Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011; Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011
Debate resumed from 28 February, on motion by Mr Gray:
That this bill be now read a second time.
upon which Mr Pyne moved by way of amendment:
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House call on the Government to bring forward its timetable for resolving the inequity it has created in independent youth allowance payments for inner regional students, and in particular ensure that:
- the review is completed by 1 July 2011;
- the current eligibility criteria for independent youth allowance for persons whose homes are located in Outer Regional Australia, Remote Australia and Very Remote Australia according to the Remoteness Structure defined in subsection 1067A(10F) of the Social Security Act 1991 also apply to those with homes in Inner Regional Australia from 1 July 2011;
- all students who had a gap year in 2010 (ie, 2009 year 12 school-leavers) and who meet the relevant criteria qualify for the payment; and
- this bill be appropriated with the necessary funds to pay for this measure.
This debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 gives us the opportunity to look back over the first half-year of this new government. I do that in particular in respect of my own electorate and, to a lesser extent, in respect of the Wide Bay area and the east coast of Queensland. One of the decisions made in conjunction with the flood levy, or the flood tax as it has now become, was to cut back a billion dollars worth of infrastructure, $325 million of it in Queensland. What I find extraordinary is that the six projects that were chosen to be cut back in Queensland included the Bruce Highway, roads associated with the Bruce Highway and a flood plain—of all things a flood plain—involving the Herbert River. I am dumbfounded by that, because five of those six projects are in coalition marginal or semi-marginal electorates and many of them were promised by former Labor members for the seats. Why they would be targeted, especially after these floods, surprises me.
Let me tell you why. The greatest systemic failure in the Queensland floods in terms of transport—commercial and passenger—and getting people to places was that of the Bruce Highway, and that is the thing that has been targeted. ‘Sure,’ they say, ‘we’ll come back in three or four years time and have another look at it.’ But all these are things that need to be done now. One of them is not in my electorate but just outside it, in the electorate of Flynn. It is near the town of Gin Gin and it is called the Big Dipper. It is a big up-and-down section of highway that could be wider and is notorious for crashes. I have seen near-things there myself. Even today, just before I stood to speak, a friend of a constituent rang my office and said, ‘There’s a semitrailer tipped over on the Big Dipper with stuff strewn everywhere.’ This is one of the roadworks that have been put aside.
Let us look at what came out of the last election for my area. My opponent, who was a councillor on the Hervey Bay council, promised a toilet block would be converted to a canteen in Hervey Bay. She took the lowest item from the wish list of the Bundaberg Regional Council, a $3 million tartan athletics track, and promised half of that, $1.5 million. As well, prior to the election, she agreed to finish the community centre at Hervey Bay, something that I had promised three years earlier and had followed up with both the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the regional development minister at the time, Anthony Albanese. So it was very much on my hit list, and I acknowledge that they went ahead and did that. And they provided money for an art gallery and a resource centre as well. Both of those I acknowledge.
Hervey Bay is one of the fastest growing provincial areas in Australia. It is synonymous with lifestyle, with sea change, with retirement. It is a beautiful lifestyle, and a lot of people go there because it is relatively affordable. But it has huge problems not unlike those the Gold Coast experienced 30 or 40 years ago. All of you who know the Gold Coast know that it has a north-south road system—the corridors go north and south along the coast. In Hervey Bay they go east-west, and for that quite large city there are only three corridors. I promised a fourth corridor, called the Urraween to Boundary Road extension. I had shown it to the Prime Minister and visiting ministers and to visiting shadow ministers. To me, it was most important and I would have thought it was important to my opponent, who was on the council. There was also River Heads Road, which is the connector road to Fraser Island. That is where you have to go if you are catching a boat to Fraser Island. I promised—and it was endorsed by the coalition—$10 million for three major roadworks, two of which are the ones I have just mentioned. Nothing happened.
In the lead-up to the election the local program for dysfunctional youth, the Triple S youth mentoring program, was closed down by the government. The coalition promised to provide it with $600,000 to continue for a further three years. Here again my opponent refused to endorse the project. Since then, we have had people—including my opponent, who is still a councillor—wringing their hands over the problems with youth in Hervey Bay.
For the northern end of the electorate I wanted $2 million for a very important environmental program to restore the mouth of the Elliott River. The Elliott River has two mouths. Over the years, because of human intervention, the second mouth formed and now when the tide goes out through the two entrances there is not sufficient flow to lift the sand out. The sand that comes in on the high tide is deposited in the river and, over time, it is slowly building up and the channel is getting narrower and narrower. It needs dredging and the closing of that second mouth through the restoration of an isthmus from the south bank. It would cost $2 million—not a lot of money for a project of that size. Again it was not endorsed by my opponent.
There was $180,000 for another environmental project: an aquatic weed harvester. In the many years of drought that you have all heard about we had a lot of trouble from salvinia and water hyacinth clogging up river after river. Under Minister Ian Campbell, in the Howard government, I was able to get one weed harvester. This was a different type. This was one that went into little nooks and crannies and shredded these foul weeds and allowed the councils, farmers and owners along the river to control the salvinia. Again, this was not endorsed.
One of my favourite projects was $3 million for a performing arts centre at the Urangan High School at Hervey Bay, one of the two state high schools. Urangan has a lower socioeconomic profile than the rest of Hervey Bay—that is not to say it is not a very nice area; it is a remarkably nice area. But there are probably more battlers down that end of Hervey Bay than up the other end. The kids from that school are the best I have ever seen in performing arts, whether in music, dance or acting—they are simply remarkable. I have had them here at Parliament House. I remember Alexander Downer walking in one day when we had them in the Great Hall saying, ‘What country do they come from?’ They were high-school kids from Hervey Bay—remarkably good at their job.
As you know, we have schools of excellence in the capital cities and in Canberra as well, where you foster particular artistic, sporting or academic traits. This school, in my belief, should have a performing arts centre. It should be a school of excellence. I have had Prime Minister Rudd, Minister Albanese and Tony Abbott there and all of them have agreed, verbally, that it is right. All of them have said that it is right. But again my opponent would not endorse it. So we have moved on.
There are other things there—$125,000 put aside to revegetate that dredged area I spoke about in the Elliot River. There was another $125,000 to do the foreshore at Hervey Bay, which is the subject of much comment in the local media. Again, it was not endorsed. Another project was $260,000 for the Hervey Bay Hockey Association. No single one of these, I suppose, is a great project, but I get very close to my electorate and I think I know the things that are good for it in logistics, in public access through transport, in education, in health and so on.
My opponent would not debate me very often, except in one of the phoney debates they had about health which, I might add, were the same all over Australia and at no one of which there were more than about 35 people attending—including the one where then Deputy Leader Julia Gillard actually spoke for her. What I suspected—and I thought it was very cynical—was that party officials said, ‘We will not allow her to endorse any of the projects that Paul Neville has decided this area should have.’ Why? So that if I won they would not be committed to doing any one of them. But, let me tell you, they were blazingly obvious; they were projects that screamed out to heaven to be done—roadworks, education and other interesting things.
Examples include two grants of $100,000 I proposed. One would have been to study a bridge from Hervey Bay to the north bank of the Burrum River. Such a bridge would create a coastal highway from Hervey Bay to Bundaberg and would be immensely valuable for easier facilitation, for shopping and for general tourism in that area. I am not saying that the study would necessarily have endorsed the bridge, but it was a study worth doing.
The second grant would be to look at a convention centre at Hervey Bay, which has neither a town hall nor a civic centre. A convention type civic centre where conferences, conventions and the like could be held would make a huge difference to Hervey Bay—which, as honourable members know, is a tourist destination. It has all forms of tourism facilities from resorts to better quality motels, to mum-and-dad motels, to caravan parks. It has plenty of accommodation. It is the ideal place for a convention centre. I thought that $100,000 would make it worth doing the job and doing it properly: where should it be, what form should it take, should it have break-out rooms for seminars—all those sorts of things so that you could come back and say, ‘This would require $20 million, $25 million or $30 million for a convention centre that would supplement tourism in Hervey Bay and, to a large extent, also in Bundaberg and Maryborough, the adjoining cities. Why? Because of the accommodation I have spoken about, the array of restaurants and the close proximity to Fraser Island, Hervey Bay is the ideal place.
I implore the government to think again about these projects. We are in opposition and they are under no obligation to do them. I understand that, because they certainly did not promise any of them. But I think these are important projects if you want to approach all of Australia with an even hand. If you want even development along the coast, if you want towns to grow up properly and not like topsy, you need to do these things. I put it before the government, especially the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, to give it great consideration.
I am very pleased to speak today on these appropriation bills, because I am very aware of the impact they will have on my electorate of Canberra. I have been privileged to have seen the outcomes of some of the programs that will be funded through this appropriation, and I am keen to ensure that they continue—not only for the ongoing benefit to Canberra but to ensure other communities around Australia will also benefit.
I draw the chamber’s attention to the provision for trades training centres in non-government schools. This appropriation will ensure that funding is available for schools once specific milestones in their plans have been achieved. Training in trades is an important component for the future productivity and economic growth of this country and is a key component of this government’s education revolution.
I can attest to the fact that in my own electorate here in Canberra there is a massive shortage of people skilled in trades. This has an inflationary effect on the local economy and is forcing local families to pay higher rates for basic services. For instance I remember, when we were looking at renovating a few years ago, finding that Canberrans pay about 25 per cent more for building and renovation work than people in other cities pay. I know it is a challenge getting a plumber in most metropolitan cities in Australia, but try getting one at short notice in Canberra. It is a very challenging task, as most Canberrans in this room could attest.
I therefore welcome any plan to expand trades in my electorate and to provide an alternative career path for students while they are still in school. Already this program has seen an investment of more than $1 billion to create 288 projects, benefiting 927 schools across the country. This includes some schools in my own electorate.
I was particularly impressed with the plans for a $5.7 million centre at St Mary MacKillop College in Tuggeranong, which is acting as the lead school, in conjunction with St Clare’s College, St Francis Xavier College and Merici College. The centre will provide a certificate III in hospitality. This practical program will help local students and boost local productivity. It will mean that we will not have to import skills, particularly trades, because we will be able to grow our own, and that is particularly important for a place like Canberra. Yet this was under threat at the last election, with those opposite threatening to cut almost $1 billion from this program. As a consequence, over 1.2 million students from over 1,000 secondary schools would have missed the opportunity to engage in education that have would lead to pathways to becoming the next generation of electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, hairdressers, chefs or carpenters.
I come to this House as a passionate advocate for education. I made special mention of it in my first speech in this place and my life is testimony to the truth that education is the great transformer. That is why we desperately need the Gillard government’s education revolution, of which this program is part. Without it, the opportunities, the choices and options of future generations and our future are diminished.
My sisters and I had a great public education that set us up for life. That is why I am a strong defender of government schools and a staunch advocate of access to education and support through it, no matter what your background. Education is the great empowerer, particularly when it encourages a quest for broad and continuous learning. But a quality secondary education is not one that only prepares a person for university. A quality education is multidimensional. It lays the foundation for a successful future in a vocation or a trade. It lays the foundation for a quality life and a better quality of life.
I want to see a return to an understanding of the dignity of work that values every job well done, because each job, no matter what it is, adds to the common good. I believe that education is the silver bullet that leads people out of poverty and economic and social disadvantage. As my colleague Andrew Leigh has said in the past, it is the poverty vaccine—and that is true. It is a social disadvantage vaccine and economic disadvantage vaccine. I will support in this place all policy and legislative measures that enhance the educational opportunities of Australians, which is why I support the trades training centres—a core feature of this government’s education revolution.
I would also like to make mention of the provision in this legislation of $21.6 million for the continuation of the Active After-school Communities program. The Active After-school Communities program is a free government initiative that gives school-age children the opportunity to experience more than 70 different sports and up to 20 other structured physical activities. The program aims to help establish health habits in primary school-age children in recognition that those children who develop these habits are more likely to continue them as they get older. Without the program over 80 per cent of participating children would not be engaged in any structured physical activity outside of school. The program is running at capacity, with over 3,200 schools involved in it.
I was fortunate late last year to present an award to Curtin Primary School, who won the school-age care program here in the ACT for 2010. The program received the 2010 territory’s Super Site Award for delivering safe, fun and inclusive sports activities to children. The award is presented each year to those locations delivering the Australian Sports Commission’s Active After-school Communities program. Curtin’s school-age care beat 49 other sites in the ACT to win the award. The students absolutely love and delight in the program, and they have great student teachers and teachers who are already part of the school showing the students a range of things. The students participate in a diverse range of activities, including dance, taekwondo, softball, cheerleading, cricket, soccer, rugby league, AFL and touch football.
I was also pleased to learn that this program is not just being rolled out to metropolitan constituents here in Canberra; the program is also actively embraced on Norfolk Island, where I was just recently with the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government. The program has received rave reviews from the teachers and parents on the island.
I would like to take this opportunity to report that I was recently informed that this program will now take place in the new $3.3 million multipurpose hall at Garran Primary School. The hall was built under the Building the Education Revolution scheme and I had the privilege of opening it with my ACT colleague, Senator Kate Lundy, a few weeks ago, where I learned of its many planned uses.
The BER is a scheme that draws much derision from those opposite, despite the fact that it is supporting the infrastructure needs of our schools. However, in Canberra, the BER has drawn nothing but praise—from parents, teachers, staff and students. Government and non-government schools alike are incredibly grateful for the libraries, the outdoor learning areas, the ICT and language rooms, the multipurpose halls, the garden centres and the millions of dollars invested in Australia’s future.
The BER program has also generated thousands of jobs and trained hundreds of apprentices in Canberra. That is vitally important, and that was the whole idea. In the true Labor tradition, the BER program was introduced to ensure that the children of today and tomorrow have the facilities they need to help them excel and create a knowledge economy. In the true Labor tradition, the BER program was introduced to ensure that Australians and Canberrans had work and that our economy did not succumb to recession like nearly every other nation on the planet. It was designed to ensure our economy did not have to be bailed out.
Contrast this with the Howard government’s chronic underfunding of education and education infrastructure. Those opposite failed to invest in the future of this nation: the children and their education. They are the backbone of our future growth, our future economy and our future productivity and prosperity. Unfortunately, those opposite were lazy, and it has fallen to this government to fix the problems caused by their laziness. The after-school program is another innovative educational program that enhances the lives of young Australians. It encourages teamwork, collaboration and healthy habits and stems the rate of obesity among our young. Having seen it in action at Curtin Primary School, I am keen to see it continue in my electorate and across others around Australia.
I laud the funding being made available for high-speed rail. In particular, I draw the chamber’s attention to the provisions for a feasibility study into high-speed rail. This $20 million study will look at high-speed rail along Australia’s east coast. This study is crucial to the economic development and future of Canberra. As many in this place would know, there has been an argument for some time for a high-speed rail link between Canberra and Sydney. In the short time I have been in this place I have been asked by many of my constituents, particularly the business community, to advocate this rail link. It has the potential to bring many economic benefits to the people of Canberra and the region and, as such, I am absolutely delighted that Canberra will be included in the feasibility study.
Finally, I turn to the funding provisions for the Australian Civilian Corps deployment to Haiti. These bills appropriate some $377,000 to support the operation by the civilian corps in Haiti. The operation will deploy a civilian specialist to fill the role of a donor liaison officer in the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. This deployment complements Australia’s commitments to assisting in the rebuilding of Haiti, to which the Australian government has already committed $24 million. As a former DFAT employee, I was very proud to speak in this place on the creation of the Australian Civilian Corps. Foreign aid and development is important to me as a result of my firsthand experience of working in the Asia-Pacific region and living for a year in India.
The Australian Civilian Corps is a select group of civilian specialists who deploy to countries experiencing or emerging from natural disaster or conflict. Members of the corps are drawn from a register of screened and trained civilian specialists. They are selected from all levels of government and from the broader community for their technical skills and ability to work in some challenging environments overseas. They are tasked with providing advice, assistance and capability building in public administration, finance, law and justice, agriculture, engineering and health administration.
The Australian Civilian Corps will support stabilisation, recovery and development planning with a view towards the long-term viability of countries in need. It is all too easy to forget the people of these countries once the immediate crisis is over, and I am acutely aware of the need to provide support to our fellow Australians affected by the floods. That is why spoke in favour of the flood levy and why I am encouraging my constituents to give to Lifeline. We need to provide support now that the houses and the mess are being cleaned up, and I am very concerned about the welfare of the people who have been left behind with this emptiness in their lives.
How many people in these countries ask themselves: ‘What happens next? Who will restore the water and the power? Who will provide the experience to restore good governance?’ These are all fundamental questions that nations that have gone through terrible circumstances, terrible natural disasters, ask themselves. The Australian Civilian Corps will play a major and significant part in answering these questions. The present situation in Haiti is exactly what the Australian Civilian Corps is designed for and so I am pleased to see that its role is being funded in this appropriation. I support this bill.
I recognise the member for Canberra in this place. I think it is the first time I have spoken after her and I congratulate her on her election. In her presentation the member for Canberra spoke quite passionately about the issues relating to education—in fact, I think she used the phrase that education is a vaccine against poverty and a vaccine against social disadvantage. Without wishing to prolong the metaphor any further, I must say that regional Australia does need an injection of fairness and equity when it comes to education. So, in rising to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and the related bill, I note the proposed amendment by the member for Sturt and I give credit to him for his relentless pursuit of the government in relation to the issues of student income support.
Today this government has another chance to do the right thing, the decent thing, and live up to its hollow rhetoric about the education revolution. It has a chance to deliver a fair go for all regional students seeking to access the independent youth allowance. In this, the Gillard government’s year of decision and delivery, the Prime Minister has the opportunity to fix up the mess she has created in the area of student income support.
The amendment put forward by the member for Sturt is about fairness. It is about equity and it is about tidying up the mess that was created by the former Minister for Education and now Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. I acknowledge that the amendment put forward will not solve all the issues relating to equity of access to tertiary studies for regional students, but at least it will stop the current discrimination on the basis of random lines on a map that has heavily disadvantaged students who attended year 12 in 2009 and also disadvantaged students from regional areas who are undertaking gap years at the moment.
We need to be very clear about what we are debating in this amendment moved by the member for Sturt. It relates specifically to the independent youth allowance and the workforce criteria imposed in the aftermath of the former education minister’s failed attempts to overhaul student income support. We have this ridiculous system now of lines on a map which define areas as being either inner regional or outer regional for the purpose of accessing independent youth allowance. The students who live in those areas face different workforce criteria to achieve their independence.
The ridiculous situation is that, in my electorate, you have towns such as Yarram, Heyfield and Maffra, which are very small and service small agricultural areas around them, which are regarded as inner regional under this government’s classification. The workforce criteria of 30 hours per week over two years is almost impossible to achieve for many students in the small country towns that are in that inner regional classification. Towns like Yarram, Heyfield and Maffra are classified the same as Hobart under this system for the purpose of calculating the independent youth allowance. So we have Hobart, with a population of about 250,000, and we have a town like Yarram, with a population of about 1,750 people. So I invite members opposite to come to Yarram and explain the fairness of that system to the people in my community. This is a recognised problem with the system. The minister himself has acknowledged there is a problem with the system. We need to get on and fix the mess.
While I am talking about the Yarram community, I have a speech here that was given last year by the president of the school council at Yarram Secondary College, Mr Garry Stephens. Garry has been a great servant of that community, both in his role within the business community and in his willingness to work on behalf of the school on the school council. He has been a fierce advocate for the Yarram community. This is what Garry told people attending the speech afternoon last year:
Rural communities need to continue to get a message to all levels of Government that we are at a disadvantage in sending our year 12 students onto tertiary study and that if more rural people are going to be able to study at tertiary level we need better living away from home allowances and financial support for our students.
In this place, we often get caught up in political arguments. This is a comment from a fellow on the ground in a regional community, with strong business experience and direct experience in the Yarram Secondary College, giving a bit of free advice to the minister. I encourage the minister to start listening to people like Garry Stephens from the Yarram community.
As I said, even the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations himself has acknowledged that we have a mess. He was talking on Gippsland ABC Radio last week, trying to make a positive out of this government’s decision to bring forward the review and make changes allegedly from 1 January next year. The minister admitted on radio that the current system was ‘an inelegant solution’. He also admitted it was ‘a bit untidy’. ‘A bit untidy’ would have to be an early nomination for the understatement of the year. What we have is an absolute mess which is jeopardising young people’s careers, frustrating the hell out of teachers, making parents angry and causing Centrelink staff to run around in circles trying to figure out how to implement the system. So to say it is an inelegant solution and a bit untidy is the greatest understatement of the year so far.
The minister has put forward a pathetic solution. His solution is to bring forward the review process and make a promise about what might happen on 1 January next year. I will just have a quiet word about something that needs to be recognised by the Independents who have backed the government on this promise of action. What are the Independents actually saying to the students of 2009 and 2010 in these so-called inner regional areas and who have basically been left out in the cold by this decision? As the member for Sturt noted in his address, Senator Evans himself has already backed down on the deal; he has backed away from any promises or any undertakings to these students on the level of support and whether he will actually abolish the inner regional and outer regional boundaries.
The big issues surround uncertainty. We have students, we have parents, we have teachers who are making plans now for the rest of their lives. In about year 10 students in regional communities start working out their pathway—how they are going to possibly get to university. Many of the students in my community come from poorer socioeconomic groups, as is very typical of rural communities, with lower household incomes. I have acknowledged from day one that the changes to the income thresholds in terms of accessing the dependent youth allowance have been very positive. There is no argument on this side of the chamber with the government’s changes. The argument is about the independent youth allowance and the students who have taken a gap year. The students from 2009 in inner regional areas face a whole different classification, a whole different workforce criteria, to some other students who are actually in the same class. If I can give the example of Yarram again, if you are attending Yarram Secondary College the chances are you are going to school with a kid from Port Albert, seven kilometres down the road. The kid from Port Albert is regarded as outer regional; the students who live and attend school in the Yarram community itself are regarded as inner regional.
I support a complete overhaul of the system. The holding pattern from 1 July this year should be to abolish the current arrangement of inner regional and outer regional, and the changes from 1 January next year should include a tertiary access allowance which addresses this fundamental inequity and the fundamental differences which exist between country students who are forced to move away from home to attend university and their city counterparts who can stay at home while pursuing their academic dreams.
Members opposite like to talk a lot about the so-called transformational powers of education. I have heard it many times; it must be in the key messages sheet that was sent out at one stage by the minister for education. Instead of talking about the transformational powers of education, now it is time to deliver—to start working to reduce the economic barriers for regional students who are forced to leave home to attend university. I acknowledge that governments are not the complete solution to this problem. We have problems with aspiration in many of our regional communities. We need to encourage young people in regional areas to remain at school and to achieve their full potential. I believe we need to make sure that we value education more highly in our regional communities. We need to work with the parents and we need to work with the students themselves, particularly in regional areas.
The problem is, if students see some form of roadblock in front of them, whether it be a fight in this place about the whole issue of student income support or any other issue, and they realise that university is perhaps beyond their reach, their aspirations are killed off. That is a critical issue we need to consider in this place in our debate about student income support. Gippsland has one of the worst year 12 retention rates in Victoria. About 65 per cent of students in my community finish year 12, compared to a metropolitan average in excess of 80 per cent. There is a key issue here in terms of the importance to regional communities of training our own young people to take on roles in areas like health, engineering and other tertiary-qualified professions—these students are the ones who are more likely to return in the future.
The other important point to note is that we can send a very strong message to mature age professionals that if you move to a regional area, if you bring your highly valued skills that we need in our community, your child is likely to receive some support when they have to leave to attend university down the track. We will actually help you out with the additional costs. Right now it is a barrier to getting health professionals and other professionals to move to regional communities because they see this big bill looming in the future in terms of sending their child off to university. We need to understand these costs and why they are different for regional areas. It is at least $12,000 to $15,000 more than if your child can stay at home with you while they are attending university. That is after-tax income, it must be noted. We are sucking wealth out of regional communities, as it is often to pay a city based landlord who receives a tax advantage from negatively gearing the property the students are living in.
I believe these are fundamental issues we have to address in terms of student income support, and so far the government has talked about an education revolution but has really just tinkered around the edges. I believe we may need to be creative in the future as well. If you accept my premise that all students who are forced to move away from home to further their studies should receive some form of tertiary access allowance, we may need to look at the actual tax deductibility status of the accommodation cost to their parents.
I believe this review should go ahead. I support the government in that regard. But it should be broad enough to consider a whole range of student income support measures. I believe there is a potential for a tertiary access allowance at a specified amount for all students who are required to live away from home, who have no option other than to live away from home, and an extra component that is income-tested to assist lower and middle income earners. There may be something more we can do, as I said, in terms of more innovative tax treatment of the accommodation costs. It is very difficult for us to attract the high income earning professionals in many regional areas and the education opportunities must be at least part of the problem that we need to address.
The scope of the problem is referred to in a recent report into deferral rates put forward under the title Deferring a university offer in regional Victoria. Among the findings of the report was that the actual rate of deferral amongst regional people has been consistently higher than that of their Melbourne metropolitan counterparts. Over the last seven years in regional Victoria this rate rose from 9.9 per cent in 2004 to 15.2 per cent in 2010, with the rate reaching as high as 21.6 per cent in 2009. That is an interesting statistic in many regards because there was a peak in deferrals in 2009, when there was a sharp rise from 15.9 to 21.6 per cent in rural areas. While the data itself does not support a firm conclusion, you have to speculate that some of the changes that were announced to youth allowance and the confusion that was created in the May 2009 budget added to the deferral rate. So it is a very real issue. When we started legislating and changing the system, the reaction straightaway was a six per cent increase in deferrals from rural areas.
The other point I want to make from this report is that the factors that have been studied all combine to present evidence of what they call cumulative and enduring disadvantage among non-metropolitan school completers in terms of university entry. I believe that the uncertainty we have created over the past two years in relation to this whole debate about student income support is making it more difficult for students as they plan for the next five years. The submission by Deakin University to the inquiry into the extent of and nature of disadvantage in rural and regional Victoria dealt with issues directly relating to access to education. Amongst its conclusions, Deakin University said:
Increasing participation in higher education in regional Victoria is crucial to addressing disadvantage and inequality. If participation rates in regional Victoria are to be increased to achieve attainment goals there is much work to be done to change attitudes and culture. Appropriate financial incentives and access strategies must be identified and implemented.
Improving access to higher education for rural and regional students requires a range of responses … from Government in terms of incentives for rural and regional students and funding incentives for regional University Campuses and delivery.
Time prevents me from going into all the other recommendations and conclusions from Deakin University. But it just reinforces my overall point, that if the government is genuine in its attempts to give regional students a fair go it will put some real substance into its so-called education revolution.
Senator Fiona Nash, along with the member for Sturt, the member for Forrest and others, has been at the forefront of this debate and there have been many other coalition members and senators who have fought the good fight. We must continue to highlight this issue in the interests of fairness and equity for regional Australians.
We recently learned of the collapse of REDgroup Retail, owner of the Borders and Angus and Robertson bookshops. This has led to a range of accusations that the government’s decision to retain Australia’s territorial copyright legislation is to blame. Former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr in a recent blog alleges that the retention of PIR, or parallel import restrictions, caused the publishing company Borders and Angus and Robertson to enter into administration.
Firstly, I have to say that I have never met Bob Carr, but I do have a healthy respect for his contribution in public life, in particular as a former Premier of New South Wales. But I have to take issue with some of the ridiculous comments he has made on the PIR issue. Regarding the Borders and Angus and Robertson situation, Mr Carr is dead wrong. Maintaining PIR has had no impact on the company, as many commentators in the publishing sector have acknowledged. It had more to do with the failure of that company to adjust and restructure its business to meet the challenges that all the printing and publishing sector is facing worldwide, the strong Australian dollar and the fact that Borders was purchased by a private equity with no expertise in running a business, which then relied on merchant bankers who knew nothing about book retailing.
As well, book retailing across the board has suffered a decline in the past year or so. Indeed Whitcoulls, the largest New Zealand publishing house, has also gone into receivership, and I understand Dymocks New Zealand has closed several stores. The point I am making is that New Zealand abolished parallel import restrictions in its publishing sector a decade ago and has had an open market environment since then. It obviously did not help Whitcoulls. Mr Carr stated:
This old-fashioned protectionism was designed to save McPherson’s, a struggling factory with 300 employees in Maryborough, Victoria …
He then went on to say:
But that’s protection for you: you shore up jobs in a clapped out factory that is doomed to close eventually, but you lose them in retail and service.
Wrong again, Mr Carr. The printing and publishing sector estimates that the introduction of a 30-day rule on PIRs in 1991 provided a strong stimulus to the Australian book printing industry. Australian publishers are printing more of their books locally to protect themselves against the parallel importation of cheaper overseas editions. According to the Printing Industries Association of Australia in submission No. 168 to the Productivity Commission, the increase in local printing activity is reflected in official statistics as well as in anecdotal feedback from the book printers about the importance of the current parallel importation rules to their production volumes and commercial viability. The increase in book production has led to more jobs, particularly in regional centres such as Maryborough in Victoria. The book printing industry estimates that the abolition of the 30-day rule could result in a loss of turnover of between $70 million and $80 million and the loss of between 1,400 and 1,600 jobs throughout Australia, including several hundred in book-printing related jobs. The impact of this loss of business would be felt not just by book printers themselves but also by associated industries such as paper manufacturers, suppliers of inks and other consumables, prepress service providers, bookbinders and local transport companies.
Mr Carr stated that McPherson’s in Maryborough was ‘a clapped out factory that is doomed to close’. Wrong again, Mr Carr. McPherson’s Printing Group happens to be among the most modern, innovative and advanced printing houses in Australia. It has invested around $23 million in its business in the last five years and is constantly changing to meet the demands and challenges affecting its industry. This company is the foundation stone of the small community of Maryborough’s already depressed economy.
The statistics paint a disturbing picture. There is 11 per cent unemployment in Maryborough; the state average is 5.4 per cent. Youth unemployment is reported to be in excess of 20 per cent. In the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas, SEIFA, Central Goldfields shire rates 79 out of 79 local government areas in Victoria for disadvantage. Central Goldfields shire is highly disadvantaged across all four SEIFA indexes—advantage and disadvantage ratio, disadvantage, economic resources, and education and occupation. Central Goldfields shire ranks lowest in Victoria in average household income, average educational attainment and employment rates, significant long-term intergenerational unemployment and poverty.
The Vinson report of 2007, entitled Dropping off the edge, was commissioned by Jesuit Social Services in Melbourne. This report card on the Central Goldfields shire found that there was poor early childhood development, poor health, poor personal health, hunger, teenage pregnancy, and alcohol and drug abuse. It also found a strong link between socioeconomic disadvantage and poor health. Educational disadvantage included nonattendance at preschool, incomplete education, early school leaving and the lack of post-school qualifications. The Central Goldfields shire has lost around 400 jobs in the past six years, including at Nestle—140 jobs; Penny and Lang—80 jobs; Pyrenees Press—20 jobs; MidState Foods—10 jobs; Davis Poultry—80 jobs; Matisse Foods—40 jobs. Remember, Maryborough has a population of 8,000. Over a longer period, Maryborough has seen the loss of Phelans Homes, Maryborough Knitting Mills, and Patience and Nicholson, with the loss of hundreds of jobs.
McPherson’s Printing Group is currently the largest single industry in Maryborough and, as I said, has invested some $23 million in both its Maryborough plants over the past four or five years. It currently employ 300 to 350 people, including 33 junior and adult apprentices. Maryborough is indeed a depressed economy, with all the social challenges that accompany high levels of unemployment. The Central Goldfields Shire Council is doing a superb job in slowly turning this situation around and does not need the added pressure that Mr Carr’s inane comments have caused. Bob Carr and colleagues want to place the final nail in the Maryborough community’s coffin by shutting down a viable industry on the altar of free market economics, while being a director of one of the retailing chains that allegedly would benefit from changes to PIR regulations. To be fair, Mr Carr has always acknowledged his directorship with Dymocks, but this does not alter the fact. Indeed, Mr Carr would be well advised to avail himself of all of the facts before making any further comments on this matter.
Industry commentators have for some time pointed out the deficiencies in the REDgroup business model but those seeking removal of territorial copyright appear to blindly assume that REDgroup operated with perfect efficiency. Of course, they failed to acknowledge that its New Zealand operations have also gone under in a country where such copyright has already been abolished. The reality is that traditional business models in retail are changing, not least because of the advent of more internet shopping. It is up to Australian retailers to respond to this challenge, but the evidence to date is that they are falling behind. As the communications minister highlighted earlier this month, despite the potential of online retail to improve customer service and reduce logistics and other business costs, almost 60 per cent of Australian small businesses have yet to establish an online presence and almost 80 per cent are yet to offer online purchasing.
The state of the retail music industry provides ample evidence that, even though restrictions on imported CDs were removed some time ago on the recommendation of the Productivity Commission, 2010 saw a 32 per cent drop in the sale of CD albums, while the CD singles market collapsed by more than 94 per cent. This occurred while the digital music market as a whole increased by 32 per cent. The growth was all in online sales—a similar change in the business model that is facing the book retail industry. The removal of import restrictions is not about a few jobs in one printing factory in my electorate, as Mr Carr has suggested. Investment in book publishing would be likely to contract severely, with several small to medium publishers closing completely and a number of larger publishers downsizing. Skilled jobs will be lost not only in the printing and allied industries but also in editing, illustration, design, marketing and distribution. The number and variety of titles available in Australian bookshops as well as the number of bookshops would decrease, with independent bookshops worst hit. Market power would be concentrated in the large chain booksellers and discount department stores. It would be harder for new Australian authors to get published and dumped overseas books would undermine authors’ incomes. The risk appetite of Australian publishers for new Australian writing would reduce.
Exports of Australian writing would shrink and Australia’s carbon footprint would grow as more books were freighted in from overseas. We would be taking a wrecking ball to the Australian publishing industry, with no guarantee of significantly lower book prices or better availability of books to Australian consumers. Even the Productivity Commission acknowledged that book prices did not fall after New Zealand abolished its territorial copyright, and nor could it guarantee that any reduction in purchasing costs to Australian booksellers would be passed on to customers. There are no grounds for revisiting the government’s decision to retain the current rules on the parallel import of books. I note the Assistant Treasurer’s confirmation that the government will not be reopening this debate, and I welcome that.
I would like to turn to the matter of asylum seekers. Last week, during the private members debate, the member for Pearce spoke with her customary concern about the human trauma of those people who choose to seek refuge in this country from persecution. The member for Pearce, along with colleagues on the other side of the House, such as the member for McMillan and the former member for Kooyong, has been consistently calling for a more humane treatment of asylum seekers for several years. Last week in this House she made a special plea:
I … call on the government and the opposition to stop the political tactics and to end the escalating, hysterical rhetoric over who can produce the toughest policies, and for men and women of conscience in this place to call for the end of the politicisation of asylum policy.
I agree, and I believe that many of the comments that have been made about asylum seekers in the past few weeks have taken us over a line—a line that means we as politicians are failing to provide the moral and humanitarian leadership that the citizens of this country are entitled to expect from their elected representatives.
It is high time for us to stop using the plight of some of the world’s most desperate people for base political advantage. It is time for us to stop dehumanising people who arrived in this country by boat to claim political asylum. It is time to stop the xenophobic references to them as anonymous groups of foreigners, as boat people, as illegal immigrants or worse. It is time to stop the insinuations that all members of a particular faith or nationality are a threat to our Australian way of life.
This is the cynical, manipulative language of wartime propaganda. The depersonalisation of your foes plays a large part in the psychological conditioning of your soldiers. If they are allowed to see their enemy as a fellow human being with the same hopes and aspirations as them, they are much less likely to want to harm or even destroy him. It is the same depersonalisation that nurtures prejudice and persecution and provides a veil of respectability to the most abhorrent views about people from other faiths or countries. But it is not just through our careless use of language that we contribute to this xenophobia. Our silence, when it is used by others, encourages misinformation and reinforces the prejudice.
We only have to look at one of the public perceptions of asylum seekers to see the effect of this. An Amnesty International opinion poll in 2009 showed the majority of respondents believed that 80 per cent of asylum seekers in Australia had arrived by boat. In fact, in 2008-09 the true figure was 16 per cent. Even with the recent increases in arrivals, it is still less than half, with the majority continuing to arrive in Australia by air with a valid visa and then apply for onshore protection. We politicians have to take a large part of the responsibility for this misconception amongst our citizens. Our failure to correct the record at every opportunity, to contradict the radio shock jocks and the media pundits is a major contributor to perpetuating this misinformation.
People-trafficking, for whatever reason, is a repulsive business and we must take appropriate steps to prevent it occurring and punish those who seek to take advantage of genuine asylum seekers. But we have to stop demonising those who are legitimately seeking asylum in our country. As I said earlier, we have crossed the line in this debate on asylum and we have lost some of our basic humanity. In the conduct of this debate we have lost our empathy and our compassion. We glimpse it every now and then, but for the most part it is buried in the language of the debate and the incessant striving for political advantage.
There are times when we as politicians should be responsive to the public mood and there are times when we need to lead the public mood. If Arthur Calwell had consulted focus groups in the western suburbs of Sydney, this country would never have benefited from the wave of postwar European migration. If Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser had commissioned opinion polls about multiculturalism, this country would be much the poorer for it today. The asylum debate is one where we need to lead the country. As the member for Pearce has said, it is well and truly time for all political leaders to stop the politicking on asylum seekers.
I rise this evening to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 and the amendment moved by Mr Pyne with regard to youth allowance. It is a great frustration to me and many of the people I represent that this argument about youth allowance is still continuing. The former education minister, now the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, introduced these changes to youth allowance two years ago. They severely handicapp the ability of regional students to obtain a tertiary education. There was some negotiation and some ground given last year that allowed students from remote Australia and outer regional Australia to obtain independent youth allowance, but due to the vagaries of lines on maps and a methodology that had absolutely nothing to do with education and more to do with health provision we had huge anomalies in youth allowance. When students were living on opposite sides of a road, one was eligible and the other was not.
In my electorate, particularly disadvantaged were the students who live in Mudgee and Dubbo. Despite what people might think, many of my constituents are not from farms. Most of my constituents live in towns. I had a lot of correspondence from students in Dubbo and Mudgee and particularly from their parents who were concerned that they would not be able to afford a tertiary education for their children. One mother actually rang me and said that they had three children and they were going to have to decide which of their children was going to have a tertiary education and which two would have to miss out.
The Prime Minister, then the Minister for Education, spoke about the changes she brought in and said that there were many more scholarships available to allow country kids to study at university. But the issue is that they were not of a high enough value. I know the independent youth allowance is not perfect but I am a great supporter of it for several reasons. One is that it enables students to take a gap year after high school and take part in the workforce, to show some responsibility and earn money of their own. They get into the routine, they get out of the school environment and, as they are working and earning that money, they can contemplate their future. I know many young people who in that time have had a change of heart as to what they might really want to study at university and have gone into something else. So I think that 12-month period is very good. I also like the fact that they are more often than not in a fairly low-level, entry job in the workplace. Quite often academic students go on to something at university without experiencing working on a shopfloor, stacking meat in an abattoir or working at a supermarket checkout—all these jobs are worth while and very beneficial—and so they miss out.
We believed last week that there were going to be changes and the Independents in the House of Representatives decided to back the government and indicated that youth allowance was being fixed. But I tend to think they have been duped. At this stage, and Senator Evans confirmed it in Senate estimates last week, there is no clear plan for where the government is going with youth allowance. They have promised another review this year, but the problem we have is that two years of students—the ones in year 9 and the ones in year 10—are going to miss out. Mr Pyne’s amendment will allow youth allowance to start in June and students in year 9 and 10 will be covered. In the 21st century, to have students with perfect capabilities and the rest of their lives in front of them not being given the opportunity to reach their full potential because they cannot attend university is a shame. A lot of the reason we are still here discussing this is the pride of the Prime Minister, the pig-headedness of the Prime Minister. She will not admit that she got it wrong two years ago.
It would not be a constitutional issue because the Prime Minister has the ability to change this. The government could change this with the full support of both sides of the House. It need not be a constitutional issue. So, hopefully, we will gain support in the House for this from the crossbenchers and the government will have to address the issue of youth allowance for the students who left in years 9 and 10.
I understand that the appropriation bills do allow for free-ranging conversation. So while we are speaking about the bills that allocate funds for the management of this country and the operation of government, I will touch briefly on the carbon tax. As for the effect of the carbon tax, carbon pricing or whatever you want to call it, there is a fair bit of shadow boxing coming from the government on this. They are reluctant to say what they really mean but the people in my electorate know what it all means. In the original report addressing climate change, Professor Garnaut indicated that, through addressing carbon, through either a trading system or a tax, regional Australia would have an economic downturn of 20 per cent and the cities would have an economic downturn of eight per cent. If anyone expects me, as a representative of a regional electorate, to support legislation that is going to be economically damaging to my electorate, they are crazy. The issue is this: in a lot of the conversation in the past week we have not heard how the climate is going to be altered by this tax and how making the small business owners, pensioners and fixed-income earners in my electorate pay more money is going to affect the environment. No-one has stated that.
I have been called a denier and a sceptic and anything else you would want to say. The issue here is not about climate change; the issue is whether this economic measure will address the problem of climate change. In the discussions we have had in the last couple of weeks no-one has spoken about this. Senator Bob Brown, who is either the quasileader of the Labor Party or at least a close adviser to the Prime Minister, says no-one will be hurt because ‘We’re going to take the money from you to stop you using electricity but we’re going to give it back to you so you can use the electricity in compensation.’ So what is the point? If a carbon tax is to alter the way that we behave as a nation, if the carbon tax is designed to make energy dear—more expensive—so that we use less and if we are going to compensate people so they are not affected by the tax, how is it going to make people use less? So what is the point of doing this?
They have been saying the polluters will pay. Who are the polluters? The polluters are the people that flick the switch on their air conditioner. The polluters are the people that use energy in their small shop to run their deep-freezer. The polluters are the service station owners that use electricity to drive pumps to run their business. The polluters are the farmers that use electricity to run their irrigation plants and their shearing machines and that use diesel in their tractors to grow food. They are the polluters! The emission of carbon is directly proportional to human beings. Our existence generates carbon. Unless we want to go back to living in a subsistence environment with no electricity and no fossil fuel, then there is no point in what is being proposed.
This is a tax on civilisation. It is a tax on everything we do and it is being talked about without mentioning how the climate is going to be altered and cooled. When we had the emissions trading debate last year and the year before, we heard some crazy stuff from the other side. When I listened to the member for Isaacs he painted a picture of how many of the suburbs in his Victorian electorate were going to be submerged by the waterfront. The member for Makin spoke about the heat wave that was happening in Adelaide at that time and how parliament had to pass that legislation at the end of 2009 so that it would not be so hot when he went home on the weekend. To have crazy talk and scare tactics from the government about the issue of climate change without explaining how this policy would have any effect on the temperature of the globe is immoral.
On another note about issues in my electorate, one of the great frustrations is that we end up with academic debates in this place and a lot of time wasted, while people with great disadvantages go largely unnoticed. I want to bring to the attention of the House tonight to the Aboriginal communities in my electorate. I believe my electorate has the second-largest Indigenous population in Australia. I would particularly like to draw to the attention of the House the village of Toomelah on the Queensland border near the town of Goondiwindi.
The member for Moreton might like to take a bit of notice because I know he has sympathy. Two years ago the CDEP was removed. I know that the CDEP had some issues, but in Toomelah there was no other employment and they saw CDEP as their employment. The CDEP subsidised the employment of the people who worked in the co-op store. It helped out with aides who worked in the medical centre. It looked after the maintenance of the village, such as the mowing. To my knowledge, the CDEP built the only memorial to Aboriginal service men and women in Australia. But because Toomelah is located east of the Newell Highway it was considered not remote and when the CDEP was changed they lost it.
I am calling for the reintroduction, for a trial period of 12 months, of the CDEP until we can get some help into the village of Toomelah. The program is already going. It would not need legislation; it would just need a boundary change. There are huge problems of alcoholism and lawlessness. There have been attempted suicides. I have given my solemn promise to the people of Toomelah that their plight is going to be my No.1 priority for this term of government. I have spoken to Minister Macklin and I believe that she is discussing and deciding on this issue at the moment. I think that, as we get into our academic debates down here, sometimes it might be useful to reflect on the less fortunate people in our communities. Surely, with the resources of the Australian government, we can help the 400 people who live in Toomelah.
This last week I actually preceded the member for Parkes on almost every speech. It is a pleasure to now follow him. He made some important remarks in his contribution in relation to his community, which has the difficult challenges that many Indigenous communities face around Australia. It is a little unfortunate that it took him 12 minutes to get to what will be his main purpose of this term in parliament. He spent the first 12 minutes as a climate sceptic, arguing something that no reputable scientist anywhere in Australia would argue. But I am glad that he eventually did get to what is a very important issue not just in his electorate but in electorates around Australia.
The Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and cognate bill contain a number of key and important appropriations. One of them is the $10.1 million to introduce the fair entitlements guarantee. It is important to spend a little bit of time on this issue, because Australians will remember what the Howard government tried to do in relation to workers entitlements through the Work Choices legislation. This is not some dry, academic argument. This government has repealed the legislation and put in place fair work procedures and legislation so that workers throughout this country will not be exploited. Part of that is about ensuring that there is sufficient money for those people who are, unfortunately, made redundant. It is also important, because those opposite are continually going back to Work Choices. I am sure those people out in the electorate will not believe that, because the defining issue of the 2007 election was killing off Work Choices. We heard the Leader of the Opposition say that it is ‘dead, buried and cremated’ in the last election campaign, but that has not stopped those opposite from raising all those issues in Work Choices and from wanting to bring them back and revisit them on the Australian people.
It is incumbent on all of us here to remind the Australian electorate that, while the Leader of the Opposition may have said that Work Choices is dead, that is not the way he is behaving. You need only look at a recent article by the member for Mayo, who makes it abundantly clear that from his perspective the very things that Work Choices was designed to do need to be reintroduced. The member for Mayo is one of the brighter members of the opposition. It is unfortunate for him; he should be on the front bench. But he must have voted for the wrong person in the leadership struggles of those opposite, so he sits on the back bench. He usually makes some sense, but this article is very badly written. What he is saying is economically wrong. But what is important is to remind the Australian people of what the article is saying: we need to bring back the essential issues of Work Choices.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 5.47 pm to 6.00 pm
Before the suspension, I was talking about how important it is that we remind the Australian public that, while the Leader of the Opposition may say that Work Choices is dead, that is not reflected in the behaviour of those opposite. Under these appropriation bills, $10.1 million has been allocated for the introduction of the fair entitlements guarantee. It continues this government’s determination to make sure that workers are properly looked after and that they are not exploited, as was the case under the previous government.
One of the big areas of expenditure that this government committed to back in 2007, and continues to pay for in my electorate, is the rehabilitation of the beautiful Tuggerah Lakes. Tuggerah Lakes has been described as the jewel in the crown of the Central Coast; it is a beautiful lake system that sits in the heart of my electorate. Unfortunately, there are some issues that challenge the health of the lakes. One of those is climate change, which I will come back to, and another is the development that has occurred there over many years. This government took the decision that we needed to invest in ensuring that these lakes were properly looked after and committed $20 million over five years. That was matched by the local council, which also put in $20 million. So there is a $40 million program of spending over five years on Tuggerah Lakes to try to make sure that we can bring it back, perhaps not to its absolute pristine condition, because of the development there, but certainly improve it so that the marine life that was once so abundant can continue to thrive and so that the people who live in my electorate can swim, boat and enjoy all types of recreational activities on Tuggerah Lakes.
Work that has been done locally by the council has included, in some areas, replanting salt marsh to help filter the various run-offs that go into the lakes and reducing the weed that has grown in the lakes. I am incredibly proud that this government has put into action our commitment to make sure that we look after Australia’s beautiful environment, in particular the beautiful Tuggerah Lakes, which, as I said, have been described as the jewel in the crown of the Central Coast. That is an important bit of expenditure.
It is also important to put on record that the Wyong Shire Council has done a superb job in managing this money and doing this work. In fact, it has done such a good job that it underspent the money that was allocated. The original budget for the work was around $20 million and the council came in $2.2 million under budget. The federal government recognised that important environmental work was being done, so we said, ‘Let us look at what else we can do to improve those lakes.’ As a result, that $2.2 million has gone back to Wyong Shire Council to do further work on the beautiful Tuggerah Lakes.
Another area that this government is committed to locally in my electorate is rebuilding the surf clubs. The Central Coast is an area with 15 surf clubs—nine of those in the electorate of Robertson and six of them in the electorate of Dobell. There are two different approaches that the two local councils have taken. The Gosford City Council have looked after their surf clubs. They charged a levy and they rebuilt all of their surf clubs, whereas the Wyong Shire council chose not to do this. We had a situation where the surf clubs at Soldiers Beach and Shelly Beach were literally falling down. Surf lifesaving is so iconic in Australia and, in an area like mine where we get thousands and thousands of visitors every year, the surf lifesaving movement, of which I am a part, does so much to make sure that they are able to swim and enjoy the beautiful beaches that we have on our east coast in safety. That was under some threat in my area because these surf clubs were literally falling down and surf lifesavers—volunteers and full-timers—were unable to properly do their work because of a lack of infrastructure.
This government stepped up to the plate. Unlike the previous government that did nothing in relation to these surf clubs, we said, ‘We need to invest in them. These are community assets that can be better used.’ We are right at this moment part of the way through rebuilding the Soldiers Beach surf club, which is expected to be completed in October and ready for the new season, and the Shelly Beach surf club, which is expected to be finished at the start of November and again be ready for the new surf season. It is tremendous work that is being done, a great investment by this government in our local communities.
Our beaches have taken rather a hammering over the last few years and I want to spend a little bit of time on some of the quite kooky notions that the previous speaker, the member for Parkes, was putting about climate change. He might not understand it but, in my electorate where our beaches are being continually washed away and where we have pressure on our environment on the lake, we on the Central Coast understand that climate change is real. You know what? This is not something that we are just saying for political reasons. It is not something that is being made up because we just have a hunch that it might be happening. The scientific community says that we need to act in relation to climate change.
The member for Parkes seemed to claim that we had two choices in relation to this: to go back to the caves—I think that was his term—and to put a tax on civilisation or, his alternative, to do nothing. There is another alternative, the alternative that we are being urged to do by the scientific community, the alternative that this government is determined to make sure happens—and that is to put a price on carbon to make sure that we address the issues of climate change so that our children and our grandchildren are going to be in a world where they are not going to be subject to the extreme weather changes that come about through climate change and man-made pollution. This is a very important issue. This is something you cannot put off. Those on the other side seem to have one policy response only. It does not matter what the issue is, their policy response is, ‘Let’s do nothing because doing nothing is a lot easier for us and doing something is a difficult thing.’
It has always been Labor governments that have had to come up with reform and make the big changes and make sure they put in place infrastructure. We have always had to make the hard decisions. Those opposite, though, have exceeded themselves at the moment with this current Leader of the Opposition, who has only one response and that is no. It does not matter whether it is investing in the NBN, investing in our schools, saving jobs through the stimulus package or saving our environment, the only answer that he has is, ‘No, I am going to oppose it and I have no alternatives to that.’ The Australian people expect more. The people of Dobell expect more. They expect a government, like this government, to act in relation to climate change and to put in place infrastructure that is greatly needed.
This appropriations bill also commits $20 million to a study on the high-speed rail network. One of the busiest parts of any highway in Australia is the stretch between Sydney and Newcastle which goes right through my electorate. At the last election we committed $20 million for a study on a high-speed rail link, with the initial part of that to be between Sydney and Newcastle. This appropriation bill goes to that. It is anticipated that the study will be finished by July of this year. Again, this government is putting money into infrastructure, making important changes that are needed and demanded by the community.
You look at what we are trying to do with this important infrastructure and you look at what the opposition is proposing. As I said, it does not matter whether it is about saving our economy. We all remember the debate here in which those opposite opposed the stimulus package. Now we look at how Australia is viewed around the world as the economic miracle, the country that got through the global financial crisis without a recession, the country that got through the global financial crisis and kept unemployment at moderate levels. These are things that those opposite seem to have completely forgotten. They are one-trick ponies and their one trick is to oppose everything; they do not have anything constructive to say. My advice to those opposite is: if you do not want to do anything, get out of the way and let us get on with doing what the Australian people want us to do—and that is to invest in infrastructure. That is what this bill is about and I commend it to the House.
I rise to contribute to the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011. It is always good to follow the member for Dobell. I know how passionate he is about his electorate and he is basically a good bloke, but I think he is starting to repeat himself. I have twice before heard him use the same ‘Get out of the way’ line in a speech. This is the third time now, so he is becoming a bit repetitive.
Be in no doubt—there is a lot of taxpayers’ money involved in these two appropriation bills. Each of these bills accounts for over a billion dollars of spending. The combined appropriation registers at well over $2.3 billion. As the member for Goldstein pointedly said in his contribution, these are appropriations for moneys that were not anticipated at the time of the budget, so this expenditure is essentially overruns or expenses that were unforeseen and unplanned when the Treasurer handed down the budget in May.
When we talk about such massive government expenditure and when we talk about unforeseen spending and overruns to the tune of $2.3 billion, it is pretty clear that proper and thorough scrutiny is needed. It is not only what the Australian people and, more importantly, the Australian taxpayers expect, but what they deserve. Yet over the last sitting days we have heard a procession of ALP speakers criticising the coalition for wanting this scrutiny.
Given this government’s history of being unable to achieve good value for money for the Australian taxpayer, we on this side of the House will not shirk from promoting a proper examination of these bills. After all, this is a government that is borrowing $100 million every day and spending $1.5 trillion over the next four years, which comes with an interest bill of $45 billion. This is an interest bill to the Australian taxpayer. This is a government that wasted millions on the pink batts scheme and could not get value for money on the school halls program. I doubt if we will ever know the real cost of the waste. If wasteful spending and poor management are allowed to continue, we will see a greater hit on families across the country through a higher cost of living. Dare we mention the word inflation?
Previous speakers have mentioned that these appropriations are an overrun and that they are due to bad management and poor process. I would have to agree that several components of this bill do suggest this. There is $35 million to be appropriated to address a shortfall in funding related to the transfer of the Office for the Arts from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Apparently the shortfall materialised from the amounts being incorrectly appropriated to the wrong outcome in the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities during the 2010-11 budget. In addition, there was $15.1 million to support functions that were transferred from the former Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.
It seems ridiculous that the sum of $15 million could be required for a reshuffling of public servants’ duties. My constituents and many others will be unimpressed that the government can spend $15 million on this and not match a $10 million commitment at the last election by the federal Liberal Party to build the much-needed Manning Road on-ramp, which even the Labor candidate agreed we should have. Communities in Australia are starting to look closely at expenditure by this government and they will perceive this as a waste.
In addition to poor management, close examination of these bills highlights the policy failure that this government has presided over. It is evident that Australians are still paying for the government’s dangerous pink batts scheme. Last year the government told us that it was going to wind up this program and allocated funds to do so. Now the government tells us that it needs a further $45.6 million to help wind up the program. There were blow-outs in the program and now there are blow-outs in winding it down. Many of my constituents have had insulation installed under the government’s scheme. In 2011 they are still trying to get their respective installations completed to an industry approved and safe standard. Labor cannot manage the spending of taxpayers’ money, and we have to go back a long way to find the last year that a Labor government actually delivered a surplus. Maybe members on the other side can tell me: was it 1990 or 1989? If Labor cannot manage the efficient rollout of a program like insulation into taxpayers’ roofs, how can they run this country?
I would like to make specific mention of a contractor in the southern suburbs of Perth. Like many other similar businesses, the contractor in question was given the task of installing pink batts on behalf of the government. The difference with this contractor was that he was so lax in his methods and so rushed in his work that even his local federal member, the member for Brand, has admitted that he has been inundated with complaints about how bad the work has been. To this day, constituents affected by this contractor in my electorate are still waiting for the installations to be brought up to a government accepted standard.
What I fail to understand is the level of accountability the government has avoided in this issue. In the time I have been in business, nearly 25 years, I have understood that a commercial contract, and all the responsibilities that go with it under the Trade Practices Act, is usually between the payer and the payee. You can, then, safely assume that the contract, and all those responsibilities, is between the government that introduced this flawed scheme and the contractors who they issued the work orders to. So you have a government which announces a scheme that invites and encourages people to put insulation into their homes to save the planet. The government announces contractors to get on board and save the economy by putting a grand scheme in place, the house owner invites the contractor to quote on the installation of insulation in their home and the quotation is sent to the government. The government then issues a work order to the contractor and, once the work is completed, the invoice is sent by the contractor to the government for payment. The government is supposed to pay the contractor but then does not pay for this particular contract. Why not, you may ask. Because the program collapses with four deaths and hundreds of house fires.
The collapse of this program exposes rorting. It exposes a complete failure by the government to implement, or have any ability to implement, any scheme beyond the headline of the day. But the real issue here is the woman in my electorate who, along with many others, has had below standard workmanship and below standard installation which is potentially a fire hazard and who is left holding the bag. Again, you may ask why. It is because this Labor government has made the householders sign an indemnity form absolving them of any contractual responsibility. I cannot think of anywhere else in the world where a government would hang its hat so publicly on a scheme and then totally walk away from any legal, contractual or fiscal responsibility towards that scheme. It begs the question: if Labor cannot get pink batts into a roof without damaging property or without setting roofs on fire, how can we trust them to deliver any program in the future?
Like the additional expenditure in the pink batts scheme, the appropriation in these bills of supplementary funding of $290 million for operational costs associated with the management of asylum seekers is an example of policy failure. Border protection continues to be a major concern for people in my electorate of Swan and in Western Australia and, unfortunately, the boats and tragedies out on the seas continue. The people in my electorate tell me that the government’s policy on border protection is not only weak but also inhumane.
Here we have a government that moved the goalposts on border protection, which was the equivalent of sending an invite to all the people smugglers to start their operations in Australia again. This is a trade that kills people and endangers lives, but we have a government that cannot admit it has made a mistake and cannot make the changes that will stop the people-smuggling trade. Dare we ask about the ‘Timor solution’, which no-one has signed up for? Not even this government has signed up for it. Again, this government cannot get passed a headline.
Upon reading through some of the other items earmarked for expenditure in these bills, it becomes clear that there is very little for WA to excited about. There is money for forests in Tasmania. There is money for a high-speed rail network study. There is funding for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. There are even millions of dollars for foreign aid, but almost nothing for Western Australia. How long will we Western Australians have to wait to be given a fair go by this Labor government?
The Gillard Labor government has lost control of Australia’s budget. The coalition knows this is a big call to make, but when you look at the figures they tell their own story—they tell a story of waste. This is a government that is deeply in debt but unprepared to cut spending. When a Labor government gets itself into this situation, we all know what happens: taxes go up or taxes are introduced. Last week we got two more taxes. We now have the flood tax and we now have, as the Leader of the Opposition calls it, the mother of all taxes: the carbon tax. On the Friday before the 2010 election Julia Gillard stated categorically: ‘I rule out a carbon tax’, having said a few days earlier, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.’ I know it is considered unparliamentary to use certain words in the federal parliament, but it is very clear that at the very least that Julia Gillard’s comments have fundamentally misled the Australian people.
This is another broken promise by this government, and this is nothing more than a tax. It will hurt the Australian economy and achieve little in the way of reduction of carbon emissions. Since this government was elected in 2007 there have been 75 broken promises and, as the Leader of the Nationals said, they even broke the promise not to break their promises!
There is little detail in the carbon tax, which is not surprising from a government that cannot seem to get past the headline stage with anything it does. The Leader of the Opposition predicts a people’s revolt, and I think there will be one. People simply cannot bear any more taxes. The cost of living is high enough as it is.
The Prime Minister said in April 2005, prior to becoming the Prime Minister:
I think the public is often cynical about what politicians say and they expect them to use a bit of spin, to use weasel words to talk in shades of grey, but I think the public still gets shocked when they see someone like minister Abbott give a iron-clad, rock-solid guarantee and it is such a blatant lie. There are no shades of grey in that, no spin. I think that shocked the public and certainly justifies his resignation.
Does that mean the Prime Minister is prepared to resign? I do not think so, but I am sure some of her colleagues and the faceless men will make that decision for our Prime Minister.
There has been widespread condemnation of this tax. Not even Heather Ridout, who supports Labor’s announcements before they are even made, can back the government on this one. This is a direct attack on Australian manufacturers, and for a tax that will hardly make a difference on the carbon emissions of Australia. Can you imagine all the people who are being compensated sitting back at home saying, ‘Turn that light off; let’s reduce our power consumption’? Of course not, because this government is going to pay them not to do that. Paul O’Malley, from BlueScope Steel, had this to say in an interview:
Fundamentally, imports will get a free ride, and Australian manufacturing will be taxed, and there will absolutely be leakage because I don’t think we have a commitment to carbon neutrality.
When asked whether he meant carbon neutrality in Australia or the world, Paul O’Malley said:
Oh, in Australia. I think to really reduce greenhouse emissions we have to reduce global emissions. I think if you look at the experience in Europe, production emissions are flat since 1990, so Europeans are claiming victory, but carbon consumption has increased 47 per cent.
Mr O’Malley also said:
You also have to look at the intent of the policymakers to determine whether they want to support manufacturing in Australia. There is a huge question mark on that at the moment.
I’ve just spent the week talking to investors. They are aghast at the policy settings that we are being faced with and the additional costs, including the fact that we have to deal with a high Aussie dollar.
So the policy framework at the moment is wrong. It seems to be captured by people who don’t care whether there are manufacturing jobs in Australia, and you just wonder whether there is an anti-manufacturing focus in Australia and that people want jobs to go offshore.
Just to top it off, Mr O’Malley also goes on to say:
I think there is at the moment, absolutely. I think that there’s a lack of trust between government and business. I think there’s poor communication between government and business, and I think things that appear simple to investors and to ourselves are completely discounted from a government perspective. So you do question the sustainability of manufacturing in Australia.
Mr O’Malley has hit the nail on the head. This is a new tax delivered at a time when the government plans to end exit fees, which have been widely predicted to put upward pressure on interest rates. I must make it very clear that this is the only reason the coalition is not in favour of scrapping exit fees. Labor wants the Australian public to think that Labor is helping those who are paying off their mortgages because it is scrapping exit fees, yet the truth of the matter is that they will end up paying more in increased interest rates. This poor record of budget management has led to a flood tax being introduced. Labor’s first instinct is to tax first and ask questions later. I certainly support the urgent reconstruction of parts of Queensland, but these bills have certainly confirmed that there is fat in the budget that could be trimmed to avoid having to impose this levy and further squeeze what are already tight family budgets.
The Western Australian Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett, consistently and correctly attacks the distribution, insufficient by this government, of the GST revenue back to our state. If we received our fair share, the prudent financial operators and the WA Treasury would actually be able to get on with providing necessary upgrades to WA roads. However, due to the ever-increasing imbalance, WA will continue to suffer at the hands of the Grants Commission. The Grants Commission needs to be scrapped and a new, fairer method of distributing GST revenue needs to be implemented. There is nothing fair about propping up an inefficient state like Tasmania while hampering Western Australia.
A good idea from the member for Oxley. I know the member for Curtin and the member for Canning have spoken on this issue before, but WA cannot be expected to be a cash cow for the other states. It needs its fair share of GST revenue so that it has sovereign ability to provide itself with the necessary funds to ensure that the current boom continues for as long as possible. A minimum rate needs to be set so that when WA is not in an economically strong position we are guaranteed a return of the GST raised by the people in WA. So I ask the government to step back from its never-ending cycle of taxing and spending and give the people of Western Australia and my electorate of Swan a fair go.
In appropriations bills there are many things we can talk about. In fact, there are many very important issues, including budgets, the economy, the environment, floods, infrastructure, the carbon economy, pricing, exit fees and no doubt a whole range of other issues, all of which I am happy to talk about. But I will focus my contribution tonight on a few issues, all related to sustainability, which I think are very important. The Intergenerational report released in 2010 predicts—and it is just a prediction—that Australia’s population will be around 36 million by the year 2050. This is a pretty important number, and people ought to pay a lot more attention to it than they currently do. The capital cities of Australia still account for the bulk of that population growth, and the concentration of population in capital cities currently sits at around the 64 per cent mark. This is expected to grow to about 68 per cent by 2056. These are big numbers, and very significant, because they mean that all our effort needs to be concentrated almost entirely in the cities on how we manage sustainability, lifestyle, growth, jobs, employment and the environment. As important as regions and the bush are, the real bulk of work in how we sustain this country into the future really needs to involve a lot of thought and effort put into our cities. Simply put, that is where people live, that is where the population is concentrated and that is where the population will continue to grow as a proportion of the rest of the country.
In fact, it already feels to me—and I suspect to most people—that Australia’s capital cities are choked. I will use a simple example of my own electorate. It is not a city based electorate; it is outer urban. It is on the outskirts between Brisbane and Ipswich. Yet where I live we are choked every single day by traffic issues, problems of people commuting to work and everything that is associated with it, including the diminishing value of lifestyle. I do not think we can just take a chance on how we continue this growth and development in the future. I think there is a massive role for the Commonwealth to play with the states and with local government. We need to recognise that the business-as-usual approach of people living on the city fringes and commuting to the centres for work is unsustainable in the future. Sustainable development must become a priority at all three levels of government: at the Commonwealth level, at the state level and at the local government level. I will say a little bit more about that later.
My view for many years—and I have spoken on it many times—has been that there needs to be a new compact, a new agreement, a new accord between the three levels of government about how we manage growth, development and sustainability into the future. State governments have produced plans for future development needs of our capital cities. In Queensland, in particular, we have go the 2020 vision, which does set out a plan. It sets out a strategic approach to developing the western corridor, of which my electorate is a part. It sets out a way to manage growth in the future. It is lucky that that is the case because if it were not you would have even further unchecked growth in areas that would be unsustainable. Most of these plans target infill development to provide around 50 to 70 per cent of new housing. This is for a good reason: it is simply cheaper, it is more sustainable and affordable for the people building them and it also means that they are closer in contact with public transport systems and where jobs are currently located.
Large swathes of the inner city cannot be demolished for new developments. We are finding this every day. I will use the south-east of Queensland and Brisbane as the basis for an example. It is very hard to put in new transport corridors, new rail lines, new roads and new highways because you simply cannot bulldoze people’s existing homes and properties. It is just uneconomical and it is unfair, if anything else. Perhaps that is why we have this trend for tunnels everywhere through our cities. These issues are very serious and they need to be dealt with not just at the local government or state level but they need to have full cooperation. And not just the full funding—I get the difference. State and local government authorities always want the federal government to dig deeply into its pockets to pay for things. They also want to have a say, before the necessity arises, in how we get to those positions where we need to have new roads, new transport corridors and new rail.
Base land costs are too high. I do not think anyone would argue with me on that. Having to accommodate existing buildings means that costs are going to continue to rise. There is a real disconnect between affordability, cost of building and development and where we actually allow building to happen. Often, people are pushed right out to the city fringes as far as possible so that they can afford a home but then forgetting that they have to commute back to work, which might take two hours. So it is a new cost. It is not just a cost for the individual but a cost for the state. It is a cost for our transport systems and it is a cost for people’s lifestyles. It carries with it a whole heap of diminishing factors of quality of life, which I think do not work and certainly will not work into the future.
Living in the suburbs in a stand-alone house with a backyard is still the preferred option for most Australian families. But I would like to think that that is significantly changing. My own views on this have changed in recent years. I think there is real potential and the possibility for development to take place on a real mix of lifestyle options—to give people that one-bedroom studio apartment out in the suburbs where traditionally you would never do that, right through to the larger 1,600 square metre blocks—for families, singles and professional couples and those living in an area where there is a lifestyle, public transport, jobs and entertainment facilities. I call it the coffee factor, but where you can get a decent cup of coffee these days makes a huge difference, because it is about a quality of life. People expect that today.
The old ways of thinking and developing and allowing development in the suburbs needs to completely change. I talk to my local council authorities and councillors about how that mix ought to work a bit better. I think there is a lot of potential for us to do that. It will take some courage and it will take some effort, but I think we have the capacity to do it.
I have spoken on these matters many times, particularly about the issue of decentralising out of the city out into the satellite cities and outer urban areas where people commute regularly for an hour or hour and a half into the city to work only just to commute back in the afternoon. Whereas if you led from the Commonwealth, state and local government perspective and started giving people options to work right where they live—and there are those opportunities currently—I think you would start to see that different mix taking place. Business would follow if government departments went out to the burbs. There were examples of this in the past. It is not a new concept. It has been done in Parramatta, in Geelong, in Mt Gravatt in Brisbane and in other areas where the ATO and other departments such as main roads have gone out to the outer regions. People want to work there because that is where they live. It gives them a better lifestyle. I think we need to take that next step up and pursue those particular issues.
Leading demographer Bernard Salt has called a system where our major cities are broken up into areas of employment a ‘mosaic city’, and I think that is an appropriate way to look at it. You work around transport orientated developments and nodes, and you give people those options. Not everyone has to be in the city to enjoy a city lifestyle, which is obviously what people want—that is what people demand. You could also do that on the city fringes. I think that would take an enormous burden off the Commonwealth, currently, and the states, in terms of building infrastructure and the massive costs that involves. It is a reality that people will move to where the jobs are. That is just the bottom line. People need to work and they will move to where the work is if they can afford it. This is the Noosa principle. If you are a service oriented provider—if you work as a police officer, a nurse or a teacher—you cannot live where you work. If you work around Noosa, who can afford to live there? Certainly not me and certainly not people who are teachers, cleaners, police officers and the like. So we need to consider how we work those types of issues as well.
There is a shortage of housing and I think everyone acknowledges that. I do not think I will get too many disagreements. It is a quizzical problem that we face in this country. There is a consistent shortage of between 50,000 and 80,000 homes a year. No matter how many more development applications are put in and no matter where they are, we just never seem to be able to catch up. Again, I think we really need to look at an integrated approach with the Commonwealth. I do not think there is a possibility anymore—it is not acceptable to me, anyway—that the Commonwealth sits on the sideline of these issues that are normally the purview of state and local councils. I think the time has come for us to play a large role not just in the funding but also in the policy development areas to do with housing.
The National Housing Supply Council’s 2010 2nd state of supply report sets out that the housing shortfall is currently over 178,000 homes. That is a lot of people missing out on a place to live. You do not have to travel too far in any city or, in fact, in outer urban areas to see that people are homeless. Whole families are living in caravans, cars or other pretty rough sorts of places. A lot of families miss out. Queensland alone has a shortage of 56,000 homes. That is only exceeded by Sydney. It is a pretty sad indictment of Brisbane. By 2029 the projected number of additional homes required if we just had a status quo would be 3.2 million. That is a phenomenal figure. I look at it sometimes and I think, ‘Is that possible? Is it real?’ But it is. It is a well-thought-out and researched figure—3.2 million additional homes. If we do not plan around that figure—where they are going to go, the transport and roads—we cannot do it later. It cannot be an afterthought. We have to actually plan it in. If we do not do that, in the future we are going to face even greater pressure on all of our cities and we will see a lowering of the living standard from what people expect.
I want to digress here slightly but in keeping with the whole theme of sustainability. There are many parts to the sustainability question. Certainly energy and fuel are part of that. The serious debate about carbon emissions and carbon pricing which we are having right now is part of that debate. The sooner and the quicker we move to a market based carbon economy, the better off we will be. I think the position that we have put on the table now for Australians to debate and accept is the first instalment of where Australia will be in the future.
I am heartened by the fact that the Prime Minister said we should not have to lead the world in this debate but we should not be left behind. We should put ourselves in such a position that we will not be left behind, because the world is moving to a carbon economy; in fact, it is already well and truly on that path now. We might be a small country in terms of our number of people but we are a big hitter, we have big influence and we have big potential and capacity. We are also one of the biggest polluters per head anywhere in the world.
The fact is that our economy is a coal economy, based on a dirty fuel. I think our clean coal technology is great but it is a long way away. We need to look seriously at all the options. One way to do that is to actually put a price on pollution, a price on what you emit, because right now, today, there is no incentive for anybody, none whatsoever, apart from goodwill. There is goodwill from good, honest, decent citizens of this country who do everything in their power individually and as families to reduce their emissions, which is fantastic, but the really big polluters, the ones who really ought to do something, just do not because there is no incentive. Why would you? There is no cost to it. You just spew out as much as you like and there is no repercussion. The sooner we get to a price, the sooner we get to a market based mechanism, the sooner we get to a logical, sensible, commonplace position, the quicker our economy will be part of an integrated global economy on carbon.
The funny thing about this is that not only do I and people in the government think this is pretty common sense; so do people on the Liberal side—because in fact it was their idea before it was ours. It is purely market based. We are talking about what should be core Liberal Party policy and principle. I am not too sure about the National Party, but at least with the Liberal Party once upon a time the imperative was the national economy, not the political economy. On issues such as ethanol and biofuels, a lot more can be done and there are some good debates to be had out there, but I would ask the responsible government ministers to ensure that Australia has a future in all of those areas.
There are lots of very important issues that we can raise in debates on appropriations. I want to make the point that this government is very much focused on building. We are builders—we want to build an economy. Be it a carbon economy, an infrastructure economy, a transport economy or an export economy, we want to build. We are not going to play the game of destroying and just saying no. I was really disappointed to hear the comments of the previous speaker, which were so opposed to getting rid of exit fees. Why would someone be in support of them? Why would you support exit fees, which are clearly unfair? It is not about cost recovery; it is about profiteering—even the banks admit it. This is the irony of the debate on that issue. Even the banks admit that exit fees are about profiteering. It should really be about cost recovery, fair fees and charges, fair interest rates and giving ordinary working Australians a fair go at having more choices in their mortgages and home loans.
Australia needs to do a whole range of things to meet the challenges of the future. I have laid out a few things that I believe will be part of a sustainable future for Australia. I think Australians actually get it and there ought to be a robust, healthy and vigorous debate on these issues. But I can tell you that, in my electorate, I will not be backing down—whether you want to call it a carbon price, a carbon tax or a carbon anything else. The reality is that this is a future for Australia. It is not a tax on individuals; it is a tax on industry and big polluters. (Time expired)
I rise to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 and the amendment put forward by the member for Sturt. There has been much said in recent times about what the government said going into the last election and what we now understand remains of those commitments. The list of policy abandonment, reversal and underperformance continues to grow. The latest announcement by the Prime Minister, concerning the introduction of a carbon tax, while just the latest, is certainly one of the most breathtaking. How is the Australian public to believe anything this government or this Prime Minister says when, in effect, we are currently being told that black is white?
Today I would like to look in particular at some of the commitments made to regional Australia, both during the election campaign and in the immediate period following, when the government sought to buy the votes of Independents. The government has loudly proclaimed the virtues of its Regional Development Australia networks and how they will be the primary vehicle for investing a total of $10 billion in regional Australia. I have three of the 55 Regional Development Australia boards within or partially within my electorate. I must say, there has been a flurry of activity as they have sought to meet deadlines for nominating a full list of the priority infrastructure projects within their management areas.
Judging by the lists I have seen, I think we can probably assume the RDAs have earmarked projects collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The RDAs have been positive and, indeed, quite excited about the money they hope to win in the process because they have been told that, as part of the deal with the Independents, there is to be $10 billion investment in regional and rural Australia. I have been checking the government statements to try to understand where this money is, how the program is coming along and when these RDAs can expect the funds they have been promised to address the long lists of infrastructure items they have compiled to meet the demands across their communities.
The first thing I learned is that the $10 billion is in fact $6 billion. In response to a question on notice asked by the member for Paterson requesting the total value of funds available for the Regional Infrastructure Fund, the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government provided information confirming $6 billion was the total figure. So what happened to the other $4 billion that was announced in all the hoopla as the Labor Party sought to buy victory after the election? In fact, almost the total amount comes from one-third portions sliced off existing or announced programs in health, education and training. It is quite a coincidence really. There is about one-third of Australia’s population living in the regions, so the great deal we are to be grateful for is the pro rata allocation of funding guaranteed for regional areas. We are expected to be thankful for receiving our traditional share of the pie, for being promised what we were likely to get anyway.
One way or another that has chewed up $4 billion, so I will return to the $6 billion—not the $10 billion but the $6 billion—the minister tells us is available in the Regional Infrastructure Fund. It turns out that $5.6 billion of this money is to be raised from the mining tax. It begs the question: do we have a mining tax or not, and do we know how much it will raise? This highlights the point I made earlier about lack of delivery and policy reversal from this government. Remember the Prime Minister’s victorious announcements of peace in our time with the big mining companies in that brief period of euphoria when she disposed of the previous Prime Minister and basked in the glow of being Australia’s first female Prime Minister? That was before we found out that the government wanted to change the terms of the deal with the big miners, and now we find that they do not have a deal; it is a shemozzle.
If we put that to one side for now and take the leap of faith and suppose that the government actually does have the money it has promised to the regions and which has so excited the RDA boards, no doubt $6 billion is a significant amount of money. But it turns out that $5,427 million of this pool of money is not available to the RDA boards; that is money to be spent at the government’s discretion. I will come back to that later. The RDA boards have only $573 million earmarked for their projects, and that is to be spread over the forward estimates—four years, so about $140 million a year. There is another pool of money the RDAs can compete for, the $800 million Priority Regional Infrastructure Fund. This fund is available over five years. Unfortunately, the government has just withdrawn $350 million as a saving measure, leaving just $450 million of this program, or another $90 million a year. So in total it looks like there might be about $230 million a year available over the next four years. As I said, there are 55 RDAs around Australia, so that means on average they should hope to win about $4 million a year. That ought to build about one school hall on current rates. To quote Shakespeare, the government’s commitments to regional Australia are really much ado about nothing. That is $4 million a year per RDA to address the very large list they have compiled in good faith to build a platform to underpin the future of regional Australia.
How much of that $4 million will actually make its way to what I call regional Australia? Some of this gets curiouser and curiouser. It is worth examining what the federal government thinks qualifies as regional. While I have not investigated the footprint of each RDA, it turns out that 11 of the 55 RDAs are based in the capital cities, far-flung regional centres such as Melbourne and Sydney. So forgive my cynicism, but as someone who does genuinely represent regional Australia I worry just where the boundaries start for regional Australia when the head offices of the RDAs are in the capital cities. As I say, I am not familiar with the footprints but I do know that $480 million from the $5,427 million the government says it will commit to regional Australia, but will not allow the RDAs to get anywhere near, is earmarked for the Perth Airport upgrade. Talk about regional. Perth Airport! It seems that one does not have to travel far from the main street to find regional Australia, hence my apprehension. In fact, $900 million of this fund was already committed through election promises. While we are on election promises, it is worth looking at what the Treasurer committed to on 13 June last year. Western Australia and Queensland can expect $2 billion each in additional infrastructure from the fund. Simple maths will tell you that of the government’s funds theoretically available to regional Australia, wherever that is, an absolute maximum of just $1,427 million—$1.4 billion—remains available for New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the territories, and that is to be spent over 10 years. That is about $140 million a year. Once again, much ado about nothing.
I have spoken to a number of representatives in the Regional Development Australia boards and local councils who are beginning to understand that they have been deceived by the spin and that their enthusiasm for the much touted investment in regional Australia has been misplaced. In fact, collectively, they feel they have in good faith been developing proposals for the government which in reality have no chance of success. This investment follows the well-worn path of this government: overpromise; underdeliver. In the end, this government will be judged on what it delivers, not on what it promised. The further apart those two things are, the harder they will be judged. There is no goodwill left. Even among traditional Labor Party supporters there is widespread realisation and recognition that the government is not up to the job, that it promises large visionary schemes with motherhood objectives that it has no idea how to deliver. When we in the opposition point out the failure of their commitments we are castigated as obstructionists. The government would have done well to have listened to us on the Prime Minister’s pet project: the school halls program. They should have listened to us when we predicted failure in the insulation disaster. They should have listened to us about the overrevved stimulus package, which continues to borrow $100 million a day, and about the futility of the Asia-Pacific forum, of GroceryWatch and of Fuelwatch. They should have been listening to us when we called for a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN. The Regional Development Australia deception seems to be just another of these abandoned dreams. There is little for regional Australia to get excited about and the trust that our regional leaders have given to the government has been betrayed.
I will turn to the second reading amendment that the member for Sturt has put forward to this bill concerning youth allowance arrangements in Australia. This debate on youth allowance for regional students is a festering sore for the government. Last week we heard the announcements that the government was bringing forward a review of the arrangements for youth allowance. In that announcement the public was led to believe that the government was going to fill the gap until the review was completed by continuing the old arrangements—by restoring the youth allowance option of independent youth allowance to those who live in inner regional Australia. I have said before in this place that I was well pleased for my own electorate with the changes that were made last year, because all but one town in my electorate lies in outer regional, remote or very remote Australia. That one town is Eudunda and I will continue to remain interested in the debate on its behalf and also on behalf of all students who live in the inner regional part of Australia. I feel that even though they do not live directly in my electorate they are part of my constituency, because there is a basic unfairness in the system as it lies at the moment that needs to be addressed.
I heard a member speaking earlier in the chamber about what he believes we really need for Australian regional youth; that is, a genuine living away from home allowance for those who have to leave home to attend university. I developed a paper on this two years ago and launched it at an isolated children’s conference in Woomera—an ICPA conference for South Australia that was held in Woomera. I highlighted many of these problems and accumulated information from various reviews which had shown it costs around about $20,000 a year extra to send your child to university or other tertiary education if they have to leave home. That is not $20,000 in total; it is $20,000 over and above what any other parent would pay to get their child through university. So if your kid has to leave home, even if they live in the inner city and have to go to another city to access a course, you are $20,000 behind your neighbour. I have always thought this was a grave injustice. It may not have been due to my paper, but within three weeks of my launching it we had the announcements in the budget that changed the ground rules on youth allowance entirely. So we went back to ground zero and started designing it all again.
It has been an ongoing passion for me, and I must say it is one of the reasons that I got involved in the parliament. As someone who has raised three children in regional Australia and managed to get them all through university—I must report my youngest just finished his degree last year and started working a couple of weeks ago, so I am pretty happy about that—I really do understand what these costs are all about. I know the sacrifices we had to make to get our children through the system. I was in a position to meet that cost and I do not begrudge it, but there is no doubt at the end of the day that I am probably $500,000 behind where someone would be if their child had been able to live at home.
At the time of an earlier debate, almost in another life, I remember saying, ‘It’s not my fault that no university chooses to build a campus alongside my house.’ In fact, I have offered to make land available for just such a happenstance, so if any universities out there are interested in building at Buckleboo I would be pleased to provide a paddock for them. The point is that I make a decision about where I live; my children do not. If parents are in a position to help their children, that is good, but they may not be. Other parents may choose to find other things in their life more important than their children’s education. When the kid knows that maybe there is not that much money around the house, they do not have to be told by their parents, ‘We can’t afford to send you away to university; we can’t afford your tertiary education.’ They pick up the vibes and they say to mum and dad: ‘Don’t worry—that’s not really what I wanted to do anyhow. What I really want to do is to go and be a checkout chick or a plumber,’ or, ‘I’d rather be a council worker,’ or whatever. But they will send a message to their parents: ‘Don’t worry about me—I’ll be okay.’ That is why our university attendance rates in regional Australia are roughly half what they are in the urban centres, in the capital cities. That is why, as I say, this is a festering sore for the government. It is a problem which needs to be fixed up.
I thank all members making a contribution to debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and the cognate bill. Over the course of the 11½ years John Howard was Prime Minister and his government was in office, they enjoyed almost unprecedented continued economic growth. They were the golden years, largely fuelled by a resources boom. But in many ways I feel they were wasted years. I am not suggesting that they were years without any economic reform; that would be churlish of me. Of course there was some reform, and much of that reform was supported by the opposition of the day. But in my view, and I think it is a historical fact, infrastructure investment gave way to populist fiscal policy and transfer payment policies.
It was a deadly economic combination which gave rise to significant inflationary pressures in the Australian economy. It is now a historical fact that by the first and second quarters of 2008 those inflationary pressures had really started to build in the Australian economy, and those inflationary pressures were in turn putting pressure on interest rates and therefore mortgage interest rates, and that again in turn put cost pressures on Australian families. Then, just as the new government was fighting to redress the wrongs and, in particular, the infrastructure bottlenecks which were contributing to those inflationary pressures, the global financial crisis came along. I should have touched wood, but I remember joking on many occasions in opposition that it would be just Labor’s luck that when we were returned to government the global economic situation would turn downward, and indeed it did.
Thank God Labor was in power when that global recession was making its way to our shores. That was fortuitous for two reasons. First of all, it is a historical fact that Australia avoided a recession. That is an incontestable fact. We also know that those who sit opposite opposed every measure that the government put forward as a means of avoiding that economic downturn in Australia. Labor’s fiscal stimulus package had many facets or components. There were cash payments to families and bank deposit guarantees. The most high profile component was infrastructure investment. It is those infrastructure investments that I would like to touch on for just a short while this evening.
It is another incontestable fact that the government’s investment in nation building not only saved us from recession but was well targeted. In my own electorate, every primary school has received a significant upgrade. These are primary schools that never dreamed of having the facilities that their students deserve in the 21st century. There are schools that I visited that had kids sitting in halls for some of their classes for want of classroom facilities. New community infrastructure has popped up everywhere: playgrounds, sporting fields, art galleries, skate parks—you name it, it is being built. These are projects that councils have had on their books for years but they were in despair at their inability to fund them and were fearful that they might never be funded. This was community infrastructure, therefore, not in excess of our needs but that was badly needed.
Social housing has had a big funding boost. Far fewer families are now sitting on the waiting list for public housing than there were prior to those investments. Our high schools have new science labs and trades training centres. Kuri Kuri TAFE, which is in my electorate, has had a $7 million hospitality school built, something much needed to address the skills shortage in the hospitality industry in my electorate.
Then there is the well-publicised Hunter Expressway, an investment of $1.7 billion by the federal government. This is the largest land transport project ever constructed in the Hunter region, a project that will transform the Hunter region, making our transport movements far more efficient, relieving many townships of heavy vehicle movements on their local roads, improving road safety and removing a nightmare congestion situation on the New England Highway, which too many Hunter motorists commuting to and from work have to put up with on a daily basis. I inspected the progress of the Hunter Expressway only last Friday at the end of the sitting week. I am impressed by the way that the contractors are moving forward with that project. I am advised by the RTA in New South Wales that the project is well and truly on track for completion by the end of 2012. I welcome that.
The government also provided an equity injection of half a billion dollars into the ARTC to upgrade the rail line that takes our coal from our coalmines in the Upper Hunter to the port of Newcastle. A third track is going to have a significant economic impact on the region by getting more coal to port more quickly and therefore opening up an expansion of the coal-mining industry. That is good for the economy and good for jobs. It is not just a third track; it includes a number of other large projects, including road overpasses over the track, because the track is now wider and safety considerations demand that. It also involves noise attenuation and the removal of gradients along the track which previously significantly slowed—and in some spots still slow—the rail wagons down.
I am a great supporter of this project, but I have been left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as a result of the way some of the ARTC’s agents have dealt with residents who have been adversely affected by the construction of the project. Some of those have been affected by noise, some by vibration and some by both. I feel that the ARTC’s agents have not on all occasions treated them with the sort of respect and courtesy that they deserve. Other people have been affected by the need to resume land and again I have been left disappointed on occasions by the way that the ARTC’s agents have been treating those people.
Given the ARTC is a wholly owned entity of the Commonwealth government, I expect the ARTC and its agents to act as model litigants. I believe that, when they are dealing with residents who are being affected by the project, as important as it is, they have an obligation to deal with them as courteously as is humanly possible. That certainly has not been the case with respect to a company known as Twojays Engineering and Fabrication in Branxton, in my electorate. It will be necessary for the ARTC not only to resume land but to block the only access they have from one side of the railway track to the other. The resumption of some of the land will require them to actually move their facilities. So this is a big deal for the principals of Twojays Engineering.
From my perspective, the ARTC’s approach to this situation has been one of intimidation and bullying, and far from the sort of approach I would expect from an entity wholly owned by the Commonwealth government. I have written to the ARTC expressing my concerns and I again tonight appeal to the CEO of the ARTC to intervene in the situation, to get the middlemen out of the way, to deal with the principals of Twojays Engineering directly and to bring a common-sense approach to the negotiations over those matters. The third rail track to the port of Newcastle is a great project, and I would hate to see it sullied by some unfortunate events which were, in my view, totally avoidable and should have been avoided.
I have not even got to the National Broadband Network yet, which of course will be a wonderful thing for the Hunter Valley. It is hard for me to believe, given what we know about the technologies, that those opposite would be opposing the rollout of the NBN. We formed, through Regional Development Australia Hunter, a committee to make sure that the Hunter and Central Coast regions—
My colleague with me, the member for Dobell, has been very busy on this matter, making sure that we are well placed to be earlier in that rollout rather than later. We in the Hunter can see the enormous opportunities which will flow from the rollout of the NBN. We intend to be up there in front grabbing those opportunities earlier rather than later.
I would like to say something about the current carbon debate. People often turn to me and say, ‘As the member for Hunter, you must be a bit concerned about what your party is doing on carbon.’ Wrong, absolutely wrong. My coalminers, my power station owners, even those who work in the aluminium industry, understand that we have to make those industries sustainable and the best way to make those industries sustainable is to act on carbon now—act now, not later, before it gets too hard. I have always been very pleased that the coalminers union have been right out there—in front of the Labor Party, in fact—on these issues. They see how important it is to ensure that these industries have a future. They understand that the best way to make them sustainable is to give certainty to the industry and to start a structural shift in the economy which will provide that sustainability.
There has been a big change of attitudes in my electorate. People in my electorate, just like those who live on the North Shore of Sydney, are concerned about climate change. I believe there is an emerging consensus in my electorate that, even if we are in doubt, we should act on climate change; even if there is a question about the science, we should act as a form of insurance. So I do not fear the government’s position on climate change. I am very supportive of it and I am very confident that the majority of my electorate remains very supportive of it as well. We know that the majority of people who sit opposite support it as well. We have seen that in various manifestations, particularly when Mr Turnbull was leading the coalition. We saw it manifest itself through the last leadership challenge, which was of course a very tightly contested event. It is about time, for the sake of all Australians, that the opposition considered taking a bipartisan approach to this issue. That is what the Australian people want. They do not want us arguing about it; they just want us to do it.
I see Mr Entsch, the Chief Opposition Whip, sitting opposite. I remember doing a 7.30 Report program with him on the role of the whips, some time last year, and I have never had so much positive feedback from something I have done on television in all the time I have been here—as positive as it always is, Madam Deputy Speaker. I believe the feedback was so positive because they saw Mr Entsch and I agreeing and working together. That is what the Australian people want. On the big issues, and even the small issues like ‘whipping’, they want the major parties, just now and again at least, to come together and agree on something and get on with the job.
That is my very strong view about what is happening in terms of the community’s view on climate change. I think the Liberal Party—and indeed the National Party, but I might be dreaming now—would be doing itself a great service by getting on board the climate change issue and working with us to put the appropriate measures in place. If that means a change of leader, so be it. If Mr Abbott wants to stick his head in the sand and hold his party back, or even take it back to 19th century views, that is a matter for Mr Abbott, but I think the party has a choice and I think it should take the opportunity to rid him of the leadership if that is what it takes to get the consensus.
Last but not least, I am aware that the opposition have now pulled a stunt and moved an amendment with respect to youth allowance. It is a stunt. It has never been done in the 15 years I have been here. It is very clear that if this appropriations bill were amended it would knock out the appropriations and cut off the supply of finance to the government. It is the most irresponsible thing I have seen in the 15 years I have been in this place. The youth allowance policy is a good policy, but the Prime Minister has agreed to review it. For the opposition to try to score a few more political points by coming in here and amending an appropriation bill, which would cut off the supply of money to the government and payment of salaries to public servants and everything that goes with that, I think is highly irresponsible. Shame on them. They should see the error of their ways, withdraw the amendment and not waste the time of the main chamber by voting on another amendment which is nothing more than a stunt. We have had the youth allowance fight three or four times now in both chambers, but they want to have it again. Apparently, they think they are on a winner; I can tell them that they are flogging a dead horse. (Time expired)
I say to my friend and colleague the member for Hunter that I agree with him—but, first of all, in relation to the youth allowance. Yes of course we are trying again, but we are trying to get more kids in regional Australia access to youth allowance, and we will be persistent. Yes, I also have had the same positive feedback about the relationship that we have as whips. I intend to maintain that relationship because it helps to make the parliament work very effectively and efficiently, and I look forward to continuing that.
With regard to climate change, which the member discussed, there is always the prospect of changing a leader, but that goes for either side and I would suggest that there is always that prospect on his side of politics. Maybe somebody would like to step up to the plate and have a go at that as well, given that the Australian public clearly feel that they have been deceived by the commitments made prior to the election and what has happened since.
I also listened to the member for Hunter with a great deal of interest in relation to his comments about the value of investment in primary schools and public housing. It made me wonder whether there are two levels of members in the Labor Party, in the government: those who are privileged to have positive outcomes in relation to social housing and school halls and others who are possibly on a lower echelon, and that may well have been my predecessor. I can tell you that he had some serious problems and the community was severely damaged by decisions made in my electorate of Leichhardt in relation to investment in school halls and public housing.
In relation to investment in school halls, I know that, in one small school, the day that their brand new $250,000 school hall was delivered on site was the day that the closure of the school was announced. That was not great value for that school, it was not great value for the community and it certainly was not value for money for the Leichhardt community.
The state minister decided, in taking federal money, to build public housing with waterfront views on a marina in a place where there was no public transport and no facilities whatsoever. The entire communities of Bluewater, Palm Cove and the inner suburb of Earlville rallied against it and said: ‘This is just not the appropriate place. We have no issue with it, but it is totally inappropriate for the price that was paid and for the type of structure intended to be built.’ There was a huge outcry at the enormous amount of waste in Bluewater and Palm Cove, but the state government pushed ahead with it and forced it on. Interestingly enough, the Department of Communities is still struggling to find people to put out there. These places, at the end of the day, for what has been done are absolutely appalling. They have not been, and will not be, accepted by the community; yet here is a time when the state and federal governments are trying to push into areas where there is no need for this particular type of housing. It is being pushed onto the community, yet we have a desperate need within our community for supported accommodation for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. There is a chronic shortage of over 80 units of supported accommodation. That was ignored while the state government tried to drive a point in what it seems to regard as the prestige suburbs in the northern beaches of Cairns where there is clearly no need for it. Even the local managers of the Department of Communities really did not want this housing—they tried to walk away from it. Obviously there are two levels of membership in the government and the Labor Party because those particular decisions played a significant role in having me here in this place today. I will certainly continue to raise it and remind them of the dreadful waste of money in those areas.
I move onto something else. We recently had Cyclone Yasi—and we have spoken about it in this place. I appreciated the contributions from all sides when members spoke on the condolence motion about their support for the victims of these dreadful events that we have had. I will be a little parochial and talk about Queensland—the floods and, more recently, the cyclone damage. We have a Premier in Queensland, Anna Bligh, who was starting to languish in the polls, but I have to say that she did an outstanding job. The underpants came on the outside, the blue cape was put on, she flew up there and she was a supergirl. She elbowed her way into emergency services and the only spokesperson was the Premier. To all intents and purposes, she kept the profile and she did a very good job. But, at the end of the day, the job is not about presenting yourself to the media and showing that you care in the midst of a particular event—because we all care about that—but about getting the focus on you as a result of your position, and she did a good job in maintaining that focus. However, she is going to be judged on how she performs after the event with the recovery. Already, we are seeing some very serious issues emerging. For example, it is my view that a community has the right to rebuild itself. When you talk about rebuilding a community after the devastation of Cyclone Yasi, rebuilding the bricks and mortar is only a small part of it.
A community is not just bricks and mortar. There is the social infrastructure and the economic infrastructure. If you do not give the community the economic opportunity to rebuild its own bricks and mortar, there is no capacity to rebuild the social infrastructure. Only a week and a half ago we had a meeting with over 400 local contractors pleading with the Premier to give them the opportunity to rebuild their own community. Unfortunately, as we have seen in recent times with things like the stimulus package, with the school hall fiasco and with the public housing—with all of these other things—it always goes to southern based national contractors while our local people end up being fed the crumbs. We are the bottom feeders, if you like.
We have been on our knees as a community now for about three or four years. We need the opportunity to get on our feet and we are only going to do that if we are given the primary contracts. There has been rhetoric and there have been promises and we had the Premier up there last week throwing out bits of money like confetti. But it is $30,000 for a business study, so much money for a feasibility study—all of these sorts of thing. It does not do anything to rebuild our community.
The Premier needs to insist that her own departments give primary contracts locally. It was very disappointing to see the shortlist for NDRRA contracts for the restoration of works of $30 million and above selected by the state government bureaucracy, the Department of Transport and Main Roads. None of the three companies—Leightons, Seymour Whyte or Downer EDI—even have an office in Cairns. Yet there are other civil construction companies in Cairns, employing 200 or 300 people, that were not even given a look-in. That is disgusting and the Premier should hang her head in shame.
The other problem in Cairns is that, while we did not suffer the loss of our buildings, we did lose the economy of our area—because people stopped coming. Tourism is 40 per cent of our economy. People stopped coming. We have been pleading with this government to give support to our tourism industry to try to get it back on its feet after suffering one disaster after another. For example, we have been trying to get support from this government to allow the industry to participate in missions and trade shows. Nothing has been confirmed at this point in time, yet this is critical. We need to ensure that the tourism trade can get out there—they are the ones best able to push their own product, to get things going.
After seven years, businesses are no longer able to claim Export Market Development Grants. Therefore, since the tourism industry in Cairns is mature, many of the businesses can no longer access the EMDG. But the market has changed and there are special circumstances. We need access to the EMDG scheme to be reinstated to allow businesses to get out there and market around the world. Why is it that inbound tourism, which is clearly an export, cannot get the same level of tax offsets that other export industries receive? And why is it that our overseas marketing activity is subject to the GST? It is absolute nonsense when a mission to Europe to sell Australia and the region is subject to GST. As a consequence, many of our operators cannot participate because of the cost. So there are a whole lot of issues there.
For too long the tourism industry has been very much taken for granted. The industry itself is saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ People in the industry are tired of visits by politicians, like the Premier and federal members, who simply want to create spin and photo opportunities in a beautiful part of our world. All they do is repackage previous commitments and announcements, providing no more real support for the industry. Some of the media campaigns they have announced in recent times are classic examples of that. It is about time they started to take the industry seriously and put serious money into our tourism industry, to get it back on its feet and doing what it does very well—presenting a beautiful part of Australia.
For four years now this Labor government has committed to a $150 overpass for Ray Jones Drive in Cairns. Four years ago, at the 2007 election, that commitment was made. I am sure that helped my predecessor get elected. I can tell you that by 2010 there was a lot of cynicism about the fact that the government had not delivered on this commitment, which probably helped me to get re-elected. Here we are in 2011 and this commitment still has not been delivered.
In closing, I would like to make the point that businesses generally—not just the tourism industry—did not have to be blown away to be impacted by Cyclone Yasi. I have here an email dated 28 February 2011 from Rosie Johnson, who has a small family business located two kilometres from Bloomfield, on the coastal road between Cape Tribulation and Cooktown. The email reads:
My name is Rosie Johnson, I run a roadhouse in Bloomfield less than 2 kms from Wujal Wujal, in between Cairns and Cooktown, the only shop north of Wujal Wujal itself that sells fuel on the coast road to Cooktown.
Rosie Johnson is seeking assistance. Her email continues:
… we have been told by DEEDI and QRAA we are located outside the disaster declared zone (and therefore can receive zero assistance) although we back onto the river which is the cut off zone for Wujal Wujal …
That town is getting some level of assistance. The email further states:
We have only just been able to return to our business yesterday.
… … …
We have found out that we are not covered by insurance and have returned to a very distressing situation. Although the Cyclone Yasi has not hit us directly … the resulting storms have caused our business severe hardship.
… … …
The Bloomfield Track … Causeway has been completely washed away. … it might be mid-April before the Cook Shire Council can put the bridge in.
This means we have no customers … we rely on the trade from the community of Wujal Wujal and the tourist industry. …
Due to power outages we have lost refrigerated and frozen stock both as groceries and stock to serve take away food etc. This means that when customers do start to return to the store we have nothing to serve them.
… … …
We have equipment such as tractors and mowers and vehicles that wont run or start. As a result we have no vehicle …
We cannot travel to Cooktown to get more stock. …
Our 3 children can not attend Rossville State School …
We have a son with Di George Syndrome which can be life threatening in the wrong circumstances and we cannot get him to either the Wujal Wujal Health Service … or the Cooktown Hospital.
… … …
Ms Johnson says that they need the government to ramp up its efforts to support people like them. They need to get the bridge built in a hurry. They need grants to support their business, which has been affected by Yasi. They seriously need support. I plead with the government to extend their benefits to people like Rosie Johnson who have been affected by this cyclone. (Time expired)
It is with pleasure that I rise to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011. In the time I have today I wish to touch on some of the important initiatives that will be funded under these appropriation bills. Firstly, the bills will deliver an additional $120.7 million through the Attorney-General’s Department to assist people in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia who have been adversely affected by the floods which began in late 2010. Of course, there are many members on both sides of the chamber who have talked about the devastating effects of the floods in Queensland, but we should not forget that there are other homeowners and other businesses across the country that have been affected by floods as well.
This additional funding will enable Centrelink to make payments for up to 13 weeks to people who have temporarily lost their income as a direct result of the flooding. People in that situation will be eligible to apply for those payments. We need to make sure that those who have lost income as a direct result of the flooding get the support they need and get access to that payment through Centrelink. The extra funding measures contained in these appropriation bills are very important initiatives.
Another important initiative under these appropriation bills is the provision of funding to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to introduce the fair entitlements guarantee to protect employee entitlements when an employer enters liquidation. I have to congratulate the Labor government because, in fact, the minister has already changed from the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme that existed prior to the fair entitlements guarantee through administrative arrangements. The reason this has been done was so that these new entitlements could commence from January this year so that people who have found themselves redundant due to their employer’s liquidation are able to access these new entitlements already. However, this additional funding will ensure that that entitlement continues to flow until such time as the minister is able to introduce into this House legislation to ensure that these important entitlements are protected by statute and can be changed only by the agreement of this parliament.
Under the previous GEERS system, someone who was made redundant as a consequence of liquidation could get up to a maximum of only 16 weeks redundancy payment. This was irrespective of how many years service they had. Under the new fair entitlements guarantee, what is provided is the ability to be paid up to a maximum of four weeks for each year of service. So if someone had 20 years of service then they are going to see a redundancy payment that will at least be closer to what they would have got if that company had not been in liquidation and those assets were available as opposed to walking away with no more than 16 weeks for all those years of service with that employer. This is a fantastic initiative. I just want to point out that, through these changes by this Labor government, which were announced during the election in 2010 and are already operational, about 97 per cent of employees will now be eligible for this redundancy payment. It is a fantastic initiative and important funding to flow through these appropriation bills.
There is also an additional $20 million which will go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This is part of Australia’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. We have an obligation to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals and the issues, especially the health issues, and those targets that we seek to meet by 2015 under the World Health Organisation. Some of the figures are certainly scary, to say the least. In 2009 there were 1.8 million AIDS related deaths across the world. Yes, this was lower than in 2004. That means that the contributions of countries through the global fund and their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals are making a difference. That means that we need to continue our commitment to meet those targets in 2015.
Can I say how disappointed I was when the Leader of the Opposition, in reference to Indonesian school funding that the opposition would seek to cut to deliver new infrastructure of reconstruction after the floods, said in passing, ‘By the way, in relation to the Millennium Development Goals, we are still committed to them but that is for 2015 and so doing nothing for the next couple of years is okay.’ I do not think it is okay to do nothing for another two years. Certainly people across the electorate of Petrie do not think it is okay to do nothing for the next two years.
Another important initiative under the appropriation bills is the government’s undertaking of the first stage of an implementation study into a high-speed rail network. This first stage will involve a high-level costing and identification of routes and is expected to be completed by July 2011. The Department of Infrastructure and Transport will be provided with $6 million to undertake this study. I have spoken in this House about our local commitment to having a new rail line from Petrie to Kippa-Ring, a commitment that this government made in the 2010 election. It is already underway and will be operational by 2016. It is such an important initiative to have this study done. Australia is not a big country. It is hard to believe we did not have a national gauge before Labor came into government in 2007. This is the next step. Look at other developed nations and their high-speed rail networks. The fact is that, if Australia wants to compete, if we want people to move around this country for jobs, for school, for study reasons, we need to make sure that we have transport that accommodates that, that meets that need—and right now our transport does not meet that need.
Another important initiative, one that really is not part of the debate out there at the moment—we know that the Labor government is committed to solar power and clean energy sources—is one of the funding programs under these appropriation bills which is providing funding to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism to support joint projects with the United States designed to reduce the cost of solar energy technologies. The funding will support new research on advanced solar technology projects, exchange programs and research scholarships focused on affordable solar energy solutions. We know that, at the federal and the state level, there have been many programs to assist homeowners with the costs relating to solar energy, but the fact is that solar energy is still quite costly—and we want more homes and more businesses to be able to take up this initiative. We need to invest in that research, and to do that in collaboration with the United States is fantastic. We can gain skills and knowledge as well as, hopefully, move closer to reducing the cost of solar energy technologies in our country.
An issue that is very close to my heart and that I am very pleased to see in these appropriation bills is additional funding to the Australian Sports Commission to extend the Active After-school Communities Program until the end of the year. This is a fantastic program. Many of my primary schools run this program after school. We know that many of the children who participate in these programs are children who otherwise would not participate in extracurricular activities and sporting activities outside of school, because of the costs involved in those activities. So this Active After-school Communities Program is such an important program. It has my full support. I will continue to advocate for the continuation of this program. It is a fantastic initiative and I am very pleased to see additional funding in these appropriation bills.
There is also additional funding for Centrelink in these appropriation bills, to provide families with the additional option of receiving childcare rebate payments directly to their bank accounts on a fortnightly basis from 1 July 2011. Those who have young children, like me and the member for Dobell, who is in the chamber, know the costs involved in child care; we know the importance of the childcare rebate and how it is appreciated by the community that the Labor government increased that childcare rebate for families. But we need to make it more accessible. Instead of parents receiving a cheque, they will be able to get it directly paid into their bank accounts. This is a fantastic option. It is a choice, and a great choice for us to provide to parents. I applaud the government for that initiative as well.
The last important program I want to raise, which is receiving funding under Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011—the ones I have just raised were under Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011—relates to the $69.8 million being brought forward from 2011-12 for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to meet contractual commitments of projects relating to the non-government schools component of the Building the Education Revolution program. The reason this funding is being brought forward is that these projects have been completed earlier than expected.
We have heard so much criticism from the other side of the House in relation to the BER projects and their alleged failures or problems. Firstly, on behalf of the schools across the electorate of Petrie I can say that the BER program has been an absolute success. Schools, students and teachers appreciate the use of these state-of-the-art facilities and so does the broader community. We will not just listen to my words. I take the House back to the comments of the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce Chair, Brad Orgill, when he talked about the BER projects in the task force report and said:
The vast majority of the BER projects across the country in the government and non-government systems are being successfully and competently delivered, which has resulted in quality and, from our own observations, generally much-needed new school infrastructure, while achieving the primary goal of stimulating economic activity.
In the executive summary, Mr Orgill stated:
It is projected to support approximately 120,000 jobs over the full life of the program, filling a gap left in demand from the private sector and playing an important role in supporting apprentices and skill retention in the building and construction industry.
I know these programs are still supporting jobs out in the community right now. If those on the other side were willing to go out and talk to those construction workers and those managers, they would find that this work is sustaining their employment and providing training that is much needed where there are other gaps in work available at this time. This is an important initiative. I am very pleased to see additional funding for the reason that this project is going so well that some projects are running ahead of time and need the funding brought forward to pay for them.
I certainly support these two appropriations bills. There are many more important programs that are being funded under these appropriations bills, but I have just touched on some. They are important initiatives. They are important programs for the country and important programs that will see benefits flow to the people in the electorate of Petrie. I commend the bills to the House.
I rise today to speak on a number of issues regarding a carbon tax, energy alternatives, nuclear energy and the economics of climate change. Let us assume that global warming is indeed occurring and it is man that is causing it. My views on this topic are well known. Although I would consider myself a climate agnostic, for argument’s sake let us say that global warming is anthropogenic.
I will assume that the government have taken action through the various international treaties to which we are signatory yet which have no parliamentary oversight. The many failures in international institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and the IMF are well documented, and most have less than average track records in public policy. Yet here we go again, letting them dictate to Australia, a sovereign nation, what we should be doing with our environment. Let me be clear: every time we sign up to an international treaty, Australians lose more of their right to self-determination. These treaties bypass parliamentary procedure and mean that we are tied to the whims of these non-democratic international institutions.
How did pricing carbon become the only way to tackle climate change? Global action on climate change was effectively mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1987. The assembly welcomed moves by the World Meteorological Organisation in cooperation with the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program. The action was to explore and, after appropriate consultation with governments, establish an ad hoc intergovernmental mechanism to carry out internationally coordinated scientific assessments of the magnitude, timing and potential impact of climate change. Again, I take umbrage at the ‘appropriate consultation with governments’. This parliament would never have voted on the accord if it had known the scope that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, had over Australia’s sovereign right to self-determination.
Carbon pricing resulted from a number of reports commissioned by numerous scientific sources but was given a legal framework by the Kyoto protocol. Under this treaty, signatories must meet their targets primarily through national measures. However, the Kyoto protocol offers additional means of meeting targets by way of three market based mechanisms: emissions trading, known as the carbon market; the clean development mechanism; and joint implementation. Basically, the need to price carbon has come through creative thinking by non-parliamentary, undemocratic NGOs—and I wonder if anything could go wrong. I was going to take the time to explain the massive issues with the carbon market itself, but the width and breadth of issues in the European market alone would need several debates to flesh out.
The overarching issue I see at hand is the way Australia is ignoring the experiences of other countries with a carbon tax. The international market is factoring out the solution. Look at the Chicago Climate Exchange, which no longer exists after a complete collapse—so much for the vaunted market mechanisms. This was something put forward by Al Gore and was much vaunted by him, but it has collapsed. The European market has similarly failed. When Hungary sold two million credits of emissions reductions onto the open market last year, there were suspicions about the validity of the certificates and the market price dropped from €12 a tonne to €1 a tonne in one day. ICE Futures Europe, the largest exchange for carbon trading, are now trying to restore investors’ trust after online thieves targeted emissions permits. Spot trading in Europe has been disrupted since 20 January after the EU regulator closed all 30 national registries following a hacking attack by thieves who have illegally transferred permits, valued at about €60 million, in past months. With a market based emissions trading system there is a very real prospect, based on international examples, that the government is giving the green light for polluters to pollute even more by simply buying cheap credits—hardly the point of what we are trying to achieve.
Has the government learned from these mistakes? Will the government guarantee the integrity of Australia’s carbon markets? Climate minister Greg Combet is not sure yet. He says all of that detailed work is yet to be done. Again, I am willing to put the huge issues with the market itself aside to discuss the validity of the idea of a tax merging into an ETS. Obviously, the national debate has progressed through the recommendations of the Kyoto protocol and through understanding that taking action through a trading system is the way forward. But is it? Is pricing carbon the only way to reduce our emissions, or have we been following a massive example of public debate groupthink? Are there alternative options for reducing our emissions other than taxation and creating a new market for bankers and financiers to get even wealthier? Yes, there are and some of these ideas have come from the IPCC itself although ignored by the government. One of Ross Garnaut’s original recommendations, overlooked by the Gillard government, was that governments should reinvest some revenue raised by putting a price on carbon to help make low-emission technologies more accessible.
During the period 1993 to 2003, China’s R&D expenditures grew faster than those of any other nation, pushing China’s share of world R&D investment from 3.6 per cent to 9.5 per cent. Australia’s R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP remains lower than the OECD average, although it has increased in recent years. China has made the seemingly obvious connection between R&D investment and the multiplier effect on its GDP growth and a more energy-efficient future. While I think certain renewables have promise, they are not there yet and will need Australia to lead the world in innovation.
Let us look at dismantling the department of climate change. After all, we all agree that climate change is happening. What exactly is this department doing? And let us have a look at doing all of this with minimal government intervention and minimal wealth redistribution. A nation trying to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to pull himself up by the handles. I would argue that the same goes for the carbon tax debate. We do not need a tax or an ETS to bring about change. The carbon tax dance is now outdated. As the International Climate Science Coalition notes:
Attempts by governments to legislate costly regulations on industry and individual citizens to encourage CO2 reduction will slow development while having no appreciable impact on the future trajectory of global climate change.
Such policies will markedly diminish future prosperity and so reduce the ability of societies to adapt to inevitable climate change, thereby increasing, not decreasing human suffering.
Australia produces only 1.5 per cent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions worldwide. How will a small reduction in Australia’s emissions, generated by a sizeable tax, actually affect the climate? We all know it will not have any effect. At least we will be leading the world by example, you say. That presupposes that big polluters are actually influenced by Australia. I doubt that our country has much impact on any policies of the US or China. Proponents of a carbon tax argue that it will generate greater economic growth than we would have without it and that it will create new efficient industries as old ones are taxed out of the market. Yet, by that logic, coal fired power plants are at present far more economic than solar farms.
The Gillard government is allowing social factors to influence economic matters. BlueScope Steel CEO, Paul O’Malley, was bang on the money when he labelled the carbon tax as ‘economic vandalism’. Furthermore, Labor and the Greens cannot continue to say that climate change is the most important issue to confront our society but then say that the one method that is capable of making a massive dent in carbon emissions, nuclear power, should have a legislative ban associated with it.
McNair Ingenuity Research showed that between 1979 and 2009 those in favour of the construction of nuclear power stations increased from 34 per cent to 49 per cent, with around 10 per cent undecided. More people are in favour of nuclear power than are opposed. It is not the will of the people to take nuclear energy off the table. Australians are open to change, while the Greens and Labor are not. If the Greens and Labor do not embrace nuclear power as a possibility they are not serious about addressing climate change. They also cannot continue to argue that we should have a nuclear ban as it is economically too expensive. If they really believed this they would allow the repeal of section 10 of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998, knowing that power generators would not build a nuclear power plant if it were economically uncompetitive. Repealing section 10 would be a worthwhile step forward. It would remove the prohibition on a Commonwealth body operating a power reactor and would allow nuclear energy to be one of the options explored for most efficiently conserving and producing cleaner energy for Australia in the longer term. In the national interest, it is time to move past the politics of fear.
An interesting by-product of this decision to introduce a carbon tax is the revelation of who is really running the government. Julia Gillard is predicting a fast and furious debate over her carbon tax plan and has promised to give as good as she gets. In reality, she only has to beat the drum for another four sitting weeks in parliament. When the Senate changes in July and the Greens gain the majority in the Senate, a quick call to Bob Brown will ensure a free flow of legislation. As a coalition, we have long been saying that the Greens have the government singing their tune and the Green tail is wagging the Labor dog—an appropriate aphorism for this dog’s breakfast of a policy. The announcement has demonstrated Labor cannot sing from their own hymn sheet. Our PM has devalued the standing of her office with her view that she can quite comfortably lie to the Australian people in order to obtain votes. Election promises and the will of the people should be sacrosanct. The fact that the PM did not just keep quiet on the issue of a carbon tax during the election campaign and the fact that she lied about it clearly show that she knows that the majority of Australians do not want a carbon tax. If most Australians did support it, she and Wayne Swan would not have felt it necessary—
Very well, I withdraw. If most Australians did support it, she and Wayne Swan would not have felt it necessary to not tell the truth about the issue, to state that they would not introduce the tax. They would have said they would introduce it or, at worst, have simply remained silent on the issue. This is an appalling breach of the social contract of the governed allowing a government to govern on their behalf. Untruths mean that the government is not acting on behalf of the nation but on behalf of vested interests. Why tell untruths otherwise? The PM must seek the mandate of Australians for a carbon tax before she seeks to legislate it. The only mandate she has presently is to not introduce such a tax.
Before I get to the substance of my contribution to this debate, I note that the member for Tangney talked about the Labor government singing to the tune of the Greens. I find that rather strange for a man who is a member of an opposition party that has its policies written for it by One Nation. We sit here in the parliament each day and we listen to One Nation. We know that the member for Tangney is quite supportive of the One Nation policies. We know the member for Tangney in this place—
I withdraw. The Gillard government is about strengthening Australia. It is a government that is about the future and for the future. It is a government of positive ideas and it is working to rebuild Queensland and other areas affected by the floods. It is about providing opportunity for all Australians. It is not about supporting sectional interests but about governing for all Australians and providing opportunity for them to work and for all children to gain a quality education.
The Gillard government is about fighting climate change through placing a price on carbon and by investing in green industries, green technology and green initiatives. Why is that? That is because we are a party of positive ideas, we are a party for the future and we are a government that governs for all Australians, unlike the opposition, who have a goal of blocking, wrecking and spoiling just for the sake of opposing—no ideas, nothing positive—and getting their policies from the One Nation webpage.
I would like to concentrate a little on placing a price on carbon. The previous speaker did not quite tell the truth. The government have always said that we need to address climate change, and it has always been the contention of the government that the only way to do this is to place a price on carbon. The Prime Minister said it before the election and has said it since the election. The arguments put forward by the member for Tangney were quite spurious, particularly when he said that the majority of Australians support nuclear power. Obviously he has not been talking to the people I represent in this parliament.
The appropriation bills give us quite an insight into the direction in which the Gillard government is going. What the Gillard government does is act. It is providing finances to assist the areas affected by floods. It has introduced legislation to provide a levy that will support and help the people of Queensland. It has had that legislation passed through parliament, and that will benefit those people whose infrastructure and economy have all but been destroyed. This is a government that acts and works for the future. There has been quite an investment, through Centrelink, in helping people out with payments during the time of the floods, helping them get themselves back on their feet and helping them to survive during that really acute period.
Whilst I am talking about Centrelink, I would like to mention a program that Centrelink is undertaking. It appears in the budget papers. Charlestown Centrelink in Shortland electorate is one of the trial sites for this program, where job seekers, when they become unemployed, rather than being allowed to languish for a period of time, are being given intensive assistance early in the piece. There are group sessions where people prepare resumes, talk and look at ways to find jobs. The idea is to try and address the issue and help people to get a job quickly rather than be unemployed for a period of time before they can link into the Job Network providers. That is one of the initiatives. The Connecting People with Jobs Relocation Assistance Pilot Program is another program that is going to operate. Up to 4,000 places will be provided to help Australians relocate to Queensland to help up there.
Through this legislation the government provides AusAID with additional amounts of money. This will work to fund partnerships between the government and the non-government sector, and there is $20 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are something that most members of this parliament are committed to, and I have a particular interest in goals 4 and 5. I was lucky enough to see the way in which our Australian dollars are being spent through AusAID when I went with the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing to PNG and the Solomon Islands in 2009. I saw on the ground how money that came through our budget was being used to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The initiative that is included here should be supported by all members of the House. It provides vital funds to those countries that we assist.
I also notice in these budget papers that the government will be undertaking the first stage of an implementation study into a high-speed rail network. The Shortland electorate straddles the Central Coast and the Hunter, and the initial implementation studies for high-speed rail are taking place within that area. This will benefit the people that I represent in this parliament. The completion of the implementation studies will lead to the next stage of actually bringing about high-speed rail.
These papers also provide for an extension to the end of this year of the Active After-school Communities program, a program that I am particularly supportive of. The health and ageing committee had an inquiry into obesity, and the Active After-school Communities program was one of the standout programs that we visited. We need to put in place strategies to encourage children and ensure that they are more active as well as to ensure that they have a proper diet. The Active After-school Communities program covers both. The young people who are involved in the program are exercising rather than sitting in front of a TV, and all the food they eat during the period when they are there is healthy, nutritious and designed to create good eating habits.
Health is one of the issues that have always been very important to me. The health and hospital reforms that the Gillard government has announced will benefit enormously the people I represent in this parliament. We have already seen how the increase in the number of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals who are being trained will complement the workforce. Whilst the Howard government cut places for the training of doctors, the Rudd and Gillard governments have increased places for training. That is vitally important for the people I represent in this parliament, because we have a chronic shortage of doctors. But the situation is improving thanks to our health and hospital reforms. There is money going into hospitals and extra money being put into training specialists. In the electorate of Shortland, two places have been created in Belmont Hospital and a number of other places have been created at the Wyong Hospital and at the John Hunter Hospital, which is a major teaching hospital.
It is all about investing in the future and making sure that we have enough doctors and that our children can get an appropriate education. It is about improvement in the way that GEERS operates by the introduction of the fair entitlements guarantee, which provides workers of employers that enter into liquidation with their entitlements. It is a much better scheme than GEERS. The government is putting in excess of $450 million into that.
This week in parliament we have heard a lot about placing a price on carbon. The Leader of the Opposition has opposed that position, but I do not think that there is anyone in this parliament who would be surprised by that, given his record in the area of climate change: ‘It exists; it does not exist; I support an ETS; I do not support an ETS; placing a price on carbon is the way to go; no, it’s not.’ In the end, he just opposes for the sake of opposing. No matter what it is, you can guarantee that the Leader of the Opposition will be out their opposing it.
And where does Mr Abbott get his policy information? What is his source? The One Nation website. I visited the One Nation website once I started hearing that this was where he was getting his information from. Sure enough, there it was: information on the schools in Indonesia about which John Howard had the foresight to see that we needed to invest money in educating those young people who were at risk of poverty and radical Islamism through lack of education. It is only through programs like this that you can combat those things. But the Leader of the Opposition used as his source of information on this the One Nation website. What we need are appropriation bills like the ones that we have before us today: appropriation bills for the future that look forward, do not look back and are not about wrecking.
I rise to speak today on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 and specifically to highlight the needs of the southern Gold Coast. There are a number of issues that I would like to speak about tonight, including the transport needs of the southern Gold Coast, tourism and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, an iconic tourism attraction, wildlife sanctuary and animal hospital located at Currumbin in the south of the McPherson electorate.
I will start with the transport needs of the southern Gold Coast. Residents, business owners and visitors to the Gold Coast consistently express to me their concerns about the poor transport infrastructure on the Gold Coast and particularly on the southern Gold Coast, which is primarily the area from Merrimac in the north and Mudgeeraba in the north-west through to Coolangatta in the south. At Coolangatta, we have the Gold Coast Airport, which in January this year achieved 558,600 passenger movements, which was a new monthly record. Congratulations to the Gold Coast Airport. As well as setting a new monthly record, it is also the first time that the monthly passenger movements exceeded 500,000. The January 2011 passenger movement figure shows an increase of 20 per cent over the January 2010 figure and is 13 per cent above the previous record, which was set in the preceding month of December 2010. Of the total passenger movements, 478,500 were domestic passengers and more than 80,000 were international passengers, which was an increase of almost 22 per cent for domestic passengers and more than 13 per cent for international passengers, a significant achievement that demonstrates the growth and potential for future growth of the region.
Once passengers arrive by air at the airport, they are then faced with the task of finding a suitable method of transport from the airport to their accommodation, perhaps to a business meeting or basically wherever they are going. Whilst airport management assures me that current passenger transport needs and expectations are able to be met, my concerns are for the future and to make sure that proper planning takes place. Options for transport to and from the Gold Coast Airport are already somewhat limited and comprise various means of road transport. There are buses, including the Gold Coast tourist shuttle as well as local bus service providers offering an affordable means of transport, hire cars, taxis and private vehicles.
Access from the airport directly to the Gold Coast Highway is mostly efficient. However, potential delays can occur after that point as there is no direct access to the motorway either to the north or to the south of the airport. So it is just not possible to quickly move vehicles away once they leave the airport precinct. The Gold Coast Highway suffers from bottlenecks at the nearby suburb of Tugun to the north of the airport. The situation will only get worse when the new housing estate of Cobaki Lakes comes on line later this year and traffic accesses the Gold Coast Highway via Boyd street and Coolangatta Road in Tugun.
The section of the motorway that runs through my electorate of McPherson remains at four lanes—two lanes northbound and two lanes southbound. Bottlenecks occur at various points along the M1, notably at Mudgeeraba and Reedy Creek where consistently traffic is at a standstill, particularly during the peak morning and afternoon periods. With the population predicted to increase in South-East Queensland, traffic congestion will continue to worsen.
In 2007 both the Howard government and the then Labor opposition promised $455 million to upgrade the M1—the priority areas were identified as Nerang to Tugun—from four lanes to a six- to eight-lane motorway. Subsequent to the 2007 election, money was used for upgrades to the motorway to the north of Nerang. So it did not take place in the identified priority areas. The result is that the southern Gold Coast continues to wait for the much-needed upgrade of the motorway to take place.
It is also important to note in this context that the M1 serves a dual purpose—it provides motorway access to local residents and tourists and also forms part of the national road network, linking Brisbane and Sydney. The recent floods in Queensland have reinforced the need to build and maintain proper transport networks to allow the safe and prompt carriage of people and essential supplies during times of emergency. It is therefore essential that the M1 is upgraded, and this should be a government priority.
If we look at alternative means of transport, there are two options for us to consider. The first of these is heavy rail. Extension of the rail line to Coolangatta has been identified as a priority by the many businesses and individuals that I have spoken to in the last year or so. Heavy rail, servicing Brisbane to the Gold Coast, only goes as far south as Varsity Lakes and that station was opened just over 12 months ago. It took 11 years to lay 4.1 kilometres of track from Robina to Varsity Lakes, which is just one station. Commuters from the Gold Coast to Coomera, Beenleigh and Brisbane rely on trains for faster transport than the M1 can offer vehicular traffic. The peak-hour trains are regularly full after the first two to three stations and passengers have to stand. However, I am very confident that even a ‘standing room only’ train would be attractive to our residents on the southern Gold Coast who do not have access to any trains at all. Extension of the rail line to Coolangatta must become a priority, and it must be introduced in a timely manner. Based on the time of 11 years to build 4.1 kilometres of track between Robina and Varsity Lakes, it will take about 40 years for the line to reach Coolangatta, and that simply is not good enough.
A second transport option is light rail. I am aware that there is some support for this proposal from parts of the southern Gold Coast business community. Construction of stage 1 of the light rail project, which will run from Griffith University to Broadbeach and comprise 16 light rail stations, has commenced, with financial contributions from the three levels of government. Potential future stages for the light rail have been identified and are: the corridor north of stage 1, from Griffith University to Helensvale; the corridor south of stage 1, from Broadbeach to Burleigh Heads; and the corridor from Burleigh Heads to Coolangatta. However, there have been no funding commitments for these further stages and no time lines for commencement or completion. My concern is that the final stage may well be from Burleigh Heads to Coolangatta and that this is not envisaged in the foreseeable future.
In summary, on the issue of transport infrastructure, there are three critical projects for the southern Gold Coast: (1) upgrading the M1 south from Worongary to the border and beyond if necessary, (2) extending the heavy rail line from Varsity Lakes through to Coolangatta and (3) proper investigation and assessment of light rail options. These projects are essential, not only for our residents but also for our tourists.
Tourism is a major Gold Coast industry. As I have said previously in this place, the flow-on effect from tourism impacts on almost every other industry and business on the Gold Coast. Tourism is the largest export earner for Queensland after coal and contributes billions of dollars to the economy. Well over 100,000 people are employed in tourism businesses, with an additional 100,000-plus working in businesses supported by the money that flows from tourism.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 8.20 pm to 8.47 pm
To continue, these include businesses such as the local newsagents, laundromats, restaurants and coffee shops and a whole range of small to medium enterprises. Directly impacted in recent months are accommodation providers, who have been adversely affected by the reduced number of tourists to Queensland as a result of the floods and Cyclone Yasi.
On the southern Gold Coast we have many apartment complexes, with resident managers, that offer serviced apartment accommodation. They are competing for the tourist dollar with the large establishments further north, such as the larger hotel chains, which are discounting room rates to boost occupancy. Whilst this is an understandable practice on their part, it is having a negative effect on local accommodation providers. This in turn impacts on local businesses, which are dependent on tourists.
We are implementing a ‘holiday locally’ program, where we are actively encouraging people to spend their leisure time on the Gold Coast. We have great beaches, a wonderful climate and many things to do. Why wouldn’t you want to holiday with us on the Gold Coast?
Without doubt tourism is vitally important to the Gold Coast and the industry now needs our support more than ever. The southern Gold Coast is home to one of Australia’s iconic tourist attractions, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is doing it tough at the moment and is in need of our urgent support. The operating costs of the wildlife hospital alone are $600,000 per annum and rising, with up to 30 animals per day arriving at the hospital. I urge you to visit the sanctuary and enjoy all that it has to offer. For the more adventurous amongst us I encourage you to attempt the Green Challenge high ropes adventure course. I am proud to say that I have completed the green and red challenges, but I have reserved the black challenge for another day. I urge the government to support the sanctuary’s application for funding for the development of a regional gallery, cultural heritage and cellar door gateway, including the necessary extension of time to allow further funding from other sources to be finalised.
Finally, it is appropriate at this point to talk about the cost of living, because it has an impact on people and their leisure activities and spending patterns. I know that a lot of people and businesses are financially hurting at the moment. I hear it every day from the people in my electorate of McPherson, who talk to me constantly about the impact of rising prices on their day-to-day lives. Some are now very scared about future rises in prices for water and sewerage, which are already up by 29 per cent; electricity, which is already up by 34 per cent; and fuel, which is projected to rise by about 6c per litre if a carbon tax is introduced. They are concerned about their ability to pay for these most basic of needs. Cost of living is often raised by our pensioners, who can afford very little by way of an increase in cost of living. But it does not just affect our pensioners; it affects our entire community.
At the 2007 election, federal Labor promised to address cost-of-living pressures and reduce the cost of everyday expenditure. Labor promised to do something about groceries, fuel and banking but to date have done very little to fulfil the promises they made. With a budget deficit in excess of $40 billion this year and a budget deficit next year, this government is on track to deliver a burden of debt that will put upward pressure on interest rates and have a huge impact on families for years to come. Wasting money on poor projects, including the failed Home Insulation Program and the proposed National Broadband Network, increases debt and the deficit, and that exacerbates the problem.
This government is borrowing $100 million a day. In 4½ days this government will have borrowed the money that was budgeted for the upgrade of the M1, with the target area of Nerang to Tugun, and that is $455 million. It is a AAA rated borrower and is in competition for finance with ordinary Australians, pushing up costs. It is a simple and straightforward concept: when the debt is reduced, the costs on borrowings are reduced. This government needs to take urgent action now.
I acknowledge my colleague the member for Kooyong, who has allowed me to sneak in front of him here tonight. It is appropriate that our discussion tonight is on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011, which is to appropriate an amount of $1.36 billion for ordinary annual services to the government, and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011, which is to appropriate about $1.024 billion for non-ordinary and other annual services of government.
I was elected on three major platforms for which I lobbied in my preselection. One was to protect small business and work towards reducing red tape. These appropriation bills offer me an opportunity to work towards changing the culture of our Public Service and trying to introduce more efficiencies. I come from a transport background. I had 14 depots throughout Queensland. I employed 105 permanent staff and contractors. Our growth strategy had two sectors to it. The first was an internal sales team that worked on domestic growth, and the second was mergers and acquisitions. We merged many businesses into our own, which got us to the size that we were, but as a result of that I was no longer a transport operator but a specialist in mergers and acquisitions and in the changing of cultures. So I believe I have a skill set that can offer some assistance in reducing some of the red tape and bureaucracy. I can advise the parliament that it is my intention in my first term to prepare a paper about how I will achieve those objectives.
The second point on my election platform was to fight for a better price for farmers at the farm gate. This week it is appropriate that we speak about the price war that is taking place between Coles and Woolworths on the price of milk—$2 for two litres. This will have huge ramifications for our dairy industry. I have 35 dairy farmers throughout my electorate. Whilst it is the given right of any business to turn a profit—in fact, it is their duty and it is their responsibility to their shareholders—I take objection and draw the line at companies profiting at the expense of other businesses, such as corner shops, milk bars and milk vendors. Some milk vendors have reported to me a loss of 30 per cent of their revenue from their route trade as a direct result of the people they service being unable to compete with the multinationals by selling generic milk brands.
There is a way that those small businesses can, hopefully, protect themselves. As a nation, we have protection mechanisms in place via the Trade Practices Act, in particular section 46, which speaks to the misuse of market power. This week alone, I have spoken on several occasions with Coles executives and on several occasions with the Queensland dairy organisation. It is our intention to pursue these matters so that we can get out the other side and offer that protection of prices at our farm gate.
The third part of my platform was to fight to keep more money in mums’ and dads’ pockets. Mums and dads go to the elections, and the great majority of Australians are not very politically connected. They do not particularly care whether it is local, state or federal government, but at the end of the day their ears prick and they become very interested when some government wants to put its hand in their pocket and start taking money out, which puts pressure on their day-to-day and week-to-week activities. Part of my role here as an elected official for the seat of Wright will be to propose new taxes. It is quite relevant that we speak about taxes, because this week and in the last several weeks we have seen the introduction of possibly three taxes—the resources super profits tax, the ETS and the flood levy.
Before I go on and expand on that further, I would just like to talk about the macroeconomics of the nation and, in particular, our inflation band. Currently we have our inflation band set at two to three per cent. We are often told by our government how buoyant the Australian economy is, and that is a true statistic—the Australian economy is quite buoyant. But what is more dynamic about our economy is the fact that our resources sector is going through the roof. Our trade surplus is off the charts. That is driven by the demand from China.
Our resources sector in the next 12 months will experience a one-in-100-years spike in capital investment. That means we have the likes of Gorgon in Western Australia and Port Curtis in Queensland coming on, with reference to our gas exploration services. The Galilee Basin in Queensland will be coming on. We will have upgrades of a number of ports, Abbot Point in particular. The capital investment from the resources sector will be a one-in-100-years spike.
That puts undue pressure on our inflation rates. We are currently sitting at around 2.75, and that extra money stimulating the economy will push it out. I have said to Governor Glenn Stevens of the Reserve Bank that our traditional mechanism for dealing with inflation is to put the cash rate up. I have suggested to him that as a nation, when we put the cash rate up, it has very little impact on the resources sector because the resources sector borrow a lot of their capital infrastructure money offshore, so they are not subject to the cash rate as mums and dads and mortgage holders are. They are not susceptible to the volatility in our local market because they do not borrow from our local market. At the other end of the spectrum, they sell out on forward contracts, and possibly in US dollars, so they are not even susceptible to the fluctuations and the parity of the Australian dollar.
There are electorates in our nation that have links to the resources sector, and they can feed off the inputs that the resources sector requires. My electorate in particular is predominantly in a primary industry sector, so we have no linkages to the resources sector at all. So, in default, when the Reserve Bank puts the cash rates up, all that does is magnify the impact of the increase in interest rates for the people who can least afford it, the mums and dads who are on the ground, the mums and dads who are struggling to make their mortgage payments already under the adverse cost-of-living prices, the small businesses that are already struggling in the retail sector and the businesses that are already struggling as a result of slower commodity prices as a result of the parity with our dollar to the US. The point I am trying to make and emphasise is that, whilst we are told that the Australian economy is extremely buoyant, we have a two-tiered economy. One part of our economy is going gangbusters but the other guys are just hanging on for grim death. Movements in the cash rate will ultimately have a huge impact on the lower sector of the market.
I also want to take the opportunity to speak about the flood levy. We have recently spoken in the House about the flood levy. My seat of Wright was drastically affected by the floods, in particular in the Lockyer Valley and in the townships of Grantham and Murphys Creek. I hold the opinion that the government should have picked up the tab. There should not have been an impost passed on to the people of my electorate, the people of Queensland, the people of North Queensland, the people of Victoria and the people of Western Australia who are genuinely struggling in this time of hardship.
Take your mind back to the 1990s, when we had the Queensland and New South Wales floods. In Charleville and other places around the state, six people were killed, 60 were injured and 200 homes were inundated. We never called for a flood levy then; we had strong, diligent management. In 2006 Cyclone Larry went through Queensland. There was a damage bill of $1.5 billion. The government did not ask people to put their hands in their pockets then. They managed it; they got out the other side. More relevantly, in 2009 on Black Saturday, 173 people were tragically killed, 2,000 homes were destroyed and there was about $4.4 billion worth of devastation. We did not ask people to put their hands in their pockets then and we should not have done it this time.
One of the downsides of prematurely calling for a flood levy was that the generosity of Australians, their willingness to give to other Australians to help out in these dramatic circumstances, was shut off. Australians stopped giving straightaway because, once they knew they were going to be taxed, the generosity was shut off. It was a poor call by the Prime Minister.
I will also take the opportunity, while I am talking about the floods, to remind the Queensland state government that we are now at day 51. The Queensland disaster fund had $227 million donated to it through the generosity of Australians from all around this nation. There are people in my electorate living in motels. There are still displaced people in my electorate living with relatives and friends who are trying to make ends meet. These people face uncertainty about whether or not the damage to their homes is going to be covered by insurance and uncertainty about whether council is going to allow them to move back into their home. The state government could have given them more certainty and it could have simply given them a handout.
When people gave money to that disaster relief fund, they gave it with the intent that it end up with the people on the ground—and it is not a hard task. When someone gives you the money and an application is received with a name and bank account number on it, you simply take it out of one bank account and stick it in the other one. But this simple task has eluded our state government and it gives me grief. I will continue to belt the drum and remind our state government of the hardship, pain and suffering being felt in my electorate at the moment. It is my right as their elected official to stand up and constantly remind people of that hardship.
I turn to the ETS. It is going to be a vigorous debate. But in order for it to be an honest debate we need transparency. We need transparency from our government and we need transparency from a government that we can trust. It is hard to build trust and it is hard to break down the belief of many Australians that politicians of this nation cannot be trusted. Now is the opportunity for us to turn the corner. Now is the opportunity to stand up and be counted.
The Prime Minister, only days before the election, said, ‘There will be no carbon tax under a government that I lead’—yet only this week we received advice, through a bill introduced on the floor of the House, that there will be a carbon tax under a government that she leads. It was a complete 180 degree reversal, a complete turnaround, a complete deception of the Australian people. I need to remind the Australian people of the environment in which she made that comment. When she said that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led, the blood on her blade from her assassination of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was still fresh. I then bring your attention to the Treasurer’s comments just before the election, when he said:
Certainly what we rejected is this hysterical allegation that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax … We reject that.
That cannot be interpreted in any other way; it is not a sleight of hand. That is not a comment that someone would make lightly. There was thought given to that. It was driven by polls. These guys, at the point that they made that decision, clearly said, ‘We are not going to have a carbon tax.’ But what has happened between that period and now?
In closing, I would like to quickly touch on electricity costs under the ETS—they are going to go through the roof. I can talk about opposing for the sake of opposing. There are some bills that we are going to be putting up that we would like the government to support. I thank you for your time.
I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011. The main purpose of these bills is to propose appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the ordinary annual services of the government in addition to those provided in the budget. In the case of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) it is around $1.36 billion, and in the case of Appropriation Bill (No. 4) it is just over $1 billion.
Whenever called upon to speak on the fiscal decisions of this government we are reminded of the large sums of taxpayers’ money wasted and misspent. From pink batts to school halls there have been expensive policy failures on a grand scale, failures that this Labor government wants to pay for with a litany of new taxes that will punish Australian families. But, just as too much money is being spent on the wrong programs, not enough is being spent where it is needed most. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of mental health.
It is this government’s unconscionable failure to properly fund mental health programs in this country that I would like to address tonight. Nowhere is this more clear than in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) before us, with only little more than $10 million of additional spending allocated for ‘improved mental health and suicide prevention measures’. This is barely a ripple of the wave of government support required for this critical area. The impact mental illness is having on our community touches each and every one of us nearly every day. Only recently one of my friends, whom I met while studying overseas, took his own life. A young man, he had everything to live for—recently married, a great sportsman and with a terrific career ahead of him. His unexpected and untimely death was a ferocious blow to those who knew him. Angus’s suicide awoke me to a tragedy that is all around us. It seems I am being reminded all too often of friends who have lost loved ones. More often than not they are young people with everything to live for. In a moving article in last Saturday’s Weekend Australian magazine, entitled ‘It’s time to talk’, Kate Legge pointed out that 2,191 people took their own lives in 2008. That is far more than tragically die on our roads each year, yet well funded and very public campaigns encouraging road safety are a common occurrence in our society, while tackling suicide is often a subject of taboo—seen but not heard.
This has to change. We need to be far more open about the scale of the challenge that we face. Let us get our heads around this alarming human toll. In Australia, suicide kills seven people a day, or one person every four hours. There are another 180 people every day who attempt suicide. That is one every eight minutes. Suicide is responsible for the most deaths in Australia of persons under the age of 44. Mental illness will be experienced by nearly half of our population at some point in their lives, and one in five people will experience some form of any mental illness in any particular year. It is particularly prevalent among our younger people, with studies showing that nearly half of the Australians aged between 12 and 25 will experience a diagnosable episode of mental illness. In health terms, only cancer and cardiovascular disease affect more people in Australia.
Every day, around 330 people with serious mental illness seek help at a hospital emergency department but are turned away. Around two-thirds of those suffering from mental illness have no access to professional help. The Mental Health Council of Australia estimates that up to 85 per cent of the 100,000 homeless people in Australia and 75 per cent of those with alcohol and substance abuse issues also suffer some form of mental illness.
Why, when the statistics tell us such a clear story, do we continue to chronically underfund mental health? Why, when mental illness represents 13 per cent of the healthcare burden, does it receive only six per cent of healthcare funding? It cannot be because of a lack of social cost, because personally many of us know it all too well. It cannot be because of a lack of economic cost, because experts like Access Economics have quantified it, estimating it to be costing our society in the vicinity of $30 billion per annum. In my mind, it has to be due to a lack of political will. In years gone by, we—metaphorically speaking—in this place have not done enough.
But at the 2010 election we started to see a major shift. The Leader of the Opposition’s $1.5 billion package of reforms for mental health was a game changer. Professor John Mendoza, Chairman of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health until his resignation in protest last year, described it as, ‘The most significant announcement by any political party in relation to a targeted evidence based investment in mental health.’ The coalition’s commitment to the establishment of 20 early psychosis intervention centres in metropolitan and regional areas, providing targeted care to persons aged 15 to 24 at clinical high risk; to the funding for the capital and recurrent cost of 800 new mental health beds; and to the establishment of 60 additional youth headspace sites, first introduced by the Howard government in 2006 to provide a one-stop shop for young people aged 12 to 25 years for information and services relating to health and wellbeing, including alcohol and substance abuse, are exactly the types of initiatives that both John Mendoza and Professor Patrick McGorry, the 2010 Australia of the Year and professor at the Centre for Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne have been calling for.
There will always be the need for more funding, but the 2010 election commitment by the coalition was more than a significant start. It was a paradigm shift and it is a commitment that the coalition strongly stands by. Unfortunately, the Labor Party did not match the coalition’s election commitment and since forming government has been a major disappointment. It is fine for the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to say during the campaign, ‘Illness of the mind is as debilitating as illness of the heart, the lungs or the bones and no less important or deserving of our understanding and care.’ But where is the money? It is fine for Labor to appoint a Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, the member for Port Adelaide, Mark Butler, and parade him in front of the sector claiming that they are giving the issue more attention. But why then ignore him during question time, in which he has only ever spoken about mental health on two occasions? In fact, the minister was happy to write in his foreword to the 2010 national mental health report:
… the system needs an overhaul to build a modern system of mental health care in Australia.
… … …
As a community, we need to do better.
Hang on! As a government, you need to do better. Stop trying to shift the blame. It is you—the Labor government—that must do better. It is after all, according to the Prime Minister, the year of delivery and decision. The message for Labor is clear: words will not wash; it is action that counts. This is not just the coalition telling you that you need to act; it is the healthcare industry and your own appointed experts. It is the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission with its 12 mental health recommendations, the Australian Medical Association in its 2011 budget submission and a host of individual experts like Professors McGorry and Mendoza, who are imploring the government to undertake large-scale, long-term reform. More resources for system capacity, research and early intervention, or what is termed ‘intergenerational equity’, are both critical and urgent. To the government I say: you have expectedly but shamefully failed the test in this appropriations bill. One hopes that, come the May budget, you will see the light, seek to correct this wrong and better fund mental health services in this country to the benefit of all Australians.
I thank the member for Kooyong, but I would gently remind him of the provisions of standing order 64, which means that he ought to refer to the Prime Minister and ministers by their titles. It is not appropriate, even if one uses the term ‘Minister for such and such’, to then add the name.
I start my speech in the second reading debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 by acknowledging two students from my electorate who yesterday were awarded prizes for the Northern Territory in the Simpson Prize right here in Parliament House. It was my absolute pleasure to meet with the Northern Territory winner, Hayley Chamberlain, and her very proud father, Dave, who also travelled to Canberra for the award ceremony. Hayley will travel to Gallipoli in April for the 2011 Anzac Day service with the other state and territory award winners. The Territory runner-up was Amelia Hoffman, who was also here. Both girls are year 11 students at Palmerston Senior College. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I live in Palmerston, so I am very proud of both these young ladies.
I am more than happy to participate in this debate and would like to comment about being elected as the member for Solomon. I am a lifetime Territorian and feel absolutely privileged to represent my constituents in the seat of Solomon. I came into this parliament with the aim of not making promises that I cannot deliver. Last week I honoured my election commitment to stand up for my constituents by voting against the nuclear waste facility to be located at Muckaty. Territorians, including the people of Solomon, want to be taken seriously. That is why I represent the Territory in Canberra, not Canberra in the Territory. I am here in parliament today to represent the local people in my electorate of Solomon and, more widely, those in the Territory. I am working very hard to ensure that people understand that not only do they have access to me through my electoral office in Darwin and my mobile offices in shopping centres but I am open and responsive to the needs of my constituents, including those from the wider community, businesses and individuals.
On this matter, since November last year I have asked the current Labor government, on behalf of the Jingili BMX Club, about their 2010 election promises to deliver a $1.5 million all-weather BMX track at Jingili. Only this week I have received a letter from the senator who is the Minister for Sport, stating that the Prime Minister—
I was not sure, Mr Deputy Speaker. The letter was from Senator Arbib, the Minister for Sport, stating that the Prime Minister has given her assurance that these commitments will be honoured. Both Senator Arbib and the Prime Minister are aware that the BMX track is now closed to riders until the start of the dry season in Darwin and may not reopen until April this year. Effectively that means that all the Northern Territory riders, including Jake Tunney, the current world champion, have been disadvantaged in their lead-up and preparation for future events due to the high rainfall in Darwin over the wet season. Preparations for future events will continue to be put on hold, including those for the upcoming rounds 7 and 8 of the Champbikx Probikx and UCI, which is actually being held in Canberra this coming week. I wish all riders, the very, very best of luck, including those Territorian riders that I know are here, Nathan and Ryan York-Morris, who are travelling from Darwin. My question to Senator Arbib and the Prime Minister is: thank you for saying you will honour those commitments but when will those commitments be honoured? Will it be this financial year? Will it be next financial year? I need a bit more of a definitive answer for my constituents.
Another matter that I have been asked to raise, with the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, on behalf of a number of schools that provide Indigenous education, is that of the Indigenous funding guarantee program. The current Gillard Labor government committed to this funding in the lead-up to the 2010 federal election. The commitment was to provide increased funding to non-remote boarding schools with more than 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from remote Indigenous communities. When my office spoke with one of the affected schools last month, Kormilda College, they were yet to see any of this funding and had not actually been contacted about the information that will be required for calculating any additional funding. Quite frankly, this is not good enough. There are a number of other colleges in my electorate, including St John’s College and O’Loughlin Catholic College, that are affected by these delays in payment. This delay is costing jobs in the Indigenous education sector. The schools are very concerned and seek further assurance as to whether the promised but delayed payment of the remote rate for remote students based at their school will indeed be backdated to 2010.
Another matter that my constituents have raised is that of the GP superclinic at Palmerston, which is where I live. The current Gillard government and the Minister for Health and Ageing need to be held accountable for the non-existent 24-hour-a-day GP service and the many healthcare services which were promised to be provided to my constituents. In fact, urgent after-hours services are provided at the nearby Palmerston Health Precinct, which is actually funded by the Northern Territory government, but urgent after-hours services are not a 24-hour-a-day GP service. Local residents were led to believe that the Palmerston GP superclinic would include a 24-hour-a-day GP service, which currently it is failing to deliver. It is another promise made by this Gillard Labor government that has not been delivered. It is no secret that I have advocated and will continue to advocate for a long-term solution—a hospital to service Palmerston and the rural area. It is essential that the planning starts now. I will continue to push for the delivery of good medical services for the Territory.
I would also like to take this opportunity to announce the 2011 Solomon awards. These awards will be honouring community service and achievement during National Volunteer Week from 9 May to 15 May. This year it is entitled ‘Inspiring the volunteer in you.’ My office will provide an opportunity to highlight the role of volunteers in our community and say thank you to the many volunteers in the electorate of Solomon. The Solomon awards have been designed to recognise community service and volunteers and the achievements of community organisations and individuals in a range of areas, including youth, environment, the arts and health. Application forms will be available from my office and also from my website, which is currently being redesigned. Nominations will close on 29 April and the awards will be presented during a special ceremony during Volunteer Week.
The recent discussions taking place on the Gillard Labor government’s plan to introduce a carbon tax deeply concern me as this will have an adverse effect on the Northern Territory economy. In my electorate, in the lead-up to the 2010 federal election, the then federal member for Solomon, Mr Damian Hale, contradicted his own Prime Minister’s stance that she would rule out a carbon tax. This week Prime Minister Gillard has now announced that she will introduce a carbon tax—a fundamental breach of faith with the Australian people. Damian Hale supported a carbon tax and he was unsuccessful in the election. I am here today to stand up for my constituents in Solomon and the Northern Territory who are opposed to the carbon tax. My constituents are very concerned about the increased cost of living that they will face. They are already paying record house prices and the highest of any capital city for groceries, petrol and rent along with soaring power bills and interest rates.
Unfortunately, a carbon tax will affect every aspect of people’s lives—in particular, those families that are already struggling to make ends meet. Many of my constituents will simply not be able to afford to pay for the power that they use. We know that living in Darwin you need to have the air conditioning on. As stated in a release by my colleague Senator Scullion last week, the Prime Minister’s climate change committee is seeking to include transport in the tax. This will have massive ramifications for the Territory. The Territory, and in particular my electorate of Solomon, will be hard-hit by a high cost of fuel. As members of parliament are aware, generally petrol and diesel prices are higher in regional and remote areas of Australia and the distances travelled are greater. Last week in Darwin and Palmerston, according to the Northern Territory government’s fuelwatch website, the mean unleaded price of petrol was 141.9c per litre, with some constituents paying, believe it or not, up to 147.9c. The mean price of diesel was 150.1c per litre and was a maximum of 150.3c. looking at average prices of fuel in Sydney today, my electorate’s fuel was 1.7c and 2.8c more per litre for unleaded and diesel respectively. I am concerned. This proposed carbon tax would see even higher prices for everything that Territorians buy, including petrol, which is expected to rise about 6.5c a litre, taking prices well above $1.50 per litre in my electorate and close to $2 a litre in some remote areas of the Northern Territory. Quite frankly, this is not good enough.
In addition to this, key industries in my electorate such as primary producers, mining, tourism and construction will also be hard-hit. In particular, the Northern Territory gas industry may see harmful effects. The reason for the existence of the proposed carbon tax is to reduce the generation of carbon dioxide by making the activities that cause it more expensive. As a gas province, the Northern Territory relies on these businesses and it is anticipated that jobs will be lost so that businesses can remain internationally competitive. This can already be seen by responses from prominent businesses such as BlueScope Steel. Their chief executive, Paul O’Malley, was reported in the Australian only yesterday sharing the views of many of those in the manufacturing sector—that is, if they are made to pay for carbon, a resulting loss of competitiveness will mean plants will shut down here with the void filled by imports from countries without a carbon tax. Furthermore, costs as a direct result of the carbon tax will not be shared by our international competitors, as there is no global agreement on reducing emissions.
This appears to be a tax on remoteness and indeed the Territory. It stands to increase the cost of living and directly impact our key industries in the Northern Territory. I ask: how can the Gillard Labor government be trusted when Ms Gillard said before the election, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,’ and now, after the election, we all know that she wants to introduce a carbon tax? It is a tax on electricity, a tax on petrol and a tax that is going to affect all Australians but particularly Territorians, increasing the already high cost of living. For shame!
In supporting the amendment, I must say there is something palpably wrong with a government which refuses to even consider allowing regional students in some areas to have access to independent youth allowance. Among those areas is a large portion of my Riverina electorate. That portion includes Wagga Wagga, the largest inland city in New South Wales, as well as the important centres of Adelong, Batlow, Coolamon, Gundagai, Junee, Mangoplah and Tumut. University students in those places might not seem important to the government and certainly not to the Prime Minister, who was the Minister for Education when changes to youth allowance criteria were unfortunately introduced, but they are important to me and they mean everything to the hardworking families supporting them. Country students do not deserve to be done over in this way. They know it, their parents know it, I know it and members opposite know it in their hearts—but does the Prime Minister?
I might use the words of a particularly engaging and thought-provoking address which I feel sums up the inequality of the youth allowance debate. It was delivered, rather appropriately, on 11 November 1998—Remembrance Day. I quote:
… not only economists but ordinary people understand that the future of Australia and the future of themselves and their children is tied to educational success.
Australia cannot afford to waste talent. But, under this government, we are engaging in that shameful and cruel waste. We are denying Australians access to opportunity. In its 1996 budget, this government took $1.8 billion of public support away from our university system. The inevitable result has been a decline in the number of students starting courses at our universities. When the cuts took effect, Victoria tumbled from having the second highest growth rate in commencing enrolments to being the state with the biggest fall, a 4.7 per cent fall in commencing enrolments—a statistic which speaks of misery and lost opportunity.
No, it’s not a bedtime story, and if you care to listen you will find out. It continues:
Perhaps worst of all, under this government we have returned to a system of privilege rather than merit in our universities, a system of allowing the rich to buy a place while those with better entrance marks but not enough money miss out—a system which was eradicated by the Whitlam government when I was in primary school.
Who said these incisive words? Who stood up as the great protector of students’ rights to equity in education? Who was it calling for a fair go for our kids? Those words were taken from the inaugural speech to parliament by the member for Lalor—our current Prime Minister, no less. That is who: the same Prime Minister who now does not want today’s university students to receive equity, the same Prime Minister who now does not want today’s university students to receive opportunity, the same Prime Minister who now plays politics instead of doing the right thing by our youth. They are tomorrow’s leaders, our future.
But it is not just Riverina students who are missing out. The Prime Minister, in her passionate maiden speech, spoke of the decline in commencing Victorian students. ‘Misery and lost opportunity’ were the words she used. It is fair and accurate to say great numbers of Victorian students will be facing misery and lost opportunity if Labor and perhaps moreover the Prime Minister do not support this amendment. Many of those Victorian students hail from electorates presently held by Labor members. Indeed, a great swathe of rural Victoria is designated as inner regional by this ridiculously discriminatory DoctorConnect system used to determine whether students will or will not have access to independent youth allowance.
I would be fascinated to know what they think of the fact that their federal Labor member is denying them youth allowance. I would be fascinated to know what they think of their Prime Minister, for whom it was all right to stand up in 1998 and beat her chest about inequity for Victorian kids yet who now, by her very stubbornness, refuses to give them a fair go. How mean. How—what did she describe it as?—shameful and cruel. The problem is not that this Prime Minister thought that having independent youth allowance being debated in the House of Representatives last week was unconstitutional—oh, no—but that she feared an embarrassing defeat. She knows it is bad policy, she knows it is hurting students and she knows it is damaging to some of her colleagues who represent Labor electorates. So what did she do? She played politics. She shut down the debate. In doing so she once again denied many country kids the same opportunity afforded to others. How unfair. How inequitable. How unAustralian. The core of the problem with all of this is that the Prime Minister does not understand and, worse, does not care about regional Australia. If she did she would have fixed this problem a long time ago. Indeed, if she did, there would not be a problem in the first place.
Here are some facts pertaining to regional students. Finding full-time employment in regional areas and small communities is often very difficult. The youth allowance legislation does not take into account seasonal employment sectors such as agriculture and tourism in regional areas, creating further barriers for regional students. Regional students face significantly increased costs associated with relocating for study. Many regional students have no choice but to relocate to study. Evidence has shown that it is the financial barrier of the cost of relocating which prevents regional students from undertaking tertiary study. The cost is between $15,000 and $20,000 per annum. Students who defer tertiary studies for longer than 12 months are less likely to attend university. Very few universities accept deferments longer than 12 months, meaning those who have to work a 30-hour week for 18 months over a two-year period will have to give up their spot and reapply later. A Senate inquiry found that 55 per cent of metropolitan students go on to tertiary education compared to only 33 per cent of students from regional areas. They are telling facts and figures. The message ought not be lost on members opposite.
Members who sided with four Independents to silence this debate last week and put it to another review committee now at least have the chance to ensure that all students who had a gap year in 2010—that is, 2009 year 12 school leavers—and who meet the relevant criteria qualify for the payment. They have the chance to ensure that the bill is appropriated with the necessary funds to pay for this measure. Surely members opposite realise there is an injustice in the system. Surely they will want that wrong made right. The Prime Minister and the Labor government have until now ignored concerns about the financial and emotional burden their changes to the independent youth allowance criteria have caused for inner regional students, their families and communities. Labor’s commitment to Independents to bring forward a review of youth allowance, to report by 1 July this year, does not address the problem now. The coalition’s bill sought to do that. Nor does Labor give any firm undertaking to fixing the independent youth allowance issue.
The media release of the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans, states:
The review will report by July 1 this year, and the Government will move to implement any new eligibility arrangements from January 1, 2012.
Senator Evans said the review will consider appropriate savings which can be made to pay for any extensions in eligibility for youth allowance. Any new arrangements must be offset by savings. This is simply not good enough. It does not measure up to what is required. Even if Labor does make changes after its review, it is too late for those inner-regional students who left school in 2009 and had a gap year in 2010, as they are now still required to work an average of 30 hours a week and defer for up to two years. Had the coalition’s bill passed, they would now be relieved of this unfair criterion. Last year’s school leavers are also left in limbo, wondering what to expect after the review. There are already cracks in Labor’s deal with the Independents and many unanswered questions.
How can regional students and their families trust the government to deliver on this new promise given its poor track record? This government’s new promise should be weighed against the many broken deals, bungled programs and hopeless mismanagement of youth allowance over recent years. This Labor government promised no carbon tax but now is drafting one. It promised a national takeover of hospitals but scrapped the idea. It promised a national curriculum, to begin in 2011, but it has been delayed until 2013. And the list goes on and on. Now the government promises a review—and another delay. More delays and more reviews but no outcomes for young rural people. The Independents who supported Labor represent regional areas directly affected by this issue. Their constituents deserve an explanation as to why their Independent MPs have sold them out and not voted in favour of the Commonwealth payment made to students to assist them in meeting living and education costs when studying or undertaking training.
In early 2010, the Labor government altered the eligibility criteria for independent youth allowance, requiring students from areas identified as inner-regional to work more hours for longer before being considered as independent. Students living in inner-regional zones cannot access independent youth allowance if they do not qualify for Labor’s new criteria. The regional zones in which students live are determined by the Australian Standard Geographical Classification map. There are many cases where arbitrary lines on the map mean one student is eligible yet another in the same town is not. There are ridiculous cases which have been cited in this parliament whereby students from one side of a street get the allowance and those living on the other side of the street do not. Students may come from the same class in the same school but be discriminated against based on which side of the line their homes sit. The map is therefore inappropriate, and is, in fact, used by the health department.
After months of campaigning by the Liberal-Nationals coalition, the Labor government was forced to make changes to its independent youth allowance criteria, which would have unfairly disadvantaged rural and regional youth. These hard-fought changes meant students living in outer-regional, remote and very remote areas, as per the ASGC map, would now qualify for the independent rate of youth allowance under the original criteria. Unfortunately, the inner-regional zone continued to be excluded. All regional students who have to relocate to attend tertiary education should be treated equally. The Liberal-Nationals coalition sought to move further amendments to include students living in the inner-regional zone, but this was defeated by Labor and the Greens. The Nationals’ Senator Fiona Nash and the member for Forrest have waged a tireless campaign to have this unfair policy altered. I support them in their endeavours on behalf of the thousands of Australian students that Labor has disadvantaged.
I will finish with some pertinent quotes which underline everything I have said about this issue and why this amendment is so important. Cayla Edwards, the President of the Deakin University Student Association, said the Deakin University Student Association:
… condemns the youth allowance work eligibility criteria of 30 hours of work per week for two years. Young people living in rural and regional areas have expressed that their ability to obtain this type of stable employment is seriously limited. Many young Australians living in rural and regional Australia are more likely to access seasonal, or casual work. For this reason—
strongly recommends that the legislation be amended to allow young Australians the ability to spread out the 30 hours per week, to reflect the reality of their employment opportunities …
Clement Mulcahy, the President of the Catholic Secondary Principals Association of Western Australia, said:
Our prime objection to the change is that it will militate against country and regional students. This is unjust, when these already face serious difficulties in their pursuit of higher education. Such students are already at considerable disadvantage when it comes to studying at University in the metropolitan areas, as they must relinquish the security of home and family life to pursue tertiary education. Ultimately, this will mean higher education will only be available for those who are better off financially”.
The member for Lyne said on March 18 last year:
So they’ve picked a health rating which is basically drawing some artificial lines around what is rural, what is remote and using that as a determinate for whether people have to qualify for independence via 15 hours work or 30 hours work a week. While 85 per cent of the changes are positive, more students would have been assisted if this final aspect was not included in the package …
Sarah Dickins, a student and witness at the Senate inquiry, said:
There is no way you can work 30 hours a week while at university. I have got a friend who does work 30 hours a week at university, a very bright boy, and he is just scraping passes, He is never involved in any of the social or cultural aspects that are the fantastic parts of uni because he is working his job and when he is not working his job he is trying to scrape in the study to get those passes. That is not the way we should be doing university especially in courses like medicine which has 38 contact hours a week, there is no possible way you can be working 30 hours.
And in an age when minimising stress is considered so important, University of Queensland researcher Dr Helen Stallman, regarding a study that found 83.9 per cent of students were mentally stressed and that much of it was caused as a result of financial pressure, said:
Studying full time and having to work to support yourself puts unrealistic pressures on students and more needs to be done to ensure their mental health and that they stay in our universities.
National Union of Students President Carla Drakeford said:
NUS is concerned about the number of students who are mentally stressed, which is why we have always advocated for more students to receive youth allowance.
These financial pressures, we understand from mental health, lead to family disharmony; increased levels of mental ill-health and depression; pressures on other family members and risks to younger siblings; increases in domestic violence potential loss of family home or car; family discussions about financial prioritising; feelings of discrimination; and, in small communities, the fears of shame leading onto isolation are real pressures. We are also concerned about the pressures on our young people. There is guilt felt by young people who have concerns of putting financial pressure and burdens on their families. We are having real instances of this where young people not choose subjects in year 11 and 12 that are going to lead them onto university pathways. They are instead looking at pathways that can earn them a quick buck.
Finally, the Prime Minister again, speaking at a higher education conference before she landed the top job, in March 2008 said:
Of course getting our young people to university, TAFE and private institutions is only the start. Once there, we have to ensure they get the best higher education and training possible.
The Prime Minister said there would be no carbon tax in a government she leads, but now she is hell bent on bulldozing that through. Here, now, is her chance and her government’s chance to put fairness back on the table when it comes to independent youth allowance.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011. Over the last week, we have seen some quite erratic voting by the Independents. I was certainly stunned early last week when the Independents voted against supporting their rural students. The fact that the member for Lyne would vote with the government, to prop up an ailing government, rather than voting to give assistance to students, is really amazing. I hope he is held accountable for that on the streets of Port Macquarie and Taree because rural students do it tough getting to university.
All university students sacrifice a lot to get further education and further qualifications. The reality is, if you have to move away from home, which many rural students face, that becomes a much more difficult task with the cost of accommodation. It seems incredible that these government reforms would take away the independent youth allowance pathway from students in regional areas. It seems even more incredible that the member for Lyne, who holds himself out to allegedly represent students in a regional area, would vote against providing much-needed support for regional students. In his electorate, the member for Lyne has two major regional centres—Port Macquarie and Taree. I hope the families of students from those two major centres hold him accountable for the decision he has made to vote against assistance for students and to support a review.
Labor has a history of review after review after review and this is just one more. There is no guarantee of the outcomes that students will obtain. In fact, when Labor and the four regional Independents voted to kill off the youth allowance bill in the House of Representatives it was a dark day. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Labor government did a last-minute deal with the Independents to avoid the embarrassment of supporting the coalition’s bill. You would think that the interests of students would take precedence over propping up a sick and ailing government. But it does not stop there.
Later in the week we had the same member for Lyne voting against small business. Not to be content with voting for a review rather than voting for assistance to students, he said, ‘I can improve on that. I can knock my small business constituency as well. I can kick them in the guts as well.’ When faced with the opportunity to vote for a bill which would have relieved the paperwork burden of small businesses—and there is a very large small business constituency in the electorate of Lyne, there are many hardworking people in small business in Port Macquarie and many small businesses in Taree and other centres—what did their local member do? He said, ‘I’m going to vote for me. I’m going to prop up an ailing government. I’m going to ignore the calls from small businesses to take away the paperwork burden, I’m going to ignore those calls and I’m going to vote for me and I’m going to vote for this ailing government.’
I hope he stands condemned by those small businesses, because every member of this House knows—or should know—the stresses and the strains that small businesses are under due to the endless pages upon pages of administrative work that they have to do every month. If it is not a BAS it is some other thing that they have to do. There are endless compliance burdens. The opposition provided the Independents with a chance to stand with small business and to demonstrate their small business credentials, but what did they do? They dogged it.
All the member for Lyne could do was vote to support that ailing government. ‘Voted for me’—that is what he did. He should stand condemned for that. In going for the hat-trick, what was the next part of the puzzle? It was to profess support for a carbon tax. The people of his electorate would really love a carbon tax! We know that if we impose a tax the planet will suddenly get cooler. The climate will become temperate. It will be a perfect temperature every single day—not too hot; not too cold. All you have to do is impose a new tax.
The member for Lyne is no doubt going to go down the main street of Port Macquarie and tell them, ‘This carbon tax is going to be good for you because you will all be fully compensated.’ If you believe that you believe in the tooth fairy. We have a Prime Minister who said, ‘There will be no carbon tax under a government that I lead’ and she was proven to have told a porky. I guess you could argue that there is no carbon tax under a government she leads because Bob Brown is leading and she is just the one who lives in the Lodge. It is an interesting conundrum.
So in one week of parliament the member for Lyne firstly voted against regional students to prop up the government. He then voted against small business by voting to burden them with the paperwork and responsibility for administering Labor’s Paid Parental Leave scheme. You have to say that it makes sense for the government to administer such a scheme. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for this scheme to be administered by employers. The member for Lyne should have understood that but he clearly did not.
Then the final issue was the carbon tax. That was the last element of the hat-trick: professing to support a carbon tax that is going to drive up the cost of electricity—
I am coming to petrol. But I am sure the constituents in the electorate of Lyne who are struggling to pay their electricity bills will be sending the member for Lyne a very clear message—and that is, ‘I don’t want to pay more for electricity in order to cool the planet.’ I think the electors of Lyne, the next time they get into their cars, will be keen to send the member for Lyne a message and say, ‘I don’t want to pay more for petrol to drive my car; I cannot handle these increasing costs of living—you have to do something about it. You were the one who was sent to Canberra to represent the people of Lyne, and you voted against the students, you voted against small business and now you are voting against everybody to impose a tax.’
And how does this tax work? I had an interesting debate with the member for Page on the issue of the carbon tax last week. She was asked to explain how the carbon tax worked. She did her best, I must admit. She was quite gutsy going on to the radio station, because there are not too many people out there who are pleased to have the new tax levied upon them. She was explaining how you have to put a price on carbon and da da da. I really do not know what she was going on about, but she was doing a pretty good job of trying to explain this jumbled mess that the government are proposing to impose on the Australian people despite their solemn promise that they were not going to impose a carbon tax. During the interview I volunteered and said, ‘I can tell you how the tax works: it drives the price of electricity up so high that you can’t afford to run your air conditioner, you can’t afford to heat your home, you can’t afford to cook a meal’—that is exactly how the carbon tax works—‘and it drives the price of petrol up so high that you can’t afford to drive your car.’
That is the magic of this tax—when you impose the tax it cools the planet and everyone feels good; everyone feels that warm inner glow because they know they are contributing to a better planet. Let us not even consider for a moment the fact that China’s emissions are increasing at a massive rate, which makes anything that we might do in this country seem a mere sideshow, or that India’s emissions are also increasing at a massive rate.
This government’s hypocrisy is demonstrated by the fact that it is happy to let coalmines export coal, yet apparently we have to do something about coal industry emissions. It is a very counterintuitive argument, and it comes as a great surprise that the member for Lyne can stand there and support a carbon tax that will penalise pensioners, a carbon tax that will smash small business and a carbon tax that will hurt families. It is a carbon tax that is not going to provide the sorts of solutions required. How do you solve the emissions problem? You certainly do not solve it by lumping a tax on people. You do not solve it by having an emissions trading scheme. You solve it by actually doing something about it, by actually investing in the technology that is going to achieve a reduction in emissions.
We know that the demand for electricity is relatively inelastic, and that is what the Prime Minister is not telling us. The member for Lyne is not telling his constituents that in order to achieve a reduction in demand for electricity, the price rises will have to be massive and the initial $26 a tonne carbon price that we are likely to see—$300 on your electricity bill, 6½c a litre on fuel—is going to be a mere kiss compared to the impact of the tax when the Prime Minister really gets stuck into the tax on a basis that is going to achieve what the Greens are going to demand. It will be interesting to see, with the Greens really in control of this government, how the final make-up of this tax occurs.
Do the Greens really care if they bankrupt small business? Do the Greens really care if people are losing their jobs? I am sure they do not. They have not cared in the past. They have had no care and no responsibility, living in a dream world. But now they are actually going to have to start being accountable for the things they do in guiding, and I suppose effectively leading, this government down a path that is going to destroy the economy, destroy jobs and lower Australia’s standard of living. That is the question that the member for Lyne needs to answer to his constituents when he goes out there spruiking this tax. He is going to have to answer to them why he is voting to lower their standard of living, because that is precisely what he is doing. The government will put up this smokescreen that says ‘polluters will pay’. They will stand up on the pulpit and say, ‘Polluters will pay.’ The reality is it is people who pay, because businesses are there to make a profit. If they do not make a profit, they go out of business. The only way they can maintain their profit stream and remain viable is to put their prices up, and who is going to pay for that? I don’t think the member for Lyne is going to be forking out from his pocket to compensate the people of the electorate of Lyne. I don’t think the government is going to be forking out anything like the amount of money that is going to represent the costs that consumers face. It is a massive confidence trick. It is a massive fraud.
Member for La Trobe, I wouldn’t want to be you, fielding all the calls from those people absolutely elated about this new carbon tax that is going to cool the planet!
Absolutely, turn it all off, because that is how it works. Shut down the country, turn off your air conditioner and stop your car. That is how it works. I tell you: you are on the way to being a one-term wonder if you back the Prime Minister on this one. You have not been here before, but when people are unhappy they let you know, and they are only just starting to realise the full implications of this tax. You should not thank the member for Lyne for supporting you; you should really go over and lobby him and say, ‘Vote against it.’ Then the bill would not get through and we would all be saved from this carbon tax. We would have cheaper electricity, we would have cheaper petrol and we would have higher employment.
It was interesting that the Climate Change Coalition brought out that study that said this was going to create 34,000 jobs over about 20 years. When you look back at the rate of job creation in this country, it is normally more like 34,000 a month than 34,000 over decades. So you could hardly put forward the carbon tax as a generator of jobs. It is a job destroyer. It is a scheme that is going to lower the standard of living. It is a scheme that the government is responsible for, the Greens are responsible for and the two Independents—the member for Lyne and the member for New England—are responsible for.
They will be held accountable for the fall in living standards and the extra cost of living that people will endure as a result of this carbon tax. I hope they have the guts to walk down the main streets of their major towns, to get out there and tell people why this carbon tax is going to be so good for them, why their standard of living is going to be so great and how a carbon tax will actually cool the planet. They have a lot of explaining to do in their electorates. It is going to take more than a beard for the member for Lyne to hide from his constituents on this one, I have to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is going to take much more than a garden gnome type beard to do that. He is going to have some serious explaining to do, not only to the students, not only to small business but to everyone in his electorate. He stands condemned. (Time expired)
Debate (on motion by Ms Smyth) adjourned.