Appropriations Bills, 12 February 2013
There are several old chestnuts the Liberals can be relied on to trot out every election year, and one of those that we hear so often in the ACT is the line, ‘Labor ignores Canberra’—the suggestion that somehow Labor governments take Canberra for granted. But, unfortunately for the Liberals, the people of Fraser are a clever bunch. They are able to see through this line easily, because it is so demonstrably false. The investments that this Labor government has made in Fraser are visible everywhere, from the Majura Parkway to the National Broadband Network rolling out and the many schools enjoying new facilities thanks to the Building the Education Revolution program.
In fact, if you were to take the time to visit all of the sites where Labor has invested in my electorate of Fraser, you would be taking a pretty comprehensive tour of Canberra’s north. I can even provide you with a loose itinerary. You can set off from the flourishing suburb of Braddon, where my electorate office is located and where Minister for Human Services Kim Carr and I opened a one-stop shop for Medicare and Centrelink in October last year. The co-location of these facilities is a core part of Labor’s service delivery reforms. It is making access to housing, health, crisis support, education and training, and family and financial support easier for Canberrans.
If you were to then drive north, you would pass North Ainslie Primary School, one of the 804 schools around Australia to have been awarded grants of up to $50,000 to install renewable solar energy systems, rainwater tanks and other energy efficiency measures to cut pollution and save money on their electricity bills. You would also be seeing schools that have benefited from those grants if you drove through the suburbs of Campbell, Charnwood, Dunlop, Florey, Fraser, Hawker, Kaleen, Latham, Lyneham, Macgregor, Macquarie, Majura district, Ngunnawal, Palmerston or Turner.
If you visited any primary school in my electorate, you would be proudly shown their new facilities and you would hear firsthand how that community worked with the design firms, the department of education and the architects to construct a new building that improved the learning experience. In Florey Primary School, you would be shown new science labs where children can follow in the footsteps of the great Howard Florey, who discovered penicillin. At Amaroo School, teachers can teach in their traditional classrooms or they can remove the dividing walls between classrooms and teach in teams. At the Forde campus of Burgmann Anglican School, the new multipurpose hall has sharply raked seating so all children can see the stage. At Black Mountain School you would be shown a school hall that allows all children to come in and enjoy the school community together and a stage that allows children in wheelchairs to go up and speak and receive awards just like children who are not in wheelchairs. If you were to go up the road to Jervis Bay, you would see a purpose-built learning centre with Smart Boards designed in close consultation with the local Indigenous community. The Building the Education Revolution program has seen an unprecedented level of investment in our community’s schools, improving the facilities Canberra’s schools need. At the same time, we have also provided transparent information to parents about their child’s school. While you are up at Jervis Bay, you would probably also see the new $18 million training facility at HMAS Creswell.
You could follow Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s footsteps and stop for morning tea in Amaroo, where she met with pensioners to discuss carbon pricing assistance in May of last year. Thousands of Canberra pensioners also benefited from Labor’s historic 2009 increase in the pension—the biggest increase since the pension’s inception, worth $1,600 a year for someone on the single full rate age pension.
Moving a little further south you might see the revamped Belconnen Skate and BMX Park, funded in part by the government’s stimulus package. It is a great resource for Canberra teens to show off their ollies and kickflips, and a chance to get together and build community spirit on the shores of Lake Ginninderra. It provides a space for Canberra’s youth to not only stay fit but also create lasting friendships. If you were not a particularly skilled skateboarder and you took a tumble in the park, you would be glad to know that the nearby West Belconnen Health Co-op in Charnwood provides a bulk-billing GP medical service. It currently has over 5,400 people with co-op memberships. That centre began thanks to $220,000 seed funding from the Commonwealth government in 2009, and now has another outlet in Belconnen, bringing more GPs to the electorate of Fraser.
Speaking of Labor’s investing in health facilities in Fraser, you could drop into the University of Canberra, my equal favourite university in my electorate, and see how the new GP super clinic is coming along. The federal government has provided $15 million for the clinic, which will soon have another hub site in Casey. These investments provide training opportunities for young doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, not only bringing new doctors to the ACT but also improving the training of young doctors, making Canberra’s health services even stronger, and providing important regional services to Canberra’s surrounds, such as the mobile health clinic that I was pleased to open at the University of Canberra last year.
Before you leave the University of Canberra campus I am sure you would want to have a chat to some of the staff or students about the $26 million of investment the government is making in bringing new courses, new entry pathways and ensuring the latest learning technologies are available. You would find that since Labor came to government the University of Canberra’s funding has increased by 59 per cent. Enrolments are up by 45 per cent. That is thousands more students, many the first in their family. They are able to pursue careers in health, journalism, law and finance.
You could then take a drive through the post code area of 2615, in which ACT Labor MLA Chris Bourke and I ran a campaign to help residents find their lost superannuation. We saw from government statistics that people in that post code had a particularly high rate of lost super. Residents in suburbs like Dunlop, Flynn, Holt, Melba and Spence are among the many who will benefit from our decision to remove the tax on superannuation earnings for the lowest paid one-third of Australians. Many other Canberrans will benefit from federal Labor’s raising universal superannuation contributions from nine to 12 per cent.
If you are passing through Bonner, Bruce, Crace, Harrison, Nichols or Watson you will note that those suburbs are seeing over 17,000 new homes built for low to moderate income households to rent below the market rate. That is on top of an exciting NRAS investment on the ANU campus. It is all part of the Gillard government’s National Rental Affordability Scheme and complements other initiatives to improve the community’s access to affordable housing, including the $450 million Better Housing Affordability Fund and the $100 million Building Better Regional Cities Program. Housing affordability is a particular challenge here in the ACT, and the ACT is to receive a disproportionate share of federal funding to address housing affordability.
Heading out to Gungahlin, you might want to take stock of the NBN rollout. It is already becoming available for residents in Gungahlin, Harrison, Watson and Macgregor, with Acton, Braddon and Canberra City soon to follow. I recently joined ministers Conroy and Lundy at the switch-on of the Gungahlin connection. There we saw students at Harrison school speak by video link with Japanese students who were practising their English while the Harrison school students practised their Japanese. Anyone can use the Gungahlin digital hub, ACT’s first public connection to the National Broadband Network. Canberrans can learn more about how to access the exciting features of the National Broadband Network through free training sessions covering a range of computer basics, everyday online activities, online safety and security and connection options.
Working your way back down south, you might go through Mitchell, where the Gillard government put in $90,000 from the billion dollar Clean Technology Investment Program to help the Elvin Group, a local manufacturer, reduce energy costs, improve efficiency and lower carbon pollution. As you continue to tour, if you are travelling at peak times, you might notice that traffic in the inner north gets a bit congested. You might therefore be pleased to learn that the Majura Parkway, 50-50 funded by the Gillard and Gallagher Labor governments, will help reduce the amount of time that Canberrans spend sitting in their cars, making us a more productive city and freeing up time for us to spend with family and friends. Construction on the Majura Parkway is underway. It will be the biggest road-building project in the ACT’s history, reducing commuting times, taking trucks off our local streets and making us a happier and more productive city.
You would also notice how Labor’s record $22 billion investment in early childhood education has helped the many talented early childhood educators throughout the ACT, including the terrific staff at the Acton Early Childhood Centre, which my children attend. Labor has increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, which has seen a massive injection of desperately needed funds into the sector and has improved access to child care for Canberrans.
While you are on the campus of the Australian National University you will see where the new Lena Karmel Lodge will be housing 550 new students. Take a moment to remember that, since Labor has been in office, enrolments at the ANU have risen from 6,350 to 7,086, and these new students are among the additional 150,000 Australians studying at university nationally. At the ANU, $5 million has gone to refurbishing student learning and living areas, and total funding for the ANU has been boosted by over $130 million.
You might meet some of the many extra students who are able to receive youth allowance, thanks to the Labor government’s lowering of the age of independence from 25 to 21, a reform that benefits not just students at the University of Canberra and the Australian National University but also students studying at UNSW@ADFA and at the Australian Catholic University. These students are able to earn more money while they study before it cuts into their Centrelink payments, thanks to Labor, and that has ensured more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to study at university.
Now you are near the city, and you might want to head over to Civic, where you can visit the community dental surgery. The Gillard government is investing $5½ million in the ACT’s public dental system over the next 2½ years to reduce public dental waiting lists. That funding will enable almost 4,000 more ACT residents to get low-cost dental care. I was pleased on Monday of last week to visit the dental surgery with Chief Minister Gallagher and Minister Plibersek to see the great work that has been done in that state-of-the art dental surgery.
After seeing all those Labor investments in the electorate of Fraser firsthand, you might find yourself a bit exhausted, but the tour has not finished yet. Labor in the ACT has also invested $6½ million in carbon pricing assistance; $6.4 million for energy efficient upgrades to community facilities; around $300,000 for the launch site for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which was kick-started with a launch at Black Mountain School; and over $1 million each year to the black spots program to improve our roads. I am very proud to be the chair of the ACT black spots consultative panel, using federal funding to make our roads safer with a program that requires that public benefit be at least twice the expenditure. The million dollars of spending that go into the ACT annually translates into at least $2 million of community benefits.
ACT households have also seen millions of extra dollars in their pockets through the schoolkids bonus, worth $410 for every child in primary school and $820 for every child in high school for eligible families; and thousands of dollars through Labor’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme to assist new parents in welcoming home their babies and easing the transition back into the workforce for new mums. As a city with high female labour force participation, the ACT particularly benefits from Labor’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme.
We have also seen additional expenditure to make it easier for dads to spend time with their newborns through Dad and Partner Pay, not to mention the benefits of Labor’s economic management, which is bringing down interest rates for Canberra’s mortgage holders. I mentioned housing affordability before: a Canberra family with a $300,000 mortgage is now saving around $5,000 a year on its mortgage compared to when the Liberals were last in government. You might even schedule time to meet with the thousands of Canberra workers who, thanks to Labor, were not subject to the unfair workplace relations scheme that the then Liberal government had in place. You could talk to the many Canberra public servants who value a government that values them—a government that is not committed to getting rid of 20,000 public servants.
Ours is a great city. It is the bush capital; it is Australia’s social capital. We are a leafy, walkable and friendly city with a vibrant multicultural life, and I am proud of the investments the Gillard government has made in Canberra.