Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013; Consideration in Detail
Through the 2012-13 appropriation bills the government will provide the Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy portfolio with $6.7 billion to deliver its priorities. This includes $5.3 billion directly to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to deliver its priorities, of which $4.8 billion is an equity injection to the NBN Co in 2012-13. It also includes $1.2 billion for the ABC, $250.4 million to the SBS, $108 million to the Australian Communications and Media Authority and $50 million to the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency, TUSMA.
The government is providing over $385 million in new funding to the portfolio for a range of measures over the period 2011-12 to 2015-16. This includes $143.2 million over five years to assist free-to-air television broadcasters to relocate their digital television services where necessary, and to support the restack which will enable the digital dividend spectrum to be freed up to deliver next-generation communications. It also includes $158.1 million over five years to the SBS to ensure it remains a vibrant and dynamic broadcaster and continues to provide comprehensive and innovative television, radio and online services, including high-quality programming in their new media landscape.
This is something I am particularly proud of. SBS deliver vital services in our multicultural community and I think it is an important national asset which I know has enjoyed bipartisan support. I think this is a vital improvement—
Wyatt Roy interjecting—
'Rubbish,' says one of the coalition members opposite—the member for Longman.
I try to be bipartisan, but sometimes you cannot help people. It is a vital improvement. The funding will also establish a free-to-air national Indigenous television channel in the second half of 2012, to be available through the full reach of SBS's terrestrial network and on the Viewer Access Satellite Television Service. It also provides $53.5 million over four years to the department and the ABC to assist free to air broadcasters to relocate part of their electronic news gathering functions to alternate radio frequency spectrum, to free up spectrum for next generation communications. The budget also includes a six-month extension and a 50 per cent rebate of the broadcast licence fee for the first half of 2012. This will enable the commercial free to air broadcasters to continue to produce and screen Australian content and allow time for the government to consider the recommendations made by the convergence review.
Importantly, the budget provides for $20.1 billion in equity funding to the NBN Co. over the period 2012-13 to 2015-16. The government's investment in the NBN will provide enormous economic and social benefits. The NBN will transform competition in the telecommunications market, delivering lower prices and better services. It will boost Australia's productivity and generate significant employment. It will drive growth in our regions and overcome the tyranny of distance, including by transforming health and education services in regional Australia. Our funding, announced in the 2012-13 budget, for the department, the ABC, the SBS, the ACMA and TUSMA will encourage a vibrant, sustainable and internationally competitive digital economy in Australia. I commend the appropriation to the House.
On Friday, the NBN Co. uploaded a detailed rollout schedule which includes 'the date that NBN Co. expects to be ready to connect end users from access seekers within this rollout region'. Although we note the schedule acknowledges the rollout plan to reflect NBN Co.'s position as at 15 June 2012 and according to the NBN Co. should not be relied upon as representing NBN Co.'s final position on this subject matter except as stated otherwise, there is at least a 12-month timeline from the state of construction to completion of the network in specific areas, so commonsense indicates the numbers are unlikely to be revised upwards. Those numbers state that the NBN Co. will be able to get to 236,900 brownfields households by June 2013 and 20,995 greenfields households. On our calculation, that comes to a total of 257,895 households on top of the 18,200 premises passed as of May. Again, on our calculation, that comes to 276,095 premises passed by June 2013. I ask the minister if that is accurate.
I rise to raise with the minister representing the Minister for Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy issues in relation to infrastructure and particularly the NBN. Last night I spoke in the chamber about the importance of investing in infrastructure in communities like mine across the country and, importantly, the investment of the National Broadband Network. I talked about other important initiatives which of course the minister in his own portfolio is well aware of, such as the Moreton Bay rail link, the causeway project which we just announced with the Regional Development Authority and the new North Lakes Youth Space, but I also talked about the announcement of the National Broadband Network and that last year we saw the commencement of the rollout for the National Broadband Network in areas such as Aspley which covers the electorate of Lilley and also Petrie. Just earlier this year we heard the announcement of the three-year plan which included suburbs of Aspley, Bridgeman Downs, Carseldine, Fitzgibbon, Griffin, Mango Hill and North Lakes in my electorate and also other suburbs in the outer northern area which I understand also fall within the electorates of Dickson and Longman. This announcement of the three-year rollout plan includes particularly areas like North Lakes. It is a new estate, it is only 10 years old, and it has still got about four to five years of development ahead of it. It has got a lot of black spots even though it is a new development and there is a desperate need for fast broadband, in fact any broadband, in this area. I am interested to hear from the minister what benefit he thinks there is for my community, not just a lot of the new households in the area but benefits to the community for business, for health and for education. For example, the new Metro North Brisbane Medicare Local has just established its office at North Lakes and is promoting e-health, so I am very keen to hear from the minister what sort of benefits can flow in my electorate of Petrie in these areas as a consequence of the NBN rollout.
I want to briefly touch on the point raised by the minister some moments ago, which is the additional funding for SBS, a figure of $158 million over five years to ensure SBS remains a vibrant, dynamic national broadcaster. There is a group in the parliament around the member for Hindmarsh, and someone on the coalition side I apologise I do not recall, supportive of SBS. Recently we had the opportunity to hear a collection of directors, producers and performers, and one of the important points is the leading role that SBS plays in nurturing national talent, undertaking areas that are a bit critical, a bit questioning, a bit difficult that the commercial sector will not undertake. I am very pleased to see that this funding, which includes a move towards a free-to-air national Indigenous television channel, has been funded in this budget.
It is crucial that we maintain a very strong multicultural television sector and radio sector in this country. One of the developments in recent years has been the sophistication of some foreign productions in this country, some of which do not have the nuances of our culture. I have had the opportunity to see some productions from Iran, for instance, which one would say are very effective and really can make an impact. If you go into any household in suburban Sydney these days you will see a variety of overseas television networks broadcasting into people's living rooms. This can have on some occasions a very negative impact upon attitudes. It is 'all right' to have an attitude which puts people in a corner, marginalises them, alienates them and denigrates them as supposedly terrorists et cetera, but a really effective way of doing something about this is having a national broadcaster, and for that matter community television and community radio, in the ethnic sectors. These people are very much affected by the nuances of our culture. They understand the democracy of this country, its legal processes et cetera. I congratulate the government on this initiative.
It is important that people have a medium to preserve their culture, to know what is occurring in their homeland. On occasions we have some controversy about the partnerships that SBS has in regard to Vietnam. That was a good example where there was a significant controversy about utilising the Vietnam national broadcaster's actual feed. But broadly we have an institution which is respected internationally which is there to make sure that the nation-building process this country has accomplished through migration continues, that people are bound together, respect national institutions and at the same time know about developments in their home country and can inform us about what is occurring there. There is also the ability to see cinema that is not mainstream which because of the market realities of American dominance of the industry does not gain much traction outside of a few cinemas in Melbourne and Sydney.
The member for Longman commented that the coalition established this body, and no-one disputes the historic role of the coalition with regard to multiculturalism and diversity. I heard the member for Wentworth last week very fulsome in regard to these measures at Sydney University. Despite what has occurred from some prime ministers, no matter what has occurred historically over the last few years, ministers preoccupied with the use of the word multiculturalism, changing the names of departments on occasion because they so abhor this title, broadly we know that there is support for initiatives such as this. As I say, I strongly commend the government making this initiative.
The other thing that is hitting SBS is a fall in advertising revenues of $19 million. There has been a global financial crisis. Some people do not seem to recognise that. They seem to think that government revenues are the same that they were and they do not see a need to protect jobs in this country, but SBS is one example of an impact of advertising revenue falls. I again congratulate the government on this initiative.
The minister nearly leapt to his feet so I hope he has got an answer to my question. I have a second question for him. Would the minister explain to us why the corporate plan that the government released for the NBN in December 2010 has been proved to be so terribly wrong? For instance, it is worth comparing the December 2010 forecasts with the current forecasts in two respects. I draw the minister's attention to this. The 2010 corporate plan at page 15 forecasts passing 950,000 brownfields households—that is, households in built-up areas—by June 2013. Including the latest figures from the third progress report with the latest roll-out schedule, on our calculation—and I asked the minister to confirm this earlier—we get 255,143 brownfields houses passed, or 26.9 per cent of the original forecast. I ask him whether that is correct?
The 2010 corporate plan at page 15 also forecast passing 319,000 greenfields households by June 2013. Including the latest figures from the third progress report with the roll-out schedule, we get 21,946 greenfields houses being passed by that date, or 6.9 per cent of the original forecast. I ask the minister whether it is in fact correct that the 2010 corporate plan is so far out, and out of date, that currently they are expecting by June 2013 to pass only 26.9 per cent of the brownfields households forecast in 2010, and a miserable 6.9 per cent of the greenfields households forecast?
I am pleased to respond, firstly, to the member for Petrie. I acknowledge that the member for Petrie is a big supporter of the NBN. I acknowledge also that fibre construction will start by 30 June 2015 for thousands of homes and businesses in the following suburbs: Aspley, Bridgeman Downs, Carseldine, Fitzgibbon, Dakabin, Griffin, Mango Hill and Northlakes. Construction work began in Aspley in November last year—we are already there—and the remaining suburbs listed should see the 12-month construction process starting within the next year. You can see on the ground in the electorate of Petrie the government's commitment to the National Broadband Network that will indeed overcome the tyranny of distance.
With regard to the timing of rollouts, I had the honour to be with the Prime Minister and Minister Conroy at NICTA in Eveleigh—the old Eveleigh railway workshops in Sydney—when the NBN announced their rollout plan of three years for the National Broadband Network. When they did that there could be certainty that suburbs in my electorate, such as St Peters, would benefit from the National Broadband Network. I know that electorates right around the country are going to benefit, with suburbs, homes and businesses benefitting from what the National Broadband Network will provide.
I can also say as the transport minister that the NBN will make a big difference. NBN should be seen as a transport replacement vehicle because it will enable people to work from home. It will take pressure off urban congestion in our cities by allowing someone to operate a business just as effectively in Port Macquarie or Gympie or Dubbo as they would in the CBD of Sydney. That makes a big difference in the way that our economy functions and it will make a big difference particularly to those people who live in communities where they do not have access to the best technology at the moment.
The shadow minister asked about the corporate plan. He knows full well that the negotiations with Telstra took additional time to what was anticipated at the beginning of the process. That was in order to achieve an outcome—the structural separation of Telstra, which I remind the shadow minister that he said was vital, and I believe he knows it was—and dealing with these issues was absolutely in the national interest but could not be accomplished by the former government. The former government took what was a public sector company, turned it into a private monopoly and called it reform. That was the previous government's delivery on these issues. We are building a network, with competition on top of the network, to deliver world-class services for people regardless of where they live in a way that is affordable, in way that will transform the Australian economy.
The shadow minister knows full well what the answer to his second question is. It took time for the ACCC to work through these issues, but that was so that it be got right. That certainly did occur. (Extension of time granted) Indeed, throughout the process there was considerable cynicism about whether it would be able to be achieved or not. At the moment the NBN's new corporate plan is being considered by the government and it will be released in a transparent way.
People can log on—people in Tasmania and other places where it is being rolled out already log on using the NBN—and get information now on the rollout of the NBN. One thing that we do know—I do not think the shadow minister is on board with this—is that if the opposition are elected they say that they will wreck the NBN. They will wreck this proposal that has such enormous support. The opposition want to rely on copper—
Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The minister is just waffling. It is completely irrelevant. He has been asked a very specific question about some specific numbers and he is refusing, because he is not prepared to own up to what a colossal failure this project is.
The member for Wentworth has made his point of order. The standing orders do not allow me to intervene on an answer. The standing orders in this chamber are probably not working as well as perhaps was originally envisaged, but the standing orders do not allow me to judge whether a question is being answered or otherwise. I now call the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I do apologise for raising the matter with you. I was attempting to appeal to the minister's sense of shame. I really thought the minister would be ashamed of his disgraceful evasion of the question. I do apologise for raising the matter.
I am not surprised that the shadow minister is embarrassed, because we know he does not support his own party's policy. We know his heart is not in the brief he has been given of wrecking the National Broadband Network and going back to the old copper network of the past. Having had 19 failed plans themselves, they want to trash this government's innovative, visionary plan for the National Broadband Network, and that is why they are so negative. Wherever we go, they are negative about the rollout but at the same time they whinge if it is not rolled out in their electorate or if it is not done quickly enough. They cannot have it both ways. The truth is that this is—
I am speaking about the National Broadband Network. I know they do not like to hear it, but I am speaking about the National Broadband Network and how effective it has been and how much support it has out there in the community, which is why those opposite, while complaining about it, say, 'You are not giving it to us quickly enough'. I am pointing out that contradiction, which has been added to today by the questions that have been put forward by the shadow minister.
The fact is we are being transparent. You have a three-year rollout that will be updated annually. In areas such as the Illawarra, one of the first communities in New South Wales to receive this technology, it is being received extremely well.
I am pleased today to rise to speak about the Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy portfolio. I particularly want to highlight the importance of the National Broadband Network to my electorate. People right across the nation, but particularly in Geelong and the Western District, fully appreciate the importance of having a high-speed national broadband network. The reality is that when the Labor government was first elected to government there were telecommunications black holes right throughout this nation. The National Broadband Network is our policy response to those telecommunications black spots. Indeed, time and time again, small businesses come and see me and want to know more about the National Broadband Network. They recognise that the old copper network is no longer able to provide the telecommunications needed to sustain their businesses.
I was very pleased that last week I was able to announce that some of the Colac Otway shire will be receiving some of the fixed wireless network in 2014. The Colac Otway shire has the Great Ocean Road and the Otways, which are very important to the economy. For decades, those communities have constantly been requesting access to high-speed networks to enable them to compete on the world stage, particularly in tourism. I look forward to working closely with the ministers in this portfolio area and to continue to talk to them.
I also want to particularly talk about the digital switchover, which is a very important reform that will provide Australians with new technologies to be able to watch TV. It is fantastic to be able to see many regional Australians being able to have access to multiple channels and to be able to see them on their high-definition TVs. The reality is that without government investment in this area the digital switchover would not take place. I am very pleased that we are working in this particular area.
In the short time I have left, I say that there is no doubt that telecommunications is a critical issue to my electorate. It is important that we are able to give regional Victorians the same opportunity as those in the cities. It is important that we put in place a program to enable people to watch digital TV in their homes and to have a diversity of TV opportunities. I want to commend the government for the efforts that the ministers have been putting into not only delivering the National Broadband Network but also the critical nature of making sure that we meet the digital switchover, which we will do.
I wish to respond quickly on digital switchover so that it does get some recognition as part of this process. I can inform the member that more than 1.6 million households have made the switch to digital only TV. Over 550,000 households across southern New South Wales and the ACT and the MIA successfully switched to digital only free-to-air TV on 5 June 2012. Following the success of Mildura, regional South Australia, regional Victoria and regional Queensland, southern New South Wales and the ACT became the fifth and largest region to switch to digital only free-to-air TV on 5 June. I remember the member for Mallee raising issues in this chamber either last year or the year before about these very matters. This has been an extremely successful program which means that people who live in regional communities can have the same access as people who live in our cities.
I see the member for Corangamite here. I am very familiar with his electorate, which has urban communities around the Geelong area but also rural communities. It is a very large electorate compared with those of the member for Grayndler and the member for Wentworth, and it is great that whether you live in Colac or around the Great Ocean Road in those fantastic communities or in Geelong you will have access which is the same. That is part of this government's legacy, the way we are delivering for people in regional Australia. I commend the work that the minister and the department have done and indeed the communities have done themselves in ensuring that this has been such a success.
Given the concerns raised by constituents about services that Telstra is providing, the question then becomes: what pressure is being put on Telstra to mainstream and continue to upgrade its services so that our constituents can get good telephony and broadband services in the community until such time—
They have been told by Telstra that they are not upgrading exchanges or doing any other works because the NBN is coming out at some point down the track. That is impacting the provision of services today. I have even got a letter here from a constituent about a complaint that he has been trying to get fixed with Telstra for 18 months, but he has not got anywhere with it. My question is: what is being done to ensure that services continue to be supported whilst we are waiting to roll out three years down the track? Further, I have had a representation from a local broadband business that has been shut out of the NBN work. They are quite capable of providing the work required for the NBN but they are being excluded from any work opportunities in the tender.
Yes, too long indeed—more for me than you!—but I have never been shy in stepping forward where I believe there is something wrong and it needs to be fixed up. In my local area, I have stood up for suburbs that had been perennial broadband black spots because I have been concerned that they have not been getting serviced more quickly, particularly in terms of the NBN. I am glad that, as a result of negotiations and representations on this matter, Woodcroft and Doonside in my area are going to be included in the construction rollout and should see the NBN reach them next year.
To the member for Forde I might add that Telstra, in particular cases, is upgrading its local networks, particularly ADSL networks. It is basically bringing in what it calls a top hat service, which is expanding the capacity of local cabinets that contain ADSL to try and alleviate some of those problems. I refer specifically to the member's claim that Telstra is not, when it actual fact it is. Where the HFC network exists—unfortunately, not necessarily in the member's neck of the woods, but certainly in Melbourne and Sydney—it has opened up in the short term access to cable broadband while people are waiting for the HFC.
Unlike the member for Forde, who does recognise that households do want access to high-speed broadband, I am tired of hearing many of those opposite rail against our investment in the total renewal of our broadband infrastructure in this country. They rail against it. They claim it is wasteful. They claim it should not be done. They claim they should still rely on copper when, hands down, fibre is the best way to deliver that signal. I would like to see a list of every single coalition member who has argued against the NBN. They should tell their local communities that they believe the NBN should not come their way, even though they are on the construction timetable. I would like, for example, for that investment to be reprioritised from those electorates where their local members say the NBN should not be rolled out to other communities—for example, the member for Forde's community or areas where government MPs have been calling for greater broadband investment.
If those opposite argue that the NBN is wasteful, they should tell their communities that they do not want to see an investment in technological infrastructure in your area and let us reprioritise that investment to areas that want it. Everyone knows that the internet itself is providing huge economic value to this country. Deloitte Access Economics reported that it could add up to $70 billion to the total of economic growth in this country as a result of that investment. It pointed to $26 billion in productivity improvements for business and government as a result of the rollout. That valuable report was derided, I might add, by the shadow minister for communications, who thought it was a self-serving report—and I am happy to stand corrected here if the shadow minister thinks that I am verballing him. Why one sector of the economy should not protect and advance its own interests, namely Google talking about the value of the NBN through the—
Look at the economic value that the internet brings to this country. On top of that add the Digital Economy Strategy that the government has put out that seeks to have us in the top five of digital economies in the world. There is huge investment that can be made off it. The NBN will be a huge driver of productivity in this country. If those opposite do not want it, why can't we reprioritise the rollout plans to ensure that the people who do want it, coalition members included, get it quicker than those who are saying to their communities that they do not deserve it?
To the member for Forde, there is no commercial basis for Telstra withholding services to areas that may not get the NBN until later in the rollout. There should certainly be enough time for Telstra to generate a return from investments in ADSL upgrades such as through top hats. This is occurring in a range of areas. I note the member for Forde's support for the NBN and his requests that it be rolled out in his electorate. I note the comments of the member for Chifley. The government's position is not the same as the member for Chifley's. The government's position is that people in communities should not suffer from the fact that they made mistakes when they elected a bad member! They should certainly not be punished and they should be entitled to services. If that were the case then there are some people, particularly in seats held by the National Party, who would get nothing across the board, given their extraordinary opposition to the NBN.
I note that in my portfolio of infrastructure and transport, I am continually hearing demands from National Party members, federal and state, in particular, but also from some Liberal Party members saying, 'You should take the money from the NBN and give it to build a road, a rail line or some other project.' There is a complete economic illiteracy about the difference between an investment that will bring a return to the government on a commercial basis—that is, the National Broadband Network—and the circumstances of a straight investment in a road project that will not deliver a return but is simply a cost to revenue.
With regard to the National Digital Economy Strategy raised by the member, I note that through the release of the National Digital Economy Strategy the government has set a bold vision for Australia to become a leading digital economy by 2020. The strategy sets out eight digital economy goals to help measure our progress towards this vision in key areas of focus. This digital economy will be underpinned by the NBN and will also provide opportunities to help this nation tackle those major policy challenges such as improving service delivery in health and education, dealing with issues of our ageing population and promoting social inclusion, as well as delivering massive improvements in productivity through infrastructure projects. I have established in my portfolio an infrastructure program called Smart Managed Motorways. The Monash Freeway in Melbourne is an example of how you can get much better utilisation from infrastructure through the use of information technology providing real-time information to motorists and a steady stream in terms of flow of traffic and in terms of entry and exit points from that freeway. And we have through the managed motorways program, recognised by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project and funded in last year's budget. It is being rolled out on projects around the country, including the M4 through to the Great Western Highway in Sydney, the Gateway Motorway project in Queensland and Westgate in Melbourne. You have real benefits being delivered.
That is one of the things about the use of better technology. By using better technology and working smarter you can improve productivity and get much better outcomes. It is cost effective to use world's best technology, and whether it be through the major projects or through the flourishing that we are seeing through small businesses establishing themselves as global businesses, working out of someone's lounge room with nothing but a computer, that possibility is endless. For too long we have suffered from the tyranny of distance from each other and from the world. The National Broadband Network is the key delivery mechanism to overcome that and to improve our national economic performance. (Time expired)
Nothing better underlines the obfuscation and lack of accountability of the government when it comes to the NBN than the minister's persistent failure today to answer some very straightforward questions about the rollout schedule for the NBN.
The minister says he answered them. He has given no answer. The question is, is it a fact that the NBN as of June 2013 will pass only 255,143 houses in brownfield areas, or 26.9 per cent of that forecast in 2010? And is it a fact that it will pass only 21,946 greenfield houses, or only 6.9 per cent of that forecast to be passed by June 2013 in 2010?
The minister, if he deigns to answer that question instead of giving us a long turgid fluff and flannel about the joys of the NBN Co. He talks about—
while he is trying to talk over the top of me—Mr Quigley's excuse that the Telstra deal held up the rollout of the NBN. While the minister is reflecting on that nonsense, he might have regard to the fact that the definitive agreement signed between NBN and Telstra in June 2011 included, and I quote:
… various interim arrangements to enable NBN Co to obtain immediate access to Telstra infrastructure before the other Definitive Agreements become binding.
The NBN Co. has had access to Telstra's infrastructure pursuant to that agreement for a year now. The excuse that it was all the Telstra deal that caused this shocking failure to meet their targets is just not made out.
But I have one question that this minister may deign to answer, having refused to answer the others. I ask him whether the NBN has targeted geographic locations for its advertising campaign where the NBN will actually be rolled out in stage 1? And if not, why not? I note that recently on page 4 of the Home Hill Observer of 4 April, 2012, there was an advertisement for the NBN which said, 'Stage 1: To see if you are one of the first, visit nbnco.com.au'. I ask the minister, does he think the NBN Co. might have made the job easier for the residents of Home Hill in Queensland, and easier on the taxpayers of Australia, if it either had not advertised in the Home HillObserver, or told them straight up that they will not even be in stage 1 of the rollout? Is it not the fact, minister, that these advertisements have been run willy-nilly across the country to create the misleading impression that the NBN Co. is being rolled out in many areas where it is simply not even on the government's plans intended to be rolled out over the next three years? Work will not even commence in Home Hill in the first stage.
But there is an ad. So of course, in the lead-up to the next election, the residents of Home Hill will read their newspaper and they will assume—unless they actually go onto the website—that the NBN is coming. But it is not. But the NBN is advertising. They are using taxpayers' money to mislead Australians about this incompetently managed project.
The shadow minister might or might not be aware that, in regard to the questions and issues that he raised, fixed wireless and satellite services will be rolled out around the country. He might not also be aware, but I think he probably does know, to be fair, that the ACCC process about Telstra with regard to access to sites meant that NBN had access to 100 sites. That is why those sites and projects are being rolled out now. They did not have full access until that occurred. He knows that that is the case. He pretends he does not, but he does know. The opposition are being completely disingenuous about that because they want it to fail. The fact is that this has been an extremely successful program. The fact is that members of the shadow minister's own party have come in here and asked for access, such as the member for Forde. They know that it in fact will be a success.
The shadow minister says that he has an alternative policy to the National Broadband Network. Where is it? There is no policy document. There is no shadow cabinet decision. There is no funding commitment. There is just his leader saying he will scrap it and use the savings elsewhere, even though we know that there are not actually any savings. That is why he is not the shadow Treasurer or the shadow finance minister, because the opposition have an absolute allergy when it comes to getting anywhere near any economic competence. They fear it.
But the final comment of the shadow minister also cannot be allowed to go unaddressed. For the shadow minister to talk about advertising of programs is quite breathtaking, when what we saw from the former government during the Work Choices campaign was completely misleading advertising—the ads, the mouse pads and everything else, whilst people were being done over in the workplace. That was what we saw from the opposition. Indeed, when the shadow minister was a minister we saw a fair bit of advertising about water and the environment, but they did not have a policy to do anything about climate change, but they had advertising. That is all they had—just advertising; they did not have a policy. When they knocked off the shadow minister as the Leader of the Liberal Party, they said that climate change is crap. Then the sceptics took over the show. But before then, they did not mind doing the odd advertising campaign. If they had spent as much on environmental programs and on programs on water as they spent on advertising then we would have actually had some progress under the former government. But they did not. It is a bit rich for the member for Wentworth to come in here and complain about expenditure on government advertising, when the National Broadband Network advertising is quite rightly informing communities about the opportunities that the National Broadband Network will bring.
A number of things have been said today by people who are already in possession of the information, they already know the detail, yet they seek to come in here and effectively reinvent history. Obviously, from time to time I get that that is the case in politics—no big shock. But the shadow minister definitely knows about the time that was required for NBN and Telstra to negotiate and the undertakings and the deal that was done there. On top of that we had the other issue of the ACCC moving to increase the number of points of interconnect in this country, not just from the five that were proposed but to over 120 points of interconnect, which required a massive reorganisation of plans that changed the nature of corporate plans as they were once presented to where they are now and needed to be accommodating of that.
It is easy to try and score the cheap political point here today—to try to go back in time, pick at a corporate plan at one point, ignore a ruling by the ACCC at the other and then get your bingo moment that might try and make a media release a bit more saucy now but will not necessarily reflect the reality as it had rolled out over the course of the last few years. On top of this, in terms of having a start up—which in effect is what NBN Co. is—we have had those opposite try and point out that NBN Co. is not rolling out to as many places as it should, even though we are now investing massively in renewing our broadband infrastructure in this country—
Mr Chester interjecting—
Yes, exactly, member for Gippsland, I do not know if you do not like—
He doesn't? I do not know if he has taken a position of opposition to the NBN. If he has, we are more than happy to reprioritise investment away. But the other thing is that I have noted a number of times, Minister—and I would actually like you to address this, if you could—that those opposite have claimed that the treatment of the equity injection that you referred to at the start of this session should be expensed on the budget. That is what they have said. They have said that they should do something that they did not do when they were in government that we do not do now. They are saying that when it comes to the NBN it should be expensed in the budget. They said, for example, that we have fudged the books because we do not do this. I would not mind knowing, in the time remaining, when it comes to the expensing of the NBN, why have we not done it in the way that the opposition has proposed, and why are we not expensing in the way that they are suggesting?
I thank the member for Chifley for his contribution and his ongoing role as an advocate of the NBN. Consistent with the government's objective that NBN Co. operates commercially, the ABS has classified NBN Co. as a public non-financial corporation. It is therefore disclosing exactly the same way as a company such as Australia Post, which is also a PNFC. The accounting for NBN Co. as an equity investment is as prescribed in both of the accounting systems that are used in the budget: government finance statistics and Australian accounting standards. These standards, importantly, are both set independently, at arm's length from the government. As indicated at paragraph 4.38 of System of National Accounts 2008, to operate as a PNFC, NBN Co. must fulfil a number of criteria. One is that it has got to be capable of generating profit or other financial gain for its owners. Secondly, it must be recognised at law as a separate legal entity from its owners, who enjoy a limited liability. Thirdly, it must be set up for purposes of engaging in market production. It fulfils each of those criteria.
We know that NBN was the policy of this government after 19 failed attempts from the former government to do something to progress the issue of modern telecommunications to bring Australia into the 21st century. They tried 19 times and they failed 19 times. This government was determined to deliver Australia into the 21st century for all the benefits that it brings. We still hear talk about watching movies—as if that is what the NBN is about—from some of those opposite. It is as if they do not understand that the NBN will transform the way that services such as education and health care are delivered in this country and that it will overcome the tyranny of distance that occurs in a country such as Australia, a vast island continent where we are separated from each other, and allow us to compete in the fastest growing region of the world. So we make absolutely no apology for the fact that we are delivering world's best practice—a commitment that will bring such benefit not just to our economy but also to our society. The NBN is also a vehicle to achieve equity because it allows people to have access to information in real time. It allows the small business person in Blacktown or Mount Druitt to compete with the big end of town through access to this technology. That is why it is important.
It is absolutely extraordinary that those opposite are determined to tear it down, scrap it and use non-existent savings for other projects. Of course, their fiscal position simply does not add up. They start with a $70 billion black hole and we know that it gets worse. As I go around the country I have noticed that all the commitments they have made to build roads, to build rail lines or to build ports simply do not add up because they do not have the funding available to them. Well, they will be caught out because they will be held to account. That might bring some pleasure to some—
on that side of the chamber because the member for Wentworth knows deep down—he is a supporter of the NBN; we are in on the joke—that this is better than any of the failed attempts of the government that he was a part of was able to achieve in 19 separate attempts. I will leave my comments there. I thank very much those members who have made such constructive contributions to the debate on this budget—
Opposition members interjecting—
and indeed I thank the member for Forde, for example, for his acknowledgement that the National Broadband Network is so important. He has demanded it go to his electorate.(Time expired)
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Hea l th and Ageing Portfolio
Proposed expenditure, $8,899,503,000.
I would like to ask the minister for health several questions on the GP Super Clinics Program. I would like the minister to explain, firstly, where the $44 million of uncommitted funding within the GP Super Clinics Program was found. I would also like the minister to explain why the government has bailed out the Mount Isa GP superclinic for $2.5 million, the Redcliffe GP superclinic for $5 million and then a further $2.5 million, and has provided additional money to the Wallan and Ballan GP superclinics. Given that there was $44 million in the GP Super Clinics Program that could be removed, why did the government decide not to give the Sorell GP superclinic the $1.2 million extra funding they were asking for to ensure that this GP superclinic went ahead? I would like the minister to address whether she thinks the waste of $500,000 on the scrapped, failed, GP superclinic at Sorell represents value for taxpayers money. Would it not have been more prudent to have provided the additional $1.2 million that the Sorell superclinic was asking for than to waste $500,000 completely? I would like the minister to address whether the outstanding $570,000 has been returned to the Commonwealth. I ask the minister if she can confirm that the department actually has no system to process the refund, as has been stated in the media, and I ask the minister whether she thinks that replacing the walls between doctors' treatment rooms with curtains would have provided suitable privacy and treatment spaces for patients seen at the Sorell GP superclinic?
If she thinks that this is not appropriate, is the minister concerned that this was an instruction from her department to the Sorell GP superclinic architect to save costs?
I want to make a few general comments about the GP superclinics to begin with. I think it is important to say that 38 out of the over 60 GP superclinics are either open and delivering early services or under construction at the moment, and 1¾ million services have been provided through GP superclinics that are in their early stages. I will turn in a moment to the specific questions that the shadow parliamentary secretary has asked. And I do commend him for coming and using this opportunity to question. I know he has a very genuine commitment to health service delivery, and it is wonderful to see him here. I also want to let the shadow parliamentary secretary know that, if he has questions on Indigenous health, we will be losing the more appropriate responder to those questions at a quarter past six, so he might want to re-order any questions to ask them before then.
In relation to GP superclinics, the $44 million saving from the GP Super Clinics Program was from uncommitted funds that were intended for a range of development and reporting activities and will not affect the operation of any of the GP superclinics that are already operating or have been committed to in the future. He has asked about Wallan and Ballan. Some of the funding that I think you are indicating actually came from the Health and Hospitals Fund.
The Ballan GP superclinic, which I went to with the shadow parliamentary secretary, who is here at the moment, is an absolutely magnificent facility in a beautiful old home that used to belong to the hospital administrator in the town of Ballan. They have managed, through the Health and Hospitals Fund, to get funding for a second stage of the development of that excellent facility, which will include things like a hydrotherapy pool as well as the GP services and allied health services that are already being provided there. Not only is the GP superclinic a fantastic addition to the health services of that town and that region, but it has also boosted the whole economic activity in that town as well, as people no longer bypass it to travel to Ballarat or into Melbourne to get their health services.
The shadow parliamentary secretary asked about Sorell. The good news is that Sorell still will receive a new GP clinic. Brighton and Bridgewater will also receive upgraded facilities. The reason three sites will receive new or upgraded facilities instead of one location in Sorell is that the project proposed for Sorell was not one that stacked up at the end. I was disappointed to see the newspaper reports that the shadow parliamentary secretary was referring to, and I assured myself that it was not the case that that potential operator in Sorell was unable to repay any money that was unexpended. That report was not correct; it confused two items of funding.
Further on the GP superclinics, I think it is very important to note that the GP superclinics have been terrifically popular with members on both sides of the parliament. Obviously my Labor colleagues have been very grateful for the investments in their electorates, but I noticed also that the member for Parkes—
I make a brief intervention. Does the minister believe that the waste of $500,000, which is sunk in the Sorell GP superclinic, is good value for taxpayers' money?
No, I will just keep answering the question. Thanks very much. The member for Parkes said of the GP superclinic in Gunnedah, which used to be in his electorate: 'It was a long-held dream. It is an exciting model. It is co-located near the hospital. It will make doctors much more efficient. They will be able to walk in from the hospital back into the medical centre. It will be great for students and it will also help attract more medical professionals. It will be great for the people of Gunnedah—
Dr Southcott interjecting—
It is not the usual procedure in consideration in detail for the interventions to apply. You have an opportunity to ask the questions and the minister has an opportunity to reply to those questions. It is not usual practice that interventions are used to keep interrupting the minister. I ask you to resume your seat. Has the minister concluded? The time answering the questions has expired.
I want to take the opportunity to ask the minister about the expansion of the bowel cancer program. Bowel cancer, as we all would be very much aware, kills some 4,000 Australians every year and it is one of those cancers that kills more people apart from lung cancer. It is a disease that is prevalent throughout the community and it is one where early detection is critical for long-term survival because it is one of those cancers that can be cured if diagnosed at very early stages. Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer and the overall incidence is expected to increase with the ageing of our population. In my electorate of Calwell I have a very large ageing population which is why this issue is of such importance to me. It is an ageing population which is very multicultural in nature. It is a community of diversity and first-generation migrants, who are now ageing. Health issues are becoming a major facet of their ageing years.
Bowel cancer generally is a great economic burden to the health system and therefore early detection and a possible cure is much healthier for the community and for the budget itself. The introduction of the national screening program to detect bowel cancer and its early signs was a 2004 election commitment of the Labor government and indeed the Liberal Party as well. Eight years later, the program has been successful. It was a program that was made available to people at the age of 50. I got my first bowel screening kit when I turned 50. I considered it to be a birthday present from the Commonwealth government. I looked at it for some weeks and wondered what I should be doing with it and eventually summoned the courage to open it up and have a look at it. It took me a while to work it out, but eventually I submitted my tests only to find that I was caught up in that batch that was faulty and had to do it again. In any case, this little birthday present is extended to people when they turn 55 and 65. The reality is that there has been a long-term campaign from the community and from Cancer Australia to have that program expanded to be made available to people over 50 free of charge.
Minister, for the benefit of the many people in my electorate who wrote to me who were part of that campaign, I wanted to let the Federation Chamber know that those people found the program to be extremely valuable, useful and important—a life-saving device. But, as Maria Tatii from Roxburgh Park said, 'I would like to see this Australian government take bowel seriously and make a commitment in the next budget to make bowel cancer screening free for all Australians over 50.' She goes on to say that the government has a very real opportunity to prevent the deaths of hundreds of Australians every year if it commits to free bowel cancer screening. Diane, from Greenvale in my electorate, points out that more than 22,000 Australians have already asked the government to get behind the bowel screening campaign. These of course are letters that were sent to me in March of this year. Minister, can you please tell us: how will Australians benefit from the government's expansion of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?
I thank the member for Calwell for her long-term commitment to the expansion of the Bowel Cancer Screening Program. I know that it is an issue that she is very passionate about. She has campaigned on it in her electorate and she has translated materials into community languages in her electorate. Even though my colleagues here were having a little giggle about your story of your 50th birthday, I think that the approach that you are taking in speaking openly about your experiences is so very important for community leaders. We will all get asked eventually whether we are prepared to put our money where our mouths are.
The 2012-13 budget locks in the government's support for an expanded Bowel Cancer Screening Program. From 1 July 2013 people who are turning 60 will join the program. From 1July 2015 people turning 70 will be invited to participate. That means around five million Australians will be offered free screening over the next four years. We are moving to five-yearly screenings for the people in that target population group. That is almost $50 million extra investment—$49.7 million extra investment in the program over the next four years.
We have also locked in our commitment to moving progressively to two-yearly screening beyond that. We will implement the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines to implement biannual screening. Some people have asked why we cannot do it sooner. We do actually have capacity constraints. When people have something of concern that shows up in their testing, of course, they are often then referred for a colonoscopy. We need to be able to offer those procedures to the population. From 2017 invitations to undergo screening every two years will be progressively extended to all Australians between 50 and 74 years of age starting with 72-year-olds in 2017. Two-yearly screening, as I said, will bring us into line with recommendations from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Phasing the implementation will ensure appropriate delivery mechanisms are in place and enable an adequate workforce to be built as demand for colonoscopies grow. The Cancer Council has described the bowel cancer screening plan as another milestone in this government's effort to reduce the impact of cancer. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer related deaths in Australia. Eighty people die of bowel cancer each week and the majority are aged over 50 years. As the member for Calwell said, 3,800 Australian die each year from bowel cancer. In 2000-2001, bowel cancer had the highest health system cost after non-melanoma skin cancer.
During phase two of this testing more than 1,100 suspected or confirmed cancers and more 3,300 pre-cancerous lesions were detected and removed from program participants. Almost 80 per cent of bowel cancers removed were in the two earliest stages of cancer spread. The most important thing to know about bowel cancer is that it is a type of cancer that it is very treatable if discovered early, which of course this screening program is all about. Early detection is the best way of fighting bowel cancer. The extension of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program will save lives, and early detection of disease will significantly reduce the cost of treatment and the burden, of course, on patients themselves and on their families.
It is estimated that when biannual screening is fully implemented, approximately four million people will be screened and more than 12,000 suspected or confirmed cancers will be detected annually. This will potentially save or prevent 300 to 500 Australian deaths each year. As the program is expanded, the Commonwealth will seek to increase awareness of the potential benefits of early detection through screening and work to increase participation in the program. I have to congratulate the member for Calwell on the campaigning that she has done in her local electorate, including those translations into community languages of materials promoting the screening program. Of course, the government is currently working with our stakeholders to increase the participation rates, particularly in some groups in the community that are not returning the tests. They are being invited to participate and not returning the tests. That particularly applies to younger groups, Indigenous Australians and some people from non-English speaking backgrounds. Also, rural Australians have lower response rates than people living in urban areas. We need not just to offer the screening but to make sure that people are taking up the opportunity of the screening. Population screening is intended to detect cancer and precancerous lesions in asymptomatic people. That is why it is important to get those groups, even when they are not showing symptoms. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Health. I am talking about food security issues on the APY Lands in South Australia, and Mai Wiru Regional Stores Council in particular. Minister, could you just clarify with me whether you have made any representations to the minister in charge of family services for the future of Mai Wiru? Could you confirm that in fact the news from News Limited papers today that there are no plans for future food security in the APY Lands after 30 June are correct, as has been stated? Have you made any personal representations to gain that certainty around food security issues? Can you explain the decision why there is no arrangement for future provision of community stores funding into the APY Lands from 30 June, familiarise yourself with exactly how much money is provided to Mai Wiru and also perform some level of cost-effective analysis of Mai Wiru's performance compared to Outback Stores in the Northern Territory?
Does the minister have some indication of how much money is unexpended within Outback Stores allocations—the two allocations that have been made since their establishment in 2005? Have you been prepared to extend that cost-effective analysis or even an open tender process for that provision of food security and funding to community stores in the APY area, given that Outback Stores focuses predominantly on the Northern Territory? Can you confirm that the view of the government is that there is unspent money with Outback Stores, and that one way to fund APY Stores is to cut off or terminate the funding to Mai Wiru? Finally, has your department facilitated any consultation with community leaders in the APY Lands on the health issues surrounding food security and the continuality of Mai Wiru? Has your department or yourself spoken to Nganampa Health Council, NPY Women's Council or APY Council?
Briefly, on another matter, the Gathering Place in western Melbourne have been seeking meetings with their local members, without success, to talk about issues relating to the future of the Gathering Place. I understand that as recently as today they have been attempting to meet with their local members on issues of the continuity of the Gathering Place. Would you be prepared to direct your local members in that area to meet with their constituents? They are the members for Maribyrnong, Lalor and Jagajaga?
I am not responsible for local members, including the Prime Minister. She is able to make her own decisions. But if those people want to talk to me I am more than happy to talk to them—if you want to pass on to them to come and see me, that is not a problem.
Secondly, you have identified a couple of issues with Mai Wiru, none of which are my responsibility, which is a bit of an issue for us being to be able to respond to you in the way in which you require. I am very conscious of Mai Wiru circumstances, however. I was at Uluru a week ago, and I met with one of the staff members from Mai Wiru. We had a discussion about their current predicament. As a result of that discussion, we initiated some discussions with Minister Macklin's office. We are in discussion at the moment about the way forward.
I am very conscious of the role that Mai Wiru has played in the APY Lands. I am particularly conscious of the role that it had in educating people about food security, in particular about appropriate foods. You would be aware of Amata Store, where the store committee took a decision—which was I think probably not supported initially by the store manager—to remove all high-sugar content drinks off the shelf. That actually had the desired impact of taking quite a significant amount of sugar out of the diets of the local community. Of course you are well aware as the shadow minister and as a medical practitioner of the issues to do with diabetes in that community. That was a very worthwhile thing to do.
The Department of Health of Ageing had previously been responsible for providing some resources to Mai Wiru. Our final engagement with that process was, I think, the last financial year when FaHCSIA took over that responsibility. As I said, can I assure the member that there are discussions going on at the moment with FaHCSIA to decide on the way forward to make sure we can do something for Mai Wiru. How that will pan out I am not in a position to say at this very moment, but I am very keen to try and accommodate the concerns and issues that are involved with Mai Wiru. You have identified food security as an issue of great importance, which it is. Outback Stores provide a service in the Northern Territory, not in South Australia. There has been some talk about Mai Wiru transferring into Outback Stores. Mai Wiru have taken the decision that they do not want to do that. They want to remain independent and they have every right to do that. We need to have a discussion with them about the way forward and we will do that. So it is right on the radar.
My question is to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing in relation to the reforms in the Living Longer Living Better package that I understand provides $3.7 billion over five years for aged care. It is a 10-year program that creates a system which provides older Australians with more choice, control and easier access to a full range of services where they want it and when they need it. I certainly welcome the fact the reforms give priority to providing more support and care in the home, and that is particularly relevant for my electorate of Deakin which has a very high proportion of older residents. A quick look at the roll as to how many are over the age of 65 shows there are over 22,000. Of course that does not count those who are not on the roll, but it is a very high percentage to have in an electorate. It certainly shows because when I get around the electorate and talk to people I see that we do have a high percentage of older people. Many of these people will either be receiving care and support or thinking about how they will manage it in the future. Deakin in particular has many suburbs in it where a lot of people moved into the electorate, sometimes 50 or 60 years ago, and have lived their whole adult life in the same house and actually never left. It is pretty renowned for that, especially parts of Ringwood East, and even parts of Blackburn.
Increasing funding for home and community care, I am sure, will go a long way to helping match the huge demand that exists for these services. My area—and I know many other areas—are only going to grow in the future, so I welcome the recent round of home and community care funding which was announced on 8 June to expand the number of local places available. This provides older people living in the community with better access to a range of domestic assistance, personal care, social support and respite, and provides help for them to maybe not have to move so soon into residential care. I understand across Victoria that HACC services were boosted by an additional $21.9 million with the latest round of funding. From that, organisations in the electorate of Deakin have received $632,000 in additional funding for HACC services under this round. I know that these funds are going to be used to help keep people in their homes for longer.
I also understand this funding is on top of funding currently in the area and included funds for a number of capital grants. Whilst there are many programs that provide a range of support services in the home, at the moment these programs are often fragmented and inconsistent, leaving older people and their families confused and not always being treated fairly as their needs change. For some time now there has been a demand for more community care options in my electorate. As I have said, it is a demand that cannot be totally satisfied by the new and welcome investments and increased HACC funding.
Minister, I understand that as part of the Living Longer Living Better aged-care reform, $75.3 million has been invested to establish a new Commonwealth home support program which will bring together existing basic home support services. I also understand that a further $880 million has been provided to increase the number of home care packages across the country by nearly $40,000 to around $100,000. The Living Longer Living Better package would seem to provide an opportunity to many of my senior constituents who wish to live for longer in their own homes. As I said, I have a great number across the electorate, and it is quite similar for that part of Melbourne as well. So obviously that demographic does not stop at the boundaries of the electorate of Deakin. Can the minister please outline the timetable for the improvements contained in this much needed reform?
I thank the member for Gippsland for his interest in this question. I thank the member for Deakin for his advocacy for better aged-care services across the country, but particularly in relation to his electorate. He has outlined the importance of that just in demographic terms to the Federation Chamber. The Prime Minister made a commitment before the last election that aged-care reform would be a priority for this term of government, and this budget delivers on that commitment. That commitment by the Prime Minister does not deny the quality of aged-care services and the contribution that our aged-care system has made to the wellbeing of older Australians for many years. We are proud, and should be proud, of the aged-care system that we work with now and have worked with since the mid-1980s, because it has served this country well. It was largely put in place in the mid-1980s by the Hawke government and it was built around the idea of residential care, or nursing homes and hostels then. It was the Keating government that started the system of Community Aged Care Packages, as they are called at the moment.
The Howard government, when the member for Mackellar was the Minister for Aged Care, extended the in-home care system to a high-care system with the introduction of EACH packages. This is a system that has evolved over time, but it seems that, from feedback I receive from the sector—from aged-care providers, consumer groups and, most importantly, from older Australians themselves—it is one that is not serving the needs and preferences of older Australians as well as it should.
After we asked for an inquiry by the Productivity Commission into Australia's aged-care sector, the report on which was received mid last year, I conducted a series of conversations across the country in capital cities and regional areas—including the parliamentary secretary's electorate in Ballarat, among many others—to hear from older Australians about their expectations of and their experiences with aged care. If there was one message that was repeated in every single conversation, it was that older Australians want a system that supports them to stay in their own homes for as long as possible and if possible, for the whole of their lives. The system we currently work with just does not do that sufficiently. So the central theme of the Living Longer Living Better package is to expand opportunities, expand support systems for people in their retirement, in their older age, to enable them to stay at home for as long as possible and—as I said—if possible, for the whole of their lives.
As the member for Deakin outlined, there is significant reform proposed for the Home and Community Care Program. Some of that extends from the National Health Reform Agreement, where all the states, except for Victoria and Western Australia, agreed essentially to hand over control of the HACC Program to the Commonwealth for people over the age of 65, and which will be consummated, I guess, in its entirety from 1 July this year. We will be consolidating the HACC Program, along with the National Respite for Carers Program, the Day Therapy Centre Program and others, to form a new home support program that will be flexible, will involve a review of service type for the first time since the mid-1980s and, importantly, will be grown in the forward estimates by six per cent in real terms to ensure that an expansion of these services tracks the expansion in demand that goes with the ageing of the population.
The member for Deakin also talked about home care packages or what we have previously called Community Aged Care Packages and EACH packages. Again, there is a substantial expansion of those packages in this policy, to the tune of around 40,000 additional packages over the coming five years—an expansion by about two-thirds on top of the existing supply, or an expansion of about 110 per cent since we came to government. Not only are we expanding the numbers; we are also introducing two new levels of package. There is one to reflect the fact, as outlined by the Productivity Commission, that the gap between the Community Aged Care Package and the EACH package is too significant and there needs to be a package in between; and there is a lower-level package to smooth the path from the home support program into more complex community care. We have also taken up the learnings from the consumer directed care pilot that was conducted over the last 12 or 18 months, and all new packages from next year and all existing packages from about July 2015will be transitioned to a consumer directed care model. So there are substantial reforms in the package, particularly for those older Australians who want more options to stay at home for longer.
My questions are to the Minister for Health. Has any component of the government's $325 million Tasmanian package been previously announced or formed part of any other package or program? Can the minister explain, in relation to the Tasmanian bailout, why the National Health Reform Agreement signed only in August 2011 has been deficient in providing for the Tasmanian health system? Why is there nothing in the health reform agreement which would prevent a jurisdiction withdrawing funding from frontline services sometime in the future? Can the minister please explain why a further $36.8 million was required to be allocated to the rollout of the personally controlled electronic health record system in Tasmania? How will $24 million over four years be used to 'support innovation in clinical services'? What will be the employment arrangements for doctors at the walk-in clinics in Hobart and Launceston? Other than Medicare, how will the funding work, and how will the arrangements otherwise financially operate for these walk-in clinics?
I thank the shadow minister for his questions because I am very proud of this $325 million package for Tasmania. The Tasmanian health system has been in trouble for some time. They removed funding in their last budget and they continued that reduced funding in their most recent budget. That has had a serious impact on patients in Tasmania, particularly in the area of elective surgery. My Labor colleagues and the Independent member for Denison were very clear with me that they felt there was a role for the Commonwealth to play in the Tasmanian health system for these reasons.
Tasmania is a state which has had some budget problems recently. It is also a state that has an older than the national average population, and it has a faster ageing population than the national average. It also has a higher burden of chronic disease than the national average. You see more incidence of diabetes, for example, and obesity related illnesses. The indicators for those illnesses are also higher than the national average. You see more smoking, higher rates of alcohol consumption, greater rates of poverty and social exclusion, which are also linked to reduced health outcomes, and of course higher unemployment than in many other parts of Australia. The preconditions in the Tasmanian health system were ones that concerned me and the reduced funding from the Tasmanian government is, as I have said in the other chamber in the past, something that I have been very concerned about.
At the end of the day it is the welfare of Tasmanian patients that should concern all of us and this $325 million package is designed to improve the welfare and services available to Tasmanian patients. The package has a number of elements to it and the shadow minister has asked about a couple of them in particular. He has asked about the e-health funding. This funding is not specifically for the rollout of the personally controlled e-health record system in the way that he is suggesting. This is an opportunity to test in a closed system the way that we can better use personally controlled e-health records, so that we actually have in a state system the future functionality that we hope for in the national system. Some of the features of the personally controlled e-health record that will make it very valuable to clinicians over time include things like the ability for a range of different health professionals to see hospital discharge summaries and things like pathology tests and diagnostic imaging that have been conducted for a particular patient. Being able to roll out some of those advanced features of e-health in a system like Tasmania gives Tasmanian patients better improvements in their care because where you have more patients with chronic and complex conditions you have more health professionals seeing each patient. Having that integration in health records is much more important where there are more patients with chronic and complex health conditions. It also gives us a good learning opportunity as a nation to see what the future of e-health for the whole of Australia will look like.
The shadow minister also asked about a number of other elements of the package. There is a $31.2 million elective surgery blitz that will provide about 2,600 extra surgeries. There is $22 million to establish the walk-in clinics in Hobart and Launceston, and we will enter into negotiations with potential operators of those clinics. We are happy to do that in partnership with the Tasmanian government, if that is possible. We are yet to examine that.
Mr Dutton interjecting—
No. There were claims by the Tasmanian Liberals that these are re-announcements. These are not re-announcements. This is $325 million of new funding that we will find for the benefits of the patients of Tasmania. We are also investing extra money through Tasmanian Medicare Locals to deal better with preventing and managing chronic diseases, including through team care arrangements. There is almost $75 million for better discharge from hospital and better palliative care in the community. (Time expired)
I have a question for the minister concerning the $515.3 million investment in dental health. About two years ago, I met a man at Telopea station, who came up quite embarrassed. He was a reasonably attractive man of about 40, very lively, but incredibly embarrassed because he had four front teeth missing. The bridge that he had had for 12 years had broken and he had been without it for nearly a year. It had no doubt affected his life. He was unprepared to invite anyone out on a date, he had not worked in all that time—he was too embarrassed to apply for work—and he was finding it very difficult to eat. Anything that had to be bitten through was not an option for him. We managed to help him. About six months later I bumped into him again and he was in a relationship and he was working. His life had profoundly turned around, simply because he could access something that, for many Australians, is a normal thing—good dental care—but for many others is not.
Since the axing of the Commonwealth dental scheme in the first days of the Howard government, there are more and more people in exactly that circumstance, whose lifestyle, self-image, employment prospects and health are dramatically affected. I have met people in my electorate who, while on waiting lists, have spent unacceptably long periods of time on painkillers while they wait for their emergency dental treatment.
Minister, I was pleased to welcome you on the visit to the Westmead Centre for Oral Health. It is undoubtedly one of the best public dental hospitals in the country. I have to say, compared to the way it was about six years ago, it is good to see it completely refurbished and full of people doing some quite good-quality training. This government, over the last four years, has slowly been building that dental workforce. I noticed when some of the announcements were made in the last couple of budgets that we were preparing, in a sense, for something larger along this line.
There are many challenges, as were raised by some of the people at the Westmead Centre for Oral Health. I am wondering, in your consultation, what challenges you see that we face, and how you expect to be able to address issues such as regional disadvantage and staffing issues.
I particularly welcome the member for Parramatta's question. I was very grateful to her for inviting me out to the Westmead Centre for Oral Health. It was a terrific visit and I was very impressed by the work that they are doing out there, not just for the people in the region that they directly service but also in sending some of their graduate dentists out to other locations, providing services in rural and regional locations.
I am very pleased that we were able to put $515 million into the most recent budget for dental health. This is something that I said in my first press conference as the new health minister would be a priority for me. This package is a very good start for a better system of meeting the needs of low-income people who cannot afford to see a dentist in the current state of affairs. About $345.9 million will be spent on increasing the efforts to deliver services to the around 400,000 people around Australia that are on waiting lists for public dental services. The member for Parramatta mentioned the Commonwealth Dental Health Program. That was the last time that we saw a really significant effort made to bring down the dental waiting lists and make a big difference to those people who rely on public dental services. But the member for Parramatta also rightly mentioned some of the challenges around the dental workforce.
We probably have plenty of dentists, but one of the difficulties is that we do not have plenty of dentists in different parts of Australia. We have a reasonable amount of services in city areas, but when you go into outer-suburban, regional and particularly remote communities—and the Minister for Indigenous Health is nodding in agreement—these areas are very significantly underserviced. We will be putting $35.7 million into increasing the number of placements available on the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program from 50 to 100 placements each year by 2016. This is a very important workforce measure for those communities. There will be $45.2 million to introduce a similar scheme for oral health therapists offering 50 places per annum from 2014, and $77.7 million over four years for relocation and infrastructure grants to encourage and support dentists who want to relocate and practise in regional, rural or remote areas.
We have allocated $10½ million for national oral health promotion activities. It is very important to remind people that for many years there were decreasing rates of caries amongst young people. In recent times there has been a kick up in some of those statistics. Whether it is sugared soft drinks, a change in diet with more processed foods or busy parents who are not supervising their children brushing their teeth we do not know, but it is a very serious issue and we need to remind people of good oral health habits. We have also allocated $450,000 for a program to pilot the back-office support for the pro bono dental work that many dentists are keen to do and are doing, but they have asked for better support to organise themselves so that they are able to offer free services to homeless people, women and children living in refuges, refugees and others who would otherwise wait or would not be eligible for the public dental scheme.
It is also important that through the Health and Hospitals Fund we have provided $133 million for 11 dental projects delivering 228 new dental chairs. The Health and Hospitals Fund will deliver a further 48 chairs as part of eight new oral health infrastructure projects. That includes things like the recently opened $2.1 million 10-chair teaching dental clinic in the Adelaide Dental Hospital, an extra 52,500 hours of clinical training over the next five years for undergraduate dental and oral health students. That investment in tackling waiting lists, building up our workforce and making sure that that workforce as it is built up is available to practise not only in our city areas. (Time expired)
Minister, I would like to ask about the electronic health record. It is now just 12 days until the promised start date for the electronic health record. Can the minister confirm that the national IT infrastructure being built by the Accenture Oracle consortium is not yet live? Can the minister advise the parliament and health professionals when it will be live? Is the minister still committed to launching the National Authentication Service for Health or NASH on 26 June? If not, when will the NASH be ready?
Can the minister explain the basis of the interim system provided by Medicare used to cover for the missing NASH? Was there any additional cost involved in providing this interim service and how long does the minister expect this interim service to be in place? A spokesperson for the minister's office has been quoted today as saying, 'The delay in the delivery of the NASH will have no impact on a patient's ability to sign up for a personally controlled e-health record.' Can the minister advise the parliament as to whether this delay in the delivery of the NASH will have an impact on the ability for a practitioner to upload data to a patient's electronic health record?
Can the minister confirm that people will not be able to register online for an electronic health record on 1 July? Has the upgrade to the Medicare operated healthcare identifiers services been completed to interface with the PCEHR? When will this be complete? Is this project behind schedule and if so why? When will GPs be able to upload material and patient information to a personally controlled electronic health record? When will GPs be able to download material from an electronic health record? If you cannot provide the date can you provide the month? If you cannot provide the month can you provide the year?
Starting with the National Authentication Service for Health, the NASH, it is a COAG funded e-health project that is being overseen by the National E-Health Transition Authority, or NEHTA, which is governed by a board that includes representatives of the Commonwealth and of every state and territory. The NASH is designed to do three key things: to authenticate healthcare providers who want to use the personally controlled electronic health record; to make sure that only authorised healthcare providers are able to use the system; and to provide the digital certificates and signatures to support secure messaging capabilities—for example, the electronic referrals from one healthcare professional to another, paperless electronic prescriptions and so on.
NEHTA contracted IBM to build and implement NASH by July this year. That work has not been completed, so there is a new timetable for IBM to deliver that work. Any cost for the revised timetable will not be passed on to taxpayers. A new timetable will have no impact on patient registration for the PCEHR, which is scheduled to begin in July. The Department of Health and Ageing has worked with the Department of Human Services to develop an interim authentication solution that will be available until the NASH is up and running later this year. That solution will leverage off the DHS existing public key infrastructure system—at the GP practice GPs will notice no difference.
As we have said before, we expect patients to begin registering from July and that providers will come on later. We are taking this step by step because this is a large and complex project, and since I took over as minister I have said that this will be done carefully, step by step.
The shadow parliamentary secretary also asked about online registration. We have said from the very beginning that in-person and telephone registration will come before online registration. The 1 July date has been for phone and in-person registration. I have made it as clear as I can in a number of public statements and a number of speeches that we do not expect a flood of people from the beginning of July to start registering themselves for their personally controlled e-health records. What we expect is that patients in wave sites who have GPs who are already participating in one way or another in the e-health project will be the people who are likely to benefit very early on.
Our further expectation is that people to whom this will appeal early on will be people with chronic and complex health conditions who are interacting with a number of different health professionals. They might be seeing a GP, several specialists, allied health professionals and others. For people who go to the doctor once a year it is not going to be on top of their list of things to do on 1 July, and I understand that. The other thing that will happen over time is that the functionality—
When what? When will they register? When will 23 million Australians register? They will do it gradually over time. The next thing I was going to mention is that the functionality of the personally controlled e-health record will become much more appealing for patients, GPs and other health professionals as Medicare data and PBS historic data are downloaded into those systems. We expect that to happen in the second half of this year as well. That will make it, obviously, a much more appealing proposition for both GPs and patients.
I think it is very important to say that this is a project about which Tony Abbott, as health minister in 2003, was saying if it did not happen during the time that he was health minister—and he was health minister for five years— (Time expired)
I was very lucky to have the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing visit my electorate not that long ago, where we held a forum to discuss the Productivity Commission's report on caring for older Australians. Many things were discussed that day. We had over 150 of my constituents turn up at the forum, which was held at Morphettville. As I said, lots of things were discussed that deal with ageing and with aged care—everything from taxation issues to a whole range of other issues. I would like to congratulate the minister for answering each and every question and, of course, for getting back to many of the constituents' questions we had that day.
A major aspect of that particular discussion and dialogue, which people raised and something that was very concerning, was about the current and increasing number of people with dementia—which is increasing at a very fast rate—and what this government is intending to do in this area. My question and the discussion I want to have today is: can the minister provide us with an update on policy and budget measures in this area of responsibility? We know that dementia is increasing; there are figures that are showing that it will more than double in a few years. The early detection of dementia and the care for those who are suffering dementia, as well as their carers, is becoming a very big issue. With an electorate like mine, one of the oldest electorates in the country—I like to call it the electorate with the highest wisdom, but that is another issue—I would certainly like to hear more about what is happening, where we are heading and what we can do about dementia.
I thank the member for Hindmarsh for his question. Can I say that, from the government's perspective, the chairpersonship of the member for Hindmarsh on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing has been extraordinarily valuable for the government. I know that that committee is now conducting an inquiry in dementia, so, not only does the member for Hindmarsh represent the wisest electorate but he is also deeply engaged in some of the issues he alluded to in his question, particularly around the emerging epidemic of dementia. I also know, having been a close friend and supporter of his since he was first a candidate for the seat of Hindmarsh in 1998, that he has been very closely engaged in all of that time with the aged care sector and so understands the issues intimately.
Dementia, as the member for Hindmarsh indicated, is an emerging epidemic in this country. Currently, around 300,000 Australians live with dementia and that number is expected to double every 20 years, to the point of more than a million experiencing or living with dementia by 2050 if we do not make very serious inroads into our capacity to detect it early and to treat it, if not entirely cure it. Dementia is a very significant challenge to the community. It is going to be the leading cause of disability across Australia by 2016. It obviously is already the leading cause of disability for older Australians, but will be, in health terms, the leading cause of disability generally in the Australian population in only four years time. The ABS data that was released recently indicates that the number of deaths caused by dementia over the last decade increased by 140 per cent.
Alzheimer's Australia is the key organisation in this area and has been running a very effective and very valuable campaign called Fight Dementia, that used the opportunity presented by the Productivity Commission's inquiry to raise public consciousness, and frankly consciousness within this building, about issues associated with dementia. I said, at a number of their forums, that a response to the Productivity Commission report and a response to the aged care reform challenge that did not have at its heart a response to the dementia epidemic would not be a decent response. I am very pleased to indicate to the Federation Chamber and to the member for Hindmarsh that dementia is at the centre of the Living Longer, Living Better policy that they Prime Minister and I outlined some time ago—to the tune of $268 million in new initiatives to deal with the dementia epidemic. We have also indicated, the Minister for Health and I, that we will be taking to the August meeting of health ministers, a proposal that dementia be added to the existing list of eight national health priorities. We are very confident that will get the support of all of the state and territory ministers, and for the first time, dementia will be recognised for what it is: a national health priority.
Within the Living Longer, Living Better package, there are a range of elements dealing with the challenge of dementia. Firstly, all home-care packages from July 2013 will attract a dementia supplement of 10 per cent for those recipients of home care who have a dementia diagnosis. Currently, only about six per cent of home-care recipients qualify for the EACHD package, which is a package particularly designed for people living with dementia. Our reforms will mean that 26 per cent of home-care recipients—from six to 26 per cent of home-care recipients—will qualify for a 10 per cent supplement on their entitlement to home care. Additionally, we are introducing a new supplement in residential care to deal with the needs of people with very severe dementia—the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.
We are introducing new elements to the DBMAS scheme, the Dementia Behavioural Management Advisory Scheme, to deal with the particular needs that Indigenous Australians and Australians of a CALD background have when experiencing dementia, particularly language reversion—reversion out of English, even if they have very good adopted English, to their original language—and all the additional challenges that presents in terms of providing them with care and support. There is funding available for more timely diagnosis, dealing with the challenge that more than three years is the average time taken to give a proper diagnosis of dementia—lost years in terms of a family's capacity to get the supports and to make the plans that they need to live life as well as they possibly can with such a very serious condition. I thank the member for Hindmarsh for his question. I am very proud of the dementia elements in this package.
I refer to page 193 of the Budget Paper No. 1, dealing with the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, which is particularly of interest to seniors. I notice there is an allocation of $49.7 million over four years to increase the frequency of testing. I also note that this program is not to be fully implemented until 2034. I find those sort of projections amazing when one would expect technology and treatments to improve over that period of time. I would like to ask the minister whether or not—
Well, I think we will stick with Minister Plibersek. I would like to ask the minister why it will not be implemented until 2034 and how that year of 2034 was derived. How much will full biennial screening cost in 2034? What evidence does the government have that faecal occult blood tests will still be the most appropriate test in 2034?
I would then like to ask about the program relating to personal income tax changes with regard to the net medical expenses tax offset and I would like to know whether the department of health was consulted on the impact of the changes that that would make. I would like to know how many Australians are likely to be affected by the changes. It will impact particularly on self-funded retirees, and this is the change that will means test the net medical expenses tax offset to $84,000 for singles and $168,000 for couples. I would like to know how many Australians of pensionable age will be affected, and given the impact of the carbon tax on the disposal income for those people, I would like to know what compensation, if any, is being planned for the damage you are doing to them.
The Bowel Cancer Screening Program is moving first of all to five-yearly screening for the target population group and then eventually to biennial screening for the target population group. The reason the introduction of the screening and the expansion of the screening has been staged is that when people undertake the tests, as you increase the population group undertaking the test, you increase the number of people who have something of concern that needs further investigation. That something of concern that needs further investigation often results in a person being referred for a colonoscopy. The workforce constraints, the medical equipment constraints and the number of colonoscopies that we can do could not, if we flicked a switch tomorrow, cover all of the people who would be picked up by screening. With the help of our clinical advisers people who will turn 60 on the 1 July 2013 will join the program. From 1 July 2015 people turning 70 will be invited to participate in the screening—so we move to five-yearly screening. About five million Australians will be offered screening over the next four years requiring an investment of around an extra $50 million.
We have locked in our commitment for two-yearly screening for all Australians aged between 50 and 74. The next group that will be added are 72-year-olds. From 2017 invitations to undergo screening every two years will be progressively extended to all Australians aged between 50 and 74 years of age, as I said, starting with 72-year-olds in 2017. The two-yearly screening is in line with the NHMRC recommendation, but Cancer Australia and other cancer advocacy organisations have welcomed this recommendation and understand the importance of phasing because they understand that it is important to have the facilities and the personnel in place to do the screening.
The member or Mackellar has also asked about whether faecal occult blood testing will be the most appropriate screening available in 2034. It is absolutely impossible to know the answer to that. People will be offered screening and the method of that screening will be something for clinical decision by clinicians and researchers in partnership with the government in 2034. I certainly hope that the member for Mackellar and I are around to have this discussion in 2034. The great thing about medical science and health and medical research is that new treatments, new tests and new preventions are being discovered all the time. I would hope that the member for Mackellar is just as excited as I am about the potential for an easier, less invasive test than colonoscopy somewhere down the track.
Then it is a ridiculous point to make. To say that we are unhappy that there will be better tests, perhaps, in 2034 is a ridiculous point to make.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting—
This is an invitation to undergo a test. If a better test is invented by 2034, we will all be kicking our heels up. We will be excited; we will happy. That will be a good thing. It will be a good thing for individuals and for our health system. I think the other question was about the net medical expenses tax offset. The means test for the net medical expenses tax offset allows the government to create greater capacity in health, education and other priority areas of spending. We are targeting our tax offsets for net medical expenses to those who most need them. (Time expired)
Today I rise to speak about the issue of the Health and Hospitals Fund and the important role it is playing in improving health services across Australia, particularly in regional and rural Australia, which my seat is within. Rural and regional communities have a range of difficulties—which I am sure the minister is aware of—when it comes to accessing high quality healthcare. Corangamite, the federal seat that I represent has two issues—population growth and an ageing population—which are providing a large challenge for the medical infrastructure and the health and hospital infrastructure that we have in place. I was very pleased to have supported the Geelong cancer centre. The minister has been working exceptionally hard to deliver a cancer centre to help support the treatment of cancer, not only, importantly, in the Geelong area but across the whole of western Victoria. If you look at any of the statistics on cancer treatment within the regions, there is absolutely no doubt that regional Australia has in the past suffered. The cancer centres are a hallmark of this government, and the $26 million being delivered to the Geelong region for a new innovative cancer centre is, I think, very, very important.
I also noted—and had a great deal of pleasure in accompanying the Minister for Health to—the announcement that we made in Point Lonsdale about helping to support the Bellarine Community Health service. Labor has had a very long and proud history of supporting community health services. It was Labor, way back in 1972, that established the first of the community health centres—the Bellarine Community Health centre—so I was very pleased to join with the minister in announcing, with her, the $3 million to upgrade that fantastic service. I know that the Bellarine community is very proud of the role of the Bellarine Community Health service and the role that it plays in that part of my seat.
I was also very pleased to note that this budget delivers $2.8 million towards a hydrotherapy pool to help service the Colac community. Again, I would like to thank the minister for that announcement. Colac is located about an hour's drive west of Geelong. If you are someone who suffers from a workplace injury or from a traffic accident injury, being able to access hydrotherapy services is, I think, critical for you. But the reality is that, up until this announcement, people in Colac had to drive an hour east to Geelong to receive those services. From talking to physiotherapists and other allied health practitioners as well as doctors, I understand that often any benefit that might have come from hydrotherapy was lost on a patient as a consequence of their having to spend a couple of hours in a car.
I would like to acknowledge and thank you, Minister, for that very important funding to the Colac community. When I was down there making the announcement, it was pointed out to me that the Colac community had fought for a very significant number of years to receive that funding. It was through the innovative approach of the Health and Hospitals Fund that enabled us to do that, and so I was very pleased.
My question is: Tony Abbott as the health minister ripped a lot of money out of the budget. I would like you to discuss that.
I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. He has certainly been a very keen advocate for his local community and it was a great pleasure to go with him to the Bellarine Community Health Centre and see the excellent work they do and to speak to their staff about the excellent service they provide. I also saw that the environment there is a little bit run-down. It is a longstanding community health service and this funding gives them the opportunity to improve their patient care by upgrading the physical infrastructure of the place. It is a great feeling to be able to support such a great service by helping them out with a little bit of funding for their physical infrastructure.
The Health and Hospitals Fund has been a terrific investment in health infrastructure around Australia. It has contributed to the building and rebuilding of valuable health facilities in capital cities, suburban areas, regional towns and remote locations right across Australia. This is $5 billion which is being put into health infrastructure; it is $5 billion supporting a huge range of different types of projects like the two that the member for Corangamite spoke about. I have had the enormous pleasure of looking at these facilities and projects from Aurukun on Cape York, to the bottom of Tasmania, over to South Australia and the west—
The coalition has taken responsibility for the Health and Hospitals Fund. There is $475 million in the most recent budget which is going into new and upgraded health facilities in regional Australia. The government is fully delivering on that $1.8 billion commitment that it made to have a regional priority round for the Health and Hospitals Fund. In the most recent budget there are 76 new projects for communities right across Australia, giving patients better access to hospital services in the bush. This infrastructure investment is giving us long-term improvement in health infrastructure as well as providing much needed local jobs during the building and construction phases of these projects.
The patients will benefit from these projects in communities right across Australia, including multipurpose services in regional centres like Broken Hill, Bundaberg, Griffith, Hillston, Kempsey, Lismore, Peak Hill and Warracknabeal. There are new and integrated upgraded facilities to support additional dental services, which I alluded to earlier, to benefit patients in areas like Cranbrook, Murray Bridge, Pilbara, Kimberley and Yamba. I went to the site of the new Yamba community health facility as well. There is fantastic local support for that. They have been campaigning and arguing for that for many years, and we were able to deliver it for the community of Yamba. There are services like the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, with additional funding for aircraft and patient transfer facilities, and mobile oral health facilities and staff accommodation.
One of the supports that this new infrastructure investment gives is the ability to house and train GPs, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in areas like Broken Hill, Ulverstone and Katherine. We know that if people train in regional or remote locations, they are much more likely to go back and work there in years to come, or to go to communities like the one they trained in. If all of their training happens in the city locations, they are much more likely to end up practising in city locations. So that infrastructure investment is not just in the bricks and mortar for today but in our workforce of the future as well. We have improved accommodation for students and health professionals including locums in communities like Ballarat, South Gippsland, Halls Creek, Mount Isa, Thursday Island, Charleville and Bairnsdale.
The investment that we have made of $5 billion through the Health and Hospitals Fund has been phenomenally important and has included some very large hospital upgrade investments, like at Lismore in New South Wales, and it has been terrifically exciting to see the improvements in patient care. But those small community projects have also been important and very well received.
My question is to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing. Has the minister been a party to or is he aware of any discussion regarding a requirement for the Department of Health and Ageing to find savings to offset the $325 million Tasmanian bailout?
Also, can the minister provide some detail in relation to the Living Longer, Living Better program? The government proposes to claw back funding based on changing categories of care. How many aged-care residents will be reclassified under the aged-care categories? For how many of these residents will a change in category result in lower payments to the aged-care provider? How much less funding will the average aged-care resident attract on a daily and annual basis? How much of the supposed increase in aged-care funding under the LLLB program is actually funded by reductions in payments per resident?
Further, Minister, is it true, as stated in the Grant Thornton reform report of June 2012, that the government is now seeking to save an additional $500 million of care subsidy in the 2012-13 year? What impact will this have upon current staffing levels across Australian residential care homes? Is it true that NACA yesterday requested a one-month delay to the ACFI savings? That relates to the question regarding the Grant Thornton report of this month. Was the minister or the government aware that over $3.5 billion in planned aged-care developments have been shelved, when did the minister first become aware of this potential issue and what has the government done to reassure the industry?
Specifically in relation to the mental health side of the minister's portfolio, of the government's reform package announced last year, what has been implemented? How much has been spent and on what? By way of example, what has opened? What is actually fully operational? Could you detail those services? What has been delayed so far?
Minister, could I also ask you a question in relation to the evaluation of the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program, which was only commenced late last year. Why was this program not evaluated earlier and when will this evaluation be released? Secondly, with the cap and freeze announced in the budget—seeing as neither the department nor the minister has seen the evaluation of the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program—on what basis was the decision taken to freeze that program? Without an evaluation, how did the department or government assess the value and effectiveness of the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program?
What stakeholders were consulted about the change? And, Minister, drawing you back to the original question, could you start with a response to the question of whether or not you have been a party to or are aware of any discussion regarding the requirement for the Department of Health and Ageing to find savings to offset the $325 million committed to the Tasmanian bail-out.
I will go superfast to try and deal with those in five minutes, and I can deal with some of them on notice if I cannot make it. In response to the first point that the shadow minister reiterated at the end, around savings for the Tasmanian program, I think the Minister for Health has made it clear that we are going to have to find money for that. As to beyond that, that is the level of discussion I have been involved in about that issue.
I want to deal in some more detail with the changes to the aged-care funding instrument, though. The shadow minister has picked up on some particular speculation by Grant Thornton with a report that had some publicity over the last several days, and this requires a bit of background. Firstly, the government introduced a new aged-care funding instrument in 2008 which we think better reflected particularly high needs of residents but also better reflected those needs than the previous system did. That was the Resident Classification Scale, the RCS, which had been in place for some years. When we did that, after significant clinical trials and engagement with the sector, the budget—the forward estimates—reflected our expectation that there would be significant frailty growth per resident for a period of some years while people were moved from the old RCS system to the ACFI system because of that better reflection of high needs. I think the per-resident growth in real terms—so over and above indexation—in the years following ACFI was in the order of six per cent or a little bit more than six per cent per-resident growth over and above indexation. That compares to the historical trend of around two per cent real growth under the RCS.
There was always the expectation that after a period of a few years the frailty growth, or the growth in care subsidies per resident, in real terms would return to those historical trends of around two per cent plus indexation, so in actual terms somewhere around four to five per cent per-resident growth in subsidies. In the lead-up to MYEFO, as the shadow minister knows, it became apparent that funding for this element of the aged-care program had not started to taper off in the way that was expected when ACFI was introduced. That was made clear in the MYEFO statement with an upward revision of aged-care expenditure for this element of the program of around $2.3 billion over the forward estimates, or around $3.2 billion over the five-year period that we have been using in discussing the Living Longer, Living Better program. The government indicated that that upward revision already assumed that the frailty growth, or the growth in per-resident subsidies, from 2012-13 onward would return to the historical trend of around two per cent. So there was already from MYEFO, in November or December or whenever MYEFO was, a very clear indication to the sector that there was an expectation that frailty growth would return to trend, as was clearly recognised as being the case when ACFI was introduced in 2008. At that time I established an ACFI monitoring group that included provider representatives, the peak groups—many of whom have engaged Grant Thornton in the recent report—consumer representatives and clinicians, to advise on what was happening out there in relation to ACFI to cause the unusual continued growth. That group has been working for some time.
I want to be clear on this, because there has been some speculation publicly about the impact of our changes. The forward estimates, or the five-year period, continue to incorporate about $3.2 billion in additional ACFI funding over that five-year period compared to the case before the MYEFO in December, and $1.6 billion—so half of that additional revenue for aged-care providers—has been redirected under the Living Longer, Living Better package. But funding under ACFI will be higher by $1.6 billion in net terms than it was before December. Now it is very clear on our modelling that per-resident growth will be 2.3 per cent in real terms each year over the next five years, so returning to the historical position before the introduction of the new ACFI. It will be 2.3 per cent in real terms, or 3.3 per cent in real terms if you include the conditional adjustment payment which is funded largely through the ACFI redirection of $1.6 billion. I reject the idea that there is a reduction in funding. There will continue to be substantial real growth in per resident funding. I will have to take the mental health and Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program questions on notice. I am always happy to talk to the shadow minister one-on-one and I welcome his interest in these programs.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Proposed expenditure, $ 2 , 380 , 994 ,000.
I refer first to the phase-out of the personal income tax mature-age worker tax offset. Minister, why did the government decide to phase out this incentive for workers to remain in the workforce? Was it simply cost-cutting? Did it have some philosophical base? It replaced policies that had been put in place by the Howard government, so I would like an answer to that.
Also I ask about the tripling of the tax-free threshold family tax benefit and the Commonwealth seniors health card, where the government claims that over four years Commonwealth seniors health card recipients will no longer have to fill out required paperwork to access the card. I would like the minister to explain why that is claimed as a benefit when the majority of people who are receiving the Commonwealth seniors health card do not pay tax in the first place, and those that do are in defined benefit schemes. I note that the Treasurer said on the issue of tripling the tax-free threshold:
For me, what’s particularly pleasing is that this tax relief is being delivered through an important reform: the tripling of the tax-free threshold.
Of course, it does not affect those who are paying no tax at all.
I would also like to know why, given that the government is using particularly the carbon tax as well as the MRRT to introduce the new tax-free threshold, you are now dressing this up as a benefit to seniors when their disposable income is being attacked. How many Commonwealth seniors health card recipients does the government actually expect will no longer need to fill out the required paperwork to access that card?
Finally, I turn to changing the Australian working life residency provisions from 25 to 35 years. Was this done merely as a money-saving exercise or is there any underpinning philosophical reason or good public policy reason? Did the government factor in the number of women who may not have worked in Australia but have reared their children during this time? These women may have no superannuation and may not have permanent housing either. How many people will be affected by this change to eligibility? What will the cost be to government to support those who have been left unsupported by the changes?
In response to the member for Mackellar, this is the consideration of the appropriation bill in relation to the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Each of the three questions she first asked in relation to the mature-age tax offsets, the tax-free threshold and issues in relation to self-funded retirees and the tax-free threshold are all in the Treasury portfolio, so are not relevant to this consideration. On the final issue that you raised—
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting—
Correct. And all of the policy measures are dealt with by the Treasurer. In relation to the working life residency rules for age pensioners, the member for Mackellar asks what the rationale was. I draw her attention to the fact that the change we are putting in place to 35 years in fact brings Australia in line with other developed or OECD countries, which generally require 35 to 45 years working life residency to receive a full pension overseas. For the member's information, France, Denmark, Japan and Canada require 40 years of pension contributions. New Zealand requires 45 years residence. So the government's view is that it is a reasonable expectation that people who receive an Australian pension have lived in Australia during their working lives and contributed to the Australian economy and community. The change that was announced in the budget does not start until 1 January 2014, and this is to make sure we give pensioners plenty of time to make the plans for overseas travel or retirement that they may be considering.
The other parts of the member's question asked what the impact would be. Obviously the numbers depend on the length of time that people already have, and I can provide that to her in a table if she would like that. I am happy to do that after this session.
If we could go back to the question of the tax-free threshold and the fact that it is in the budget papers in your department and you who will be dealing with payments, I would like those questions answered. Otherwise you can explain to me why it is in the budget papers as being your responsibility if in fact it is not.
As I have indicated to the member, these measures about the tax-free threshold are of course the Treasurer's responsibility. I am responsible for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, which is quite clear. We have two separate matters, one in relation to families. There is a measure in the budget that goes to families with incomes between $6,000 and $18,200. We are going to require that families in that income range notify the Family Assistance Office of their income at the end of each financial year. They can do that online, over the phone or in person, and the Family Assistance Office will then check that people are eligible for the assistance that they are claiming.
The Department of Human Services will be funded for any increased customer contact required for Commonwealth Seniors Health Card claims and for those claimants who do not any longer have a tax file number because they do not have to lodge a tax return. So there certainly will be a few people who are affected in this way, but we expect the numbers to be quite small.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting—
Yes, I will.
My question is also to the minister. Minister, I know you are very familiar with my electorate. I am very proud of the fact that I represent one of those areas in south-west Sydney which is, according to the ABS, the most culturally diverse electorate in the country. We are very proud that we have diversity in culture and religion and the fact that it works so well out there. It certainly has a very significant contribution to make in the greater Sydney area but also to the nation generally. A great number of the people in my electorate—50 per cent, as a matter of fact—were born overseas, with the vast majority resettled refugees. Regrettably Minister, apart from having that distinction, my electorate is also the second-lowest on the socioeconomic rankings—second only to Lingiari I think—so it means that I represent an area of great need. Like most members—and I know for the member for Blair in particular, because he discusses his street meetings with me—I do get out there on Saturdays and talk to people. Over the last 12 months, I have found a very distinct pattern of people in my electorate who did not know that they were entitled to the education tax refund. I have a high proportion of families but the amount of people that were not aware of what their entitlements were really shocked me.
Having regard to those people who see me at street meetings, I am very fortunate that I have Vietnamese-speaking staff so they can translate for me. One of the constant themes, Minister, was that because many of these people did not have permanent jobs, they were not paying tax. They were on benefits and they did not see that as a consequence they were entitled to the education tax refund, so they were not applying. For me, that was many children who were missing out on what was a very significant Labor initiative in bringing down the education tax refund. I suppose that one of the problems is that whenever I have communicated that through schools and other agencies I have done it in English, but have not gone through the detail of putting in perspective what the education tax refund actually stood for. Could I ask the minister if she could take a little time to explain to the House the difference between the education tax refund and the application of the schoolkids bonus: how it is going to be applied, how it will be received by members of my community, and the impact that she thinks that the schoolkids bonus will have on working families throughout this nation?
I thank the member for Fowler for that question. I do want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work that he does in his community with a wide range of people from different parts of the world. I was very pleased to meet with him and representatives of the Vietnamese community from his electorate recently, where we did discuss these issues about how we make sure that people from different language backgrounds are better informed about their entitlements. I am glad that we had that opportunity.
To go directly to the point that the member raises, we were aware that there were many families and their children missing out on the education tax refund—an initiative that we did put into place to help families with the costs of their children's education. When we looked at the detail we found that around a million families were missing out on their full entitlements. The reasons that were coming back to us were that people were not keeping their receipts, possibly because they were very busy, as all parents are, or because—and I am sure this would apply in the member for Fowler's electorate—parents did not have the money to pay for things up front and then wait to collect the money at tax time. They did not pay tax, and so therefore did not think that they would get any benefit from the measure.
We are very pleased to be making this change with the new schoolkids bonus. As the member would be aware, the legislation is already through the parliament and the first payments will start tomorrow, so this is really the wrap up of the education tax refund. Parents of primary school-aged children will receive $409 per child. For secondary school-aged children they will receive $818 dollars per child. So for families in the electorate of Fowler, this will be a very real benefit for them. They will know that they will get this money, and they will in fact get it in the next fortnight. They will not have to wait until tax time. They will not have to save up their receipts. Most importantly, next year when the full new scheme starts families will start to get the money in the beginning of term 1. I am sure the member for Fowler is aware that families really need the money at that time, rather than waiting until after tax time. They need it at the start of the school year, when children need a new uniform, when their booklists have to be paid for, and for all the other things the children need at the start of the school year. We will pay half of the new schoolkids bonus at the start of term 1, and the other half of the schoolkids bonus will be paid at the start of term 3. We certainly expect that this will have a significant benefit, especially for the sorts of families that the member for Fowler represents.
My question is to the minister and has to do with the recent discussion and publicity around the Healthy Kids Check program, which from 1 January 2013 will start looking for signs of mental illness in three-year-olds. I refer to an email I received from one of my constituents, Deanna Pitchford, a clinical psychologist. She writes to voice her dismay at the proposal for assessing three-year-olds for mental health disorders, saying, 'Not only is there no evidence to suggest that you can accurately diagnose mental health disorders at an early age, but this process carries significant risks of labelling children with normal developmental difficulties as disorders for the rest of their lives.' She wishes to register her disapproval. My question to the minister is in two parts. Firstly, will three- and four-year-old children be required to undergo psychological assessments under the Healthy Kids Check program? Secondly, if a child is referred by a GP to a psychologist under the program, will the parents have their income support payments suspended if the child does not see the psychologist?
I am asking advice because this is actually in the portfolio of the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing. I am sorry that he is not still here to answer the question. Nevertheless, maybe I could go to the broader point, because I think the point the member for Forde is making is a serious one, and I will be happy to talk with the member and with the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing afterwards. We have to deal with these matters carefully.
I inform the member for Forde of the healthy start for school check, which is about to have its impact. From 1 July last year we put in place the healthy start for school check, which is really about making sure that children have the sorts of checks that are a good idea to have before they go to school to make sure that problems with their hearing, sight and any developmental delays are picked up—anything that might mean they are not going to be able to learn as well as they might otherwise. For nearly 12 months now children have been receiving these checks, and this is tied to the end-of-year supplement that is linked to family tax benefit part A. Right now Centrelink and the Department of Human Services are letting parents know that they need to get this check done. It is good for their kids and we want to make sure that it happens.
On the sensitive issue raised by the member, I am happy to make sure we have a three-way conversation with the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing.
Not the general fortnightly payment of family tax benefit part A but the end of year supplement. It is a requirement for people who have a child turning four that the end of year supplement is tied to getting the Healthy Kids Check. That is certainly what they need to get if they are also on income support. We can talk about the mental health issue with Minister Butler.
Minister, Ipswich wants to be one of the first sites for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I thank you for coming to Ipswich on 17 May, where you had a very productive meeting with lots of people who are disability advocates in my community. As you know, it was held in North Ipswich at Focal Extended, a wonderful organisation that provides tremendous assistance not just for very young people but for older people as well. You met with many people on that occasion, including people like Peter and Linda Tully, the Queenslanders with Disability Network facilitators in the Ipswich region. You met also with the Ipswich Special School principal, Ipswich West Special School and people like Carmel James, who was one of the leading teachers and deputy principal at St Edmunds boys college, the daughter of the former deputy mayor of Ipswich. Carmel and her husband Tony have been great disability support advocates in the Ipswich region for a long time. She wrote something recently which she has asked me to say to you, if I got the opportunity. I thought this was the appropriate time to do it. It is a very short paragraph. She and her husband Tony have three children and the youngest boy, Andrew, is profoundly disabled. If you had met him, you would see he has clear medical and intellectual disabilities. Carmel wrote recently:
When our son, Andrew, entered our lives he opened our eyes to the silent, marginalised lives of those in the disabled league. What his living in our family has done is raise our awareness of the lack of therapy support, access to appropriate preschool options, respite support, the stress of a disabled family member on families and the impact on carers of twenty-four hour care.
Carmel and Tony—and particularly Carmel—have been inspired by their experiences to be great advocates, to tackle those inclusivity issues which people in their circumstances have faced. I know in the budget, Minister, you have provided a billion dollars and announced that there are going to be a number of launch sites, but I have got a few questions to ask you. The first one relates to how current Commonwealth expenditure relates to expenditure in the past—for example, in the 2006-07 year of the Howard coalition government. How do we compare in this budget to the last year of the coalition government?
This budget allocates a significant amount to a National Disability Insurance Scheme. What are you proposing in terms of the proportion between the Commonwealth and the state? What does the budget say about that? You are currently having negotiations with the states and territories. What does the budget say about the Commonwealth's proportion of funding compared to currently? Finally, when can you announce Ipswich as the site for a National Disability Insurance Scheme?
I thank the member for Blair for his enthusiasm both for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and probably more importantly for his community, particularly the people of Ipswich. I can say to the chamber that the member for Blair did ask me to come to Ipswich. We did have just one of those great meetings with people at Focal Extended. I take this opportunity to thank everybody who came along, who put the proposal that Ipswich should be one of the launch sites with enthusiasm equal to that of the member for Blair.
As to whether or not Ipswich will be an NDIS launch site, there are a few hurdles. I will answer the member for Blair's questions in the following way. As he knows, the government has put in an extra billion dollars through this budget, and that is over and above the increases that the government has put into the National Disability Agreement since we were elected four years ago. When we first came into government, we did make a very significant addition to our National Disability Agreement funding, but probably just as significant as that increase was the fact that we also increased the level of indexation for funding that we put into that agreement. With our indexing, the money that goes to the states for disability care and support is around six per cent. The previous government were providing less than the rate of inflation. Unfortunately, disability funding under the previous government was not even keeping up with the costs of delivering that care, so disability care and support went backwards.
We have increased the funding, but, of course, we know it is not enough. That is why we asked the Productivity Commission to do the major inquiry into a long-term care and support scheme, now widely known as the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We have put the billion dollars—it is all new money, extra money—on the table and we are now negotiating with the states and territories on where the launch sites will be. The first round will have 10,000 places. We are open to suggestions about how big the launch sites are to be, and we are talking with states and territories about that. We do have expectations from the states and territories that, if they are behind, they will increase their effort.
It is the case that the Queensland government is not contributing the same level of funding as some of the other states. Queensland is a long, long way behind the state of Victoria, for example, which is contributing the highest level of funding for a person with a disability, while Queensland is one of the lowest. Our view, and the view of all the states in fact, is that it would not be fair for the Commonwealth to make up for those states that really are not pulling their own weight. The message to Queenslanders—which your constituents understood very well when we were together in Ipswich—is that the Queensland government needs to improve its effort to come up to the national benchmark and make sure that they are contributing, helping and supporting people with disabilities, their carers and families. That is an expectation that we have of any state where we might enter into an agreement for a launch site.
We will, of course, continue to work with each of the states and territories. We are doing that in detail right now. I know you are a great advocate and, as I said to you and to your constituents, the job is to keep the pressure on us and to make very clear to the Queensland government that they have to pick up their game.
If the minister could give me an undertaking that the questions I have will be answered in writing, then I will just read the questions rather than bothering her to try to answer them now.
I am aware of the time, Minister. Firstly, do you have a charter letter for your role as minister for disability reform? Secondly, why did the government choose a different approach to introducing the NDIS than that recommended by the Productivity Commission? Thirdly, why has the government allocated only a quarter of the funding recommended by the Productivity Commission over the forward estimates? Fourthly, has the government at any stage committed to meet the Productivity Commission's target date for the full introduction of the NDIS by 2018-19? Fifthly, the government aims to bring the commencement of NDIS launch sites forward by a year, although seeking to commence the launch sites earlier, is it not true that the government is going low and slow—that is, rolling out launch sites over a longer period of time to fewer people than recommended by the Productivity Commission?
Sixthly, can the minister advise whether the decision by the government to deviate from the Productivity Commission's time line and funding profile compromises the government's capacity to meet the commission's target date of 2018-19 for a full NDIS? Seventhly, has any state or territory yet signed up to host a launch site? Eighthly, will the minister guarantee that launch sites will be fully operational by 1 July 2013? Ninthly, how many people will have services delivered under the auspices of NDIS launch sites on 1 July 2013? Tenthly, will the minister guarantee that there will be no waiting list for aids and equipment, supported accommodation and personal attendant care for eligible people in the launch site catchment areas by 1 July 2013? Eleventhly, if not, by when will waiting lists for these services and supports be eliminated? Twelfthly, have you taken a decision as to whether the NDIS will cover only people who have or acquire a disability before the age of 65? Thirteenthly, if this threshold decision has not been taken, how can you commence planning the launch sites, which are due to be in operation in little over a year? Fourteenthly, there is a great deal of concern amongst people with sensory impairment and the organisations that represent them that their particular needs may not be covered by an NDIS. These groups are concerned that the stakeholder engagement strategy is opaque and focusing on peak organisations rather than people with disability themselves. How can this problem be addressed? Fifteenthly, will people below the age of 65 have hearing aids funded as equipment under an NDIS? Sixteenthly, will guide dogs for people below the age of 65 be funded under the NDIS? Seventeenthly, will vision and audio equipment for vision impaired people be funded under the NDIS? I will leave eighteen out. Nineteenthly, does this demonstrate closer consultation with the Australians with sensory impairment whose issues I briefly raised earlier? Twentiethly, are rehabilitation services envisaged to be supported for people covered by the NDIS, as is currently the case—for example, by the Victorian Transport Accident Commission? Twenty-firstly, are rehabilitation services going to be supported for people covered by the NDIS who have an acquired disability, as is currently the case—for example, the Victorian Transport Accident Commission? Twenty-secondly, if rehabilitation services are not covered by the NDIS, doesn't this leave a large gap in coverage? Twenty-thirdly, you will be aware that the Leader of the Opposition has written to the Prime Minister opposing the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to oversight the implementation of the NDIS to be chaired by senior members of both sides of politics. Twenty-fourthly, you would be aware the rationale is that the introduction of the NDIS will span several parliaments and several elections, so there should be a mechanism to elevate the NDIS above partisanship. Why has the Prime Minister rejected Mr Abbott's offer to extend the hand of bipartisanship? Finally, what is wrong with the NDIS being owned in this way by the parliament as a whole? As I indicated, I am happy that the minister has given the undertaking to provide the answers to those questions. I am happy to provide the written questions, or they are available on the Hansard.
I thank the member for Menzies for those questions which all do go to the detail of the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Of course, the government are very pleased that we are getting on with delivering a National Disability Insurance Scheme. I am happy to take those questions on notice as the member has requested. I might just go to one of the points that the member made—that is, why are we bringing the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme forward and doing it in a slightly different way from that recommended by the Productivity Commission. Fundamentally, we think people with disability have waited long enough. We think they have waited a very, very long time—all of their lives. Many people have not been getting the level of care and support that they need, and we want to get on with it. We are doing exactly that. We are doing it in a slightly different way, nevertheless the vision set out by the Productivity Commission is one that the government have signed up to. We think that many of the recommendations from the Productivity Commission are very important. Even more fundamental is the way the Productivity Commission has set out how the scheme should operate—that it should operate with insurance principles and that it should be a scheme which is simple to navigate. The government absolutely endorses many parts of the Productivity Commission's report. But, fundamentally, the reason we are getting on with it now rather than in a year's time is that we do not want people to wait. I am happy to go through all of the other questions the member has asked.
My question is to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development and Minister for the Status of Women. It relates to the latter portfolio. Before I ask my question, however, I will make a short statement about gender equality.
When I look at the 'at a glance' section of the Women’s Statement 2012—Achievements and Budget Measuresreport, I see so many areas covered which demonstrate the good public policy decisions of the Gillard government and which you, Minister, have been involved with. There is the Fair Work Act, the pay equity decision, the reforms to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999, the creation of new opportunities for non-traditional employment—including in the Defence Force—and the requirement for a minimum representation of women on Australian government boards of 40 per cent. I often think, 'Why has it taken so long and why does it seem so hard when it is just such an ordinary thing to do?' But sometimes we have to make those bold decisions to make sure that women do get access to those opportunities.
The question is a broad question. It is about what steps have been taken to improve gender equality in Australia and what measures are in the budget to support this work. I also note that the statement talks about the National plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010-2022. Sometimes people will say, 'What are we talking about, why do we need to keep doing these things and why do we need to keep drawing attention to inequalities?' In my lifetime I have had to fight a lot of gender battles. I can remember that in court years ago it was standard for the judge to give a warning to the jury, 'You do not have to accept the uncorroborated evidence of women, children or lunatics.'
Sometimes we have to look back at some of the history—where we have been and where we are—to remind ourselves that we still have some work to do. If we do not, we can often take those things and those battles for granted. We all know the saying 'two-thirds of a man'. It comes from a book of that title by Edna Ryan. We have not got there yet but we are getting there—and we are getting there because of things like the Fair Work Act and the pay equity decision. Beyond the pay equity decision, there is the fact that we are putting money in. Some governments are anyway—I am not sure the one in New South Wales is going to.
When I think back on some of that history—the legal history mainly, because that is largely what I have been involved in—around women, I go back as far as the 'rule of thumb' that came from an ancient code. You know the one I mean: the one that said a man could beat his wife so long as the thickness of the rod did not surpass the thickness of his thumb. It was from the Code of Hammurabi. I am not here to give a history lesson on women's—
When I look at the good things that are happening, it brings to mind some of those battles. That is what I am asking you to comment on—how we are supporting the continued advancement of gender equality through the budget.
I thank the member for Page for her statement and her question. There is no doubt that as a government we should be very proud of what we have achieved but also for the legacy of Labor governments past and how far we have come when it comes to gender equality in this country. But that does not mean that our job is yet done. We still know that women are more represented when it comes to lower incomes in Australia and we know that more women work part time in Australia, so we know that we still have quite a long way to go when it comes to some of these issues and true gender equality in this country.
When the Prime Minister and I released the Women's Statement 2012: Achievements and Budget Measures, we talked about the considerable achievements that we have made in advancing gender equality since Labor came into office in 2007, particularly set against our backdrop of broader reform, which is of supporting working Australians and their families, building a new Australian economy and strengthening our communities.
One of the key achievements the member for Page referred to—and of course there are very many more—was the historic introduction of the Paid Parental Leave scheme, which the minister for families, sitting next to me, was instrumental in. We have now got more 160,000 families that have registered for the Paid Parental Leave scheme, and no doubt that has supported many women in Australia, particularly-low income women, in the first analysis of the data. We have also made increases to the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent and lifted the cap from just over $4,000 to $7,500. We now have more than 800,000 families in Australia accessing the childcare rebate, so that has also made child care more affordable in this country. Whilst we know that we have come a long way, we still have some way to go when it comes to the affordability of child care. We also have a record investment in that regard—early childhood education but also child care.
We made the reforms that the member for Page referred to: the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act and the agency, legislation for which, I am very pleased to say, passed through the House of Representatives yesterday. That is about driving cultural change through workforces in Australia and working with businesses and industry to ensure that women are more equally represented in workplaces across this country and that men and their caring responsibilities are also given equal weight in workplaces across the country. That piece of legislation, which I am particularly pleased with, has now passed through the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate.
We have also heard about the Fair Work Act and the equal pay audit with Fair Work Australia. It is this government that is providing more than $2 billion in supplementation to community service workers who are out there every day doing very difficult work, the majority, again, of whom are women. In fact, of the 150,000 workers in the community service sector that will be receiving these increases, 120,000 are women. It is a very significant decision for women in that sector.
We have our major reforms to superannuation and the increase of superannuation from nine to 12 per cent, which will of course assist women, and our historic pension reform. As the minister for families also knows, when it comes to the pension system, our changes to increase the single age pension have helped women more proportionally than men, because 70 per cent of our single age pensioners are in fact women, so they have also benefited very significantly from that.
We have our national plan to reduce violence against women and their children, which gives effect to the government's zero tolerance approach to domestic violence and sexual assault. We have some very innovative campaigns about respectful relationships right across the community, from the government's innovative website to working with community organisations and also sporting organisations, which have been traditionally male dominated.
So we have done a lot when it comes to some of those, but, particularly in this year's budget, one of the big announcements that will benefit women considerably is the increase to the tax-free threshold, from $6,000 to $18,200. The majority of part-time and low-income earners, as I said at the beginning, are indeed women; 70 per cent of part-time workers are women, so women will benefit much more from this measure. We have also had in the budget greater support for working women and their families, with a boost to the family tax benefit from 2013, and we have heard about the Schoolkids Bonus replacing the Education Tax Refund—again to help women and their families. We are also doing some other work in encouraging women into non-traditional sectors. It is an important component, of course, of gender equality. The government is providing $54 million over four years to encourage more people, including young women, to study maths and science at school and university. What we are trying to do in this budget is build on some of the Labor reforms of the past to create a fairer and more inclusive Australia and part of that, of course, is increasing women's participation in the workforce. We are also continuing our support for the working women's centres in this budget. There is so much more to talk about, but I will end there.
I can make an opening statement but, given that there are honourable members here who want to ask me some questions and the shadow minister is here, who may wish to ask me questions in relation to matters under my portfolio, I am happy to allow them to ask me those questions.
I have three related questions, Minister. Firstly, can you explain why, according to the recent report from the Australian National Audit Office, the government approved $159.4 million for the Victorian Labor government in August 2009 to redevelop public housing but paid for it out of the federal Housing Affordability Fund, even though that fund's objective is to improve housing affordability through infrastructure and regulatory reform and not to redevelop public housing. Secondly, can you explain whether the then Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard's decision to approve an extension to the HAF parameters that applied only to the three Victorian public housing redevelopments was an attempt to help out her old boss, John Brumby, to get re-elected in that state in November 2010. And, thirdly, why did the then minister for social housing, Ms Plibersek, approve on 23 June 2009 three public housing redevelopments in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania simply to ensure that the 2009-10 HAF budget was spent rather than being rolled over into the next financial year, despite receiving handwritten advice from one of her ministerial advisers that the projects were 'fundamentally different from the purposes of HAF'?
In relation to those three questions I will have to provide the answers in detail, and I am happy to do so in writing. In relation to the first matter, I am not aware of the $159.4 million provided to the Victorian Labor government for public housing. I will say this though: this government has a very proud record of dedicating resources to public housing and dedicating investments not only to public housing but to social housing.
In relation to those other two questions asked, again, I am very happy to examine the questions and come back to the shadow minister in relation to the answers. I will say this though, because it requires me to say this: I think it is entirely improper for the shadow minister to impute that decisions of ministers would be based on the grounds that he suggests. I can assure the shadow minister, the member for Menzies, that the ministers of this government who have made decisions in relation to public housing have done so upon the advice of the department and also with engagement with all other jurisdictions.
The one thing that is clear, if you want to compare the efforts of this government with the Howard government's history of dedicating investment in public housing, we have done a very good job and we have invested far more revenue to provide support for our most vulnerable. We want to have a partnership with state governments. Quite frankly, I do not care whether they are Liberal or Labor governments; I want to provide the benefits to those people who need such housing. I will work with every state minister in my portfolio to ensure that those tenants in public housing are provided every opportunity to be given sustainable accommodation, and indeed that those people on waiting lists for public housing are provided more opportunities. We have done that through an unprecedented investment of $20 billion in relation to housing generally. We have actually provided $5 billion in social housing. We have provided $5 billion for services to protect the interests of those that are homeless or at risk of being homeless. We have a good record. I would suggest that the shadow minister's assertions are not correct, but I am very happy in relation to provide some of the detail and timing insofar as the allocation of resources to those states involved within the questions he asked. I am very happy to have that information provided to the member for Menzies.
I want to pick up on that issue. In particular, housing affordability in Western Sydney is a major issue and has remained so for some time. I find one case in particular with constituents in my area: when constituents are not looking to purchase but simply to rent space—to rent somewhere to live—they are finding it harder and harder to do so in parts of the Chifley electorate because of a squeeze in housing stock. We talked about social housing, or the minister responded to the shadow minister in relation to the issue on social housing. I am proud of the fact that over 200 homes were built as a result of the stimulus spending in the Chifley area to ease the accommodation pressures in trying to find somewhere to live. For example, one project was delivered by the affordable housing co-op in Mount Druitt. I was delighted to be involved in the opening of that. What I particularly like about it is that this is affordable housing that is of a quality standard, allowing people to ensure a degree of dignity in the place that they live. It is a modern facility itself and allows them to have a roof over their heads as well. Some people in that were basically on public housing waiting lists for over 10 years.
Another project that I was particularly proud to see funded in my area was through Marist Youth Care. It was giving an opportunity for people are homeless. The minister made reference a few moments ago to homelessness; I suspect that a lot of those figures are actually in effect camouflaged because people are couch surfing. I do see that and get reports of that from non-government organisations working in the Chifley area. One project in particular got young people who were homeless and teamed them up with builders to build homes. Once these young people had been trained up they got to move into them. One particular site in Shalvey that Marist Youth Care oversaw was a fantastic initiative. It was a very lateral way of thinking about an issue, providing skills and a roof over people's heads. That was a really good project I was very happy with.
Another thing that I have been proud to see happen in our local area was something we were able to draw out of the housing affordability fund, to fast-track the rollout of infrastructure in Ropes Crossing. It was part of the old ADI development—Australian Defence Industries—with huge parts of land, 1,500 hectares, with part conserved and part released for housing. We saw a number of residents there able to benefit from housing stock that was reduced in price as a result of the investment we made. We had community facilities—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Proceedings suspended from 19:54 to 20:28
I have three short questions for the minister related to NRAS in the Northern Territory. First, why have only 16 out of almost 1,200 NRAS houses been built in the Northern Territory before the completion deadline of 1 July? Secondly, why did round three selection criteria for NRAS in the Northern Territory require proposals for at least 1,000 homes if no homes were approved in rounds one and two? Thirdly, why did the government allocate so many NRAS houses in the Northern Territory when the local construction industry could not cope with the demand?
I thank the honourable member for this question. I am aware of the challenges around the allocation and the construction of NRAS homes in the Northern Territory and in Darwin. I can advise the honourable member that when the first tender was released in the Northern Territory there were no expressions of interest by companies. I do understand there was then an agreement. Subsequent to the closing of that tender, there was a discussion with a prospective company that had showed an interest in proceeding. It was not unusual that there was a slow take-up initially for NRAS. NRAS has proven to be a very successful innovative scheme, but it took a while because it was quite new for this country to have that sort of structure and the way in which it was done. For those who may not be aware, the NRAS constructs homes in partnership with organisations, and usually state governments, and it reduces the market rental rate to 80 per cent so that people who are having great difficulty in gaining affordable housing are able to access those houses. I am afraid to say that in relation to the Northern Territory, there has been a slow take-up—and as you say too slow. That is of concern to me and I have been working with the department, and the department has been engaging the Northern Territory government to see what we can do to realise the construction of homes.
There is no doubt that in Darwin, and in the Territory generally, there is a requirement for construction of dwellings because of the affordability challenge. It is compounded of course by the economic growth of Darwin. You are seeing some great economic success arising out of that city, and even in other parts of the Territory, but particularly in Darwin. That has compounded the challenge in dealing with housing affordability. I am very concerned that this matter be addressed expeditiously. For that reason, we will be looking at what we can do to ensure that the allocation of NRAS places in the Territory will see constructed dwellings as soon as possible for those people who are in need of affordable housing.
Minister, congratulations on your appointment. It is the fourth of your team that I have had the pleasure of working with. Congratulations on your elevation. Firstly, on the general state of the small business nation, if I could call it that. Dun and Bradstreet have identified a 48 per cent increase in small business insolvencies in the last 12 months. Worryingly, Minister, a 95 per cent reduction in small business start-ups, which is particularly concerning given there are small businesses not surviving in this environment and there are not the willing newcomers to carry through with what the economists would refer to as creative destruction. We are having the destruction and not quite the drive for enterprise and entrepreneurship to bring new participants into the marketplace. There are job losses of around 300,000 involved in small business. There is a diminishing share of the private sector workforce. There are 14,500 fewer employing small businesses. There is concern right across communities and right across the continent. Small business is the economy and it is in a bit of a funk. There is a feeling that it is has been driven into a ditch by the government and various government policies.
I was looking at your Lateline Business interview less than 24 hours before the Treasurer delivered his budget speech. Two particular things came out of that that were most interesting for me. You were asked about the census survey that showed that 92 per cent of small businesses do not think government policies are helping them. When asked to respond to that research finding you said, 'We have done some recent things already by announcing the cut in the small business company tax rate from 30 per cent to 29 per cent'. I found that quite a remarkable statement. You are on the Expenditure Review Committee, as I understand. The budget was apparently signed off around Easter. Was that just a miss-speak, an effort to present a small business initiative that had already gone to the chopping block? Was it an error, a decoy? I could not quite work out why you had made that statement, so I would like to understand what happened there. Were you not aware of your Expenditure Review Committee's work in that space? Was it an eleventh hour decision? I was told by Treasury that there were not any last minute changes yesterday. It must have been on the radar screen for a while. I—and I know many in the small business community—felt that it was a mighty unhelpful statement, and not in any way reflecting the true reality of the budget.
I noticed the member for Deakin then mailed out the same statement to all the business owners in his electorate. I found that quite remarkable, and his defence probably was 'I was relying on the minister'. This misinformation seems to be causing a great deal of concern. I would like your responses to that and on the issue about what the government is actually doing that might change that 92 per cent rate where small business do not think that the government has any policies that are helping them, and what your intentions are to turn that around.
Also, in the particular measures in the budget, and some confirmed in the budget, that have not got a lot of attention: the abolition of the entrepreneurs tax offset, a modest incentive to 400,000 of some of our smallest business of a range of structures. It is not just companies: sole traders and partnerships—those operating as corporates as well as through trusts—all had access to that. Now 400,000 of our smallest businesses will be paying higher rates of tax on their modest incomes. A measure that gave full benefit to incomes up to $50,000 and tapered out at $75,000 is hardly the big end of town.
I am very interested in how the process of renewing the Small Business Advisory Services is going. I have visited a number of BECs, and a number are aspiring to carry out some work in that area off a diminished budget—$40 million down to $27.5 million. Your answers through your department in Senate estimates suggested that more than 36 existing BECs were anticipating getting a piece of that action. How might that continuity be maintained, given that, as I understand it, the tender process has not even been approved to commence as yet. There is the area of late payments; there were some $550 million of late payments generating a $3,400 fine. Is that a fair implementation of the policy as it is described?
Finally, progress on the Small Business Commissioner: we are aware of the shingle, that there will be no new powers and that it will look something like the Office of the Chief Scientist, that the government did not speak to for many years. I would like to know how that progress is going with that appointment. (Time expired)
I would like to thank the member for Dunkley for congratulating me in my new role. I think it is very nice of him to remark that it is good to see that this small business portfolio has been elevated to cabinet, where it belongs. It was a decision of the Howard government to take it out of cabinet and it was a decision of the Gillard government to restore that position in cabinet. It was the right decision because, as the honourable member knows, many of the decisions made by government, whether they are to advance the constituency of small business or whether they are to protect the interests of small businesses, are done at the cabinet table. It is very important, and I do appreciate his heartfelt congratulations to me in that regard.
Can I say that I think he did ask about 17 questions in that five-minute contribution. I am happy to go to many of those, and if I do not go to all of them I might just provide them on notice. I will take those questions on notice and provide some further information to the member. I think the last matter that he raised was in relation to the Office of the Small Business Commissioner. This government is proud of the fact that we announced the creation of the Office of the Small Business Commissioner at the federal level. It is something that was first undertaken by the Bracks government in 2003, which actually appointed the first small business commissioner in Australia—a Labor government appointing a small business commissioner.
So it is not entirely coincidental that it took a federal Labor government to appoint a small business commissioner at the national level. It is a disappointment that the Howard government chose not to do so in 11½ years. Nonetheless, as I understand it, the honourable member supports the creation of that office, and I think it is going to be an office that will provide representations to the Minister for Small Business on behalf on the small business constituency. It will allow for good advice, independent advice, and a vocal presence in Canberra. I also see it playing a complementary role with the offices of small business commissioners across the country, because all mainland states have small business commissioners. We do not want to duplicate services, so there will not be a particular mediation role, but we will allow for the Small Business Commissioner to refer matters to mediation services. I see it being a good thing, and I thank the honourable member for his support in that regard.
The member asked a number of other things of me. He talked about some of the surveys that have been conducted in relation to small business. There is no doubt that there are some challenging times for small business in some sectors of our economy. Paradoxically, whilst the high Australian dollar is an indication of success, particularly success in the mining industry, there is no doubt that it presents challenges to all businesses in certain sectors of our economy. Manufacturing, tourism and other sectors that have been confronted with challenges as a result of the high dollar. As a result of that, we have sought to spread the benefits of the mining boom by introducing some specific measures to help small business arising out of the budget. I do understand there have been some issues around small businesses starting up and there has been lower consumer confidence and business confidence in recent times. I put that down to some legitimate concerns about what is happening in Europe. Madam Deputy Speaker, you know yourself how fraught things are in Europe and perhaps to a lesser extent in the United States. People are turning their eyes to those events and are somewhat concerned. There is also a natural readjustment of consumer spending. I think for too long now people have been going further and further into debt, and now people are instinctively, after proper consideration, realising that they do not want to be in such debt, and as a result they have been withholding in some cases discretionary money. That has led in some areas to a reduction in consumption by households, which has in turn diminished some confidence in business. But I think some of that has been addressed by the budget, firstly by the announcement of a return to surplus, a very important decision. Not too many countries in the developed world can return a budget to surplus. Also, it sends the message to both Australians and the world that we are a strong economy, we have contained inflation, low debt and an unemployment rate of about five per cent. The last economic growth figures were quite extraordinary. (Time expired)
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education Portfolio
Proposed expenditure, $4,004,203,000.
I want to begin by asking the minister on what date he first directly discussed his decision to establish the Manufacturing Technology Innovation Centre with anyone in the department and with whom specifically. Did he specifically discuss the concept of the centre in any form with any of the following people or organisations before it was announced on budget night: the secretary of the department, the head of Enterprise Connect, CSIRO, the Prime Minister's Manufacturing Task Force, the Future Manufacturing Industry Innovation Council, the Advanced Manufacturing CRC, the Auto CRC or the CRC for Advanced Composite Materials? If he did, can he please indicate in each case the name or names of the relevant people to whom he spoke, and when?
In addition to that, can he indicate what specific process the government followed to calculate that the sum of $29.8 million should be allocated to the centre? Can he give a full breakdown of how that money will be spent?
Moving on, in February last year, the minister was reportedly asked to name the top five things people could do to beat the carbon tax. He apparently said that it was best to reduce energy consumption. In fact some of the quotes are here. He said:
And the main way to do that is by saving energy, to turn things off at the wall …
He went on to say:
Maybe think about how often you use the airconditioner. Using a cheaper-to-run hot water system. Changing the light bulbs. Have you got insulation?
If people can think about what their energy consumption is like and how they can save on it, that's a really important thing to do and you can cut your electricity bill quite significantly and help the environment.
Following on from those quotes, given that one of the key original rationale for the rollout of the disastrous home insulation program was that it was supposedly going to reduce emissions, can the minister inform the House how many emissions it has reduced? What percentage of the overall number of bats used in the program were manufactured in Australia and what percentage were made overseas? If the government is trying to signal to people that they should turn off their lights and televisions and other forms of electricity as much as possible, then there is not much point, by the minister's own admission, building a multibillion dollar National Broadband Network to deliver computer connectivity across the country.
Moving on, given that the government's own regulatory impact statement said that there would be a $202 million cost to the economy if its coastal shipping laws were passed, and given that Deloitte revealed the policy could cost $466 million by 2025, cause freight charges to rise by 16 per cent and lead to the loss of 570 full-time jobs, can the minister update the chamber on whether there has been any change from the government's point of view of what the financial impact of the policy approach would be? As industry minister, what information has he personally sought and from whom about how many job losses the new laws will cause in the affected industries, especially in manufacturing? Since the government's closure in February 2012 of its solar hot water rebate scheme, how many times has the minister met directly with representatives from that industry? What updates does he possess about how many manufacturing jobs and how many jobs in total have been lost in that industry as a result of the government's decision? In relation to the government's recent amendments to the Fair Work act applying to the TCF industry, how many formal briefings did the minister seek and/or receive and from whom on the impact of the legislation on the state of the TCF industry in Australia? Has the minister ever received any form of advice or warnings that this legislation will prompt business closures and major job losses in the TCF sector? If so, how has he practically responded to those warnings?
On science, what is the precise role, as you see it, of the Chief Scientist? Can you give the House a clear statement in principle of the kinds of conduct or circumstances that would cause the government to lose confidence in and/or terminate the employment of any Chief Scientist? After years now of no announcement, including again in the budget, the science community is still awaiting a decision from the government on a successor program to international science linkages. Does the government have any plans for the implementation of a replacement program? If so, what is it and when will it begin? To the minister's knowledge, has his colleague Minister Evans responded to a letter sent to him in late May by a group of seven former CSIRO scientists alleging instances of significant workplace intimidation and victimisation? Has the government taken any other action in response to those claims? In the ministers view, what action should and would the government take in the event that a multitude of instances of workplace bullying had indeed occurred at CSIRO? In hindsight, does the minister significantly regret commenting on the story run in some parts of the media last year that the local climate scientists had been receiving death threats and contributing to a story line that has subsequently been debunked. (Time expired)
Thank you, member for Indi; I appreciate that. There are a lot of matters covered there, across quite a vast array of portfolios; I will do my best, in due course. I think it is important, given we are doing consideration in detail in relation to the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, that we say a few things broadly about the appropriations. The starting point, as was traversed to some degree by my colleague the Minister for Small Business, is the current economic environment. We are in a position in Australia where we have the economy currently growing at slightly in excess of four per cent.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker: the questions were very specific. There were quite a few, covering a number of issues. If the minister is trying to avoid answering the questions—because he does not know the answers—by providing general answers, that does no credit to his current position. I would ask you to direct him to be directly relevant.
I was just observing the fairly important fact that the economy is growing strongly. Unemployment is around five per cent, interest rates are coming down, the budget is in surplus across the forward estimates and we have a low debt to GDP ratio. Inflation is very moderate indeed and we have massive private investment. These are strong economic circumstances. All of that is very important in the context of the questions asked and for the appropriations for this portfolio. The appropriations for the bill associated with the portfolio total over $20 billion for the 2012-13 period. It is rather important, I think, that I pay some attention to the matters contained in the appropriations.
Firstly, in relation to innovation and boosting productivity in industry—the member for Indi asked about the Manufacturing Technology Innovations Centre, which was a feature of the budget. It is a $29.8 million initiative. In brief answer to her question, I can say that it is the subject of consultation in the Prime Minister's Taskforce on Manufacturing—a number of the specific elements of how the innovation centre will be developed. Appropriations for the innovation and industry part of the portfolio also include $1.2 billion for clean technology programs. The first round of funding under those programs has been announced and will lead to significant investments in clean technology and energy efficiency in businesses. I announced a number of those a week or two ago.
The appropriations also include provision for the research and development tax incentive, which will deliver about $1.8 billion, we anticipate, in support of business research and development in financial year 2012-13. There is provision for Commercialisation Australia, which helps businesses—particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises—take technologies they have developed to the marketplace. Enterprise Connect is provided for, which is also very important in the small- and medium-sized enterprise sector in providing business advice and assistance to help businesses find ways to improve their business models, their productivity and their efficiency. There are other improvements provided for in the appropriation bills too for Australian industry participation policies.
On the issue of science and the research sector, the budget contains a boost in funding for science and research in universities of more than $126 million in 2012-13. That has resulted in a record $1.72 billion investment to support university research—a fairly important matter, particularly as we have to find support for innovation and encourage the interface with industry to become more competitive. The total amount of support for science, research and innovation now stands at almost $9 billion, which is a 35 per cent increase since 2007. There is also a record investment in higher education reflected in the appropriations—for example, an extra $4.5 billion to support the growth of undergraduate places, remembering that this is a government that uncapped university places. Some $3 billion in improved indexation has been preserved as well.
The budget contains further very important commitments in the area of higher education. The member for Indi made some comments in relation to science. The position of Chief Scientist is of course a very important office within government. The budget makes targeted investments in maths and science in particular. Professor Chubb, the Chief Scientist, has been addressing that and has made recommendations to the Prime Minister as to how we might best go about improving the uptake and performance of students in maths and science fields. We are keen to improve that approach and we take the chief government scientist's advice very seriously. There is, in fact, in the budget a $54 million science and maths package. There are also measures to strengthen and better target investment in apprenticeships. There are measures supporting landmark reforms of the national training system as well—very significant measures to increase the uptake of people undertaking vocational education and training. That, in brief, is an overview of measures in relation to the portfolio area that are very important from an economic standpoint, and we take them very seriously.
My electorate, Minister, has an important and iconic company, Holden. This chamber is actually the site of one of my revelations about the attitudes of the coalition towards car manufacturing, when I questioned—some people call him Lord Turnbull—the member for Wentworth about his attitude to the auto industry and he explained to me that he saw it as not important to support the auto industry and he was quite happy if Chinese cars worth $8,000 were imported for the plebs in Australia to use. Holden has been an important part of the landscape in Victoria and Australia since Ben Chifley rolled out the Holden family car. That rolled off an assembly line in November 1948. As local member I have been at Holden all through the period of time—more than a decade—that I have served in parliament and I am very pleased that they are going to continue their operations past 2020.
I was very pleased that you and the government had secured the co-investment deal. As I am sure the member for Indi would acknowledge, when Australia's economy transits out from its current high-dollar position, the export of hundreds of thousands of Holdens and Toyotas to the Middle East will be a major source of export income. We are even selling a lot of them now, but imagine when we have a lower dollar and we are able to export more extensively to the Middle East. The deal of co-investment from the federal government was worth $275 million, and it assisted the Victorian and South Australian governments. It was a co-investment in the livelihoods of all the people employed in the automotive manufacturing industry and other workers who support that sector. It allowed Holden to alter its purchasing strategy. As we know, the auto industry, like much of the manufacturing sector, is innovating and preparing from the low-carbon future of tomorrow.
The minister was recently in my electorate to launch the Holden Volt and charge station. The rollout of these charging stations means that recharging can be done anywhere during the day or night, at work, at home or around town. The charge station can recharge the Volt to 80 per cent capacity in four hours, and the Volt can travel 60 kilometres without recharging, making it an everyday car. Using renewable energy to recharge makes the Volt virtually a zero-emissions car. This is just one example of the advances in technology that Holden is introducing. They are better for the environment and they will reduce our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels.
Holden is just one example of the things the auto and manufacturing sector is doing, and I am sure the minister can elaborate further, but I have a specific question to him: why is it important that Australia continue to maintain a car industry, despite the views of the member for Wentworth and the vast majority of the anti-manufacturing people in the coalition? What is the return that the Holden co-investment will deliver and what support or otherwise has the government received for this measure? How is the government helping component auto manufacturers assess international markets?
I certainly appreciate the question from the member for Melbourne Ports—he was my member of parliament when I was living in that area in Melbourne, and he was a mighty fine representative for the community. He asks very important questions in relation to the automotive manufacturing industry, and the fact of the matter is that 55,000 people are directly employed in the auto industry and more than 200,000 others are employed in areas associated with the sector. That, in itself, tells why it is a very important part of our economy—a quarter of a million working people and their families who depend on the industry and all the businesses that are associated with the industry and provide services to it mean that it is a very important part of our economy. Labor, of course, has a very long history of association with the automotive manufacturing industry and of encouraging its development and sustaining its role. That is very important for the member for Corangamite who is here too, and of course he has many Ford workers living in his electorate.
The government are very committed to the industry and that is why we undertook the discussions. We acknowledge the work done by Senator Carr previously in this portfolio—he did much of this work. We have worked very closely with General Motors in relation to the co-investment that was announced some months ago. The auto industry in this country is under significant pressure. We have three major manufacturers and of course many suppliers in the supply chain that are feeling the pressure of the high dollar in particular. As we know, the high dollar means imports are cheaper, relatively, and exports are more difficult. General Motors Holden's operations in Australia, including in Port Melbourne, are feeling that pressure. This government is committed to sustaining an automotive manufacturing industry, but of course it will only be sustained at the end of the day if it is viable.
We may well have parity with the US dollar for quite a continued period of time, and in the auto industry, as in many other industries, they need to change their business models so that they can function and be competitive at parity with the US dollar. Many businesses in Australia, including many in the auto sector, have essentially been structured and financed on the basis of the exchange rate perhaps in the region of 80 to 85 cents to the US dollar. Those days are not here, and they have not been here for quite some time. That means businesses need to change their business models, and the co-investment that has been announced between the Commonwealth and the South Australian and Victorian governments, both making a small contribution relatively, with General Motors is designed to achieve a restructuring of General Motors operations in this country so that it can establish itself on a viable basis with the exchange rate at parity with the US dollar. It is important for governments to work with businesses to achieve outcomes like that and to achieve change.
Holden, as a consequence, has been able to announce more than $1 billion of investment as part of that deal that will ensure that it has operations in this country for the next decade, to 2022. It will change its operations, yes, and it will be a matter for Holden to indicate in coming months how it will go about achieving that. It is anticipated that two models will be produced in Australia for the domestic market and also with an eye to export markets. Just imagine how important that is for the economy in Australia.
In relation to the question asked by the member for Melbourne Ports, Holden's operations in Victoria, and in Port Melbourne, are extremely important. The engine plant is there, as are the engineering and design facilities. To provide some insight into what this arrangement means, General Motors has been able to announce subsequent to the co-investment that a deal has been secured with its operations in Shanghai for the design and engineering of vehicles in Australia for manufacture in China. That is the sort of focus that this co-investment is designed to achieve.
The alternative, of course, is to do nothing. That is the coalition's position. The member for Indi has left now, unfortunately; however, their policy is to take $1.5 billion out of support for the auto sector compared to what the government has committed to.
I have some questions regarding the landmark Productivity Commission report released in April, which investigated claims by Cyclopharm, a small business in my electorate of Bennelong, which is in competition with PETNET, a whollyowned subsidiary of ANSTO.Cyclopharm alleged that ANSTO had entered into a franchise-style agreement without public review process or tender and that PETNET's pricing does not reflect true production costs, is not applying commercial rates of interest on borrowings and cannot achieve commercially acceptable profits over a 10-year payback period.
According to the Productivity Commission report, PETNET is in breach of its competitive neutrality requirements. This means that taxpayer funding is being used to eliminate competition and commercially ruin Cyclopharm. It is very rare that the Productivity Commission delivers such damning findings. Recommendation 2.1 of the report states:
For ANSTO to comply with competitive neutrality policy, it would need to adjust PETNET Australia’s business model such that it can be expected to achieve a commercial rate of return that reflects its risk profile and the full investment in PETNET Australia.
They concluded that the current situation represents an ex ante breach of competitive neutrality policy. In Senate estimates last month Dr Paterson from ANSTO stated:
This concept of an ex ante breach is not well known to us
… … …
We have written to the … Australian Government Competitive Neutrality Complaints Office, requesting a meeting to further explore this concept and in addition to get an understanding of the types of models that they used.
Perhaps the minister can provide ANSTO with a copy of the Treasury department publication, Australian government competitive neutrality guidelines for managers, February 2004, which clearly spells out how competitive neutrality guidelines are to be met. ANSTO claimed in estimates that if PETNET increases its prices it would be in further breach of competitive neutrality yet the Productivity Commission report clearly states that in order to meet their competitive neutrality obligations they would need either to increase their prices or to increase the market. Freedom of information requests have shown that, from their own business model and their own numbers, ANSTO entered into the marketplace with an approach that will not meet its competitive neutrality requirements based on current and projected prices.
When PETNET entered the market in January 2011 they changed the price determination model to drive down prices by approximately 20 to 30 per cent and to capture as much of the market share as possible. In October 2011 ANSTO misled Senate estimates on the amount of their investment in PETNET. Finally, the Productivity Commission report states that the government will need to decide whether to maintain the business at the impaired asset value in breach of competitive neutrality policy or to dispose of the assets.
Minister, how can the government continue to justify funding a venture that is not commercially viable, found to be in breach of competitive neutrality and, in its market behaviour, eliminating competition? Can you provide the result of ANSTO's meeting with the Australian Government Competitive Neutrality Complaints Office to discuss their breach? Do any PETNET customers receive any favourable funding or support from ANSTO either through grants or through research collaboration? If so, what value is placed on these arrangements and when did the financial or in-kind considerations commence or plan to commence? What changes will ANSTO be implementing, and when, to remedy these competitive neutrality breaches and to minimise the damage being done to small businesses like Cyclopharm? What are you, as Minister for Industry and Innovation and as representative of the minister for science and research, doing to address this misuse of market power by this rogue government-owned enterprise?
I recognise that there has been a question put seriously in some detail. I am not sure that I can address all of the detail at this point in time but, perhaps for the benefit of some others in the room, I will provide a little bit of context before I go to some of the response.
ANSTO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, that the member for Bennelong has been referring to, produces 85 per cent, I am advised, of the nuclear medicines that one in two Australians are likely to need in their lifetime. PETNET Solutions, as I understand, is a wholly owned ANSTO subsidiary which produces a radiopharmaceutical, fluorodeoxyglucose, or FDG. I am advised that FDG is used in positron emissions tomography, or PET scanning, and that, of course, has produced very significant advances in the diagnosis of cancer and other medical conditions and, in fact, is the fastest growing diagnostic-imaging technique globally, and is very important. I am aware that the Australian Government Competitive Neutrality Complaints Office recently issued a report on PETNET in which it investigated four complaints that the member for Bennelong has been alluding to. My advice is that in three cases it found no breach of the competitive neutrality framework. Specifically, the complaints office found that ANSTO's process for selecting a commercial partner to re-enter the radiopharmaceuticals market is not a breach of competitive neutrality. Secondly, ANSTO's approach to apportioning and charging centrally provided services does satisfy the requirements of a competitive neutrality policy. Thirdly, the complaints office found that ANSTO's pricing of individual services in particular market segments in itself is not a breach of competitive neutrality policy.
There was one finding by the complaints office that PETNET's rate of return was lower than ANSTO had anticipated. As a result, the complaints office has recommended that PETNET's business model should be adjusted so that it achieves a commercial rate of return that reflects the amount ANSTO has invested in PETNET. The report does not specify how that should be done. The point needs to be made that ANSTO is not under a formal obligation to respond to that report, but as the government is advised is currently considering its position. This is a responsibility of Senator Evans, my colleague in the portfolio. I am aware he has asked the department to keep him informed on how ANSTO will go about implementing that important recommendation and responding to the latter finding I referred to.
ANSTO remains committed to working with the Australian medical community to ensure Australians have access to the best nuclear medicines available. The government wants to ensure that that is the case. My colleague Senator Evans will continue to follow this issue. If there is more specific detail that may assist the member for Bennelong, I am sure Senator Evans would facilitate a more detailed response.
The Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Energy and Innovation portfolio is very important to my constituency and the broader Geelong district. Manufacturing plays an integral role in the Australian community. It employs some one million Australians, often in very high-skilled and high-waged jobs. That is the situation in the broader Geelong region where manufacturing is at the very heart of the economy.
Having said that, there are a number of significant challenges that face manufacturing, including in the Geelong community. The high Australian dollar is a case in point. It is a challenge that my region is responding to, and I know that is the case in many manufacturing parts of the Australian economy. A key part of that response is innovation and productivity. I know the Geelong business community is working on these issues. Manufacturers in the Geelong region are working at ways to ensure that their businesses are making productivity gains and that innovation is right at the heart of their business planning.
Given that we have a price on carbon and many economies are moving to this situation, this is a very important challenge for Australian manufacturers. Indeed, those who enter the race early and face up to those challenges I think will succeed on a global scale. I am sure that is the case. Minister, in your portfolio responsibilities you have the clean energy future package, which is a package designed to assist manufacturers in Australia respond to a price on carbon. I would like to congratulate you for that. Also, of course, we have the Clean Technology Investment Program, which, again, is a critical package and policy suite to assist businesses and manufacturers respond to a price on carbon.
I particularly want to draw attention to the $200 million for food manufacturing. I have a significant food processing sector in my seat. We have got the dairy industry—Bulla cream is an example—and we have got meat processors. Again, I would like to hear from the minister about some of those important challenges. I particularly ask him to inform those present about these particular policies and how he is going about encouraging the manufacturing sector to take up the opportunities under these programs. What benefits might be made available under those programs to manufacturers not only in the Geelong region but indeed across the nation?
I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. The manufacturing sector is extremely important, as he observed. One million people are employed in manufacturing. It is a very important contributor to our economic activity and it is under pressure from the high value of the dollar and a number of other global factors. In essence, government policy needs to assist the industry to make adjustments to improve productivity, improve efficiency, reduce energy consumption, become more competitive and assist in finding access to global markets. Many government programs are directed towards that aim.
The member for Corangamite referred to an important new program that is operating under the clean energy package, and that is the Clean Technology Investment Program. This is a $1.2 billion program specifically for the manufacturing industry, designed to support, through co-contributions with businesses, investment in energy efficiency and reduced emissions intensity—all measures that will help improve productivity and technological application within the manufacturing sector. Just to put it in some specific circumstances and in particular in relation to the food manufacturing sector that the member for Corangamite asked about, a couple of weeks ago I announced the first round of grants under the Clean Technology Investment Program. It involved a group of organisations that were successful in gaining access to some funding. One of them is Bega Cheese, which received funding for a number of projects including improved fan speeds in coolrooms, improved efficiency of chilled water heat exchangers, improved heat recovery and reuse, and lighting upgrades. The Commonwealth is putting $282,000 towards the achievement of that and Bega Cheese is making a co-contribution. I will be visiting the site shortly to discuss the application of it on site.
Fonterra Foodservices was also successful in gaining a grant for its milk processing facilities in and around Wagga Wagga. Again, this money will be used to assist in the replacement of outdated refrigeration equipment. I visited a very interesting food manufacturing workplace at Emu Plains in Western Sydney, which is receiving a $500,000 grant and the company is making a co-contribution. An older style blast freezer system will be replaced with an industrial spiral freezer system using an ammonia refrigerant. It is going to reduce the emissions intensity of product in that plant by 54 per cent and create the opportunity to boost turnover from $20 million to $50 million because, once meals are produced in the factory, they can be frozen in 1½ hours with the new technology instead of the 10 hours it took previously. This represents a massive increase in productivity and it will increase the number of jobs on site.
DTR Holdings Pty Ltd, which is a food product manufacturing firm in Bundaberg in Queensland will be receiving a grant—again directed towards more efficient operations. It will replace high-pressure processing units with new, more efficient systems. This will boost productivity, boost competitiveness, boost output and improve the viability of that particular business. De Bortoli Wines is—
Decisions are made independently, I note for my colleague. De Bortoli Wines will be receiving a significant grant of almost $5 million—and making a significant co-contribution itself of course—for a massive scale energy reduction project across five different winemaking sites in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. The project will reduce energy use across its winemaking, packaging and warehousing operations through using power more efficiently, replacing old equipment and using solar technologies. Rickety Gate Trust, Matilda's Winery and Ferngrove Vineyards are also in the wine industry, part of the food manufacturing industry, and they will also receive grants. There will be further rounds of funding, but all of these things are going to make an enormous contribution to helping the manufacturing sector make the investments that can boost productivity and improve competitiveness. It is one way, in a very practical sense, that we will be able to point to the benefits of carbon pricing—because these investments would not be made without the government introducing the carbon price incentive in the economy.
I would like to go back to the Minister for Small Business to pick up on some of the points he mentioned. On the issue of the small business commissioner—is the minister aware there was a small business commissioner appointed to the ACCC in 1999 by a cabinet level minister for small business, Peter Reith? Your lifting and rebadging of coalition policy was an opportunity to have thought about getting the title correct. Rather than just lifting the coalition policy from the last election, you could have rung me and I could have pointed out the problems that you needed to get across. One of the things that we noticed at the last election was that there was no new policy brought to the electorate or to the small business community by the Gillard-Rudd government. I congratulate you on your nimbleness in picking up coalition policy and in following the lead of the coalition in having the small business spokesperson at the adults table and not at the kids table, as was the case for the three ministers that you follow.
In that light, you would be aware of some commentary that there is concern about what you have called the small business commissioner. For those listening, this is not the small business commissioner we already have in the ACCC, but is a rebadging by the government of the small business and family enterprise ombudsman the coalition has been promising. There is some concern about the independence of that role—that you are reducing a role which would have had the additional teeth, powers and tools needed to enable it to be an ally to small businesses to, effectively, just putting in another first assistant secretary within your own department. Have you seen those concerns?
Have you also seen the calls from your preferred small business advocacy group for an appointment from outside the executive to ensure the independence of the role and to protect its authority? I would be interested to know your thoughts about that. Following on from that, for the Small Business Support Line—I read your press releases about the number of calls and find those very interesting—do you keep statistics on the nature of the inquiries being directed to it? You made quite a point about ensuring that the small business commissioner—that is not the one that is already appointed to the ACCC but the one that is the government's rebadging of the small business and family enterprise ombudsman we were advocating—did not trip over the state level small business commissioners. Have you turned your mind to how you might ensure the Small Business Support Line services are not a duplication of what is already provided by the state services offering similar assistance?
That is an issue that has been raised with me regularly.
Also, I would be interested if you could provide a breakdown of the issues being canvassed on that support line. Are you getting substantial numbers of people ringing looking for advice on award matters, given that Fair Work is reluctant to provide actionable information to small business people who inquire?
Moving on to the earlier point about the dissatisfaction with the government: have you seen the report in the MYOB 2012 Business Monitor report headed up 'Near-record SME dissatisfaction with government' and how it goes on to draw attention to the 38 per cent level of significant dissatisfaction going up to 52 per cent just in the last two years? Do you have any antidote to this sense that the government has no idea what is happening in small business?
Going to the carbon tax: are you at all concerned that the government has done no meaningful modelling on the actual price impact of the carbon tax on different sizes and types of small business, with different supply chains and service systems, all of which will produce a different outcome for the consumers, yet your Prime Minister decreed a one per cent price cap which has no basis in fact, no legal basis whatsoever, and has been repeatedly contradicted by the ACCC as it seeks to provide reliable information to the small business community as distinct from the self-serving political spin coming out of the government and its ministers? And also are you concerned at the report from the ACCC in the last few days that they are relying very heavily on industry expertise, given that the government has not seen fit to value small business adequately to do that research? And finally, you have what is called an industry update unit, established in December 2009. Has this area within your portfolio actually given you an update about the conditions being faced by the small business community—the dire straits—and the dissatisfaction they feel with this government, and the need for a government that will restore hope, reward and opportunity?
Order! I just might remind the chamber once again, as I have on a number of occasions, of the use of the word 'you'. It would be 'the minister' or 'the government' rather than 'you'.
Mr Billson interjecting—
The member for Dunkley, it is a habit that has crept into debate on both sides of the chamber.
I have got about a minute and a half to answer a five minute question and I would like to say a couple of things. In relation to the carbon price reforms that this government is introducing, the one thing we will not do is apply the sorts of impositions that occurred under the Howard government when they introduced the GST which turned every small business in this country into an unpaid tax collector. We will not be doing that. There are no obligations to account for carbon omissions, there are no obligations to report for small businesses and indeed there are no direct taxes on small businesses, and we cannot say that for GST, can we? The facts are—
Mr Billson interjecting—
You've had your go, Bruce! Just calm down and let me just say a few words. In relation to all the other matters, it is one thing to promise something and it is another thing to do something. The difference between what the member advocates on behalf of small business is that he seems to have advocated it after they left government; that is the problem. See, you have got to do it, Bruce; you cannot just say it. We have actually enacted these policies because they help small business. And, arising of out the budget, as I was talking about, enhancing business confidence, can I say that two particular initiatives—the loss carry-back initiative, a great Labor reform, and the instant asset tax write off—were well received by the small business community because they will provide cash flow for that very important sector. Small business is the engine room of our economy; it employs almost five million Australians and I am very proud to be a cabinet minister for that portfolio and that constituency.
The Parliamentary Secretary, earlier this month, took the opportunity to open extensions at Macquarie Fields TAFE, where she herself was educated. I note that those developments cost $10.3 million, of which the federal government contributed $9.43 million. It involved a weights cardio room, aerobics rooms, a fitness testing room, educational offices and landscaping et cetera in regard to the sport and recreation facility whereby people can do certificates in fitness and remedial massage. In the health and community and the sign-industry facility, we had the installation of a massage therapy room, two clinical rooms, two sign-industry workrooms, and a specialist computer room as well. On the premises as a whole, there was the rollout of wireless technology resulting in students and staff having access to high quality wireless connections to the internet, and improved communications and directional signage throughout the TAFE et cetera. This TAFE, established in 1978, enrols about 3,000 students and it is a great facility. What impresses me is that it is in industries of the future where young people are interested, they are motivated, they have a personal interest plus employment possibility.
This is not the only TAFE effort by the current federal government, because last year—just down the road, as a matter of fact—we saw an $11 million building skills centre go in at Ingleburn. That is an interesting centre because it is basically whole of project based approach in regards to skills development allowing students in several trades to work together and work cooperatively in real-world scenarios. Once again, the overwhelming investment was by this federal government. Of that $11 million, $9.2 million came from the federal government. At that point—and I know things have improved since then—over the previous three years the government had invested more than $700 million to build new vocational education training facilities. There is a close involvement at Macarthur Centre in the building sector with industry, a focus on sustainable development and the area of green skill training in building and construction.
I do not need to indicate the urgent requirement that we actually invest in the TAFE sector. This has been a major thrust of the current federal government and I want to ask the parliamentary secretary whether she thinks it is too late in the day and whether, given the previous government's reliance upon international students to come in here, basically migrate on the basis of becoming a chef or a hairdresser, showing a total disregard of the need for skill development in this country, a privatisation of sectors of training to rather shoddy, questionable private sector providers, and the urgent skills shortages we have at this moment, these kinds of initiatives will be enough to reverse that damage.
I appreciate it, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank the member for his comments on the tremendous facility that we opened at Macquarie Fields and indeed, as he identifies, an area where I did my secondary education. It was a great pleasure to go back there. I also acknowledge the member for Lyons, who I know has a great commitment to adult education and further education opportunities. The member for Werriwa is absolutely correct: this is an area that this government has prioritised. Since the 2008-09 budget we have allocated over $15.5 billion to vocational education and training. As a former TAFE teacher it is certainly something that I believe is one of the most critical aspects for participation and productivity agenda into the future. Over $200 million has been allocated to the building TAFE facilities fund, which allowed us to fund the facility at Macquarie Fields. And in my own area at both Wollongong campus and Shellharbour campus there have been important facilities built. There has been a lot of capital put into our TAFE but also a lot of commitment to skills development across the nation, an issue that was repeatedly identified at the end of the years of the Howard government. Infrastructure and skills were two bottlenecks that were throttling our economy and something that this government has stepped up to. It was a great pleasure to join the member in opening that facility and to see those young people in that region being given an opportunity. There are also, as the member for Lyons has often discussed with me, the commitments and expenditure in language, literacy and numeracy for adults to make sure that those who have been left behind have an opportunity also to participate in the programs that this government is rolling out. I thank members for their interest in the portfolio areas.
The parliamentary secretary is well aware that there are those who request help to improve literacy and numeracy skills and there are many people who have difficulty in completing forms or interpreting written instructions, people who frequently miss meetings or get their times wrong. They do not respond to letters on time requesting their attendance at meetings. Those people need help, they do not need breaching of their benefits. I often point this out as I fight battles on behalf of people. There are those who may not seek help easily and are reluctant to seek help. I know about 46 per cent of Australians cannot read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables or understand instructions on a medicine bottle. Nearly half of our population cannot read with any fluency. It is a shameful and very worrying statistic.
This has great significance for what my colleague was saying recently and what the parliamentary secretary just said in relation to the skill base and the need to improve people's education. TAFE has always played that incredibly important role in improving and helping people get their trade certificates through TAFE. I would like to ask about the rollout of the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program and how it is going. How many years is that for? The Workplace English Language and Literacy, the WELL program, is targeting existing workers and how we can assist workers who are presently on the job improve to get advancement in their employment or to improve their skill base to go forward.
In acknowledgement of the extended time I will go to this briefly. I acknowledge that the member has had ongoing conversations with me since I have taken over this portfolio area about the importance of these two programs. For the member's information, it is the case that the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program does target jobseekers and is an investment of $494 million over four years. The Workplace English Language and Literacy Program, the WELL program, targets existing workers, as he identified, and is $124 million over four years. They are both programs that indicate our determination as the government to address the very issues that the member has raised with me and to ensure that as we roll out the upskilling of our entire population there are not people who are left behind in participating in that because they do not have the basic language, literacy and numeracy skills. It is a very important issue and I commend the member for his ongoing advocacy. I assure him that the government continues to work very proactively in that area.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.