Debate resumed from 19 June 2007.
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX
[3.10 p.m.]: I note at the outset that it is a little odd that I am speaking to this important New South Wales budget that was delivered recently by the Treasurer, given that the shadow Treasurer has not had the opportunity to give his budget reply speech. I look forward to hearing that in due course. I congratulate the Treasurer on yet another budget celebrating victory of spin over substance, another budget that demonstrates his masterful sleight of hand, another budget that demonstrates his wonderful self-indulgent and self-congratulatory approach to economic management in this State.
Let us briefly consider some of the headline figures. The Treasurer trumpeted a budget surplus of $444 million, and that looks good at first blush. However, that surplus is on the back of an accrued $401 million stamp duty assessment in respect of the sale of Sydney airport in 2003—an assessment that is being hotly disputed by the Federal Government. The reality is that this trumpeted surplus is just that—trumped up. On close examination it simply vanishes into thin air, leaving us with, at best, a break-even budget. When one throws in the rubbery wages growth figures that even the unions claim are patently misleading and unrealistic, the real picture of this budget is simply another Labor deficit. Only this Treasurer could turn a budget deficit into a budget surplus and claim the credit—a masterful sleight of hand indeed.
It should be noted that this poor New South Wales fiscal position, particularly relative to other States, is occurring under the brightest economic conditions, which are, of course, thanks to the responsible economic management of the Howard Government. The Labor Government has been, and continues to be, the unwitting recipient of windfall revenue from strong economic conditions. This has translated into strong growth in State revenues, but, sadly, it has failed to translate into strong economic growth, with New South Wales still the laggard of the mainland States.
This significant State revenue growth includes an estimated $17.625 million from the Commonwealth out of total State budgeted revenue of $37 billion in 2006-07. This means that in 2006-07 about 47.6 per cent of State revenue will come from the Commonwealth. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that this year Commonwealth Budget Paper No. 3 estimated that New South Wales would receive $162 million more from the GST than it would otherwise have received under the former Commonwealth-State financial arrangements. This windfall gain is estimated to grow to $631 million in 2007-08, $970 million in 2008-09, and $1.1 billion in 2009-10.
We do not hear the New South Wales Treasurer talking about windfall gains from the Commonwealth—quite the opposite. What we continually hear from the Treasurer is a simplistic assertion that the Commonwealth should pay all the GST collected from New South Wales back to New South Wales. That is deliberately misleading and fails to acknowledge the historical basis upon which these payments have been made through the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Indeed, New South Wales now has a share in a growth tax that will continue to fund services and infrastructure in our State. The introduction of the GST was a great deal for New South Wales and continues to be so.
What we need is a government prepared to invest in the future of this State; a government that is willing to take responsibility for its own actions and inactions, instead of seeking to blame the Commonwealth Government or anybody else it can for consistently failing to perform. Despite the rivers of gold that have flowed into the New South Wales Treasury coffers from the GST, the Commonwealth grants and the property boom, we are still expecting only a break-even budget this financial year. Where has the money gone? I wonder if we will ever know. Where it should have gone is into the provision of world-class services and infrastructure for the people of New South Wales. Alas, we continue to see second-class service delivery in our hospitals, we continue to see a massive maintenance backlogs in our schools, and our key infrastructure continues to crumble.
The budget seeks to address this appalling situation at last. It plays catch-up for all the years of neglect by promising to commit to $12.5 billion for capital works in 2007-08 and nearly $50 billion over the next four years. It is about time, but can we really trust this Government to get the job done? Like most things, the best indicator of future delivery is, of course, this Government's past record of delivery. Labor has consistently failed to deliver infrastructure projects on budget and on time, or even at all, despite promises to the contrary. I instance The Spit Bridge, the Lane Cove Tunnel, the Cross City tunnel, and the list goes on and on. How can we believe the Government will deliver on future occasions?
Also, the competition for skills critical to the construction of major infrastructure from both the private sector and other State governments will put pressure on project timelines and cost estimates. Indeed, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia highlighted this problem last year and pointed to the likelihood that the skills shortage would result in the delay of State infrastructure projects. The Government is trumpeting its record infrastructure spending but we cannot get enough money for essentials such as school maintenance or enough money to fix the toilets or install air-conditioning at many of our schools. The list goes on and on.
In contrast, we have a Government that is committed to a desalination plant that the public does not want or need. Currently, the Sydney Catchment Authority has recorded levels of more than 50 per cent in the catchment areas around Sydney, yet the Government refuses to abandon the desalination project and is looking to waste well over $1.5 billion—money that could be better spent on key infrastructure and services Sydney is crying out for. The Government would certainly be better placed by investing that sort of money in recycling and stormwater harvesting, particularly in water tanks, as proposed by the Coalition. But, no, we get a desalination plant whether we like it or not.
Not only are there challenges to infrastructure delivery, there are serious challenges to micro-economic reform for the Government. One of those challenges is in relation to the retail electricity assets held by the Government. As the Leader of the Opposition in the other place pointed out in his budget reply, the Coalition will look to sell these retail electricity assets, given the diminution in their value that will occur over time as a direct result of competition from the private sector. Over time we will see private sector competitors such as Origin Energy and AGL taking clients from the retail sector held by the Government and, as a result, reducing the value of those assets.
The Coalition thinks the best thing to do in these circumstances is to sell those assets and avoid the diminution in value, and by doing so realise those assets for more important priority infrastructure projects that this State needs. With $4 billion expected from the sale of those electricity assets, I welcome a promise by the Coalition to put that money into the establishment of a State infrastructure fund. Indeed, $2 billion of that $4 billion has been earmarked for renewal of the State's public schools. That is certainly investing in our future.
The people of New South Wales well know that Labor really means economic incompetence while the Coalition stands for economic security. Treasurer Costa demonstrated this beautifully when, soon after delivering last year's budget, he responded to the following question put to him by Steve Price, "Treasurer, we have the highest unemployment rate, the lowest growth rate and we're the highest taxed State in the Commonwealth. They're all facts, aren't they?" by saying, "But they are facts that have little significance. They have little significance in economic terms."
I wonder what does have significance in economic terms. Perhaps it is the $1 billion that the Government has spent on political advertising over the past 12 years, or the $1 billion it has spent on consultants. Perhaps it is the millions of dollars more it has wasted on unnecessary bureaucracy, including the poor lost souls on the Government's unattached list. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that billions of the $400 billion-plus revenue over the last 12 years has been wasted. The rivers of gold into the New South Wales Treasury have been wasted. There has been a failure to invest in essential infrastructure and services. This Government has betrayed the people of New South Wales on these important fronts. The budget holds out false hope that the Government can fix the problems of its own making. Time will tell.
Dr JOHN KAYE
[3.20 p.m.]: This budget is sold on the basis of the surplus that it produces. It is important to understand that the surplus is purely a financial surplus and underlying that financial surplus are two crucial deficits that will play out in New South Wales and this nation in a way that will create huge and untold damage for the present generation and future generations. The first of those deficits relates to services. In particular, adequate funds were not provided to ensure quality service provision to education and the Aboriginal community. The second deficit relates to the response to climate change. There is no doubt that this budget had the fingerprints of one of New South Wales's leading climate change sceptics all over it.
Premier Morris Iemma says he is committed to tackling dangerous climate change but if he is genuine, he has been thoroughly and profoundly undermined by a Treasurer who boasts of his credentials as a climate denier and climate sceptic. This budget was truly a victory for Treasurer Michael Costa and the so-called browns within his Cabinet, who have successfully subverted any efforts to seriously address global warming. The flagship of this Government's response to climate change in this budget was the so-called Climate Change Fund. Indeed, the fund was about climate change but a component of it was directed towards water, which can only be seen as an adaptation measure, not a mitigation issue.
By a trick that is incredibly popular in money media spin, the annual amount was multiplied by four, and we were told that the fund was a four-year fund. In reality only $77 million per annum will be allocated towards climate change, and that is substantially less than the land tax cuts of $117 million per annum delivered to some of the wealthiest landowners in New South Wales. It is a measure of the Government's absence of commitment to address climate change in this budget that it was able to spend more money on land tax cuts than on the Climate Change Fund. Indeed, not all funds will go towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
To add insult to injury—or dare I say, add salt to the wound—on the day that the budget was delivered, when it was raining heavily in New South Wales, the Government announced the construction of a desalinisation plant. Not the desalination plant we have to have but a desalinisation plant we actually do not have to have; a desalination plant that is unnecessary, dangerous and expensive. The Government h To add insult to injury—or dare I say, add salt to the wound—on the day that the budget was delivered, when it was raining heavily in New South Wales, the Government announced the construction of a desalinisation plant. Not the desalination plant we have to have but a desalinisation plant we actually do not have to have; a desalination plant that is unnecessary, dangerous and expensive. The Government has attempted to convince the people that it has sound economic management credentials yet it is investing in a $1.76 billion white elephant, which is not a cost-effective option compared to the other available water supply technologies.
Debate has emerged from the budget about the sale of electricity retailers. Over the next three months as the Owens inquiry brings down its findings much more will be said about this. However, I flag now, on behalf of the Greens, our complete and total opposition to the sale of electricity retailers. Not only is it bad news for employment and the total net wealth of the people of New South Wales but it is extremely bad news for any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity retailing works best when there is a partnership between consumers and retailers—a partnership based on reducing total consumption. However, with a privately owned retailer, particularly a privately owned retailer that may be owned by a large electricity generator, there will be no incentive for the retailer to work with the consumer to reduce total electricity consumption. Selling the retailers will be a major step backwards in our efforts to reduce total electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Many comments that members might wish to make about the budget cannot be said because the Government, using the flimsiest of excuses, withheld some of the most important data that has traditionally been published with budgets: data that breaks down expenditure into individual program areas. The consequence is that debate about individual spending on programs—for example how much we are spending on maintenance in public education or new electricity infrastructure—are at the mercy of media releases of the Minister. We will have to wait two to three months to obtain that information. There is no way that one can seriously critique the budget without knowing where the dollars are going. That is the nature of the budget. The people of New South Wales have been denied that information because of the flimsiest of excuses: the Government is reorganising government departments and cannot provide the information. It makes one wonder what is going on in New South Wales Inc. when the so-called managers of the economy cannot tell us what has been spent and what is about to be spent on individual programs.
One aspect of the budget that the Greens welcome, however, is increased spending on infrastructure. We have argued for this for a long time. However, there is infrastructure and there is infrastructure. The desalination plant is not worthwhile infrastructure. There are some examples of worthwhile infrastructure in the budget. The problem remains that too much of the infrastructure expenditure is being handed over to public-private partnerships. The experience of the Cross City Tunnel, public-private partnership schools in the United Kingdom and in Canada, and public-private partnership water provision around the world demonstrates that there are real and profound medium- and long-term issues associated with the delivery of infrastructure for profit. Time and time again people are the real losers when it comes to profit motive being introduced into the delivery of infrastructure.
The budget was also bad news for Aboriginal people. At a time when Australians should not cut funding to Aboriginal people we witnessed a major cut in the New South Wales budget in this regard. Underlying this was the failure of the Iemma Government to fund the 88 "Breaking the Silence" recommendations, which if implemented would have significantly gone to the heart of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal community. Marcia Ella-Duncan, in consultation with Aboriginal communities around New South Wales, developed those recommendations. It would have cost a mere $20 million to $40 million per annum to implement recommendations that would have put New South Wales at the forefront of those States seeking to address the blight of child sexual abuse and other abuse in society. However, the victory of the spreadsheet, of the bottom line, of the triple-A rating and of Standard and Poor's over the humanitarian outcomes we could have had in this budget is writ large in the absence of money for child sexual abuse in indigenous communities in New South Wales.
The budget failed to deliver on services to public schools and technical and further education colleges. The Minister touted his increased funding to our public education system, but when we take into account inflation, rising teachers salaries—and of course they should rise because teachers are grotesquely underpaid—and massive cost increases in education, it becomes obvious that no increase has been delivered at all. In 2006 the Auditor-General identified a maintenance backlog of, from memory, $115 million. There was no new money in the budget to address that backlog. For too long students in public education and in TAFE colleges in New South Wales have had to undertake the exciting experience of education in a second rate environment. It is high time the Government dropped its fetish with triple-A ratings and budget surpluses and invested in saving our future climate and invested in public education. [ Time expired.
The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD
[3.30 p.m.]: I am pleased to speak on this year's New South Wales budget, which delivers improved and expanded services for families in Western Sydney. It delivers on the Iemma Government's commitments to the people of Western Sydney. Western Sydney is a great place to live and the Government is working hard to make it even better, with more than $2.16 billion being spent on vital health services, education, roads and transport. That constitutes a massive boost to services and infrastructure in Western Sydney—a jump of $143 million over the previous year. That means better schools, transport, roads, hospitals and policing for the people of Western Sydney. It ensures Western Sydney gets its fair share.
This budget unashamedly backs Western Sydney through improved services for the region and record amounts of infrastructure spending, and it delivers on our commitments. It provides support and relief for hardworking families in Western Sydney who are doing it tough in the face of spiralling fuel prices and rising interest rates. Most of all, it confirms Labor's long and strong record of economic management. A strong economy is crucial for the future prosperity of families in Western Sydney. A strong economy equals more jobs, and that equals prosperity and opportunity for people in Western Sydney and for Western Sydney as a whole.
This budget is not the result of luck. It is the result of hard work and discipline. Labor should rightly be associated with responsible economic management. Our record says this. Record spending on infrastructure says this. Eleven budget surpluses say this. Labor and good economic management go hand-in-hand, and that is helping to secure Western Sydney's future.
The Western Sydney region covers a vast area. The Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox, who is interjecting, probably does not know where it is, but for those of us who call it home, Western Sydney is a vast area covering 5,773 square kilometres with a population in excess of 1.5 million at the time of the 2001 census. No doubt the latest census figures, which are to be released in the near future, will show the region's population has grown significantly. That is why the Iemma Government is driving improvements to road infrastructure, traffic flow and road safety for the region.
A comprehensive $335 million funding package will allow major projects to move forward in Western Sydney. An amount of $15 million has been made available to complete the construction of the Windsor Road flood evacuation route over South Creek, thereby helping to reduce traffic congestion and allowing a safer journey for motorists; $40 million has been allocated to complete the construction of the North West Transitway between Blacktown and Parklea; more than $50 million will be provided this year to continue the widening of the Great Western Highway through to the Blue Mountains; $4 million has been allocated this year to undertake planning and pre-construction for the project to widen Camden Valley Way to four lanes between Cowpasture Road and Bernara Road; $3 million has been allocated for the Narellan Road extension, from Camden Valley Way to The Northern Road; and an amount of $12 million is available to widen Hoxton Park Road.
The Iemma Government continues to drive improvements to health services in Western Sydney, because families deserve the very best in health care. This budget delivers on the Government's commitments to providing a top-class health system, additional beds, continued redevelopment of hospitals and improved mental health services. People in Sydney's West will benefit from an allocation of $1.25 million to expand the award-winning mental health Housing Accommodation Support Initiative. I am sure other members will agree improvements in the provision of mental health services is most important, and I am most pleased about that expansion. The people of Sydney's west will also benefit from an allocation of $2.4 million to upgrade and enhance a range of medical imaging and patient monitoring equipment at Nepean Hospital, which I had the opportunity to attend with my grandchildren; and $18.4 million to complete redevelopment of Westmead Hospital, including refurbishment of the renal unit and Women's Health and Newborn Care Centre, which is very important in an area of high population growth.
In Mental Health $2.2 million has been made available to improve psychiatric emergency care centres at Blacktown and Nepean hospitals; $5.3 million has been allocated to refurbish cancer wards at Westmead Hospital and enhance the very important breast screening services; $3 million is provided to develop ambulance stations at Liverpool and Auburn; and a central medical imaging hub will be established at Liverpool Hospital, as part of a $62.9 million four-year program to upgrade medical imaging services across the New South Wales public hospital system.
In policing, Western Sydney is a big winner, with an $11.2 million investment in building safer communities through upgrades to Fairfield, St Marys, Windsor, Granville and Camden police stations. The people of Camden, Penrith, Hawkesbury and Liverpool will also be pleased to know they will benefit from funding for mobile police stations to be based in their communities. The feedback I have gained from local area commanders is that the mobile police stations provide great opportunities for community policing and are most welcome by both police and the community.
In education, the Iemma Government is working to provide opportunities for the people of Western Sydney. Funding will be invested in literacy and numeracy, vocational training, school maintenance projects and school security in Western Sydney. Included also will be upgrades to TAFE facilities at Lidcombe, Katoomba, Macquarie Fields, Bankstown, Granville, Castle Hill, Richmond and Narimba. There will be upgrades also at a number of schools: Hazelbrook, Minto, Busby West, Liverpool Girls, Marsden Road, Eastern Creek, Casula, Rosehill, Westmead, Birrong—a school that I and my children attended—Lidcombe, Carlingford West, Marayong, Hobartville, Penrith and the Hills Sports High School.
A good transport system is crucial for families in Western Sydney, and we are working hard to provide a comfortable, reliable service for passengers in the region. As someone who commutes regularly on public transport in the region I can certainly attest to the improvements in those services. We are doing this with funding for easy access upgrades at Seven Hills, Auburn and Werrington train stations. Obviously easy access is very important for our seniors and less mobile citizens in western Sydney. An amount of $4.9 million has been allocated for the Schofields to Vineyard duplication; $289 million has been provided to purchase land for the North West Rail Corridor and South West Rail corridor as part of the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Program; and $53.1 million has been provided for 126 new buses for private operators.
We are delivering on our commitments to secure our future water supply for the people of Western Sydney. The budget delivers funding for water, wastewater, recycled water and stormwater infrastructure, including $57 million for the South Western Sydney Sewerage Scheme; more than $35 million for upgrades to sewage treatment plants at Rouse Hill and West Camden to cater for growth; $38 million for the Western Sydney recycled water initiative replacement flows project; $12 million on the Hoxton Park dual reticulation area; $9 million on the Rouse Hill recycled water plant; and $3 million on planning and conceptual designs for existing and new land release areas.
Western Sydney is a great place to live. That is why I live there and why I chose to raise my children there. This budget drives further improvements to the quality of life for families in Western Sydney. That is not just the Government's view. The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, through its president, Councillor Tony Hay, has praised the State Government for providing substantial funding towards its election infrastructure commitments to the region in the 2007 State budget. Councillor Hay said:
It is entirely appropriate that infrastructure projects in Western Sydney be given priority given the region's current population and projected growth.
Clearly, Councillor Hay, on behalf of Western Sydney councils and their communities, is pleased that the budget has provided for a number of local education, health and community services projects in Western Sydney. The budget delivers on our commitments to the people of Western Sydney, the front-line services we guaranteed and the infrastructure we owe our children. The Iemma Government will never ever shirk from that responsibility. We will continue to provide a better future for the people of Western Sydney, while delivering on our commitments. I congratulate the Premier and the Treasurer on the 2007 budget.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA
[3.40 p.m.]: As a new member of this House I looked forward to the 2007-08 budget that was brought down by the Government on Tuesday 19 June 2007, believing it may offer new direction. Sadly, by 12.30 p.m., after listening to the Treasurer's Budget Speech, I was left bitterly disappointed and with the realisation that the Government seems set to deliver another four years of spin and no substance. In my inaugural speech I told honourable members of this House that I would pursue the chronic underfunding of our criminal justice system—an issue I have spoken about as often as I can. However, the Treasurer did not listen to my calls for increased spending in the criminal justice system because this year's budget cut the budget of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions by $3.2 million.
I remind the House that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases. Having previously worked for the Clerk of the Peace—now known as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions—I am well aware that without a well-funded and adequately resourced Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, police may find themselves in a situation in which there is no-one to prosecute the suspected criminals they have arrested. That the criminal justice system is run in such a fashion is untenable. The Government's budget cuts to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions suggest that job cuts may now be inevitable. With cuts of almost $2 million to employee-related expenses over the next year, there will not be the necessary prosecutors required to ensure the efficient operation of the criminal justice system. The President of the New South Wales Bar Association, Michael Slattery, commented on the budget, saying it was a "policy of contradiction." Mr Slattery said:
Increased policing must mean increased demand on prosecution, defence and court resources and this needs to be recognised by adequate budgeting.
Clearly, this year's budget fails to do so. The budget cuts to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have come at a time when the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is already overstretched. On 1 June 2007 the Daily Telegraph
reported that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions planned to stop prosecuting all summary child sexual assault cases and drug offences, with the cases to be handled instead by police. This drastic proposal, which the Director of Public Prosecutions admitted would have a serious impact on the administration of justice in New South Wales, is the result of the severe budgetary constraints faced by his office. Police prosecutors have also raised concerns about their workload. An article in the Sunday Telegraph
on 3 June 2007 detailed the critical shortage of police prosectors in New South Wales, with as many as 60 extra officers needed to keep pace with the growing workload. Quoting a source, the article stated:
The prosecutors unit is about to collapse. There are real problems there.
The Deputy Director of Legal Services, Tony Trichter, backed up the claim and admitted a "critical staffing shortage". It is of great concern that the chronic underresourcing of the criminal justice system may result in alleged criminals escaping conviction on serious matters, such as child sexual offences, because inexperienced people have to prosecute the matters. Of even greater concern is the real possibility that our criminal justice system is so overstretched that alleged criminals may escape prosecution because there may be nobody available to properly prosecute such matters. The Government had an opportunity to respond in the 2007-08 budget by committing the funds that are so desperately needed for the under-resourced criminal justice system. Instead, the Government chose to cut the budget of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions by 3.3 per cent. If the Government were serious about reducing crime rates in New South Wales, it would not only increase funding for the police but also ensure the criminal justice system has the resources needed to properly prosecute criminal matters.
Having expressed my disappointment at the Government's neglect of the criminal justice system, I will now address the issues impacting the St George Illawarra province. Before the State election, the Labor Government made a number of promises. Unfortunately, this budget has revealed many of those promises as empty, underfunded or seriously delayed. The first project I refer to is the duplication of the Alfords Point Bridge. Before the election Alison Megarrity promised that the Alfords Point Bridge duplication would be complete by 2007. The budget revealed the 2007 completion date for the Alfords Point Bridge duplication was merely a pre-election lie to the people of Menai. The expected completion is now delayed until 2008. Not only has the completion date been delayed by 12 months, but the estimated total cost of the project has blown out by an incredible $20 million—from $25 million to $45 million. This is a clear illustration the Government cannot deliver major road infrastructure on budget or on time.
I am also concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the promised widening of the Alfords Point Bridge approach over Henry Lawson Drive. The budget gives no indication of an expected completion date or an estimated total cost, leaving a cloud hanging over the entire project. Having lived in Menai for three years, I am well aware of the frustration of residents. It is one of the reasons I moved out of Menai. For the sake of residents in that area, I hope this is not another empty election promise from the Labor Government.
Another major road project I would like to have addressed is the long-awaited Kiama ramps. In 2003 the member for Kiama, Matt Brown, promised the Kiama ramps would be complete by 2007. But the budget has revealed the Kiama ramps project will not be finished until 2008. The budget also revealed that the funds allocated for this important project in the 2006-07 budget were underspent by $2.95 million. I am concerned that this was a major contributing factor to the perpetual delays. The budget merely confirmed that Kiama's residents would be stuck in gridlock on Gipps Street and Terralong Street for another 12 months, waiting for the completion of the long overdue ramps.
The budget also revealed a massive blow-out on the estimated total cost of the Wollongong Northern Distributor extension of from $72 million to $101 million. That is a blow-out of $29 million. The $29 million blow-out on the Wollongong Northern Distributor extension and the $20 million blow-out on the duplication of the Alfords Point Bridge adds up to nearly $50 million of waste—all because of the Government's inability to manage major infrastructure projects. This money could have been spent on other essential roads projects, such as community consultation and planning for an extension to the F6, expediting the Oak Flats to Dunmore Princes Highway upgrade or expediting the Berry bypass.
When Morris Iemma became Premier he said that mental health would be one of his key priorities. However, this year's budget reveals more talk and no action. The Government promised that a 20-bed community care mental health unit at St George Hospital would be completed by 2009. However, the budget has revealed a 12 month delay. This delay could be a result of the Government underspending its 2006-07 budget on this project by $1.27 million. The Government also underspent its 2006-07 budget for the Sutherland Hospital non-acute mental health unit by $1.48 million. The budget revealed that the Illawarra older persons mental health unit will not be complete until 2009, that is, two years after the original completion date of 2007. This too could be the result of this Labor Government's underspending the 2006-07 budget for this project by $1.529 million.
The Government has also underspent its 2006-07 budget for the Shellharbour Hospital 20-bed mental health unit by $380,000. I hope this underspending does not result in the delay of this essential project. The 2007-08 budget is a clear indication that the Hon. Morris Iemma and his Labor Government are all talk and no action when it comes to addressing the mental health crisis being faced in the St George-Illawarra region. I conclude by urging the Government to address urgently the issues I have raised, to consider seriously these important matters and to stop the spin and get on with the job.
The Hon. ROBERT BROWN
[3.50 p.m.]: Taking the overall budget at face value, I must congratulate the Treasurer. This is my first take-note speech on a budget. The Shooters Party is 15 years old and importantly now has two members in this place. Our success in having the second member elected in March shows that our constituency has begun to expand, particularly in country and coastal areas. We will represent that constituency to the best of our ability and endeavour to work and negotiate with the Government on matters that specifically affect our constituents. In doing this, we may well seek to have an impact on budgetary targeting.
Although my opening remark was congratulatory in tenor, I add the caveat that although the Government has been very good over the years at announcing things that it will do, many of its projects have been slow off the mark and others—like the newly expanded desalination plant—seem to have progressed quickly. While I am referring to water, I hope the Government will allocate money in future budgets to build the Welcome Reef dam, which was supposed to have been started in 2002 and completed two years ago, in 2005. That vital infrastructure was wrongly sacrificed on the altar of green extremism and was sunk not by science or any vestige of good sense or good economic managem Although my opening remark was congratulatory in tenor, I add the caveat that although the Government has been very good over the years at announcing things that it will do, many of its projects have been slow off the mark and others—like the newly expanded desalination plant—seem to have progressed quickly. While I am referring to water, I hope the Government will allocate money in future budgets to build the Welcome Reef dam, which was supposed to have been started in 2002 and completed two years ago, in 2005. That vital infrastructure was wrongly sacrificed on the altar of green extremism and was sunk not by science or any vestige of good sense or good economic management on the part of the Government but by ideology. Major infrastructure should stand or fall on science and the need to meet the future requirements of New South Wales and the funds available to build the infrastructure, not the green idealism that has sunk so many projects in the past. If the science and economics stand up, so should the project—in this case, the dam.
Many great successes can be attributed to our pioneers. It is regrettable that our political leaders have perhaps lost their way. Over the past 12 years the Government has not kept up with the needs of our State's infrastructure or has built less than optimum facilities. Honourable members would be well aware of how many rural services have not been given priority by governments in the past, and perhaps by this Government. In the city, the M5 is a good example of non-optimal planning. Touted as the saviour of the south-western suburbs when opened, it has now become a peak-hour car park. It was disappointing to hear the Premier on radio this week or last week saying in an effort to comfort the long-suffering commuters that the M5 is a victim of its own success. Mr Premier, it is a victim of short-sighted planning, just like the apparent abandonment of Welcome Reef dam.
Having said that, the Government's commitment to spend a record $12.5 billion on capital works in the next financial year is to be applauded, and it is timely. The Government has also trumpeted the fact that it will spend nearly $50 billion over the next four years on capital works, and if it gets those projects up in that time, again, it will applauded. However, I note that there is already talk of the Victoria Road improvements here in Sydney being delayed because of a labour skills shortage. I drive on that road every day. This is the sort of issue that will hurt the Government if it does not deliver for the people of New South Wales. People are not interested in why something is not done; just the fact that the Government has said it would do something and it has not. I urge the Government to back up the scale of this record budget by ensuring that it delivers on its promises in a timely manner.
I raise some of these issues because the Shooter's Party constituency is, generally speaking, reflective of the broad social and political demographic in this State. Indeed, our origins lay in the fact that the three major parties—Labor, Liberal and The Nationals—deserted law-abiding firearms owners when they most needed support. The Shooters Party members are keenly interested in what the Government does for country areas. Not everyone lives in Sydney and it is easy for those west of the Great Dividing Range or on the north or south coasts to feel isolated and ignored, particularly around budget time. Indeed, they regularly refer to NSW as standing for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong.
It is unfortunate that crossbench members have not yet been provided with full details of the budget. Therefore we cannot see what is being spent and where it is being spent. We can rely only on the Budget Speech and the associated papers, and they are not exactly full of detail—certainly less so than last year. Government members seem to get details on budget day, while the rest of us have to wait several weeks at least. I believe that the Treasurer is reviewing that situation—I certainly hope so. In the interests of transparency and accountability, next year we would like to see all honourable members given full, detailed breakdowns of expenditure on budget day or immediately thereafter.
From what little we are able to glean from the budget papers, we welcome the $2 million provided for the Hill Top regional shooting complex near Bowral. This will be a wonderful facility for seven clubs in the Southern Highlands and Illawarra and, indeed, clubs all over the outer south-western metropolitan area of Sydney. It has been a long time coming. However, I am disappointed that the new member for Goulburn in another place seems to be opposing the construction of this regional complex without seeking any real information from those involved. Rather, she has perhaps taken her lead from one small group that has decided to oppose it on the NIMBY principle. I sincerely hope that, should the member for Goulburn manage to have the project derailed, which I doubt, she appreciates that the next useable range for these clubs is probably the very successful one at Goulburn— From what little we are able to glean from the budget papers, we welcome the $2 million provided for the Hill Top regional shooting complex near Bowral. This will be a wonderful facility for seven clubs in the Southern Highlands and Illawarra and, indeed, clubs all over the outer south-western metropolitan area of Sydney. It has been a long time coming. However, I am disappointed that the new member for Goulburn in another place seems to be opposing the construction of this regional complex without seeking any real information from those involved. Rather, she has perhaps taken her lead from one small group that has decided to oppose it on the NIMBY principle. I sincerely hope that, should the member for Goulburn manage to have the project derailed, which I doubt, she appreciates that the next useable range for these clubs is probably the very successful one at Goulburn—right in her electoral backyard. I am delighted that the Government is so committed to the Hill Top project and look forward to the first day of competition shooting on the range.
While welcoming that $2 million, which goes with the initial grant of $1.2 million for what might be considered shooters' interests, I will now speak about what I consider to be a major area to which funding may be better directed. The Government should consider funding and legislation that deliver sensible, sustainable and achievable environmental outcomes without having to accommodate the green extremism it has so shamelessly duchessed since 1995. The green industry does not have all the answers to the problems of the world. However, for more than a decade it has been funded here in New South Wales and Federally as if it did. For example, since 1995-96—and signalled to continue in this budget—the State Government has been increasing the area of national parks. While the Shooters Party has a real problem with mindless expansion of national parks, and utterly opposes further political expansion of marine parks, more importantly, we would like to see better management regimes put in place for existing parks, particularly as that relates to access for all and management of fire risks and feral animals—and in marine parks more practical and scientific management of biodiversity protection.
There has been a 300 per cent increase in the cost per hectare to manage our terrestrial national parks since 1995-96, but at the same time the consumer price index [CPI] has gone up by only about 35 per cent. Curiously, there has been only a 20 per cent increase in staffing. That means costs have increased nearly nine times faster than inflation. Indeed, more than $1 billion has been spent over and above what normal CPI indexing would have produced over that period. As another example, since 1995-96 the total cost—and by that I mean loss—to State Forests New South Wales associated with the transfer and assessment of an additional 1.9 million hectares of State forests into national parks runs to $632 million, together with a loss in direct employment of around 750 jobs. In many State forests, and on certain Crown lands, the Game Council is successfully running a program involving volunteer hunters culling feral animals. We should get those volunteers into the national parks on the same basis.
The Shooters Party will be looking closely at the handouts in this budget to the so-called green non-government organisations. Our constituents, and indeed all New South Wales taxpayers, would be surprised at the level of government funding that certain organisations enjoy. These are the groups that then pop up claiming to have all the answers to every environmental issue one can think of, and having a position on everything that they decide is important. Those groups include the Nature Conservation Council and the Environmental Defender's Office. It is very expensive largesse.
The Shooters Party will also be looking closely at the funding provided to and grants made by the Environmental Trust. Honourable members may not be aware, but this trust has had massive funding increases. It had a budget of $24 million in 2004-05, and then in 2005-06 it went to $64 million. Last year its budget was $94 million. The trust will now administer an additional $365.5 million of new grant programs over the next five years under the City and Country Environment Restoration Program. The Shooters Party has a number of ideas that we would be pleased to put to the Government on how these areas in the budget may be improved. I repeat my opening remarks: Taking the overall budget on face value, I guess the Treasurer is to be congratulated.
Ms SYLVIA HALE
[4.00 p.m.]: Prior to the last election the Premier opined about the state of the Government, saying there was more to do but we are heading in the right direction. However, New South Wales is not heading in the right direction. I highlight this by contrasting the spending in the budget on prisons and housing. The budget shows that expenditure on Corrective Services next year will be $868 million, an increase of 8.9 per cent on the previous year. Prisons expenditure is forecast to increase in future years as more and more people are sent to jail, requiring an increasing proportion of the State budget to be diverted from community services to prisons.
The budget contains significant expenditure committed to opening a new prison at Wellington, as well as additional facilities at South Nowra and expanded facilities at Lithgow and Cessnock. The prison population is forecast to grow to 9,800 by June 2008, an increase of well over 50 per cent since Labor came to power. The budget papers also show that the number of people held on remand in the State's prisons has increased from 1,864 in June 2003 to 2,439 in April 2007, an increase of over 30 per cent.
The Attorney General says the Government is well prepared to cope with an increased number of prisoners but that it would be far more beneficial to the State, in both social and economic terms, to consider ways of putting fewer of our citizens into prison. One such way would be to address the serious housing affordability issues in this State. Homelessness and poor or inadequate housing are significant contributors to crime rates. With significant increases in prisons funding what has happened to housing funding? Housing problem? What housing problem? That is the underlying message in this budget. The budget offers little help to those struggling in Australia's most expensive city and State.
The budget showed that the Government's talk about being interested in housing affordability is about as solid as a fibro shack. What we wanted to see in the budget was some bricks and mortar. Remember the Premier saying housing affordability was one of his top three priorities? Remember the Premier saying he was going to release a housing affordability strategy in August 2006? Nothing eventuated. Yet again we will hear more of the same—buck passing to the Federal Government; land release will solve everything; the market needs time to self-adjust—and more of the same tired rhetoric. Meanwhile, New South Wales is one of the most unaffordable places in which to live in Australia.
This budget was extremely mundane. It shows that the State Government has no intention of tackling the eroding housing affordability situation in New South Wales. The State Government reduced its part of the funding to the Housing Policy and Assistance Program from $237 million to $224.5 million. There is an increase in the housing budget overall, from $712.1 million in the last budget to $763.2 million in this budget, as part of the Government's four-year housing funding. However, the Aboriginal Housing Office has lost out. There will be less money—about $2 million less—and fewer new dwellings for indigenous tenants.
The other area that has been given a rough deal is homelessness programs. Funding for these programs has been cut from $2 million to $1.4 million—a totally unacceptable outcome given that the figures that show more people, including children, are in danger of becoming homeless and presenting at services. There is nothing much in this housing budget that is new. Certainly, those currently ineligible for public housing—that is, the working, lower- and median-income earners who are trapped paying rent to private landlords—get almost nothing. On the other hand, investors will get land tax cuts and will no longer have to pay mortgage duty.
The Government has favoured community housing with some extra funding, but to be effective community housing needs to be able to grow. The State Government refuses to give community housing organisations title to properties, which makes it almost impossible for them to borrow money to purchase more community housing. Likewise, they need to be able to charge a range of rents to a range of income groups, as City West Housing Company is already able to do. This is an extremely mundane outcome at a time of rising housing unaffordability.
The Department of Housing is redeveloping Minto, Bonnyrigg, the Gordon Estate in Dubbo, and the blocks of flats at Elizabeth Street, Waterloo. But these redevelopments are unlikely to result in any net gain, and may even result in net losses of public housing stock. Stock additions have not kept up with demand. As I have said in this place on many occasions, the Department of Housing must be fully resourced to allow it to stop operating as a housing provider of last resort and to restore it as a broad provider of low-cost housing for ordinary people, including ordinary working people. Such an approach would allow the department to start producing an economic surplus, in turn allowing it to invest more in low-cost housing. But to achieve this result would take a 10 to 15 year commitment from the State Government. Today we have seen no evidence of the Government been prepared to make that commitment.
The Commonwealth has reduced much of its funding since 1995 and the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement allocations have fallen in real terms. Indeed, there has been something like a 25 per cent reduction. The Federal Government is not really interested in housing; it has totally abdicated any active role. We have no national housing strategy, no housing Minister, and a Prime Minister with no interest in the 30 per cent of Australians who have not entered the nirvana of home ownership—the 30 per cent who are renting, and will probably keep on renting and paying off someone else's mortgage while that person receives a swag of tax benefits.
I am sure the Treasurer will claim that shared equity loans are the answer to all our woes. But he is yet to address the clear inflationary impacts of giving people access to more credit rather than controlling housing prices. Neither Labor nor Liberal wants to talk about the billions of dollars worth of tax breaks and incentives given to owner-investors—tax breaks that we now know have helped fuel an unsustainable property bubble. A lot of people in New South Wales are not interested in the slanging match between the State and Federal governments—and the Greens are certainly not interested. What we and the people of New South Wales want is more affordable, accessible housing.
I said at the beginning of this speech that I wanted to contrast spending on prisons and housing. Spending on corrective services, in total expenditure and increased expenditure, significantly exceeds the Government's spending on housing. The number of prison beds has increased enormously while the number of social housing beds has hardly increased at all. It raises a very serious question for the Government: Has an ever-increasing prison population become the Government's way of housing the socially disadvantaged and the mentally ill? An examination of the budget appears to indicate that the answer is yes.
In conclusion, the Greens welcome the small funding increases in housing but in relation to prisons the budget indicates that more people will be going to jail, which is surely a negative indicator of social cohesion and social justice. Under Treasurer Costa New South Wales remains obsessed with delivering economic growth to the big end of town at the expense of long-term community needs and broader social benefits. Sadly, this is a backward-looking budget that is focused on the areas and underlying issues of yesterday rather than laying the groundwork for a secure, successful and socially just tomorrow.
Ms LEE RHIANNON
[4.08 p.m.]: This is a budget of missed opportunities. The State will breathe a collective sigh of relief when Michael Costa is no longer Treasurer. New South Wales needs a Treasurer who is committed to and believes in public services rather than a Treasurer who treats his State and his budget as a dry run for a job with the private sector. There are many areas that have been neglected in this budget, and I start with the issue of Port Botany. The New South Wales Government's push for the expansion of Port Botany will require the expenditure of more than $700 million of public money to create a 51-hectare third terminal.
This project has been approved without contracting a stevedoring company to develop and operate the third terminal, and there is no business or transport strategy. Contractual arrangements for the quota of containers being processed by P and O, now DP World, and Patricks, now Toll Holdings, the incumbent Port Botany stevedores, should be introduced so the quota does not exceed the combined total capacity of 2.6 million containers per annum. The offer of the current stevedores to self-fund the expansion has been rejected by the Government. It is time the Government explained why it has rejected this offer.
Save Botany Beach is a local organisation doing outstanding work to bring common sense to planning for the future of Botany. The Greens support the work of this organisation, and the New South Wales Government should be listening to it. The Government now needs to provide the necessary budgets, including the $700 million allocated for the Port Botany expansion, in conjunction with the Federal Government's AusLink funding for the development of various projects in this area. We need appropriate road and rail infrastructure to upgrade current trade operations at Port Botany, the completion of the freight rail line between Maldon and Dumbarton to support freight between Port Kembla and Sydney, and the upgrading of the freight rail line between Newcastle, Sydney and Port Newcastle, as set out in the New South Wales Ports Growth Plan.
The New South Wales Government needs to upgrade the inappropriate road and rail infrastructure to support the current port operations and it needs to address Sydney's increasing population, the increased activity at Sydney airport and the urban developments around Alexandria-Green Square, as well as the forecast annual increase in container trade, which is intensifying the gridlock Sydney experiences daily. Yet the New South Wales Government is planning to triple Port Botany's capacity.
The AusLink study of Sydney's urban corridors shows that total vehicle trips are expected to increase by around 50 per cent over the next 20 years. The deal between the New South Wales Government and Toll Holdings included an 18-hectare option on any expansion of Port Botany in return for vacating Darling Harbour prior to the Sydney 2000 Olympics. As both DP World and Toll Holdings have been excluded from tendering for the development and operation of the third terminal footprint, the Port Botany expansion is looming as a major problem for this State because the port is clearly not getting transport arrangements by ship, road and rail in the right proportions. If there were any need for the port expansion surely there would be signed contractual agreements in place to guarantee surety of tenure before the first patch of valuable sea grasses is destroyed.
During the commission of inquiry into this project a submission of the former Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources recommended a smaller expansion. The commissioner's final report recommended a maximum expansion of between 30 and 35 hectares after considering the incumbent stevedores' submissions. On 14 October 2000 Premier Morris Iemma announced that his Government would ignore the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and bulldoze ahead with a 51-hectare stage one expansion. The Port Botany development plan is nothing to be proud of. The project is bad news for business because if there is not a quick turnaround of goods and they are gridlocked, businesses will obviously lose money. Additional greenhouse gas pollution will result from the bulk of the containers having to be moved by road.
These days we hear many reports about health problems. To gauge how serious these problems are, one only has to look at dental health. While dental health problems remain very serious, one positive aspect of the budget was that a School of Dentistry and Oral Health has been established at Charles Sturt University, which will help address the shortage of dentists and oral health workers in rural New South Wales. Dental health has reached a crisis, and no relief is in sight after this budget. There are 200,000 people on the waiting list for public dental services in New South Wales. The School of Dentistry and Oral Health at Charles Sturt University is welcome but we certainly need much more to address the problem. A paltry additional $4 million has been allocated to public dental services. The overall budget for dental health across New South Wales now stands at $134 million. That is a disgrace. The Council of Social Service of New South Wales recommends that public dental health needs an injection of $170 million to address waiting lists, workforce shortages and limited services. Obviously, we are a long way from achieving that.
Overall, New South Wales needs an injection of considerably more money. Many groups working in the dental health area have stated that for many of the basic services the initial outlay is not huge. Some services that are required are school dental services being made available to private persons in small communities, especially the elderly or people holding pension cards. Scholarships should be provided to dental students willing to work in rural areas. More dental courses should be introduced in rural universities. Education is needed on the importance of good dental hygiene, including preventative measures. It is not very costly but has great returns. Dentistry as a career in rural areas should be encouraged. Overall, we need many more dental therapists.
Another area where problems remain—they will continue under this Treasurer—is coal communities. There is no money in this budget for people who are affected by mining or under the threat of mining. One such community is Gloucester. Gloucester Coal has lodged an application for a new exploration licence covering an area east of its existing activities. This is near the boundary of the Glen Nature Reserve. I have been to this area, which is absolutely stunning. I would recommend others go there. It is a very fragile area: there are steep inclines, a beautiful wilderness area with tumbling creeks—
The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner:
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
Yes, snow. The watercourses and surrounding forests include many significant ecosystems. The effects on downstream waterways from this coalmine have not been fully estimated. Mining coal from this area would have devastating environmental impacts. Money is needed and should have been in this budget to assess the economic, community and environmental impact of this mine and all other mines. We hear the Treasurer go on about the economic benefits of these mines, but so often it is to the loss of other economic benefits in the local community. That is where we need to weigh up what should go forward.
Another problem area with this budget is rural transport. Rail infrastructure and planning for rural New South Wales have again been left out of the budget. It appears there is no money for the reopening and reinvigorating of existing rural branch lines. All I can see in this budget is more funding to facilitate freight moving from rail on to road. Under heavy vehicle management, the Roads and Traffic Authority is putting money into managing higher mass limit vehicles. We know the B-doubles are getting bigger: we are going to have B-triples. That is a disaster for public safety and it is not the most efficient way to move freight. There is also the spin-off with more greenhouse gas emissions.
There is no money to restore CountryLink rail services. I remember years ago when Michael Costa was Minister for Transport and CountryLink was shifting from being a rail-based service to a coach-based service. That process is continuing, and it is absolutely tragic. It means fewer people can travel, particularly elderly people and people who are sick and disadvantaged. They find it much harder to use a coach. The budget contains $200 million to upgrade the country regional network, but the Greens suspect most of the money earmarked will be spent on new rail infrastructure for the mining industry. This budget is nothing to be proud of.
The Hon. LYNDA VOLTZ
[4.17 p.m.]: I congratulate the Iemma Government on the 2007-08 Budget and, in particular, the record $11.2 billion in school and TAFE spending, which is an increase of 4.9 per cent. This $500 million increase in the 2007-08 budget includes provision for five new trade schools and record investment in school maintenance and capital upgrades. This is good news for schools such as Biddabah Public School in Lake Macquarie, which will have four permanent classrooms to replace the four demountables. Old Bar Public School in Myall Lakes will undergo a major upgrade, including five new classrooms, a new communal hall, canteen and shade structure, a new administration-staff facility, a new library with a special programs room, a bus bay, additional car parking, covered walkways and ramp access to existing facilities.
In particular I welcome the announcement of 200 reading recovery teachers additional to the existing 910 in 826 schools to be phased in over the next four years. This is a $19.5 million investment. Reading recovery is a statewide program in New South Wales government schools. This research-based early intervention program seeks to reduce reading and writing failure and was developed in New Zealand by Dame Marie Clay. The program's success resulted in its nationwide implementation in New Zealand in the early 1980s. Since then reading recovery not only has expanded to Australia but has been adopted as an effective literacy intervention program in the United States of America, Canada, Ireland and Denmark.
The reading recovery program identifies students experiencing reading and writing difficulties after their first year of school and provides intensive one-on-one teaching. These early years are critical to students who are at risk of failure. It sets the stage for later learning. Without such intervention students often require expensive long-term remedial assistance. By intervening in the second year of school, reading recovery can help bring students at risk, through intensive daily instruction, up to average classroom levels within 12 to 20 weeks.
The program's goal is for students to continue to succeed in a supportive classroom environment without any, or with very little, additional support. This is not a remedial program; it is based on early identification to prevent reading failure. Within the reading recovery program each student's regular classroom instruction is supplemented with a 30-minute daily lesson individually designed to meet his or her literacy needs. In each lesson a trained reading recovery teacher works with the student in reading and writing tasks that aim to develop the effective strategies they use as independent readers and writers. They bring together a set of strategies that together create the opportunity for sustained improvement in literacy.
The students selected to participate in the reading recovery program are those who, after a year at school, appear to be at the greatest risk of literacy failure. Reading recovery is based on a theory of learning that recognises the complexities of students' literacy behaviours. As a teaching method, reading recovery supports teachers in learning how to make the moment-by-moment teaching decisions that promote accelerated progress, allowing a student to perform at the same level as his or her peers. Studies in New Zealand, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada demonstrate that reading recovery enables most students who are experiencing difficulties in literacy learning to make the accelerated progress necessary to read at the grade level of their peers in an average of 15 weeks.
Students who successfully complete the program are described as discontinued. Eighty-seven per cent of students have successfully discontinued the program and most of these students continue to thrive within the classroom without requiring additional assistance. The best way for any parent to help their children in reading recovery is to make sure their children attend school every day in order not to miss their reading recovery lessons. It is also important that parents play an active role in having their children read to them. My six-year-old daughter, Anastasia, reads me her book every night as my bedtime story as part of her reading program. I commend the reading recovery program to the House and I congratulate the Government on expanding it and the Education budget.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[4.21 p.m.]: I wish to refer to two matters that affect budget revenue. The budget is expected to provide a surplus of $376 million. However, that figure was based on the Treasurer anticipating receiving approximately $400 million in tax revenue from the sale of Sydney airport to Macquarie Bank. It appears from statements by the Federal Treasurer and senior Federal Coalition Ministers that the Federal Treasurer may withhold that money, almost threatening to take New South Wales to court. I hope the Federal Government will review the situation in view of its massive surplus of $12 billion to $15 billion, because $400 million would make little difference to the Federal Government's budget whereas it will make a significant difference to New South Wales. If that money is not forthcoming New South Wales will go into deficit.
Treasurer Costa and I have spoken on numerous occasions about the Goods and Services Tax [GST]. The Federal Government still has not adjusted that figure to guarantee that New South Wales will receive its proper share of the Goods and Services Tax and that the money raised by that tax is returned to New South Wales as revenue. Indeed, the gap has widened to $2.4 billion. If that figure were added to the $400 million from the sale of the airport, New South Wales would have a surplus of $2.8 billion. The Federal Government is not keeping the money it receives from New South Wales in Goods and Services Tax; it uses that money to subsidise the other States. However, those States now have healthy economies and while it may have been necessary when the Commonwealth began and up until the 1940s and 1950s, in the twenty-first century it is no longer necessary for New South Wales to subsidise the other States. Indeed, I believe we are a laughing stock in those States.
Under the good stewardship of this Government the physical assets of New South Wales have increased from $183 billion and are estimated to be worth $280 billion by 2011, reflecting continued and future capital expenditure on infrastructure. In many ways the Premier and the Treasurer are to be congratulated on the budget in view of the severe drought that has affected much of New South Wales and reduced crop reduction by 70 per cent. Also, Australia has experienced two interest rate rises and witnessed the ongoing controversy over petrol prices and the effect this has on family spending and business profits. Every time petrol increases, trucking companies that transport goods pass those increases on to the consumers, which has a negative flow-on effect to the economy.
Recently I spoke in the House about the unemployment rate, which is at a national 30-year low. The percentage of people in New South Wales of working age in employment has reached record levels. Business investment has continued to grow exceptionally strong—by 53 per cent—since 2001-02 and will continue to grow during 2007-08. Increasing business investment indicates business confidence in New South Wales. Many of us have been concerned that some increased taxes, such as two years ago, may have caused a loss of some investment money to other States, particularly to Queensland. The reductions are not major but the reductions in various taxes will be an incentive for business to remain in New South Wales and for people to invest in New South Wales as well.
I am pleased with the increase in the Health budget. That has been an area of concern and controversy with the problems that occurred in the previous year at hospitals such as Campbelltown and Camden. Again, we need to ensure that this increased allocation—an increase of $831 million to $4.5 billion, an increase of 7.1 per cent—goes not to fund extra bureaucrats in the health system but to front-line services and allowing greater efficiency in each of our public hospitals to reduce waiting lists and provide, as has been occurring over many years, top grade care for New South Wales citizens who find it necessary to go to a public hospital so they can receive A-grade health care. There needs to be close monitoring of that expenditure to ensure that that money does not just go to extra bureaucrats.
I support the plan to have 12 new after-hours general practitioner clinics around the State. Over the past couple of years it has been suggested that they could be linked with State hospitals and would take the pressure off emergency facilities in hospitals. Sometimes people go to hospital waiting rooms when they could go to a general practitioner clinic, and that would remove some of the pressure off our public hospitals and reduce waiting times for patients who have genuine need and should be attended to promptly.
Sadly, the problem of mental health is increasing in our society—some of it, I believe, related to the use of marijuana, cannabis, in society. People have had the mistaken view that it is a harmless recreational drug, but now, thankfully, medical experts are agreeing that it is a factor in the increase in mental health problems, schizophrenia and the increasing number of people who have depression. I am pleased that mental health spending in the budget will exceed $1 billion, an increase of $105 million, an 11 per cent increase on last year's allocation. I know the Premier has made this one of his personal interests and concerns as Premier.
I am also pleased that the Government is expanding the new trade schools with an allocation of $5 million. New trade schools will be developed at Penrith, Wyong, Sutherland, Tamworth and Nambucca Heads. I hope the New South Wales education department will cooperate with the Commonwealth, which last year announced it was prepared to finance trade schools as well. There should be no conflict, only cooperation, so that the students of New South Wales get the benefit of both the 25 State trade schools to be opened and the Commonwealth trade schools. There should not be any kind of jealousy to block New South Wales. I am pleased, finally, to see the success of the—[ Time expired.
The Hon. DON HARWIN
[4.31 p.m.]: This budget take-note debate resulted from a sessional order I moved last week, and the debate is going quite well. However, due to the expiration of my time I will have to make the bulk of my remarks after the winter recess.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted and set down as an order of the day for a future day.