House debates

Wednesday, 24 March 2021


Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading

5:27 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This government only cares about this government. They don't care about the Australian people. They are obsessed with themselves. They are obsessed with covering the backs of each other. They are obsessed with talking about each other. They are obsessed with covering up and dealing with the political scandals that riddle this government each and every day.

But I tell you what this government is not doing. They are not dealing with the serious issues that confront Australians each and every day. Issues like aged care, child care, stagnant wages, the gender pay gap. Issues like the fact that our vaccine rollout is rolling at a snail's pace, when we needed to be acting urgently to have it rolled out across this country. We have an emerging crisis in the Pacific. We have emissions going up under this government. We have a housing crisis in this government, not just in social housing, but also in young Australians being able to get into the housing market. JobKeeper is ending. We have hundreds of thousands of jobs that are on the line. Mental health: we are not funding our mental health system at anywhere near the level we need to.

And what is this government doing? Instead of talking about the issues that affect Australians, instead of offering a vision for this country, instead of offering some sort of hope to Australians, they are stuck in the political cover-ups, in the defence of their mates, in the jobs-for-the-boys scheme, and in dealing with the political crises that rock it each and every day. It is not just this latest political crisis that this government is dealing with. They have form. There are dozens of crises that this government has taken the same approach with: 'We have got to get through the media cycle; we've got to manage this politically.' But they don't actually deal with the crux of the problem.

We're talking about an appropriation bill. I might talk about some of the ways in which this government deals with taxpayer money. Why don't I start with the $100 million sports rorts scandal. Hardworking Australian volunteers, mums and dads on the weekend, literally give up their time to make our local sporting clubs work, and, instead of treating them with the respect and dignity that they deserve, what did this government do? They spent $100 million trying to win Liberal Party seats. They spent $100 million, as a Liberal Party slush fund, instead of recognising the applications that Australian mums and dads put in. They spent $30 million on an airport that was worth $3 million. The land was worth $3 million and they spent $30 million. What did the Deputy Prime Minister say? He said it was a bargain. Those $30 million Australian taxpayer dollars were flippantly used and flippantly covered up by this government. Of course, there was the Jam Land scandal, watergate. The minister for energy said he downloaded the travel records from the City of Sydney website. It turned out he didn't. Who knows how the minister for energy got those figures. There are the Safer Communities grants, overseen by the Department of Home Affairs—grants that are designed to improve community safety with CCTV, lighting and gates to make communities safe. What did the government do with it? They were all about making their seats safer. That's what it was. It wasn't about safer communities; it was the 'safer seats program', under the Minister for Home Affairs. Despite all of these things, they cut $14 million from the Audit Office, from the very government agency that uncovered all of these scandals.

One of the most egregious ways in which this government used taxpayer dollars was the way they issued over $720 million of illegal and mostly incorrect robodebts to over 400,000 vulnerable Australians, which then cost them $1.2 billion in the class action. Did they apologise? Did they have any contrition whatsoever? It was only at the 11th hour that they grumbled out some sort of half-baked apology. When companies were using JobKeeper to pay executive bonuses and dividends, the Treasurer accused this side of the House of somehow not wanting to support profitable businesses. Surely, we're better than this sort of schoolyard name-calling in politics when we raise a legitimate concern about the government using millions of taxpayer dollars to underwrite executive bonuses and dividends for people who do not need them. We say that you should probably use that for the thousands of Australians who are actually in need of the JobKeeper subsidy. We're still in a pandemic. Instead of just name-calling Labor and blaming everything on Labor, maybe you should actually use the government funds, the taxpayer dollars, to support hardworking Australians. Instead, what do we get? We get a government that is obsessed with itself, a government that is about the mates, a government that is about the Liberal Party first and Australians second.

I could go into all the other scandals, and there is a long list. I don't have time to go into all of them. The point of the list of scandals the government have is that, over the last few weeks, while they have been dealing with the political crises, the truth is that, over the last eight years—but, more specifically, since this Prime Minister took over—they have dealt with crisis after crisis, political scandal after political scandal, all of their own making. When the Prime Minister is issuing 11 pm apologies about a made-up sexual assault claim that he weaponised and created out of thin air, he's not dealing with the serious issues that confront Australians. If you cut $1.7 billion out of aged care, you're going to have a shortage of investment and inadequate care for our older Australians. And what are we seeing? We're seeing a lack of investment. Instead of dealing with it, the Prime Minister calls a royal commission. We know what the issue is. There is a lack of funding. But what are the government doing? Are they addressing aged care? No. They're talking about themselves. They're issuing apologies at 11 pm and dealing with the scandals that are rocking the government.

There's child care. Women especially are being held back from the workforce or from working full time. Too many Australians are working fewer hours than they want to work, and one of the big factors is child care. Women are doing a disproportionate amount of the care in the family home, and the fourth and fifth days of child care are just unaffordable. Instead of talking about getting Australians, especially women, back into work, what are the government doing? They're talking about themselves. They're talking about the scandals, talking about protecting each other, covering up for the Attorney-General, covering up for the Minister for Defence, covering up for the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction.

Wages in this country have stagnated. Where is the government's ambitious agenda for wages? Young people are working in insecure and low-paid work. Where are the government's efforts to bring wages up in this country? They are completely distracted by talking about themselves, talking about the cover-ups, talking about the political management of the scandals, talking about protecting the boys in the Liberal Party.

The gender pay gap is not closing at the rate it should. The fact that there is still a gender pay gap in this country is a national shame. The Labor Party has put a number of policies out there, including public accountability for large companies and making sure that industries that traditionally are lower paid are dealt with properly. But, instead of actually talking about the gender pay gap, what are the government doing? They're talking about themselves, talking about the scandals, talking about the cover-ups, talking about protecting the Attorney-General.

As for the vaccine rollout, it's simply not good enough that we are going at a snail's pace in this country. The premiers of this country took responsibility in a time of crisis and got the number of coronavirus cases down to zero community transmission. It was no thanks to the $78 million Commonwealth app, might I say. Do you remember that ticket to freedom that this Prime Minister sold us, Mr Deputy Speaker? It wasn't thanks to that; it was thanks to the state premiers. Just because the state premiers have competently led this country, that doesn't mean that the Australian federal government shouldn't be acting with urgency to get the vaccine rolled out. Having companies in the rollout not turn up to aged-care homes isn't good enough. Having vaccines wasted isn't good enough. Having the rollout delayed isn't good enough. The broken promise of having four million doses of the vaccine in Australians' arms by the end of March isn't good enough. Why are the government incapable of actually delivering the vaccine rollout? Because they're focused on themselves, focused on their Liberal mates, focused on protecting the Attorney-General, focused on protecting this scandal-ridden Prime Minister—they're focused on themselves.

For our Pacific family, 8,000 vaccines is not good enough. Yes, there are some good things that this government is doing around PPE and other things, but 8,000 vaccines is like putting a drop of water in the middle of the ocean. There is a crisis on our borders and, make no mistake, it will find its way to Australia. The economic crisis that will follow this health crisis will be devastating for Papua New Guinea, and sending 8,000 vaccines over there is, frankly, embarrassing. We need to do better than that.

The government is not talking about bringing down Australia's emissions. We literally are coming out of one of the worst flooding episodes after one of the worst bushfire episodes. In this country we are at the forefront of climate change. Australia is at the forefront of a global temperature rise, yet we are at the back of the pack in emissions reduction. It's hardly surprising, because what is our minister for emissions reduction more focused on? He is more focused on waging war with the Mayor of the City of Sydney. What an unedifying reduction of the office of the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. What a way to use the privilege of being a minister of the Crown in this country—spending your time trying to attack councillors for travelling overseas, with something that was completely manufactured, completely made up. Instead of dealing with the issues that confront Australians, all this mob are doing is talking about themselves, protecting the Attorney-General, protecting each other, covering up political scandal and covering up this Prime Minister.

The other looming crisis that we have on our hands is JobKeeper ending on Sunday. The Treasurer might like to say that the momentum is with economic growth. In my electorate of Macnamara, there are 20,000 workers who are currently on the JobKeeper subsidy. Each and every one of them is not going to be comforted by a macro-economic sweeping statement from an ivory tower by the Treasurer of this country. These are Australians who are working in industries that are deeply affected by the fact that we are in a global pandemic. If we were not in a global pandemic, these jobs would be safe and secure. We have gotten them to three-quarter time, and the government are walking off the field, because, instead of dealing with the issues that face Australians, they are just protecting themselves, protecting the Attorney-General, protecting the Prime Minister, protecting the jobs for the boys. But we must be better than that. This country must be better than that. Government must be better than just the 'jobs for the boys' attitude that this government is so focused on, better than just political management. Government should be used as a tool for good in this country. Australian governments can do great things, but this government and this Prime Minister are reducing government and the office of Prime Minister to the very smallest of things, and we need a change of government immediately. (Time expired)


No comments