Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:35): I move: That this bill be now read a second time. Introduction In the 2011-12 budget, the government took important steps to build Australia's future workforce and good jobs for the future. We delivered one of the largest skills packages in our nation's history—a $3 billion investment over six years to ensure that industry has the skilled workers it needs to grow and prosper, and that more Australians than ever before will be able to access training and the life opportunities that come through skills and employment. Continue reading

Condolence Motion - Mrs Margaret Elaine Whitlam AO

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:33): I rise to support the condolence motion to recognise the passing of an extraordinary Australian woman, Margaret Whitlam AO. Procedurally that is what I seek to do, but at this moment in time in this place, what I am actually doing is celebrating a life of amazing achievement, of family, community, political activism, sporting prowess, culture and arts, a life that creates not only respect among all of those who reflect on it but affection too. It is not often that on the national stage one person encompasses both enormous respect and enormous affection together. Many fine sentiments have been expressed about Margaret Whitlam in this place and more of course added as we have just been hearing from members opposite. The Australian yesterday had a headline in the Plus section which, in my view, summed up Margaret best. It said she was 'a towering figure in her own right', and I think that very well encompasses Margaret. She is a part of Australian history. I was reflecting yesterday on just how long she had been a part of our history. She was born before there was a Sydney Harbour Bridge. Her lifetime spanned the making of modern Australia. She was a champion swimmer. She was the mother of four fine children, a grandmother and a great-grandmother to many in the family. She was a community activist in southern Sydney and Western Sydney, especially during the time Gough Whitlam represented the division of Werriwa in this place. She was the only social worker at the time in a Western Sydney hospital, as her son Nicholas mentioned in one of the weekend's newspapers. She was a patron of arts and culture. Margaret campaigned in her own right during the 1969 and 1972 federal elections. She was a columnist and commentator. She was Australia's first lady and, in doing that job, forever changed the role of the Prime Minister's partner. Margaret was an Australian national treasure. And above all she was, as Gough said in a beautiful and gracious tribute upon her passing, the love of his life. Continue reading

Careers in Agriculture

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (11:50): It is with pleasure I take this opportunity to speak on the motion moved by the member for Murray before the House today. I managed in my office to catch some of the contributions before I ran very quickly to get here to join the debate. I certainly acknowledge the great thought and commitment to this important area of industry that has been expressed by all of the speakers in the debate today. It is certainly the case that the government agrees that the Australian agricultural industry does offer great opportunities for higher education and vocational education and training graduates. We acknowledge the importance of ensuring that key industries, such as the agribusiness sector, have the skilled workforce that they need. While we agree with the spirit of the motion, we believe that agreeing to it as this time would be premature, and I will outline why we have that view. As members opposite would be aware the important issue is currently being examined across a number of inquiries. The Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations is conducting an inquiry into all aspects of higher education and skills training to support future demand in agriculture and agribusiness in Australia. As well, the Senate Select Committee on Australia's Food Processing Sector is due to report by 30 June 2012. Australia's Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, is leading a review of Australia's science, education, research and development outputs, which is set for publication in the first quarter of this year. The government is also developing Australia's first-ever national food plan, to ensure that the government's policy settings are right for Australia over the short, medium and long term. Once these inquiries are concluded, we will examine those findings closely in order to respond appropriately to them. 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.

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

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

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

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

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