Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading
I too rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and cognate bill. There's no doubt that this year has been unprecedented. We've had a horrendous year with COVID hitting at approximately this time in Australia about a year ago, in early March. This pandemic is certainly a crisis like we have never seen before in our lifetime. It's not surprising that the 2020-21 MYEFO forecast shows a $197.7 billion deficit just this financial year, $456 billion in cumulative deficits over the forward estimates, and the list goes on. But it is worth noting that, in 2008, when we were hit with the financial global crisis, the coalition, then in opposition, criticised the Labor government for its spending to get Australia through that crisis. I have to say, I was here at the time and I recall very well what it took to get the then opposition over the line to support our measures to ensure that people didn't lose their jobs and that life went on as normal as could be.
The two are very different events, but it just shows the difference in the political parties. In this particular crisis, the Labor opposition was willing to support and help the government in every way we could, because we knew this was a crisis and we had to do everything to protect ourselves from both the health angle and the economic angle. Back then, during the global financial crisis, we were criticised, as I said. There was the debt truck. The Liberal opposition's truck was driving around every marginal seat, showing the debt et cetera. You see none of that from this side, and that's because we understand that good government needs to be able to protect its people, whether it be health or the economy. We have seen that many people have lost their jobs and have gone onto JobKeeper or JobSeeker, and many more are about to lose their jobs. Very soon, JobSeeker will be ending. What will happen to those people? What will happen to those people who still haven't gone back to work or whose industries have been decimated or don't exist because they had to shut down because of COVID-19? It is another measure of where we are and the difference between the two political parties that vie to govern this country.
I'm not here to score political points, but it's so important for Australia and Australians. We know that budgets are much more than just numbers; they are about priorities and the vision that governments may have for Australia, and, ultimately, they're about people and caring for people, ensuring that people have a job and can earn a decent wage—enough to pay their bills, put food on the table, pay their medical bills and send their children to school—and knowing that the government is protecting them from whatever it may be. We all know that this pandemic provides us with a unique situation and an opportunity to reset the agenda, to establish a fairer Australia for all. As Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, said in his budget reply speech—and we really do:
We have a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild our economy and our country for the better.
To launch a recovery that delivers a stronger, fairer and more secure future, for all Australians.
Unfortunately, I don't see too much evidence of that under the current government, especially when it comes to Australian workers and working families. Just in the last week of parliament, we saw the industrial relations bill put through which had a focus, from the very start, on diminishing wages for workers, diminishing workers rights and diminishing the opportunities to negotiate in a fair way for wage increases and the future of their workplace.
It is quite evident and clear, and we see it every time in every coalition government that's elected, that one of their priorities is to diminish workers rights. We see it over and over again. We saw it in 2007, under the Howard government. We saw it again, early on in the piece with Abbott, during his time in government. Now we're seeing it again—basically, Work Choices mark 2 has come out.
Let's face it, the Australian economy was already struggling before COVID. Under this government, Australia was already facing a jobs crisis, low productivity and low wage growth, including growing casualisation, insecure work, underemployment—in other words, people who were perhaps working part-time in one or two jobs who wanted full-time employment—stagnant wages, and falling skills and training levels. The pandemic has resulted in over 1.3 million Australians today surviving on unemployment benefits or some form of welfare payment, and that includes JobSeeker and youth allowance. Two million Australians are looking for work or looking for more work because they don't have enough hours to get by. And, as I said, at the end of the month—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—