Second reading on Apropriation Bills 3 and 4 (2012-2013)

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:59): I am pleased to be speaking today on the additional estimates bills, the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013. They are the bills which seek the authority from parliament for additional expenditure of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. They are also an opportunity for us to do a stocktake on the economic record of government, what it means for us in our local electorates, and where the challenges and threats are for ordinary Australian families when it comes to economic management in this country.

The total additional appropriation being sought through the bills before the House today is just over $1.27 billion. The total appropriation being sought in the first bill is approximately $600 million. This proposed appropriation arises from changes in the estimates of program expenditure, variation in the timing of payments, increases in forecast program take-up and policy decisions taken by the government in response to changed circumstances since the last budget. The major appropriations proposed in the bill come from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, which will receive an additional $85 million towards the support for the childcare assistance program to fund an increased demand for the Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance Program. It is a good sign that there has been an increase in demand for this program. It means that there are more parents entering the workforce or entering training to assist them entering the workforce, and that is good for our economy. It is one of the reasons, when you compare the Australian unemployment rate to that around the world, we are at levels envied by just about every other country in the world. With all the turmoil going on in the international economy, unemployment rates below six per cent are nearly half that experienced in Europe and in the United States.

The government will also provide DEEWR with just over $48 million, primarily to support increased claims for assistance under the general employee entitlement and redundancy schemes where these were received before 5 December 2012. GEERS provides assistance to employees who lost their employment and entitlements due to the liquidation or bankruptcy of their employer. From 5 December 2012 GEERS was superseded by the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Scheme with the entitlements enshrined in legislation and supported through special appropriations—again, another indication of how this government is steadfastly ensuring that workers in this country work under fair and secure conditions and that when things go wrong we have got their back. We have not retreated to the law of the jungle, represented by Work Choices, but have steadfastly gone through and modernised our workplace relations laws to ensure that there is fairness and balance. When something goes wrong, ordinary workers have rights they can rely on including in the case of bankruptcy or liquidation, and where employers fail to have sufficient funds set aside to pay accrued entitlements we have a scheme in place, a scheme of last resort, to look after the workers in those circumstances.

In addition, the Attorney-General's Department will receive approximately $600 million, mainly in relation to the royal commission into the institutional responses to child sexual abuse. History will treat this government kindly, and the Prime Minister kindly, for having the courage to say that it is time we showed leadership and that we called this royal commission. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of victims of child sexual abuse around the country. For decades they have thought that their abuse and the circumstances they faced were not treated as credible, that nobody believed them. They have gone through their lives taking the psychological and other damage that has been done to them into their adult lives. Nobody believed them; they were not treated seriously. For the first time, they will have a whole-of-government response through this royal commission to ensure that their stories are heard and, where criminal acts have occurred, there will be an appropriate all-of-government response to those crimes visited upon those young children. The government will provide the Department of Immigration and Citizenship with approximately $37 million primarily for offshore asylum seeker management purposes as well as for visa compliance and status resolution. The Department of Human Services will be provided approximately $31 million mainly in relation to changed estimates of service delivery costs. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service will be provided with approximately $24 million for increased border protection capability. The government will provide the Department of Health and Ageing with approximately $26 million as a part of its commitment to support Tasmania's healthcare system, to address challenges caused by Tasmania's ageing population, high rates of chronic disease and constraints in the state's health system as well as to equip it to meet future changes. Again, that is a clear commitment that this government has to ensuring the health needs of all citizens in Tasmania are met.

The government will provide approximately $19 million to the Australian Taxation Office mainly in relation to targeted tax compliance activities and transfer of lost superannuation member accounts to the ATO. The importance of that is to ensure that the retirement savings of Australian workers are not lost and are accredited to the accounts of those worker so they have the benefit of that money, which is legally their entitlement, through into their retirement. The government will provide the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism with approximately $14 million for additional establishment costs for the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator and the remaining amounts that appear in Appropriation Bill No. 3 relate to estimates, variations and minor reclassifications and other minor measures.

Appropriation Bill No. 4 provides additional funding to agencies for payments direct to local government and some National Partnership payments through the states, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory; requirements for departmental equity injections; and requirements to create or acquire administered assets and to discharge administered liabilities. The total additional appropriation being sought in Appropriation Bill (No. 4) is approximately $66 million. The Department of Defence will receive an additional equity injection of approximately $469 million to align its appropriations with its work program. The Attorney-General will receive approximately $50 million, as I have said, to help it to deal with the institutional response to child sex abuse. An extra additional injection of $45 million goes to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to complete a detailed engineering design for the construction of a nuclear medicine manufacturing facility and treatment plant. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship will receive an additional $32 million in capital funding. These are important additional appropriations to enable the government to meet its requirements but also to ensure that we continue with our excellent record of economic management, because on this side of the House we deal with the real world economy, not the imaginary economy of those on the coalition side of the House. They cannot even bring themselves to acknowledge that there has been a global financial crisis and that Australia, through the result of good government economic policy acting decisively and proportionately to the challenge that we faced, has been able to come through that crisis in a way that no other modern developed economy throughout the world has been able to do. That is why we have low levels of government debt, in fact one of the lowest levels of government debt as a proportion of GDP of any developed country in the world. Mr Deputy Speaker, compare our government debt, our gross debt to GDP ratio of below 10 per cent to that of Japan, which is struggling with a debt to GDP ratio in excess of 160 per cent, and you get to understand that we are in a very fortunate position indeed with low unemployment and interest rates lower than they were when we formed government. Indeed, the average family, which has a home mortgage of around $300,000, is now paying $5,000 a year less than when we came to office, because of low interest rates. If you want to talk about cost of living pressures on a family budget, one of the greatest fortnightly or monthly expenses that average families have to pay is the repayments on their home mortgage. Those are $5,000 a year less now than when we came to office as a result of good economic management and the decisions that have been taken by the Australian Labor Party in government.

I would also like to make some comment about the decisions that this government has made which have had a direct and important benefit to the local economy in my electorate of Throsby in the Illawarra, New South Wales. We were faced with the potential devastating impact of the restructure, perhaps even the closure, of the BlueScope steelworks at Port Kembla, an important employer but also an important creator of wealth in the Illawarra. It employs over 4,000 people directly or indirectly, but it also is an important provider of business to many small to medium-sized employers within the Illawarra. Faced with a high Australian dollar, high input costs, particularly for coal and iron ore, and competition from new steel mills in China and India, BlueScope have had to make some significant changes. We were threatened with the prospect of the complete closure of the mill.

As a result of a change in their production focus, switching from export markets to the domestic market, together with an injection of assistance through the steel industry structural adjustment program of this government, which provided over $300 million of structural adjustment assistance to BlueScope and OneSteel, that steel mill is still open.

I would like to say that this was a bipartisan position—that all parties represented in this parliament would see the importance of the steel industry to our economy and the importance of supporting BlueScope, OneSteel and the workers at those companies. But that was not the case. When all of those members—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr STEPHEN JONES: They do not pay any. If you looked at the detail you would understand the ridiculousness of the statement. Look at the statements of the CEOs of BlueScope and OneSteel and you will realise that you really are on the wrong side of this argument. All of those opposite are on the wrong side of this argument. They had the opportunity to stick their hand in the air and vote in support of the jobs of steelworkers in this country, but instead they voted against the $300 million steel industry assistance program. They were blind to the needs of workers in my electorate. They put politics and ideology ahead of the needs of steelworkers in my electorate. They will be condemned for that.

We have put in place a number of other initiatives to assist manufacturing jobs in this country. We have put in place important co-investment schemes to ensure that we are assisting companies in the manufacturing industry to transform their businesses to clean energy technologies and to transform their production processes to make them cleaner and more sustainable. One measure that we have put in place over the last six months will make the difference between some of these businesses staying open or not. The anti-dumping measure that we put in place just before Christmas was the fourth in the raft of anti-dumping measures. If you go through the list of what large employers like BlueScope and OneSteel were asking for, each and every one of those measures has been taken up in the anti-dumping measures. We have heard not a word from those opposite on this measure. It is again an example of how those in the government, the Labor Party, have the interests of regions like ours in mind and why these bills should be commended to the House. (Time expired)