Thursday, 25 March 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading
It is somewhat difficult to support two bills that appropriate $2.64 billion of public money from a directionless, divided and shambolic eight-year-old government that has not only lost its moral compass but also arrogantly believes that it is above the law and is not accountable to the parliament nor the Australian people. It is a government that has used and abused its power for its own political benefit; a government that has treated billions of dollars of public funds as coalition slush funds, while hounding vulnerable people who desperately try to make ends meet on welfare payments; a heartless government with a disgraceful record of human rights abuses in its treatment of refugees; a government that has presided over some of the worst cases of neglect and abuse of older people in aged care and, even after a scathing royal commission report and over 20 previous reports, older people are still suffering; a government that still fails to understand the extent of discrimination against women in Australian society and thinks that comforting words and platitudes will suffice; a government that has stacked government boards, judicial appointments and senior Public Service positions with ex coalition politicians, staffers, political sympathisers or supporters.
This is a government that not only has used public money to line the pockets of its mates with those appointments, which often pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also has paid millions of dollars above market prices for property. Then there is Murray-Darling Basin water and other government contracts. We heard only this week of a nearly $4 million feasibility study for a new coal-fired power station that was never, ever going to be built. There was the Leppington Triangle land sale, where $30 million was paid to an alleged Liberal mate for land worth only $3 million, and the land was then released back to the seller at the true market value of, I believe, less than $2 million. How can the government do that and believe that it's unaccountable to the Australian people?
There was also the payment of almost $13 million more for Murray-Darling Basin water than was advised by an independent valuer. There were several examples of that. And there was the $423 million contract for security on Manus Island awarded to an unknown company called Paladin. It's no wonder that the Morrison government does not want a Commonwealth integrity commission, something that Labor has been calling for for years. The government talks about it, talks about how it's consulting, but deliberately drags its feet and sidesteps the issue. Why? Because it knows that a national integrity commission would very likely look at the very issues that I have just referred to. Indeed, when the Auditor-General looked at some of these matters, we saw that the Auditor-General's budget was cut because it had found anomalies and was very critical of the government in the way it was expending money.
The government does the same with respect to giving First Nations people a voice. Again, there is a lot of talk, lots of propositions, but the government carefully sidesteps the issue because there is too much division about it within its own ranks. Again, I don't expect to see much progress on that within the life of this government. But of course the incompetency doesn't stop there. This is a government that resisted a banking royal commission until its own members forced it to act. From memory, the government voted against it about 26 times. Then, when the royal commission report was finally handed to it, the government ignored, deviated from or procrastinated over the recommendations. This is a government that not only mismanaged the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme but then cut $4.6 billion of funding from it so that it could claim a balanced budget. Now it wants everyone on the scheme to undergo an independent reassessment in order to reassess the support packages that people are currently on. That in itself is another cost-cutting measure that I foresee from this government, an example of where the government is looking to make cuts and doing it by appointing an independent assessment process so that the ultimate result will be less funding for each of those packages. But we'll wait and see what the government has to say about that in the weeks and months ahead.
This is a government that took over the royal commission into child sexual abuse but then ignored the commission's recommendations and, not surprisingly, left victims disappointed with the Redress Scheme. Only this week we saw it again, with calls for a royal commission into veteran suicides. It took a public campaign and a majority of members of this parliament for the government to sit up and listen, just as it took a long public campaign for the Morrison government to grant Teddy Sheean the recognition he rightfully deserved. Again, these are great examples of the public speaking out and speaking out forcefully, to the point where the government has had to backflip. Disappointingly, with respect to the royal commission into veteran suicides, the government was not even prepared to support the motion. The Prime Minister said, 'We simply will not oppose it.' Well, what does that mean? What sort of message does that send to the veterans and their families and loved ones who have been crying out for a royal commission?
We then had the $721 million—possibly much more than that, when the final repayments are made—of the robodebt debacle. Not only was it immoral but it was illegal, and the government knew it was illegal and persisted with it, hoping that it wouldn't be caught out. But in the end it was. Sadly, that debacle hurt people badly, because they had to go through a process of repaying money that they believed they should never have had to repay. The stress it caused many of them is something that this government should be absolutely ashamed of.
We also had the $70 million COVID app that no-one used and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation being given $444 million of money that was, again, rightfully criticised by the Auditor-General, as was the $100 million sports rorts, which resulted in Minister McKenzie's resignation. Again the Prime Minister was able to sidestep that issue. He claimed to know nothing about it, claimed that it was something that was outside of his control and that all the applications were above board. But we know it was a rort. It was disclosed as a rort. Quite frankly, the government ought to, again, bury its head in shame for the way it manages public funding, not just because it was a rort in itself but because so many worthy organisations put so much time and effort into preparing submissions and applications which then were not funded.
Perhaps the most glaring examples of this government's incompetence are the NBN rollout—it not only cost an additional $27.5 billion and now has to be rectified at a further cost of several billion dollars, but it was also dragged out to the point that people were not getting the services; even today people are not getting the services that they thought they would get once the rollout was complete—and the saga of the replacement submarine contract. We just heard the member for Burt talking about that eloquently and clearly articulating how this government has mismanaged that process from the very start. It's a process which has resulted in a $40 billion blowout of public funds, so we now have the expectation that it will cost $90 billion for the replacement submarines. But we still don't know what we are getting, when we are getting them or how much of the work will be in Australia.
After eight years in government, you would have thought that this issue might have been sorted out, but, as the member for Burt quite rightly pointed out just a few moments ago, in Senate estimates this week, it was revealed that we still don't have answers to some of those critical questions. Even the question of the 60 per cent local work contract—which, I might add, was 90 per cent at the time that the contract was announced—is absolutely not clear. I now read reports that that might occur with the second, third or fourth submarine that is built, but not necessarily with the first one. That is an example of where we should be building these submarines here in Australia, skilling our own workforce. We have the expertise. We've shown that through the Australian Submarine Corporation at Osborne, and yet we are paying someone from overseas to do work that should be done here. We're not talking about a few million dollars; we're talking about $90 billion, and possibly more by the time all of the details are sorted out.
This is also the mob that allowed profitable Australian companies to claim billions of dollars from its JobKeeper program, with the executives of some of those companies being paid millions of dollars in bonuses while people were losing their jobs. I understand that 30 of those companies recorded higher profits during the COVID period than they did the previous years, yet they were getting public funding in order for them to make those higher profits. This is the mob—that's all I can refer to them as—that claim that they are good economic managers, a government that pretend that they are acting in the national interest, that pretend that they know how to manage the economy, but yet, in reality, have seen not millions but billions of public dollars being wasted or improperly expended.
As I said from the outset, these two bills allocate $2.6 billion of additional government spending. Gross debt is currently over $800 billion and forecast to reach well over $1 trillion. This year's deficit is forecast to be $197.7 billion, with cumulative deficits over the forward estimates expected to reach $456 billion, or 2½ times the debt inherited by the coalition. And we haven't even factored into that the cost of the recent floods that we have seen over the past week.
They are the government who claimed to be good economic managers. The question that needs to be answered is not only when and how the debt is going to be repaid but what we have to show for it. Very little! And in a couple of weeks time, when JobKeeper ends and we have another couple of hundred thousand people on welfare or unemployment benefits, then what will the debt blow out to then?
The fact remains that this government is incompetent. It's a government with no clear economic strategy, but riddled with rorts, pork-barrelling and incompetence. This is a government that, quite frankly, shouldn't be given the opportunity to spend another $2.6 billion without adequate scrutiny. We have always taken the moral view that we will not oppose appropriation bills, and for that reason we will support Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and its cognate bill, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021. But the reality is that we support them not because we have confidence in this government—rather the opposite is the case—but because it is the right thing to do.