Standing up for Canberra

Budget Reply 2012-13

The Treasurer's fifth budget, handed down nearly two weeks ago, was a decisive budget. It was a Labor budget, it was a clever budget and it was a budget firmly focused on the future. This is my second budget as the member for Canberra and I would like to congratulate the Treasurer for a budget that both supports and assists families facing cost-of-living pressures and returns our budget to surplus. The surplus will provide a buffer in uncertain global economic times—and times are indeed uncertain. The surplus will also give the Reserve Bank further room to cut interest rates and the surplus will allow us to protect lowand middle-income families and our most vulnerable communities.

We will achieve this by delivering some of the biggest reforms for a generation, such as the $3.7 billion aged care reform package. This 10-year program will create a flexible and seamless system to provide older Australians with more choice, more control and easier access to a full range of services, when they want them and where they need them. It will position us so that we are able to meet the social and economic challenges intrinsic to an ageing population, particularly here in Canberra.

By improving our economic bottom line, we are also able to take the very first steps towards implementing the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Gillard government will invest $1 billion to see this scheme launched in July 2013, one year earlier than planned. It is the most fundamental social policy reform this country has seen since Medicare. It will revolutionise disability services in Australia and give hope to the 400,000 Australians who are living with a significant or permanent disability. Under this government, we will start to see this change occur. There will also be a $515 million blitz on public dental waiting lists. This funding will help to boost the public dental workforce and improve infrastructure for dental services in regional, rural and remote areas.

Aged care reform, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the dental waiting lists blitz are only possible because of the strength of the Australian economy and the capacity of this government to return the budget to surplus, despite global pressures which ripped $150 billion from government revenues. This made our job tougher but it did not deter us.

As someone who is deeply committed to education and understands the ability of education to empower and transform, I am particularly proud to see such unwavering commitment to education in the budget. I again welcome the new school kids bonus policy, which will replace the underutilised education tax refund and help families afford to pay for the additional costs which always come up throughout the year. The school kids bonus will see a cash payment of $410 for each child in primary school and $820 for each child in secondary school, paid directly to families. Around 6,750 families in the Canberra electorate will benefit from this bonus. It is a wonderful initiative, one I was pleased to be at the announcement of in the neighbouring electorate, your electorate of Fraser Mr Deputy Speaker Leigh, earlier this month with the Prime Minister and the minister for families.

The parents I have spoken to since then are incredibly supportive of the game. They know it is going to be a huge benefit, particularly when it is time to pay for new school shoes, textbooks or computers. The government is replacing the education tax refund with the school kids bonus because around 80 per cent of families were not receiving their full entitlements under the education tax refund. Because the school kids bonus will be paid automatically and upfront, it will mean that Canberra families will not need to keep receipts for months and months—it is a guaranteed payment. Canberra families will receive the full amount every time so that, if they lose their receipts, they will not lose out. Canberra families will not have to pay out of their own pocket and then wait months to be paid back, and Canberra families will not have to bother about the paperwork.

This is just one of the ways the Gillard government is helping families in Canberra who have school-age children to make ends meet. I know it will go a long way to taking some of the pressure off families in my electorate who do everything they can to ensure their children get the best possible education. I am also pleased to see the Gillard government invest further in maths and science, subjects which attract some of our best and brightest students to the ACT. Labor are keen to see an increase in the number of students studying maths, science and engineering, and to help achieve that goal we are investing $54 million in a package that will address some of the key concerns raised by the former Vice-Chancellor of the ANU, Professor Ian Chubb, in his Mathematics, engineering & science in the national interest report. This investment will build on the $8.9 billion investment in science and research in this year's budget and will help address the issue of emerging skill shortages in sectors such as engineering, which are highlighted in Professor Chubb's report. This investment will also help us discover ways to encourage more students into undergraduate maths and science courses, which previous HECS and HELP subsidies just were not addressing.

Health is of course another area Labor is deeply committed to, and it shows in this budget. There is $1 million to begin the construction of the Eccles building at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the ANU, and Labor will also be investing around $1.3 million in the establishment of a chair in plastic craniofacial surgery here in Canberra. Again, I was proud to be at the announcement of a major budget initiative with the Treasurer and the Minister for Health when the $49.3 million investment to extend the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program was revealed. This investment by the government will significantly reduce the burden of bowel cancer on Australians and their families. Now more than 12,000 suspected or confirmed cancers will be detected through free screening, and between 300 and 500 lives will be saved each year as a result of this investment.

According to the latest census data, 10.3 per cent of people in Canberra are over the age of 60 and will therefore be eligible for this screening, so it is a great boon to Canberra. This is also in addition to the $15 million already committed to the ACT's GP superclinic by Labor. It is a superclinic that will spread across Canberra, across the ACT, with one of the clinics down in my electorate in Calwell.

I move now from health to healthy lifestyles. When it comes to getting active, Labor is delivering for the Canberra community. At a grassroots level, more funding will be put into the highly successful Active Afterschool Communities program for the 2013 school year. I had the great pleasure of seeing this program in action just recently at an after-school basketball event at Tuggeranong stadium. It was clear that the kids were having a lot of fun, almost as much fun as their mentors, and it is a great way for kids to stay active and get involved in community sport, particularly after school. So I have no doubt that the $39.2 million in the budget to extend this program will be money well spent, particularly here in Canberra.

Labor is also investing in professional sport here in the ACT, with $2.5 million going towards new broadcast-quality lighting for Manuka Oval. This funding will be matched by the ACT government and it will attract new opportunities such as the 2020 and international cricket matches and preseason AFL games.

There is also substantial money in the budget for the National Capital Authority, which has a special place in the life of Canberrans and in the nation. Labor is investing $11.9 million to help support the NCA's role in the development of our national capital. This budget commitment is in response to the 2011 Canberra: a capital place report, by Dr Allan Hawke. Canberrans are proud custodians of our national capital, but at the same time Canberra has grown over the years to become a living community with its own identity. The role of the NCA is to find a balance between the two and work productively and collaboratively within our community. Therefore this funding is greatly appreciated, and I look forward to continuing to work with the NCA, particularly in the lead-up to Canberra's centenary next year.

As well as funding for the NCA, our national institutions also received a funding boost in this year's budget. Just from being around town and talking to the heads of a number of these agencies, I know they are very grateful. There is supplementary funding of $39.3 million in the budget for our pre-eminent institutions to help keep them strong. This additional funding will allow our institutions to expand their capacity to open up their collections for community, education and research uses. Canberra's collecting institutions are recognised internationally as some of the very best, and I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to the delivery of their programs and services. This funding includes $7.7 million for the National Archives of Australia, $6.7 million for the National Library of Australia, $5.5 million for the National Museum of Australia, $5.3 million for the Australian War Memorial, $4.3 million for the National Gallery of Australia, $3.4 million for the National Film and Sound Archive and $1.9 million for the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. A further $2.7 million will allow for the transition of the National Portrait Gallery to become an independent statutory authority from July 2013, bringing it into line with other major national cultural institutions. This will give the gallery well-deserved recognition as an iconic national institution. These funding decisions continue to highlight the importance of Canberra to the Gillard government, particularly as we approach our 100th birthday next year.

This is also a budget that continues to deliver vital infrastructure to Canberra as well as funding for the Black Spot Program which makes our roads safer. The budget will deliver a further $21.4 million to start, progress or complete further road projects in the ACT. Then there is $144 million in funding for the Majura Parkway, and we have also contributed $18.5 million for the Monaro Highway duplication. And there is $1 million going towards eight black spot upgrades in the ACT. This money will help fund safety improvements such as better traffic signals and roundabouts—because we do love our roundabouts here in Canberra. A number of those upgrades will be taking place in my electorate.

Finally, this is a budget designed to support small business, including the 17,600 small businesses in the Canberra electorate. Labor's initiatives for small business will encourage investment and help businesses that may have fallen on tough times. The $6½ thousand instant asset write-off scheme, which I really love, will help small business by supporting cash flow and encouraging businesses to invest. And there is the loss carry-back initiative to help companies through tough times and encourage them to invest and grow. Small business will also benefit from the Small Business Advisory Services program, which will be extended for another four years, thanks to $27.5 million in funding.

There is a lot in this budget that Australia can be proud of. There is a lot in this budget that Canberra can be proud of. It is a clever budget and it highlights the clear plan Labor has for Australia's future which includes a stable economy with a modest surplus. However, I was disappointed to see some of the tough decisions in this budget, although I acknowledge these tough decisions are what will get us to a budget surplus. A reduction in Public Service staffing levels, even though it will only take us back to 2009-10 levels, is of course disappointing. For the past two decades I have been a fierce advocate for our Public Service. That is why it is hard to hear the news in the budget that around 1,500 Canberra based positions will be lost, albeit through natural attrition and voluntary redundancies. It was disappointing because I, like my Canberra colleagues, fought extremely hard to prevent any cuts to the Public Service in the lead-up to this budget. But I take heart in the knowledge that it could have been worse—much, much worse. Under a coalition government it would be much worse. They are the ones who brag about cutting 12,000 public servants and they are the ones who have not ruled out cutting 20,000 jobs and razing whole departments.

So, yes, there are tough decisions in this budget, some that disappoint me as the member for Canberra, but I do believe that Canberra knows the alternative would be a lot worse. And I do believe that there is a great deal that will benefit Canberra as a result of this budget. As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is a budget that both supports and assists families facing cost-of-living pressures and it returns to a surplus. These are the hallmarks of this government's fifth budget and these are the economic decisions on which we should be judged. I commend the bills to the House.

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