Appropriation Bill 2013-14
I would like to begin tonight by congratulating the Treasurer on this, his sixth budget, because in this budget the Treasurer has successfully balanced the often competing priorities of fiscal responsibility at the same time as nation-building reform. We have put the focus on jobs, we have put the focus on growth and we have put the focus on fiscal responsibility at the same time as on education, disability reform and also major infrastructure reform to improve productivity.
There are many aspects of the 2013 federal budget that are close to my heart and I am particularly proud of. Tonight I am pleased to be able to talk about some of these as well as some particular aspects of this budget that will benefit by electorate of Canberra. Members would be aware of my great passion for education. In my maiden speech I said that my life had been transformed by education, that education was the great transformer and that I was living proof of that because through education I escaped the cycle of disadvantage and there are millions more like me. So I am really proud of our Labor government's education reforms and the $9.8 billion commitment to increase school funding over six years under the National Plan for School Improvement. I do believe that these reforms will give more Australians, more Canberrans, the chance to have their lives transformed by education, like I had.
At the same time I also want to dwell a bit on the investment that we as a government have made in education, because we are the government committed to education. I would say the majority of us in caucus are living proof of the transformative qualities of education and have greatly benefited from it. So, as a result of that, it is a driving issue for us. It is very front and centre for us.
In my electorate alone we have invested in the past $54 million to deliver more maths and science teachers. We have also delivered $131 million for 136 BER projects in Canberra benefiting 67 schools. That resulted in 17 new libraries, 23 multipurpose halls and 29 covered outdoor learning areas. We have also invested in 8½ thousand computers in 23 schools, which means that our children are now linked into modern technology and they can learn through education. I see schools like Narrabundah College, where they are doing a lot of remote learning as a result of having these fantastic computer labs. I was at St Bede's Primary School on Friday. They were celebrating their 50th anniversary. I was reminded again by the chair of the P&C—who made a really powerful speech when I actually opened their BER building, this beautiful multipurpose hall—of the fact that this would not have been possible if it had been left to the P&C to do their sausage sizzles, to do their lamington drives, to do their chocolate runs and to do their working bees to raise money. It would have never been possible to be able to come up with that significant sum of money to build the multipurpose hall. It was the stuff of dreams. And I get this from other P&Cs and other parents and teachers I meet throughout the schools. I spend a lot of time in schools because I love schools. I love seeing what is going on in the Canberra education system, speaking to the children and how they are benefiting from the significant investment we have made in Canberra, as well as speaking to the teachers about the benefits of the significant investments we have made in their professionalisation, autonomy and empowerment.
There is no doubt that one of the other cornerstones of this budget is our long-term commitment to DisabilityCare Australia, or the National Disability Insurance Scheme. For too long successive governments have shunned the opportunity to reform services for the profoundly disabled, neglecting the needs of people with significant and permanent disability, their carers and families. We have invested $14.3 billion over seven years to give people with disability, their families and carers the care and support they need over their lifetimes, and choice and control over the services they need. Most importantly, it focuses on the individual and defines the support that is needed for an individual over the course of their lifetime. Their needs can vary: during primary school they have specific needs, when they are teenagers they have different needs, when they are entering the workforce they have different needs and then as they age they have different needs.
Mr Deputy Speaker you, like me and everyone in this House, have spoken to carers. I have this enduring image of being at Koomarri—I see this family every time I go out to Koomarri to do a different event. The parents are a hard-working migrants and they have one daughter who is quite profoundly intellectually disabled. The parents are quite a bit older and every time I saw them prior to this DisabilityCare being introduced they were in tears —both of them, mother and father—absolutely scared witless about what was going to happen to their daughter when they passed on. You, Mr Deputy Speaker, like so many in this chamber would have had similar experiences: petrified parents, living with fear night and day as a result of them having an intellectually or physically disabled child that they are absolutely worried about should they pass on.
Tragically, I saw this family just recently at another event at Koomarri and they told me that the father has just been diagnosed with a brain tumour. So not only are they battling this issue of dealing with this profoundly intellectually disabled daughter but he also has his own health challenges. That is why DisabilityCare could not have come at a better time. It sends a very strong message to this family that their daughter will be looked after over the course of her lifetime.
It will end the cruel lottery that currently exists where the care and support a person receives depends on where they live and how they acquired their disability. In the ACT around $175 million in funding will be provided for the full rollout of our DisabilityCare by 2019-20. This will provide life-changing support to more than 5,000 Canberrans, one of them being that family I have just mentioned.
In the lead-up to this budget I spent a lot of time also talking to my constituents in Canberra and listening to their concerns—I am always talking to them and listening to their concerns. One area that was of particular concern was the issue of single parents. I am a child of a single mother: my father walked out on us when I was 11, and he walked out on us with $30 in the bank, so my early teen years were particularly hard. We were dining out every second night at family and friends because, basically, mum did not have any money. So I am acutely aware of the challenges that single mothers face. I grew up with one who did not have much money. We did not go on school camps, because mum did not have any money, so I am acutely aware of the disappointment that some single parents have in the fact that they cannot actually give their children what their peers are getting. And so I am acutely aware of the potential impact of some of the policies that we were looking at in terms of single parents was having on the single mothers in my electorate. I spent a lot of time talking to them, and I spent a lot of time actually sitting down with them and going through their budgets. These women are extraordinary budgeters. Everything is budgeted to within an inch of its life. They have Excel spreadsheets. You name it. They really do have tight budgets, so they really need to keep an eye on their finances. At the same time, these women were also working part time, training part time and trying to look after their child on their own as well.
Some of those conversations brought back a lot of really sad memories of what I went through as an early teen, which is why I had a lot of discussions with some of my colleagues and a number of ministers on what we could do on the single parents front. That is why I was particularly pleased with the income support that we outlined in the budget, where we are increasing the amount of income that Australians receiving income support can earn before their payments are affected. This will affect Australians and Canberrans receiving the parenting payment, Newstart allowance and widow, sickness or partner allowance. The income-free area will increase from $62 to $100 per fortnight. In practical terms, this means that people can take home $494 extra per year. In addition to this, the budget also outlines that from 1 July 2015, for the first time in Australia's history, the income-free area for Australians on income support will be indexed by the CPI. These reforms demonstrate that this Labor government is committed to supporting single parents and committed to upholding the principles of income support.
We also introduced a scheme where people who are on a pension supplement get the pensioner education supplement, which I think is a significant reform—$32 a fortnight, from memory. It allows those women who are in my electorate to get some assistance with the training they are undertaking. These reforms will immediately benefit 458 people on income support currently earning over $62 a fortnight in my electorate, and they have the potential to benefit more than 2,000 more people should they move into work.
The initiative in this budget that I was least heartened by was the introduction of paid parking in the Parliamentary Triangle next year. Members will have noticed that this issue dominated much of the local media in the days after the announcement. I am very proud of the Parliamentary Triangle. I know that there are a number of issues that confront the Parliamentary Triangle, particularly the fact that there are workers. It is a business district. It is a commercial district. We now have private enterprise there. We have public sector agencies there. We also have national institutions. So we are balancing a number of things. The Parliamentary Triangle is balancing a number of objectives and a number of missions. The challenge that we are currently faced with is the fact that workers are parking there—it is all free—and, as a result of that, a number of tourists particularly are not able to get to the national institutions. They are having to drive around and around and around because there is no car-parking space, which is not thrilling our fabulous national institutions—namely, the Library, Questacon, the Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery and the gorgeous old wedding cake of Old Parliament House—much. So it was decided to introduce paid parking to manage the parking in the Parliamentary Triangle.
The thing is—and I have been clear on this since my preselection—that I only support paid parking if there is an amenity. That is something I have been very clear on for many, many years, because I have worked in the Parliamentary Triangle and I know the challenges that people face. There is nothing there apart from those fantastic national institutions and a few wonderful cafes. There is no post office there. There used to be a post office; it has gone. There are a few banks there but not many. There are no shops. There is no mini-mart. There are no convenience stores. There is no amenity for people working there like there is in any business district throughout the rest of Canberra and any business district throughout the rest of Australia. If people are to pay for parking, I believe that they should be provided with the facility, the amenity—shops, convenience stores and mini-marts—similar to what has happened over at Brindabella Business Park, where there are a range of services. That is an industrial park, a business district, a commercial precinct.
I have initiated an inquiry into the level of amenity that is available in the Parliamentary Triangle. That inquiry will be conducted over the coming months through the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories. I am particularly looking forward to getting in and seeing what amenity is required in that area, what amenity can be provided in that area and what we can do about improving the services to the people in the Parliamentary Triangle.
Finally, my electorate also benefited from the budget's health and infrastructure investments, with $300,000 for the Cotter Road and Tuggeranong Parkway intersection and $5 million in funding for a dedicated emergency paediatric department at the Canberra Hospital.
This is a fiscally responsible budget but it is also a budget that contains nation-building reforms and it is a budget that the people of Canberra can be assured will benefit them into the future. It is a budget that puts jobs first, growth first, education first, fairness first and productivity first. The budget provides a very clear choice for Canberrans. I commend the bills to the House.