Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020; Second Reading
I rise to make my contribution to the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-20, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-20 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 and to add the voice of my community, which would have liked to have seen much more support for the needs of the Werriwa constituents. The opposition will, of course, support these bills, but there are remaining concerns about what effect they will have to assist the economy and the constituents of the electorate that I represent.
The government, which is now in its seventh year, is presiding over an economy which is floundering, and they pretend there is no problem. The numbers show us that economic growth is at the slowest it's been since the GFC, with the national economy falling from the eighth fastest in the OECD in 2013 to 20th today. Australia is now in the longest per capita recession since 1982. Wages growth has been stuck at or around record lows for the last few years under this government and, with the further reduction of penalty rates on 1 July this year, there is little money left in people's pockets to do anything about spending and stimulating the economy, and that is what seems to be so desperately needed. The Prime Minister's and the Treasurer's fall back is blaming the Labor Party. It is time they realised it is they, the government, who need to provide the guidance and improve the situation.
We have weak consumption, and productivity growth has fallen in the last four quarters in terms of GDP per hours of work. Household spending is weak, slowing further from last year and contributing just 0.1 percentage point to growth. Unemployment and, more importantly, underemployment remain high too. I'm constantly contacted by constituents seeking support who are over 55 and have little prospect for work. The job network providers are little support, invariably sending people with disabilities or a lack of skills to totally inappropriate jobs and further demoralising and depressing them. These people want to work. They're happy to contribute, and certainly, with the low rate of Newstart, they would prefer to find a job. But barriers to them finding employment are so great, and I can see nothing in the government's current agenda that will change their terrible situations any time soon.
The latest ABS statistics for the month of June 2019 show 711,500 Australians are unemployed and more than a million are underemployed or seeking further hours at work. There are more than 1.8 million Australians looking for work or more work and unable to find it, and that is a tragedy. Under the Liberals, youth unemployment remains more than double of the national average, having increased to 12 per cent. That means more than 266,300 young Australians are unemployed.
These bills do not address the things that matter to the people who live in my community. Existing customers of the NBN continue to receive substandard service, and future customers face delays with an out-of-date copper network unable to provide the speeds that will improve Australia's standing in the world. It is unacceptable that Australia is now ranked 57th in the world in internet speed. At the end of 2015, Australia was ranked 48th; in mid-2012, 39th. It is the wrong way to go. This atrocious position puts the country behind Trinidad and Tobago, Panama and Moldova, and it's just a hair's breadth faster than Kosovo.
While it may seem cliche, our older Australians made Australia what it is today. They fought wars or sent their sons overseas to fight, they were frugal during recessions and poor economic times and they worked hard, but as the aged-care waiting list continues to climb they are not finding any comfort in their later years. Disproportionately on these waiting lists are women.
It is better for a person's wellbeing that they be able to stay in their own home, but it is also better for our society overall. It's disappointing that this is not being addressed. Centrelink is still letting my age pension constituents down. On several occasions we've been asked to assist when constituents' patience has run out. I don't blame them for that—their patience is quite amazing. Many of them have been waiting for over six months and up to 12 months for age pension applications to be processed. That is unacceptable. It further concerns me that these bills will see the surplus that is talked about by the government come from vulnerable people waiting for support promised by a properly funded and functioning National Disability Insurance Scheme. Many of my colleagues and I have detailed endlessly the frustration of our constituents when waiting for approvals, reviews and information from the NDIS. To understaff the scheme in order to prop up a bottom line is not acceptable—it's not fair. Worse, it's being done at the expense of my constituents and their families. Constituents are constantly contacting my office about these issues. Parents have been waiting for her nearly over a year for early intervention NDIS plans for a five-year-old autistic child. They are fearful that by the time the child's needs are addressed she will have turned seven and no longer be eligible for the early intervention. All the while, their daughter falls further and further behind her classmates. That is just one of the many distressing stories from people who contact my office.
I'm very concerned about those members of my community who don't reach out but accept the information that is provided to them. A recent report from Settlement Services International, entitled Still Outside the Tent, found significant barriers to improving access to disability services for people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, such as those in my electorate of Werriwa. Sadly, this report adds weight to the fear that language barriers, digital literacy and a cultural aversion to government mean that, despite the horror stories that we were told before, we aren't even hearing the full extent of the failures of the government when it comes to these social services. As a nation we can and must do better.
While the government are focused on trying to quash backbench revolts, I am listening to the people of Werriwa. When they speak to me at mobile offices out in the electorate or at my electorate office, they tell me they want their schools and hospitals properly funded and resourced, they want the government to address the cost of living, they want to see their wages and conditions protected, they want a bigger and better spend on infrastructure and they want the climate crisis addressed and to have much cleaner and cheaper energy provided.
Every child, regardless of circumstances, should receive a world-class education. We took that policy to the last election. In contrast, since this government has come to power it has attacked our public schools. Funding has been slashed and, in the process, the kids who attend public schools in this country have been let down. The people of Werriwa are also suffering when it comes to health and hospitals. Under this government, the national average waiting time for elective surgery is the longest on record. The number of people presenting at emergency departments is the highest on record, and the number of hospital beds available for elderly Australians is the lowest on record. Yet this government and those of the prime ministers before the current Prime Minister continue to cut Medicare and from hospitals. When you or your loved one is sick you don't want to be worrying about whether your local hospital has enough beds or that you have enough money to cover the cost. And we definitely don't want an Americanised health system in this country.
The people of Australia deserve a world-class education system. They want their world-class health system protected. And they want world-class infrastructure. They need to be able get to and from work without the hassle of finding a car park and without the hassle of overcrowded trains and congested roads. My constituents tell me they want to get home at a reasonable hour to see their children, take them to training and practice and help them with their homework. The latest report issued by the Greater Sydney Commission, The Pulse of Greater Sydney, confirms what my constituents are telling me. Western Sydney residents are being left behind by both state and federal governments, which are failing when it comes to addressing current issues and future planning. Sixteen per cent of Western Sydney residents still can't access major hubs within 30 minutes, compared to five per cent in most other parts of Sydney. Successive Liberal governments have built big-ticket infrastructure projects like the north-west metro, NorthConnex and the CBD and eastern suburbs light rail, all the while forgetting and ignoring the residents in my part of the world.
With the Western Sydney airport on the way, the people of Werriwa need roads, rail and improvements to commuter parking. They also need a fuel line to Western Sydney Airport. It is simply extraordinary that the idea is even being considered to truck—yes, truck!—fuel to the airport. Government data has detailed how Liverpool, the gateway to the new airport, exceeds annual national air quality standards for exposure to small particulate pollution by 25 per cent, and yet we're going to get more trucks on the road. One of the major contributors to small particulate pollution is diesel emissions. The plan to move 65 B-doubles from the nearest fuel refinery through the streets of south-western Sydney to the airport, and back again, is ludicrous. It's not just an infrastructure issue; it's a public health issue.
And while we're on the topic of the Western Sydney Airport, the south-west rail extension from Leppington to the airport is the shortest and most cost-effective way to get rail into the new airport. The land corridor is there. The people want it. Local councils want it. I now ask the government to get on with that job. And when the people drive to these railway stations, they also need commuter car parks—not empty promises. In January before the last state election, the member for Holsworthy and the New South Wales Premier were at Edmondson Park railway station, committing to 1,100 parking spaces by mid-2020. But with the state and federal elections now out of the way, the recent New South Wales budget told a different story: $212,000 is allocated in the 2019-20 budget for planning of the new car park, so let's beware of the election promise.
There are quality-of-life issues and there are cost-of-living issues. My constituents continually raise with me the higher cost of power bills, while the government continues to flip-flop and fight amongst itself on energy policy. Is it coal? Is it nuclear? I heard yesterday the big stick is back. Government and business around the rest of the world are moving on, but Australian consumers continue to pay more for their power bills. What was once emerging technology mere years ago is now commonplace, and all the while this government has been in policy stasis. It has failed to capitalise on the growth of industries in the 21st century. Household batteries, for instance, are an example of this. They're proven to slash power bills, improve grid security and support new jobs and local industries. Another emerging technology that has become commonplace is community microgrids, such as those in New York. Again, they are proven to slash power bills, improve grid security and support new jobs in local industries.
Instead of fostering the new technologies of the 21st century and, in the process, creating new jobs and bringing down power prices, we seem to have a government stuck in centuries past. Nuclear power is not the solution and it's not green. It creates waste that no-one wants in their backyard, and that waste is radioactive for the next 24,000 years. This is not a government that looks to the future; it's a government that is focused on holding this country back and keeping it in the past. It has no clear reconciliation plan, no plan to address transport and congestion, no plan to make the NDIS work as it should and no plan to fight the rising cost of living for Australians. On this side of the House, we are committed to Australia and to the constituents in my electorate. We need to get Australia on track and moving into the future.