Electorate update - Budget, Small Business and the ice epidemic



In rising to speak to the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2015-2016 this evening I would like to touch on three or four issues from the budget and then briefly mention the ice epidemic which is occurring in my electorate, as it is across the entire country, and some of the things which we are doing in relation to that. If I could start by talking about the aggregate budget and what we are trying to achieve. Let me touch on two or three things.

First and foremost, we have to get control of Labor's debt and deficit disaster. This budget continues the work of last year's budget in terms of getting control of the spending and providing a very clear pathway back to surplus.

When you look at the macro figures of this budget, the budget deficit reduces each and every year from $35.1 billion in 2015-16 to $6.9 million in 2018-19. We do that in part because we have been very disciplined on the spending side, keeping spending down to 1.5 per cent, whereas we inherited spending growth at 3.7 per cent, real growth, which of course is just completely unsustainable. That is the most important macro measure, if you like—getting control of Labor's debt and deficit disaster.

That is so important because really this is about the future generations. If we do not get on top of the debt and deficit today then it will be our children and our grandchildren that will be having to pay it back. That was Labor's legacy. They set up a tremendous debt trajectory and we are getting firmly on top of this in this budget, building on last year's budget work.

The second point I would like to raise from this year's budget is something very important for all Australians, and it is particularly important in my electorate—that is, small business support. There are 11,000 small businesses in my electorate, which is a huge number of small businesses. They are the backbone of our local economy. Amongst those, about a third are business services, a fifth are in construction, a further fifth are in distribution services and about a 10th are manufacturing businesses. In all cases, those business owners work hard and they frequently mortgage their house in order to get loans to keep their business afloat. They are typically incredibly proud about the services they offer and about the employees that they can take on and provide for.

What this budget initiative does—and this is the centrepiece of the federal budget—is to provide a turbo boost for these small businesses, and it does it in two ways: firstly, by providing them with a tax cut of 1.5 per cent, which occurs whether you are an incorporated business or an unincorporated business; and, secondly, by providing an instant asset write-off for every purchase up to $20,000, and that is effective immediately. What that means is that businesses can go out today, make a purchase and then immediately write that off against this year's tax, effectively reducing their tax and increasing their cash flow.

What that will do is provide a real stimulus for those small businesses to go and spend money to invest, to grow and to employ people locally. That is what I think is so positive about this particular budget measure: it really provides a stimulus for the small business sector, which is at the heart of our overall economy in my seat of Aston and, indeed, across the nation. I hope that the Labor Party will support that initiative. We do need to get legislation through the parliament, and I trust that they will back that initiative, because it is so important.

I touch on the families package. Small business was the centrepiece. The families package was also very important, and Minister Morrison oversaw this. In essence, it is providing additional support for those parents who want to go back to the paid workforce. It does this by providing additional assistance for the childcare sector. The effect of this particular measure is that, on average, low- and middle-income families will be about $1,500 a year better off if they are using the childcare system. What it does is to provide just that extra incentive, should they choose to exercise it, to get back into the paid workforce, because they can afford the childcare system.

You would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I do, that so many families sit around the kitchen table and decide that one of the parents will not go back to work, because it is not worth it when they weigh up what they will earn versus what the costs of child care are. This particular measure tilts the balance in favour of providing the opportunity to go back to the workforce should they choose to do so.

Finally in relation to the budget, I would raise the issue of infrastructure. This is very dear to all of our hearts, and it is particularly important in a state like Victoria and a city like Melbourne. Melbourne is growing by 100,000 people each and every year. It is by far the fastest growing city in Australia. What that means is that, unless we are building infrastructure to keep up with that, the road and rail systems come to a standstill. We have been seeing that over the years. Increasingly Melbourne's traffic has been slowing down and congestion has been getting worse.

What we had, though, was a huge infrastructure project to address that particular congestion issue, and it was called the East West Link. It was put on the agenda under the Brumby government, planned for under the Baillieu government and then funded under the Napthine government, and it was all ready to go, with contracts signed. And, of course, we know what Daniel Andrews did to that: he cancelled that contract. He spent $640 million in the process not to build that road, and it effectively means that we do not have a single large infrastructure project in Melbourne at the moment. It is the only city in Australia that does not have a big infrastructure project underway, and it is the city which has the fastest growth by a considerable margin.

What we have done in this budget is to say that there is $3 billion quarantined for the East West Link should a Victorian government choose to build it, and a Victorian government will build it, because it must be built, because it will create 7,000 jobs, end the Hoddle Street bottleneck and finally make a further connection from the eastern side of the city to the western side of the city, a project which every single transport plan has suggested.

Let me finally mention a further topic which is not directly budget related but is nevertheless incredibly important. It is an important one for all members of this House—that is, the ice epidemic and how we should be addressing this and thinking about it.

Every single member of this House has probably come across families that have suffered from the consequences of ice. We know it is an absolute epidemic in Victoria, in the nation, and it is increasingly a problem in my electorate in Victoria. The rate of ice use as the main form of drug among amphetamine users has doubled in the last 12 months alone, from 22 per cent in 2010 to 50 per cent in 2013. Those using ice are doing it more frequently, with people using it at least monthly doubling from 12 per cent in 2010 to 25 per cent in 2013—around 90,000 Australians aged 14 and over. This drug is an insidious drug. It is killing our young people and it absolutely destroys families. We know that the ice addiction itself can cause all sorts of psychoses and long-term mental health issues. It makes people aggressive. It considerably increases the risk of stroke and heart failure. Offences involving ice now make up 16 per cent of all drug crime compared with only three per cent five years ago.

This is an epidemic which we must get on top of. I will not say it is the epicentre, but one of the biggest problem areas in the outer east of Melbourne is the Knox municipality, which basically has the same boundaries as my federal electorate of Aston. Twice as many drug offences occurred in Knox compared to the adjacent municipality of Maroondah. Charges from possessing drug manufacturing equipment in Knox have grown from zero to 20 over just the last few years. It is an incredible drug. There were 687 drug offences recorded in Knox last year—more than twice as many as in Maroondah.

We have a national task force which is looking into this problem. It is headed up by the former Victorian police commissioner Ken Lay, who is a very highly regarded figure. He is consulting across the nation to look into this problem and to get ideas as to what we can do nationally, what we can be done at a state level and what can be done locally and amongst communities. I will be hosting an ice forum in my electorate in the coming weeks in order to gather the evidence and information from local people in my community. Attending that forum will be political representatives, experts in the field and people who have been affected by this, as well as people who are concerned about its incidences and believe that they have a contribution to make.

I have already received an enormous amount of local feedback in relation to this problem largely from emails, from responses to my newsletters and from Facebook. Broadly the themes which people put through, at least from my electorate, are very consistent in relation to this problem—for example, they say we must tackle the supply of ice, particularly through stronger penalties for suppliers. Many people made that comment. There was a strong view that we need to consult very broadly, including with ice users themselves, as we develop our strategy.

The third theme which came out was that we need additional funding for rehabilitation, for prevention services and for early education services in order to be able to ensure that people are fully aware of what the problems are, and then to be able to seek help very quickly should they find themselves in difficulty. I look forward to this forum, which we will be posting in a few weeks time. I think this will be a very good way of eliciting further feedback from our local community. That feedback will be then be fed into the National Ice Taskforce.

I know of very few people in our local community who are not concerned about this drug. They have either seen or heard of its effects, and it is something that as a nation we are taking very, very are seriously and something at the local level that I am taking seriously also. 

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