Budget Estimates and Related Papers
Financial Year 2015-16
17 March 2016
Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) [4.13 p.m.]: It is a pleasure to see some passion in the House such as that displayed by the Minister for Corrections, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Veterans Affairs. The derisory laughter from our opponents demonstrates their unfortunate lack of numeracy skills. I am delighted to be speaking on behalf of my electorate of Ku-ring-gai about this year's budget. In my inaugural speech I addressed many economic matters such as GST reform, tax reform and competition policy reform. I am pleased to see that since then some of those matters have come onto the national agenda. It is important to reflect on the necessity for tax reform because the budget forward estimates reflect the concerns that everyone in our State and around Australia has about hospital expenditure.
Tax reform was placed on the national agenda by our Premier, who is an outstanding national leader. Our GST rate in Australia is lower and has a more narrow base than comparable countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and many European OECD countries. It is important that both sides of politics come to grips with the catastrophe of looming health costs in our budget forward estimates. There is a degree of urgency. The budget demonstrates that too much of our revenue is based upon stamp duty revenue, which is of course susceptible to the rise and fall of the property market. Many people in Ku-ring-gai have high property prices and they are shouldering the burden of indirect taxes. Tax revenue should not be collected only from people's once-in-a-while purchase of a family home. It should be spread around many more smaller transactions so that important services such as health, education and others can be funded properly and more consistently.
In my inaugural speech delivered less than 12 months ago I also spoke about the importance of small business to the national economy, to the State economy and, more importantly, to the local economy of Ku-ring-gai. I spoke about competition policies and competition laws, and the need for reform. I was happy to read that the Federal Government has put competition policy reform back on the agenda. There is a necessity to change the current test under the old section 46 of the Trade Practices Act, which covers the misuse of market power, to give it a much more powerful basis. Challenging uncompetitive conduct should be applauded in New South Wales because it will assist our economy to grow and it will improve the strong budgetary fundamentals that were announced by the Treasurer in the budget.
It is important to note the things the Treasurer drew attention to in the budget that are important to the people of Ku-ring-gai. The Treasurer announced a strong budgetary surplus of $2.1 billion. That was an important surplus that did not take into account any revenue that will accrue to the Government as a result of its policy to recycle assets, such as the lease of electricity poles and wires. That $2.1 billion surplus did not take into account the recently announced $10 billion windfall that accrued to the State coffers under the first tranche of the electricity asset recycling policy. That is very important because it means the budgetary position is even stronger than the $2.1 billion surplus announced by the Treasurer. That $2.1 billion surplus was driven largely by changes to Commonwealth grants, stamp duty revenue and GST payments. The surplus was on the back of a budget that did not squander revenues through wasteful spending. The Treasurer should be commended for the spending restraint in the budget because it is important not to spend stamp duty windfalls produced by a property boom. It is important to behave responsibly so that structural spending increases that cannot be funded through a more evened-out revenue stream are not built into the budget.
The budget revealed that economic growth in New South Wales was faster than in any other State over the previous year. Economic activity in New South Wales was robust. Rising wealth boosted household consumption. There were record low interest rates. A big driver of the fast growth that had been experienced in our State was the Government's investment in infrastructure. That investment triggered a massive investment in the construction of new dwellings. As the Treasurer announced, the State is buzzing. We all get the benefit of that, including people in Ku-ring-gai. It is important to remember, in this context, that business conditions and confidence in New South Wales is better than in any other State. We have great confidence; there is a buzz in the State, and that is the context in which the Treasurer delivered the budget.
The Government is coming up to its fifth anniversary. The budget delivered at the fourth-year anniversary was able to take advantage of the hard yards that had been done in the first term of this Government—the setting up. The great investment in infrastructure created a virtuous circle of business confidence and greater investment in housing. That all came together to deliver that very sizeable $2.1 billion surplus. I would like to talk about jobs because the Ku-ring-gai electorate is blessed with young people. The electorate has some absolutely fantastic schools. People love to come to Ku-ring-gai to raise families, educate their children and live in one of the great parts of Sydney and this State.
The Treasurer announced in the budget that New South Wales was, on another economic indicator, leading the country in jobs growth. The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed that 15,300 jobs were created in New South Wales in May of last year alone—the month when the Treasurer delivered the budget. It is important that as teenagers are working towards their Higher School Certificate they have an optimistic environment in which they can see employment opportunities on the horizon. That is a very strong motivator for our youth. It is a very strong part of the environment that has been delivered in New South Wales by this Coalition Government for the people of New South Wales.
The Treasurer announced a small business employment incentive scheme, which gave employers up to $2,000 per new employee for businesses that do not pay payroll tax. Shortly after the budget was announced, legislation was passed to deliver on that commitment. The Government's announcement is significant in the context of what I have just said about the importance of employment incentives for youth. There is an expectation that the scheme will create many new jobs, which is very desirable. The Treasurer also announced an investment of $2.3 billion during 2015-16 to reform vocational education and training. That is also incredibly important for our youth. It is vital for them to have training to skill them for the sorts of jobs that they hope to engage in after school.
I would like to talk about housing, which is also important for youth at school and beyond. Housing affordability remains an important issue within the community. Dwelling investment increased by 7.8 per cent over the year to the March quarter leading into the announcement of the budget. That contrasted with the significant underinvestment by the previous Labor Government. Through the four years of Coalition Government an environment was created in which dwelling investment picked up significantly. Supply was constrained during the Labor years, particularly because of the Labor policy of not expanding the housing supply in Western Sydney. Bob Carr trumpeted that as one of his great achievements as Premier of New South Wales, but it ensured that young people in Sydney were not able to purchase their own homes.
Economics 101 says that if the population increases and the supply of housing stays the same or does not increase at the same rate, housing prices will go up. The constraint on the supply of housing had a direct impact on housing affordability. An increase of 7.8 per cent over the year to the March quarter in dwelling investment helped housing affordability, which had been so damaged under Labor.
Mr EDMOND ATALLA: Stick to law.
Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: I have an economics degree as well, do you? Homeowners purchasing a new home or building their own home were offered a $15,000 grant in the budget under the First Home Owner Grant. In 2014 the Government provided almost 8,000 First Home Owner Grants for new homes, an increase of 25 per cent on the previous year. Since the budget we have been delighted by the social housing announcement by the Minister for Family and Community Services, and Minister for Social Housing, Brad Hazzard. The idea of recycling property held as public housing into more social housing is an important development to increase the supply of housing in New South Wales. It is an important development for less well-off people in our community and it should be applauded by those opposite. They were unable to increase the supply of housing when they were in government.
Debate resumed from 17 March 2016.
Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) [12.41 p.m.]: On behalf of the electorate of Ku-ring-gai I will continue my contribution to the debate on Budget Estimates and Related Papers. I want to identify the benefits to the people of Ku-ring-gai from the New South Wales budget. This budget delivers a record $21 billion for health in 2015-16, which will mean extra surgeries, more admissions and more staff caring for patients. The 2015-16 budget has boosted front-line health staff by an extra 980 positions which includes nurses, doctors and allied health professionals and is part of the Government's commitment to an additional 3,500 front-line hospital staff over the next four years. The 2015-16 budget has provided a record $1.4 billion to be invested in health infrastructure. The Minister for Health has announced the stage 2 upgrade to Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital and the member for Hornsby and I were very happy to interact with the community at the time of that announcement. [Extension of time agreed to.]
Part of the expanded spending in health involves the innovative extension to in-home care services which the Government has introduced. I have seen that firsthand with my elderly parents. Community nurses and other health professionals come into the homes of the elderly in my electorate, which enables them to live an independent life in retirement. The Ku-ring-gai electorate has a statistical overabundance of elderly people and so those measures are of particular utility to the people of Ku-ring-gai. The budget also includes a record $1.7 billion investment in mental health expenditure, which is a 6.7 per cent growth on the previous year.
In relation to education, the budget announced spending on schools and early childhood education to the tune of $12.8 billion in 2015-16. Education is an ultimate enabler and is a great vehicle for social justice and social mobility. The announcements with regard to education are particularly timely and welcome for the community. An additional $167 million over four years will enable 500 additional teachers to be employed compared to last year. An additional $20 million will provide up to 45,000 new before and after school care places. Two weeks ago I was delighted to accompany the Minister for Early Childhood Education to the Acre Woods preschool in the Ku-ring-gai electorate when she announced extra expenditure for extended day care. It is refreshing to see the tangible benefits that these numbers in the budget provide for our community.
As the Government has signed up for Gonski funding, other important funds have been made available in the Ku-ring-gai electorate. As part of the record $130 million in additional funding announced by the New South Wales Government the local public schools, the electorate of Ku-ring-gai received almost $4.5 million, which includes: Waitara Public School, $634,513, an increase of $165,171 on 2015 funding; Warrawee Public School, $268,976, an increase of $88,799 on 2015; Turramurra High School, an outstanding high school, $751,278, an increase of $126,735 on 2015; and Wahroonga Public School, the bush school, another great public school, $283,747, an increase of $140,645 on 2015. Our eyes could glaze over at those amounts in the budget but they represent tangible benefits to our communities which this Government is delivering.
Service NSW is one of the great front-line achievements of this Government. We all remember in the bad old days we would have to take a cut lunch and a coffee to the Roads and Traffic Authority and wait in a queue for hours. Now it is almost like checking into the Ritz hotel at Service NSW where we are met by a concierge who seamlessly delivers us to the appropriate person, which takes no time at all. It is an incredibly accessible, efficient and beneficial experience that delivers so many government services to the people of New South Wales. Given the success of that program, it is unsurprising that we provided $362 million in the budget for Service NSW to improve its digital transaction services and roll out another 27 one-stop shops. I was delighted when a Service NSW shop recently opened in Hornsby. Having that facility in addition to the Service NSW shop at Chatswood, which has been in place for some time, has enhanced and augmented the government services provided on the North Shore.
Mr KEVIN ANDERSON: Easy to do business.
Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: It is very easy to do business, as the member for Tamworth points out. In the budget we have invested a record $6.5 billion for transport services and infrastructure. The Government is undertaking the biggest investment in the history of our public transport network, spending $9 billion on public transport infrastructure services in this year alone. There will be some very exciting developments in Ku-ring-gai in that regard. Of course, we have enjoyed the great benefits that the Opal card has brought. There are no more long lines on Monday morning to buy a weekly ticket, never quite knowing how long the line will be and whether you will make your train.
The Opal card has taken public transport in our State into the twenty-first century. We have also had some local wins on transport through the extra funding being delivered. Some of my constituents had a major issue with rail noise on the northern line, which was first brought to my attention during the election campaign. I am happy to say that constituents have gone out of their way to tell me that through my advocacy to Transport for NSW that noise, which was quite debilitating for some people, has been reduced and the track behind Barker College has now been greatly improved to the benefit of local residents.
The metro line will be constructed from Chatswood to Epping. When the line is up and running upper North Shore services will be increased because the metro will stop at Chatswood. Trains will no longer be diverted to the Chatswood to Epping line, which will lead to more services from Chatswood to Hornsby and be of great benefit to the Ku-ring-gai electorate. Pymble and Waitara stations will share in the $43 million allocated for station upgrades. The work at those stations includes refreshing of toilets, gardening and landscaping work, pigeon proofing—because pigeons can cause damage and make a mess—restoration works and improvements to heritage buildings. We still have some room for improvement and I will advocate strongly for lifts to be installed in Wahroonga and Pymble railway stations in particular; however, the budget is certainly delivering tangible outcomes for the people of Ku-ring-gai. I regret to say that according to Infrastructure Australia my electorate has two of the five worst roads in Australia.
Thankfully, the problems on Pennant Hills Road, which has been identified as the worst road in Australia, are being solved by the NorthConnex project. NorthConnex, which will be opened in 2019, cannot come quickly enough. Along Ryde Road, which is the fourth worst road in Australia, clearways are being introduced to improve traffic flow. Of course, the Government will need to develop some longer term solutions. The final matter I will raise concerns the way in which this Government is accelerating the construction of infrastructure. Now that the first tranche of the poles and wires lease has been completed the prospect of a new metro line from Chatswood into the city and on to the western suburbs is becoming a reality. That will only further augment public transport services for the people of Ku-ring-gai. The Government has delivered fiscally for the people of Ku-ring-gai and New South Wales. I am delighted with the fine work the Treasurer has done for our State.