House debates

Thursday, 27 February 2020


Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020; Second Reading

12:14 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

My apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister poured over 83 per cent of the $3 billion allocated from the Urban Congestion Fund into Liberal seats and seats targeted by the Liberal Party. In the lead-up to the 2019 election, the Prime Minister funnelled 144 of 160 projects into Liberal and targeted seats—more than $2.5 billion. He made promises in every single urban Liberal seat that was marginal or under threat. More than one quarter of the $3 billion was funnelled to just four Liberal seats: Higgins, Deakin, La Trobe and Boothby. This is rorting on a nuclear scale. The Prime Minister has misused public money to promote his political interests. He spends public money to buy elections, not to meet community needs.

Let's talk about vocational education. As we learnt last year from the federal education department's own data, the government have failed to spend almost $1 billion of their TAFE and training budget over the past five years, and all of this underspend is additional to the more than $3 billion already ripped out of the VET system. We've got TAFE campuses falling apart across the country, we've got state governments closing campuses and ending courses, and, all the while, a huge pile of money remains unspent. Employer groups across the country are complaining about skill shortages across almost every sector. The Australian Industry Group states that 75 per cent of employers report an inability to attract skilled workers. Under the coalition, there are almost 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than there were in 2013. That means a shortage of workers in critical trades and services.

In my electorate of Corangamite, there are 113, or 7.7 per cent, fewer trainees and apprentices today than there were in 2013. In the Minister for Education's own seat of Wannon, there are 1,044, or around 28 per cent, fewer apprentices or trainees than in 2013. If the coalition government can't train skilled workers, they can't build a skilled economy and they can't build the infrastructure of the future or support emerging new industries. Right now, they are failing miserably.

Let's talk about the NDIS. The NDIS should be a fantastic scheme. It has already helped many people, compared to the fragmented system we had before 2013. But the NDIS is suffering from slow strangulation by a National Disability Insurance Agency aided and abetted by the Morrison government. Last year, to prop up their dodgy budget surplus, the government sucked $1.6 billion out of the expected expenditure of the NDIS. The excuse given was that the demand simply wasn't there—that, if there had been the demand, then the money would have been available. What rubbish! There are hundreds of stories of the NDIA clawing back money from vulnerable participants. Usually the local area coordinator does the right thing and recommends what the medical and allied health experts say is required, but, after the proposal goes up the line to the NDIA, the plan usually comes back with cuts and deletions. Let me quote a constituent of mine, Trevor Ah Hang, of Portarlington, who wrote to me only last week:

I submitted a plan in October 2019.

It returned with significant cuts … The Coordinator submitted an appeal stating that the Transport funding was crucial as my Carer had developed Parkinsons, meaning I couldn't rely on her always being available to take me to appointments.

As for funding for group activities, NDIA had asked for progress reports from all parties engaged in the previous plan. Without exception they stated the progress gained over that year and how it was crucial to continue. So why ask for these details if someone is just going to say "Nuh!" and put a line through an item number with no explanation?

In late November I received a letter from the NDIS stating that they'd received an appeal on my behalf dated October 23, 2019 and informing me that under their guidelines they had three months to address the situation or notify me why they couldn't … that was over four months ago and I've heard NOTHING! No answer, no information, NOTHING. I've contacted them several times and the answer is always "the matter is before a delegate."

I'm at my wits end and have even told my therapist I'd rather be dead than dependant on the NDIS.

Trevor and thousands like him shouldn't have to go through this frustration. The NDIA should listen to the experts. Last December, the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS, of which I'm a member, put forward some bipartisan and practical recommendations to improve the planning process. The government should adopt them all.

I also want to mention Neil Radley and the 6,000 younger Australians just like him who live in aged-care facilities simply because they have nowhere else to go. Neil came to see me last year here in parliament. Neil is in his 50s and became an quadriplegic a decade ago. He wants to live independently, in his own unit or house in the community. It's a reasonable proposition. The interim report of the royal commission into aged care has shamed the government into making a commitment that no person under 65 who wants to live independently will live in a nursing home beyond 2025. But how will they deliver on this promise? To date, only about 250 of the 6,000 younger people in nursing homes have been approved for disability accommodation. The hurdles and the paperwork make the application process torturous, and Neil admitted to me that he almost gave up. But, having gained SDA approval, Neil now finds that no investor in Bendigo will build disability housing. The NDIA says, 'That's not our problem.' This is how the government is able to say there is no demand and take $1.6 billion away from people with disability. Well, it should be the problem of the NDIA and it should be the problem of this government. They should be intervening and investing directly in disability housing, rather than allowing market failure to deny vulnerable Australians a decent future.

Now let's talk about climate change. Climate change is real. Australians have been able to see it, feel it and smell it all summer. The Prime Minister is unable to act on climate change because he is held hostage by hardline conservatives who think they know better than the world's scientists, and who don't even believe that climate change is real. Mr Morrison has no plan to invigorate the economy by developing—


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