Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No 1) 2012 - Second Reading Speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (09:30): That would be correct, Mr Speaker, and thank you very much. I am sure my colleagues on the other side will give me lots of support in the process of doing my first summing up. Mr Tony Smith interjecting— Ms BIRD: I am sure you are here to help me. I thank those members who spoke on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. I have had the opportunity to hear a significant number of the contributions to the debate on this bill. The bill before the House amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to clarify the application and operation of indexation arrangements in the act. It updates the definitions of 'course of study in dentistry' and 'course of study in veterinary science' and updates the Melbourne College of Divinity's name in light of its approval to operate under the title MCD University of Divinity. Continue reading

Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No 1) - Consideration in Detail

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (09:38): The government will not be supporting these amendments. The government's intent with the bill is to clarify indexation arrangements. The ambiguity arose as a result of amendments of the indexation provisions in the act that were made by the Higher Education Support Amendment (Indexation) Act 2010. The amendments proposed by the opposition, if passed, would substantially change arrangements for the student services and amenities fee. They would change section 19-37(5)(e) to say that a student services and amenities fee cannot be more than $250 for a calendar year, starting 1 January 2012. The government is not changing the amount of the student services and amenities fee; it is making clear that the amount of the fee is $263 in 2012. The student services and amenities fee in the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Act 2011 was a 2010 amount. It was always intended that this amount would be indexed on 1 January 2011 and in each subsequent year. This intention was clearly highlighted in the explanatory memorandum for the student services and amenities act. The explanatory memorandum provides that the fee will be indexed to $254 in 2011 and indexed annually thereafter. During the debate in the Senate the government explicitly indicated that, under the proposed arrangements, the fee would be $263 in 2012. Universities are already charging student services and amenities fees up to $263. The opposition's amendments would mean that universities would be breaching section 19-37. There are substantial penalties for breaching that section of the act. It is not reasonable to change these arrangements retrospectively. We do not support the amendments. The SPEAKER: The question before the chair is that the amendments be agreed to.

Question Without Notice - Economy

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (14:23): My question is to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer outline for the House the importance of sound fiscal management to support jobs and to return the budget to surplus? Mr SWAN (Lilley—Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer) (14:23): I thank the member for Cunningham for that question because sound fiscal management is more important than ever, particularly given the global uncertainty that we are seeing. We on this side of the House have got the big economic decisions right, because in the face of global uncertainty and a global recession we supported jobs, we supported small business and we avoided a recession in this country. While we have had some recent job losses, we should never lose sight of the fact that over 700,000 jobs have been created in this country over the past four years. But we are certainly not immune because we have seen something like $140 billion worth of revenue stripped from the budget. Those opposite pretend that somehow the global financial crisis and global recession were a hiccup. Well, it stripped $140 billion from our budget bottom line—a massive hit to the budget. Continue reading

Appropriation Bills (3 and 4) 2011-2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (19:30): Can I open by thanking the member for Wright for his goodwill in taking my question. He did not answer it, but I will let that pass. I definitely remember terms like, 'Well, that was a core or non-core promise.' I remember terms like, 'Do not believe anything unless I have written it down.' So it is interesting that he placed so much emphasis in his speech on the reliability of people's words before and after elections. A bit of history would not go astray there. Certainly I think the member raised his genuine concern about debt and the ongoing issue of debt in the economy, so I would seriously encourage him to have a good chat with his leader and his shadow Treasurer, because they are running it up much faster than we are. So he might want to take those concerns to them as well. I rise to support Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeks to appropriate $2,828 million to a particular range of projects from the budget and the MYEFO, and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) appropriates $341 million, again to go towards a number of projects. I want to briefly cover the programs that those appropriations are covering, but I will use most of the time to talk about a particular one of them and the importance of it to my local area. These measures are to fund a range of initiatives, particularly around the clean energy initiatives of the government. We will be using part of the funding for the energy security fund. This is transitional assistance to highly emissions-intensive coal-fired power stations. That is the cash assistance allocated through free permits. The government will provide loans to these emissions-intensive coal-fired power stations to provide additional working capital for the future vintage carbon permits at advance auctions. Continue reading

Fairer Private Health Insurance Bills

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (13:25): Madam Deputy Speaker, I extend my appreciation for your assistance with my participation in this debate today. I support the three bills before the House: the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011, the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2011 and the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge—Fringe Benefits) Bill 2011. It is my intention to briefly deal with the content of the bills that are before us and to put that on the record, and also to address both the implications for my own electorate and some of the arguments that have been presented in opposition to the bills. I acknowledge at the outset that those arguments in opposition have not been followed by a commitment to have a different position after the next election, so it will be interesting to see what the sustainability of those arguments will be. It is proposed in these bills that there be three new private health insurance incentive tiers introduced with the intention of better balancing the mix of incentives for people to take out private health insurance. The proposed measures will, firstly, introduce means testing for the private health insurance rebate and, secondly, increase the Medicare levy surcharge for people on higher incomes who do not hold appropriate private hospital cover. The proposed private health insurance tiers will operate in accordance with new thresholds for the 2012-13 financial year if they are implemented on 1 July this year. Continue reading

Adjournment Debate - Ageing

I take the opportunity this evening to report to the House an important event that occurred in my electorate in January. The member for Throsby and I co-hosted a conversation on ageing at which we were pleased to have the Minister for Health and Ageing present to talk with over 200 local people. They came along to talk about the program that the federal government is looking to follow after the publication of the Productivity Commission report on managing ageing, Caring for Older Australians. This is about making sure that our older people, our older citizens, not only have quality of life but, as the minister said, are able to participate in and contribute in an ongoing way to their communities, and working out how we can best achieve this at a time when, as we all know from the originally commissioned reports of Treasurer Costello in the former Howard government, we face challenges as the demographics of our communities change so that there are more people over the age of 65 relying on fewer workers of a younger age. It was really encouraging and I think the minister's message was well received by those who were present. He particularly did not want to frame this conversation as a problem. He does not want to see ageing presented as a negative in our society but he felt we could find a far more productive way of working our way through this by seeing it as an opportunity and by working with older people in our country in order to find ways in which they see themselves participating more fully over the longer term. Continue reading

Telecommunications Universal Service Management Bills 2011

I rise to support the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011and the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011. The principle behind this legislation is universal service obligation. I will discuss how that sits within the current context of the rollout of the National Broadband Network and I will then come to the detail of the bills. The concept of universal service obligation has a long history—it goes back several hundred years, to some of the early postal services. Its history has been both market driven and, in more recent times, legislatively based. Obviously in the early days of new technology a particular provider in a market will be the only provider or one of only a few providers, and the history of the postal services is that some providers said that the defining characteristic of their operations was that for a single price they could deliver mail across a particular geographical area—across a country or across a state and so forth—for the same price. They were driving a market that was geographically wide, where there was no advantage from living in one of the population bases, in a big city—they were able to expand their market by providing services to people in more remote areas. Continue reading

Question Without Notice - Broadband

Ms BIRD ( Cunningham ) ( 14:18 ): My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister outline the next steps in providing high-speed broadband to all Australians through the National Broadband Network?Ms GILLARD ( Lalor — Prime Minister ) ( 14:18 ): I thank the member for Cunningham for her question. In this parliament she represents a community which knows what it is like to undergo structural change, a community that is working together understand ing that there are some job losses in steelmaking which they need to confront but a community which is fighting back and making sure it has a plan for its economic future . Making steel will be part of that economic future but I know her community is looking forward to the benefits that the National Broadband Net work can and will bring to businesses in her electorate, increasing their productivity. T hat is because people in her electorate and people right around the country get the commonsense proposition that we as a nation cannot compete if we are using yesterday's technology. We have a great resources sector, but imagine if it were t rying to compete in the world using picks and shovels instead of forefront technology. Imagine if manufacturing were using hand tools instead of robotics in the forefront of technology. Of course they would not be able to compete . Continue reading

Speech - Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:49): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, I seek leave to make a statement on the inquiry into the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011 and the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011, in discharge of the committee's requirement to provide an advisory report on the bills, and to present a copy of my statement. Leave granted. Ms BIRD: The committee has endorsed the contents of this statement. On 2 November 2011, the following bills were introduced into the House: the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011 and the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011. The TUSMA Bill forms part of a package of legislation to achieve continuity of key telecommunications safeguards in the transition to the National Broadband Network. On 3 November 2011, the bills were referred by the Selection Committee to the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications for inquiry. On the same date, the bills were referred to by the Selection of Bills Committee to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications. The deadline for submissions to that committee is 2 December 2011 and the reporting date has been set for 27 February 2012. Continue reading

Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011 - Speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (13:45): I would indicate to the member who preceded me that, as a descendant of five generations of coalminers, with many of my family still in the industry, and coming from an electorate that does have coalmines, I absolutely support the range of bills before the House today. I am, in fact, very pleased to speak in support of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011. This bill has very simple objectives. Its first objective is to tax the above-normal profits from mining the ore and coal that belong to the people of Australia. Its second objective is to return the revenue raised by this tax to the people of Australia. The MRRT will fund a comprehensive policy package which reforms the taxation system, invests in infrastructure and increases the retirement incomes of Australians. It will cut the company tax rate for all companies to 29 per cent by 1 July 2013. It will provide an immediate new tax break for up to 2.7 million small businesses across Australia from 1 July 2012. It will simplify the tax affairs of 6.4 million Australians, with a $500 standard deduction from 1 July 2010 and a further $1,000 from 1 July 2013. It will reward Australians who save money, with a 50 per cent discount on up to $500 of interest income from 1 July 2012, increasing up to $1,000 of interest income from 1 July 2013. It will boost the superannuation incomes of 8.4 million Australians, with the first increase from 1 July 2013, and expand the superannuation concessions to 3.5 million low-income earners and about 275,000 over 50s from 1 July 2012. Crucially, it will invest in our regions through the Regional Infrastructure Fund and the Regional Development Australia Fund. Continue reading