House debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2020


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

6:27 pm

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on matters in relation to my electorate and concerns of my community. Integrity matters. Trust in government matters. However, given that we are speaking on appropriation bills and today the Reserve Bank cut interest rates again, it would be remiss of me not to make remarks in relation to the government's economic management. It is not good. We are now in the third term of this government. We are yet to see a plan to deal with underemployment. We are yet to see a plan to deal with flatlined wages; a plan to deal with the lack of infrastructure spending; a plan to deal with the reduction and downturn in retail sales and hospitality; importantly, a plan to deal with the overall poor growth of the national economy.

We have been saying it for some time, but our economy is floundering. You have to ask why. Well, it's obvious why we don't see any action from this government. What is becoming clearer every day is that this government has a political strategy to get themselves through an election, but it has no plan to boost wages or growth in the economy.

At yesterday's estimates a bit more sunshine was shone on the government's whole rorts affair. Sadly for members of my community, all clearly part of a rotten election strategy. But it is a rorts track record that is worth reminding the chamber of. First, we had the scathing Auditor-General's report. Then we had a minister forgetting to declare some pretty obvious conflicts of interest. Then we had the light-touch investigation by the former staff member of the Prime Minister's office, where it's become apparent that he didn't have all the spreadsheets, emails and materials that were needed for such an investigation. Then we had the 'it's not a rort' defence because our MPs 'live and breathe in our communities'.

But the rorts stories keep on coming. We heard last week the secretary of the health department, Glenys Beauchamp, tell the Senate inquiry examining the administration of the government's sports grant program that—wait for it—she had destroyed her personal notebooks, which include notes taken during a hastily convened sports grants conference, called after the then Sport Australia chief learned of the colour coded spreadsheets. And how about the government's idea of 'regional' being a swimming pool on Sydney's North Shore, right next to the Harbour Bridge, which they upgraded using funds originally earmarked for genuinely regional communities? And here's another: we've seen the reporting of the pouring of over 83 per cent of the $3 billion allocated from the Urban Congestion Fund into Liberal seats and seats targeted by the government. And this morning we even had the Attorney-General admitting his proposed integrity commission is so feeble it would not even be able to investigate the government's sports rorts scandal.

This week's estimates has provided even more evidence of how broken this government is. Let's start with the government's widely publicised national bushfire recovery fund. On 6 January, the Prime Minister said:

The Federal Government will establish a new agency with an initial $2 billion for a national bushfire recovery fund …

Yesterday we learned that it is a myth and does not exist. In estimates, officials told senators that the $2 billion fund has never actually been created.

A further revelation coming out of only one day of estimates is, as reported by TheCanberra Times, that nine sport infrastructure projects were added to a spreadsheet of approved sports grants in the hours after the 2019 election had been called. What does this mean for our public service caretaker provisions? Frustratingly, it adds yet another layer to the disgrace that is the administration of this program. Seriously, where are those great conservatives on the other side of the chamber—those that broadcast to the world that they protect our great institutions? Where are they? They are nowhere. They are simply missing, either too scared or too embarrassed to speak up. And what does it mean for the Prime Minister's claim that his office had nothing to do with the allocation of the sports program grants?

We have learnt a lot this week, but it's worth getting some of the time line on the record. Last week the Prime Minister told the parliament he did not approve the projects and they were signed off by Senator McKenzie back on 4 April. Well, on 11 April parliament was dissolved at 8.30 am and caretaker conventions commenced from that point. At 8.46 am on 11 April, Senator McKenzie sent the approval brief to Sport Australia with the spreadsheet with approved projects. One project had been removed and one project had been added, with the change at the request of the Prime Minister's office. At 12.35 on 11 April—it's still not 4 April—after caretaker had commenced, Senator McKenzie's office sent another spreadsheet to the PMO with a different allocation of funds. One project had been removed and nine new projects were added. At 12.43 on 11 April, Senator McKenzie sent the revised final approved brief to Sport Australia with the same spreadsheet which was attached to the 12.35 pm email to the PMO. The audit office says the spreadsheets attached to the 4 April brief kept changing up until the final spreadsheet was provided at 12.43 pm on 11 April. This evidence shows that the Prime Minister and his office were directly involved in decisions on the eve of the election and following the commencement of the caretaker period. In summary, we have former minister McKenzie saying, 'This is what I'm intending to do,' Then the Prime Minister's office sent back, 'These are the changes we want you to make.' This evidence also adds further weight to the argument that the Gaetjens report was produced with only purpose, to get the government and Prime Minister Morrison off a political hook.

I am very much in tune with these April dates because 4 April is an important date in our household. It is my wife's birthday. I can tell you that if I gave my wife a birthday card on 11 April, dated 4 April, any of my protestations about my dating the card the fourth would not wash. Yet that is part of the confidence trick that this Prime Minister is trying to play on the nation. After his multiple denials of misleading parliament over his office's involvement, people in Bean who watch parliament will be joining our calls for the Prime Minister to come into this chamber and make an apology for misleading this parliament.

We didn't even get through a day of estimates before hearing last night of another rorted program, this time in the Environment portfolio. It appears that the Environment Restoration Fund has also been through a colour coded spreadsheet. From the evidence provided, more than two-thirds of the projects in this fund have gone to government held and government targeted seats. With one eye on the election and none on the environment the government even announced successful projects up to seven months before the guidelines were developed.

So many hardworking people in my local community will be so disappointed by this government, and so many Public Servants across Australia will wonder just what type of government they work for. It has no plan for the economy, a lack of integrity and simply no shame about doing whatever for its political gain, even if it means undermining the cornerstones of our democracy.

A matter of concern to me as the member for Bean and to members of the Norfolk Island community is the low levels of food and broader supplies on the island at the moment. My office has received email correspondence and calls of concern in relation to the low levels of supplies on the shelves of their only supermarket and the inability to supply building products. I understand that there has been some aircraft freight, which has helped to some extent, but I have requested further urgent updates from the minister. Both issues relate to the same matter—that is, a lack of a medium-term to long-term solution for freight shipping to the island. There are other real challenges in other areas on the island. The NSW government has written to the Commonwealth, outlining that it is not planning on providing health and education services beyond June 2021. Further, Norfolk is still largely operating on the 2G network.

There have been many benefits to the community on Norfolk Island from Commonwealth governance, from access to social welfare through to improved childcare services. I acknowledge Minister Marino is working hard to try and find solutions to the policy challenges in the short and medium terms. But I call on her government to start the real work in the lead up to the budget, to do the heavy lifting to find solutions to the island's policy challenges. There remain real and critical infrastructure issues, and we need to work together to collectively address these. I can assure the residents of Norfolk Island that I will keep representing this proud community on these issues.

It is ridiculous that some in this House need to be reminded of this, but climate change is real. Climate change is negatively impacting our nation's economy and our environment, and we must take collective action to address its impacts. It's for that reason I'm proud to be part of a Labor team that has made a clear commitment for Australia to achieve a target of zero net emissions by 2050. Setting a clear target on emissions for our economy is important to giving policy certainty and clear direction to our community, and it's hardly a radical policy. It's one supported by the Business Council of Australia, Qantas, Telstra, BP, Rio Tinto, the Commonwealth Bank and Santos—all renowned as being radical organisations! Further, it is a goal of multiple local governments and all state and territory governments. This substantial list includes the ACT Labor government, who have a target of achieving net zero emissions by 2045. It is a target that works for our local economy and a target that bring investment and jobs into our local area. I note that over 70 nations are already committed to the same target, including Britain.

As the Ai Group noted in a recent piece in The Age: 'Australia’s national interest lies in everyone driving that positive spiral by going beyond minimalist compliance.' Labor is the only party of government that has committed today do just that and to take real action on climate change. On this side of the chamber, we know that action is needed, not only to protect the prosperity of future generations of Australians and to meet our international obligations under the Paris climate change accord but also to deliver prosperity today by modernising our economy and adapting to inevitable climate impacts. Labor's core principles that underpin our approach to climate change policy remain unshakable. That is why we have a clear target to make Australia carbon neutral by 2050, consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Accord. This a goal that the CSIRO says will deliver higher wages and incomes and lower power costs. I am determined to work with my community to ensure that Australia reaches its potential to become an energy superpower.

The task for the next Labor government will be to address the challenges of the future. Our policies will be underpinned by commitments to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind as well as to protect future generations from dangerous climate change that would see even worse emergencies than the ones we have seen over this last summer. The potential is enormous. According to the Clean Energy Council, there are 29 large-scale renewable energy projects across regional New South Wales alone either under construction or due to start soon—billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. Ross Garnaut has written about the potential for a clean energy jobs boom in regional areas. This will be through the return of energy-intensive Australian manufacturing powered by cheap, plentiful renewables. As the leader of the party said recently in Singleton, Labor's priority has always been to shape change in the interests of people. We have done it before and we will do it again—not least with climate change.

In contrast, the government parties have paid nothing more than lip-service to real climate action, with carbon emissions in 2020 being projected to be the same as they were in 2013. The Prime Minister has refused to rule out providing a taxpayer funded indemnity to new coal-fired power stations, which will raise power prices and carbon pollution and which the Australian Industry Group says could cost taxpayers $17 billion. To quote the Ai Group again:

If we don’t lift our weight, it takes the moral and political pressure off emitters of all sizes and makes a global solution much harder.

We must lead locally and lead globally through sensible science based long-term goals. After all, our families, our friends and our communities are the reasons that we need to get this right.

(Quorum formed)


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