Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2018

The Turnbull government’s continuing economic plan for a stronger economy includes tax relief for hardworking Australians, backing business to invest and create even more jobs, guaranteeing essential services, keeping Australians safe and ensuring that the government lives within its means. For those reasons, there are now over one million extra jobs in the economy since the government was first selected. Whether it’s the $75 billion infrastructure spend outlined in the budget, the $24.5 billion more being invested in schools right across the country—$24.5 billion more based on genuine need—or the $78.8 billion in this budget that the government is investing in the nation’s health system, they are all really critical parts of our strong economic plan.

In my electorate of Forrest and across the south-west, the specific story is one of a once-in-a-generation type of investment. I’m very proud of this. I’ve fought hard for my community and, because of the government’s strong economic policies, we’re in a position to be able to invest in rural and regional areas like my own, in projects like the Bunbury Outer Ring Road. This is a $560 million investment. You can only do that, Mr Deputy Speaker, with sound economic policies to get you to the point where you can invest in this type of critical infrastructure. The RAC in my state listed this road as ‘critical infrastructure’, given the amount of traffic that is there and expected in the years ahead. I fought for this for many years. I know that stages 2 and 3 will be completed, and this will be a massive boon in the south-west. It will help improve road safety and travelling time, and it will also facilitate the development and the expansion, in time, of the Bunbury Port and south-west industry.

The other project that I’m particularly pleased about is the funding for the Myalup-Wellington water project. Given the dry nature of south-west Western Australia, water, as we know, is one of the most precious commodities we have. This project will divert high saline inflows upstream from the Wellington Dam for desalination. It will improve the quality of the water stored in and released from the dam for agriculture and industry and other purposes. This is a real major project, and another one that I’ve worked on for some time.

With the Bunbury Outer Ring Road, the efficiencies in the supply chain are critical—as we know on our side of politics—especially with the number of free trade agreements that the government has completed. This is a very sound investment. We also need to connect to the other investment we’ve made in the Busselton-Margaret River airport. These are a critical part of our freight networks, and we have invested nearly $10 million into that airport, to get it up to international freight standard and to be able to take tourists. Everybody wants to come to the Busselton-Margaret River region, but, equally, the amazing produce that comes out of the region needs to get to the rest of the world as well.

The Myalup-Wellington project will actually create jobs as well. It’ll provide economic uplift in what is the underdeveloped Collie River Irrigation District and further out to the broader region. Anyone who understands irrigation understands the capabilities of irrigated agriculture. Currently, just 6,500 hectares of the available 34,600 hectares of the Collie River, Harvey and Waroona districts are irrigated. This project is an industry-led initiative. It will see saline water from the east branch diverted from the Wellington Dam into a mine void, and it will be desalinated. A new, smaller Burekup Weir will be built upstream to enable environmentally sound, gravity-fed water to be delivered. The irrigation channels will be replaced with new pressurised pipe networks. It’s a simple concept: it’s about desalination, it’s about piping, it’s about a delivery network with fit-for-purpose uses.

When I look back on the history of the dam, it was built in 1933—with Commonwealth funding. This particular upgrade is very important, and a real key part of the history of what this dam has provided right throughout the region. When you seriously look at it, each year the east branch is delivering between 60,000 and 110,000 tonnes of salt into the Wellington Dam. That’s really a key part of this project—that is, the desalination—and it is so important to the quality of what can be grown beneath the dam. There is a proportion of farmers who don’t actually irrigate their properties, or irrigate as much of their land as they could or should, because the productivity just isn’t there. As a result, the quality of their pasture and production is different to that further north in the irrigation sector. This piping system will make a huge difference, and I can see greater production and greater productivity coming out of the region. Around 10 gigalitres a year of potable water from the desal plant will be sold to Water Corp’s Great Southern Towns Water Supply Scheme and stored in the Harris Dam. This is a really good, sound result. This is a fantastic irrigation system: a series of dams in the hills with water delivered in a gravity-fed pipe and channel system. It’s simple, it’s effective, it works, it delivers, and we’re going to see more development with the $190 million between a grant and a concessional loan. It is a very sound investment.

I also want to talk about the very good investment—$175.3 million—in new listings on the PBS and the Medicare Benefits Schedule, guaranteeing the essential services that everyone around Australia relies on. This means that new life-saving drugs and services are going to be provided for thousands of Australians. Since October 2013, when we were elected, 1,741 new or amended PBS items have been, or soon will be, listed at an overall cost of around $9 billion.

That is an extraordinary commitment by this government — it shows a dividend of very sound economic management. This means the government is averaging 31 new and amended listings per month—approximately one a day. If you’re an Australian person out with your family, living in my rural and regional area or wherever you are in Australia, this is fantastic news, because it saves lives and gives access. That strong economy allowed the government to subsidise life-changing breast-cancer medication Kisqali. That treatment would have cost $71,820 per year. Now it will be covered by the PBS, so those who need it most will be able to access it. This is a life-saving budget. That’s what I call it.

From 1 November this year the Australian government will include two new time limited items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule for three-dimensional breast tomosynthesis, often called 3D mammography. The proposed MBS fees for the interim items are $202 for both breasts and $114 for one breast. Approximately 240,000 patients each year are expected to benefit from the new items. The existing mammography items on the MBS will still be available; the 3D mammography items will be used for diagnostic testing of women where malignancy is suspected, and that’s often identified through a screening mammogram.

This is the sort of decision we can make through our sound economic dividend. This is a critical part of the budget itself. We can do this only through our strong policies and sound economic decisions—not always easy. In this budget we’ve also invested even further in regional education. For families in regional areas—as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Gee—there’s an additional significant cost when a student has to leave to study in the city. We saw some dreadful decisions by the previous government, where students from what was deemed to be inner and outer regional areas often missed out on any government support. We’ve done an extensive amount of work and made some significant changes. There are even more improvements in this budget: $152 million for the Regional Student Access to Education Package announced in the 2016 election. Part of this is the Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships. We’re increasing opportunities for students to enjoy education in the city where they need to and have to travel.

We’re going to increase the parental income cut-off for youth allowance. I’ve worked on youth allowance since coming into this place. To me it’s an equity-of-access issue for young people in rural and regional Australia. I was devastated, as were families, when Labor made the changes it did during its time in government. So many of our young people could not follow and pursue their higher education dreams. We’re going to increase the cut-off in the independence criteria from $150,000 to $160,000, plus a $10,000 increase for each additional child in the family. It’s expected that 75 per cent more regional students will qualify for independent youth allowance under this criteria. That’s a great result if you’re a young person whose family lives in a rural or regional area. I know these measures will be welcomed by families and young people in my electorate. It will go a long way towards enabling students to attend university. Sometimes they’re the first in family to do so.

Many of these young people in my part of the world have no choice but to leave home to study. The courses are not available in regional areas. We are focused on this issue. We even reduced the amount of time that a young person can use to qualify for independent youth allowance from 18 months to 14. That means in a single year they can qualify for youth allowance and head off to university in the subsequent year. That is the best news for young people in rural and regional Australia. I know they have to work when they get away to university. They have a range of other needs. It’s not just the accommodation costs; there are all sorts of additional costs for young people who have no choice but to leave home to study.

These are very sound decisions by the government. All of the measures here are not possible unless you have sound economic management and sound policies. As I said, the extra one million jobs that we’ve seen—achieved ahead of time—are the dividend from sound economic decisions. So, our record on managing the nation’s finances is outstanding. We’ve probably over delivered, in a sense. When I look back, I was sitting in the parliament that night when the member for Lilley rose on budget night and uttered those—what will I call them?—infamous words.
An honourable member: We all laughed.
Ms MARINO: We did laugh then; we didn’t realise the joke was on the Australian people, though. The member for Lilley said, ‘The four budget surpluses I announce tonight …’. As we all know, the last time Labor delivered a surplus budget was in 1989, when the Berlin Wall still divided Germany. That was the last time a Labor government actually delivered a surplus. As the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have said, the promises of the opposition cannot be trusted. We saw that with the member for Lilley. That was a promise that was never, ever delivered and was never likely to be delivered. It was an amazing hoax, and I can remember how supportive the members of the other side were for it.

But we, as a government, are living within our means. We are continuing to back business to invest and create jobs. We’re guaranteeing the essential services that Australians rely on. And the government is keeping Australians safe. We should never, ever underestimate the importance on this role. These are the hallmarks of a coalition government: sober and prudent economic management which leads to an overall strengthening of the economy. I commend the budget bills to the House.