COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENTS MEETING
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
My question is addressed to the Premier. Will the Premier advise the House about the outcome of last weeks' Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra?
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
The meeting of Territory, State and Federal leaders was a valuable exercise and secured important initiatives in areas such as mental health, disability insurance, the student visa program and national transport regulations. The Council of Australian Governments has agreed to the development of a National Partnership on Mental Health and agreed in principle to the development of a 10-year road map for national reform of mental health. As well, there was general agreement across the country in relation to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I am sure that will be of great interest to the Minister for Disability Services.
All Premiers supported the establishment of that scheme. The Council of Australian Governments set up a select committee to agree on the principles of a national disability insurance scheme with a view to having them finalised by the end of the year. That will build on the work of the Productivity Commission and will ensure that States and Territories have an important role in the design and delivery of the scheme—and that the Minister understands very well.
The Council of Australian Governments also discussed the importance of international education to our economy. That issue is particularly vital to New South Wales because so many overseas students are studying here, and overseas education plays a significant role in our State's economy. International numbers have been hit by the high Australian dollar, Federal Government changes to visa requirements and increased competition from the United States of America, Canada and other countries. The Premiers put on the table with the Commonwealth a proposal for a three-year working visa for graduates with university or higher level vocational qualifications where a skills shortage exists to ensure that we not only attract more graduates but we make use of the skills that they have gained through their education in Australia.
There would not be a country member sitting on this side of the House who does not have somewhere in his or her electorate shortages of doctors and nurses. The Premiers are saying across party divides that if students are out here studying to be a nurse or a doctor or they are studying in some other area where there is a skills shortage, at the end of their studies, when they have graduated, they should be able to get a three-year working visa to apply those skills to this country. That would not only assist in overcoming the skills shortages experienced in New South Wales and other States; it would also ensure that the graduates return to their countries with even greater skills and that we can employ graduating international medical students in country areas.
The Council of Australian Governments agreed also to sign up to national transport reforms, establishing national transport regulators for heavy vehicles, rail and maritime safety by January 2013. The agreements will establish national standards that will significantly cut red tape and they are expected to generate economic benefits of up to $30 billion over 20 years with reduced costs for Australian transport companies and reduced costs for exports and trade.
There was one area, however, in relation to which there was no agreement between the States and the Commonwealth, and that was in relation to a carbon tax. All the States went into the meeting with one simple request: that the Federal Government release its modelling that underpinned its decision to press ahead with the carbon tax. It was a reasonable request, simply ensuring that the States—regardless of whether they have a Liberal or a Labor government, regardless of whether they support or oppose the carbon tax—can make an accurate assessment of how much the tax will cost them; how many jobs, if any, were at risk; and what industries would be most affected.
Has the Leader of the Opposition adopted a position yet on carbon tax? Is he for or against it? He has been sitting on a barbed wire fence for so long he is no longer a baritone. What we got from the Prime Minister was the most extraordinary response.
Order! I call the Leader of the Opposition to order.
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
We used to have a New South Wales Premier who was known as "Yes-No" Reid. We now have "Yes-Dunno" Robertson. The Prime Minister told us that she could not release the Commonwealth modelling because it was unreliable in relation to States and regional areas. In other words, it is gross economic vandalism for a government to commit to a carbon tax that, whatever one's view, will have a significant impact on the economies of all States across Australia without fundamental information as to whether it is going to hurt or help.