Thursday, 10 December 2020
Matters of Public Importance
Well, it wasn't The Audacity of Hope, was it, Deputy Speaker? If you were looking for The Audacity of Hope, you would have been sorely disappointed. That's what we get from the opposition in a year where we've had the most difficult challenge faced by the Australian community in 100 years. No audacity, no hope, but a collection of negative, negative material at the end of a year.
This year I believe we've seen the best and the finest of Australians—our community, our people, our businesses, our governments, our states, our territories, our Commonwealth, our defence forces, our health personnel. We've seen the best of people. Together we have come through in a more cohesive state than any other society on the planet. Whatever your political ideology, and we have different ones, all of us know that in a crisis, in an emergency, the government has a pivotal role to play—and there's no doubt this is a crisis and an emergency. Regardless of our differences in approach, regardless of our fundamental differences in political beliefs in this chamber, there's no doubt that all of us come together at this time.
For the Leader of the Opposition to stand here on a matter of public importance on the last day of the year, after the year we've had, and simply pick a collection of things he finds very negative is a failure of leadership. I think people over there think it's a failure of leadership. I think they understand it is a failure of leadership when you think about what was needed from Australian leadership this year. The standing up of the national cabinet at the beginning of this year is a great example. There are political differences, differences in approach, differences in nuance, yet they've come through it together. Tomorrow when the national cabinet meets here in Canberra, again after having successfully steered this country through this, you'll see examples of state leaders and a federal leader who have been prepared to put aside their differences to work together in the broader interests of the Australian community.
I don't know where the Leader of the Opposition spends his time, but you can walk down any street of this country, you can go into any pub in this country, you can go into any club in this country, you can go into any hospital in this country and people will tell you in every corridor, on every street, in every bar: 'We are really grateful to our governments, collectively, for the way this country has gotten through a very difficult year.' That's what you hear.
We are grateful to them. The question time that the government put forward today was about our gratitude for what Australians have sacrificed, what they have done for this country to get us through this in the most cohesive state of any country in the world. We are the best region in the world, because of what we've done together with partners. It does require people to put aside their differences. It does require oppositions to not be relentlessly negative at this time. We understand that in opposition you've got to be negative—people do. But in a crisis it might've been better not to be.
At the end of this difficult year it might be better to come to the table and have some audacity and have a little bit of hope for people. That's the government's message going into this break. There is reason for great hope of recovery, a comeback in 2021, where Australia will be well placed in the world to take advantage of what we have achieved and the sacrifices we've made. Because of the sacrifices of Australians, we find ourselves in the best position to take advantage of the vaccinations that are coming on. The government has made investments in those vaccinations. It's a key deliverable for the Australian people next year. We've got the right investments in the right vaccinations. We're making sure that we have access. We have not just looked after our own population, we have said to our region—with real regional leadership of the kind Australians expect us of us—we will vaccinate our partners, our neighbours, in the Pacific and South-East Asia. We will help others as well as help ourselves. That's real leadership.
We've also prepared Australians by putting out more money than has ever been spent before. The Labor Party says it isn't enough, but it's a record amount for any government to ever put forward to sustain people in their jobs and keep businesses' doors open this year. Whatever your view about when it should come off and when it should taper off, we all agree on the fundamentals. The Labor Party agrees. The Leader of the Opposition agrees. It should be tapered off when it can be. We must get people off it and back into work, with jobs being retained but also created again, and that's what we're seeing now at the end of the JobSeeker period. We are seeing businesses graduating off it. They're saying: 'Our revenues are up. We can come off.'
That is where one difference about ideology comes back into play. Of course we should put it aside in a year like this. Of course we should work together with the power of government to help people's lives. But what is the purpose of welfare? It's to get people through a tough period, not to keep them permanently on it. It's to get them back on their own feet. It's to make them stand up again. It's to give them their own dignity in their own job. It's to get them back into their own business. It's to give them hope again. It's to get them moving forward, not to keep them permanently chained to it. Everyone who believes in that understands what that is about. Given that we have had the toughest year ever, we must do everything possible to keep people getting back to work. That's why this year we've seen the biggest comeback in our economy's history. That is fantastic. Thank you to the Australians that are doing it. Thank you to every small, medium and family business that has toughed it out and has very tough scars from this year but is still employing, keeping its workforce on, keeping their hours. We as a government are trying to do as much as possible to make sure you can keep all your employees all through 2021 and you can add more shifts.
Of course, the Labor Party is running the mother of all scare campaigns on it. We are saying, 'Let's reasonably and properly release some of the shackles of the industrial relations system so that employers can keep people in jobs and bring people in the door.' And they've run the biggest scare campaign today—relentless negativity again—instead of saying, 'We are in the toughest economic conditions in 100 years, and in 2021 we want to make sure that employers and employees can continue to do what they do best, which is work together on keeping businesses open.' That's the only way forward, the only way we will recover, the only way we will come back.
We can look at the achievements that we've made in health—and we thank everybody who has worked in health care, our hospital workers, the people who have done significant work in aged care that has put us in such good stead—but we can also turn to the other achievements that have been made this year. When you think about how many things have been done while we've had the pandemic on, it's quite a list. Instead of criticising the government on minor and technical issues and trying to find some point of difference or a wedge, it is time to continue to work together while we get through what is going to be a very difficult 2021.
I've spoken about vaccinations and I've spoken about the need to continue to get Australians home. The opposition has said the government hasn't done a good enough job. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I remind the House, 432,000 people have returned home. That's a fact—432,000 Australians. And we welcome them home. And everyone who needs to come home will come home, and we'll keep working at it. I again want to thank DFAT and our consular officials around the world for the work they've done in what is a most difficult year, with sovereign countries shutting their borders, transnational and internal. We've been able to get people out of very difficult situations, and not enough credit has been paid.