Thursday, 2 March 2017
Governor General's Speech
I refer to His Excellency's speech on opening day in which he said:
You come to this place with the honour of being elected by the people to serve as their voice, to represent their interests, in the great debates that will shape our nation's destiny.
I thank the electors of Moore for entrusting me as their representative in this parliament for a second term. It is a great responsibility, which I will continue striving to fulfil to the best of my ability. The challenge for the government is to provide Australians with economic security, national security, essential services and nation-building infrastructure. The coalition government faces a multitude of policy choices in its legislative program. At the core is an economic plan to strengthen economic growth through policies that encourage jobs, growth and investment backed by a budget strategy which features strong fiscal discipline and control of expenditure growth.
I advocate on behalf of prudent Australians, who work hard, save and invest their earnings over a lifetime to provide for their financial security in retirement. I refer to the aspirational Australians, sole-funded, independent retirees in our community. Just because they have the capacity to pay taxes as a result of their effort, diligence and savings does not mean that they should become the target for higher taxation. We must shift the focus on those who deserve to pay and reduce spending on less deserving causes to balance the budget.
Public overhead costs in developed societies are increasing at a disproportionate rate to taxation revenue, leading to budget deficits and ever-increasing national debt. There are not many developed and advanced First World nations in surplus. If we want to maintain income and company tax rates in the 20 to 30 per cent range, we have to create a more disciplined society, with less waste and more social responsibility. Consider the example of Singapore.
To balance the budget, we must implement a wide range of measures which seek to incrementally achieve savings and efficiencies over time, without being too drastic, giving the public the chance to adapt to changes and modify their behaviour. These measures include programs to increase workforce participation, clamp down on law and order issues, ensure health costs are sustainable and ensure that education funding is administered more prudently. In terms of workforce participation, historically the ratio of persons in the workforce to those dependent on welfare was 10 to 1. Today, it is estimated that the ratio is five working persons to each person on welfare, and this is projected to increase to an unsustainable rate of three-to-one in the future. The government has encouraged the estimated 800,000 unemployed younger Australians of working age back into the workforce through mentoring and training to alleviate the situation. Greater workforce participation by youth, women, Indigenous, mature aged and long-term unemployed persons is facilitated through a range of initiatives, such as the Youth Jobs PaTH Programme, which seeks to create opportunities for work for up to 120,000 young people.
Our health system is under rising cost pressure from the ageing demographics of our population, advances in medical technology and developments in pharmaceuticals. Spending on health care is justifiable for the aged, those with illness or victims of accidents. However, the cost to the health system by those intoxicated by illicit drugs or as a result of criminal behaviour ought to be the subject of cost recovery after treatment. With a strong commitment to Medicare, the government has commissioned a clinician-led task force to conduct a review of some 5,700 items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule. This will ensure that the subsidised medical services provided are based on the best evidence and are appropriate to today's patients. The government has reached agreement with all states and territories on funding for public hospitals and will continue to work together with states and territories to improve quality and safety and to better coordinate the care of patients with chronic and complex conditions.
Our higher education system is very generous by world standards. It is estimated that unrecoverable student loans will exceed more than $11 billion by 2018. Modelling from the Grattan Institute suggests that the total value of student debt will almost double from $33.8 billion in 2014 to $63.6 billion in 2018, with the government estimating that only $52 billion will be repaid. Reforms should be implemented to ensure that students are provided with appropriate career counselling to promote courses which are relevant to workforce demand and for which there are realistic employment prospects on graduation. Contractual conditions should include satisfactory pass marks, completion of the course and repayment if employed overseas.
The provision of more local employment opportunities continues to be a major priority within my electorate, with up to 75 per cent of residents commuting long distances to work daily. The federal government provided $209 million of infrastructure funding towards the extension of the Mitchell Freeway and Neerabup Road. Construction is nearing completion and will accelerate development of the Neerabup industrial area, which is forecast to create 20,000 new jobs. There are also a number of economic development projects in progress across the city of Joondalup, including the construction of landmark office buildings, commercial premises and medium-density residential developments in central Joondalup. The Western Australia state government has recently announced a funding commitment of $105 million towards the redevelopment of the Ocean Reef Marina, which will see 55 hectares of prime coastal land transformed into a residential, retail, hospitality and tourism precinct, generating over $800 million in private sector investment. The Smart Cities Plan will play a role in coordinating investment, planning and reform across three levels of government, with the aim of delivering better outcomes.
At the core of our master-planned regional city is the Joondalup Learning Precinct, which includes Edith Cowan University, the North Metropolitan TAFE, the police academy and a number of vocational education and training organisations. I am committed to supporting the expansion of these tertiary educational institutions as they play an important role in research and development and producing the skilled workforce of the future.
The National Innovation and Science Agenda will drive investment of innovative business, assisting in the transition from mining to services, exports, information and technology. There has been a renewed focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In terms of the Digital Transformation Agenda, as of February 2017 more than 1.9 million homes and businesses have an active connection to the National Broadband Network, with more than 4 million premises across our nation able to connect to a service. In order to promote technology and the digital economy, the local city of Joondalup has developed a Digital City Strategy. The government has committed to investing in Australia's critical research infrastructure with reforms to research funding to promote a more collaborative approach between researchers and businesses and to achieve commercialisation of intellectual property.
I pay tribute to the vision and entrepreneurial leadership at Edith Cowan University by Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Chapman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Strategy Partnerships Professor Cobie Rudd, and the Director of the Office of Research and Innovation Professor Margaret Jones. The attraction of international students to study at Edith Cowan University's Joondalup campus is testament to the National Strategy For International Education which builds on the success of Australia's $19 billion international education sector.
Joondalup Health Campus is a major hospital which is located in the Moore electorate but which services patients from three neighbouring federal electorates, including Pearce and Cowan. Joondalup Health Campus recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of its being operated under a public-private model by Ramsay Health Care. I wish to acknowledge the dedicated team of staff, led by CEO Kempton Cowan, for its contribution to delivering a very high standard of health care to our community. The facility is located in one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia, with a 60 per cent increase in population projected over the next 20 years, so there exists a significant need for increased capacity through an expansion of the facility to ensure that our hospital is able to meet the healthcare needs of the community. A master plan has been developed providing a blueprint for a $375 million future expansion leading to 2026. The Western Australia state government has recently announced a funding commitment of $140 million to deliver the first phase of this expansion.
In the current era, which has seen the emergence of terrorist attacks both abroad and on home soil, counterterrorism must be at the forefront of the government's national security agenda. I fully support the proposed Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill, with control orders to be issued against young offenders. I also fully support a nationally consistent post-sentence preventive scheme, with appropriate protections against high-risk terrorist offenders, and the implementation of a cybersecurity strategy, which is a core element of the government's national security framework.
In a volatile region characterised by territorial disputes and the militarisation of many nations in our region, it is important that Australia's sovereign defence capability is maintained and that our nation develops a globally competitive defence industry. I welcome the implementation of a $195 billion investment in defence capability over the next decade.
Export growth attracting investment and boosting economic and domestic competitiveness is a key strategy for increasing the living standard of Australians. This will be achieved through expanding our overseas diplomatic presence through the construction of new embassies and through new free trade agreements, which will increase market access for Australian business in foreign markets. In the future we look forward to greater regional economic integration through finalising a comprehensive trade agreement with Indonesia, forming a regional comprehensive economic partnership with our largest regional partners and forming new trade agreements with Pacific island countries.
Although I represent an urban electorate, I am always cognisant of the fact that rural and regional Australia is where a substantial share of Australia's economic wealth is created. I have great respect for our rural representatives and the issues that they work tirelessly to resolve. The almost eight million Australians living in rural, regional and remote communities are responsible for generating approximately 67 per cent of Australia's export earnings. There remains huge untapped growth potential in outback Australia. Through the $200 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package the government is helping boost employment by providing support for investment in and diversification of rural economies, new business start-ups and innovation. The Building Better Regions Fund is designed to support rural, regional and remote projects such as improving digital connectivity, fixing mobile phone blackspots and building critical road, rail and marine infrastructure. Similarly, the Agricultural competitiveness white paper will strengthen farming and agribusiness through research and development, new infrastructure and access to water supplies to promote enduring, sustainable agricultural production which will yield economic benefits.
I strongly support the traditional family unit as the foundation of our society and the existing definition of marriage. Since the dawn of human civilisation the concept of marriage has evolved over thousands of years in societies around the world to what is universally considered the social norm—that is, marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of others centred around a family unit. This anthropological social arrangement existed long before religion evolved, and certainly before the concept of parliament or the legislation with which to define it. Prehistoric humans organised themselves into social units, and this basic cohabitation relationship evolved as civilisation progressed. Today, traditional marriage and the family unit are almost universal across the world in societies across geography, race and culture, stretching from Europe to Asia, the American continent and Africa. Marriage predominantly exists between a man and a woman. Exceptions exist in traditional tribal cultures where polygamy and communal living are practised; nevertheless, in most nations traditional marriage dominates as the norm. Traditional marriage is not perfect; there are many issues with family breakdown, divorce and dysfunction. However, it is the best social institution we currently have.
The journey towards advancing reconciliation and promoting multiculturalism will continue during this term of parliament. As an Australian of Eurasian heritage—of both European and Asian ancestry—I look forward to advancing this process in a balanced way. My observation is that the role of Western civilisation in shaping the economic prosperity, governance and culture of Australian society must equally be recognised and celebrated. The early British settlement of our country is equally important as our Indigenous heritage and the subsequent influence of generations of migrants from across the world, who have all contributed to and shaped modern Australia into the great Commonwealth it is today.
Conflicting multiculturalism is an awkward topic that politically correct society seeks to avoid, as characterised by the current debate and parliamentary inquiry surrounding section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. What happens when cultures collide? Which culture or legal system prevails? Will one be criticised for intervening on the basis of being prejudiced? There are many cultural conflicts in a multicultural society which are often left unresolved. For instance, different cultures have different views on issues such as the equality of women, attitudes to work, what is acceptable social conduct. What happens when new cultures conflict with long-held Australian social norms? As a nation we have struggled with this dilemma and have been reluctant to publicly debate and resolve cultural conflicts. There has been a clash of cultures in existence for some time in certain communities across Australia, and these matters have not been adequately resolved due to a politically correct regime that is reluctant to offend. It is a reality that we cannot be all things to all people, yet we can select from the best in the world and adapt.
I subscribe to a selective approach to multiculturalism in Australian society which contends that we should be selective and only adopt those aspects of multiculturalism which are synergistic or complementary, and that Australian culture should prevail where foreign cultures are inconsistent with long-established social norms. Where there is a clash of cultures, a conflict of ideals, then I advocate adherence to the prevailing Western culture in Australian society in terms of conforming to social norms, maintaining the Protestant work ethic, being diligent, embracing scientific methods and being respectful, which are the things that make our society strong. There is no room in Australian society for divided loyalties or separate legal systems. To be truly Australian is to embody a fusion of cultures. In His Excellency's closing remarks to members and senators, he said:
Though you come from, and represent, many different viewpoints, I urge you to work together to provide Australia with economic security, national security and strong and sustainable support for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society.
With these remarks in mind, I look forward to forming cooperative and constructive working relationships with my fellow members and senators in the 45th Parliament for the advancement of all Australians.
I rise on the 21st anniversary of my election to the parliament, which happened to be on my birthday as well, way back in 1996. So in terms of the issue before us today, the address-in-reply, this is the eighth opportunity I have had as the member for Grayndler to speak on it. It is a great honour to serve in the House of Representatives, and it is one that I certainly do not take for granted.
Indeed, I had a big decision to make after the electoral redistribution, because the draft boundaries placed my home, as well as my electorate office, in the electorate of Barton. After the final boundaries came out, though, my electorate office was put back into Grayndler. But my home remained just outside the boundary, which became the railway line rather than the Cooks River. Hence, I became a resident of the Barton electorate rather than of Grayndler.
I chose, however, to run for Grayndler because overwhelmingly that is the community that I have represented. I have only lived in three suburbs in my life—Camperdown, Newtown and Marrickville. They are all in the inner west and Grayndler is primarily the inner west electorate.
The other advantage for me contesting Grayndler rather than Barton is that it enabled Linda Burney to be the candidate for Barton and to become the first Indigenous woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. That was a great thing for this parliament and I have no doubt that Linda Burney will be an outstanding representative. She rose in the New South Wales parliament to be the deputy leader of the Labor Party, as well as a senior minister. And she was the first Indigenous person elected to Australia's first parliament, the New South Wales parliament.
It is a very good thing indeed that this parliament has not just Linda Burney but also of course Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Senator Pat Dodson as representatives from the Labor Party. And it is a very good thing indeed that Ken Wyatt has become the first Aboriginal person to be a minister in an Australian government. That is a good thing for the nation and I certainly wish him well. And we also have Jackie Lambie in the Senate, so there is considerable Indigenous representation in this parliament.
We need to do much better with female representation. This parliament should reflect the nation if it is truly to be representative. I think that bringing in people from different backgrounds to reflect the multicultural, modern nation that is Australia would be a very good thing.
One of my key opponents in the electorate of Grayndler was not a member of the Liberal Party but was a Greens political party opponent. That was the way that campaign was fought out on the ground. In Grayndler and in many similar seats around the nation—like Batman, Sydney and Melbourne—there has been a considerable change in the composition of the population. Many of the newer residents are from generations that have been uplifted by the former Labor governments that opened up our nation's universities, giving the children of working-class families the opportunity to access qualifications and well-paid work. These people are politically savvy and they are very much engaged. My community is a very political community. It has quite large meetings about issues, and the election campaign was no different.
The relative financial security of many of these residents means that they will make judgements on their political allegiances based upon the values and convictions that they hold rather than upon their immediate personal economic concerns. In short, they do not need the state to take any particular action in order to improve their personal economic circumstances. That presents a challenge to political candidates, because certainly they are not self-interested but they are engaged in what is in the national interest. During the election campaign I put forward what was very much my vision for the national interest—about health, about education, about public transport—and I regard the success that I had in that election as being because I communicated and engaged with my electorate on the issues of concern to them. These are people who know that Medicare is critical for those who need health care. They know that we must invest in good schools to extend opportunity to all Australians regardless of their background. They accept that when we are the beneficiaries of opportunities at the hand of government we must stand firmly against any move to reduce opportunity for others. Above all, my constituents understand that the best way to achieve genuine progress is to support a political party that aspires to govern. That is one of the big distinctions between the Labor Party—and the coalition parties for that matter—and minor political parties. We seek to make decisions around a cabinet table, not to protest after decisions are made.
My opponent in Grayndler from the Greens political party made this clear in a video that the Greens party posted, where he argued that he would rather have people protesting on the streets about Indigenous issues, climate change—a range of issues—with Tony Abbott as the Prime Minister than have no-one protesting, with Bill Shorten as the Prime Minister. Essentially, he advocated that it was somehow in the interests of progressives for Tony Abbott to be the Prime Minister. This statement, of course, was made whilst Tony Abbott was in the prime ministership, before he was replaced in a coup by Malcolm Turnbull.
It seems to me that one of the big distinctions amongst progressives is between those people who want to improve the lives of others—and that is what drives me: making a difference to people's educational opportunities, making a difference to their living standards, making a difference to the environment in which they live—and others for whom the protest is the end in itself. I think that is one of the problems with the elements that control the New South Wales Greens political party: for them, the protest is the end in itself, not an outcome. That is why they have been rejected—not just by me, it must be said, but by people like former senator Bob Brown, who has rejected the political ideology of the leadership of the New South Wales Greens.
The 2016 election, of course, was one in which infrastructure policy played a role. In terms of infrastructure, we worked in the context of Australia moving from the investment to the production phase in the resources sector and a considerable drop-off in infrastructure investment. We saw a 20 per cent decline in public sector investment in infrastructure in the first two years of the coalition government.
That primarily came about because of the ideological position of Tony Abbott, outlined in his book Battlelines, that somehow there was no role for the Commonwealth in urban policy and particularly no role in investing in public transport. He argues in the book that in a car man is king and that the private motor car is the focus of a sense of individualism, and somehow public transport is a form of collectivism that brings people together and therefore it should be opposed and the Commonwealth should never invest in public transport. In this, to be fair—unlike the cuts to health, education, pensions, the ABC and SBS that took place—he did foreshadow it prior to the election. He certainly did that with the cuts to the Cross River Rail funding, to the Melbourne Metro project, to public transport in Perth and to the Gawler line electrification in South Australia that were in the budget.
This ripping out of all public transport funding was done, of course, without replacing it, because the projects that were chosen were not projects that stacked up: projects like the controversial Perth Freight Link, which still has not commenced and will be rejected, I believe, by the people of Western Australia on 11 March, and the East West Link in Melbourne, which had a benefit of 45c for every dollar of investment, a dreadful return, and which simply did not stack up and therefore has not proceeded. So we saw, as a result of that, a decline in public investment.
During the election campaign, we offered transformative funding for public transport projects like the Metro, Cross River Rail, AdeLINK, the Perth Metronet, the Western Sydney rail line—including through Badgerys Creek airport—and a new bus mall in Hobart. These are the sorts of projects that we need to engage in and build if we are going to avoid what Infrastructure Australia has identified as $53 billion of costs by the year 2031.
We also had plans to deal with freight. We found out from Senate estimates just this week that, for the Inland Rail line, the government have not yet identified what their preferred corridor is, they have not purchased any land, and they have not dug a hole or laid a sleeper on that project. It was a project that the coalition promised would be under construction last year, by 2016. We promised to proceed with the Inland Rail, but we also supported important projects like the Port Botany freight line. At the moment, between Mascot and the port you have one track that, of course, is two-way, so if freight is going in it cannot go out. It has been duplicated all the way up to Mascot. A lot of infrastructure development and productivity could be gained in that last mile, whether it be road or rail. An investment of just over $200 million could fix that, and could fix the issue around Moorebank by creating a loop to separate the lines there. That would have an enormous productivity benefit, yet this government just does not seem interested in investing in it.
During the election campaign we saw from the government total commitments of $850 million to 78 small road projects around the nation, most of which could best be characterised as local or at best state government projects. There was not a single major national infrastructure commitment during the election campaign. That is the first time in the eight election campaigns that I have contested where one side of politics has not proposed a single major infrastructure project. It was quite extraordinary. Instead, we had projects like the $1 million allocated for a road at Gresford in the upper Hunter Valley that is used for a billy cart race. That is not nation-building; that should not be the priority for major infrastructure and national government. I am sure it is a very good race and I am sure it is a lot of fun, but there is nothing fun about congestion in our cities. The government has to deal with that. The government cannot continue to go around and pretend that projects like the Great Eastern Highway and Gateway WA—projects that were funded by the former Labor government—were something that just appeared when government changed in 2013. The government has to get on with major infrastructure development. It was told that again last Friday by the Reserve Bank governor, Philip Lowe, who said very clearly what was required.
During the campaign we also committed to major road projects like the M80 ring road; the Queensland Gateway and Pacific highway merge just north of the Gold Coast, between the Gold Coast in Brisbane; and the Wanneroo and Roe highway overpasses in Perth. We promised also to create the authority for a high-speed rail line. That is the sort of vision that we need in this country. Every other continent on the planet is seeing high-speed rail rolled out. When we have such a concentration of our population as we have down the east coast, between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney, it is a doable achievement to have high-speed rail along that route. We need to get on with the planning and with the reservation of the corridor to make sure that that can happen.
What we have seen under this government is a decline. Under the former government we lifted per capita infrastructure investment from $132 per Australian to $225. When Labor took office we were 20th on a list of OECD countries for infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP. When we left office Australia was first. Australia is no longer first, sadly, because this government does not have an agenda for infrastructure and does not have an agenda for growth and jobs. It has a slogan; it does not have any substance behind it.
I thank the member for Grayndler for that enlightening contribution. Can I also, on behalf of the House, wish you a very heartfelt 'Happy birthday!' on this celebratory day. It is no mean feat to celebrate the time in parliament that you have on this anniversary date. Allow me on behalf of the parliament to offer my congratulations to you.
It is always a great privilege to rise in this House to respond to His Excellency, the Governor-General's address. This is my fourth response to the Governor-General's address and my fourth parliament to represent the great constituents of the Gold Coast. Let me put on record my great thanks to the team that came out to ensure that the Liberal-National Party retained the seat of Fadden in some pretty tough conditions. Hundreds of volunteers were out there selling a message of hope and optimism of growth and jobs. I am very proud to be a member of a political party, a movement, that works with community volunteers. We do not have the large bulk of union members that roll out on command. We have everyday Australians, donating their time, money and resources to deliver good outcomes for communities.
I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on how the Gold Coast has changed over the 10 years that I have been representing the north. Over that time, I have been very proud to fight for the community I love. I do not live on the Gold Cost because my families have lived there for generations. Very few families have lived on the Gold Coast for generations. In fact, in the 1954 census only 19,000 people lived on the Gold Coast—a city of now 600,000. It is one of the most extraordinary urban growth stories in the country. I chose to live on the coast over two decades ago, after I finished soldiering.
Like many Gold Coasters, we are looking forward to hosting the Commonwealth Games next year, as the world's eyes turn to our fabulous part of the world. There is no better opportunity for us to showcase the great part of the world we live in than next year's games to a billion viewers. I welcome the affordable ticket pricing announcements that have occurred, and I am looking forward to volunteers across the Gold Coast for being involved. The federal government has stepped up. We have put in $147 million in cold, hard taxpayers' cash to assist with putting on the games. There has been some very serious financial lifting by this federal government. The real value, of course, of this investment is through the local infrastructure that will be about legacy post games—facilities like the Coomera Indoor Sports Centre and the Goal Coast Hockey Centre. It is important to have a central hub for the games, but these new infrastructures, which will allow various sports to be played right around the Gold Coast, will have a tremendous legacy impact on our city.
For my area, it is important in catering for the new growth. New residents are coming to the Gold Coast in droves—and, frankly, why wouldn't they? Why sit in the congestion of cities, especially large cities down south, when you can come and hang out in, literally, nirvana? The Gold Coast is growing strongly, especially up in the north. Only 45 minutes from Brisbane and 30 minutes from the centre of the Gold Coast is affordable housing. There is impressive education facilities. Up in Coomera, there are 13,000 residents, and we are seeking this number to grow to 20,000 in the next five years and to an incredible 60,000 in the next 20 years. So this is world-class infrastructure is delivering for these communities.
We have funded the second stage of the light rail—a negotiation I did personally with Deputy Premier Jackie Trad. In fact, $95 million of Commonwealth money has gone into the second stage of the light rail. That second stage is entirely within my electorate; hence, my great interest in fighting for that electric community rail. It connects the Gold Coast community hospital to the Helensvale heavy rail link and, of course, Westfield. The $95 million from the federal government sealed it. It is what got the project going, and I certainly thank Jackie Trad for her very honest negotiation, as well as the mayor, Tom Tate. The route that goes from the heavy rail link through to the Gold Coast Hospital is the most expeditious route. There are always other areas of the coast where people want it to go, and of course I will be fighting very strongly for a spur of the light rail to go through to Harbour Town.
Since the light rail began in 2014, there has been an increase in overall public patronage of more than 25 per cent. Punctuality and reliability is 99.95 per cent. It is no surprise that there have been millions and millions of passenger trips. Having stage 2 to connect to Helensvale creates a passenger hub, with the incentive to use public transport. The Gold Coast is perfect for public transport—some 80 kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide and flat. There is no point in building infrastructure that does not fit in with where the public wants it to go. So I have every confidence that stage 2 will fit in perfectly and that patronage will soar.
Transport infrastructure is vital to ensuring our region maintains its lifestyle. It is why the federal government partnered with the Queensland government and Westfield to ensure that exit 54 was upgraded. This will allow the Coomera town centre development to proceed, it will give easy access to Dreamworld and it will cut down the time parents have to spend on the school run to at least six schools that hang off Foxwell Road. I have been watching progress carefully and I am looking forward to seeing the project completed soon.
On a similar scale we have seen $1.9 million in Black Spot Program funding. It is great to see simple community projects, like the roundabout at Turpin Road and Robert Street, being finalised. There is a quarter of a million dollars for the Gold Coast city council for safer seat programs and, of course, we are the movie-making centre of the nation. We have put in almost $30 million in a location offset to see Thor: Ragnarok filmed up on the Gold Coast. It was great to get down there and connect with Chris Hemsworth and Cate Blanchett and see what that film is doing. That is a $200 million direct injection into the community. When a film company is spending $100,000 every week in your local Bunnings this is a good outcome for the community! So we are a huge supporter of producing locally-made films, in this case in partnership with Village Roadshow Studios, and it is an impressive return on our nation's investment.
Last year, we saw Pirates of the Caribbean, and it was great to take Malcolm down to show him around the sets. Dead Men Tell No Tales was filmed on the Gold Coast, and so were San Andreas and Unbreakable. It is my hope that Disney will remember their great and positive experiences from these blockbusters in Australia and will make it a regular occurrence.
It was also a great moment a few months ago to stand with the Treasurer and commit a further $30 million-plus to see Aquaman, a film with a $300 million spend, filmed on the Gold Coast and ensuring employment for the over 1,000 people involved and, of course, looking forward to that direct local spend. If I were Bunnings, I would be stocking up!
We have also seen a whole range of local infrastructure: new memorials at local schools funded through the Centenary of Anzac grants, and of course $300,000 directly into the local community through the Stronger Communities Program. There was $5,000 for the Labrador Community Garden, to get solar panels to make the garden sustainable as well as self-sufficient for water. The Pacific Pines Football Club got $5,000 for portable aluminium soccer goals that make a huge difference, especially when mums have to drag these damn things from where the main facility is out onto the ovals.
The Labrador C&K Kindergarten got $18,181 for an extension and office construction to blend in with the building's heritage there on the Broadwater. There was $5,000 for the Runaway Bay Soccer Club to upgrade their kitchen, including a new oven, fridges, a fryer and a coffee machine. This is a soccer club run by an immigrant family who have busted their guts to get this thing profitable and up and running. It is just superb.
Helensvale Hornets Junior Rugby League Football Club got $5,617 for a digital scoreboard and the Runaway Bay Junior Rugby League Football Club got $6,000 to upgrade their canteen. Again, fabulously run by immigrant and local families who are getting involved.
We got $18,180 for Headway Gold Coast to purchase a specially-designed SportsArt elliptical machine to allow those with a disability, such as brain injury, to be able to work the needs of their body and to develop their muscles and heart capacity. There was $6,648 for the Seachange Homeowners Association for a community garden for older Australians. There was over $9,600 for Montrose Therapy and Respite Services to create an outdoor living space for their respite centre in Labrador. There was $8,000 for a new clubhouse to help out the Ormeau Cricket Club and, of course, a range of other projects, including the Green Army.
I am looking forward to the establishment of the Coomera town centre. We will need a Centrelink established there. Currently, the only Centrelink is right opposite my office in Labrador and the next one is at Beenleigh. The fastest-growing area is in the middle and I think a new Centrelink establishment is needed there.
I will also work hard to ensure that smooth immigration and other services are provided to assist the Commonwealth Games—in particular safety around the Commonwealth Games. I am also making the case very strongly to have our own immigration port service on the Gold Coast to service the luxury superyacht industry. They are coming more and more via Tahiti then through Fiji and into Australia. The spend from superyachts is extraordinary, so getting a clearance facility through immigration and Customs on the Gold Coast is important. Potentially, this could be combined with any planned offshore cruise ship terminal once the council has finished all its community consultations and done the master planning work that it has announced with the state government, all of which makes tremendous sense.
The future for the Gold Coast is great. It is an amazing city. It is a growing city. With the Commonwealth Games hitting next year, it is a fabulous place to live, work and raise a family. I am very proud to represent it. It is great to be here for my fourth term, and I am looking forward to continuing to work with my colleagues from both sides to deliver great outcomes for the nation.
It is an absolute pleasure, it is humbling and it is an absolute privilege to be returned as the member for Lalor for my second term in this place. My electorate is on the front lines of the opportunities and challenges that our great country faces at this critical point in history. As an electorate, our median age is 32. Forty-nine per cent of the residents are paying off their mortgage. Thirty-six per cent of the people who live in the electorate of Lalor were born overseas. It is a young, diverse, aspirational community that needs its government to remove the barriers that stop people from realising their potential. I am proudly from a community made up of people that cannot afford to have their government believe that a person's opportunities should be determined by the lottery of their birth.
My community has the best of everything. It is a city. It has coast and country. It was once known as the country suburb. It began life as a small town, and in my lifetime it has grown to a thriving city of over 200,000 people. You could meet a stranger in the street, and there is a strong chance that either you are related or you are very close to someone they know. Now I go to the shopping centre, to a sporting ground to watch a football game, or to the rec centre or Eagle Stadium on a Saturday morning to watch the netball, and I often stand and am stunned by how much we have grown and by the diversity that has been drawn together in our very special part of the world.
I am glad to have been returned to this place as part of a Labor team and to welcome so many new Labor colleagues. I look to the member for Bruce, who has joined us in this term. I know that, when I talk to the other members on our side of the chamber about my electorate, they are all ears. They are open to listening. They are open to hearing about the people who live in my electorate, what their concerns are and what their needs are.
Like many residents of my electorate, I am outraged at the direction this government is heading in. The leadership of Malcolm Turnbull has been a disaster. Our Prime Minister is seriously letting down the people in my community. When the Prime Minister first came to power, many Australians, including some in my electorate, assumed that it meant a change in direction, an optimistic reboot of this failed conservative government at a time that demanded a decisive leader. The reality has been an incredible disappointment, and the emboldened right wing of the Liberal Party have put pressure on this Prime Minister and his increasingly diminished group of moderates, who seem unable to abandon their principles quickly enough.
They went to an election on a three-word slogan, 'jobs and growth', two of the most important things in my electorate. That is what they went to an election with. We went to an election with 100 positive policies, carefully crafted around the needs of people across this nation. And what have we seen since they have come into government? Anyone paying attention to politics in this country can tell that something has changed. Debates used to be about the best way to support Australians; now we are spending time arguing about issues settled years ago: climate change and whether or not we should support a multicultural Australia.
We need leadership right now, and this government is offering my community none. We have gone from the initial term of this government, with Joe Hockey starting off talking about lifters and leaners. Then we had the current Treasurer talking about the taxed and the taxed-nots. And who can forget Tony Abbott's mythical 'Team Australia— either you're on it or you're out of it'? In the world inhabited by members of the coalition, there exists a group of Australians—a mythical group of straw men they create for political gain and blame for all their failed policies.
Today, we are in a world where company profits are soaring and the government want to give large companies a $50 billion tax cut. Conversely, we have wages growth at record lows and this government are cutting take-home pay packets. This is going to hurt people in my electorate. It is like a war being waged on low-income earners, a war being waged on families trying to pay their mortgages. This government still have, clearly, the same set of priorities that they had under the former Prime Minister, and they are continuing down this negative line for this country, and the impacts on my electorate are felt sorely. We have seen it this week with the return of the 2014 budget omnibus bill. The government have reintroduced the remainder of their cruel cuts from the 2014 budget: cuts to family tax benefits, cuts to paid parental leave, the scrapping of the energy supplement. This is a $1 billion cut to pensioners, people with disability, carers and Newstart recipients. They have introduced a five-week wait for Newstart for young people. The many, many young people in my community looking for work really cannot afford that. There are further cuts affecting young people, with a transfer from Newstart to youth allowance that means a cut of around $48 a week—that is, $2,500 a year—which that means they will struggle to pay their rent. The implications throughout our local economy are plain for the world to see.
The government have done all this from a position where they claim to be good economic managers. They talked a lot about a budget emergency when they first came to office. In December 2013 their figures in the MYEFO had the deficit at $17.7 billion. The deficit in May 2016 was $37 billion. These good economic managers are talking about a budget emergency and doing nothing to deliver a positive outcome in that area.
I want to spend some time talking about what I believe the electorate of Lalor needs. It is a growth corridor. We have already seen it grow to a city of over 200,000, with no line of sight on when that will slow. This week the state government announced more housing will be coming to our area. We are accustomed to this work. We have a council that works tirelessly to ensure that we have the infrastructure that we need for this growing community: that we have community centres, that we have sporting fields, that we have the roads, the buses and the things that we need to make life productive for the people in my community.
It was a shock to hear that this government had cut this community, this city, out of the National Stronger Regions Fund in this round. This is a community that needs infrastructure desperately and cannot simply rely on local government and state government to deliver. This community is doing the heavy lifting in community development, the heavy lifting in creating harmonious communities, the heavy lifting in the housing sector. We need all the support we can get. Congestion is a major issue. We are spending hours a day in our cars. The people of Wyndham are what the shadow minister for infrastructure calls the 'drive-in, drive-out' community. They are travelling miles to go to work and they are often stuck in traffic for up to two hours one way. This is not good enough. The previous Labor government saw this issue and responded with the Regional Rail Link, the biggest rail infrastructure spend ever. It has made a difference, but this is a growth corridor; local and state government alone cannot keep up with the demands that are happening here. When the Tarneit and Wyndham Vale stations on the Regional Rail Link opened there were celebrations. Now the Tarneit station has the second highest number of passengers in Victoria, and it has only been open a short time. We need those new stations and we need them now.
When I was first elected, our Werribee South farmers came to see me about their irrigation issues. We have irrigation channels that are outdated, that are cracked, that are losing up to 40 per cent of the fresh flow water that is coming down that line. I went to work with those farmers to call attention to their needs and to ensure that they were getting the kind of support that they needed, and the state government immediately heard that call and made an $11 million announcement to upgrade that irrigation. We now need this federal government, the Deputy Prime Minister, to make a commitment of another $11 million to ensure our farmers get the infrastructure that they need into the future, so that they can continue to grow fresh vegetables and so that their business models are not undermined by failing infrastructure.
One of the other issues for my electorate—an acute issue in the electorate—is the casualisation of the workforce, the use of third-party labour hire companies in our local workforce. The impact that is having on families is devastating. People are sitting up till midnight to see if they are going to get a text message to say they have a shift in the morning. These are families who are trying to pay mortgages, trying to get kids to school. The uncertainty that has been created in this space needs careful, considered but urgent work, and this government needs to roll up its sleeves and get to work in this area. To think that this week we have had the penalty rate announcement from Fair Work Australia and that the Prime Minister has backed it in! This is a Prime Minister who thinks that a cut to people's penalty rates is an okay thing to deliver in my community. There are people who are now getting their calculators out, who are sitting around kitchen tables looking at their family budgets and wondering how they are going to meet that next mortgage payment.
I know this firsthand. As a brand new mum many, many years ago now—and I will say that again: many, many years ago now—my contribution while I took leave from teaching to have my three children was to work on Sundays at K-Mart, packing the shelves. That was my contribution to the family budget across that four-year period. I look back now and think: how would I feel if I woke up today to find that I could be getting a pay cut on that? The uncertainty that this government is creating for families in my electorate is very, very unfair.
We need support for our small businesses. We have thriving small businesses. We have a lot of people moving into the area. There are a lot of people for whom Wyndham is the first stop as they come in from overseas and they are starting small businesses. They need support around how they can grow those businesses, to reduce that 50 per cent fail rate. Not just do they need financial support; they need support in collaborating with one another to grow their businesses to medium-sized businesses and create employment for people living in our community.
I would bring to the House's attention a group in my electorate called BizBuddyHub. Their theme is 'live local, work local, shop local'. They are a collection of people running microbusinesses who together are planning this kind of collaboration. They have had meetings with me and meetings with state members. Ed Husic has been down to visit them. They are an exciting group. They have some really good ideas. Innovation is not all about IT; innovation can be about how those businesses work together to support one another to grow their businesses. This group of people are committed to that and are doing some fabulous work. They could certainly do with support from local, state and federal governments.
The other important work that is happening in my electorate is in organisations where government and business do not interact: the community organisations. Our fabulous community legal centre, WEstjustice, have a long history in the western suburbs of Melbourne and they do incredible work on the ground. This is yet another space where this government has cut funding that allows them to do important work—work in supporting people who are having tenancy issues, supporting people with toll fine issues, supporting people with domestic violence issues, and supporting people who are homeless. The work that they do in terms of advocacy and submission writing supports governments at all levels. They are there doing the hard work, the grind work and the research pulling together those submissions. They need support not just for case management but also to ensure that when we are looking at changes to legislation, whether it be at state or federal level, we have fine minds at the grassroots who can tell us about the impacts of our legislation and what might need to change to alleviate some of the heavy issues that face members in the community. We have fantastic people in the community sector working around homelessness and critical relief. There are terrific grassroots organisations that again have had their legs cut out from underneath them with the uncertainty that is being delivered by this government.
Housing affordability is a very important issue in my electorate. We are the affordable growth corridor. It is what attracts people to come to live in Wyndham. It is why we are so busy doing the community building that we are doing. We went to the last election with a negative gearing plan that was going to protect existing investors and make it easier for young people to get into the housing market. Nowhere is that more important than in the city of Wyndham and in the electorate of Lalor. Nowhere would that policy we took to the election have more impact. It would stimulate the housing industry locally because of course the negative gearing would still stay with new housing under our policy. It was an important policy and I would urge this government to look carefully at that as they prepare for this budget. Look carefully at negative gearing and at what changes there might deliver for an electorate like mine.
One of the first things I did when I was elected almost three years ago was to hold a homelessness forum. It was a problem back then but now it is a crisis. ABC's Lateline shone a light on some of those sleeping rough in my electorate. There are too many of these people under this government. Senator Doug Cameron, the shadow minister for housing and homelessness, visited the electorate since the election to hear directly from people who had fallen into this space and to listen to their caseworkers from across the sector. The sector in my community works really well to support people and to do their case management across various organisations. They came together. What struck me was how difficult it was listening to these people about how quickly you could fall into poverty and how difficult it is to climb out once you are there.
Every time we talk in this place about a cut to the vulnerable or a change to the social welfare net in this country I am taken back to those meetings with those people. I understand clearly how difficult some of the changes brought in by this government are making things for people in my electorate. I go back in my mind to those people who had become homeless. I go back in my mind particularly to a woman I met at Little River Primary School, where the out of school hours care was going to be cut in my first term. I go back to the conversation I had with her. She was a single mother who had re-engaged with education. Her children were at primary school and she had returned to university to get herself a degree to make sure that she was going to provide for her family and to live that Australian dream. Her kids were in out of school hours care. She had been hit from all directions and she had had her feet cut out from under her. She was going to have to pay for out of school hours care. She had lost an allowance that was allowing her to engage at university and upskill herself to provide for her family. Often in this place when we are debating those attacks on the vulnerable these are the people I go to. There are images in my mind of that young mum and her kids at Little River Primary School saying to me: 'I don't understand, Joanne. I don't understand why they would want to target me.'
These are incredibly important issues. I have not spent any time today talking about education, which is a rarity, as everyone in the chamber will acknowledge. Deputy Speaker, in the last 47 seconds I will say: if you want to know what I think about education you can read most speeches that I have made in this place since I came here. With 47 seconds left to go, I will say: the schools in my electorate do incredibly powerful work. They need the support, not just the funding. They need everything directed towards outcomes for our kids to make sure that, in this growing community, our children are given the best opportunity they can have.
I met with young people from my community who are studying at the University of Melbourne or RMIT. I know what they need, because they tell me what they need. They need teachers that care and they need leadership in schools that is focused on continual improvement of those outcomes. It is a pleasure to be the member for Lalor. I look forward to the rest of the term.
This address-in-reply gives me the opportunity to reflect on real issues for real Australians. Let me first talk about our Defence Force and our troops in all three services. Our behalf of my constituents, I thank you. I am in awe of your contribution, your bravery and your courage. We expect so much from you, and you deliver in spades. I am burdened by our responsibility to you all, but particularly to those who have given their lives for our country, to those who have been injured and to those who still suffer today the pain and torment that comes with your careers. Our obligation to you is our ongoing care and support, whatever it takes.
In my maiden speech, I spoke about the rules of engagement. I said at the time:
If this nation fails to cloak our soldiers with the full protection of the law when they go into battle, we fail them all. The rules of engagement must be crystal clear and our support strong. If we put Australian troops into the heat of battle and expect them to take enormous risks on our behalf, we cannot expect them to be split-second lawyers as well.
Rules of engagement govern the actions of troops in battle. They must be clear and easily understood. Can I say that I am delighted to see the clarification of those rules brought down by the Turnbull government in recent times.
I am honoured to have Gallipoli Barracks, the home of the 7th Brigade, in my electorate and I am in constant communication with them. My father was a World War II fighter pilot in the Middle East then a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III. My great-grandfather was a former Minister for Defence and my son is a serving soldier. I have lived and understood the needs and worries of Defence families and I take the opportunity to thank them for their contribution, because a soldier's role is a role that falls, inevitably, on the shoulders of their loved ones as well. Our obligation is also to reach out to those families and to support them. They often bear the brunt of post-deployment issues, and we must stand with them in very difficult and traumatic times.
Our dependence upon our Defence Force is absolute in these challenging times. Our debt to them is immeasurable. Partisan politics do not, and can not, play a role in our response to their valour, their courage and their needs, and to those of their families. In this, we are one.
Across Australia, we are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges and, I might say, the benefits, of ageing. With baby boomers in their 60s and 70s, we are seeing a greater need for health and social interventions: needs that invariably place greater demands on our budgets, but an obligation that is our responsibility to those who preceded us. Importantly, we should acknowledge the enormous resource that older Australians provide. The 'on the scrap heap at 60' approach to ageing is, in today's world, simply wrongheaded. Older Australians can, and do, make an enormous contribution to our nation as they grow older. Born of years of experience, knowledge does not evaporate at 65, 70 or 75 years of age. Senior Australians remain an under-utilised resource and have a great role to play in our future. The balancing of youthful self-confidence and enthusiasm with sound practical experience is a key part of Australia's future. As longevity increases with better health and medical innovation, we must acknowledge that older Australians can continue to make an ongoing contribution to our future. Not all wisdom resides with the young, despite their protestations. I am honoured and humbled to stand in this parliament as a standard-bearer and constant supporter of older Australians. Their contribution is a continuing one, and their wisdom an essential part of modern Australia.
Given my past experience with cities and communications, I am pleased to see that we are making progress in dealing with mobile black spots in our cities. It is extraordinary that in this day and age there can be suburbs of a capital city without fixed phones and/or mobile communications, yet that has been the case in many parts of the Ryan electorate. After community consultation and representations, I am pleased that the coalition government has announced four new mobile phone towers to help combat black spots in the suburbs of Mount Crosby, Karana Downs, Upper Brookfield and Kholo. Announced as part of the $220 million Mobile Black Spot Program, communication tower infrastructure, like the proposed towers in Mount Crosby and Karana Downs, will provide major benefits to the communities previously plagued by poor mobile phone reception.
I want to place on record what an honour it is to be the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services. This is an area where we do come close to a bipartisan approach to policy development and implementation. Since being appointed to this role shortly before the last election, I have sought out stakeholders and state government ministers to ensure our common goals can be achieved. I have made a point of reaching out to those who have concerns and to hear firsthand their feedback. I am fortunate to be part of a government with a Prime Minister and a Minister for Social Services who are both absolutely committed to providing effective support for those with disability, and with an absolute commitment to fully funding the NDIS. This is an area where I and the government do not seek to score political points. The outcomes are too important for that. I have sought to deal with my colleagues in this parliament and in the states on a bipartisan basis. The issues with disabilities confront all legislators, and our objective must be to achieve, where possible, the hopes and dreams of those with disability through cooperation and goodwill. The disabled are entitled to see the best of politics, and we, as members of this place, are obligated to provide just that.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme, NDIS, presents a challenge for us all. Though it was formed with the best of intentions, we must manage capacity, expectations and funding. All three have to be addressed. We have faced difficulties recently and we have been open and transparent in our response. The minister committed additional resources so that these matters were resolved as soon as possible. The implementation and full rollout of the NDIS is underway. There will be ongoing challenges, not least in funding such a momentous scheme, but I am confident that we are on track and will deliver on behalf of those most in need. While the NDIS only applies to the 460,000 people with permanent and significant disability, we must continue to work with our state and territory colleagues to ensure that the other 4.2 million Australians living with disability also receive appropriate support and services.
Some six years ago I gave my maiden speech in the address-in-reply to the 2010 parliament. What a different place it was then! The minority Gillard government had just come to power and, with no majority in this place, it depended on the votes of two independents. Today in this parliament the Turnbull government holds a slim but clear majority. It has seven more seats than the Australian Labor Party, 42 per cent of the primary vote, compared to Labor's 35 per cent, and the government secured a majority of the two-party preferred vote. It is appropriate to note, without any sense of hubris, that on every test the coalition won the election and the Australian Labor Party lost. That is not to say that the majority is not slim. That is not to say that the Senate representation does not reflect the concerns of many Australian voters. As a government, we must respect those voters who did not support us, just as we respect those Australians who did support us. The hard facts are that the Australian people have voted. They have elected a coalition government with a mandate but they have also given us a Senate that requires crossbench support for most legislation. Those are the facts. Common sense dictates that negotiation with the crossbench is, and will remain, part of our political environment. As a government, we must work with the Senate that the voters have given us and, through that interaction, do the best we can for our nation. It is as simple and as difficult as that.
Importantly, however, the people of Australia have given us a mandate to deliver on the policies that we took to the election. The Leader of the Opposition does not publicly hold that view. He claims the right to be a wrecker in this place. We have seen the vile antics of the CFMEU in a video filmed by a victim. Let us not forget that this is the very union that owns the Leader of the Opposition. The interests of Australians are being washed down the drain simply because Mr Shorten is beholden to militant union bosses. His objective is to prevent good government, but prevent it he will not. His objective is to frustrate and prevent government from governing.
The tragedy is that the Leader of the Opposition is driven by a blind obsession with winning regardless of the cost to our nation and to his own integrity. His deliberate untruths about Medicare in the election campaign set a new benchmark in dishonesty. As we observe the Leader of the Opposition in this place, it becomes clear that he will say anything, regardless of the facts, in his politics of relentless negativity. His comments are often the direct opposite of what he has said in the past. One only needs to consider his flip-flop acrobatics when he says one thing yet does another. He refuses to let truth or any sense of integrity get in the way of his political objectives. Quite frankly, that saddens me. It saddens me because I thought he was better than that. It is all very well to rewrite history.
Opposition members interjecting—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is all very well to rewrite history, ignoring his own past actions, including his actions in the betrayal of some of Australia's lowest paid workers. Let me say this: the Australian people will see through his fictitious and fabricated politics, and he will be judged by what he has done.
The coalition is restoring integrity in this parliament. The coalition is getting our country back on track after the disappointment of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. The coalition is delivering on our commitment to jobs and growth. I am honoured to represent the people of Ryan in this place, honoured to serve as Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services, and proud to be an Australian.
I would not say it is a pleasure, but I appreciate the opportunity to be able to rise to speak on this particular motion, because it is an opportunity for me to speak about one of the greatest issues that I think face the modern world today, and that is inequality. We have seen very clearly in recent events across the world the kind of social unrest and division that inequality breeds. The election of Donald Trump to the American presidency is a prime illustration. In recent years, many Americans have watched in dismay as their jobs became more unstable, their wages stagnated, and the cost of living rapidly escalated with no apparent end in sight. At the same time, it did not escape their attention that the richest Americans were, all the while, getting richer, backed in by policies that entrenched privilege and advantage. Many Americans are legitimately outraged by this rank unfairness, and they are looking for someone to blame.
It is this vein of red-hot anger that Donald Trump successfully tapped into with his divisive policy platform, which effectively encouraged voters to distrust their fellow Americans. But the reality is that, unless Mr Trump does something meaningful to address the problem of inequality in America, the problem will simply continue to grow, because an economic system that does not deliver for the largest parts of a nation's population is a failed economic system indeed. If Trump is serious about tackling inequality, he is going to have to rewrite the rules yet again in a way that serves all of society, not just people like himself.
While we do not seem to have that extreme level of inequality in Australia that has caused such resentment and upheaval in the US, the reality is that inequality in Australia is now at a record 75-year high. That means that 2.5 million Australians live below the poverty line today, and hundreds of thousands of Australians are unemployed. The three richest Australians have more than the poorest one million Australians combined. A person in the top 20 per cent has 70 times as much wealth as a person in the bottom 20 per cent and, as ACOSS points out, we are trending in the wrong direction. The economic growth figures that were released yesterday are a case in point. While Australia recorded surprisingly strong quarterly growth of 1.1 per cent, it is important to recognise that this was not evenly distributed across our economy. The majority of the gains actually came from increased commodity prices and bumper company profits. Indeed, despite the headline rate, household disposable income only rose by a meagre 0.2 per cent.
This is mirrored by the ABS data that also came out this week, which showed that companies recorded a colossal 20.1 per cent surge in profits over the December quarter. Mining earnings were up 50 per cent; construction recorded a 35 per cent boost; and, staggeringly, the quarterly total was the largest on record at $77.8 billion, with gross profits up by 26.2 per cent on the same quarter a year earlier. But, regrettably, this prosperity is completely eluding working Australians. In fact, in the same time frame total employee salaries and wages fell by 0.5 per cent. That is right: massive growth is going on in the big corporate sector, but wages and salaries have fallen. While companies are clearly doing well, the experience of Australian families who are facing record low wages growth and record high household debt is very, very different.
While inequality in Australia has not reached the levels of the United States, these figures point to a very concerning trend that we cannot ignore. There are many lessons for Australia in the American experience, and many steps we need to take to avoid replicating it here. Firstly, we need to recognise and respect that people are rightfully angry at a system that entrenches this inequality. Secondly, we need to actually do something to address it. We need policies to drive inclusive growth for the benefit of all Australians. Sadly, those opposite seem intent on following the American model of cutting fundamental public services and spending taxpayers' money to reward the top one per cent at the expense of the vast, vast majority of citizens. As we have seen in the case of the US, this is a recipe for fear, hatred and division.
Australia prides itself on being an egalitarian nation; the notion of the fair go is indeed central to our national identity. However, in many parts of the country the reality is very different. There is an undeniable and a growing gap between those who have and those who have not. I see it in my own region, where there are pockets of disadvantage—Australians who do not see progress in their own lives. They hear this Prime Minister talk about what an exciting time it is for Australia, about jobs and growth, and they look at their own situation and ask: for who?
Excessive inequality is a problem for any society. It means that people have unequal ability to take part in the social and economic opportunities, and it undermines the cohesiveness of that society. Evidence shows that countries with low inequality tend to have faster and more lasting economic growth, and that countries with high inequality can experience high levels of violence, suicide, obesity, mental illness and imprisonment, and shorter life expectancy. Often this inequality is concentrated in societal groups which are already structurally marginalised. According to ACOSS, the people most likely to be found in the lowest income group include older people, sole parents and single people, people without paid work, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and women.
A major driver for me is this ongoing struggle for equality. I have spent much of my life fighting discrimination and inequality, wherever it emerges. That is very much how I view and analyse issues that come before this parliament. Everything we do in the 45th parliament should be viewed, in my opinion, through the lens of equality. The Australian Labor Party, my party, understands the importance of this issue. Our policy direction will always be guided by driving greater equality, making sure everyone has the opportunity to get ahead. We need strong, sustainable and inclusive growth, and good social policy is a necessary precondition for it. Unfortunately, we rarely see the same egalitarian emphasis from the Turnbull Liberal government. Their designs for improving equality are torn straight from the trickle-down economics playbook—cuts to vital services and tax breaks for the big end of town. That is the wrong approach; we know it is.
We know it does not work, and neither does standing by while up to 700,000 of the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers lose up to $77 a week. This is a massive blow for hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers who rely on Sunday penalty rates just to get by. The fact that the Turnbull government is refusing to stand up for these workers but is willing to fight for a tax cut for big business, multinationals and the banks shows how twisted its priorities really are. You do not grow the economy and lift people up through tax cuts for big business and you do not do it by chopping the wages of ordinary Australians; you do it by investing in our people. Our people are our greatest strength and asset in this nation. You do it by ensuring that working Australians get fair wages and the confidence to spend money to keep the economy moving. You do it by ensuring that all Australians have access to quality health and education, regardless of their income.
I would like to use this opportunity today to offer my perspective on a number of areas of inequality which need some serious focus and attention from this government. Firstly, let us look at education. To confront inequality, we have to confront the disparity in our schools. Access to an affordable, quality education must be available to all Australians throughout their lives. Needs-based school funding must be re-established, as Labor planned to do, and access to higher education must continue to be based on the capacity to learn, not the ability to pay. We know that the Liberal Party broke their promise to back the needs-based funding model for our schools. They welched on their commitment to Gonski and continue to slash education funding today and turn their back on a generation of Australian children.
By cutting an additional $30 billion of funding from our schools, Malcolm Turnbull is entrenching disadvantage in our communities. Not only that, but he is shackling our economy for decades to come. Investment in education is also investment in the capacity of our people and the future prosperity of our nation, and it is a far superior driver of economic growth than the $50 billion worth of company tax cuts proposed by the Prime Minister. In fact, in a recent survey of 31 economists, the Economic Society of Australia and the Monash Business School found that almost two-thirds agreed with the statement that:
Australia will receive a bigger economic growth dividend in the long-run by spending on education than offering an equivalent amount of money on a tax cut to business.
Schools in my electorate of Newcastle are set to lose more than $33 million in funding over the next two years alone, due to these Liberal cuts. Without investment in our schools, Malcolm Turnbull's talk about innovation and the future economy is just that: talk and nothing else. It is time for this government to get on board and commit to funding years 5 and 6 of Gonski.
This government's disgraceful handling of the higher education sector is equally disappointing. Malcolm Turnbull's decision to cut the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program, HEPPP—that is, to cut $152.2 million from a program designed to increase the number of students from low socio-economic groups—is unacceptable and unfair. In my electorate this directly impacts of the work of the Wollotuka Institute, which prides itself on best practice for Indigenous students and participation in higher education. I have more than 1,000 Indigenous students enrolled at the University of Newcastle. That comes off the back of 30 years of deep commitment from that university to ensure that every student and all of the programs at the university meet both our expectations in terms of excellence and also our expectations in terms of equity and equal access. The HEPPP program, which this government has cut, was a critical factor in helping institutions like the Wollotuka Institute reach out into schools in my community to talk to Indigenous students whilst in that secondary schooling program and encourage them to take that extra step and move into higher education. I think the fact that 1,000 students now study across all sorts of disciplines at the University of Newcastle is testament to the effectiveness of that program. It is the most cruel and short-sighted of cuts to higher education that this government proposes. The 40 per cent cut to the program will absolutely damage Wollotuka and the amazing work that they have done over the last three decades. I sincerely hope that this government thinks about revisiting that decision and understands the importance of that.
The previous Labor government opened access to university and 190,000 more students are at university today as a result of Labor's reforms from when we were in government. We understand that education is the most important tool to ensure future prosperity and a more equal society. But Mr Turnbull is persisting with deregulation plans that would lead to $100,000 degrees and create a two-tier society of those who can afford higher education and those who cannot. TAFE has not fared any better under this government, and that is another area of great concern to many people in my community. I applaud Labor's commitment at the last election to ensure that we would have a guaranteed level of funding for TAFE.
There are many reasons to invest in education, but it is the backbone of human capital and productivity for our nation, and it generates so much more for our communities as a whole. We must also recognise that many of these cuts to education across the board have a disproportionate impact on different parts of our society. I have also mentioned the disproportionate impact the cuts to the HEPPP program will have on the Indigenous community. The debt impacts the higher education costs are having on women are of course of deep concern to this parliament. I should not need to remind the chamber that women are a good 50-plus per cent of this nation. Anything we do to unfairly encumber women's access to higher education is something that should worry every one of us here. Gender inequity still persists in Australia, and this government seems to either not notice or not care.
Economically, women in Australia are at a significant disadvantage: we earn less, we retire with less and we are less represented at the top. One needs no more stark reminder of this than to look at the frontbench of the government each and every question time. The lack of women's representation in the government's cabinet is deeply disturbing. I can only reiterate what I have said in this House many times: until the government comes to grips with the reality of the need to set good, high and ambitious targets for itself it is not going to achieve the gender representation that it should have—indeed, that this nation expects it to have—on the government frontbenches.
The government's cuts to Medicare are also an issue of deep concern to the people in my community. Universal access to health, and in particular to Medicare, is one of the egalitarian backbones of the Australian social contract. It ensures that no matter what your background is, or how much money you earn or where your parents lived that you will be able to access good quality medicines and treatment. The Australian people love Medicare. We know this because, despite every effort by those opposite to undo universal health care in this nation since its first inception as Medibank back in the Whitlam era and then again as Medicare back in the Hawke government era, they have done all they can to undermine universal health care in this nation. They have been spectacularly unsuccessful in their endeavours, I might say, which is good news for the Australian people. But they are on notice: we are onto you, the Australian people are onto you and we will do everything we can to protect universal health care. Labor created Medicare; we will always fight to protect it. Members opposite would do well to learn from the last election, as the Prime Minister professed to have learned some lessons from the last election. We are yet to see those, of course, because absolutely every one of those cuts into health are still on the table. Let's not forget that.
Let's hope that the government truly does learn some lessons from that last election and that it sees the worth of investing in people, in education, in health and in real jobs in our communities. Let's hope that we get to see some of those things in this next budget. They have a lot of work to do, but they are coming from a low base— (Time expired)