Standing up for Canberra

Appropriation Bill 2012-13

It is a great pleasure to talk today on these appropriation bills because it gives me the opportunity to highlight yet again the significant investment that Labor has made in my electorate of Canberra. It is significant that earlier today we heard that consumer confidence has risen to its highest level in just over two years. This surge has been attributed to Australia's optimism about the economy. In terms of infrastructure, health, education, schools funding and most importantly jobs and job security, this Labor government has delivered.

Last week I joined Minister Albanese, the ACT Chief Minister, Senator Kate Lundy, the member for Fraser, the member for Eden-Monaro and other members of the ACT government to launch the preliminary work on the new Majura Parkway in Canberra. This is a major infrastructure investment that will bring millions of dollars in benefits to my seat as well as the capital region, the Eden-Monaro, in Eden-Monaro, Fraser and throughout the region. Labor is investing in major and much-needed roadwork that will link the Federal and Monaro highways and ease congestion in Canberra and Queanbeyan,. For the first time ever,, the major highways in the north and the south will be linked.

This is one of those infrastructure projects that will make a lasting economic and social difference to thousands of people. It will boost productivity and will make transport and freight delivery more efficient, take heavy vehicles off suburban roads and create hundreds of jobs. This $288 million dual carriageway is being jointly funded by the ACT and federal Labor governments.

This major infrastructure investment follows another significant outlay in my electorate, one that I also opened with my colleague Minister Albanese. Last year, long-suffering commuters of the Tuggeranong Valley welcomed the duplication of 1.5 kilometres of the Monaro Highway. For years—actually, 40 years—motor vehicles and heavy trucks have been crawling along this stretch of road, with a single carriageway bridge located in the suburb of Fyshwick. An estimated 40,000 vehicles used this road every day. Thanks to the Labor government, we now have a new carriageway for motorists, after 40 years. We have waited a long time and it has finally arrived. It was a great day indeed when I joined with the minister to open the $18.5 million upgrade. There was also $1.5 million invested by the ACT government. With this investment in the Monaro Highway and the Majura Parkway, in the foreseeable future motorists and heavy transport operators will be able to drive from the Tuggeranong Valley in my electorate, on the south side, to Sydney along a dual carriageway. These projects are above and beyond the $409,000 Labor are investing in dangerous black spots on Canberra roads. This infrastructure investment by Labor shows our commitment to improving the transport needs of Canberra and the surrounding regions, and our commitment to boosting productivity, and I welcome this investment.

I also welcome our investment in education in Canberra and across the ACT, and our policy of making every school a great school, a world-class school. Between 2009 and 2012, Labor have almost doubled investment in schools, when compared to the previous four years, to around $65 billion. Our National Plan for School Improvement is the next step in our education reform agenda, providing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the way schools are funded and provide our children with a fair and high-quality education system, no matter what their background is, no matter where they live, no matter what their socioeconomic circumstances are and no matter what their parents' income is. Under the National Plan for School Improvement, the country has set the aspirational goal for Australia to be in the top five countries in the world in reading, maths and science by 2025. The plan will be phased in over six years from 2014 and will include a new way of funding schools, based on the need of the student. The government want to ensure we fund reforms that we know will work to lift the results of all students.

We are investing funding of $475 million over seven years to empower schools to make decisions at a local level, and participating education authorities in each state and territory have received more than $57 million in funding to implement the initiative over the 2012 and 2013 school years in 925 government and non-government schools across Australia. Each school is receiving a start-up grant of up to $50,000 and additional support for training and professional development. In the ACT, 12 schools, both government and non-government, have been selected to participate in the initiative over the 2012 and 2013 school years.

The Labor government have also invested significant money in boosting vocational education in the territory, including in my electorate of Canberra. We have invested over $8 million in the Tuggeranong Sustainable Living Trade Training Centre and $6 million in the Canberra Region Pathways Trade Training Centre.

It was a great pleasure to open one of these trade-training centres with the Prime Minister early last year at St Mary MacKillop College in my electorate, down south. It was like an MGM production! The principal there is quite an extraordinary man, and he is very passionate about his students, his school and St Mary MacKillop, and he put on an extraordinary event, with all the pathways of the school lined by school students not just from St Mary MacKillop but also from other Catholic schools around Canberra and the region. He is very connected into the region as well. There were students there from Catholic schools in Queanbeyan and elsewhere. It was extraordinary to see the adoration, frankly, that these students, the staff and the principal of this school had for the Prime Minister and to see the extraordinary trade-training centre that has been built as a result of our investment in education. The trades training centre has a cafe; there is an area where there is the frame of a house being constructed; it also has a woodwork area and a metalwork area. It is quite extraordinary—very different from my days at Donvale High, where we had one room allocated for metalwork and one room allocated for woodwork; it was all pretty basic I can assure you. I think the highlight of my achievements in metalwork was making a little man out of tin who held up pencils. There is a vast difference between what exists now and what happened in the seventies in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

The Labor government has also invested over $130 million for 136 Building the Education Revolution projects in Canberra, which have benefited 67 schools—67 schools which those opposite did not want to see funded and improved. I look forward to my Liberal opponent visiting these schools in Canberra and telling the students and their parents and the staff and principals why they opposed this investment in school education, because it has been so overwhelmingly well-received here. It amazes me that the Liberals would not support Labor's investment of $54 million to deliver more maths and science teachers, because in the ACT we have invested in so many areas, one being computers: 16,060 computers have been installed under the Digital Education Revolution National Secondary School Computer Fund. The Liberals in my electorate will be hard pressed to tell every parent, student and teacher about the benefits of the new libraries, multipurpose halls and covered outdoor learning areas, as I said, which have been so overwhelmingly well-received in my electorate.

Labor's investment in education is also matched by our investment in health. I am very proud to place on the record the investment that we have made in Canberra. There was $18½ million allocated to build the Canberra cancer centre at the Canberra Hospital, and almost $50 million to extend the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program—that is not just for here in Canberra but also across the nation, but it was announced here, at Canberra Hospital. There was $15 million for Canberra's GP superclinics, and earlier this week the federal Minister for Health and Ageing and my colleague the member for Fraser turned the first sod on the new ACT GP superclinic hub in northern Canberra. And I cannot stress enough the importance of Labor's $500 million blitz on dental public waiting lists. I have spoken in this chamber on the social and economic impact of poor dental health, and so I welcome with open arms this initiative.

In terms of Indigenous health, in September last year on behalf of the minister for health I had the great pleasure of launching the Indigenous Allied Health Australia national office here in Canberra, in my electorate, in Deakin. As the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the IAHA, as it is known, plays a crucial role in developing and contributing to health policy and planning for their communities. The IAHA works with universities to increase the number of opportunities available to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, and this includes the development of a curriculum framework at all Australian universities for the teaching of Indigenous health within all health science courses. With a focus on the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, the IAHA is showing an increased effort to attend career markets to encourage more participation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in allied health careers.

Closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation is a priority for our government. That is why it was such a privilege to launch this new national office and to announce, on behalf of the government, additional funding for the IAHA of $500,000 this financial year. This will facilitate an expansion of support and mentoring for Indigenous allied health professionals. It will allow increased engagement with Medicare Locals, and the funding will promote allied health as a career path for Indigenous Australians andincrease IAHA's online presence. These are all crucial initiatives for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders to close the gap in Indigenous health, and I was proud to be part of this launch and to represent the minister in delivering an additional half a million dollars in funding. As with education, it is those opposite who oppose investment in health and education. It is those opposite who always say no to almost every appropriation that will improve the lives of Australians and especially Australian families, and so when it comes to investing in families there is no more stark policy divide than our approach to helping families with much needed financial relief. The Schoolkids Bonus is delivering cash payments to 6,750 Canberra families with children at school. That means $410 for each child in primary school and $820 for each child in high school. The bonus has already seen millions of dollars spent in local shops on school equipment and uniforms and on other materials that children need for their education. Under the Schoolkids Bonus, children benefit, parents benefit and the local economy benefits; yet, it is a policy that those opposite want to axe—which is extraordinary.

I look forward to engaging with my Liberal opponent as to why he or she wants to take much needed payments from families and leave parents struggling to meet all the demands of educating their children. I wonder, too, if the Liberals plan to scrap Labor's increases in Family Tax Benefit A—payments which begin in July this year. And will they scrap the increases in the childcare rebate or the tax cuts we introduced to help those earning less than $80,000 per year?

I now turn to pensioners—my mother is a pensioner—as this is an area which I have got a very keen interest in. Deputy Speaker, as you know, those opposite have also opposed the measures that we introduced to help older Australians and Australian pensioners. Labor have already delivered the most significant reforms to the pension system since the introduction of the age pension in 1909. Our secure and sustainable pension reforms include pension increases, a new consolidated pensioner supplement, better indexation and a pensioner work bonus. Labor's landmark pension reforms have delivered increases of $172 per fortnight for singles on the maximum rate, and $182 per fortnight for pensioner couples on the maximum rate.

Finally, I want to turn to jobs and small business because these areas are also of significant interest to me. I used to have a small business before I came to this place. I am concerned for the future of Canberra, because the biggest issue here is managing the economy and ensuring job security. What those opposite are proposing is the abolition of 20,000 public service jobs—and that worries me significantly. This is one area of concern in my suburb of Weston Creek, because a lot of jobs, a lot of small businesses, a lot of families and a lot of homes are going to be affected. My mission, as is Labor's mission, is to ensure job security and the creation of jobs. We have created 800,000 jobs since we have been in government, and I want to ensure job security for Canberrans and for all Australians. I also ask those opposite to clarify where those 20,000 jobs are going to come from and whether they are going to come entirely from Canberra. As you know, Deputy Speaker, in 1996 we were a target. Are we going to be a target again for the 20,000 job losses? And which government departments and agencies are those opposite looking at?

The Labor government has a very strong record of investment across all areas, but especially in health, education and infrastructure—and I have just outlined that. It does surprise me, and I am sure many in my electorate, that those opposite oppose spending and investment that builds better roads, better teachers, constructs better schools, delivers better computers, invests in better health and supports all Australians from childhood through to old age.

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