science in agriculture at the Dookie campus of the University of Melbourne, and I did an MBA at the Shepparton campus of La Trobe University. I'm an example—whether you think I'm a good example or not—of what regional tertiary education can do. That's why I want to come up to this place and work constructively to see it funded.
There's also what's referred to as the magnet effect from increasing opportunities for professional development and models that encourage a culture of learning. It improves recruitment and, importantly, in the health sector it improves the retention of clinicians. The $19 million that the Nationals committed to spend to launch this joint initiative between La Trobe University, Goulburn Valley Health and GOTAFE, which would have seen significantly more young people from the regions trained and go to work in aged care and hospitals where we need nurses—that's gone with the scrapping of this program. It's a really disappointing outcome.
Another disappointing outcome is a plan to fund the Seymour Community Wellbeing Hub, as another great initiative that came out of regional accelerator. It's a plan to address disadvantage in that wonderful community of Seymour, by improving access for 10,000 people to integrated health and mental health support and other community services. When people come in, they're not just being treated for the symptoms of what they might have. They're treated in a holistic way: 'Can we help you with your education? Can we help you with a job? Can we help you with your health? Can we help you with your mental health? How are your kids going?' That's what the Seymour wellness hub was going to do. This is the reality of regional funding under the coalition—important projects that benefit regional communities and add to their wellbeing, prosperity and lifestyle. The wellness hub is another one that's gone as a result of regional accelerator going.
There's a lot in this budget that was really disappointing for regional infrastructure. There are a lot of plans for investment in roads, rail, bridges, dams and community infrastructure facilities. I'm such a believer in the idea that Australia has got to—as I put it—be a bit more like Germany where we’ve got all these smaller, vibrant regional cities dotted around the place, linked together by rail, and we don't just expand the megacities in the way that some nations do. Interestingly, Germany has a population of 80 million and their biggest city, Berlin, is three million. The vibrancy of those manufacturing based towns—and we've got a manufacturing based town in Shepparton—really benefits, but it takes infrastructure, and it takes focusing on those regions.
The member for Riverina is beside me, and as Deputy Prime Minister and minister for infrastructure, committed $400 million to the Shepparton rail corridor, which was going to mean that between Shepparton and Melbourne, we would have gone from 4½ return services a day—and the half is because one of them goes to Melbourne and doesn't come back—to nine services a day. That means that, on the hour at peak times, people will able to jump on one of those new velocity trains. The member for Riverina worked with the Victorian Labor government on that, and people in my part of the world were very impressed with that bipartisan approach. That's the sort of project that a federal government that cares about regions funds. It's going to have a significant improvement in the way that professional people are attracted to Shepparton and the surrounding regions, and that's the sort of visionary nation-building stuff that the member for Riverina, when he was the Deputy Prime Minister, funded.
That's what I wanted to see in this budget, and I didn't see it. Instead, the programs and buckets of money that I was hoping to work with constructively up here, to develop regional Australia, I've seen them go and I haven't seen them replaced with anything. For me, that's the real disappointment. I also want to work constructively with businesses in the manufacturing sector in the Goulburn Valley who want to work constructively on new, lower-emissions energy sources, because I share the desire to reduce our emissions. There were businesses, such as SPC and others, who wanted to dip into the Regional Accelerator Program and look at taking some of their energy use off the grid and develop biogas. There were a whole suite of programs. It's gone now. I think it's a missed opportunity, and I hope we can reconsider and work together towards properly funded regional development.
The Australian government is committed to investing in a better future for defence personnel, veterans and families. In opposition, we stood with defence personnel, veterans and their families to call for a royal commission into defence and veteran suicide. In government, we took quick action in responding to important recommendations put forward by the royal commissioners in their interim report, making that report public as soon as we got it, and rolling up our sleeves and following through with our formal response a month after the report was released. This budget follows through on our commitment to take action on the recommendations of the royal commissioners' report and delivers on our commitments from the federal election. Our veterans have protected us, and in return we must look after them.
Key investments made in this budget seek to improve the claims processes for veterans, simplify legislation and ultimately better support defence personnel, veterans and families as they not only need but deserve. In implementing the government's response to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide interim report, the Australian government will invest $233.9 million to engage 500 new frontline staff at DVA to eliminate the compensation claims backlog, delivering on a key election commitment made by the government. Recruitment is already underway, with several hundred people already employed. We will invest $9.5 million to develop a pathway for simplification and harmonisation of veterans legislation and $87 million to modernise IT systems in the Department of Veterans' Affairs, improving claims processing. We are committing $24.3 million to provide increased support to veterans who are having their claims processed and to improve modelling capabilities needed to forecast and manage future demand for DVA's services. We've committed $15.5 million to support DVA's continued and timely engagement with the royal commission.
The budget delivers on our election commitment to provide long-term benefits for defence personnel, veterans and families. We are committing to a better future for the veteran community with significant investments, including $46.7 million for 10 new veteran and family hubs across the country, more than doubling the size of the existing network, providing critical services to veterans and families in areas with significant defence and veteran communities. The veteran and family hubs will be established in regions, announced during the election campaign, which have the most significant defence and veteran populations. That is backed up with data from the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Bureau of Statistics from the census.
We've allocated $24 million to deliver the Veterans' Employment Program, which will not only support veterans as they transition to civilian life but also champion veteran employment by raising awareness of the skills and experience veterans have to offer the civilian workforce. We know that veterans sometimes have difficulty in getting access to employment as they leave defence, but we also know that they represent a great capability to support our economy moving forward by being able to fill some of those skills gaps. For people that have left defence or are looking to leave defence, we want to make sure we smooth the pathway for them to be great contributors to our economy, bringing their skills to bear. We invest so much in our defence personnel, and, when they choose to leave, we want to make sure that they can provide the greatest benefit to businesses and that businesses understand the great benefit that our veterans can provide, whether it's in their leadership skills, their teamwork capacity, their analytical skills or their ability to work under pressure and to be agile. These are all critical skills in the modern economy for any business.
We've committed $4.7 million for the development of the Operation Navigator app, working with the Oasis centre in Townsville to better support Australian Defence Force personnel as they transition to the civilian workforce, be that through employment support or through access to other services. In parliament, we've also been discussing our $97.9 million commitment for a $1,000-a-year increase to the totally and permanently incapacitated payments for veterans, providing additional financial support to around 27,000 of our most vulnerable veterans. We have allocated $46.2 million to boost homeownership among defence personnel and veterans.
The Australian government recognises the important role ex-service and community organisations play in supporting defence personnel, veterans and families, and the budget commits $8.1 million to community focused programs that not only support but pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of our veterans. These commitments include marking war graves, supporting the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway in Sydney and combating veteran homelessness, alongside a $3.6 million commitment to support the planning, design and construction of the Scott Palmer Services Centre in Darwin. The government is committed to providing practical services and supports to defence personnel, veterans and families to ensure a better future for our veteran community.
Our government is committed to delivering for local communities, like the electorate of Burt, the community I represent in Perth's south-eastern suburbs. The Albanese government has hit the ground running, and the October budget is an important part of that. We focused on cleaning up the mess the previous government left behind, helping Australians with cost-of-living pressures and building a better future. We've been upfront with the people about the challenges facing the economy and the budget. After a decade of wasted opportunities and wrong priorities, the Liberals left us with a trillion dollars of debt without the economic dividend to show for it. These are difficult times, and hard choices are required to get the economy and the budget back on track. We can't clean up that mess overnight, but we are working every day to build a better future for Australia. That starts at home.
We've announced the biggest boost to paid parental leave since it was introduced—an additional six weeks of leave for families, expanding the total leave payable up to a full six months. It brings with it flexibility to split the leave between parents so responsibilities can be shared more equally to best suit your family. That brings me to our other massive win for local families. I'm proud that around 6,100 families in Burt will benefit from our cheaper childcare policy. Childcare costs have skyrocketed recently, with a 41 per cent increase in the past eight years. It's a big cost to families and a massive disincentive for parents, especially mums, to do more paid work. Some parents can only afford to do three days a week of work because any more than that ends up costing them more in childcare costs. They go backwards. This commitment will mean that parents who want to work more can, not only supporting family finances but benefiting our economy and easing our skills shortages at the same time. These new laws mean that around 96 per cent of local families with children in early education and care will be better off.
We all know that cost-of-living pressures are really biting in our community. That's why it's so exciting that, for the first time in its 75-year history, the maximum cost of general scripts under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the PBS, will fall. From the beginning of next year, no-one will pay more than $30 for their PBS medications on a script. That's a decrease of $12.50. We're also working on delivering more secure, well-paid jobs and delivering the pipeline of skills that the country needs to drive future economic growth. Our government is delivering $9.6 billion in nation-building infrastructure projects, including right at home in Burt. Investments in Burt include removing the William Street level crossing in Beckenham, upgrading the train station and making people's journeys faster and safer, and upgrading the Nicholson Road-Garden Street intersection, which is a massive bottleneck, not to mention a headache for many people in our community. The member for Tangney and I share a goal in getting this problem fixed.
We've committed $4 million towards building the new Langford Indoor Netball Centre so that our amazing athletes can train right in their backyard, closer to home, and have a pathway to elite sport. We've contributed $14.9 million to protect the Swan and Canning rivers. We're supporting the Armadale Community Family Centre Toy Library with $50,000 to build a new shed. We've put $40,000 towards a new community bus for the Australian Arab Association, based in Thornlie.
I am so proud that our community has chosen to elect me for another term as their representative and this time as a minister in the Albanese Labor government. Thank you for putting your faith in me. I will not let you down. I would like to just briefly also mention that a big part of our agenda in government includes education. Our government will give Australians studying in areas of skills shortage access to free TAFE. We'll also deliver over 3,000 additional university places in WA to train more teachers, nurses and engineers. We also know that the housing market is, frankly, mental at the moment. There's no point beating about the bush; it is completely insane. Too many Australians struggle for safe, secure and affordable housing, which is why we are committed to making meaningful, life-changing investments to help build new homes for those who need them most. We'll deliver 40,000 new social and affordable homes across the country. We're also working on implementing the Help to Buy Scheme, which will support Australians on low incomes to buy their own homes.
These are just some of the measures from our budget that we've delivered since coming into government. They show how committed the Albanese Labor government is to delivering a better future for our nation. These are measures that will help responsibly address cost-of-living pressure. They are measures that go to the heart of making sure we can get access to more skilled workers to support our businesses, to allow people to earn more and to make sure that our economy can move on from the suffering that it has undergone under the previous decade of government, where we saw, frankly, anaemic wage growth.
We need to see wages grow. We need to see jobs be more secure. We saw no action on that under the previous government, and now is the time to act. We now have the opportunity to solve this problem and we need support in the Senate to make sure that our laws to provide secure work, better jobs and better pay are passed. I call on the support of all parliamentarians to do just that.