Second Reading Debate – Appropriation Bills (Budget 2015/16)
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (19:50): We should get back to the main event, which is creating jobs and a strong economy in Australia. Whilst I am pleased to be able to make a contribution tonight, it was very tough to sit through the one from the member for Jagga Jagga. We have the member for Rankin here, who was more than happy to jump in with an interjection at any time. I am sure, if they want to come up to my electorate, they would find out about living in the real world, and that is that in regional Queensland things are fairly tough. Certainly, the important thing for people in my electorate is creating jobs: creating employment and providing opportunities for our youth. That is what they want us to do and that is what we are getting on with.
This has been a good budget for business confidence, and I will give you really simple example. On the weekend, I went into one of the local gas providers and had a bit of a chat with the owner-operator, who said he had been doing it relatively tough. He had two staff he was considering retrenching because he simply did not have enough work. In the last two weeks, he has been absolutely flat out and, last week, he had a record week—in a business that has been in place for four years. Business is starting to pick up. The economy is strengthening. Confidence is what is important, and it is on the way up as well.
But it is important that we, as elected members of electorates across Australia, have a vision for our electorate. For me, that is an electorate where our economy is strong and resilient, an electorate where we can produce jobs for our youth. There are a number of projects on the list—certainly on my wish list, on the whiteboard and everywhere else—that we are trying to get over the line. The first one is the provision of a dive wreck at Hervey Bay. HMAS Tobruk is one of the Navy’s great vessels which has been in service for many years. It was in Vanuatu not that long ago to provide relief to the people of Vanuatu. However, it is coming to the end of its useful life. In Hervey Bay, where we have a very strong recreational dive group and a very strong whaling group, we have all the infrastructure we require to expand. HMAS Brisbane, when it was sunk at Caloundra, lifted the local economy by some $5 million a year—$5 million worth of economic activity. The beautiful waters of Hervey Bay are warm all year round—and the sharks are certainly not that bad. I know we have competition. I know of a number of other areas that would like HMAS Tobruk for a dive wreck. But the water in the south is very cold and very deep—and, I am sure, full of Noahs. However, in Hervey Bay we have the infrastructure to make use of a vessel like HMAS Tobruk. I am very pleased that a local group has got together to put together all of the technical details for an application. We are working with our local councils, including the Bundaberg Regional Council and the Fraser Coast Regional Council. Like all things, there are always arguments about location: ‘Location, location, location! Where should we put the vessel?’
Mr PITT: The suggestion from the floor is the Logan River. Unfortunately, the Logan River is full of all sorts of other things! I would like to thank Nicky Shulz, from Urangan Fisheries, for the advice that he has given to the group. He has identified a spot where the tide speed is only 1½ knots maximum, which would mean you could dive on this wreck all day and all night long. It is an opportunity for my region which will build jobs; it will provide additional people who can actually work. They can get out and do a job every single day and look after themselves without support from government. Certainly HMAS Tobruk has got strong ties to the Bundaberg region. We have the Rats of Tobruk Memorial in Bundaberg. There is a very strong group that looks after the memorial up there, which is, of course, a replica of the original Rats of Tobruk Memorial. So it is important that we look to the future. If that opportunity comes up, I would like to encourage the Minister for Defence to consider my electorate as the No. 1 location where we could put the ship. It could go on to serve the people of Australia as a dive wreck and tourist attraction for the rest of its life.
Unfortunately, under the Stronger Regions program, we missed out on an application for Bundaberg Regional Council. However, like all applications, you need to meet the criteria. The difficulty was that the application was put in under the previous state government, with support. The Stronger Regions Fund requires 50 per cent as a co-contribution on top of what is asked for from the federal government. Unfortunately, the change to a Labor state government meant that that other part of that funding was not forthcoming. So we only had 30 per cent in the tin, which, of course, meant the project was ineligible. That was very disappointing. However, this is what happens when you change to a Labor government: you miss out on infrastructure projects.
But I congratulate them on making a good decision to maintain the gas infrastructure project in Bundaberg. By 2017 we will have a gas line that runs into the Bundaberg port. It will support industry and create jobs. We already have a commitment from a company called Knauf Australia to build a $70 billion plasterboard manufacturing plant at Port Bundaberg. That will create some 200 jobs in construction and some 65 permanent positions, and it will, of course, add to our GDP. Knauf have told me they will also build a pelletising plant so that we can use gypsum from that plant in our agricultural endeavours. For those of you who know the Bundaberg region, Wide Bay is one of the largest horticultural producing areas of Australia. We are the biggest producer of heavy vegetables in this country, so to have someone who can facilitate the direct import of lime into a pelletised product for our farmers to use at a much reduced cost will, of course, lift farm-gate returns. That will make people more viable and hence they can employ more people, which is exactly what we need in my electorate.
As always, the other big issue in regional Australia is roads. This government has committed $6.7 billion towards the Bruce Highway, some $500 million of which is available in 2015-16. I thank the Minister for Infrastructure, Warren Truss, who is, of course, the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Nationals. A lot of work has already been undertaken in my electorate. We have completed the Goodwood-Childers Road intersection. We have completed overtaking lanes to the north of Howard. Work on overtaking lanes to the south is underway. There has been work at Booyal and Aldershot. I do not have as much highway in my electorate as the member for Flynn has in his, but it is in much better condition than it was under the previous federal Labor government. We are getting on with the job. We need the Bruce Highway to be open regardless of the weather conditions so that we can provide produce from our electorate to the people of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and everywhere else. So I am very pleased that we are getting on with that.
However, there are a number of roads that do need upgrades which were committed to by the previous Liberal-National Party government in Queensland. Unfortunately, with the state Labor government taking over, those projects are now gone. One of those projects is the Hervey Bay-Maryborough Road-Urraween Road intersection. This is a very dangerous crossing. A number of school buses go across the intersection in the morning and the afternoon. It is a crossing that needs to be upgraded. It is on my list of things that we need to get over the line. The second project is the Torbanlea crossing upgrade. This is a road that floods regularly and, of course, cuts off the people in Tugun, which makes it very difficult for them to get in and out whenever there is some weather around. I have some personal experience with the Torbanlea crossing. I managed to hit it at relatively high speed in a vehicle late at night; it is hard to see. Fortunately, we got out of that without too much trouble. The third project is the extension of Kay McDuff Drive in Bundaberg. This will provide opportunities to direct traffic away from one of the largest high schools of the district, with 1,500 students, onto the Bundaberg ring road. Unfortunately, under the new state Labor government, those projects are all gone. However, we will continue to work with the local members and our federal minister to try and get those projects up and running.
While I am talking about development in the regions, I would like to congratulate Scott Rowe, the new CEO of RDA. Scott has certainly taken that under his wing and got on with the job. And Bill Trevor, their new chairman, is certainly making inroads into what we need—that is, economic activity for the Hinkler electorate. The biggest issues outside of jobs are electricity pricing and the cost of living. Electricity pricing is absolutely destroying our farm sector. It is making it very difficult for people who have no money with which to pay. We need to ensure that, whatever we do in this place, it does not increase the cost of energy; they simply cannot afford to pay more than they are paying now. We are up some 300 per cent on mandatory disconnections for nonpayment in the state of Queensland. We cannot continue to go down the road we are on. We must address this, and we must do it fast.
But, back to the budget: the budget does contain, of course, measures that will help deliver jobs, opportunities and economic growth in a way that is responsible, measured and fair, unlike what those opposite would put forward. It is the next step in the coalition’s long-term economic plan to build a stronger, safer and more prosperous future for all Australians. But while we know that there are economic challenges, our economic and budget position has improved as a direct result of the coalition’s strong financial management. Now, unfortunately the contribution from the member for Jagajaga would have you believe that we all live in a land of fairy floss, that we live in a house made of chocolate and someone will send you a cheque every week if that is what you need. You will simply roll up and someone will give you money, and you can survive. Out in the real world, if you live in the regions you know you have to go to work; you have to create your own wealth and provide your own opportunities. That has always been the case, and I am sure the people of regional Australia will continue to do that.
But we are helping them on the way, particularly small business. Small companies that have an annual turnover of less than $2 million will have their tax rate lowered from 30 per cent to 28½ per cent. As someone who owned a small business previously, I know that anything you can do to lift the bottom line helps you to employ. And I have to say, most of the employers I know at the moment are doing everything they can not to employ people. It is simply too complicated and too difficult, and there is too much red and green tape. But we are acting on that, and we are certainly getting it out of the way as soon as possible. Small businesses can claim an immediate tax deduction for each and every item they purchase, up to $20,000, and I can tell you that in the local region the tills are starting to ring. Small businesses are getting on with it. I would continue to encourage them to buy local: wherever possible, get down to your local supplier and purchase locally, because it is local businesses that employ. There is not a lot of employment on the internet; people are employed locally. So, wherever possible, go down and buy that new pump, buy that new car, buy that new piece of equipment—whatever it may be that you need for your business—but try to buy it from local providers, because that way the kids of the future will have employment.
We have an annual five per cent discount for businesses that are unincorporated, up to $1,000 a year, and in agriculture we have added $300 million to the drought relief package. For those of us who get out and about in regional Queensland and regional New South Wales, the drought is absolutely devastating. Of course there are a lot of tragic stories to go with it, but we are trying to assist those people as much as possible. All farmers will get an immediate tax deduction for new investment in water facilities and will be able to fully deduct the cost of new fencing from their tax bill. I have heard it said quite a few times in this place that not a lot of new fences appear to get put up for capital reduction; it tends to be maintenance all around, which I can certainly understand. And of course inside families and child care we have $38 billion to support families, including a $4.4 billion families package aimed at giving parents more choice and opportunity to work.
I have to say, I was one of those people who was knocking on the Prime Minister’s door about this, because the people who come to me tell me that the issue for them is the ability to go back to work. It is as simple as that. It does not matter how much you have in your paid parental leave scheme; at the end of that period of time, if you cannot afford child care you simply cannot return. If your childcare bill is $49,000 annually and you earn only $48,000, then the likelihood of your returning to work is zero. So, I am very pleased that we have made those adjustments and we are getting on with helping people to get back to work if they choose to do so.
We have $330 million to help young and disadvantaged Australian job seekers to get their start. In my electorate this is incredibly important. I have a very high youth unemployment rate. We have any number of people who need assistance. I have some 4,000 who are multigenerational welfare dependent. For them, the key issue is to have a driver’s licence, because if you live in regional Australia and you do not have a driver’s licence then your ability to get a job is decreased significantly. It is very difficult to get employment if you cannot drive a car and you do not have a licence. I am hopeful that some of these packages will help to train some of our youth to get those basic skills, those soft skills. They need to show up on time. They need to be dressed. They need to be ready. And they need to be able to go to work for the whole day and, if necessary, leave their phone in the car. I know that is a challenge for some of our youth. However, those are generally the requirements of most employers.
For retirees and pensioners there will be no new taxes on superannuation, because when you look at superannuation the absolute key issue is stability. You need to be able to plan for retirement. You need to know that the government of the day is not going to pull the rug out from under you when you get within a year of retirement or a year after retirement. So, we have committed to no new taxes on superannuation in this term of government, and I am very comfortable with that decision. The age pension will continue to increase. Unlike what has been mentioned by the member for Jagajaga, the age pension will go up—and has gone up in the last couple of weeks, I believe. More than 170,000 pensioners with modest assets will have their pensions increased by an average of more than $30 a fortnight. For those opposite who are thinking about blocking the budget, who just want to vote no, these are the types of things that the people in my electorate need.
In my electorate the median income is under $500 a week. Most of the people in my electorate are poor: $30 is a substantial change for them, and they need every single bit of it. Those who no longer receive a pension will remain eligible for a Commonwealth concession card, and that certainly helps out. Ever-increasing rates, ever-increasing electricity costs—these things are absolutely spiralling, and we need to get them under control. As a government that is certainly our role, because people expect their elected representatives to do what they need, and what they need is to control the cost of living, to ensure that they can pay their bills every day. They are not that concerned about what will happen in 100 years. They are very concerned about what will happen tomorrow and next week. And a 300 per cent increase in disconnections for failure to pay your electricity bill is unacceptable to me. I commend the budget; I commend the appropriations bills to the House.