Tuesday, 3 March 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020; Second Reading
I really appreciate my colleagues turning out for my Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020 speech! I appreciate the support that they're all showing. In 2017, Anglican archbishops from around the world said in a letter to global leaders that climate change is the challenge of our generation. Former US president Obama said:
… no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate.
The great David Attenborough said in January this year:
The moment of crisis has come. We can no longer prevaricate.
The IPCC report, also in January this year, said:
Climate change creates additional stresses on land, exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems
Experts and eminent leaders around the world are calling on governments to do something.
Here in Australia, Australians have felt all of the effects of climate change over the long black summer we just experienced. Last year was our hottest on record according to the Bureau of Meteorology. It was also Australia's driest year on record. We've seen catastrophic bushfires rage across the country taking lives, destroying homes and attacking businesses. Cities were choking on a thick layer of smoke, causing breathing difficulty, especially to those who are sick, are elderly or have asthma. We were warned about this over a decade ago. Ross Garnaut's 2008 climate change review warned governments of the risks, of more intense and more frequent bushfires. The Australian Academy of Science warned of the impact climate change would have on the sick, the elderly, the very young and the poor. There is something the Morrison government could do now if it had the political will to do it.
The Business Council of Australia, not exactly a left-wing cabal, has come out in support of the Paris Agreement and transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050. Rio Tinto, Australia's second-biggest miner, has announced its commitment to action on climate change, with a net zero emissions target by 2050. Every Australian state and every Australian territory has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, yet standing alone on the burning deck the Morrison government is opposing progress towards the decarbonisation of the Australian economy. The Prime Minister is completely out of step with Australian businesses, Australian governments and the Australian community. His reckless and extreme position is the consequence of the stranglehold the hard Right of the coalition have on climate change policy in the coalition.
Last week government data showed that there was no reduction in emissions in the quarter to September 2019 and annual emissions reduced only by a pitiful 0.3 per cent in the year to date. That is not a canter; that sounds more like someone flogging a dead horse. There has been a collapse in renewables investment under the Morrison government. Just last night in Senate estimates the Clean Energy Regulator backed industry, business and investors that a lack of climate and energy policy is hampering renewables investment, which would lead to lower power prices for Australians. So, rather than leading Australia to stronger economic growth, higher real wages and lower energy bills by achieving net zero emissions by 2050, the Prime Minister is only concerned about keeping peace in his divided party room and keeping his job—keeping his backside in No. 1, to quote the former Prime Minister.
The coalition government have been in office for seven years. The current dismal economic prospects for working Australians are completely the result of this coalition government's economic mismanagement. Their fingerprints are all over this economy today. New data revealed that weak wages growth has stalled further. The ABS wage price index confirmed that wages growth remains stagnant at 2.2 per cent, falling short of budget forecasts yet again, which were downgraded only two months ago. The Treasurer has claimed that wages growth is a core focus for this government. Guess what? It's a joke. A core focus? It has been a complete failure.
We have seen youth unemployment increase to 12.1 per cent. There are now over 271,000 young Australians without a job. The recent labour force figures revealed a record high number of underemployed Australians. There are 1.2 million Australians—think of that—looking for more work but unable to find it. Since Prime Minister Morrison took office there are nearly 90,000 more underemployed people.
New data last week showed that capital expenditure has collapsed again. It absolutely destroys Treasurer Frydenberg's claim that the economy was performing strongly before the coronavirus outbreak hit and the bushfires hit. Private new capital expenditure plunged by 2.8 per cent in the December quarter—well below market expectations. Capital expenditure is more than 30 per cent lower than when the Liberals first came to office and business investment is around its lowest level since the 1990s recession. When the economy was already struggling from weak consumption, stagnant wages, declining productivity and record high household and government debt, we had news that construction work pretty much collapsed in the December quarter.
The Prime Minister and the Treasurer had no plan for the floundering economy last year and it looks like they don't have a plan for 2020. Because of the Morrison government's inaction, Australia meets the serious challenges and uncertainties of the fire season and the coronavirus outbreak from a position of weakness, not from a position of strength. Ignore the slick advertising coming from those opposite. Look at the economic data that the reliable government departments put out. There's no doubt that the coronavirus is damaging confidence in the economy, in our communities and all around the world. Stock markets are very jumpy. We've seen serious assaults on the stock markets. But there are also longstanding problems in the economy that predate these challenges.
The government seems to have set itself one test and one test only—to get to a surplus. They have to justify those black cups that they're flogging off to punters. It's a test that the government set for themselves. Whether they fail that test remains to be seen. They promised a surplus in their first year. I remember former Treasurer Joe Hockey saying that they'd have a surplus in their first year. They're now in their seventh year. They've promised it every year after. At the moment they're batting none for seven.
Labor, along with the Reserve Bank and the business community, have been calling on the coalition government for some time now to bring forward a plan to address our longstanding domestic economic challenges and to get business investing again. It's time that the Morrison government stopped navel-gazing and stopped putting out glossy ads that actually misrepresent the facts. It's time they focused on coming up with a comprehensive plan to restore the economic and wages growth that have deteriorated on their watch.
From the calls coming in from my electorate of Moreton I know the frustration that people feel about the rollout of the NDIS. After six years of mismanagement of what should have been a world-class scheme, people with disability have been left out in the cold. A departmental review of the scheme has found that the scheme is plagued by delays and it is frustrating for those who engage with it to actually understand. This finding is echoed by the experience of some of my constituents.
The review recommends to trial the NDIA agency delegates performing all planning functions in-house—though the review notes that 'this may have a requisite impact on the Liberal-imposed staffing cap'—to fund navigator roles to help people find their way through the system and to create a participant service guarantee to ensure basic standards are met, legislated time frames for decision making and for the publication of NDIS reports, greater involvement in the carer workforce, a national outreach strategy that would facilitate rollout to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and also their culturally and linguistically diverse communities, the reinforcing of NDIS objects and principles, and a return to the original version of the 2011 Productivity Commission report. Labor welcomes all of these recommendations. It's important for those who need NDIS funding to have access to the scheme. It is also important that those who are fraudulently claiming funds from the NDIS are flagged, caught and punished so that the money for people with disability is going to the actual people with disabilities or the people caring for them and not to these fraudsters that have swooped on this honey pot.
It was recently reported that a whistleblower revealed thousands of dollars are being stolen from vulnerable clients every day but these frauds are rarely being investigated. It is not good enough that there is a general acceptance of fraud in the NDIS scheme or an acceptance that $2 billion is lost through fraud and that the rarely recouped stolen money just gets replaced with other taxpayers' money. The minister has a padlock on the front gate of the NDIS for the genuinely needy and then he's got a welcome mat out the back for the crooks and the fraudsters. This is the great disability robbery, and the Morrison government is waving the white flag and slugging the taxpayer in the hope of covering it up. Why is the Prime Minister so hard on people with disability but, it turns out, so soft on criminals? Maybe, having removed $4.6 billion from the NDIS, the government identifies with these people who are ripping off the system.
People with disability and Australian taxpayers deserve transparency when it comes to NDIS funding. There needs to be a regular reporting to parliament of the NDIA's progress, particularly in tracing down the fraudsters and the criminals. The NDIS scheme is too important to be treated like an ATM for fraudsters and criminals. It's too important to be continually mismanaged by this coalition government.
The Coopers Plains level crossing in my electorate of Moreton has been putting lives at risk for too long—some say for over 50 years. The RACQ rate this crossing as its No. 1 crossing to fix in Queensland. I was pleased to hear that the Labor candidate for the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Pat Condren, announced last week that a Labor city hall would contribute one-third of the construction cost of the Coopers Plains rail crossing grade separation. Not only will Pat Condren fix the Coopers Plains level crossing; he's also committed to fixing another dangerous crossing in my electorate on Warrigal Road. The Warrigal Road Runcorn level crossing is also on RACQ's list of the five most dangerous level crossings in Queensland. The local Labor councillor, Steve Griffiths; and the Labor candidates John Prescott and Trent McTiernan have been working hard to get these improvements to improve local infrastructure, and I congratulate John, Trent and Steve on their hard work.
Pat Condren's announcement is in stark contrast to the LNP mayor, who will not even commit to paying the council's fair share to fix the Coopers Plains level crossing. The LNP council has been playing favourites with infrastructure expenditure for years now, paying 50 per cent of the cost of north side works but only committing to 15 per cent when it comes to the south side. In fact, the only infrastructure grade separations on the south side have been funded by the federal government—for example, the Kessels and Mains Road intersection at Macgregor and the Elizabeth Street rail overpass at Acacia Ridge. These dangerous level crossings—two of them in the top 5—need to be fixed, and we can't waste any more time arguing over who should pay. A road overpass instead of a level crossing with boom gates—boom gates go up and down 138 times a day, which causes delays, frustrations and danger. These are dangerous crossings for commuters. At the Coopers Plains crossing alone there have been 28 cases of cars hitting the boom gates in the last seven years. A road overpass will significantly reduce the risk of horrible accidents occurring. A Labor-led federal government committed to fixing the Coopers Plains rail crossing; it was an election promise last year. I'm calling on Pat Condren to say well done for committing to fixing it now.