House debates

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Morrison Government

3:25 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Corio proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government's failure to outline its purpose in this term.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

As we gather here this afternoon, on the 66th day of its third term, there is one question above all others that screams from this place: what is the point of the Morrison government? I know what the point of the member for Dunkley is: she came here and, in her wonderful first speech, talked about a commitment to the reform and funding that our health system needs and to do whatever is required to ensure that Australia trains, retains and invests in the healthcare professionals and researchers who make our system great. But, if you are expecting any action from that side of the House with respect to health, you are sadly mistaken. For the last six years, they've cut money from health, and that's all we can expect over the next three.

I know what the point of the member for McNamara is, because he stands here ready to help ensure that our First Nations people are duly recognised in Australia's Constitution. But, if you're hoping for action on recognition by the government, we saw everything we needed to see when the Minister for Indigenous Australians made his statement and was cut down by the Prime Minister within 24 hours.

I know what the member for Jagajaga stands for. She believes there is a climate story powerful enough to drive the action that will allow humanity to survive and to flourish. But all we've heard from that side of the parliament in the last six years in relation to climate change is the steering of this country to a place of being a pariah in the international community when it comes to our action on climate change.

I know what the member for Canberra stands for, because she said:

We should invest in our nation's children and give them the best start in life. Social security is one of the most powerful tools governments have to address and prevent poverty.

That was said by a person who understands what social security can do to address poverty. But, if you look over to that side of the parliament, notwithstanding that the Prime Minister is a former Minister for Social Services, all you see is a policy-barren wasteland when it comes to social security.

And I know what the member for Lilley is about. She's here because nothing has more power to make or dismantle this nation's future than this House. The work this House does shapes lives now and long into the future. But, if you were hoping for action from that side of the House to make this place more purposeful, you are sadly mistaken. They cannot even fill the speakers list with respect to their own legislation, and we are watching, as we stand here right now, the Senate, in its third week, running out of business.

When you look at the wonderful first speeches that were made by the Labor members of this place—bursting with a sense of optimism, a sense of purpose, a sense of intent; why they have come to this place and want to make a difference on behalf of Australians all around this country—you cannot feel anything but proud of being a member of the party that we belong to. But, on that side of the House, there is absolutely nothing.

The date of 18 May was significant. To be honest, it was a moment that harboured a lot of pain for those of us on this side of the House. But there is no group of Australians who are more surprised to be sitting where they are right now than those opposite. They spent most of last year and all of summer thinking about what they were going to be doing after politics. They were wondering where they were going to be going on their holidays. Now they are sitting there wondering what on earth it is they're actually going to do.

To give them a little bit of credit, they have managed to kind of effect a smugness distillery. You only need to look at the faces of all the members of their frontbench to see smugness in its purest form. If you look at the Prime Minister, it is literally dripping from him. The younger at heart amongst them no doubt have been bouncing back into the ministerial wing late at night when no-one's watching. They're doing the snow fairy on their blue carpet. You can imagine the cabinet meetings where they're all getting round, wondering what to say and comparing which department has the best chesterfields and which departmental secretary is offering the best Scotch. But don't for a moment think that they have anything that resembles a policy and agenda for this country.

The only people who have been busy at all are those responsible for spin. This week they came up with a line which was: whose side are you on? There's a certain irony about that, because the one thing we know about these people is that they are certainly not on the side of the Australian people. If it is measured by who they are focused on, the only side they seem to care about is this side. Because, since 2 July, when they came back here, the only thing they have done in this parliament is seek to wedge Labor.

In the very first week, the week of 2 July, we were seeking to put $1,000 into the pockets of nurses, shop assistants and people who work in restaurants. But the government urgently wanted to hold all of that hostage to a tax plan which wasn't going to come into effect for six years, and they did that because they wanted to wedge Labor. Last week, the Leader of the Opposition attended the Bush Summit in Dubbo. He made clear to all assembled that Labor was willing to support a drought package of whatever size the government wanted to put forward out of recurrent funding and wanted to ensure that that package actually got into the hands of farmers right now. But what we had from the government was a proposition which sought to attach all of that to the Building Australia Fund, a fund which they have been trying to destroy since the day they were elected to office back in 2013. What's worse, not a cent would flow from their proposition for an entire year.

Of course, we've had old faithful: national security. The Minister for Home Affairs came up here and talked about temporary exclusion orders, a regime which he knows we support. But he has tried to attach it to the junking of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, a committee which has done critically important work in this country to make sure that national security legislation is fairer, better and stronger for our nation.

Whatever else is going on here, there is no agenda for the Australian people. Anyone in this parliament would know it, and people in this town know that the government haven't been governing for years. It's why our economy is stagnant right now. It's why we've got net debt which, under this mob, has doubled. Gross debt is at a record level. Indeed, debt is growing faster now than at the time of the global financial crisis. When they came to office, we were the eighth-fastest-growing economy in the OECD. Today we are the 20th. There is not a worker in this country who doesn't know that the stand-out stat in the economy today is stagnant wages, and this government has been responsible for the single biggest deindustrialisation in our economy since Federation.

Since 2013, we have had one of the most severe droughts that this country has ever faced. Yet do you imagine that we would get anything like a long-term strategic drought policy from the government? We've had none of it. What we have had is a drought envoy, a drought coordinator, a drought summit and a drought task force. Now we're going to get a drought parliamentary committee. But, if you think our farmers are going to get a meaningful drought policy from the government, you've got another think coming.

When it comes to national security and the very difficult issue of our borders, at a time when we have the largest number of displaced people on the planet since the Second World War, what you have is Labor coming to the table every day with sincerity, trying to solve a wicked problem in a way that stops people dying and has Australia taking its part in the world. But what you've got over here is deep cynicism. You've got a Prime Minister who went to Christmas Island this year to do nothing other than put out a welcome sign by opening the Christmas Island detention centre in the most cynical way in the lead-up to the election. And whenever you hear that number from the Minister for Home Affairs, as we did today, of the 1,200 people who lost their lives between 2010 and 2013, just remember that 650 of them died after this mob cynically stopped the Malaysian solution back in 2011.

So what I do know is that they are not for the Australian people, but I also know this: when you look at the wonderful first speeches from this side of the House, when you look at the intent and purpose which they embody, that is the spirit which is going to carry us from this side of the House to that side of the House in three years time when we face the people.

3:35 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't know what to make of that contribution from the member for Corio except to say that, when you've won one of the last nine elections, you'd think you might learn a thing or two from the signal that the Australian people have been trying to send you. In case the Labor Party hasn't picked it up, winning one out of nine means you're doing something wrong.

There is no greater tribute to a government's agenda or a political party's agenda than when your opponents copy your agenda completely. Since the re-election of the Morrison government, what have we heard from the Labor Party? What are the issues that the Labor Party have been talking about in this parliament? They've asked us to pass more tax cuts and to pass faster and deeper tax cuts. They've told us that they're in favour of drought relief. They've said to us that they are tough on intelligence and national security. And we've just heard from the member for Corio the absolute clincher that they are for stronger borders. What do we make of a Labor Party that tells us that they're for lower, simpler, fairer taxes, that they want more drought relief, that they're tough on national security and intelligence, and that they're for stronger borders? Whose agenda does that sound like? I've got a news flash for the member of Corio. If we did a quiz and asked the Australian people to pick the government—if we asked, 'Is this a Liberal-National government or a Labor government?'—99 per cent of Australians would tell you, 'That's a Liberal-National government for sure.'

And who is it that's passing the tax cuts? Who is it that's keeping economic confidence moving in this country? It's the Morrison government. The first thing that this government did was to pass tax cuts for hardworking Australians in defiance of a year's assault on the working class of this country from the Labor Party—a socialist assault from a left-wing Labor Party. And the Australian people are supposed to forget or to blank out the rhetoric that you brought to this parliament over the last 12 months against hardworking people, against the middle class, against anyone who owned and operated their own business in this country, and against people that have worked hard their entire lives and put aside money for their own retirement? You brought the economic pain to this parliament over the last 12 months, and the Australian people rejected it in favour of a Liberal-National government.

And now you want to replicate us. You've become replicators. We should pass more tax cuts and pass them faster. Have you blanked out the first week of the parliament? You tried to lecture us on tax cuts. We weren't passing our tax agenda fast enough, you told us. Do you suppose we've forgotten who you are and what you represent? Of course we haven't. On national security, to hear members of the Labor Party today tell us that we should pass our foreign fighter laws faster and that Minister Dutton isn't strong enough on national security—what an absolute farce you have become! I've served in the Home Affairs portfolio with Minister Dutton. We have tried to pass these foreign fighter laws for years. We've been slowed down by the Labor Party's obfuscation on bill after bill, year after year, amendment after amendment. As we heard in question time the other day, there were 41 amendments put up, only for you to vote for the bill. Not one of them got up. What are you trying to achieve? Then you say we aren't moving these bills through the parliament fast enough. I've got a news flash for you again: this is your fault. The reason they haven't moved through this parliament fast enough is that you have delayed their passage. When you had the numbers in the Senate, you used those numbers to delay passage of these bills.

Don't come in here in a new parliament, where you've won one out of the last nine elections, where you've had a signal from the Australian people yet again—why? Because we now have the ability to work with the crossbench and we're passing bills. We've already passed tax cuts for hardworking Australians, for the middle class of this country, to make sure that the marginal tax rates are lowered, that bracket creep's addressed, that our economy is moving again but also that our national security is the top priority of the government. That's called a real agenda.

Our temporary exclusion orders bill that we are dealing with now in this place is the top priority of the Morrison government. Why? Because foreign fighters—we tried to deal with this in the last parliament, made unworkable by the obfuscation of the Labor Party. So it is unbelievable for you to come in here and say: 'Minister Dutton is not tough enough on national security.' You'd be laughed out of every pub in Queensland—indeed, you were laughed out of every pub in Queensland at the last election. Take it to the pubs in your electorate and say, 'Minister Dutton's not tough enough on national security'. I dare you to go down there and tell them, because you aren't seeing this picture—and it's not my job to tell you, I've got to confess, what you're doing wrong. I'll probably stop in a minute because I don't want to give you too many pointers. Keep doing what you're doing.

For you to tell this government that when we take our responsibilities for national security, the security of the country, as our prime responsibility to Australians—moving legislation through this House that we've tried in previous parliaments that we are now delivering to make sure that those foreign fighters cannot return to our borders to commit acts of harm and violence against Australian citizens and against our own territory—you are wrong to suggest that we do not have a very strong agenda. You're wrong to suggest that dealing with drought relief as an immediate priority of a re-elected government is not a national priority—that somehow that's not an agenda. This is the most critical economic issue in the entire country, as my colleagues will tell you.

An opposition member: What?

What? The drought. Yes, it is. It is the No. 1 issue in our country right now—the ongoing drought. It is the No. 1 economic challenge that we face. We very much understand that. The National Party understands it. We understand it. We're acting on it. Our Future Drought Fund package is going through now, and you're still playing this game with this parliament.

The economy, the drought and our nation's security are just a fraction of this government's agenda but, yes, they are priorities. We make no apology for passing tax cuts up-front. We make no apology for dealing with the foreign fighters challenges. We make no apology for dealing with the drought as our top priority. For the Labor Party to tell us that that does not constitute an agenda is offensive. It's offensive to millions of people in drought. It's offensive to millions of middle-class hardworking small mum-and-dad businesses around the country and, for every person in this country who wants to protect our future and our children, dealing with foreign fighters and national security couldn't be more important.

We're getting on with the business the Australian people elected us to do. The Morrison government is clear-eyed about the challenges that face us. We're tackling them week by week, day by day. We'll keep doing that, and we won't take advice from the opposition.

3:43 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think after that it's time to have a bit of logic to this debate. Most people recognise that our job here is to govern. In fact, especially when you're in government, that's really job description 101. It seems that those opposite haven't clocked that the election is over, they won and now it's time to get on with the job. They've had six years, and I still don't think they've worked out how to govern and what it means to have a vision for this country.

They're still obsessed with Labor. Their words suggest they're driven by one goal and one goal only, and that is to do things that are meant to be a test for Labor. We are up for any test that you care to put our way. There's no discussion on the other side about what's best for this country, what's best for Australia. There is no vision. Or perhaps there is, and they're too afraid to outline it to us. There are no plans to deal with the myriad of issues that we are facing. What's the plan for the NBN in my electorate of Macquarie where we need to see how we can improve FTTN and we need to see how uneven technologies that are creating different playing fields for different people are going to be fixed? There is no plan for the forgotten houses of NBN who might never get that connection. What's the plan for the water supply for the growing Western Sydney population? What's the plan for flight paths from the second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek? What's the plan to protect the Blue Mountains, and the rest of Western Sydney, from aeroplane noise 24 hours a day? They have no idea what they're in for. What's the plan for improving funding for schools, hospitals and preventative health care? Wait a minute. The plan is to keep cutting health and education.

What's the plan to make sure that people get proper access to the NDIS and that providers can stay viable in the face of long plan delays? What's the plan for providing improved mental health services, especially for the Hawkesbury and for young people when there's no access to headspace? What's the plan for ending homelessness? What's the plan for housing affordability? What's the plan for lower power prices? What is the plan for PFAS contamination at Richmond RAAF base? There is no plan to decontaminate mass areas of soil and water.

What's the plan for dealing with drought now? What's the plan for Newstart, for making sure that people who are unemployed are adequately supported while they search for work? What's the plan for raising the rate? What's the so urgently needed plan for making ParentsNext a less punitive program? What's the plan for tackling climate change? We know the answer to that one. There just flat out isn't one. This is in the too-hard basket not because science and industry don't have answers but because implementing anything meets opposition not from us but from within the coalition. What's the plan for recognising First Peoples? Again, nothing; not because they expect opposition from us but because they can't get agreement between themselves and appear to not even be trying.

No wonder the Senate has again run out of business. There is no vision, no plan and no destination that this government is taking us to. The problem is: if you leave a vacuum, something will fill it. What we're seeing is that the backbenchers can see that there's no plan and they're filling it. Every backbencher is coming up with an idea they dreamt up over Sunday lunch. What plans have we had so far? We've had the plan for nuclear power plants. Earlier in the week we had the plan to ditch the legislated superannuation guarantee increase to 12 per cent. Today it's a plan to scrap superannuation altogether and make it something you do if you feel like it. Goodness knows what the plan will be tomorrow.

With no agenda it is no wonder that this government is failing to steer the economy, which really needs some direction. We all know that interest rates are at their lowest since the GFC. It might be okay for people trying to buy a house, but it isn't good for anyone trying to live off their earnings. Net debt has more than doubled and gross debt is at record highs. Both of these have gone up faster under the Liberals' watch than when we were in government. Remember that we dealt with the global financial crisis. We need direction and we're not getting it from this government. It's about time they realised that they need to do the job.

3:48 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, doesn't it say it all that you had to give me the call? The government are so proud of their record and so proud of their agenda that they can't get more than one speaker to defend their record. What's the member for Lindsay doing over there? She has a lot to say in here and has a lot of slogans about having a go and getting a go. Now is the time to put your money where your mouth is and start defending the government. I'll give some leeway to the member for Curtin; she hasn't given her first speech yet. But the chamber is empty.

The MPI came through today. How good is this government? How good is the Prime Minister? Not one member of his government can defend or has any idea what this government is. Welcome to the club; neither do we. Neither do the people of Australia. I'm going to do something I never thought I'd do. In the debate today I'm going to quote The Australian today. The editorial states, 'Ill-disciplined coalition MPs are indulging their egos.' They are not my words and are not the deputy leader's words; they are the words of The Australian. The article states:

The Canberra Balloon Spectacular may have been in March but the Festival of the Lazy Thought Bubble is playing out in the capital this week. We've been treated by freestyling Coalition members and senators to a range of random ideas, from the superannuation guarantee to nuclear power, the pension assets test on the family home to the indigenous voice to parliament. The breakdown in discipline has got up the nose of Scott Morrison, who urged his team on Tuesday to stop airing the issue of a rise in the Newstart allowance and other "thoughtlets" via the media. "Where there are issues that need to be explored, I would urge colleagues to use the internal processes available to each of us…

Cue the new senator for New South Wales: 'Super row as new Lib senator defies PM.' That lasted 24 hours from when the great man spoke to his party room meeting. Why is there so much breakout happening? I'll tell you why. Because this government, as the deputy leader said, had no clue for a third term, because they simply had no idea that they would be in a third term of government. The people of Australia have spoken. What are they delivering? A big fat zero.

We know that the Australian economy has slowed to its weakest level since the tail end of the global financial crisis. Interest rates are three times lower. Growth is just 0.4 per cent for the March quarter and 1.8 per cent for the year. Australia is still in a GDP per capita recession. The national economy has gone from the eighth fastest growing economy in the OECD in 2013 to the 20th. Wages are growing eight times slower. Productivity has fallen for four consecutive quarters. Household spending is weak. Living standards are growing slower under the Liberals than under the previous Labor government. If I am wrong and this is incorrect, I will sit down and one of you people can take the call. Absolute silence as always—time and time again. The facts speak for themselves.

It seems the members of the backbench aren't the only ones coming forward with their own ideas on how to fix things. When you are in trouble in this place you always go to one person, the member for Hughes. Time and time again we know that. His idea this week was to rip-off and attack pensioners with that great idea of allowing the family home to be included in the assets test for the pension. I can't wait to tell pensioners in my electorate about that one. He went on to say, 'You don't want to force people out of their homes, but it is something you could look at.' What planet are these people on? Give me a break.

Then, during the break, I had the revelation of actually finding out who Senator Anne Ruston is. Two weeks ago I had to Google whoever she was when she went out and said, 'Pensioners have it too good as it is. They're getting a generous payment.' Does anyone over there actually talk to anyone on a low income? Do you actually talk to pensioners? I challenge any member of the government to find a pensioner who says they've got it good, because the pensioners I and every Labor member speak to are doing it tough. They need advocates and voices in this parliament. Sadly, because of the wacky thought ideas, the ill discipline and the crazy ideas that are coming forward from those opposite, we do not have an agenda for this third-term Morrison government. I simply say to the government today: get your act together. Start governing for Australia.

3:53 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There it is again. We've got a government bereft of an agenda and devoid of a vision. Let's face it: they've just now proved that they are an organisational blackspot. They are the blackspots that they want to talk about all the time. They tell us they'll fund blackspots if they're in regions. Well, this chamber is a blackspot region today. They can't manage to get speakers up on the MPI. There are flights leaving Canberra. They're in a hurry to get home. Again, they're avoiding work in this place.

The Australian people returned this government with some expectations. When they see this MPI today they will be sorely disappointed to find out that they can't get speakers on their own legislation, and to find out today that three times they've failed to provide a pair in this place for someone on maternity leave. They can't get anything organised. They certainly have no agenda but they have got slogans. They've got slogans and they've got a new one every day. We started, before the election, with, 'If you have a go, you'll get a go.' They persisted with that.

I'm going to share a constituent's story here, because I think it pretty much tells the story of the last six years of the ATM government. I was contacted by a single mother in my electorate. She has three children all under 10 years of age. Her husband left her and her children. She sought support from our safety net. She applied in May 2018 for a single parent pension. This payment was not granted until February 2019. If there's an agenda item that those opposite need to put on their meeting schedule, that's it: Centrelink. They have no plan to improve the wait times, not for that mother, not for pensioners and not for students waiting for Austudy for over a semester. They have no plan to address those things.

They have no plans to support growth areas, like the area that I represent. They have no plan to deal with the tens of thousands of bridging visas that they are granting. They are completely unaware that there are people who are tied up in that bridging visa program coming to my office to say, 'Joanne, my son is turning five. He needs to go to school.' They come into my office, as I am an educator and a former school principal who knows the rules. There is no place for that child in the education system in this country without their family paying international fees, but you give them a bridging visa and tell them that their child can just sit at home and do nothing. Shame on this government.

This is a government that not only is without an agenda and without a vision but also doesn't even know what's going on in this country. They don't even know how people are living. I tell you what they do have. They have some ideology. Every time we raise an issue, they come back with ideology. There is no vision and no plan; just ideology. They just have a determination to punish the most vulnerable in our communities. They just have a determination to ensure that those who live in certain postcodes know their place and stay in their place. They have no plan for education other than to entrench privilege and to keep those who have come from a lesser background down in their place. That is their agenda—if the government have one.

I don't think they even know that they're doing that. I don't think they know much at all about what's going on. I think the absolute best example of their ideology, over having a plan or vision, is that we are in this place waiting for legislation to deal with the recommendations of the Hayne royal commission into the banks. The whole country knows that that behaviour was not acceptable. The whole country knows that the government have done nothing to address those issues in this place over these last two sitting weeks. The government have done absolutely nothing. With the royal commission into aged care or the royal commission into abuse of the disabled, what hope do the Australian people have that they will get anything from those royal commissions? What this government is doing in this country is absolutely shameful. Instead of saying, 'How good is Australia?' they are saying, 'How good is ideology?'

3:58 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The signs were there in the lead-up to the election that the Liberals had no agenda and no purpose for this country. In my electorate of Werriwa, the government announced no plans, no additional spending and no additional infrastructure—nothing. The Labor Party had a plan for Werriwa. We had a long list of commitments: $2 million for the Middleton Drive extension, half a million dollars for the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, a fuel line to Western Sydney Airport and over $25 million in additional funding for schools. On a litany of issues, this government has no plan, no agenda and no purpose.

It is a really strange place in history in which we currently find ourselves. We are confronted with major issues and existential challenges. Yet, despite these challenges, we are in a bizarre situation where we have the answers and we have solutions, but what we don't have is a government willing to act. The answers are there. The experts are telling us. The business sector is telling us. The community is telling us. On energy policy, the answers are there, and also on climate change and on reconciliation.

In the previous term I had the privilege of sitting on the Energy and Environment Committee. In both public and private hearings the message was loud and clear: a well-functioning energy grid needs policy certainty. A stable energy grid must be underpinned by stable energy policy. Policy certainty addresses both pricing and supply. Policy certainty allows genuine long-term investment in power generation and provision. Certainty provides a stimulus for supply through new investments in plan and for innovation through funding, research and development. Instead, all we've got from this government is big sticks, then little sticks, then no sticks. And now apparently they're replacing all those sticks with rods—nuclear fuel rods. We've got backbenchers freelancing on nuclear power plants and the energy minister backing them in. Apparently he has an open mind when it comes to nuclear power.

The minister needs to tell us where these nuclear power plants are going. Are we expanding Lucas Heights? What does the member for Hughes think about that? Or Perth? Perhaps the Gold Coast? Maybe Port Phillip Bay? While we're discussing the energy minister, if you're hoping for climate change action on the part of the Morrison government you're going to be waiting for a long time. With government ministers saying A and backbenchers saying B and C, it's clear that the Morrison government can't reconcile its own energy policy with its backbenchers.

And while we're on reconciliation, the way forward is clear: the Uluru Statement from the Heart is a national Indigenous consensus position. Our First Nation Australians are dying too soon, are educated far less, are incarcerated too often and suffer more preventable disease. The numbers show the tragedy in real terms. Over a quarter of incarcerated adults in this country are First Nation Australians. Nearly half of all juveniles incarcerated are First Australians. In 2017, suicide was the leading cause of death among our First Australian children. And we can't come to any policy certainty. It is terrible. One in 10 households in public housing are Indigenous. That says how much we are helping them and looking towards their future. The Constitution can no longer be a mark of a white man settlement here. It must recognise those who were here first and their deep connection to their land and their culture. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs appears to share the Labor Party's views on constitutional recognition. But in no less than a week after apparent bipartisan commitment we saw a captain's recall from Prime Minister Morrison in respect of what Minister Wyatt had said.

We on this side are committing to ensuring that our First Nation people are recognised, respected and supported. Where is the government's plan? What is the plan on climate change and on energy policy? This government is short on plans and has no purpose. I'm feeling generous. The Labor Party and I and all my colleagues on this side of the House took lots and lots of great ideas to the election. And do you know what? Lots of people voted for those policies. I really encourage those on the opposite benches to take some of ours. We'd be happy for our people to start getting what they deserve out of this country.

4:03 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to draw the House's attention to the important work that is happening on the part of this government in drought relief. The devastating effects of this drought and dealing with this drought is the No. 1 priority for the communities of my electorate. I was really heartened by the visit to the region recently by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Senator McKenzie and the member for Parkes, as well as a number of state MPs. It highlights the importance of this issue and the driving purpose of this government to deal with the devastating effects of drought in this region.

This week, in terms of priorities, I think we saw it writ large in the passing of the Future Drought Fund Bill and how important that will be to country communities. How disappointing it was that, in the face of what is a national emergency, the opposition chose to play politics with it right until the end—the very end! There can be no more important priority than dealing with the fallout from the drought. It is affecting farmers. It's having a devastating impact at the farm gate. But the impact of drought is also being felt in our country communities. I've spoken to constituents in the electorate of Calare who are running small businesses, and some of them haven't had a decent income for two or three years now. They are burning through retirement savings just to keep open the doors of their businesses. I think that's one of the reasons why our communities were so pleased to see key decision-makers putting this issue front and centre, making sure that dealing with the devastating impacts of this drought was one of the key purposes, one of the key drivers, of this government.

I know the Drought Communities Program has been very well received right across the central west. I've called in this House many times for drought relief to be ramped up as conditions worsen. I've been very pleased that the call has been answered, particularly with respect to the Drought Communities Program. I know, for example, Bathurst Regional Council has submitted about 14 projects, which are currently being assessed.

Mr Chester interjecting

I thank the minister for his interjection. I will move on to Dixons Long Point shortly. My point is that, as the conditions have worsened in this drought, the response has been ramped up. We now have the biggest drought relief effort in Australia's history.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

No, you haven't. That's just not true.

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

We have got the biggest drought relief effort in Australia's history, and you have tried to sabotage it at every turn. It's been a disgraceful display, and I think farmers across Australia were appalled at the petty politics played by the member for Hunter, who had his face slapped badly at the last election. What's your margin, Member for Hunter? It's three per cent. It was a massive drop. You were punished for selling out the people of country Australia.

I note that infrastructure is also a key priority of this government in this term. The Deputy Prime Minister has made it very clear through the dozens of questions—if you could call them that—that were put to him in question time this week about the many great things that are happening in infrastructure right across Australia. In my own part of the world, Dixons Long Point, the crossing over of the Macquarie River between Orange and Mudgee, is a priority. I note that Deputy Speaker Hogan was out there recently, about three weeks ago, inspecting the site. We've been progressing that project. I had discussions with the department and Mid-Western Regional Council just this morning about how that project can be progressed and how we can get the money out the door, because this government is all about delivery, unlike those opposite, who continue to play petty politics on matters of public importance when legislation is passing through this House. They've been calling quorums all day. I think it shows a very petty approach and shows that they are sinking to the lowest common denominator. We saw that in question time today. This government is getting things done. We have a clear purpose and we are driving ahead, unlike those opposite, who have recorded the lowest primary vote in 100 years.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Hunter on a point of order.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the member for Calare should clarify his own political margin in his own seat, which I understand fell dramatically at the last election.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't think that's a point of order.

4:09 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very happy to make a contribution to this matter of public importance. What an outstanding speech we heard from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and what fantastic speeches we heard from those who followed! I need to pick up on a couple of points made by the member for Calare in his contribution. It was one full of inaccuracies. Let's reflect on what has happened in the drought space over the last six years. For six years they have had an opportunity to do something for our drought-affected farmers, and what have they done? It is pretty much zip. We've had a drought envoy, a drought coordinator, a drought summit and a drought task force. We had the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation. It took a year to report, and its recommendations were, of course, ignored. And now we've got the Select Committee on Regional Australia. All they have done is change the title of the committee. And when is it going to report? July 2020. They're going to take another year now, after six years, to work out what we should be doing about the worst drought in our history. And what is familiar about that date? I know! That's when the Future Drought Fund starts to come into operation.

Our farmers have been in drought for seven years—seven years—and there is no sign of that drought abating. Our farmers need help today, not in 12 months time.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has concluded.