Thursday, 14 February 2013
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013; Second Reading
Opposition members interjecting—
I hear the interjection from the opposite side congratulating me on being here for so long! But it reminded me of when I did my first speech on appropriations, here in this very chamber back in 2008. The member for Oxley and the member for Melbourne Ports, after I had finished—they were 20-minute speeches at that stage—both derided me and said it was the worst appropriations speech they had ever heard from a new member. At that time, I was new and they were really getting stuck into me. I guess I will have to see what the decision is by the member for Chifley once I have finished today!
Anyway, these bills are another stark reminder of the fiscal waste, mismanagement and incompetence of this Labor government. This government does not know what state its books are in. It has billions of dollars in unfunded promises and a giant black hole caused by a shonky tax that cannot even raise money as a tax is supposed to. Projects around Australia, such as the Gateway, in my electorate of Swan, have been placed in jeopardy by this incompetent government. This is before we start to talk about the 'come hell or high water', 'no ifs or buts' surplus that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister promised us. These appropriations are just a hint of the extra money this government will call on to fund its election year promises.
The iconic Gateway project being conducted in my seat of Swan in WA provides a much-needed boost to infrastructure. Driven by the expected doubling of passenger air travel and road freight over the next decade, coupled with proposed consolidation of the Perth Airport terminals, this billion-dollar project involves a major upgrade to the road networks surrounding Perth Airport and the freight and industrial hubs of Kewdale and Forrestfield.
This is arguably WA's most important area of transport interchange and is central to the development, growth and continued economic expansion of the state and the nation. However, this is just one of the joint Commonwealth-state projects that have been thrown into turmoil by a thoroughly irresponsible government.
I recall that way back in 2011, when the minerals resource rent tax was being debated in this place, the reason for its necessity given by those opposite was needing the funds it would raise to pay for essential infrastructure projects such as the Gateway project in WA. In the lead-up to the 2010 election, I and the coalition, led by Tony Abbott, recognised that the Gateway WA project was essential to the development of Western Australia and Australia as a major infrastructure investment not only in the Perth area but in my seat of Swan. As such, the coalition pledged to fund the Gateway WA project without introducing a mining tax that would rip funds and wealth from WA. However, the Labor government used this infrastructure project to hold a gun to the heads of the people of Swan and Western Australia, where the mining tax was, is and always will be incredibly unpopular. The Treasurer, hiding behind a facade of fiscal responsibility, appeared on Perth ABC radio in 2011 and said:
Revenue from the MRRT does go to investment in infrastructure projects like the Gateway project in Western Australia around the airport. That is what it's all about, making the investments, particularly in these mining communities. If we don't have the revenue from the tax then we can't make the investments.
I repeat: he said, 'If we don't have the revenue from the tax then we can't make the investments.' I asked the Treasurer during question time on Wednesday how, given that the mining tax has raised less than 10 per cent of what was promised to help fund the Gateway WA project, the government would pay for the project given the Treasurer's strident insistence that without the tax investments could not be made. Unfortunately, the Treasurer seemed unable to answer this simple question, simply saying that the Gateway WA project is in the 2012-13 budget. Where the money will come from to fund this budget is another question entirely that the Treasurer seems incapable of answering. The Gateway WA project is at risk due to the Treasurer's and the Prime Minister's reliance on the MRRT, a tax based on a premise particularly insulting and damaging to WA that has barely raised any money.
The government has paraded its ministers around the Gateway project so many times they barely rate a headline. In fact, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport was there a fortnight ago, on 1 February, to again primp the government's big spending initiative even though he knew the MRRT had not produced even one-third of the entire $680 million the government has pledged to provide the project with. I was at that particular event, and the minister for transport made sure I was in the photo. I am sure he will table it at some time in the next few weeks to show that I was there supporting the government and their project. During his speech at the event, more interesting was the omission of the phrases 'mining tax' and 'MRRT'; they were also omitted from his press releases relating to the funding of the Gateway WA project. It is essential that the minister and the Treasurer reaffirm their commitment to the Gateway WA project and address exactly where the funding will come from. Those opposite owe it to the Western Australian government—who are, together with the Commonwealth, funding this project—to be open, honest and up-front about whether or not the project will go ahead and be completed in time for the 2017 target Main Roads WA and the federal government have set.
I would like to reiterate once again my unwavering support for the Gateway WA project. During Wednesday's question time, the Treasurer stated that I did not support this incredibly important infrastructure development in my own electorate. This is quite simply untrue. It is essential that the Treasurer come forward and guarantee the completion of Gateway WA by informing the House and the people of Swan exactly where the money will come from to fund this project. Too often during this parliament we have seen important projects put off, cancelled or delayed indefinitely. Too often costs have blown out to astronomical proportions without any increase in quality or reduction in delivery time.
The town of Victoria Park was slated as one of the initial rollout sites for the government's ill-fated National Broadband Network. Construction for the NBN—wait and listen!—in WA first started 19 months ago. They started the NBN rollout in Western Australia 19 months ago, Mr Deputy Speaker! This week we heard in Senate estimates that not one—yes, not one—household in WA, South Australia or the Northern Territory has been connected to the NBN.
This is simply not good enough. I must confess that I am baffled as to how the NBN Co. can make such a mess of this project. NBN said that 12 months after construction commences, premises would be capable of being connected by fibre to the new broadband network. It is now 19 months on since construction began in some places in WA, and they have acknowledged that not one household is capable of being connected at this point.
Mr Husic interjecting—
Well, check the facts. They said it in Senate estimates. The member for Chifley is interjecting again, and I am just correcting him—check the Senate estimates. We still have no idea when Housing WA will have access to the NBN, and no idea if the NBN will actually be a cost-effective and viable option for the people of WA, who are struggling with increased costs of living brought on by this government's various tax hikes.
I have been contacted by various constituents in Teague Street, Victoria Park, in my electorate of Swan, who are fed up with the amount of time it has taken the NBN Co. and its contractors to complete work on their streets. I would like to read out one of the complaints I received on 3 December 2012 from a Teague Street constituent in relation to the drawn out and shambolic works being conducted:
Dear Steve Irons, I'd like to express my dislike of the NBN doing work down Teague Street right outside our home for weeks now with no progress seemingly to have been made. If it is taking that long down one street with no progress I think it is going to take years to do all of Victoria Park. I walk regularly each morning around Victoria Park and it looks like nothing is happening in any other street. They dug up and cemented outside our home and now the replacement cement has tyre marks in it so I have to look at that now forever. They did not finish it off you see and no one seems to want to do anything about it.
He then followed up with another email on 6 February, again in relation to the same situation in Teague Street:
This is with reference to the concrete with tyre marks in on Teague Street. We have a letter from Syntheo, prompted by Mr Irons, confirming they would, at the end of January, when they finish work on our small area of Teague Street, replace the defaced concrete which was not originally in that condition. After weeks of serious digging, two weeks ago, the work stopped and they left the street without honouring their original timeline.
Before the Christmas break they concreted certain areas only to dig at least three of them up again in the New Year. The piece we are asking to be replaced is only half the size of one of the sections they decided to dig up again.
The householders on the odd number side of our small section of the street would like to know if they are returning. Our neighbours have written asking the same questions. We would like to be able to ask questions of Syntheo as it is the tax payers who are funding this project.
Syntheo is circumspect in acknowledging our emails… We are saddened we have to pursue this but we feel that the NBN is being rolled out without adequate community consultation and blatant disregard for the anaesthetics to the surroundings.
Many nature strips once lovingly manicured are now piles of sand. This will look shocking if it is going to be undertaken in every suburb in Western Australia.
This situation is simply absurd. To top this mess off, residents in Victoria Park still cannot connect to the NBN. If this is the kind of incompetence and inefficiency that is typical of the NBN Co. and Syntheo I am not surprised we are experiencing constant delays with delivery and cost blowouts.
As the member for Wentworth and shadow minister for communications and broadband stated on 6PR radio in Perth yesterday, the coalition is not against the National Broadband Network. We will finish the National Broadband Network and ensure that all Australians have access to the very fast broadband. However, we will do it efficiently and cost effectively, and deliver a superior product at a fraction of the cost. The people of Swan are fed up with this government's inability to deliver on its promises.
Despite the complete disregard those opposite show for the expansion and growth of Western Australia and my electorate of Swan, I would like to close my speech by informing the House of the achievements of Rivervale resident, Alan Richardson OAM, who was awarded the Order of Australia medal as part of the 2013 Australia Day celebrations.
Mr Richardson has been a resident of Rivervale in the electorate of Swan for the past 55 years. Over this time he has contributed to his community in many significant ways, especially in the area of services to veterans, their families and the community of Belmont for which he was awarded the Order of Australia medal. Alan was president of the city of Belmont sub-branch and the Rivervale-Carlisle sub-branch of the Returned Services League and became a life member of Lions International in 1987. He served as a councillor for the city of Belmont from 1989 to 2004 as well as being the city of Belmont deputy mayor from 1996 to 1997 and again from 2003 to 2005. On top of this, Alan has been involved in volunteering for schools, kindergartens and sporting associations within the local community.
A father of five, Alan says his drive and enthusiasm in helping out the local community came from his nine years of service in the Australian Army. In an article in one of our local papers, Alan stated: 'I think that those who serve will continue to serve and that is my perception of the service. You get the comradeship, you serve in the army then you serve the community. I think as you get older you try to wean yourself off and bring other new people in and I know there are a lot there that will come forward and do exactly what I have done.' I was incredibly honoured to nominate Alan for this award and attend the Australia Day ceremony at the city of Belmont on Australia Day. Alan's humble community service is an example of an asset for everyone in the community.
I am proud of the community and the proud patriotic spirit that was displayed throughout my electorate on Australia Day. The overwhelming messages I receive when I am out in the community, though, are that small businesses are struggling under a mountain of red tape and families are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. Families of Swan want a government that delivers on policy not a government based solely on broad motherhood statements and aspirational goals, which are not backed up by funding or programs. A coalition government will deliver important reforms and get rid of taxes that are strangling development around Australia, particularly in my home state of Western Australia. In the short time I have left, I would also like to inform the House that we have been advised that the Great Eastern Highway project is going to be finished early which will be fantastic. The funding for the project was initially announced by John Howard during the 2007 election campaign and then followed up by the member for Griffith, who then became the Prime Minister four days later, with a commitment to that important infrastructure project in Western Australia. A lot of residents—
Ms Hall interjecting—
It is a joint venture with the state Liberal government—
Ms Hall interjecting—
Being overlooked by the state Liberal government. It was a commitment by both sides of politics to an important gateway to the city of Perth. The people of Perth will be extremely happy that it is going to be finished on time, if not before time.
Firstly, I want to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill passed through the House yesterday. Whilst I did not manage to speak in that debate, I would like to pledge my support for it and also my support for a referendum to have constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians. Listening to the previous contribution in this debate, it really crystallised for me what it is all about. One side of this House opposes everything. It does not support the NDIS. It does not support the education legislation, Gonski—they are very dodgy on that. It does not support the NBN. It does not support the schoolkids bonus. It does not support the tax cuts to low-income earners. It does not support extra money for pensioners. It will not come clean on its position in relation to industrial relations.
On this side, we have a government that for the first time introduced legislation to make a real difference in the lives of people with disability; education reform—the first review of education in the last 40 years; delivery for aged care and pensioners; and workplace relations reform. This week we have seen legislation introduced that will increase flexibility in the workplace.
The government got rid of the Howard government Work Choices legislation that absolutely targeted workers that live in Shortland electorate and other electorates throughout Australia. It is an opposition that has no vision, whilst we have a government that has introduced groundbreaking legislation that will create a lasting reform within Australian society.
The NDIS: as a person who spent most of their working life working in disability, helping people live in the community or finding employment, I know the challenges that are faced by people with disability. I know that each and every day it is a challenge for them. I know that at the extreme end, where people have a very severe disability, it is a challenge for their parents and carers each and every day of their lives. I know that this legislation is welcomed by families and people with a disability. I urge those on the other side of this House to get behind this and work to deliver this to the Australian people.
Education: I looked on the computer this morning and I see $240 million extra for disadvantaged schools and quality teaching. I know from regularly visiting my schools and the most disadvantaged schools, how they have valued the extra money that has gone into them, particularly those low-SES schools, looking at literacy and numeracy. Big changes have taken place.
One of the schools in Shortland electorate has got the lowest SES in the whole of New South Wales. It is only a small Catholic school. There has been outstanding improvements because of the investment that has been put into that school and other schools that are disadvantaged within the Shortland electorate. I talk about the Shortland electorate but it is reflected nationwide, and those investments have made real differences in the lives of students. When they leave school and, as they progress through life, they will have many more choices than they previously had.
In my electorate, there has been massive investment in infrastructure in the schools. I have spoken about this a couple of times this week where there has been considerable money invested in schools through the BER program, through the computers in schools, through the national school partnership fund. There has also been nearly a $6 million investment in Floraville Public School with a capital works program. Every school has noticed a difference since this government came to power.
Members of the opposition talk about the BER in a very disparaging way. I can only say that within Shortland electorate it has been very welcome. More than one principal has said to me: 'This is once-in-a-generation investment in education.' You might ask why is infrastructure so important? Anyone who has looked at this issue will tell you that: if you have an environment that is conducive to learning, then students are going to thrive. So that is education.
We look at pensioners: they have had an increase of $172 per fortnight for a single; and a $182 for a pensioner couple per fortnight. Both single and couples' pensions have increased by over $4,000 since this government came to power.
The opposition, when they were in power, ignored the voice of pensioners. Pensioners said that they were doing it hard, they said that they could not manage, and the opposition chose to ignore them when they were in government. We listened and we said, 'Yes, pensioners are doing it hard, particularly single pensioners', so we delivered to them. Look at aged-care reform. We are poised to undertake the biggest change to the aged-care system that has been in place for a very long time—reform that will mean frail aged people will be able to access aged care within their home, reform that will mean that frail aged people will be able to have confidence in the aged care that they receive if they need to move into an aged-care facility, and the financial arrangements will be much better than they currently are. These are big reforms and reforms that are welcomed in the communities that I represent in this parliament.
Look at the Schoolkids Bonus. I have had so many emails from parents saying what a difference it made to them—how they are able to buy the shoes for their kids to go back to school, get the uniforms, get the books, get the rulers, the pencils all the things that schoolkids needs when they start a year—and how valuable it is to them. The fact that it is in two payments is something that they welcome. What is the opposition going to do? If they are elected they are going take away the Schoolkids Bonus. It is really not good enough. It is about delivering to families so that kids can go to school and have the equipment and the things that they need to succeed.
This government has delivered tax cuts to low-income earners. What is the opposition going to do? It is going to rip away those tax cuts. I am really worried about the impact that a coalition government would have on the communities that I represent in this parliament. I really think that you only have to look at their Paid Parental Leave scheme that is going to be delivering to mothers that are on incomes over $100,000 to see where this opposition is focused on. Look at their relationship with the mining companies and their commitment to support mining companies but at the same time making a commitment that they are going to take away the household assistance that has been delivered to pensioners. It is a very sad state of affairs when you have got one side of politics that is only interested in supporting those people that can afford to look after themselves as opposed to supporting the whole of the country—very disappointing.
I would like to turn quickly to health. Health has been an area where this government has invested over $20 billion extra and given money to the states to address the waiting times in hospital and issues in accident and emergency. I know that was money that was needed. I know from when I was on the Health and Ageing Committee and we delivered and tabled The blame game report. That report identified the need for extra money to go into primary healthcare. We have done that. There is the Medicare Locals and local hospital networks—all big reforms—as well as training more doctors and nurses. One of the areas where there has also been a massive improvement is in the area of bulk-billing. In my electorate it was under 60 per cent and now it is at somewhere up around the 80 per cent mark. That is really important when you represent an older electorate in parliament like I do.
There has also been investment in private practice through the Health Infrastructure Program and there has been a number of practices in the Shortland electorate that benefit from that. I will just mention two.
One practice at Jewells, the Jewells Medical Centre, received $500,000, which was the maximum grant. That centre has been transformed into a mini superclinic. It provides services across the board to the patients there and also caters for training of GPs. The other practice I would like to mention is the Windale Medical Centre. It received a smaller grant, but it is in a very disadvantaged area and it has upgraded the surgery so it can provide more services to that community, which is really welcomed.
Industrial relations is an area I would like to touch on very quickly. It is an area where there is a big difference between the government and the opposition. Yesterday the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations announced that there would be more flexibility so that new and expecting mums who wanted to work would receive better support. He also talked about increased entitlements for taking unpaid leave and allowing parents to choose when they would take that unpaid leave; protection for women at work by ensuring they can transfer to a safe job, where it is available; and ensuring that women who need to take unpaid special maternity leave prior to giving birth are not penalised. There are other flexibilities that have been introduced into the workforce that will not only benefit women but also older workers, encouraging them to remain in the workforce and, for that matter, recognising that families also from time to time need some flexibility.
That, along with removing Work Choices, is the government's record when it comes to industrial relations. The opposition's record is Work Choices and the refusal to say what they would do, whether or not they will reintroduce Work Choices. This week we had the Leader of the Opposition introducing legislation into this parliament that was not about providing better benefits and protections for workers but, rather, was about attacking unions. That side of the parliament is about attacking and saying no, whereas we on this side of the parliament are about delivering to people. We are about recognising that Australian communities look to government not only for ideas but for policies that will deliver, whilst those on the other side are all about saying no and failing to deliver to the Australian people.
I am pleased to rise to speak on appropriations bills Nos 3 and 4. When we consider the appropriations bills we obviously consider questions of the general budgetary position and the government's budgetary strategy and performance. As we know, that performance has been dismal. There is no other word for the shameful string of deficits which this government has produced year after year—deficits which turn out to be vastly larger than originally projected. Of course, this year, 2012-13, was the year that we were boldly promised there would be a surplus of $1½ billion. That was what Treasurer Swan told the parliament and the nation in May last year, but before the end of last year he had to come out and admit that it could not be done.
The overall budgetary position is grim, reflecting mismanagement, lack of discipline and basic incompetence. But, even more troublingly, the true position is worse than that revealed in the budget numbers because of extra spending on entities like the National Broadband Network Company, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and others which is not included in the budget bottom line. In other words, the government's figures are based upon an accounting trick. They are spending this year, and for several years to come, billions of dollars more than is contained in the budget bottom line—the headline number that we all talk about.
But although that money is not included in the printed documents, the money is still to be spent and has to be paid for. How is it to be paid for? It is to be paid for through borrowing. The question therefore which presents itself is: what is the basis on which the government is engaging in this accounting trick? What is the basis on which the government is not including within what is colloquially called the budget bottom line or strictly the underlying cash balance significant spending, and is that accounting basis justified?
I want to make three points focusing particularly on the accounting trickery being used in relation to the government's equity investment in the National Broadband Network Company. The three areas I want to cover are: firstly, to review exactly how much is being spent on NBN; secondly, to look at what is Labor's stated excuse for not including that money in the budget bottom line in the underlying cash balance; and thirdly, to make the point that the evidence is increasingly clear that the accounting basis for not including that money in the underlying cash balance is threadbare indeed.
Let us start with the question of precisely how much money has been and is to be spent on the National Broadband Network. As at 30 June 2012, $2.832 billion had been spent and that was the cumulative injection of equity by the Commonwealth into NBN Co. That money had been spent over three years since 2009-10—in other words, on average over that three-year period almost $1 billion a year was being spent on the National Broadband Network, money which was not included in the published budget figures. Yet those are still dollars going out the door every day and still dollars that have to be repaid.
On just $1 billion a year so far, you might say: is that really a serious matter? Of course it is a serious matter, but the key point is it gets a lot more serious from here on in, because in 2012-13 the amount to be spent is $4.672 billion, in 2013-14 it is over $6 billion, in 2014-15 it is closer to $7 billion and in 2015-16 it is almost $5 billion. Beyond the forward estimates period there is another $5 billion which this government discloses it intends to spend. In the four years including this year, $20 billion will be spent on the National Broadband Network, but none of that money is included in the figures which Treasurer Swan has presented to the parliament and the people of Australia as he makes his claim as to the amount of deficit that the government will end up with at the end of the year.
Let us turn to the question of whether there is a good accounting basis for the approach that the government is taking to spending all this money but not including it in the published figures, not including it in the budget bottom line. What is Labor's excuse for not including this expenditure in the bottom line? Why is it that a major expenditure program like the National Broadband Network Company can be simply excluded from the budget? It is not just in the case of the National Broadband Network Company that we have seen this approach being taken—in fact, it is a technique that the Rudd-Gillard government are quite keen on. They have used it quite extensively and they have also done it with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which according to the government's press release will invest $10 billion in businesses seeking funds to get innovative clean energy proposals and technologies off the ground. Of course parenthetically we might note that the ripper business strategy here is to be a venture capital business investing in proposals that the private sector does not think will be viable investments. One can quite reasonably raise very serious doubts about the likelihood of very much of that money generating a positive return.
Nevertheless that has not troubled the government and they have used the same accounting treatment in relation to most of that $10 billion as they are using in respect of the money being pumped into the National Broadband Network. In 2011, officials of the Department of Finance and Deregulation told Senate estimates that most of that $10 billion will not be included in the budget bottom line. Following that estimates finance minister Wong put out a media release in which she quoted the words of one of the officials explaining the justification for not including that money in the budget bottom line:
So the extent to which the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is undertaking investments, and that's the Government's policy, then the majority of its activities will not impact upon the budget bottom line.
That of course is the same rationale that is being followed in the case of the National Broadband Network. The theory is that these are expenditures which are investments designed to secure a financial return. The theory is that this is money that is being invested into a business venture which is going to generate a positive return for the Commonwealth and in turn for the taxpayers of Australia.
A typical feature of this particular accounting strategy is that the money is allocated to a separate legal entity, typically as the acquisition of equity in that entity. That is what is being done with the National Broadband Network Co., that what is being done with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and a similar technique has been used with the Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd. If you are a government which is tempted to hide what ought to be ordinary annual expenditures, what ought to be moneys included in your budget as part of the routine expenditure and the spending of government, then the use of this particular accounting technique is obviously extremely attractive because it lets you pump a significant amount of money into ventures which are politically desirable, but you do not need to tell the Australian people that you are spending that money. Of course, the accounting treatment is one thing. What we need to do is look at the underlying economic substance and ask how valid it is to treat the payment of this money as an investment.
How valid is it to accept the assumption that every dollar the Commonwealth puts in in cash into one of these ventures such as the National Broadband Network Co. is being exchanged for a dollar of equity in the National Broadband Network Co. which has the same value. Or in fact, when we look at the substance of it, can we conclude that each dollar of equity is actually worth a whole lot less than a dollar because this is a dud investment, because the National Broadband Network Co. is performing very poorly and because we as taxpayers can have no confidence at all that the money which is being put into NBN Co. is eventually going to be returned? Let us be clear: that is the necessary requirement which must be established for this accounting treatment to be valid. Against that backdrop, let us ask the question: how good an investment is the National Broadband Network Co. turning out to be? The evidence is clear. It is a dud investment. It is an investment which is performing extremely badly and no objective observer could persuade themselves that it was likely to generate the requisite positive return based on the evidence we have seen today. Let us start with the financial track record.
In 2010-11, NBN Co. lost $323 million. In 2011-12, NBN Co. lost $504 million. Its cumulative loss by the time of the closing off of the books last year, 30 June 2012, was $923 million. To that point, taxpayers had put in $2.8 billion. What we have had is taxpayers putting in $2.8 billion and in three years roughly a third of that has vaporised, roughly a third of that has disappeared, roughly a third of that has gone. On the published accounts of NBN Co., $900 million just splashed up against the wall. You would have to be remarkably trusting, you would have to be remarkably credulous to believe that that $900 million is going to come back.
Then let us look at the operational track record of NBN Co. You might well say, 'Okay, it's losing money so far but it's performing so well operationally that we are confident that in due course it's all going to come good and the money is going to come back.' Let us remind ourselves that NBN Co. is supposed to pass 12.2 million premises.
As at December 2012 it had passed less than one per cent of the 12.2 million premises that it is supposed to pass. By the way, that is after 30 per cent of the time has elapsed between when it was announced and when it is supposed to finish at the end of 2020. Over 30 per cent of the time has elapsed, and less than one per cent of the premises that are supposed to be passed have actually been passed.
What about the number of people served on the fibre network? As at the end of December 2012 there were 10,400 premises with an active fibre connection to the NBN. That is a tiny number when this is a project that has been underway since 2009 and when we have already spent $2.8 billion plus the additional money that has been spent this year. By the end of this year, as we know, there will be another almost $5 billion that will have been pumped into it.
You might well say, 'The NBN Co. assures us that by June 2013 it is going to pass 341,000 premises, so they are starting to make a bit of progress.' Unfortunately, what we have seen from NBN Co. so far is a consistent record of overpromising and underdelivering. Remember: its first corporate plan, issued in December 2010, said that by 30 June 2012 it would pass 317,000 premises with fibre. The actual number was roughly one-eighth at 39,000. It is a consistent record of NBN Co. overprimising and underdelivering, and all the signs are that we are seeing that again. It is supposed to get to this 341,000 by June 2013, as I have mentioned. In estimates on Tuesday night the company admitted that there is a company called Syntheo, which was contracted to design and connect 66,000 premises in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory split into 25 fibre serving areas. Not one of these fibre serving areas has yet been switched on.
We might also look at how NBN Co. is going against its promised rate of progress. According to its corporate plan, the number of premises with an active fibre connection is going to increase from 3,500 as of 30 June 2012 to 54,000 by June 2013. As at December 2012 they had only reached 10,400. If you have to get from 3,500 to 54,000 in 12 months and halfway through that you have reached 10,400, you are not doing very well. In the telecommunications industry you monitor what are called run rates, and NBN Co. is well behind the run rate it requires to achieve its target.
The broader business plan that NBN Co. has is simply lacking in credibility. When we look at the financial position and the operational position, there is no good reason to be confident that NBN Co. is going to be an investment that delivers a return, and that means that the accounting treatment cannot be substantiated. Wayne Swan's budget bottom line is out by several billions of dollars this year because the money spent on the NBN is not being properly accounted for.
I rise today to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013. No-one could imagine that I would be rising in this chamber just six short years since the coalition government ran successive budget surpluses, paid off $96 billion worth of debt and left this current government a $20 billion surplus, a $20 billion university fund and $20 billion cash in the Future Fund only to find we now face a situation where they have not only spent all that but have also spent almost $200 billion more. They have spent themselves into a huge hole. In doing that, they have spent Australia into a huge hole.
Were any of that spending being spent on lasting, economy-improving infrastructure that would actually boost our GDP, perhaps the alarm would not be quite as great as it is now. We have seen the Treasurer produce budget deficit after budget deficit. Of course. he has made promises that he will produce a surplus. The member for Longman, a young man—I think he is 22 years old—is still waiting for the first Labor surplus in his life. We need to see a government that can actually control its spending. This is not a government that can. It is a government that spends and spends and then introduces new taxes to try to make up for the enormous deficit that it has accrued.
It has completely wasted money. We just had the member for Bradfield talking about the NBN. I am a supporter of fast broadband. In fact, I already have fibre at my house. It is not operating at the moment. Perhaps it will again in the near future. But the reality is that in Toowoomba, where the broadband rollout is taking place, no-one is seeing it yet. There has been a lot of fanfare. There have been a lot of businesses saying how great that will be for them. But I am right in the middle of the quarter of Toowoomba that was going to get broadband a year ago. I doubt they even know where Kooroongah Street is. I have seen men and women in high-vis vests laying cable, but no-one is hooked up. Here we have again a situation where money is simply being wasted when there is a more-than-adequate alternative. For probably $30 billion less we could produce the same speeds for households, speeds of up to 100 megabytes, speeds which will allow movie streaming, downloading movies in a flash—not that some of us have time to do that, but our daughters are quite into that sort of stuff. We can do all of that far cheaper, far sooner and far more economically than the current proposal.
We have seen money wasted on pink batts—billions of dollars literally up in smoke. Unfortunately, lives were lost in the process. This is a government whose incompetence knows no bounds.
Look at what my electorate could do with just a small part of that $30 billion. The Deputy Speaker and I attended a seminar in Toowoomba last week. Toowoomba has reached the point where we have said we are not going to wait any longer for a second range crossing. We are not going to have 40,000 vehicles a day going through our main street. We are not going to see our roads in Toowoomba destroyed by heavy transport, the houses adjacent to those roads shaking. We are not going to see the risk to human life as mothers take their children to school and weave in amongst heavy transport and wide loads—all of which is great for Australia's economy. We support the development of, particularly, the Deputy Speaker's electorate, where we are seeing such phenomenal investment going on in the coal industry and the coal seam gas industry with a whole range of resource and primary industry projects. We just do not want the trucks in our main street. We want to be able to drive our cars down that street without being urinated on by cows in cattle trucks. I have had cattle. I know how that all works. I want to see them transported to market as much as anyone, but I do not want them in the centre of my city.
So the Deputy Speaker; the member for Toowoomba North, Trevor Watts; the member for Toowoomba South, John McVeigh; Mayor Paul Antonio of Toowoomba Regional Council; a range of civic leaders and I put on this day that is about closing the deal. We want a Toowoomba range crossing built now. We have been waiting and waiting. Had the coalition been elected in 2007, this range crossing already would have been started. Had we been elected in 2010, it would have been started. But what is the response from the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport? The minister for transport just says no. He is not even vaguely interested in seeing the construction of this road—a road that will cost somewhere between $1.7 billion and $2 billion. If it is not in a capital city in a Labor seat, it is not going to be built by this government.
I make no apologies that we will be campaigning against the Labor government on a whole range of issues, including their absolutely atrocious financial mismanagement, with the aim of changing the government to a government which Australians trust, to a government which will do the things that Australians want it to do and a government that will do what it says it will do.
We will bring in place a government that will build the Toowoomba Range crossing. No other political party will guarantee that at the next election. We will. We have allocated $700 million. It will be $700 million well spent because the productivity gains out of the efficiencies in that infrastructure will be enormous. For a B-double truck travelling that route the savings in time will be almost half an hour. It will be perhaps even as much as three quarters of an hour for the larger loads. It is currently taking 80 minutes to travel from Withcott to Charlton on the western side of Toowoomba. That time will be cut to probably not much more than 20 to 25 minutes.
Apart from the social change that taking those transports out of town will have, the economic gain for Queensland and Australia will be enormous. So at the coming election we will be saying to the people in Toowoomba and on the Darling Downs and in Queensland, 'Do you want another government that continues to waste money, that builds school halls at highly inflated prices, that installs pink batts that have to be pulled out at the cost of billions of dollars, that sprays money away on an NBN that is not going to be able to do the sorts of things that people will want in the future? The people will want wireless, they will want to be remotely connected. They will not want to be tied to a wall. We will ask, 'Are you going to elect another government that will take us further and deeper into debt, that will not do what it promises it will do, or do you want a government that will actually deliver for the people of Australia, not just the people of inner Sydney and Melbourne but one that goes out into the regions?' That will be the choice for the people, not only in Groom and Maranoa but for people all across Australia. I sincerely hope that the people make the right choice because another three years of this government is another three years of the destruction of Australian small business and of business confidence generally.
We have seen, in the last 10 days, an extraordinary admission by the Treasurer, but we should not have been surprised. Those of us who understand business and how accounting and the taxation system works knew that when the Treasurer designed the RSPT and then quickly retreated. He assassinated the then Prime Minister, the member for Griffith, on the way through and then hastily did a deal where any outcome would have been fine—just tell me what you want and I will do it. So we had the negotiating genius and the economic genius of the member for Lilley and the Prime Minister going in and negotiating against three of the biggest mining companies in the world to produce a tax which, as we know, has produced no money.
Only the Labor Party could put in place a scheme to install pink batts in ceilings, then find it does not work and then have to pay $1 billion to get it out. That scheme pales into insignificance when you look at the incompetence of this government when it has put in place a tax that is supposed to raise $12 billion and it has raised less than $50 million in its first six months of operation.
How could you do that? Well, you go into a negotiation where you do not know what you are doing. You do not take the Treasury people with you because they might know what they are doing. You sit down and you negotiate with the likes of Marius Kloppers and David Peever and Mr Freyberg from Xstrata and you say, 'Okay, what do you want?' They say, 'Well, the first thing we want is all state royalties rebated. No cap.' That was the deal. Of course, that immediately opened it up for states to lift their royalties. What states do with their royalties is up to the states because the thing that is forgotten in all of this is that the resource actually belongs to the people of the state. It does not, as the Treasurer says, belong to the people of Australia. Each state, under the Constitution, owns its own assets, its own resources and therefore is able to set its own royalties—that is to value the value of those resources when they are extracted by companies.
That was the first major flaw and there was a little bit of logic in that. The second, though, was just beyond belief. Here we have a mining company with an asset that they may have built—and let us pick a number—for $400 million, $500 million, and let us say that it is an iron ore mine or a coalmine. Over the last year the value of that resource has probably trebled. In the case of coal, it may have even quadrupled, so the value on the day of that mine has obviously quadrupled as well. The company has already had the opportunity to depreciate the original asset under the taxation scheme so the three miners said, 'I'll tell you what, Mr Treasurer, why don't you allow us to depreciate it again, and not just at its original value but at today's market value?'
We know what has happened. The big mining companies that are particularly advantaged by this, who have got long-standing assets and large investments, just went snap, 'Thank you very much. If we are going to have a tax, we will take this one.' The rest is history. But what we are yet to see from this tax is when, even if commodity prices return, large companies are going to pay any tax. What they are doing at the moment is accruing credits and —again, another masterly deal by the Treasurer—these are not at CPI or the bond rate, but at the bond rate plus seven per cent. What a fantastic number! I would love to have money invested at those sorts of terms—bond rate plus seven per cent. So what we have seen already in the short six months, it is suggested, is that companies like BHP and Rio have already accrued billions of dollars of credits that they will be able to use against future MRRT liabilities.
There is only one solution to this economic chaos that we are suffering under with this current government and that is to get rid of it. If we want to turn Australia to a situation of stable economic management and surpluses, there is only one decision for Australia and that is at the election whenever it is between now and 14 September, we get rid of the current Treasurer and the current Prime Minister—and mind you, that may happen before 14 September, but I shall not digress into that—and install and Abbott-Hockey Prime Minister-Treasurership to ensure that Australia progresses. We must take away these random decisions that are made for political purposes and we must resume the steady economic management of this country. We must put Australia on a firm footing.
At the outset I must thank the member for McPherson who has kindly agreed to the quick reorganisation of the speaking order, and my apologies that we did not actually communicate that to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Given that we are both here doing our respective House duty, it is a pleasure to be able to benefit from the cooperation and assistance of the member for McPherson.
I was not planning to speak but sometimes you hear things and you just cannot help yourself. I figure that it is important for us to be able to talk about a range of things that we are doing as the government for the benefit of the Australian people, but also at the same time put a skewer to some of the myths being peddled around during this debate. I think that it is important that people have the facts on the table and are able to make up their own minds about the state of affairs when it comes to the budget.
Coming from Western Sydney as I do, whenever you talk infrastructure it is a big deal, particularly in our region where there are nearly two million people, people with a range of different needs, infrastructure is very important whether it is alleviating transport congestion, improving the spread of economic development in our City of Sydney, improving health infrastructure or education, right through to communications infrastructure.
I am reminded of a really good piece that was written by the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness Craig Emerson in the weekend's Australianwhere he contrasted the level of investment by this government in infrastructure compared to the level of infrastructure committed to by the Howard government.
He wrote about the fact, and remarks on the statistics, that this government is committed to about $36 billion in infrastructure, drawing off the economic conditions that we have compared to when the previous government had their share of the resources boom and what they took out of that resources boom for infrastructure. It was $7 billion under them; $36 billion under us. The other side of politics vacated the cities. By that I mean they got rid of the urban cities program where you would have seen us working with state governments to deal with the type of infrastructure issues that exist in urban areas, be they in what you would consider as the major cities or in what the member for Groom was talking about for his neck of the woods. He made reference, Mr Deputy Speaker, to your presence at various community functions and where you wanted to see improvements in your area.
The former government never committed to working with the states on those infrastructure issues that the Reserve Bank said would create the type of capacity constraints that would hold back the economy. The bank said there were two types of capacity constraints: either failure to invest in infrastructure or a failure to invest in people's skills and that those skill shortages would lead to inflationary pressures that would hold back the economy. That is what the Reserve Bank was saying early in the last part of the last decade. The former government failed to address it adequately, and I will come back to that point.
One of the best things we could do in this nation is to invest in telecommunications—information and communications technology—but in particular the infrastructure that supports it. The NBN is hands down great for our generation in terms of infrastructure investment, which will be transformed. If you look at the study done by Deloitte Access Economics on the type of economic wealth generated by having the internet and faster broadband speeds, it is estimated to be $50 billion today and will ramp up to $70 billion. It also depends on what report you refer to because IBM reckons it could go up $130 billion in due course. Either way, businesses being able to access high-speed broadband is critical.
The member for Groom used the line, 'We will do what we say we will do.'. The coalition said 19 times that they would fix broadband in this country and 19 times they failed. As the member for Groom said, 'We will do what we say we will do' but they could not even deliver broadband. I am so tired of hearing, and I am conscious of the Deputy Speaker's political affiliation, Liberal and National Party members come into this chamber and complain about poor communications in their area, yet, also in the same breath, complain about the NBN. Either they do not like it, bizarrely, or it is not coming out fast enough to their area. Or, it is in their area—as the member for Groom said, 'I've got cable in my area and we are not connected.'. Has he bothered to look at one of the 500 plans from retail service providers that allow you to connect to the NBN, give you the pricing for it and that have been shown to deliver the type of value that ADSL provides but with a faster download and upload speeds?
I would forgive the member for Groom because as he even said, he is not a technology guru; he leaves that to his daughters, as he said. But the plans are out there. They are much more efficient in the data download and they provide the faster speeds. Importantly for regional Australia—and this is why I love what we are doing with the NBN—it will not just be concentrated in the cities. The regions will get the benefit either through fibre or through wireless or through satellite. This ensures that regardless of where we live this nation can tap into modern telecommunications or broadband infrastructure to ensure that we all are able to see a benefit flow out of that.
The member for Bradfield and I are of different political views but have a deep regard for the ICT sector in this country and see the value of telecommunications to this nation. But he should not be entitled to get up in here and use terms like 'accounting trickery' when he refers to the NBN being off budget.
If you look at most government business enterprises, they are not on budget. This has been remarked upon by the minister for finance on a number of occasions. This is not accounting trickery. This is a form of practice to deal with this situation that was managed by the previous government and is also respected by this government, and it is not trickery. For them, they employ these type of devices to simply mislead the public, and it is not right that it is done and they need to be called out on it. Members of the coalition mislead, for example, on the pace of the rollout, yet ignore the fact that the ACCC made a critical decision on the points of interconnecting, increasing the number from 14 to 121 and that involves massive redesigns of the network, with the size of the network that it is, and it requires time. They ignore the fact that it involves one of the biggest corporate agreements signed in recent times, the Telstra NBN agreement, that will allow access to ducts and allow us to roll out the network. It will minimise the type of disruptive work that the member for Swan was talking about earlier in his neck of the woods, to ensure that we do not have, for instance, competing telecommunication networks or broadband infrastructure running down both sides of the street, but that we use and share the existing ducts where that is possible to do so. It takes a lot of remediation work. We have a Telstra network that has been, in part, upgraded, and in other parts it is basically running into grief. This takes time. It is not mentioned by them, because there is a political objective there.
When you look at that infrastructure spend there is a lot to be proud of. Look at our healthcare agreement. In our area, in Western Sydney, I am proud of the fact that in Mount Druitt Hospital we have invested over $2 million in new subacute beds. We invested in new equipment, in paediatric equipment and a new CT scanner for our hospital. I continue to press for an upgrade of that equipment as well, to see that we get an MRI machine in that part of Western Sydney where residents, whom I have been lobbying on behalf of, want to see improved equipment. We have invested, for example, in the Primary Care Infrastructure Grants process, whereby the Rooty Hill Medical and Dental Centre, as well as the Mount Druitt Medical Centre, are seeing investments in those practices that allow them to offer not only a wider range of hours but also a wider range of services to residents to ensure that we take the pressure off emergency departments. That is what we have invested in, and only two weeks ago the state government in New South Wales decided it would take out $20 million from the Western Sydney Local Health District.
We are making investments. We have put in an investment into a superclinic. We have put in an investment into the UWS clinical school at Blacktown Hospital. We are trying to do things to make it easier for people to get health care. The other side of politics at the state level has basically announced it is taking funds and jobs out.
We have invested in education. Sixty-seven schools in our electorates have benefited to the tune of $137 million through the course of the BER upgrades. I suspect that in all these other non-government held electorates where we have had these investments, I am sure those opposite are turning up for the openings. I am sure they are hearing from parents and teachers what a huge difference it makes. But we still keep hearing the mantra in here when they are away from their electorates that this has been a waste of money, but not when people can see what this has done in terms of transforming education environments. For example, in my area at Bidwell Public School 30 classrooms were totally renovated. These are the single biggest investments in those schools, in terms of transforming schools, since their opening years ago. Parents and teachers can take pride in the quality of their language rooms, their science labs and their new libraries, and their multipurpose halls that allow for community activity and are able to be a focal point for communities. These are great things that are being done.
We are investing in education. We have a national school improvement plan that will see an even further investment, particularly with a focus on teacher quality. On the other side of politics at the state level, they cut $3 billion without even saying at the previous state election that they would do it. We are investing, they are taking away.
We are providing jobs, they are taking away—no commitment, no offer, no promise, no advice, no warning that they would cut state Public Service jobs either in New South Wales or across the border in Queensland. Now we have no commitment from them to be able to provide the type of detail that the public deserve to have leading into an election. What we have is a federal coalition saying that they would do exactly what the Queensland government did when it assumed office: create a commission of audit and then go from there. That commission of audit, as we well know, led to massive job cuts in the home state of the member for McPherson and you have seen the type of dislocation that has occurred there. The exact same recipe is being promised at the federal level, where we have a shadow Treasurer who effectively endorsed what Campbell Newman did.
We are investing in communities, we are investing in neighbourhoods, we are seeing improved health and education outcomes, we are seeing an investment in infrastructure which contrasts with the previous government, which failed to invest in infrastructure. The previous government, for example, instead of investing in TAFEs decided to create a duplicated system through its Australian training colleges and there are huge legacy issues we are trying to deal with on that. The previous government failed to invest in health and underinvested to the tune of a billion dollars and we have put that investment in. There are no commitments from those opposite other than to criticise and there is no ability to demonstrate what they do. I think people should be aware of that.
Going back to the NBN, people keen to see the plan rolled out, if they have called for fibre to the home, should not be treated so shabbily. I note here that in delimiter.com.au the shadow communications minister referred to people who support the investment in the NBN as pro-NBN zealots who are encouraging tech savvy citizens to want the ultimate broadband. This is from the shadow communications minister, who is going around berating people because they want to get fibre to the home instead of the coalition policy, which is fibre to the node or what I like to call 'Why one-lane highways are a good idea', because effectively that is not finishing the job. We will see congestion impact on the network and we will ensure that we do not have proper investment in telecommunications technology.
We have a series of plans and a failure either on their own record previously to invest properly or a failure to demonstrate where they intend to. I am very proud of the things we have done, be it the Schoolkids Bonus, which they said they will get rid of, be it the superannuation support we have provided, where they are slugging low-income earners, be it the improvement in the tax-free threshold that they are going to get rid of—there is a whole host of things that benefit people that will be ripped away should those opposite gain government.
I rise today to speak to Appropriation Bills (3) and (4) 2012-13. The bills before the House seek to appropriate a total of $1.27 billion for government departments and agencies, with Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeking to appropriate $600.8 million and Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeking to appropriate $666.36 million. Australians know for certain that this government's economic credibility is close to non-existent after it failed attempt to deliver a surplus this financial year. Despite having a debt of $147 billion in 2011-12 and spending $90 billion a year more than the Howard government did in its last year, the government is unable to face a fact that has spending and a forecasting problem. Rather, the government blames its problems on the fact that Australian families and businesses are not paying enough.
By the Treasurer simply doing the mea culpa on the surplus promise, a promise that was repeated almost 650 times by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Finance and himself, he has now cleared the way for this government to continue with its wasteful spending regime without limitation.
Australians deserve better and they deserve a government that will respect the hard-earned money of taxpayers. But most importantly, they deserve a government that looks towards the future with optimism and a willingness to take hold of the opportunities that come its way.
I would like to speak specifically about this last point and to speak specifically about the opportunities facing the Gold Coast, and in particular the southern Gold Coast, which is the area that I represent. The Gold Coast is a continuously growing city, with estimates suggesting that the population will increase by 13,000 to 16,000 people per year, with a population of over 730,000 expected in the year 2026. With an increasing population, it is important that we consider what opportunities will come up for the Gold Coast and its citizens and what is the best way to harness those opportunities. Traditionally tourism has been the strongest industry on the Gold Coast; but it has very unfortunately suffered a downturn in recent years for a variety of reasons, which include the impact caused by natural disasters, the global financial crisis and the high Australian dollar.
Recent figures released by Tourism Queensland are encouraging for us, though, showing that the tourism industry is starting to recover. Domestic visitors to the Gold Coast stood at 3.457 million for the year ending September 2012, which was an increase of five per cent, and international visitor numbers for the same period rose by three per cent to 745,000. That is positive and good news for us on the Gold Coast, but the tourism market is very competitive. The Gold Coast cannot afford to rely on just its beaches and our theme parks to attract visitors, particularly if we want those visitors to stay for the much-needed extended stays. The Gold Coast must broaden its appeal, and to do that it needs to look at what is available that could be further expanded, and what could be developed to attract the tourists and to keep them coming back to visit us.
This is where I believe the southern Gold Coast has opportunities and where the Gold Coast City should be focusing in the future. The southern Gold Coast is already different to the central and the northern parts of the Gold Coast, and we really need to start capitalising on these differences. One opportunity for us is to develop a significant dive site. Ex-navy vessels were available last year, but the cost of scuttling a vessel was considered to be unaffordable at the time. However, it is still possible for us to establish an artificial reef off the coast. This would be, in the first instance, a more cost-effective option for us. We already know that dive sites generate significant tourism revenue. We have the evidence of that from the scuttling of the HMAS Brisbane. There was a comprehensive academic study conducted by Vikki Schaffer from the University of the Sunshine Coast in March 2011. What that showed was that it was estimated that the HMAS Brisbane Conservation Park hosted approximately 19,000 scuba divers in the four years after the scuttling in 2005. Only 13 per cent of the divers were local—residing in the Sunshine Coast region—and 18 per cent of the divers came from overseas. The direct expenditure associated with users of the conservation park averaged $4.32 million per year over the four years of August 2005 to June 2009. So it was a significant benefit to the Sunshine Coast region where that Navy vessel was scuttled. Clearly, a naval vessel would provide a much greater attraction than what an artificial reef would, so it would be expected that the economic benefit would be less with the artificial reef; but it would still be something that we could establish and, if it could be afforded at a later stage and if a vessel was available, we could certainly look at scuttling that vessel in the vicinity of where the artificial reef is already established. There is widespread support for that concept, particularly on the southern Gold Coast. It really is something that we need to take action on immediately and just make it happen, so that we can start to perhaps bring in a different kind of tourist into the Gold Coast who would perhaps stay for an extended period of time and continue to come back.
There are other options to boost tourist numbers and add to the total visitor experience. I guess that is what we are looking for in tourism now: we know that tourists do not necessarily come for just the one thing, they want the entire experience of a holiday when they go somewhere. We need to be able to provide a range of options for them on the Gold Coast to add to their experience.
Some of the things that we could be looking at would be the development of a world-class great walk through appropriate parts of our hinterland and a walk of fame in Kirra and Coolangatta recognising our surfing greats, but certainly not limited to just our surfing greats. Other options include an open air cinema being established. These are only a few of the options that are available to us on the Gold Coast, particularly on the southern Gold Coast. Great work is being done by the Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce led by the Chairman, Gail O'Neill, and by Connecting Southern Gold Coast with their new CEO Peter Doggett. and by their respective members and boards. Of course, on the Gold Coast there are many other tourism focused organisations that are working to build this vital part of the Gold Coast economy. I congratulate all of them on their work, because I know that they are doing the very best that they possibly can to promote tourism on the Gold Coast.
It is time for a coordinated approach to make sure that we make these ideas happen and that we do boost tourism on the Gold Coast. If we are to strengthen tourism on the Gold Coast—and we must do that—we must also strengthen our public transport system. The Gold Coast airport's projections are that over 16 million passengers will pass through that airport by 2031-32. Before then, we will see the 2018 Commonwealth Games being held on the Gold Coast, and, as I mentioned, the population is expected to surpass 700,000 people. In all of our discussions and debates about public transport on the Gold Coast and the needs of tourism, we must make sure that the needs of our residents are taken into account as well, and that we make sure that the public transport system is going to suit the needs of the residents and those who commute from the Gold Coast to Brisbane. It is not just the tourists that we need to look after on the Gold Coast. We must look after our residents and make sure that we have a viable public transport system to meet those three purposes when you include the commuters.
The Gold Coast City Council has recently closed its public submissions for its draft transport strategy in which they note that by 2031 there will be a light rail network from the north of the city to the Gold Coast airport. However, with regard to heavy rail, the draft transport strategy states:
We support extending the heavy rail line to Elanora and building new rail stations at Yatala, Ormeau North, Pimpama, Hope Island, Parkwood and Mirrimac. This would allow for the introduction of an all-stops suburban rail service between Beenleigh and Elanora to support the Brisbane to Gold Coast regional rail service. It is also important to preserve the heavy rail corridor to the Gold Coast Airport for construction beyond 2031.
That is a very long time before there are public transport options for the southern Gold Coast—it is 18 years. That is a very long time for us to wait, and we desperately need to do something with public transport. Our commuters have to rely, particularly in the section from Tugun to Varsity, on the M1, which is seriously congested. They can pick up the heavy rail further north at Varsity, but it is already quite loaded. We have got a long time to wait for the light rail to come through to the southern Gold Coast. I believe we need to look at a rapid bus system that could achieve the objectives of dealing with the public transport issues on the southern Gold Coast and act as an interim, but perhaps as a permanent measure, whilst we wait for the light rail to come to the southern end of the Gold Coast. I believe that it would be cost effective. I have spoken to a number of businesses; I have spoken to the council, and I think that it is something that we again need to turn into a reality to start addressing the public transport needs of the southern Gold Coast, and to make sure that we do not continue to be overlooked, that there is not a Southport-centric approach to public transport whilst the southern end of the Gold Coast continues to wait.
I would like to touch on an issue that is particularly important to many individuals and many families on the Gold Coast. That is difficulty in securing employment.
Unemployment on the Gold Coast was 5.7 per cent for the month of December with a 12-month moving average of 5.6 per cent, which is comparatively higher than the national average. There are new figures for the southern Gold Coast due out today, so I will be looking at those and analysing to see what we can possibly do with that. Hopefully we will start to see a change in the trend. The lowest unemployment rate for the Gold Coast in the last five years was 2.3 per cent back in January 2008, right off the back of the Howard government. Under Labor, the unemployment rate hit a high of eight per cent in March 2011 and has not gone back to the levels of 2.3 per cent even though granted it has come down.
Unemployment is a significant issue on the southern Gold Coast, but underemployment is certainly an issue that we need to be mindful of. It is an issue that is not recorded by the ABS and we have to rely on anecdotal evidence. But what I know from the people who have told me—often it is women raising the issue—is that they are available to work additional hours, be that on a part-time basis or on a casual basis, but they are unable to secure any employment to do that. They are a hidden statistic. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the underemployment rate on the Gold Coast—as it is in many parts of Australia—is quite high. What we need to do to address that is to increase the economic performance of the Gold Coast. I have touched on tourism and hopefully there will be some major infrastructure projects that would provide employment for us too.
The final issue that I can deal with, given the time remaining today, is the opportunities for the Gold Coast for fly-in fly-out into the mining sector. I am aware of the report that has come from the Housing Standing Committee on Regional Australia. I have looked at that. I put a submission into it and I am aware that there were submissions from other representatives on the Gold Coast too. It is an opportunity for us. I understand all of the issues that are happening with regional Australia. The reality is that if additional workers are needed and they are unable or unwilling to live in the local area, then we need to source them from other parts of Australia. The Gold Coast has a labour market that would be well suited, particularly to the construction phases of the mine sites. These workers are willing to attend. We have had expos on the Gold Coast. About 10,000 attended the last expo about 12 months ago. There are people who are ready, willing and able to work in the mining sector on a fly-in fly-out basis, and who may well be attracted to the mine sites and choose to live there at some stage in the future. What it does is provide an opportunity for employment for the Gold Coasters, who most desperately need it and would take the opportunity and welcome it with open hands. I would like to encourage our mining companies to look at the Gold Coast to recruit into the future.
Deputy Speaker, you do have a lot to put up with. I rise to speak on the appropriation bills Nos 3 and 4. These bills seek to appropriate another $1.27 billion from consolidated revenue for additional expenditure requirements that have arisen since the May budget. They truly highlight the government's woeful economic performance. More money is being borrowed to pay for the failures of the Rudd and the Gillard governments. Labor has clocked up the four biggest budgets deficits in history with a cumulative total of $172 billion given they started with a $20 billion surplus, no net debt and $70 billion in net assets. Countries such as Germany, Chile, Korea and Norway have been able to achieve a budget surplus facing the same international economic environment as Australia, yet this government has failed to do the same, despite having far more resource income per capita and enjoying the highest terms of trade in 150 years while inheriting a budget surplus, no debt and money in the bank from the previous coalition government.
The list of failures from this government is a long one: border protection; pink batts; cheques to dead people; the carbon tax; the mining tax; and, of course, to the promised but it would seem not to be delivered budget surplus. It has been promised 650 times but it has not been delivered and recent times seem to show that the Treasurer has simply given up. How can the Australian public trust government when they continue to make promises and then break in each and every time? Is it incompetence? Is this dishonesty? I think we have to assume that it is both.
The government is spending money—and has always—before it has it. Take the mining tax. The original mining tax was meant to raise $12 billion in the first two years. It has raised $126 million so far. That is gross revenue. Once you deduct the $50 million the ATO had to spend on administering the MRRT and you add the $38 million that the government would have raised through company taxes anyway, it turns out that the mining tax has in fact raise less than two per cent of what was projected last May. We said at the time that it was a disaster for the mining industry and a disaster for Australia—and it has been. We have seen any amount proposed investment put on hold or abandoned—in part because of the threat of the mining tax. Each year that the government has revised downwards the revenue they expect, the bottom line is that the revenue has been falling.
What we have pointed out is that the government has committed and locked in expenditure against revenue that is simply not there. The government really does not have an economic plan; but it does have spending and forecasting problem. It constantly assumes unrealistically high levels of future revenues, spends at those levels and then cries, 'Woe is me!' when the forecasts do not come to fruition. One can only assume a total lack of ordinary business acumen—a total lack in government ranks of people who have actually dealt with small business, or big business if it comes to that, where you actually assume some caution in your business life. You actually assume some caution when you do your budget. You do not have to be an accountant, you do not have to be a world renowned economist to use caution rather than spend on an assumption that things will not change.
The most glaring thing in the current government is a lack of knowledge and experience within their ranks and an unwillingness to listen to business that seems to push them to levels of spending which are quite incomprehensible. It is as though debt does not really matter. Business will have to pay it back in the long run. Most things are paid for by the ordinary taxpayer who pays tax every week out of their wage. Those are the people the government pretends to be looking after. It is the highest spending government in Australia's history. They have announced 27 new or increased taxes since coming to power, and nobody has been hurt more by this than small business.
Small business in Calare or small business on the Gold Coast—we are all getting belted by it. NAB's quarterly business survey and the latest ABS retail trade data has highlighted that small businesses right across the country are doing it so tough, with families facing cost of living pressures and spending less because they have no confidence. I have never seen a government in my whole life which has had so much effect on the confidence of small business and the people to whom they look to as customers. People are not spending not because they are all out of work—most of them still have a job and the same level of income they had. But, by gosh, they are not spending it. There has been no growth in retail spending for the last five months of 2012. Consumers are tightening their belts and making sure they have enough money to pay for their ever-increasing electricity bills, which this government proudly can say they have had a big hand in making happen.
Recently a constituent from Bathurst in the Calare electorate brought his power bills for the past year into to the office. I was shocked: his latest bill was three times that for the previous quarter. That is astounding. Of course this bloke was very distressed and wondering how he could afford it. How can anyone afford increases like that to their cost of living? I have said all along that households in Calare simply cannot afford to pay for Labor's and Julia Gillard's carbon tax, which is driving up the cost of living like nothing else. They say it has been a soft landing; it has not been a soft landing if you live in Calare. I doubt it has been a soft landing in South Australia or on the Gold Coast either.
The latest data from the ABS shows that during 2012 the cost of electricity rose 17.7 per cent, and the cost of gas and other household bills rose 17.3 per cent. And now there is proof that the carbon tax is having a very significant effect on businesses through energy costs. In a report released by the AiG, the Australian Industry Group, a survey found that manufacturing businesses estimated an average rise of 14½ per cent in energy cost increases—this makes a little bit of a mess of the Gillard government's predictions of 10 per cent; Minister Combet must have tripped that morning when he came up with that figure—with many unable to pass on cost increases. In fact, I can assure you businesses, processors and growers are finding it impossible to pass on costs. In fact, the two big supermarkets refuse to accept them, the processors therefore cannot accept them, and so what happens? The producer gets less for his articles.
Manufacturing businesses in my electorate of Calare are all too familiar with the trend. One of the biggest manufacturing businesses in Orange, Electrolux, has been given six months to prove they can produce fridges as cheap as or cheaper than production lines in Thailand and other parts of the world, or face possible closure. I am talking about an historical employer in the region; it has been there since World War II. There are about 600 staff employed directly at the plant and, obviously, there are transport businesses and many other businesses associated with it in some way. The carbon tax has played a huge hand in this development. It was only five years ago when I met with the then manager of Electrolux in Orange. He was extraordinarily upbeat. Electrolux were producing not only big fridges, they were also producing smaller ones. They were doing it competitively and they were travelling extraordinarily well. But there was a difference five years ago. They were not paying a carbon tax on everything they used during production, on the use of electricity in their factory. It is an amazing thing. On 1 July, the current manager said to me: 'The increase of $20 per fridge is not a huge percentage of the cost of the fridge. But, by heaven, although we have an advantage over our biggest competitors, which are nearly all from Korea—Samsung and the like—because people know we are an Australian brand, they know it is made here and so we can handle the fact that we may be $40 or $50 dearer than the others, but when you add another $20, which the carbon tax does to our disadvantage, suddenly it is all too much. People say, "I can wear 40 bucks for an Australian fridge, but I can't wear 70."' And that is what has happened.
This government, time after time, may talk about the carbon tax as only adding two or three per cent on the cost, or 10 per cent or whatever it is. That is true of the total cost, the gross cost or the gross income, but it is a huge amount of a company's profits. I can go on a lot more about that. It is a huge amount of your profit—if you are making one. More than 27,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector since the announcement of the carbon tax. That is evident in Calare. As I said, we now have 600 jobs on the line unless this plant can be cheaper than Thailand in the next six months.
The carbon tax is a reverse tariff on Australian industry and its resulting in a significant loss of competitiveness for those that are trade exposed. I think this is an incredibly frightening example. It is going to be a stressful six months for us all.
Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, promised to fix three major policy failures of the Rudd era when she knifed the former prime minister in 2010: the mining tax, asylum seekers and climate change, which was not going to be an issue under the government she led. All three areas are now much bigger problems than when she started: Kevin started them and she has made them worse.
The former Prime Minister started them and the current Prime Minister has made them far worse. Debt levels continue to rise and the government continues to pull money out of consolidated revenue to pay for policy failures.
The coalition can be trusted to restore public finances and public confidence. We will do this by scrapping the carbon and mining taxes and we will do this by showing people that we can stop the boats—we stopped them once and we will stop them again. The last Labor government took 14 years to knock up $100 billion debt. It took us 10 years to pay that back and another two years to leave $70 billion for the next Labor government to get rid of and add another $170 billion in debt. We will do it again, but the sooner we do it the sooner we can restore this country to some confidence and some competence.
When one gets up in this place one never knows whether it will be the last time that one will speak, because we all know what is going on on the other side: the instability, the leadership problems and a lot of gossip and rumour going around the place. I know the member for Chifley, who is in this chamber, would know exactly what I am talking about. It is very interesting, because even though the Prime Minister got up and announced that we will be having an election on 14 September, I am very doubtful that we will wait that long for an election. The knives are out for the Prime Minister, and unfortunately this government is not doing the right job.
I have been in this place for nearly 15 years. During that time I have been in a lot of appropriation debates and they generally go along a set pattern with members of the opposition saying they are not happy with what money is being appropriated for their electorates. I can honestly say that myself this time, because I used to get record funding for roads. I used to get the highest amount of funding for aged care for my electorate, but not under this government. This government is doing things on the political side, not based on what is needed. One example is in the electorate of Canberra, where one of the infrastructure products was recommended in the top five in Australia, but there was no funding for it because Labor is taking Canberra for granted. These appropriation debates are marked by opposition members saying spending is not good enough, and government members getting up and saying how wonderful it is that the government is spending money in their electorates. Interestingly the Labor government has run out of speakers to say how wonderful things are in their electorates. Obviously they have given up the ghost.
Let us look at the NBN which is one of the so-called flagship policies of this Labor government.
We only have to look to see that since this government, the Rudd-Gillard government under the two leaders, came into office they have taken the budgetary position backwards at a rate of knots. The $150 million debt is a result of five years of profligacy and ill-discipline with not knowing how to manage money and, frankly, as I said earlier, it is a government too distracted by infighting and leadership manoeuvres with not enough attention being given to good administration and the business of governing.
That is really what the government in Canberra should be about, the business of governing and good administration. We have seen it already with the mining tax. You had the Treasurer and the mining minister go behind locked doors with the three big miners and make decisions without the benefit of public service members behind them who would be able to look at the figures and make the projections. And what have we ended up with? A joke, an extra mining tax, I might add, that is not doing anything as far as raising funds for this government to spend in the usual way they do, without due concern as to what is sensible.
It is a government too distracted by that infighting and leadership manoeuvres. In great contrast, the coalition is committed to paying back the debt, getting it all back on track. We have form on this. When we first came into government in 1996, we had $96 billion worth of debt and we had the $10.8 billion black hole in the budget. I think this is a very interesting story. If you look at the history of Australia since Federation, since 1901 we have actually had to build a new capital, we have had to build a defence force that was national and we have had to fight two world wars and be in a few other skirmishes. But in the 90 years from 1901 to 1991 this government accumulated just $16 billion worth of debt but from 1991 to 1996 the Labor government with Hawke and Keating replicated that $16 billion of debt, which took 90 years, every year for the next five years. They went from $16 billion to $96 billion in five years. We know how hard it is to pay off because it took us a number of years to pay off that debt, but we will do it again. We have done it before and we will do it again. As a result of that when we left government there was $40 billion in the bank and we were not paying $7 billion or $8 billion every year in interest—generally to overseas banks—and we were able to spend that on services to the people of Australia and, of course, on income tax cuts. So we are committed to paying back that debt and getting Australia back on track.
On hundreds of occasions the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have promised to bring the budget back to surplus and, of course, they have broken that promise. This is typical of the Labor Party: all talk and no results or, as the good Aussie saying says, all sizzle and no sausage. A prime example of Labor's waste and incompetence is the Labor government's $50 billion National Broadband Network white elephant. That is $50 billion of borrowed money—not on the budget but off budget—with no cost-benefit analysis. As Paul Kelly, one of the most respected journalists in Australia, said in November 2010:
There is no escape from the core conundrum: Labor boasts the NBN as the nation's greatest infrastructure project, yet denies the inquiry to test whether it is financially viable.
This is typical of Labor's approach. They just do not know how to manage money. Originally half a million households were forecast to be using the fibre network by mid-2013. We are nearly there but only one tenth of that number is now expected to be connected.
NBN Co. earned $2 million from selling broadband in 2011-12—its first revenue. Since 2009, NBN Co. has recorded losses of $923 million and the government has invested $2.8 billion. That is not a very good return—in fact it is no return at all, a negative return.
The coalition's consistent criticism of the NBN Co strategy is that it will cost far too much money and take far too much time to complete the broadband upgrade, but it is the coalition that is totally committed to ensuring that all Australians have access to very fast broadband. However, because we would take a more businesslike approach to the project we would deliver it sooner and at less cost to taxpayers and, therefore, more affordably to consumers than Labor's doomed process will.
NBN Co. has sought to create the impression that it is ahead of its targets when in fact it is not. They have invented this nonsense metric of premises where construction either has commenced or been completed. The only meaningful metric is the number of premises actively connected and the number of premises that are passed by the fibre network that can be connected at the customer's request in a very short time.
Whilst the government is keen to talk up the productivity benefits of the NBN, it fails to acknowledge that this is a snail's pace construction project. By its delays it is continuing to deny all of those benefits to millions of Australians who are waiting and waiting and waiting. In my home state of South Australia there are just nine fibre-serving area modules; construction began between June 2011 and March 2012 but not a single site is ready for service yet. So what is the government's response to the cost, the schedule blow-outs and the inability to deliver? Their response is an expensive advertising campaign. That will fix it. In the May estimates, the NBN claimed that its overall marketing spend for 2011-12 would be $8 million. Yet, in its latest annual report, NBN Co. listed communications and marketing campaigns as costing not $8 million but $11.2 million in 2011-12. That is 38 per cent more than was stated at estimates in May. In the 2012-13 MYEFO, the government announced that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will spend $20 million on advertising for the NBN. Why would you spend $20 million in advertising a project unless you are trying to make the government look good—much better than it really is. That is on top of the $20 million spent by the department in 2011-12. The Department of Finance and Deregulation reported that the NBN campaign was the third most expensive across all agencies.
The coalition has a better way. We will conduct a fully transparent cost-benefit analysis to assess the quickest and most cost-effective means of upgrading fixed line broadband in all areas of Australia where services are currently substandard or unavailable. We will deliver superfast broadband using whichever technology is appropriate and cost-effective and make use of existing network structure whenever possible. This will ensure that fast broadband is delivered sooner and more affordably and will also ensure that competition is encouraged wherever possible to encourage innovation and put downward pressure on broadband and telephony prices. We will provide transparent subsidies to ensure high-quality services available in the cities are available at comparable prices in rural and regional areas where the market alone would not deliver this outcome. We have done it before and we will do it again. We will maintain strong support for independent, innovative and efficient national broadcasters that provide value for money, and we will ensure that Australia Post achieves world-class performance levels in postal services and regains a firm financial footing.
The Australian people are sick of this Labor government, of that there is no doubt. They want help with the cost of living. They want more job security. They want our borders under control. They want stability and certainty returned to decision making and they want leaders they can trust.
We will not be making knee-jerk reactions based on a television program, as the government did with live cattle experts. We understand that our decisions have real-life consequences. And the industry still has not recovered from the disastrous decision to halt live cattle exports to Indonesia. Whilst we are on that topic, it was not just the northern cattle industry that was affected. The southern cattle industry was affected because there was a huge increase in supply in the southern markets and that dropped the prices in a typical demand-supply reaction. Trust and reputation is something that is built up over a long period of time and can be tarnished in the blink of an eye and through sheer incompetence. This government has taken our live cattle export industry backwards and damaged the whole industry and the reputation of our country—all because of a TV program and few nervous nellies on the back bench in the Labor government.
The Tony Abbott led coalition has a plan to get Australia back on track. The carbon tax will be gone so power prices will fall. The mining tax will be gone so investment and jobs will increase. The boats will be stopped, because that is what has been done before, and can be done again. And the budget will be back in the black.
Government has the resources to deliver the services that are really needed. The coalition will build a powerhouse economy through lower taxes, more efficient government and more productive businesses. This will deliver more jobs, higher wages and better services for Australian families. With the right policies Australia can once again have a competitive manufacturing industry, a dynamic services sector, a growing knowledge economy, a strong resource sector and strong agriculture industries, which this government can never deliver.
Firstly, to the ladies in the room, happy Valentine's Day. May your valentine find you! Or are you meant to find your valentine; I think that is actually the process.
This is an opportunity to take a step back and look at things more broadly. It seems the case, to my limited experience over the last nearly three years, that we are caught in day-to-day battle. We fight the issues of the day. Often politics is put in front of policies. This is compounded by a three-year election cycle and supercharged by a 24-hour news cycle. A desperate government often needs to take desperate actions to serve its masters—the masters of the media. Policies that have been tried and failed are not modified or fixed but spun to appease and gain the pleasure of the masters in the media.
During this last three years we have had, probably, three major areas of conflict. We have debated, endlessly, the state of the economy—the economy that was left if a very good state. Yes, there was a global financial crisis and there were any number of remedies. We have seen the debt escalate and we have seen the deficits, that we were promised would away, not go away, and a loss of trust and a loss of confidence. We have seen spending and waste. We have seen school halls built where they were not needed and, to compound that problem, we have seen an overspending on those school halls.
We have had the issue of asylum seekers and an endless stream of boats. The previous government had put in place a raft of policies that have been developed over a period of time, which had stopped the boats. And over a period of time, we had developed the experience to implement those policies to stop the boats. These policies were taken apart. Some of them were brought back but it is not unless you have the whole raft of policies and the experience to implement those policies that you can effectively stop the boats.
The economy was travelling well. The mining industry was thriving and, as in the fifties Australia was riding on the sheep's back, we were now riding on the back of a thriving mining industry. We have had the problems of the minerals resource rent tax, which has put all sorts of trauma through this mining industry. We have had promises of changing the climate and that a carbon tax will do that, but that alone will not change the climate. Central to these situations developing has been a loss of trust in this government. That loss of trust has come through a loss of truthfulness—the inability to rely on what is said—a loss of certainty and a loss of stability. With the loss of certainty and stability, we have had, for the first time, an allegation that Australia is a nation of sovereign risk. This sovereign risk has resulted from at least three different areas of endeavour that are very important to our economy and to our wellbeing.
In the area of health, the medicines industry entered into a memorandum of understanding that would see them forgo an amount of income—quite a sizable amount of income—in return for certainty. This is telling you what international businesses want: they want certainty. They want certainty that when a drug is approved by the PBAC it will be listed on the PBS. These drugs take up to 10 or 15 years in development and the cost is often over a billion dollars. The changing of rules during the playing of this game is devastating to this industry. This industry generates $4 billion of foreign income for us each year. They spend approximately $1 billion a year on research and development. For the first time, when this arrangement was reneged on, the reverberations throughout the pharmaceutical world were that Australia is now a nation of sovereign risk—an uncertain place to do business. That put in peril the research and development, the investment, the continuance and certainly the likelihood of pharmaceutical industry looking to locate in Australia.
We had a similar shock to our international reputation when, on the strength on an ABC Four Corners story about live exports and the inhumane treatment of our cattle that were going to Indonesia, policy was hastily put together overnight—putting politics in front of policy—to appease the press and to appease certain special interest groups. But what was achieved? The international standing of Indonesia was damaged and our relationship with Indonesia was damaged. An export industry that was generating $700 million of foreign income was reduced to close to $200 million. The biggest employer of Indigenous people in the northern part of Australia was put on its knees. There was collateral damage of enormous size. Had time been taken and better policies developed, surely there could have been a way found to assist Indonesia in upgrading the standards in their abattoirs, to protect our industry, to enhance our relationship with Indonesia and to elevate their standing in the international community.
Then we had the minerals resource rent tax, which put the same tremors through that industry that we are riding on so strongly—we are relying on it; it is the biggest source of foreign income—to the point that mining industries and businesses that might have committed to Australia would see that going to war torn Africa involved less risk than doing business in Australia under this government.
We have been accused time and again in this place of being the party with no ideas. At times, when we have represented our policies they say that there is nothing new. Many times that is correct, because we maintain our policies.
They have been well thought-through and they have been the result of experience of actually implementing policies in the past that have achieved the correct result—whether it was in the stopping of the boats or the raft of policies that were put in place and the experience gained in implementing the policies to stop them; whether it was in the policies that were involved that returned our country from a $96 billion debt to surplus and credit over the period of the Howard government.
It is interesting to note the alignment between the founder of the Republican Party in the US and our own Liberal Party, and the words that are attributed to Abraham Lincoln where he said: 'You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help little men by tearing down big men. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.' These words must be a warning to this government who have violated virtually every line of those great words, those words that are timeless and are enduring. It might be fashionable to go into debt but it does not have a great benefit over a long period.
We have the experience to manage the economy, to bring this economy back into prosperity. Through work in achieving the success, we can all share in this success, not share in $900 handouts. The question must come if you stand back far enough and look forward to the day that we are returning the budget to surplus and have paid back the debt: what do we then do? In an atmosphere where we battle each other, day after day, often with arguments that do not lend any dignity to this place, we lose the opportunity to dream and to look at the potential that this great country has. We are squandering our time and we are squandering these opportunities. But at the time when we have stopped the boats again, returned our budget from deficit and paid back the debt, when we have reduced taxes and business is thriving, when we have reduced red tape and small businesses is again thriving and able to employ people and not just generate wages but to make profits, what do we then do?
It was very interesting, a little over a week ago there was a leak of a vision paper that was clearly identified—'Vision 2030. Discussion paper. Draft'. I know very clearly that was what the paper said because I am on the committee that has been working on this vision. It was extraordinary that the party with no ideas and with no vision, came forth, albeit unwillingly at this time, with a vision paper to grow northern Australia with a vision paper that takes advice in regard to climate change. As the southern part of the climate becomes drier and less productive, as Asia grows from 500 million to 3.5 billion over the next 20 years, there is an opportunity to grow our agricultural resources in the northern part of our continent; to enter into infrastructure projects that will water this area; to look at the possibility of helping those through tropical medicine research; and yes, maybe using some of our foreign aid money in a more productive way that actually achieves real results.
This is a discussion paper and a vision paper as I clearly said and I hope you are listening. In coming forward with visions, and the willingness to discuss visions and work through and develop policy, that in the very moment when we are being accused of being negative and having no ideas, but when the vision is put forward, albeit unwillingly, it is clear that it is the government who is so negative. It was an extraordinary turn of events. It would be certainly a hope of this place in the future when the debt is paid back, when the boats have stopped and businesses are running well that the debate moves to what we can do with our opportunities and what we can do to fill our potential. What is the opportunity of a high-speed rail network?
Can we stop the debate about where a second airport should be for Sydney because that debate should not be had until you either rule in or rule out high-speed rail? What is the purpose of high-speed rail? Is it simply to get from Melbourne to Sydney quicker or cheaper or not have to wait at an airport for an hour or is it to take the pressure off our two cities that have so overgrown their infrastructure, that suffer some of the highest land prices and high levels of congestion in the world? Is it the infrastructure that is required to provide the pressure release valve for those cities?
Those cities need to be able to release land. Can you have endless urban sprawl that takes up more valuable farming area or could you with the development of the cities of Goulburn, Canberra, Yass, Queanbeyan, Gundagai, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton have a land release that could serve our purposes not just for the next 20 or 40 years but 60 or 80 years? We often talk about a two-speed economy. Could we create another speed of economy that is built on housing prices that the next generation can afford, housing prices that are in the vicinity of $100,000 to $200,000, housing prices that would then allow lower wages and a greater opportunity for people to operate businesses? These are the debates that would dignify this place and lift the quality of debate that the public so often complain about to talk about real things that can be done to attract investment, to grow our country and to give the next generation the opportunity of work and home ownership and a quality of life that we expect for all Australians.
I would like to thank all those members who have contributed to the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013. The additional estimates appropriation bills seek authority from parliament for the additional expenditure of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to meet requirements that have arisen since the last budget. The total additional appropriation being sought through these bills this year is just over $1.27 billion.
I would like to highlight certain appropriations relating to the delivery of the government's commitments. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 proposes $133 million to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations including $85 million towards the support for the childcare system program. The government also proposes $48 million to support increased claims received before 5 December 2012 for assistance under the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme and $59 million is proposed for the Attorney-General's Department including $47 million in relation to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse; for associated operating costs, financial and legal assistance and the Commonwealth's appearance at the royal commission. An amount of $56 million is proposed for the Department of Health and Ageing including $26 million to support Tasmania's health system which will address challenges caused by Tasmania's ageing population, high rates of chronic disease and constraints in the state health system, as well as to equip it to meet the future challenges. An amount of $19 million is proposed for the Australian Taxation Office in relation to targeted tax compliance activities and the transfer of lost superannuation member accounts to the Australian Taxation Office.
Turning now to Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013, the government proposes $469 million for the Department of Defence as an equity injection to align the department's appropriations with its work program including operations. The additional amount will be offset mainly through a reduction in Defence's departmental appropriation through a separate process. An amount of $50 million is proposed for the Attorney-General's Department including $27 million for capital expenditure in relation to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and $45 million is proposed for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to complete detailed engineering designs to construct a nuclear medicine manufacturing facility and a treatment plant that will produce a radiopharmaceutical material used in the treatment and diagnosis of heart diseases and cancers. An amount of $32 million is proposed for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in capital funding for expansions to the immigration detention network.
It is fitting, in a bill that deals with government appropriations, that we have heard contributions from those opposite—such as the member for Bennelong—that really do emphasise one of the fundamental differences between where the government and the opposition stand on the question of setting out plans for Australia's future that have some credible fiscal underpinning. We heard the member for Bennelong, who is from the party that has acknowledged that they have a $70 billion black hole, endorse a range of policy thought-bubbles that we have seen leaked to the Daily Telegraph over the last week. Cumulatively, these would more than double that $70 billion black hole.
The Australian people do want vision but they want a vision that is set out, properly costed and with a credible plan to fund it. What we have seen is a series of thought-bubbles in the order of billions of dollars. Those opposite talk about the importance of reducing debt yet theirs is a plan for more debt without any capacity to reduce government expenditure over time. This is something that the government will continue to try to emphasise. I am pleased to finally get confirmation from the opposition of one element of the plan leaked last week—that is, the attempt to divert somewhere in the order of $800 million of foreign aid funds towards infrastructure projects in Northern Australia. I am pleased to see, at last, a member of the opposition confirm that that is a policy commitment.
It will be very interesting to see if, particularly from those who might have their eye on matters further abroad, such as the member for Kooyong and the shadow foreign minister, they will have something to say in the broader debate about these plans to redirect close to a billion dollars of foreign aid to projects that, under nobody's definition, could ever be construed as being foreign aid.
Mr Frydenberg interjecting—
The member for Kooyong, with a very feeble interjection, demonstrates just how sensitive he is to this particular issue. I look forward to more detail but when those opposite ask how the government intends to pay for its plans, they should actually read the bills that they are debating, because this is one of them. This is what this is all about. This is what we have done in the past, what we will continue to do—
Mr Frydenberg interjecting—
While the member for Kooyong is at it, he might be able to answer a question that nobody seems to be able to answer, which is: if it is the case that the opposition is committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, perhaps they would also tell us how they intend to fund that? We will be very clear on how we intend to fund our commitments but he is going to have to do a lot better than the shadow Treasurer has indicated, by simply dumping out some costings in the last days of the election campaign.
I commend the bill and I hope that the member for Bennelong's commitment to having a forthright debate about the issues at least manifests itself in a commitment to release some costed policies from the opposition.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.