The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

26 September 2012

Doorstop Interview

Townsville

SUBJECTS: NDIS; Investment in North Queensland; Campbell Newman Slashing Jobs & Services; Australian Labor Party; Australian Defence Force

TREASURER:

It's great to be here this morning at Endeavour. Their learning centre here, their lifestyle centre here does really important work in the community in North Queensland. Endeavour does this work right across our great state.

The sad truth is there is an unmet need - the great work that is done here is not necessarily available to all people or all Australians or all Queenslanders with a disability. We need to make sure that these types of services are available to all Australians with a disability, which is why we need a National Disability Insurance Scheme. It's why the Federal Government has put $1 billion aside in our last budget for trial sites right around Australia. Now so far we've had five state leaders step up to the plate and participate in these trial sites. Sadly, that's not the case in Queensland - and in Queensland the need is greatest. Less is spent here on Queenslanders with a disability than elsewhere in the country. So there's a long way to make up the unmet need here to make sure that important programs of learning and for lifestyle are available to all Australians with a disability.

I've come here today to see what services are offered and to get an update on what is needed, because we do need a trial site in Queensland. From my point of view a place like Townsville would be a fantastic place to have a National Disability Insurance Scheme trial site. That is not the case at this stage because the Queensland Government has refused to participate in that and that's a sad thing for all Queenslanders who I know are so concerned about this issue. So with those few words I'll throw to David to say a couple of words about Endeavour.

DAVID BARBAGALLO:

Endeavour Foundation has been around for 61 years. This sort of service we're particularly proud of because most importantly it provides education opportunities for people with disability and these are the sorts of opportunities that are just not readily available in all communities, and they should be. The great shame of our society over that 61 years is that we've excluded people with a disability. Endeavour Foundation began 60 years ago when some parents decided they had enough and they set up the Endeavour Foundation to provide those opportunities for their children and we carry on that great work. We're very thankful to the support we get from government, but we need more support from all levels of government. Not for a lifestyle that you and I might enjoy, but just for often the basic rights and basic necessities that people with a disability don't get in our community. So we're delighted that the Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer, Mr Swan, could visit our facility and highlight the need for this sort of ongoing support from government and the community for people with a disability. Thank you.

TREASURER:

I might just say a couple of words about a couple of other issues as well. I'm also here today to talk to the Chamber of Commerce about the economic strength of the region and the opportunities that can come our way, particularly in tropical North Queensland from growth in Asia in what is going to be the Asian Century. The economy here particularly in Townsville is strong, but there are fantastic opportunities coming our way in the region if we take the right decisions well in the future. The Commonwealth Government has been a very big investor in this region particularly around this city. A big investor in terms of roads, the Ring Road, the bypass, the Port Access Road, almost $400 million which has been invested in the hospital and the cancer centre. So we understand the importance of this region to the Queensland economy and to the national economy. But sadly the Queensland Government does not. The Newman Government slashing and burning jobs in this area is certainly a blow to many families and to some sectors of the economy. But for our part and for my part in particular as a Treasurer and a Minister in Government, I've been a regular visitor to this region over the past five years. So I understand how important it is to this region, but also to our national economy, that we get the investment right so we can maximise all of the economic opportunities here and support jobs and provide a quality of life that North Queenslanders so thoroughly deserve.

JOURNALIST:

The Federal Government's also cutting jobs for budget cuts. What's the difference?

TREASURER:

Well sorry, that is not an accurate characterisation. Yes, we are bringing our budget back to surplus, and yes we've found efficiencies and are finding efficiencies in our public sector. We are absolutely determined to do everything we can to ensure there's economic growth which supports jobs. That's in stark contrast to what is being done by the Newman Government in Queensland where they've slashed directly 14,000 jobs. I'm told that the total in Townsville and surrounds is around 800 jobs, quite a few jobs have gone at the hospital and in the case of the hospital we have put extra funding into the hospital to support services and the Newman Government is cutting whilst we are putting more money in to support vital frontline services. That is very disappointing. It was very disappointing to see what happened here yesterday. The Federal Health Minister came to Townsville to see the $250 million investment that was put in, the new facilities, the cancer centre and other facilities, and this State Government - drunk on power - refused to let the Federal Health Minister inspect the facilities which were entirely federally funded.

JOURNALIST:

There's talk that one of the points of evidence that Canberra doesn't care about the North is the Bruce Highway. What are you doing to fix it?

TREASURER:

Even the local federal Liberal member has paid tribute to the substantial increase in investment that this Federal Government has put into the Bruce Highway. We are putting a lot more into the Bruce Highway than the previous Federal Government because we do understand how important it is. The Douglas Arterial, the Townsville Ring Road, Port Access Road - they're just evidence of our commitment in this region. I've been through here regularly inspecting that construction. We understand how important it is not just to our local economy, but also to the quality of life, people who live in the city. And the sad thing is we're seeing services and jobs cut by the State Government and that's not good for the region.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

I've read some of that material today and I'll make a couple of points about it. There's nothing I'm prouder of than the role that was played by the Labor Government in avoiding recession and supporting jobs in Australia. I've always paid tribute to the role that the Prime Minister played in those decisions, the former Prime Minister played in those decisions and the former Finance Minister played in those decisions along with myself. I'm really proud of what we did during that period to support Australia, to save us from recession, to keep the doors of small business open and to strengthen our economy.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

There's a lot of commentary about this around and I don't intend to add to it except to say that as a Government we have always put to the fore traditional Labor priorities supporting jobs. I'm here today talking about another one - there could be no more fundamental reform for the Labor Party, building on a great reform like Medicare, than a National Disability Insurance Scheme. As for the other matters that have been raised, I don't intend to add to the commentary on that.

JOURNALIST:

Lindsay Tanner said you exaggerated your criticism of Kevin Rudd?

TREASURER:

I stand by all of the comments I made on these matters and I don't intend to add to them.

JOURNALIST:

Are you worried this will derail the momentum the Labor Party federally has had in recent months?

TREASURER:

Not at all - what we have done in Australia in the most difficult of global economic circumstances has been quite remarkable. It's a tribute to the resilience and hard work of the Australian people. We avoided recession unlike just about every other developed economy in the world. We've supported employment, well over 800,000 jobs in our time in government. We've put in place some of the most fundamental reforms; let's just run through a few. The biggest increase in the pension we've seen in many years, Paid Parental Leave, huge reforms in education and training and now we're looking at putting in place the next great reform, the one area of huge unmet need - the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I'm pretty proud of what our Labor Government has achieved in very difficult global economic circumstances over the past five years.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Swan, what do you make of the comments from former diggers about the Islamic (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

I too have read these reports and they are disturbing but they are a matter for the military authorities. Of course we have to do everything we possibly can to ensure that people use this technology responsibly.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the ADF should be investigating?

TREASURER:

It is a matter for the ADF and we don't direct the ADF on these matters. But I'm sure they will be as concerned as I'm concerned as any member of the community would be concerned.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

Well this is a garrison city, no doubt about it. I'm proud of it being a garrison city going back to World War II and I was remarking to my colleagues yesterday the history that is here in terms of the Battle of the Coral Sea. We've invested an enormous amount in moving our defence profile North and there's no garrison that's been a better beneficiary than the garrison here in Townsville. I notice there's a bit of commentary around about levels of defence spending but per capita, in terms of the G7 economies, we rank number two on defence spending per capita. So we're doing pretty good, over $100 billion in defence over the forward estimates and more of that increasingly being spent in the North of our country. So that's a big boom for Townsville. It's a great thing for our community to have a strong defence community and it's got stronger here over the years. You can see it and feel it when you come to the city. It's a great part of life in the North.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

I haven't read his book so I can't comment on that.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think we should be pulling out of the war in Afghanistan?

TREASURER:

The Government has made our position very clear here and we are committed. There is a transition taking place, but with our allies we will proceed towards that transition on the timetable that we've established.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, just back to the NDIS. How much would it take to set up a trial site here in Townsville for the State Government to kick in?

TREASURER:

Well it's not a lot of money. I couldn't put an exact figure on it but it's in the realms of tens of millions. It's not a huge budget item when you look at state government budgets and when you look at what is already spent on disability. It would have been a relatively small amount of money that the Queensland Government could have put forward for a trial site and it's bitterly disappointing for all the families who are supporting people with disabilities that the Queensland Government couldn't see its way forward in making this a priority in its most recent budget. Bitterly disappointing, particularly when you consider that they have $4 billion worth of unfunded election promises which they're slashing and burning and even then they couldn't find room for $20 or $30 million or whatever it may be for a trial site. Other states have - five other state leaders have found the money, but not the Queensland Government because I don't believe they've ever been on board for this fundamental reform.