Key South West issues ignored by Federal Budget

The electorate of Forrest has not been well served by the 2013 Labor budget. But then for the last six years it has not been well served by the Labor government, by either the Rudd or Gillard Labor governments.

We all know that the budget has a number of very questionable and rubbery fiscal predictions, but none more so than those on the carbon tax.

The Labor Party has had a reality check on its carbon tax, which was effectively the EU saying, ‘Tell ’em they’re dreaming!’

Following the set carbon price next year of $29 a tonne, the reality of forward estimates shows an expected carbon price of $12.10 from 1 July 2015, based on EU carbon-trading price predictions.

That is in the budget figures and is another questionable assumption. We all know—certainly in my electorate—that the carbon tax is a major cost for business and industry.

Collie is one of those great centres of industry in the south-west and a place where a fair proportion of the electricity for Western Australia is produced.

The annual carbon outputs of the major electricity generators in Collie are, for Muja Power Station, five million tonnes of CO2; Collie A, 2.2 million tonnes; and Bluewaters 1 and 2, 2.6 million tonnes.

That is a total of 9.8 million tonnes. With Labor’s carbon tax high of $29 a tonne, this puts the Gillard government carbon tax cost to the Collie industries at $284 million in the 2014 financial year.

They are costs that have to be recouped. Even with the cost expected to come down to $12.10 per tonne in 2015, the impact on the power generators in Collie will still be $118 million.

A coalition government will provide the best savings for Collie industry and for people throughout my electorate of Forrest by scrapping what is an altogether punitive and ineffective carbon tax.

The reality of linking the Australian and EU carbon prices is a great big $6 billion black hole—at least, and counting— in Labor’s budget. I would have thought that a $6 billion budget black hole would have left the Treasurer red-faced.

Of course, with the government’s duplicitous approach to aged care, there should actually be more than one red face. The government’s changes to aged-care funding which came into effect on 1 July last year, under the misnomer Living Longer Living Better, shows that they have no understanding of the issues facing small regional aged-care service providers and clearly no intention of trying to understand the additional costs of providing a quality aged-care service in regional and rural areas.

When the Labor government unveiled their plan last year, they deliberately failed to tell the Australian people that this program is in fact an attempt to claw back $750 million from the aged-care sector over the next 2½ years—another short-term budget fix.

The real result, as opposed to the misrepresentations of the government, is that residential aged-care providers will get less funding for new patients than they got for patients last year.

The 2013-14 budget alone will see $500 million of ACFI funding ripped out of a sector that is already doing it tough.

In aged care, as it has in child care, the Labor government has sought to enhance union control and government interference. It offers more money for wages, but to get it can cost providers more than they receive.

Aged and Community Services WA estimates that an aged-care provider who operates a small 31-bed regional facility would be eligible to receive $17,000 under the workforce supplement principles but, in order to receive this, would have to commit to an additional $30,000 in wages.

The Labor government’s response to the crisis in aged care is to provide less support and simply more union bosses in control. So who are they looking after? Is it aged Australians or union leaders?

As I said, their response to child care appears to be the same. Again Labor is prepared to sacrifice, in my view, our children’s opportunities for the sake of union leadership.

The budget for natural resource management has also taken a hit from the Labor government in 2013, and as a very passionate advocate for practical, effective environmental management, and certainly for the issue of biosecurity in the south-west,

I cannot believe that we have seen more funding disappear from the flagship for local cooperation on environmental outcomes, a key part of delivering outcomes on the ground and developed by the Howard government.

That is another $145 million taken out of the NRM budget to be redirected into pet projects picked by the government, which you would have to question. Either way, it shows that the Labor government has contempt for the good works and community engagement that the NRM actually was developed to deliver, and does.

I know that about 96 per cent of farmers have historically been actively involved with NRM groups. With issues like Phytophthora dieback still not adequately addressed in my region and many others, the contempt Labor shows for the environment cannot pass unremarked.

Dieback response is a critical issue for the south-west of Western Australia.

Beyond this one pathogen, the issue of climate change adaptation needs to be better addressed, and it is the NRM groups on the ground in regional Australia that will be best placed to manage that adaptation.

Preparing for changing rainfall patterns and managing invasive weed and pest species are best handled at the local level on the ground, as is bushfire control.

The Howard government understood this and invested heavily in regional capacity through the NRM process. It is not the time to be undermining that investment given the issues on the ground.

I want to touch on the issue of cybersafety, which is quite relevant here today. We know that 2.4 billion people in the world are on the internet and one billion are on Facebook.

There is probably no greater threat to the safety of our citizens, especially our young people, and, more broadly, the business sector than the misuse of this great resource. The internet is not just a great asset; it may also be a great risk factor. This is why cybersafety is such an important issue.

We know that cybercriminals are becoming constantly more sophisticated. We need an Australian population that is much more cybersavvy than we are now. As the reach of the internet expands and develops, with constantly changing IT and faster speeds, the threat grows proportionately.

This is why it is so important to educate Australians on how to protect themselves and their families.

According to Telstra, Aussie kids aged between 10 and 17 are online for an average of two hours a day, amongst the highest internet usage rates in the world. We need to address whether this is two hours a day of safety, enjoyment and learning or two hours a day of risk.

This is a national problem that needs a national, coordinated solution. I know firsthand that education is the key. I believe it needs to be part of the national curriculum.

The only way to assist people, particularly young people, is to help them to protect themselves.

I see that happening as a key part of the school curriculum, so that current and future generations will know how to protect themselves. I have delivered countless cybersafety presentations in schools across the length and breadth of my electorate in the past three years. I recognised early the risk and the threat to our great young people.

I want them to be aware, alert and better prepared to protect themselves. I see the need as so great that I am prepared to spend as much time as I can in helping to educate them. I want to teach them how to be safe. Equally I want to help parents—and I do—to help their children to be safe.

I believe that young people are part of the answer in managing the risk. They are great ones to educate their parents and their grandparents as well as subsequent generations.

This should be an Australia-wide activity. The only way to deliver cybersafety is to put in into the national curriculum.

It is impossible to look at cybersafety without looking at the provision of internet services more generally.

In regions like mine, the government is playing catch-up to the coalition’s broadband policy, which will bring better broadband sooner to everyone in the south-west of WA, including Margaret River, Augusta and Cowaramup residents.

We have been waiting six years so far and nothing has changed. It is totally unacceptable that many regional people—six years after Labor’s first election promise—are still unable to connect to broadband or are extremely frustrated by slow internet speeds.

People tell me constantly that all they want is a decent internet speed. They just want to have access, for a start. People will receive better broadband sooner under a coalition government.

By the end of 2016, everyone will be able to enjoy speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and certainly better mobile coverage.

The right thing to do for the people of the Forrest electorate is to get the speeds up to a level that at least enables people to do everything they want to, whether it is at home or at work.

We know the government never even did a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN. We will do that, and I am positive that will show that regional areas like mine will benefit from improved broadband under the coalition.

We will offer a mix of fibre to the node, wireless and satellite, and the cost will be about a third of Labor’s at least $94 billion cost. That was the figure that early on was exactly what those who worked in the industry were telling the engineers and others.

The system will be flexible enough for upgrades. Constantly, as technology improves and demand increases it is going to keep changing.

It is not going to stay the same. We know that the government’s NBN is going to bypass communities like I have with less than 1,000 premises. That includes a lot of small towns in Forrest.

This group of communities will rely on wireless and satellite connections with their slower connection speeds.

In contrast, our plan will deliver fibre to the node and direct connection by a copper cable to many of these residents, and—a really important and critical thing for people in my electorate—we are actually going to improve mobile coverage at the same time. How often is this raised with me?

It is a constant issue. So many small regional communities will be much better off under a coalition plan.

This will be the legacy of a coalition government, amongst other things, if we are lucky and fortunate enough to be successful in September.

I look and think of what Labor’s legacy will be: we do know that this will be a legacy of budget mismanagement, budget deficits and what will be intergenerational fiscal debt, without any question.

They are going to leave a total gross debt breaching the $300 billion-debt ceiling within the forward estimates.

We have structural deficits now. They will leave record net debt of $192 billion—$192 billion! That is $35 million a day in interest alone.

And, of course, record deficits over five years and at least two more deficits to come. There is no credible pathway to surplus in what we have seen from the Labor government. Unfortunately for Australia and Australians—people in my electorate—this will be the legacy.

There is going to have to be a significant amount of consistent surpluses to go anywhere near paying off at least $300 billion in debt. $300 billion!

People have got so used to hearing the word ‘billion’ that they actually do not think a much it is, and how tough that is to pay off.

Of course, no amount of spin can erase the impact that this debt legacy is going to have on future generations of Australians.

What do you need to deal with this? Labor has not dealt with it in the last six years. You actually need a fair bit of discipline. You need some experience and you need to put a lot more confidence back into people; people and businesses on the ground and people in my electorate—whether they are in families or small business,.

No matter what business you are in, you need some confidence. We have not seen any confidence on the ground with people, and no wonder when you look at what we have seen: just a chaotic process throughout this government.

But as I said: when you think of people looking back on this Labor government, what will they see? They will see a debt ceiling of over $300 billion breached. The debt and deficit are just unbelievable.

They are really unbelievable! When you actually talk to people about this they cannot believe that there is no plan, that Labor has no plan, ‘We actually ran up the debt but we have no plan to pay it off’.

Here we are, six years on with a Labor government, and there is no plan to pay off a debt and deficit that they have created in this time in government.