Tuesday, 3 March 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020; Second Reading
It's a pleasure to be able to speak on the Appropriations Bill in this chamber and outline some of the issues that the parliament faces at this time. It gives us a good stock to look at the challenges we face in terms of prudent budget management and making sure that we're appropriating the funds necessary to run a nation against a backdrop of what is unquestionably an incredibly challenging time.
We've obviously gone through difficult economic and environmental circumstances as a result of the drought. There are a lot of communities across the country that have struggled for some time, needing income security and, of course, access to one of the most important commodities we have, water, because it's the lifeblood that enables their crops to grow and for grass to grow to feed their cattle so that they can go on and earn a livelihood and an income for them and their community. So many communities have dealt with such a difficult blow as a consequence of the drought.
The same is also true as a consequence of the recent bushfires. I see members in the chamber present who have been on the forefront of that catastrophic event across the eastern seaboard of Australia. While many of those communities are in the process of rebuilding, much of it will take a long time. Many of those communities have faced devastating consequences. People have lost their lives and their homes, and community infrastructure as well as wildlife has been lost. Anyone who's been involved with fires knows that it will take some time to repair and rebuild. My grandfather and grandmother experienced the consequences of the Ash Wednesday bushfires in the early 1980s in upper Beaconsfield in Victoria. They knew full well the consequences of bushfires and the impact they can have on communities as well as the time it takes to not just rebuild but reconnect and resew the social fabric that holds those communities together.
Then, of course, we have the more recent challenge of the coronavirus. I don't think we should underestimate the seriousness of the events that are about to present themselves to Australia. It needs to be acknowledged in a bipartisan way that the government has provided outstanding leadership in confronting the challenges, threats and risks of the coronavirus. We can implement strong border protection measures because we have strong borders and because we have a government that understands the importance of doing so and not tolerating leakage. We're in a position to respond economically because we have a budget that the government has been determined to return to a healthy balance. We have spending under control, and, of course, we have reassured ourselves, with advice from the expert medical health services across the country and with the cooperation of the states, that we can provide the assistance that Australians need.
More critically, while it is a health crisis—and it is—it is also going to cascade into a challenging economic one. I know there's a lot of discussion at the moment in the community about how the government should respond. I have been heartened to hear in the language from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that they're taking a prudent, a responsible and—critically—a considered approach to how the government should work to reassure small businesses, employees and employers so that, throughout any difficult economic times to come, people can be kept in jobs and small businesses can trade through and be central to any economic recovery following the economic consequences of the coronavirus.
I hear a lot of calls out there for short-term or rash stimulus measures without full consideration. We saw that during the global financial crisis from those opposite. While there is no doubt there was some benefit from some aspects of it, in practice it was largely wasteful. In comparison to the options available to Australia—because we had higher interest rates which were able to be cut by the Reserve Bank as well as higher mineral prices—we just saw money being thrown around for marginal benefit. They baked in extra costs, which we are continuing to pay and which, of course, future generations will have to repay. I see some calls for that sort of broadbrush approach again. Similarly, I hear suggestions that we should somehow move infrastructure programs forward. If you go out to the market place, people will already tell you that there are massive capacity constraints with supplies and labour for projects to be brought forward. That is not a sensible solution either.
What is necessary is a targeted approach to make sure that government invests where it can add the most value, because the practical reality that's going to unfold in the coming weeks as a consequence of this, particularly the slowdown of manufacturing in China, is that we will have Australians who will be willing buyers of goods, but there will be suppliers with, in some cases, nothing to sell or limited stock to sell, and you're going to have service based businesses that will have plenty to sell but not necessarily the volume of willing customers. Just throwing more money at that problem won't solve it, just as cutting interest rates won't solve it. While it is an approach that could have a marginal effect, it would be better if the RBA turned around and, rather than cutting interest rates, looked at options to help banks loan more money to small and medium businesses so that they could trade through the economic challenges to come and, critically, keep people employed so that they can keep supporting their families and keep paying their mortgages so that they can be a part of the recovery once this temporary crisis ends. But they can only do that because we have a secure economic environment and a secure health environment. That's been at the heart of this government's approach since the day it was elected.
Throughout the speeches of our political opponents, they will wax lyrical about how they could have done things better, with no evidence to justify it. They would have left this country with less financial security and less border security, and we would be in a weaker position to respond to this crisis. In the end, government has to provide reassurance to the Australian people. If people are going to back themselves, they need to know that they are going to do it in an environment where the government has their back and is able to deliver them the security that they need to make decisions with confidence. That's what you get under the Morrison Liberal-National government—and not what you would get under the opposition, particularly had they come in at the last election and committed to spend billions of dollars and rake in hundreds of millions of dollars of new taxes. With less money in people's hip pockets, you wouldn't need stimulus, because people wouldn't have any spare cash in their pockets.
The other challenge we face at the moment is in the context of climate change policy. I hear a lot of pronouncements from members opposite about what they think policy should be. The member for Melbourne, the Marxist member for Melbourne, now Leader of the Australian Greens, comes into this place and his answer is always to take decisions out of the democratic processes and hand the responsibility over to the United Nations to make determinations about how our policy should be decided. The Independent for Warringah does exactly the same thing—undermining confidence in our democracy and sovereignty. Anybody who thinks the solution to getting stable, considered ongoing climate policy is to take decisions away from the people who are elected to represent and govern this nation and hand that decision-making responsibility to the unelected and the unaccountable, with scant regard to the human, economic, social, political and environmental consequences, is kidding themselves.
The Independent member for Warringah has even recommended that unelected, unaccountable bodies be responsible for giving the green light about whether elected and accountable people, ministers of the Crown and this very parliament, can decide things like emissions targets. That is not a sustainable basis for policy into the future. It's a direct subversion and subjugation of this parliament. I have no doubt there will be plenty of people who argue that this is necessary. Many years ago, Clive Hamilton, the far-left academic—who got it right on China, I might add, but on not much else—made the argument that maybe we just need to suspend democracy to meet the challenges of climate change. That will work if you don't have any plan to return to it and/or you have no respect or regard for it. That seems to be the approach the Independent member for Warringah has taken: a disregard, not just for this parliament, but—let's not misunderstand what that means—also a disregard for the people of Australia.
People took these policies to the last election—and the last time I checked two of those people sat in this chamber. The Labor Party didn't; they took a different, idiotic policy—but, nonetheless, a different policy—to the last election. People on this side of the chamber, who sit here and represent the people of Australia—149 people—campaigned on a different platform. But those opposite want the tail to wag the dog, with scant regard for the will of the Australian people—and it needs to be called out. Similarly, the plan of the opposition needs to be called out as well, because you have the deception of the Leader of the Opposition saying on national television and in this chamber and everywhere else that he wants a target of zero net emissions by 2050—'but, by the way, we're still going to export coal'. I've never heard such a deceptive statement. It is one designed to manage the different constituent groups inside the Australian Labor Party, but it treats the Australian people as mugs. How on earth could you do that and account for the fugitive emissions that come with it? It is a deception.
If members on the other side want to chortle and a laugh because they're either going along with the deception or being deceived, neither hold them in good regard. The thing we need and owe the Australian people, whether it's on reducing emissions, the coronavirus or any other economic response, is honesty and trust to build confidence to take everybody forward together. What we see from members in the crossbenches and members of the opposition is in clear contrast with this government. The foundation of our relationship with the Australian people is to take honest plans to the election. It is to take honest plans that we then seek to implement during our term of government. It's an honest plan, rather than the deception and dishonesty advocated by our political opponents. The cost of their approach is real. When you go to an election and say one thing and then immediately after do the opposite it corrodes trust in this very institution, the chamber itself. I see members on the opposite side nodding. I'm glad they do, because that was shown that clearer than during the previous administration, where you had a Labor Prime Minister say, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' They then came into this chamber and treated the Australian people as mugs. They deceived them at the election and then turned around and voted for it in this chamber. That is the sort of policy that undermines long-term confidence to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to deliver sustainable change and to build trust with the Australian people. It's that dishonesty—and they sit there and they chortle and laugh at the contempt they have for the Australian people.
Well, that is not the view on this side of the chamber. We're going to treat Australians with honesty and build respect and trust, because that is the only way that we can confront the challenges that we face in the short, medium and long term. That's why, rather than having a debate about their policies, we're actually delivering substance on how we're going to achieve our targets. That's why we're bringing forward a road map to give people an understanding, to give Australians an understanding, about the choices that this country faces—versus making ambit, empty and dishonest promises to the Australian people, as the Leader of the Opposition and the parrots who sit behind him do. They simply represent and repeat lines that they cannot substantiate and back up with hard evidence. The Australian people will judge them at the next election, and should. Some of us will stand up and call out, as we did about their dishonesty about their retiree tax. They said it wouldn't hit people on low incomes—only for the Leader of the Opposition to explain to the Australian people afterwards that it would. Some of us will never give up in making sure that we expose the deception of the Australian Labor Party.