Second Reading – $900 Stimulus Cheques

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (12:45): I rise to speak on the Tax Bonus for Working Australians Repeal Bill 2013. This bill will ensure that the Commissioner of Taxation does not make any further tax bonus payments or, as they are more commonly referred to, $900 stimulus cheques. These payments were designed to provide stimulus to the Australian economy at the height of the global financial crisis. In opposition, the coalition opposed the payments on the grounds that the package was poorly targeted, ineffective in supporting employment and unaffordable. And were they right? They were right. The total amount of borrowed government money spent on stimulus payments to date is estimated to be around $7.7 billion. Let me repeat that: $7.7 billion of borrowed money. I would hate to think how many taxpayer dollars we are spending on interest just servicing that portion of the debt. That is $7.7 billion, plus interest, that our children and our children’s children will have to find. If you combine that with the debt left by the Queensland state Labor government, that is an enormous amount of money for the five people in my family.

Since the introduction of the stimulus cheques, more than 21,000 payments have been made to dead people, totalling more than $18 million. This includes the payment of 40 stimulus cheques to deceased individuals so far this financial year. Since its introduction, more than 16,000 stimulus payments have been sent directly to taxpayers living overseas, totalling around $14 million. While that is great for France, Spain, England or wherever our citizens decide to reside, it is not great for Australia.

In my electorate of Hinkler, fruit and vegetable growers are continuing to receive stimulus cheques for backpackers they employed years ago who are no longer even in the country. As an example, a gentleman named Craig van Rooyen, the owner of Sweet Sensations on the outskirts of Bundaberg, employs up to 35 backpackers a day, depending on the crop, through the Working Holiday visa program. He grows lychees, macadamias and mangoes. He has previously grown strawberries and bananas. Mr van Rooyen is of South African descent but he has managed to pick up the Australian vernacular. When my office informed him of this bill’s introduction to parliament his response was, ‘It’s about bloody time.’ He said he forwarded stimulus cheques on to backpackers if he knew they were still in the country, as he was satisfied that at least they would spend the money in this nation, but he continues to receive the cheques for people who left the country years ago. These he does not forward on. His position on this matter is shared by many growers across the Hinkler electorate.

This emergency economic stimulus is no longer warranted, so it makes absolutely no sense for the ATO to keep administering the cheques. More than 480,000 payments totalling more than $400 million were made over the financial years following the original payment of stimulus cheques—that is, 4½ years on from the GFC. Stopping the cheques now will save taxpayers an estimated $250,000 over the forward estimates. During the 2013 federal election, the coalition made a commitment to end Labor’s waste, and this repeal bill delivers on that commitment. We are doing what we said we would do.

But Labor waste was not confined to stimulus cheques; it extends far beyond that. For example, Labor wasted $67 million on administering a program to install set-top boxes in people’s homes for an average of $350 each, even though Harvey Norman offers customers the same deal for $168. How many of those are now in operation? I would suggest: very few. Government bureaucrats sold two billiard tables for $6,000 and then promptly stumped up $100,000 to investigate whether the sale was good value. Departments purchased gold-plated coffee machines for $15,000 each. Senate estimates revealed Labor spent $8.5 million on advertising the schoolkids bonus scheme, which was an automatic payment. In mid-2013, just one of the 28 GP superclinics promised during the previous election was operational. Labor was spending $440,000 a month to maintain an empty detention centre in Tasmania. A dozen climate change bureaucrats left taxpayers with a $1,700 bill for one dinner. The Department of Parliamentary Services spent about $2.4 million on training that included advice on how to get a good night’s sleep. I hope that was successful.

We come to the famous school halls. I worked on many of the BER projects. I saw probably over a hundred of these projects rolled out across the state. I will give an example of the absolutely ridiculous amount of administration that went with it. In Western Queensland, I went to a BER project where the building did not look exactly the way it should have looked. I spoke to the builder and the builder said, ‘If we walk around the back you’ll see why it’s been changed and shortened.’ There was a camphor laurel tree. For those who know anything about camphor laurel, it is a noxious weed. However, instead of knocking the tree over, they built around it, so the building got smaller and became less value for money. There is currently a program around independent public schools. If that program were in place, can you imagine the school principal and the school board accepting those changes from a contractor? Even though the rollout was terribly managed for BER projects, it was a huge investment in infrastructure. We could have had much better value for taxpayers’ money if that program were in place—if you had local content, local principals and local people making decisions in the best interests of their school. That is what should have happened. The projects that I saw that were delayed, the ones that were run by private schools, were far more beneficial. They got more building, they got more equipment and they more things inside the building. It was much greater. It has been suggested that the Independent Public Schools program would have helped with this infrastructure spend.

Then we get to the famous home insulation scheme.

Mr Frydenberg: Infamous!

Mr PITT: Infamous! How could you possibly not make the connection between a roof full of alfoil and live wiring in a house which is five, 10, 15, 20 or up to 50 years old? Even with no technical knowledge, how could you not make the connection that it was dangerous? How could you not make the connection that it could cause a fire?

It has been an absolute tragedy for that project to pull up because of the deaths of young workers, a number of which were in Queensland. It is right, fair and just that we should do an investigation into that matter, and I hope we get to the bottom of it.

Possibly the two biggest program failures in Australian history have, of course, been the National Broadband Network and the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Project—NBN and SIHIP, as they are known. The rollout of the National Broadband Network is currently two years behind schedule, with final completion due 11 years later than promised by Kevin Rudd. The cost to taxpayers of completing the NBN under Labor’s plan has blown out to $73 billion.

Mr Stephen Jones: Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance. I have been very patient. Normally with a tax bill a lot of latitude is given to speakers, but it is very difficult to see how these completely unrelated programs are relevant to any tax bill or the matter under consideration.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Vasta ): I give the call to the member for Hinkler and he will be relevant to the bill.

Mr PITT: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. But this bill is about repairing Labor’s waste, and it is great to set some examples. These are examples that we are aware of and they need to be known to the Australian people. I think it is important that we demonstrate what they are and we continue on that path.

In my region of Hinkler, people were told that they would be connected to the National Broadband Network by Christmas, would you believe? After six years, they would have it in four months. It was a ridiculous outcome. Our plan to use a mix of technologies will save taxpayers $32 billion, keep monthly bills lower and deliver the NBN to all Australians, four years sooner than under Labor’s plan. The average household bill will be $72 per month compared with $139 per month under Labor’s plan.

SIHIP was also out of control under Labor. In its first year the scheme was double over budget and had failed to deliver a single house. There was no transparency in expenditure. As an ,example the Labor government spent $42 million on consultants on house design in the Northern Territory, only to ignore the advice they received. Targets were only met because the Labor government continually lowered the bar on building standards. Much of the work was what is referred to as ‘fix and make safe’, instead of the complete renovations that were promised.

In 2006, before the scheme started, 75 per cent of Indigenous people lived in overcrowded dwellings. In 2011, despite the government spending $1.7 billion on Indigenous housing, the figure remained at 75 per cent. Quick fixes were the hallmark of the Rudd and Gillard governments. They threw money at problems, but the only results they delivered were more debt and deficit.

The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook released in December last year forecast a $47 billion deficit in 2013-14 and $123 billion worth of cumulative deficits over the forward estimates. So, despite the Rudd and Gillard governments asking Australians to pay 43 new or increased taxes in 2013-14 alone, they spent $47 billion more than they earned. Under Labor, real government spending grew at around 3.5 per cent over the five years from 2007-08 to 2012-13 and is expected to grow further to 3.7 per cent over the medium term.

If we were to retain the policies we inherited, the budget would not return to surplus within the 10-year medium-term projections, with gross debt on issue increasing to $667 billion. For those mums and dads who are listening to this speech, in simple terms it means this: if you continue to spend more than you earn, and you fill your credit card and you fill the credit card that is sent to you in the mail, you will eventually have to pay the money back and there will be very, very difficult decisions. We are getting on with those decisions.

Politicians talk about debt and deficit and use fancy terminology like ‘horizontal fiscal equalisation’. But at the end of the day Australians just want to know that they are getting a fair go. They want to know that we, their elected representatives, are spending their hard-earned money wisely to deliver the services and infrastructure that they need. Under Labor, Australia was living beyond its means. We were spending more than we earned, year after year after year, leaving future generations with a massive credit card bill. That is not sustainable.

This bill, to put an end to the $900 stimulus cheques, is another step towards prudent and responsible budget management. The adults are in the room and they are back in charge.

 

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Constituency Statement – Nationals visit

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (09:39): Last week the Nationals held their first party room meeting of the year in my electorate of Hinkler. The party’s visit was a clear demonstration of the Nationals’ commitment to regional Australia. It gave my community an opportunity to show the rest of the country that after a tough couple of years of natural disasters Hinkler is open for business.

A year on from the floods and tornadoes, as part of the visit Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and I announced that repairs to the rock wall at the port of Bundaberg would be underwritten by the federal and Queensland governments by natural disaster recovery and relief arrangements. While it is anticipated that insurers will meet a significant part of the costs, the announcement of government funding for the shortfall will ensure that the wall is repaired more quickly. Shipping access to the port is vital to local industries and jobs, which is why the now Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and I made the commitment prior to the election to get it fixed. Since the election I have been in regular contact with Mr Truss’s office to ensure the matter is resolved.

The sugar industry is just one group reliant on the port. The sugar industry generates around $230 million a year for the Wide Bay-Burnett region, supporting some 600 cane farmers and 800 direct local jobs. While in town the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, discussed electricity pricing with Isis and Bundaberg canegrower groups and toured the farm and processing facilities at Macadamias Australia and Farmfresh Fine Foods before meeting with Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers.

The Assistant Minister for Employment, Luke Hartsuyker, had dinner with various local chamber of commerce groups and toured jobs service provider IMPACT, where he had his blood pressure taken by some local aged-care students. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, toured the construction site of the new Indigenous Wellbeing Centre and joined morning tea with staff at the Mater hospital, where construction is set to begin on new patient and family accommodation facilities.

We also attended a civic reception with Brisbane Lions AFL players Daniel Rich and Simon Black at Bundaberg East State School, which was devastated by the floods in January last year. MPs Andrew Broad, Michael McCormack, Darren Chester, George Christensen, Michelle Landry and Ken O’Dowd, Senator Bridget McKenzie and Senators-elect Matt Canavan, James McGrath and Barry O’Sullivan also keenly participated in the events. This included a tour of Central Queensland University’s Bundaberg campus and a community breakfast at the Old Bundy Tavern.

Local constituents were encouraged and heartened by their genuine interest in the issues that are impacting their daily lives. I would like to thank my colleagues for their support and their willingness to engage with the Hinkler community. I trust that what they learnt will inform their deliberations here in this place.

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90 Second Statement – Ability Ball

MR PITT (Hinkler) (13:46): It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak about last Friday night’s Ability Ball in Bundaberg. The Ability Ball is a formal night for clients of local disability support organisation Community Lifestyle Support. A smashing success in previous years, the Ability Ball sold out very quickly again this year. I would like to thank the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for providing a special message for the evening. The Prime Minister acknowledged the assistance Community Lifestyle Support provides to individuals with a disability and their families. Their hard work makes a real difference to peoples’ lives. I must say it has been some time since I have been in a room with so many Elvis impersonators. The show attracted a large number of clients to the stage, demonstrating their dance moves: the moonwalk, the sprinkler and many other favourites. We literally had to move the front tables out of the way to allow more access to the dance floor.

Last month I also presented the Endeavour Foundation with a new Australian flag. Service Development and Innovation Manager Lynn Quirk showed me around the centre and informed me that Bundaberg has the highest rate of disability in Queensland, at 8.2 per cent. I left both events inspired by the clients and the staff, especially Mark Searle, the flag raiser at Endeavour. It is organisations like these that help remind us of our duty to the electorate and the work we still have to do for so many. The government shares their vision of empowering people with disabilities. That is why we are committed to delivering the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

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Minister visits Bundaberg hospitals and schools

Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion and Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt have today visited local hospitals and schools to hear about some of the work that is being done to improve health and education outcomes for indigenous Australians.

Senator Scullion and Mr Pitt toured the construction site of the new Indigenous Wellbeing Centre (IWC) in Bundaberg. The IWC is a community based provider of a range of health, community and family services across the Wide Bay Burnett region.

“Co-locating all of IWC’s services in one central hub will offer local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people holistic support,” Senator Scullion said.

“Having viewed the plans, I expect this impressive facility will play a big role in closing the health gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Hinkler.”

The pair also visited Bundaberg East State School, where a civic reception was held with Brisbane Lions AFL players Daniel Rich and Simon Black.

The reception is part of a two day Community Camp being held right across the region, including events such as an indigenous Auskick clinic at Bundaberg PCYC.

“Bundaberg East State School was devastated by the 2013 floods, and it’s great to see Brisbane Lions players and AFL Wide Bay taking an interest in their recovery,” Mr Pitt said.

Earlier in the day, Senator Scullion and Mr Pitt were joined by Member for Dawson George Christensen and Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital to learn more about the next stage of development in central Queensland.

Senator Scullion and the Nationals MPs met with Mater staff and viewed plans for patient accommodation units in Bundaberg and Rockhampton, two additional operating rooms in Rockhampton, as well as two additional operating rooms and one procedure room in Mackay.

MEDIA CONTACT: Larine Statham (Keith Pitt) 0427 653 814
Rosa Gagliardi (traveling with Minister Scullion) 0418 890 787

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Agriculture Minister hears first hand from Hinkler farmers

Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce and Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt today met with industry bodies to discuss the issues that are important to local farmers.

Mr Joyce and Mr Pitt met with representatives from Isis Canegrowers, Bundaberg Canegrowers and Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers (BFVG).

Mr Joyce and members of The Nationals Partyroom toured Macadamias Australia and Farm Fresh Fine Foods.

“It was great to see how local produce is being processed and marketed, to make Australian-made products the first choice for many of the world’s largest and best-known food manufacturers,” Mr Joyce said.

Mr Pitt said he was absolutely delighted to host The Nationals Partyroom in Bundaberg.  

“The Partyroom’s visit to Hinkler is a clear demonstration of The Nationals commitment to regional Australia,” Mr Pitt said.

“It is a unique opportunity to discuss matters that are important to Hinkler farmers, such as electricity prices, red tape, biosecurity and labour.   

“This visit is also an opportunity to show the rest of the country that, after a tough couple of years, Hinkler is open for business.”

Mr Pitt encouraged locals to make a submission on the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, which will outline where this nation takes its agriculture sector.

“Late last year the Coalition released the terms of reference for the White Paper, signalling the start of the 12 month process,” he said.

“Achieving a stronger agricultural sector will lead to higher farm-gate returns, more jobs, more investment and stronger regional communities.”

 To find out more visit www.agriculturalcompetitiveness.dpmc.gov.au

Media contacts:

JOYCE: Gerard McManus 0477 391 580

PITT: Larine Statham 0427 653 814

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Keeping Bundaberg Port open for business

Major works are underway to get the Port of Bundaberg fully up and running following the devastating floods of January 2013.

In Bundaberg today, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss announced that required rock wall works will be underwritten by the Australian and Queensland Governments via Natural Disaster Recovery and Relief Arrangements.

“The port was largely shut off by the flooding, hitting local industry hard,” Mr Truss said.

“It is imperative we get the port fully operational again so that we can get the local economy back up on its feet quickly.

“While it is anticipated that insurers will meet a significant part of rock wall repairs, today’s announcement of government funding for the project will give contractors the certainty they need to get on with fixing the wall faster.

“A viable and efficient port is vital for this region, supporting local cane growers, jobs and the local economy.

“The sugar industry is a major component of the regional economy in the Wide Bay Burnett generating around $230 million a year for the region, while supporting some 600 cane farmers and 800 direct local jobs.

“The floods caused major silting at the port, which closed it to commercial shipping and damaged the rock training wall used to reduce silting from normal river flows and protect local infrastructure from high seas.

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said shipping access to the port is integral for the local and Australian sugar industry.

“Recovery from devastating natural disasters is a long-term proposition, and getting facilities like the port fully operational again is a priority,” Mr Pitt said.

“I am delighted the Deputy Prime Minister is here today to make this announcement to give our community and businesses the surety that these vital works will be done… and done just as quickly as possible.”

Member for Burnett Stephen Bennet said work on the rock training walls was the next step in rehabilitating the port following the completion of dredging works in December 2013.

“The $4.9 million dredging works, jointly funded by the Australian and Queensland Governments, restored the Port of Bundaberg to its pre-flood depth of over eight metres from a post-flood low of just 3.3 metres,” he said.

“When the repairs to the northern rock wall are complete it will direct the river flow to assist the channel to self-clean and maintain depth, keeping the port open for business all year round.

“With both governments working together on disaster restoration and recovery we are well on the way to revitalising Queensland.”

Australian and Queensland Government Natural Disaster Recovery and Relief Arrangements are supporting $11.2 billion in reconstruction projects across the state stemming from disaster events between 2010 and 2013.

Media contacts:

For Mr Truss: Brett Heffernan 0467 650 020
For Mr Pitt: Larine Statham 0427 653 814
For Mr Bennett: Stephen Bennett 0448 523 235

 

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Government delivering on employment election commitments

Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker and Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt have met with key stakeholders in the Bundaberg community to discuss how the Government is taking action to get more people into work.

During today’s visit to local Job Services Australia Provider, IMPACT, the Assistant Minister said the Government had already started delivering on its employment election commitments.

“The Coalition Government is committed to ensuring that any Australian who is capable of working can get a job,” Mr Hartsuyker said.

“We are currently reviewing every aspect of the Job Services Australia system to strike the right balance in flexible service delivery with an aim to implement a streamlined, more effective system from 2015.

“The key goal of the Job Services system is to get more people into work and it is organisations like IMPACT that are making this goal a reality.” 

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said he and Mr Hartsuyker had also met with members of various local Chamber of Commerce groups to discuss the Coalition’s plan to deliver a stronger economy with more jobs.

“The unemployment rate in our area is one of the highest in the country, and I am thankful that the Minister could make time to hear from locals and to outline how the Government is working to get more people into work,” Mr Pitt said.  

“Our Government will help job seekers into work by introducing a number of programmes, including a Job Commitment Bonus payment of up to $6500 to encourage long-term unemployed young Australians to find a job and remain off welfare.

“The Government will also introduce a Seniors Employment Incentive Payment which will provide a business with a payment of up to $3250 if it hires a job seeker

aged 50 or over, who has been unemployed for at least six months and is receiving income support.”

For further information on Job Services Australia www.employment.gov.au.

Media contact:

Minister Hartsuyker’s Office: Greg Pierce 0408 532 785

Mr Pitt’s Office: Larine Statham 0427 653 814         

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Pitt announces $1.5 million for Trades Skills Centres

Stronger links will be forged between local schools and potential employers, with Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt announcing almost $1.5 million for two new Trades Skills Centres.

Mr Pitt said the Burnett Youth Learning Centre would receive about $447,000 to purchase equipment needed for students to attain qualifications in agriculture.

He said Shalom College would receive more than $1 million to construct a workshop, where students will learn the skills needed in the trades of cabinetmaking, carpentry, fitting and turning.

“These Trades Skills Centres will improve the delivery of vocational education and training in schools, focussing specifically on improving collaboration between schools, business and industry,” Mr Pitt said.

“As a qualified tradesperson and the former owner of a registered training organisation, I understand the benefits these centres will bring to individuals and the Hinkler community more broadly.

“To be able to receive trade training in your home town is a significant advantage and should help improve apprentice completion rates.”

Shalom College Principal Dan McMahon said the facility would allow students to complete Certificate courses, using industry-standard equipment. 

“These skills are highly sought after by industry and will help make Shalom students job ready,” Mr McMahon said.

Diocesan Director of Catholic Education Leesa Jeffcoat welcomed the initiative, saying she looked forward to the many benefits it would bring to students, Shalom College and the local economy.

Media contact: Larine Statham 0427 653 814        

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NBN announces wireless rollout plans for Wide Bay

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt has welcomed NBN Co’s announcement today of another step towards bringing fast broadband to the Wide Bay Burnett.

NBN Co confirmed that areas within Bundaberg, Fraser Coast and North Burnett regional councils will have access to fixed wireless networks from mid next year.

“This is a welcome announcement that NBN is moving ahead in some of the most disadvantaged areas for broadband access,” Mr Pitt said.

Fixed wireless services use radio communications delivered by antennas that transmit a signal direct to an outdoor antenna fixed to a home or business.

NBN Co advised the Government last year that to deliver broadband sooner, at less cost to taxpayers and more affordably for consumers, the NBN should be completed using a mix of technology.

“This rollout of areas to access fixed wireless networks shows that the Government is committed to delivering fast speed broadband using the most appropriate technology that is affordable for consumers and at the best cost to taxpayers,” he said.

Media contact: Debbie Leis 07 4152 0744

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World-class cancer facility opens in Bundaberg

Cancer patients living in the Wide Bay-Burnett region will have better access to world-class treatment and therapy with the opening of a new $11.3 million Oncology Centre in Bundaberg.

The Federal Minister for Health Peter Dutton officially opened the new facility today.

The facility, which is now treating around 25 patients a day, features six chemotherapy chairs, two radiotherapy treatment ‘bunkers’, CT scanning, ultrasound and digital x-ray services.

Mr Dutton said the Australian Government was committed to delivering essential cancer services to more patients living outside of the major cities and contributed $5.6 million to the centre.

“Many parts of rural and regional Australia don’t have convenient access to cancer services, and as a consequence, have higher rates of mortality from many types of cancer,” Mr Dutton said.

“In partnership with State and Territory governments and local communities, the Australian Government is focused on giving more Australians access to the services they need and continuing to work with the health sector to improve referral protocols and care pathways.”

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said the Bundaberg Oncology Centre would significantly reduce the inconvenience and cost for local cancer patients, who previously had to travel hundreds of kilometres to Nambour or Brisbane to receive some treatments.

“Radiotherapy treatments can take between two and seven weeks, so having these services available locally will ease some of the burden on patients and their loved ones during a challenging time,” Mr Pitt said.

Australian Government funding has also been used to upgrade the Oceania Oncology cancer centre at Maroochydore including upgraded radiotherapy equipment which will further improve cancer treatments on the Sunshine Coast.

Media contacts: Minister – John Wiseman 0401 776 108 or Mr Pitt – Larine Statham 0427 653 814        

 

 

 

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