Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (16:51): I rise to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-12 and the cognate bills. These bills solidify the foundation of the Gillard government’s budget, our work and commitment towards a stronger economy and better communities for all Australians. In particular, I will endeavour to speak on what this budget will deliver for constituents in Chifley in education, health, local infrastructure, jobs and training, to ensure improved pathways to opportunity.
The budget required difficult decisions necessary to deliver $22 billion in savings, and I commend Treasurer Wayne Swann. I note the presence in the House of the Assistant Treasurer and I also recognise his contribution to delivering a solid, economically responsible budget despite the challenges Australia faces as a nation, with natural disasters such as cyclones and floods in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, and what those did to our bottom line. The budget remains on track for a surplus in 2012-13. It is also important to set the context. Australia is in transition between slow, sluggish growth during the GFC and rapid growth with a return to surplus.
I would like to begin my contribution to this debate by highlighting this government’s record on building a strong economy. We are set to experience a surge in investment never seen in this country before, with business prepared to invest in a way not witnessed previously. It is a reflection of the confidence of business in the direction of the economy. To ensure that the economy travels as far and strongly as possible, this budget is taking action on two fronts—infrastructure and skills. Without skilling up our workforce and drawing back into the workforce as many people as we can, we will continue to be plagued by skills shortages. We certainly require an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, which is the focus of the budget, aiming to build a stronger workforce, particularly as the economy is set to take off. I will return to these two issues later.
I reflect on the hardest hitting time since the Great Depression. The government’s policies during the recent economic downturn provided families in Chifley and across the nation with the support they needed, via the economic stimulus. Instead of slashing jobs we created 750,000 new jobs since coming into government. As much as the opposition would like to omit this achievement when talking about the collapse of financial markets in 2008, or even acknowledge a return to surplus well ahead of any major advanced economy, the government’s economically and fiscally responsible budget has moved to ensure that we are heading towards a surplus by 2012-13. We have outlined our plans to achieve this.
On top of this we have delivered $47 billion of tax cuts. For a person on $50,000, we have cut their tax by $1,750 per year. And we did this with an eye to ensuring we kept tax as a share of GDP at or below the level we inherited—on average 23. 5 per cent. This year we are at 21.8 per cent.
The previous government, on the other hand, was the highest taxing government of all time—peaking at 24.1 per cent of GDP in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Back then it was 24.1 per cent; today it is 21.8 per cent. Unfortunately, the opposition have on occasion expressed a wish to do the same as us in terms of returning to surplus, but, minus a plan to illustrate this to the public, there is no substantial proof.
It is worth looking at where we are compared to those beyond our shores. The figures that strike me are the unemployment rates of major economies like the United States and United Kingdom, who are still struggling with unemployment rates that are double Australia’s unemployment rate of 4.9 per cent. In fact, approximately 30 million jobs were slashed across the globe during the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The government is building a strong economy for the long-term gain of the country. It is forecast that the economy is to grow by four per cent and that unemployment rates will go down to 4.5 per cent.
As the member for Chifley, I can say that this budget is creating jobs, creating opportunities for the 4,000 apprentices in the Chifley electorate—this budget is about building Australia’s future workforce—and training and skilling up Australians to experience the benefits of work. Particularly in an area such as ours, this is an especially critical objective. These 4,000 apprentices in Chifley will be provided with a $1,700 trades apprentice income bonus to encourage them to complete their critical trade qualifications. These apprentices will also benefit from $100 million for a national apprenticeship program and the $281 million support package for additional tax-free payments. And in the area of vocational training we are investing $3 billion over six years including $1.75 million for reform of the training system—this is in partnership with industry—to deliver skills in demand.
Soon students in Chifley will also be able to attend trades training centres at local high schools in the electorate, such as Loyola Senior High and Wyndham, Tyndale, Doonside and Evans high schools. During the December period last year, I visited about 30 schools and I have seen the next exciting phase of the Building the Education Revolution roll out—with Doonside and Blackett School BER ceremonies in December 2010 and the opening of Tregear Public School library and refurbishments in March 2011. Only recently I went to St Aidan’s Primary School and saw the work that was being done there in Rooty Hill.
It has truly been fantastic to see principals, school staff, parents and tradespeople working together to deliver these important projects for the whole school community. Now that these projects have been completed teachers and students in our local schools will be teaching and learning in 21st century facilities that they richly deserve and can be proud of.
We are providing families in Chifley from Doonside to Tregear with increased support to ensure that children stay on at school and longer, in secondary school in particular. I point to the fact that about 8,000 local families will benefit from the extra $4,200 that will be provided to children aged between 16 and 19 receiving family tax benefit A. This is an important measure, particularly as I am especially keen to see an increase in retention rates in an area where retention rates have been stubbornly lower that the national average.
The education tax refund will also be extended to school uniforms to help with education costs for families, from 1 July of this year. I welcome this measure wholeheartedly because of what it will do to help families with costs such as sports uniforms. This is on top of refunds for books and other school items and will make getting students back to school, with the items they need, easier. It will certainly not be the be-all and end-all in helping boost retention rates but it will be a major encouragement to those families that are keen to see their young children stay on in school longer and build their bases of personal skills.
In terms of health care within Chifley, the government has delivered on a number of fronts, including a boost for Mt Druitt and Rooty Hill primary health care, with $250,000 from the primary health care infrastructure grants program, helping health facilities undertake a broad range of treatment for patients and helping ease the pressure on hospital emergency departments. The government has also invested $4.5 million for more emergency beds and equipment at Mt Druitt Hospital, under the historic National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement. Nationally, $419 million is being invested in headspace and EPPICs. We are fortunate to have a headspace presence in Mount Druitt, which I have had the honour and privilege of visiting, seeing firsthand the work they are doing in offering support to young people in Chifley. The government’s $2.2 billion mental health package acknowledges the need to provide greater support in this area, and our commitment has received particular support for its focus on early intervention.
I mentioned earlier that the budget is delivering in terms of infrastructure, and that is certainly the case in Chifley. Chifley and other Western Sydney residents are set to benefit from a $10 million Smart Technology trial for the M4 motorway to improve safety and tackle congestion in a city in which it is estimated that about $8 billion in extra cost is generated each year because of congestion. As a federal government we are also investing $100 million in the Suburban Jobs program. This program is designed to encourage employment growth closer to where people live, to help deal with, among other things, the congestion that comes with the growth of our cities.
Moreover, some $4.1 million of funding will be extended to Blacktown City Council. Some of that will be to upgrade local parks. Importantly, the bulk of it will be directed to completing the Mount Druitt community resource hub, for which I was keen to lobby for support, along with my predecessor, the former member for Chifley Roger Price. That community resource hub will provide training and community meeting facilities.
The capability of the library in Mount Druitt will also be upgraded and people will be enabled to access the internet, in an area where broadband access rates are lower. People have problems from a family income perspective in being able to get home connections. Through Blacktown council, through the resource hub, we will be able to provide students access to something that demonstrably has an impact on people’s education and transforms their lives. I am proud that the government has been able to add $4 million in funding to $4 million in funding from Blacktown council to develop that resource hub. It is taking shape at a rapid pace, right before our eyes, in Mount Druitt. On top of that, another almost $1.4 million funding will be provided to Blacktown City Council to maintain and upgrade local roads, which, as always, are of keen interest to local residents.
On investing in skills and nation building, the NBN is the largest nation-building project in our history. For residents in Chifley it will deliver affordable high-speed broadband. It is a great investment which will provide abundant economic and social benefits. I have spoken in this place about the fact that some suburbs in the Chifley electorate will be among the first in all of Sydney to access the high-speed internet network. It will be a boon for Western Sydney and particularly for those households and people who have raised with me over the year their frustration, particularly in suburbs such as Woodcroft and Doonside, about being unable to access internet for their families, for their work at home and for their businesses. The NBN is something they have long been after and will ensure that they are either in the same or in a better place than the rest of Sydney.
This is possible because of the range of decisive measures taken by the government, investing in the nation while at the same time ensuring that we are pulling back. It is worth noting we are engaged in the fastest period of fiscal consolidation that has been seen in four decades. The government will not stand in the way of businesses trying to access money for the purpose of the investment that I reflected upon earlier. We will see that fiscal consolidation having great benefits for the economy. While we are pulling back the amount of money that we are drawing upon in the economy, we will also make sure that we are investing in the skills and infrastructure needs of the nation. I am delighted to support the way that the government has been able to achieve those objectives in the way that it has in this budget. This year’s solid budget will deliver for Australian families and it will return us to surplus. We have committed to providing savings for the future. The budget will look after the most vulnerable and, most importantly, support families. I commend the budget to the House.