Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020; Second Reading
I really appreciate this opportunity to speak today on the appropriations bill. Labor has made the decision not to block supply, so I'm speaking in support of the bill. This is really my first contribution to parliamentary debate since the election, and I wanted to use this opportunity to speak a little bit about my community and what happened around the time of the election and to say my thankyou to the people of Hotham for bringing me back to this chamber.
It is really an incredible thing to be given the opportunity to speak for others in this parliament. I think all of us in this chamber feel such a deep sense of a relationship with our communities that is built on trust. It was an amazing thing to fight in this election campaign for the Labor values that we on this side of the chamber are so committed to. During the election campaign we knocked on thousands of doors, we made thousands of phone calls and I spoke to thousands and thousands of people on pre-poll. I really want to thank each and every person in my community who took the time to have a conversation with me.
I think a lot of people don't realise that we spend so much of our time talking to people. The people that we represent are so generous in the way they share their stories with us. There aren't many jobs in the world where you can knock on someone's door, ask them how they're going and then five minutes later be talking about their child who can't access the National Disability Insurance Scheme or another kid with learning difficulties who is not getting the help they need at school or an aged parent who isn't able to get a healthcare placement that they need. These are the stories that are shared with us so openly and so honestly. It was an incredible thing to have all of those conversations during the election campaign.
I'd like to thank my amazing team of volunteers for the work that they did during the election campaign. We would never have been able to speak to even a tenth as many people as we did without the support of this dedicated group of people who, out of the goodness of their hearts and their belief that our country can be bigger and better, decided to contribute their time to our campaign in Hotham. We probably had about a dozen people who were with me most nights of the week working the phones and talking to people and who were coming out every single weekend—we would do two doorknocks a day, sometimes on both days of the weekend. The commitment that these people have to the Australian Labor Party is incredible. Some of them were branch members and some of them we hope will join up. I really want to say my thankyou to them.
I pay tribute to my incredible staff, who worked with us during the campaign. My staff are the most amazing people. I am always telling people that I reckon I've got the best team around the parliament. I really want to say thank you to my staff for their support and for the commitment that they show to our cause.
I can absolutely make the commitment today, as I did during the election campaign, that, despite all the things that go on in this building and all the hifalutin business that goes on in politics, my first commitment to being in this parliament is to represent the people of Hotham. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to do that again. I will do everything I can to make sure I'm speaking for you faithfully and that I push the issues that you raised with me during the election campaign.
I'd like to touch on some of the issues that came up during the campaign. As I mentioned, I really did speak to so many thousands of people, and there really were some big themes raised that I thought were worth bringing back and relaying to the chamber here today. I want to say something about the National Disability Insurance Scheme to start with. I think families that aren't touched by disability are probably not always conscious of the profound effect that this has on families that have been touched by it. It's amazing how many doors you knock on where the person inside has got a brother or a sister or a parent or a child with a disability, and that really is the main thing in their life—how are they going to provide safety, security and a life of value for the person in the family who is affected by the issue?
The National Disability Insurance Scheme has the potential to change the lives of almost every single one of those families. When we look back on what this parliament has achieved in the last 15 years, this is the big thing. This is the big opportunity for us to do something that is life-changing and life-shaping for millions of Australians who are either affected by disability or have a family member who is. We are not getting this right at the moment. It was quite rare during the election that I spoke to a family who is having a smooth and really positive experience working with the National Disability Insurance Scheme. There are some families, I know, who are receiving support that weren't getting any before. I'm really, really grateful for that. But to hear of families where you have issues like a child with a permanent disability who's being asked to reprove their disability—reprove that they have Down syndrome. What an offensive thing to ask of someone. There are issues where we see families with a child with a serious disability who is waiting months to get appointments with the NDIS for their initial assessment. Once they're told that they'll be eligible for certain types of supports, they're waiting again for six months or longer for those supports.
This is not the vision that Labor had for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Our concept was an insurance model, which I see is being adopted, but one that is properly funded. There's no point having an insurance model if the money's not there to give people the help when they need it. We were intensely disappointed, frustrated and angry to see that just prior to the election the government trumpeted around what they considered to be a brilliant notion of having a government surplus when, in fact, billions of dollars of that are coming from underspend on the NDIS, when we know that in my community and in the community of every single person in this chamber there are people who are waiting on supports because they can't get the resources that they need. Something is very off here, and it's brilliant to see that we've got the member for Maribyrnong who is now going to be front and centre in this discussion in keeping the government to account. One thing I do know, and I can certainly say this to the people I represent in Hotham, is that we will not stop until this scheme meets the vision that Julia Gillard, that Kevin Rudd, that Bill Shorten and that Jenny Macklin had for this scheme. We will not stop until that vision is met and until the people in my community who deserve and need those supports get them at the appropriate time.
I want to also just address some of the issues around health and education that came up during the election campaign. Labor made a commitment to some pretty significant increases in expenditure in health and education that were so desperately needed. I have to say, the doorknocking I did during the election really confirmed to me that this is a very important thing for us to look at again as we go forward into this next term of parliament. I spoke to so many people who are on waiting lists in public hospitals for elective surgery, to people who are paying enormous out-of-pocket expenses, and even to people who are not taking the medication they need that their doctors are advising them to take, because the out-of-pocket costs associated with it are so significant that they're not looking after their own health. In fact, they can't afford to provide for their own health care.
I say again: in the case of the NDIS and in the case of Medicare this is not what a world-class universal public healthcare system is meant to provide. The whole point of this is that we provide brilliant, First World health care for Australians at a price that they can afford. No-one in this country should be not taking medical treatments that they need because they can't afford to. Yet that's what we see and that's what we hear in a lot of households around the country, and that has to change.
I had so many incredible conversations in my electorate with people who are mums and dads of school-aged children. There are, I would say, a lot of anxieties in this parent group at the moment—and I certainly share some of them myself—about what the future looks like for these young people. I think parents absolutely get that our economy has changed in very significant ways since the time they were at school and they were entering the workforce. It's much harder for young people today to move from study into a job that they can rely on, a job that they can count on. I think they're also aware that technology is changing so fast that the kids who are in primary school today are probably going to work in jobs that don't even exist at the moment.
Labor talked a lot during the election campaign about education. We talked about early learning, this crucial opportunity that we face in the first three years of the life of a child to set them on the right course and how we were going to make sure they got the proper education that they needed at that time. But we also talked about making sure that we improve the performance of our school system. The data points we have tell us that although our system is really good—it's very high quality—there are lots of countries around the world that are improving the outcomes in their education systems much faster than we are. If we want our kids to get the great benefits of growing up in the Australia that I grew up in, we're going to need to make sure we start to make some big improvements to that system, and more funding is inevitably a part of that question.
Climate change is a crucial issue for the people in my community. I heard during the election campaign a lot about disengaged voters and whether people are paying attention and that sort of thing. I have to say, when I was doorknocking, especially in the weeks before the election, I would knock on people's doors and they would literally say, 'Claire, it's so wonderful to see you. Here are the five issues I'm thinking about going into polling day.' In that type of engaged community, climate change was almost always on the list of things people are very worried about.
It's honestly quite gut wrenching and disappointing to see we're going through another term of parliament where the understanding of the Australian people about the issues facing our climate and about solutions is going to be so far ahead of this parliament. It's very worrying for me that it's obvious that we're going to go through three more years of not taking action on climate change. Governments come and go, and Labor wins elections and we lose elections, but there are some issues where delaying and not having that time we need to make big policy change is actually really costing us, and climate is one of those. The longer we take to take action on climate change, the more expensive it's going to get for the next generation to deal with it. My community really gets that. I hope that this parliament is able to wake up to those issues and that those on the other side of the chamber pay attention to the scientists and the rest of the world, try to wake up a little bit and take some action on these issues.
I'd like to just finish up talking about the economy, because that's obviously crucially important for whoever is in federal government. One of the great mistruths of Australian politics is what's consistently put forward by those on the other side of the chamber—that somehow the Liberals are better at managing the economy than the Labor Party. We absolutely know that's not true and history is the best evidence of that.
We're now entering our 28th year of economic growth in our country. I mean, isn't that an incredible thing, Deputy Speaker Wicks? If you are under 40 in this country, you really have never worked through a recession and we're so lucky to have that privilege. But that didn't happen by accident. A big part of that was good policy and most of that good policy that has created 28 years of economic growth has come not from those on the other side of the chamber, who like to talk themselves up so much about their economic management, but in fact from things that Labor prime ministers and Labor treasurers have done.
When Hawke and Keating came into government in 1983, our economy was calcified. It was slow-moving. We were not getting productivity growth. Inflation was out of control. The big reforms that they took were difficult, they were hard, they had often quite significant short-term costs, but what they led to was a period of unprecedented economic growth. That was followed up by the truly remarkable work that was done by the Rudd and Gillard governments in their management of the global financial crisis. For Australia to be the only advanced economy to get through that period without a recession is something we should be so proud of—something that we should be trumpeting all over the world. Indeed, when you go to global forums and talk to international economists, they are staggered, really, at the speed and the effectiveness of the Australian response. People can denigrate that or sneer at that if they want to, but the truth is that the way Labor handled the global financial crisis kept literally hundreds of thousands of people off the dole queue. Hundreds of thousands of people would have lost their jobs if we had not gone down the path that we did. We're rightly very proud of that on this side of the House.
I think the economy is going to be a very important issue of debate over the coming three years, because the truth is we've got some big issues facing our economy at the moment. We've got interest rates at emergency levels. We've got a government that has no plan for the economy—in fact, no plan for anything much at all. Indeed, for the first time in Australia's history, we've got an economy that's growing, but ordinary Australian households are going backwards. That is an extraordinarily significant thing for our whole history so far. The way we have provided a better quality of life for Australians has been to improve the overall performance of the economy, and ordinary Australians have benefited from that through various other social programs and education programs that we've had. Now we've got this very important difference in the way that our economy operates, and yet those on the other side of the chamber have no ideas for it and no idea about what to do with the incredible privilege of running this country. So we really look forward to taking the fight up to them over the coming three years, and I'll do that proudly as the member for Hotham.
It's a great pleasure to stand up and support this bill, Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, because this bill goes to the very heart of what we were talking about in the previous election, which is that without delivering a strong economy and sensible economic management you can't deliver on anything else, like all the services that are required for your local area—things like health and education. It's a great pleasure to follow on from the member for Hotham, because you can see that they're still trying to revise history. They're trying to convince their local residents that, in fact, the residents just didn't understand the Labor Party's policies—that they were actually very good policies and it was just the voters who couldn't quite understand their genius.
Opposition members interjecting—
The Labor Party are still lauding the previous opposition leader. They are still talking dismissively about a surplus as if a surplus is no big deal, when, in reality, we know that an economic surplus is hard work. It's an economic surplus that helps achieve the rest of that funding for services that they would like to do.
Instead, the Labor Party are still focused on having a tax-and-spend agenda. They'll take your money. They'll take $387 billion worth of new taxes, and they'll try and spend your money better than you can. Well, that's not what we believe on this side of the chamber. It's not what the LNP believe. We believe in the strong economic management that this bill delivers so that we can then provide more funding. We spoke about this a lot in the Ryan electorate during the last election. For example, over the average of the next 10 years, education funding in Ryan will go up by 50 per cent per student. That's only achievable because of strong economic management.
My Labor opponent tried this at the last election. They tried to claim that education funding had gone down under this government. That's just another Labor lie that they like to trot out. What they couldn't do, though, was explain their high-taxing policies. What was their carbon policy and their climate change policy going to cost the people of Australia? My Labor opponent, himself, could not explain their capital gains tax policies at our local candidate forum, and I made the point then, and I make it now: if the Labor Party can't explain their own policies, then why would Australians trust them?
This bill is important for all residents of the Ryan electorate because it endorses the plan that we took to the last election and that the Australian people endorsed, and that is an economic plan to deliver strong growth for our economy to deliver jobs and to deliver the first surplus in a decade, and that is no small feat at all. The Labor Party like to dismiss it—we saw that from the member for Hotham—but they couldn't achieve it. They announced it, they announced it numerous times, but they couldn't achieve it. In fact, it will be the first time that we've paid down Labor's deficit and the first time we're back in the black in 12 long years.
The result of the recent election was a clear rejection of Labor's plan for more debt, more taxes and less in the pockets of the hardworking Australians, who work so hard to be rewarded. If the Labor Party had won the last election, they would have put—and they are still planning to—$387 billion in new taxes on retirees, on housing, on income, on investments, on family business, on electricity and on cars. Labor's plan to increase capital gains tax by 50 per cent would have hurt Australian investors and given Australia one of the highest capital gains tax rates in the world. They still support their militant union mates, who demand more power to strike, more control over industries and businesses, and more deals to entrench their power, which is restricting jobs and ruining small business.
This appropriations bill clearly enshrines the ethos of this government that if you have a go, you'll get a go. And let's go to the heart of what was the economic plan that we outlined before the last election, and that we're enshrining in these bills today. We are creating 1.25 million more jobs over the next five years, because the best form of welfare is a job. The opportunity to have a job, to contribute, to look after your family: that is what all Australians aspire to.
These bills will maintain budget surpluses and pay down Labor's debt. Thank goodness for that! They'll deliver tax relief for families and small businesses, and we have already done that for 10 million Australians in the first week of parliament. It was so great to be on site in Mitchelton, in my electorate, talking to a young family, Sam and Vanessa with their three young kids, about what this tax relief will mean to them. It means more money in their pockets so that they can spend it the way their family needs, for their family's priorities—not the Labor Party's priorities; not so they can give it to a Labor government to spend as a Labor government sees fit. It goes back in the pockets of families so that these families can look after their own priorities.
These bills will guarantee increased investment for schools, hospitals and roads. As I said before, this is something that the Labor Party don't like to acknowledge. They like to maintain this fallacy that somehow this funding is decreasing, when it's not. In Ryan, for example, funding for all public schools in the electorate will increase by around 50 per cent per student in the next 10 years. And we can do that, we can provide better and extra services in education for our kids to have strong and resilient families, without reaching into your pocket for $387 billion worth of new taxes. We've recently established the Local Schools Community Fund, which I know is going to help schools in my electorate as they nominate projects that they can put together, projects of up to $20,000, to help them support students and their families and improve their skills.
The other thing this appropriation bill is going to do is help us invest in infrastructure. It is so important for connected and strong communities to invest in infrastructure. The $100 billion investment that this government is making in infrastructure is going to be significant and a game changer for our nation, particularly the quadrupling of the Urban Congestion Fund from $1 billion to $4 billion. I've spoken previously in this place about how important these small projects can be to a local community. Recently, in the last couple of weeks, I was on site for the opening of a relatively small project, but an important one, in my electorate. Federal funding of $3 million has enabled us to upgrade a facility at Indooroopilly State School. Upgrading the drop-and-go facility means we have reduced the congestion around that school from approximately 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the day and how bad it was, down to just seven minutes, and that's because we've got the traffic moving and flowing. We've made it safer around the drop-and-go facility for students and for parents so that those parents worry less about their kids waiting for the pick-up, particularly if they're stuck in traffic.
Mr Wallace interjecting—
That's no small thing. I take the member for Fisher's interjection. It's no small thing. But, for Labor, education and supporting families are simply about taking money out of your pocket and spending it 'better'. Normally that's by giving it back to a Labor state government so that they can put it into their education department, when we know that there has to be a holistic approach to supporting families that includes not only increasing education funding per child—which we will do—but also investing to reduce congestion so that parents aren't stuck in congestion for the Saturday sport or when they're trying to pick their kids up from school and they aren't worried about their kids' safety.
As well as all those things that I've just spoken about that we can achieve with a strong economy, we can also invest in health. That's what you get when you're able to create a surplus, when you're able to pay down debt. As the son of two pharmacists, I know the difference that affordable and accessible health care makes to the lives of all Australians. It was one of the great privileges of the last election to move about in the Ryan electorate and talk to people, but particularly to talk to some people who have benefited from the new listings on the PBS. Since we have come into government over 2,000 medicines, worth $10.6 billion, have been listed on the PBS. That is extraordinary, particularly when you compare it to the fact that the Labor Party froze—
Ms Ryan interjecting—
I take the interjection from the Labor member who said that it was a bipartisan approach. Yes. They couldn't fund it. It's always been bipartisan, but Labor had to freeze it because they couldn't afford it. They simply couldn't afford it. They were too busy trying to find out how they could take taxes from people. They were too busy running up a deficit. They couldn't afford to list medicines that are saving people's lives. Let's face it: when it comes to the point of needing these drugs, it is truly life or death. These are drugs that are only used by a small number of people, because they are for unique or rare diseases. When it comes to people needing these drugs, it is a life-or-death decision. When the Labor Party were in charge of the finances of this nation, they could not find enough in the pockets of Australian, or the pockets of government, to save those people's lives, whereas this government is committed to listing more medicines on the PBS. We will do that as part of these bills. That is a great thing for Australians and the Ryan electorate.
More Australians are seeing the doctor without having to pay, thanks to the strong economic plan that is in this appropriation bill. More Australians are seeing the doctor, with 133 million free GP services delivered last year—27.3 million more than in Labor's last year. Let me just say that again: 27.3 million more than in Labor's last year. In my electorate alone, the bulk-billing rate is up 72 per cent. Last year over 613,868 GP visits were bulk-billed in the Ryan electorate—171,000 more than in Labor's last year in government. That is how you make a real difference to the healthcare system of our nation, when you deliver a strong economic plan that enables those kinds of outcomes, as opposed, again, to the Labor plan of simply ripping out $387 billion worth of new taxes and trying to spend it better than the taxpayers would.
I also want to speak a little bit about how we can support older Australians better because of this strong economic plan. A record $21.6 billion will go towards ensuring older Australians can access higher quality and safer aged care in 2019-20. It is an increase of more than 50 per cent since 2013-14. The government is also providing $282 million to support older Australians who wish to stay at home for longer through an additional 10,000 home care packages. This will bring the number of new packages announced by this government over the last 18 months alone to 40,000.
This is so important with an ageing population, and we have an ageing population in the Ryan electorate as well. I spent some time as a councillor talking about how we can improve aged care and provide new retirement opportunities in our suburbs. We want older Australians to be able to retire in the suburbs that they know, that they love, where their support networks are and where their families are. We don't want to see a situation where they have to go further afield in order to find affordable and appropriate care because of development in Brisbane or a lack of services.
So working with this funding that is provided in this appropriation bill is going to be an important part of what I do in the Ryan electorate to make sure that older Australians are able to age within our community and stay within our community. They are an enormous asset, and this is where their support networks are. In order to create these stronger communities, I want to particularly commend the Stronger Communities round 5 grants, which will be opening very soon. This will allow our local organisations who are supporting our older Australians and our community in general to apply for grants which will allow them to improve their facilities and bring our communities together better. I will be working with them specifically on the projects that have been allocated within the appropriation bill. At Bardon Latrobe Football Club there is $500,000 for new change facilities, and there is another $500,000 for new change facilities at the Toowong Football Club to promote female participation. This is the kind of great work that we can do in the Ryan electorate with a strong economy, and only the Morrison government can deliver that strong economy.
Yesterday a report came out from the Melbourne Institute: the annual HILDA statistical report. It ought to be a wake-up call for the Morrison government, which has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to tackling Australia's serious economic challenges. It showed that when the Liberals came to office under Tony Abbott in 2013, median household annual disposable income in Australia was $80,573. In the most recent year available in the report, 2017, median household income was $80,095. In other words, in the time that the Liberals have been in office, the median household has gotten poorer. So when Australians ask themselves: 'Am I better off or worse off under this government?' The answer is, after inflation, they're worse off.
We've seen significant falls in median household incomes, adjusting for household size, in Adelaide, in Perth, in regional Western Australia, in regional New South Wales and right here in the ACT. In the ACT, the drop in median equivalised household disposable incomes has been the largest of any region in Australia—11 per cent—a direct consequence of the decimation of the Public Service and the cuts in real wages for many Canberra public servants.
We've also seen troubling statistics about poverty and inequality. When the HILDA researchers looked at five-year income, a measure that economists refer to as permanent income, they saw a rise in inequality in that metric. As they point out:
… this is not a good development for people with low incomes, since they are more likely to have persistently low incomes.
The HILDA researchers looked, too, at poverty and found that relative poverty, as measured by the benchmark of the share of the population that is below 50 per cent of median, had increased to 10.4 per cent. The researchers noted that poverty is consistently high among the elderly, particularly elderly single persons. They noted:
… poverty is considerably more prevalent among children in single-parent families than among children in couple-parent families. In all years, the poverty rate for children in single-parent families is over twice the poverty rate for children in couple-parent families.
We are not doing a sufficiently good job of looking after children in single-parent families. The report also noted the collapse in male full-time employment, falling from 73 per cent a decade ago to some 68 per cent in the most recent year. These are troubling figures on the share of men who are holding down a full-time job. This is men aged 18 to 64, so it is particularly surprising that, for that cohort, full-time work is becoming rarer still.
We've had reports of people receiving Newstart skipping meals because they can't afford to eat; people chased over alleged robo-debts while government ministers who rack up internet bills in excess of $30,000 are able to simply repay them; and cuts to penalty rates while those opposite refer to penalty rates as a 'gift' to young people. Many of those receiving penalty rates would disagree. They would see penalty rates as being essential to paying the bills. We've had job hunters having their support payments suspended for alleged inappropriate behaviour, while government ministers are able to break marble tables in this place with little consequence.
We've had workers reporting outrageous levels of wage theft. What is the response from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government? It's to go after workers' representatives, to bring bills into this place attacking unions, who have, in many cases, been the bodies that have called out wage theft. None of us in this place believe it's appropriate that workers are paid less than their legal entitlements, but some of us in this place are committed institutionally to trade unions—the organisations that didn't just bring us the eight-hour day and the weekend, didn't just campaign for sick pay, but are also responsible for raising pay and conditions. Unions campaign for workers' safety on dangerous sites, such as construction, and unions deliver a wage premium to their workers which is well in excess of the cost of union dues. As Senator Ayres said in a terrific first speech yesterday, there is a public good benefit in having trade unions. So it's particularly surprising that, with trade union membership lower than it has been in a century, the approach from those opposite is, again, to bring anti-worker laws into this place.
Let's be clear what it means when you reduce unionisation in Australia. That means we see more inequality, a higher gender pay gap, a higher pay gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and more wage theft. Those are the direct consequences of having fewer union members in Australia.
We've seen across the chamber calls from members of the coalition to cut away superannuation, to have superannuation not apply to low-income Australians. That's Senator Bragg's suggestion, but there is a backbench ginger group pushing hard on the Treasurer to delay the increase in compulsory superannuation. It's so ironic that people elected to this place, with their 15 per cent superannuation, think that 12 per cent is too good for low-income Australians. Rather than trying to undermine universal superannuation, it would be terrific if those opposite would support superannuation and support the best performing sector of the superannuation industry—the sector set up by industry funds. Industry funds aren't union funds; they're set up as a compact between unions and employers. Anyone who is serious about increasing retirement adequacy for Australians ought to support the sector, which has consistently had lower fees and higher returns than its retail counterpart. Yet the government's sole focus seems to be on fighting the old battles between industry and retail funds, rather than focusing on the new agenda of reducing costs within the system, as the Grattan Institute has called for.
Under this government, we've seen an economy which is now in the third quarter of a per capita recession, where retail sales are in the doldrums, where new car sales are going backward, where engineering construction is down, where unemployment is a full percentage point higher than it is in Britain, New Zealand, the United States or Germany. We've got an economy in which wage growth isn't delivering, in which productivity growth has been lacklustre. As I argued in a piece in Inside Story this week, productivity growth is, according the Productivity Commission, 'mediocre', running at some one-tenth of the level that it has been running at on a historical average. But without the investments in individuals, institutions and infrastructure, we won't get the turnaround in productivity growth that the nation so sorely demands. And even given that lacklustre level of productivity growth, we've still seen a decoupling of productivity and wage growth. We've still seen workers not getting their fair share of the gains.
That matters from an inequality standpoint and a fairness standpoint. Workers shouldn't be seeing this continual decline in the labour share. But it matters, too, in terms of the incentives to invest in productivity-boosting investments. Why should workers be a part of productivity-boosting gains in the workplace if they're not going to share in that productivity growth through their pay packets? It would be like saying to employers that they were not to get any of the productivity growth through the profit share but were nonetheless expected to invest in productivity-boosting investments. That wouldn't be reasonable either.
In the 1970s we had a real wage overhang. We now have a real wage underhang, with the real wage sitting stubbornly below productivity growth. We have poverty which is, in Australia, too high. One of my mentors was Tony Atkinson, whose last book, Measuring Poverty Around the World, has been published posthumously, put together by John Micklewright and Andrea Brandolini, and with an afterword from Nicholas Stern and Francois Bourguignon. This is a really important contribution from one of the world's great thinkers about inequality, who was, sadly, taken from us too soon. In his opening, Tony Atkinson asks the rhetorical question, 'Why did I write this book and why should you read it?' He answers:
I became an economist in the 1960s on account of reading The Poor and the Poorest, a landmark study of poverty in the United Kingdom by Brian Abel-Smith and Peter Townsend … and of my earlier personal experience of working with deprived children in Hamburg. My first book (Atkinson 1969) was about poverty in Britain and the need for urgent action. Some half a century later, I remain deeply concerned that, in countries that are many times richer than in the 1960s, poverty has become more, rather than less, entrenched.
He goes on to say that his intention is to shine a light onto the issue of poverty, recalling the importance of John F Kennedy's campaigning in the Appalachian region of West Virginia, of Lyndon B Johnson's unconditional war on poverty, of the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals, which have catalysed action at an international level on poverty and disadvantage. Key works on inequality, including Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Martin Ravallion's The Economics of Poverty have focused the attention of the economics profession on tackling poverty and disadvantage, recognising that we need crisp measures that can sum up the challenge to a lay audience: the share of the population living on less than $2 a day, and the share of incomes going to the top one per cent or top 0.1 per cent.
It's vital that we understand that poverty and climate change are intertwined. As Nicholas Stern notes in his afterword:
… it is the poorest who are most vulnerable and who suffer the greatest impacts. Tony recognised very clearly the double inequality here. The poorest of the world, wherever they are, have contributed least to the causes of climate change, but they suffer the most.
He goes on to say:
… the transition to the low-carbon economy offers us an alternative and dynamic growth agenda. Developing relevant new growth models in theory and practice is a key and urgent task for economic theorists, applied economists and economic decision-makers, in both the public and private sectors.
There is an optimistic story to be told here, one in which we decarbonise the economy and create many more jobs in the renewables energy sector, and ensure that those jobs are well paying, sustainable and inclusive. As Nicholas Stern notes:
Strong, sustainable, and inclusive, it is the only lasting growth story on offer …
So we need to do more on tackling climate change but, unfortunately, this government has its head in the sand. It has an energy minister who refuses to acknowledge, in question time, that Australian emissions have been rising under this government and that the government has no plan for ensuring that Australia meets our internationally agreed targets, which were settled in Paris for a very good reason. Countries came to the Paris climate meetings saying what they would do to keep climate change below the two-degree target. This is our contribution to a policy agenda which would save the Great Barrier Reef and ensure that we don't see a massive increase in catastrophic climate events caused by unchecked climate change. Despite the huge tourism gains from the Great Barrier Reef, despite the risks to the economy of unchecked climate change, the government seems unwilling to do its part. The cost isn't just rising emissions; it's rising energy prices, which have gone up markedly under this government, as my colleague the shadow minister for energy and the environment has noted.
I'd urge those opposite to engage with some of these critical issues around poverty and disadvantage. They can increase Newstart. It's not too late for them to do a backflip on Newstart. Just as Tony Abbott dropped his $7 GP co-payment, just as Malcolm Turnbull backflipped on same-sex marriage, so too Prime Minister Morrison can do the right thing and increase Newstart to decrease poverty in Australia.
It's my pleasure to rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 and the associated appropriation bills. The federal Morrison-Liberal-National government is investing very heavily in a range of different environmental measures, notably on the Great Barrier Reef. When we do that, we try to work with industry to see that there can be improvements in environmental outcomes—for instance, with the agricultural sector—and, at the same time, drive growth in profits as well. When you get that double whammy, it is a great impact for the environment and a great impact for the bottom line of farmers. That's where you get real change, real sustainable, meaningful change, that's going to last for the long term, not just until the funding that might be on offer dries up.
A different approach is taken by the state Labor government. Just as we've seen the mining industry demonised by the green Left and blamed for everything from the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef to bushfires, cyclones and floods, we're also witnessing the demonisation of our farmers, both graziers and, more particularly, sugar cane farmers. The judge, jury and executioner, in the form of the Queensland Labor government and its Department of Environment and Science, are determined that it is, indeed, farmers who are guilty of just about every evil that afflicts the reef and that, in particular, they are responsible for the quality of water which flows into our water catchments. They make their pronouncement and outline their prescribed course of punishment with no conclusive or extensive data or studies on water quality. Although some monitoring of water does go on, it is piecemeal and it varies from catchment to catchment. So in the absence of data, the department does modelling, it makes predictions and it determines that the evil farmers are guilty and they must be held to. It's akin to a witch-hunt. This is the treatment growers face after the vast majority of them, about 70 per cent, have spent the last six years or so changing their farming practices and taking ownership for the land their families have farmed for decades—and, I've got to say, they treat it with great respect.
I'd like to step through the process of the Queensland Labor government deciding to introduce yet another set of regulations on an already heavily regulated industry. In February this year, the Queensland Labor government introduced the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. They wanted to meet a reef water quality target. However, the Queensland Labor government had already introduced regulations in 2010 which essentially required farmers to become scientists, chemists and bookkeepers in order to grow their own cane.
While we all understand that industries develop and refine their processes and practices, the requirements are now extensive and time consuming. Cane farmers are already required to do the following: they have to undertake soil testing within one year of planting; they need to use the results of those soil tests to calculate the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act; they have to keep the soil test reports and records of the calculation of the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorous for a period of no less than five years; they've got to apply no more than the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorous according to those tests; they have to keep records of all the agricultural chemicals—fertilisers and soil conditioners—applied, including the amount, the product analysis, and the date and method of application, for a period of no less than five years; and they have to have a map showing the boundary of each block where soil testing, and fertiliser and soil conditioner application has occurred.
Naturally these tasks are more difficult for some than others. We don't all enjoy juggling chemical calculations and record keeping, and those practices will probably come more readily to some. We must remember that we are already asking people to change a lifetime of practices to abide by new regulations—quite heavy-handed regulations. Despite the difficulties and challenges, eight years on we've got about 70 per cent of growers going through the process of meeting the requirements which have been set before them. They have become involved in a number of industry led initiatives such as the Smartcane best management practice and the Reef Alliance project.
In November last year, I joined other innovators in the cane industry—130 of them, from Mossman, in the north, through to Koumala, south of Mackay—who were in Parliament House being congratulated for their efforts under Project Catalyst, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary. Project Catalyst was founded by Coca-Cola and by a group I don't normally commend in this place, the World Wildlife Fund. It was designed to reduce the impact of agricultural run-off. Through working together, sharing information, developing farming processes and practices, and boosting crop production, they've improved 150 billion litres of water quality. These are growers that have done this. They're very proud of what they are achieving, and rightly so.
I stood with Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri, along with the then Minister for the Environment, in March this year for an announcement of further Morrison Liberal-National government funding for 11 programs which are all about practical initiatives and a collaborative approach of working with landholders and farmers to improve soils, protect land and protect waterways. That funding was coming through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. One of those programs is the Project Cane Change. It is based on mutual respect and recognition of growers' achievements.
Sadly, this is not what our growers get from the Queensland Labor government. What they are faced with is more rules and regulations, further uncertainties and downright fear about whether, once again, they might be put in situations where they're scared to farm because they might break the rules. As Paul Schembri explained to committee members holding an inquiry into the state government bill: 'The current act provides for requirements such as environment risk management plans, soil testing, nutrient calculators, record keeping, the prescribed use of chemicals, chemical accreditation, mandatory setback areas and grower audits. We are very confused and perplexed as to why a high threshold that now exists is to be superseded by an extremely high threshold.'
If the Queensland Labor government's proposed bill is passed, this is actually what awaits our cane growers—an invasion of privacy, the introduction of big brother as the people that farmers work alongside. The agronomists, the extension officers, the resellers of chemicals and fertilisers, are going to be required to keep records of who buys what, and they'll be required to produce those records—or, essentially, dob in a grower. Sugar mills that growers supply to are also going to be required to hand over data on request from the government: 'Dob in a grower'. It is treating them like criminals. The bill will also give a public servant—the head of the environment department—the power to simply go ahead and change the rules and move the goalposts on regulations, with limited requirement to consult and absolutely no accountability on the impacts that rule changes will inflict on farmers and their communities.
Could it get any worse? Yes it could. Growers will also need to obtain an 'environmental authority licence' to grow cane on their own land if that land has not been cropped for three of the previous 10 years, including one of the previous five years. The avenue then for growth of the sugar industry is pretty much zip. Where a licence is required the grower will need to show they can manage water quality risks through farm design and practice standards. The degree of dictatorship here is simply unbelievable. So a bureaucrat in a city office who reads the Green Left Weekly and has probably never stepped onto a cane farm in his or her entire life is going to have the power to tell farmers how they can farm their own land and even what land they can farm on. That is just an insult.
The next insult to growers is that the state Labor government wants to expand the number of regions of Queensland which will fall under these draconian reef regulations. The department, in their infinite environmental wisdom, have determined that the southern cane-growing regions of Bundaberg, Isis and Maryborough, which are already struggling with drought conditions and soaring electricity prices, are going to face these reef regulations for the first time. CANEGROWERS, which represents 80 per cent of growers in the country, believes that this southern expansion is a low priority and an unjustified expense to the public purse and to growers in the region.
It appears that there is a push to get the bill through the state parliament as soon as possible. One can only assume, considering that a state election looms in a little over 12 months time, that Queensland Labor wants to get this nasty attack on the autonomy of farmers over and done with in the mistaken belief that growers and others in their communities might lick their wounds, and that all will be forgotten come October 2020. I certainly doubt that, and they should too.
After this bill was introduced in the Queensland parliament on 27 February, it was referred to the Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee. The committee planned to hold just one hearing, and where did they decide to have that hearing? I'll give you a couple of guesses, but you probably won't need to take too long, Mr Deputy Speaker McVeigh, because you come from a region in Queensland as well. Guess where the state government decided to consult on this agriculture bill, a bill that would affect rural communities? Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you would have guessed correctly. They held it in Brisbane, far from the vast majority of the cane fields, far from the vast majority of farmers along the coast and certainly a long, long way from the affected areas of the Burnett Mary region and far from the Mackay region, the Burdekin region and the Wet Tropics region. After an outcry from growers the committee hastily agreed to hold another few sets of public hearings, in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg—thank goodness.
But if growers and their representative groups thought that that was a sign that perhaps their concerns would be heard, that they were going to be listened to, they were sadly mistaken. Though the committee sat and heard the accounts of farmers—their objections, concerns and requests for consideration of other methods and other avenues—despite hundreds of submissions and hundreds of people turning up to these public hearings, particularly in Townsville and Mackay in my electorate, the committee came back with a short stark recommendation: 'The committee recommends the bill be passed.'
In the interests of the cane farmers in the biggest sugar-growing region in the country, and also on behalf of our cattlemen and cattlewomen, I would like to raise some of the concerns and objections that they have shared with me and that were raised in those hearings. The CANEGROWERS organisation in their submission to the inquiry said:
It is not reasonable that a growers' ability to farm profitably will be at the whim of a government department, with no explicit consideration of economic and social impacts, no process for independent review and no recourse for appeal by affected industries and individuals.
Cattlewoman Josephine Angus said: 'We are under pressure. I have many quality assurance manuals on my desk. I would love to be out riding a horse or driving a grader and doing some earthworks that might actually stop a bit of sediment to the reef instead of checking lists and ticking boxes.' CANEGROWERS chairman Paul Schembri said: 'Australian cane farmers are acknowledged as being world class in terms of innovation and in terms of embracing technologies and farming practices that are second to none. I make the observation that we are lauded and applauded as being perhaps the best in the world when it comes to environmental sustainability. It is somewhat irritating that when we come back to Queensland our environmental prowess is considered to be second-rate.' Manager at the Invicta Cane Growers Organisation, Michael Kern, said: 'A lot of our growers have questioned the science and questioned the testing results and have employed independent, peer reviewed testers to come onto their properties and undertake testing. It might come as a surprise, but they have found different results to that of the government's testing. They are satisfied themselves, particularly around nitrogen coming in off the properties.'
Russ McNee from BRIA, the Burdekin River Irrigation Area Irrigators, said: 'The proposed amendment bill confirms irrigators' longheld concerns that government will continue to raise the compliance bar despite the commitment and best effort of irrigators to improve water quality and minimise irrigation run-off.'
Anyone who feels strongly about supporting our traditional industries and curtailing the green left push to impose regulation after regulation on our farmers and other industry groups should call state members of parliament and ask them to take a stand against the demonisation of the agricultural sector and farmers. People can also sign the National Farmers' Federation #RejectTheRegs petition, which notes this push by Queensland Labor:
… puts farmers at risk of bureaucratic intrusion into their everyday business decisions for no guarantee of water quality benefits.
As the NFF rightly states in their petition about these regulations, they're 'a grab for private business data' and 'will give government the power to shift the goalposts again and again', and they're simply 'not needed'.
The Palaszczuk Queensland Labor government should get serious about listening to the concerns of our farmers. The bureaucrats are fond of saying the industry knew it was coming. They state they've been in discussions since 2016, but discussions are not an agreement. The Queensland Labor government's idea of consultation is this: 'We meet, you talk, we don't listen and then we do whatever we want.' This is how they've dealt with farmers. It is an appalling way to do businesses with any constituent, and it's particularly appalling to do this sort of business with the people who put food on our tables, the farmers who, in total, generate $10 billion of output for our state's economy and employ hundreds of people up and down the Queensland seaboard. This is a disgraceful way. Farmers will remember it, if the state Labor government goes ahead with these onerous regulations, and they will take it out at the ballot box.
In the appropriation bills, which are basically the platform for the federal budget, we had a federal government go and spruik how much money it was spending on infrastructure over a period of years when the spend won't actually be felt by communities for some years. The government talk a big game on infrastructure, but their spend will not be felt by communities for years. And, in my part of Western Sydney, people do feel the con that was referred to just a few moments ago by the member of Oxley, because there is high residential growth in greenfield areas and people know that the infrastructure has to keep pace with that growth, but they can see it failing miserably to do so. There are also many established suburbs in the electorate of Chifley where people rely on things like public transport or roads to get to work and are let down significantly by the federal government.
But it's a tag team between the federal and state governments. For a lot of infrastructure, you do need to have federal and state governments working closely together, and that's simply not the case. I have to say that I was surprised recently when, at an Australian Financial Review summit on infrastructure, the New South Wales transport minister floated the idea of resuscitating asset recycling. Asset recycling is a fancy name for the privatisation of state assets which then get used to fund infrastructure instead of governments doing it themselves. The New South Wales minister was urging the federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to embrace asset recycling again. What got me was not just that a lot of people know that privatisation effectively rips off communities, because all it sees is a transfer of public assets through the creation of private wealth for organisations that do not maintain the same standards or commitment to local service, but that Andrew Constance, the New South Wales transport minister, who I think takes the prize for being one of the most out-of-touch ministers in the country—and that is a highly contested field—said:
… federal government needed to take a bolder approach to reducing urban congestion—
So get someone else to do their work—
than getting involved in small-scale projects such as commuter car parks—
which he said should be left to state and local governments. So the New South Wales transport minister believes that state governments should be responsible for what he calls small-scale projects. Then you look at his record. He can't do it. He doesn't do it. On public transport, where there are upgrades needed, yesterday in the House I spoke about the poor bloke from Doonside who had his ribs smashed when his mobility scooter lost control down one of these long ramps at an old railway station, in Doonside in Western Sydney. We've been campaigning for ages to get lifts in to help the disabled and elderly access public transport. The New South Wales transport minister reckons that small-scale projects should be left to the state government. For the entire time of this state Liberal government being in power, they have refused to fund this upgrade. The minister tells the federal government: 'Get out of these small projects. We'll do it.' And then, when you rely on the state government to do it, they don't do it.
Let's look at other areas in the Chifley electorate where people have been let down. A busway was supposed to be connecting the suburb of Bidwill, in my area, to a booming industrial estate called the Sydney Business Park that is creating roughly 60,000 direct and indirect jobs. There are a lot of people in Bidwill who have cars. A lot don't. They rely on public transport and buses to get them where they're going. There is a high rate of unemployment in that area—in some cases, double or triple the national average. Being able to connect people in suburbs where they want jobs to suburbs that are providing jobs is important. We don't even have a busway connecting up from Luxford Road through to the Sydney Business Park. Why? Because the state government hasn't got its act together to get that busway created. The easement is there. It's been talked about. We're still waiting for it to occur.
In the meantime, Richmond Road, which runs to the north of Sydney Business Park, congests and congests and congests because, again, we do not have the commitment to provide other infrastructure, like an M9 that would run parallel to the M7 and A9 to take some of the pressure off our area, where 150,000 residents will be moving in. Again, the state government are letting people down. They are not putting in the investment but are telling the federal government, 'Get out of small-scale projects, because we can do them,' and then not doing them themselves.
In the south, commuters on Sydney's busiest rail lines are regularly unable to get home on time during the evening peak on weekdays. Particularly on the Western Line, especially at that point between Penrith and Parramatta, people find that, during the evening peaks on three out of five weekdays, the trains do not meet their performance targets. They don't meet them whatsoever. There is no plan to improve the performance or ease the congestion on the Western Line. No-one is talking about it.
We have a state government saying they'll build a Metro. I'll give them credit. The New South Wales government have done a great job on the Metro Northwest. I doubted, but I stand corrected. They've done a really good job on it. It is a great rail line. They are looking to extend that rail line in south-western Sydney, but purely to connect the airport to Parramatta. A whole swathe of people, from Penrith through to Parramatta, are forced to catch a rail line that is running late, does not perform and is not being upgraded to deal with the needs of people who want to get to work on time and don't want to be crammed like sardines or be forced to used relics of railway stations. The New South Wales government will upgrade railway stations in marginal seats or closer to the city but fail to meet the needs of Western Sydney residents in areas like Doonside, because they're not rich enough or they're not close enough to a marginal seat close to the city. This is an unacceptable way to make investments in infrastructure. As I said, that western rail line needs a massive upgrade. We do not need to see billions of dollars poured into an alternative rail line that connects Parramatta to the Western Sydney Airport or have the rail line going from the south connecting up to St Marys just funnelling more people in. I had sneering from Sydney media when I said one of the big problems with the Western Sydney Airport would be that, if infrastructure wasn't invested in, it would just fuel more congestion in the area. When I first raised this, about four or five years ago, you could literally hear the sneers from people, but more and more we are finding that congestion on Sydney's roads and in our major capital cities is increasing phenomenally. Even this week it was suggested there's an increase in congestion and delays of between 60 and 70 per cent. This is a serious problem.
MPs in the regions try to raise these issues and are ignored by Sydney media. I regret to say The Sydney Morning Herald and TheDaily Telegraph continually ignore the needs of Western Sydney on these vital bread-and-butter issues of trying to make sure that infrastructure is keeping pace with the people in our area, largely because most journalists on these papers live in the eastern suburbs. They don't live close to the heart of the action. These journalists have no concept of the types of pressures that are put on people living in the outer regions of our major capital cities. It's a disgrace. When you try to get these things mentioned, they don't do it. I notice the upgrades to the lifts in Redfern in Sydney get massive coverage, but if you go out 40 minutes or so to the outer regions, there's nothing. I'm sure there are representatives in this place, including the Deputy Speaker or other people, regardless of politics, who would find that our media is increasingly inner-city focused and does not necessarily represent the concerns of the people living in our outer suburbs or in regional Australia who are struggling to get resources or to see the infrastructure actually meet their needs. That is wrong. It is simply wrong.
So in our area, as I said, we need to see an investment in public transport that makes sure people get there on time and are not in crowded services themselves, and that roadways are upgraded to deal with this growth. A lot of people like to think that we'll create the 30-minute city. I know there have been arguments for that, and that would be terrific. The reality is it's a long way off. We don't necessarily see it in our part of Sydney. The reality is that most of the jobs in most capital cities get generated closer to the CBDs, and you do need to have effective links. You are simply going to take the steam off the growth by maybe getting some jobs put into local areas. The reality is, as has been found by groups like the Grattan Institute, the closer it is to the CBD, the more you will see people gravitate towards it. We need to not have governments defer investment because they've got some pipedream that they're going to create the 30-minute city and then do nothing to actually invest in it.
So priorities are clear. We need to see decongestion of the western line. We need to see the opening up of new public transport routes, like I said, for example, between Bidwill and the Sydney Business Park industrial estates that are creating jobs to allow the people in our areas—the machine operators, the drivers, the clerical assistants—who want to be able to get from suburbs like Bidwill and Shalvey to those jobs. We need to see the upgrade of public transport infrastructure as well so that we have functioning lifts in places like Doonside. We need to see investment in the M9 motorway that will run parallel to the M7. We need to see the use of the spare capacity on the M7, opening up public transport options in the median areas between the two carriageways on that motorway. Why isn't that being done? There are bottlenecks, for example, where the M7 and the M2 join, where we want to see people be able to get onto Windsor Road more smoothly. That type of stuff needs to be fixed up as well. We need to see metro services that connect existing suburbs rather than create huge new investments in areas where people won't necessarily see the same benefit.
The other thing I'd urge my party to do in the review of election policies that were taken to the last election is to reconsider the $3 billion that was going to be extended to the New South Wales government to invest in what was called the Sydney West Metro Project. Syd West was going to take people from the CBD to Parramatta. Western Sydney has grown so much that Parramatta, as I jokingly say, is in the eastern suburbs of Western Sydney now. Calling it the 'Syd West project' is not, in any shape or form, going to cut it. At the federal level, $3 billion is being provided to improve the connectivity between Parramatta and East Sydney. That $3 billion should be invested in creating a metro extension from Parramatta to Penrith to help people be able to travel there easier.
There are things that can be done where the federal and state governments can work closer together. But where we don't see a state government stumping up, why should we have a federal government leaving it to supporting the privatisation of assets just to fund this infrastructure? If the federal government reckons it's got $100 billion invested in projects, why aren't we seeing that investment actually impact on people now in this term of parliament and getting things happening? In my part of the world, I will not only stand up for our areas to ensure that, as I said, public transport and private transport keeps pace with growth, but I will also make sure that people who are keen to have jobs, particularly those who want to be able to rely on public transport to get to those jobs, can do so, and do so much better.
Finally, if I can say to the Greater Sydney Commission: stop spending a lot of time trying to come up with fancy catchphrases for different parts of the city. There's the three cities proposal that they've talked about, and they've described our part of Sydney as 'part of the central city initiative'. No-one in Western Sydney thinks that they're part of a central city whatsoever. Instead of spending time on logos and catchphrases, why don't they actually make sure that they're directing the attention for infrastructure investment in parts of Western Sydney and north-west Sydney? There are 150,000 people moving in. The government can't get the trains, the roads or the buses working in the way that they should. For example, I know that the residents in Marsden Park have been saying that the bus connections are just a joke when it comes to getting them to the public transport that they need. We need to have that investment. We need to have it now. We don't need spin. We need substance to deliver better communities in our part of Western Sydney.
It's with great pleasure I rise today to speak on the government's appropriation bills and once again articulate the great story that this government has to tell about the delivery of funding, services and infrastructure to my electorate of Forde, all predicated on building a stronger economy for future generations. Importantly, what we're seeing in this budget is that the budget is being returned to surplus. But, at the same time, we're delivering the record investments into health and education that Australians need and want, all at the same time as lowering taxes and delivering record investment in economic and community infrastructure.
We've done this without having to resort to the sort of policies that those opposite articulated during the election campaign, where they were going to hit the economy with a sledgehammer of $387 billion of new taxes. But that's the difference between us and those opposite: they like to tax you; we like to back the Australian people. It is this coalition government that is backing the dreams and aspirations of Australians, and our budget continues to support the individuals, families, retirees, and small and family businesses that work hard each and every day to make Australia the economic envy of the world, resulting in 28 years or more of continued economic growth.
We seek to ensure that Australians will have a strong foundation to grow their families, their businesses and their communities. We'll continue to invest record amounts into health and education and into our local schools and universities to ensure teachers have the support they need to prepare our children for the future. Public, independent and Catholic schools across my electorate of Forde will also benefit from the coalition government's record $292 billion in education funding over the next decade. Locally, schools in Forde will benefit from some $30.2 million investment in the Local Schools Community Fund to help fund school activities and new equipment. The school community fund will support over 40 schools in my electorate of Forde to deliver projects that will support the learning outcomes of our students, projects like the PA system for deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Eagleby State School, air conditioning in classrooms, rebuilding the vegetable gardens at Edens Landing State School, or Shailer Park State School's recycling program. These are local projects for our local schools to deal with the local needs of that school community.
The government is also setting about getting things right for job creation and supporting businesses that want to take on apprentices. Our policies that we took to the election focused on ensuring that our business community has the incentive and the capacity to employ an additional 80,000 apprentices over the next five years. Far too often in this place we speak about the need for people to go to university, and I also see it in my community; we talk constantly about kids going to university. But we seem to forget the importance of trades in our community and in our economy. I look at my brother, who is a ceramic tiler, as was my father. I look at the electricians, plumbers and builders in our community. We all work in a wonderful building, but this building wouldn't have been built without trades, and those people who had those trades did apprenticeships. It is a critically important part of our economy, and we should never underappreciate the importance of skills and trades in building the buildings, the factories and the things that we need to continue building our economy. Yes, university education is important, but our trades are critically important because they build the things that the graduates of our universities work out of.
I'd also like to reflect on the strong track record that the government have in delivering for health in my electorate of Forde through our local hospitals, despite the constant mistruths perpetuated by those opposite during the election campaign. We have delivered a record 65 per cent increase in funding to the Logan Hospital and we will work with the state government to deliver on the new $33.4 million urgent specialist care centre to ensure residents of Logan have access to world-class hospital care. On the Gold Coast, the residents are also benefitting from the coalition government's record investment in health and hospitals, with funding for Gold Coast University Hospital doubling since Labor was last in government, an achievement those opposite could only ever dream of. It is only our record investment into health that will strengthen and ensure affordable access to quality health care for residents across Logan and the Gold Coast.
We are also ensuring the provision of local health services with the delivery of our 53 new MRI licences nationally, but particularly for my electorate of Forde for a new Medicare funded MRI licence for Qscan at upper Coomera. Upper Coomera is one of the fastest growing areas in Queensland, let alone in Australia, and these local health services will be extremely well received. We are always looking to ensure that the residents of the electorate, not only in the Logan part but also in the northern Gold Coast, have access to those services they need.
Additionally, we're committed to guaranteeing mental health services across Australia by providing some $737 million over seven years to ensure people living with mental health receive the support they need. We are also reducing waiting lists for headspace and building more centres to support young people, again especially for those in the northern Gold Coast who will benefit from a local headspace centre. I would like to give a shout-out to the team at headspace in Meadowbrook for the wonderful work that they do. In the lead-up to the election campaign, we made a number of additional funding commitments to headspace at Meadowbrook to continue the service they currently provide.
Because we on this side have worked hard over previous parliaments to ensure the government is in a strong financial position, we have been able to deliver tax cuts for hardworking Australians. In my electorate alone, over 73,000 people have started to benefit from those tax cuts, which were passed in the first sitting week of parliament. At the same time, despite the opposition from those opposite, we have sought to ensure that multinationals in our country pay their fair share of tax. The package that we passed in 2016 has resulted in an additional $13.1 billion of tax revenue by ensuring that multinationals pay their fair share. Why is this important? Because it allows us as a government to ensure that households across Logan and the Gold Coast will have the services they require through this extra tax revenue.
Importantly, too, we have a large veterans community across the electorate, and our putting veterans and their families first program, which is investing $278 million towards improving the wellbeing of veterans and their families by providing early access to services and simplified access to treatment, will greatly improve the lives of our veterans' community. You're never left wondering what David Draper and the whole team at the Beenleigh RSL think of various things that are going on when you go down for Diggers Day, but they're a great bunch of guys.
We'll also support the environment by taking responsible action on a changing climate while maintaining a focus on lower energy prices, with older Australians benefitting from this budget with a record funding of $21.6 billion—representing an increase of more than 50 per cent since 2013-14. As we can see, there are a range of measures that we've taken in this budget to support a broad cross-section of our community across my electorate of Forde. I'm looking forward to my annual Forde Seniors Expo, in September. I'm looking forward to catching up with more than 400 constituents who normally come along to that. We'll have a great day, with a great range of services and exhibitors that provide services to the seniors in our community.
We're also looking to ensure that we continue to protect our borders, and that the policies and processes we've put in place ensure that the people who have come to this country are the people that we feel confident about and that we know are going to continue to contribute to and build our economy and our society. We have a rich tradition of migrants in this country. My family were migrants in the mid-sixties. In Logan, I represent a community that has people from more than 216 different nationalities and cultures. It's the rich tapestry of those migrants that make our communities such a wonderful place to live in.
Other great community organisations in my electorate are the sporting clubs. Through major investments across a range of sporting clubs in my electorate, we're looking to reduce the barriers to women participating in sport. We're providing nearly $600,000 to Ormeau Shearers Rugby League Club and $600,000 to Logan Lightning Football Club to upgrade their change rooms to encourage more women into their sports. I know at Logan Lightning Football Club, with their women's national premier league team, how important those new facilities will be—equally as important to the successful women's program at Ormeau Shearers Rugby League Club.
We are also seeking to restore trust in the Australian financial services system by ensuring consumer protection by strengthening the regulators and increasing accountability. We've committed to taking action on all 76 recommendations from the banking royal commission. It is this coalition government that is continuing to deliver for the Australian community, but again, and as I've said a number of times, it's without raising taxes, while ensuring that we provide the necessary services that Australians expect.
One of the opportunities we have in this place is to touch on local issues that concern our local communities. In that respect, I want to particularly touch on an issue facing the Eagleby community at present, and that is a proposal by the Queensland state Labor government for the Coomera Connector—in particular, the third stage that surrounds Eagleby; the current northern alignment that will greatly affect the Eagleby community. This is a community that's rich in history, having been first settled in the 1860s. Through the hasty gazettal of that third stage without any community consultation, we have seen an enormous degree of community concern. This proposal will pass very close to existing residential properties, schools and a retirement village. It will also pass through some very productive farmland. There have been no community consultations to this point.
I would like to particularly thank the work of the Eagleby Community and Wetlands Group for the work that they are doing to bring this issue to public notice. This group of concerned residents have stood by each other to advocate and be a voice for their community, and I wish to commend the members for the terrific work they are doing to raise awareness of this project. The members are all volunteers, and I'd like to recognise them in this House today. Gerowyn Jensen does a terrific job with social media, John Larkin is busy looking into the environmental impacts, Rob Carter is looking into the social impacts and legal obligations of the state government, Robert Livingstone is researching the alternative routes, and Marilyn Goodwin is responsible for media engagement. They are an asset to our community, and I will continue to support them in their endeavours to see the route for the northern part of the Coomera Connector changed to minimise the impacts on the Eagleby community.
I urge the state government to ensure that proper community consultation processes are in place. It is important to recognise the impacts this road will have on Indigenous heritage and on the natural heritage of the Eagleby Wetlands, which are world-renowned for migratory bird breeding and transitory visits. It is incredibly important that we get this project right because it is going to have a tremendous impact on the Eagleby community if it's not done properly. I call on the state government to ensure they do the community consultation properly.
Speaking on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, I would like to start by saying that the HILDA survey yesterday adds to the wealth of evidence that we've had in recent years that will dispel the myth that Liberal governments are good economic managers. I know this will generate a crisis of identity over there on the other side, because, if they're not good economic managers, then what's the point of them? Every election they peddle this falsehood about their economic credentials. They go out there beating their breasts about what good economic managers they are and what a strong economy they preside over, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary. They've been peddling it for so long they actually believe it.
HILDA, the household income survey that came out yesterday, is for a period of over 10 years. It wasn't a fly-by-night survey; this is a very comprehensive survey of 17,000 Australians. What it found was that people are actually earning less now than in 2013, when this government came to office. Think about that: after six years of being told what great economic managers they are, Australians have less money in their pockets to spend than they did when the government came to office. What an absolute indictment of their economic record in government. There were two increases of disposable income in the survey period. Do you know what? They were under the former Labor government. The only meaningful increases in disposable income over the period of this HILDA survey—more than $4,000 in a single year in 2009, and another increase in 2012—were under Labor governments. Those opposite will talk about their economic credentials and say what great economic managers they are, but the facts are that Australians do better under Labor governments.
There have been 28 years of economic growth. It is unparalleled in modern world history. We've not had a recession in this country—knock on wood—for 28 years. As we know, the genesis of that was in the Hawke-Keating years—another great reforming Labor government. What have we had for the past six years? Six years of treading water—either doing nothing or going backwards. That's the legacy of this government. It is probably worse than the legacy of the Fraser government back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when nothing happened. The HILDA data shows that people are getting poorer in this country under the Liberals. We've just had the election result. We acknowledge the election result. Of course we live by it and we are disappointed in the result. Australians had their say and they decided to return this government, but we will spend every day for the next three years reminding this government that they need to do a better job managing this economy, because the job they've done for the past six years has been absolutely appalling.
Let's look at some of the data about the economy. This is a report card on the past six years. Economic growth is the slowest it's been for the 10 years since the GFC. Those opposite like to pretend the GFC never happened, like it was some bad dream, like a Dallas episode. Just forget it ever happened. The GFC was real. It absolutely smashed economies all around the world. They were smashed by the GFC, but it was a Labor government here in Australia—with partnership from business, it must be said—that saved this country from going into recession. Labor, in partnership with business, stopped this country going into recession. People were kept in their jobs to prevent mass unemployment and the terrible results that can occur from mass unemployment.
What we've had since then, of course, is relatively good economic times. Things have been bouncing along. What we've seen over the last years since the GFC is that our international competitors—the US, the UK, Europe, Asia—have all been barrelling along quite nicely. Their growth is going up and their unemployment is coming down. But six years of this mob opposite, and it is just absolutely flatlining. Australia is flatlining under the Liberals.
Here is another indicator: the national economy under the Liberals is falling from the eighth-fastest-growing economy in the OECD to 20th today. We have fallen 12 spots. Where is the justification for this? Those opposite will say what great economic managers they are, but they've dropped 12 spots. We are now in the longest per capita recession since 1982. Wages growth has been stuck on or around record lows under the Liberals. There is weak consumption. Productivity has actually fallen for four consecutive quarters. I don't believe that the current Treasurer, who is in love with his own reflection, has seen one-quarter of productivity growth under his so-called economic leadership. Household spending is weak. Unemployment's up. I think the national unemployment rate is around 5.2 per cent, but in Tasmania it's 6.7 per cent. There is 6.7 per cent unemployment in Tasmania under six years of Liberal government in Tasmania and six years of Liberal government in Canberra. Youth unemployment nationally is 12 per cent, more than double the national average. As we know, in regions, certainly in regions in my electorate, youth unemployment is sometimes even double that.
The cash rate is just one per cent. Anybody with a mortgage is not going to complain too much about low interest rates—let's be clear about that—but pensioners who rely on income from deeming rates rely on higher interest. The signal of low interest is that the economy has flatlined. It needs a boost. Interest rates can't go any lower. What is this government going to do about supercharging the economy and getting it going? They've done nothing for six years. Whatever they've been doing for the last six years hasn't worked. They need to try something else.
So we've got all these failures. All this data is about the macro economy. As for the budget figures, they've doubled net debt. They went into the 2013 election talking about a budget emergency. In six years they've doubled net debt. They are the only government in Australian history to have a gross debt of over half a trillion dollars, yet they would like us to believe that they are the economic wunderkinds of the world. They believe their own hype on the economy, but they just can't be believed.
Not only are they not good economic managers, they are poor stewards of society in general, particularly of those elements of society designed to protect the most vulnerable: health, fail; education, fail; aged care, fail. They talk a lot about regional development, but it's a fail. Nowhere are this government's failures on the economy, health, education, aged care and regional development starker than in my home state of Tasmania. In Tasmania and nationally, unemployment is the worst that it's been for a long time. The unemployment rate in Tasmania is 6.7 per cent; the national average is 5.2 per cent. The participation rate in Tasmania is 60.2 per cent; the national average is 66 per cent. Compare those to our closest neighbour, the Labor-led state of Victoria, where the unemployment rate is just 4.7 per cent—better than the national average—and the participation rate is 66 per cent. So whenever the Treasurer gets to his feet in this place to boast about his credentials and whatever economic record he's talking about, he can thank Dan Andrews in Victoria and Anastasia Palaszczuk in Queensland, because they are holding him up. It is their economic prowess and their economic results that are holding up the national average. The member for Kooyong has got nothing to boast about. He should be thanking every day the Labor premiers of Victoria and Queensland and, indeed, of Western Australia for the national figures, because the Liberal states are certainly not holding up their end of the bargain.
The economy in Tasmania is so bad that the state Liberal government is preparing to slash $450 million in expenditure and has warned that the health system will not be spared. This is a health system that after six years of Liberal government is on its knees, with people dying—literally, not figuratively—in emergency waiting rooms, with ambulances ramped for hours and with family members of patients being asked to drive the ambulance so the single crew member can try to keep their loved one alive in the back of the ambulance on the way to hospital. That's how bad it is in my state of Tasmania. They're not crewing the ambulances enough, and family members are behind the wheel of the ambulance. It's just farcical. This is a health system where nurses and doctors are staggering on their feet, exhausted from the overtime, and the government stubbornly fails to employ enough staff on wards. They always promise 'more nurses are coming, we promise'. They're 'gunna, gunna, gunna'. They're the 'gunna' government: they're gunna do this, gunna do that. The health system in Tasmania has the worst code 1 ambulance response time in the country, with response times for category 1 patients at 34.4 minutes. We also have the slowest triple 0 answering times in the country. And this is the health system that the Tasmanian Liberal Treasurer says can afford more cuts.
In Tasmania we have people sleeping under bridges in the depths of winter because there's nowhere else to stay. Government failures to plan for and provide affordable housing are markedly changing the face of homelessness not just in Tasmania but nationally. Homelessness is no longer the preserve of people at the margins—the mentally ill or those suffering from addiction. People with jobs, with kids in school, are sleeping in cars and in parks because they can't find somewhere affordable to live. People who should be enjoying a life of retirement are finding themselves in poverty and out on the streets. And increasingly they are women. The ABS reports there has been a 42 per cent increase in people over 65 paying unaffordable rent since 2011. Do you know what happens when rent's unaffordable? You lose your home. The 2018 Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot reveals that less than two per cent of available housing stock is affordable for a single person on an age pension. Women over 55 are the fastest growing category of people experiencing homelessness in Australia. People live from pay cheque to pay cheque these days. There's not much capacity in saved income. We know that to be true. Any of us who lives from pay cheque to pay cheque, who doesn't have savings in the bank or a good deal of equity in property is but one or two pay cheques away from being on the street ourselves. Anybody in this building who thinks they're on a good income and in a good job is one or two pay cheques away from that themselves. There but for the grace of God go we. I don't think that's the sort of society we should be living in.
There are more than 3,500 Tasmanians on the state's public housing list. Some of them have been there for years and have little prospect of getting off because there are people with more urgent needs who are always getting in front of them. Where is the political will and the money to fix this? The state government's response to this crisis has been to offer $5 million to expand crisis accommodation. That will help 70 people. There are 3,500 people on the housing list, and they government are going to help 70. It's not enough. It's not nearly enough. Temporary crisis accommodation for 70 people does not fix a housing crisis. It's not even a bandaid.
Let's talk about infrastructure in Tasmania. There's the airport roundabout on the border of my electorate and the electorate of the member for Franklin that was promised in 2016. They haven't turned the first sod. It hasn't happened. It's not happening. Where is it? Just this morning, the Kentish Council in my electorate was saying that they've been left hanging for the $3.4 million irrigation rollout that they were promised by this government in the election. There's been no word from the government about the $3.4 million for their vitally needed irrigation rollout. There's the Bridgewater Bridge, which I asked the Deputy Prime Minister about. When will that start? He doesn't know. This is a government that governs by slogans and spin. 'Have a go, you'll get a go.' 'Whose side are you on?' 'How good is it?' It's laughable. Those opposite are seeking to govern by an advertising jingle, and little wonder when an ad man is in charge—a bloke who spits in your face and tells you it's raining. It's not good enough. I commend the bill to the Chamber.
I rise today to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 2) and the 2019-20 budget measures. This is being done without raising taxes. In fact, it is being done by lowering them. The 2019-20 budget is a strong budget. It's a building budget, and it's a budget that invests in our communities. More importantly, it's a surplus budget.
This Liberal-National government and the budget are focused on building a stronger economy to lower taxes and help hardworking Australians keep more of their own money, to provide opportunities to get a head start or start a business, to guarantee essential services and provide better health outcomes, and to invest in our communities—communities like Cowper and, importantly for me, our regional communities. There is infrastructure, development and support that will unlock the opportunities and the potential of our regions.
This budget will deliver $158 billion in tax relief immediately by doubling the low- and middle-income tax offset through long-term structural reform for all taxpayers earning between $45,000 and $200,000. That will mean that 94 per cent of taxpayers will pay no more than 30c in the dollar. In my electorate of Cowper, over 57,000 taxpayers will benefit from this tax relief. Many of the more than 21,000 people eligible for the full tax offset of $1,080 have already benefited. For those who are on modest incomes and a tight budget, this tax relief is so important—$1,080 for an individual or $2,160 for a couple is a significant contribution to the household budget and is great news for individuals and families to spend on their own priorities.
In particular, it's important for regional communities where money is spent in the local community, in retail or building services, and will support our local economy, local businesses and employees into the future—businesses like Ball's Butchery in Kempsey, Macksville Mowers & Auto Centre in Macksville, and the aptly named Moorebeer Brewing Co. in Port Macquarie. Going forward, these budget measures will mean that hardworking Australians who are looking to earn a little more, take an extra shift or pursue a promotion can do so without the government taking more of their hard-earned pay. I am pleased to be part of a coalition government that is delivering on its promise to the Australian people.
The budget will also deliver for our small and medium sized businesses. They are the engine room of the Australian economy and the backbone of the regional communities. This government's economic plan means lower taxes for over three million small and medium businesses, helping them invest, grow, employ more people and give back to the communities. There are nearly 19,000 businesses in my electorate of Cowper who will benefit from the government's instant asset write-off scheme, which enables businesses to invest in machinery and equipment up to the value of $30,000—businesses like Eagle Copters in Coffs Harbour, another decentralisation success from Queensland, employing a number of people in the Coffs Harbour area and growing significantly.
The budget will also provide an additional $60 million to support small and medium sized businesses to access overseas markets through the Export Market Development Grants scheme. This scheme provides opportunity and support for our regional businesses to market, promote and export products and services, and to build business and create local jobs. I am proud that this government's economic management means that this funding can be restored to the scheme, providing opportunities for a number of small and medium businesses across the mid North Coast to enter the export market or expand into new markets.
I was recently in Japan on the Shinkansen, or the bullet train, and I was very happy to see that they were serving Cassegrain Wines. Cassegrain Wines come from Port Macquarie. They are a second-generation business and a classic example of how this government helps small and medium sized business into new markets. There is also C2C, a clothing-manufacturing business in Port Macquarie, who recently supplied the uniforms and merchandise for the Netball World Cup.
Backing small and medium sized businesses is part of our plan for a stronger economy and stronger communities. People in our regional communities deserve all the opportunities for employment that our cities offer. I am pleased that this government has a plan for developing the skills of our workforce now and into the future. This budget provides a skills package that is so important for the people of Cowper.
Under our landmark skills package, up to 80,000 additional apprenticeships will be created over the next five years, in priority skill shortage areas, assisted by the new apprenticeship incentives. Youth unemployment will be targeted, with an offering of 400 scholarships in regional Australia, to the value of $8 million. This cannot be underestimated in Cowper, with 20.3 per cent youth unemployment. With this initiative by the government, along with our intended youth employment summit, we hope to address significantly this issue not just in Coffs Harbour but through the entirety of Cowper.
I stated earlier that this is a budget for all Australians, and I am proud to say that it is a budget for regional Australians. A key focus for the Nationals and this Morrison-McCormack government is our agenda to promote a stronger economy and better-paying jobs in regional Australia. My electorate is soon to benefit from this government's decentralisation agenda, with the relocation of 50 positions from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to a new regional headquarters in Coffs Harbour. This does not just mean 50 jobs. It means up to 50 families into the Cowper electorate, it means more kids going to schools in our area, it means shopping at family owned businesses and eating at locally owned restaurants, and it means using the sport and entertainment facilities, whereby all money is recycled back into the local economy to benefit regional growth and future stability.
This is also a budget for essential services. With a record investment of $104 billion in 2019-20 into patient-focused health initiatives, this investment will make medicines and services more accessible and affordable. It also strengthens primary care and mental health services and supports medical research. Medical funding will increase by $5.8 billion over the next four years. This is great news for my electorate, where the GP bulk-billing rate in Cowper is 90 per cent. Last year, over a million GP visits were bulk-billed in Cowper, 141,000 more than in Labor's last year in government. This means that more patients will not have any out-of-pocket expenses when they visit their GP.
This budget also delivered increases to Medicare rebates and important medical diagnostic services, including ultrasound and X-ray imaging, to reduce costs for patients. The government will also invest $151.9 million to expand the number of fully Medicare eligible MRI machines, adding to the more than 50 newly funded units in the last 12 months. One of these is Highfields Imaging at Port Macquarie. I had the pleasure of attending the opening with my colleague who was instrumental in its planning, Dr David Gillespie, the member for Lyne. This is a comprehensive diagnostic imaging facility equipped with world-class technology, including ultrasound, high-end CT, digital X-ray and OPG, nuclear medicine and, importantly, PET, which is an enormous benefit for oncology patients undergoing treatment. The new Medical Benefits Schedule services for MRI breast screening will help diagnose an estimated 1,400 breast cancer patients. I'm pleased that these services will be able to be offered in my electorate.
The coalition is committed to supporting older Australians and focusing on delivering quality aged care. This coalition government has provided a budget which will see funding for aged care increased by $7 billion, up to $20.5 billion in 2019-20 and up to $25.4 billion in 2022-23. We are supporting older Australians who want to stay home for longer by providing an extra 10,000 home care packages, taking the number of packages from 60,000 in 2012-13 to over 157,000 in 2022-23. We're also extending the Home Support Program, which provides access to home services like Meals on Wheels. In Port Macquarie alone, over 27 per cent of residents are over the age of 65. This figure is growing at 1.2 per cent per annum. In the next 10 years it is estimated it will be close to 40 per cent of residents over the age of 65 in Port Macquarie. This government has taken serious steps to providing compliance and quality services to cover those people. An additional $7.7 million will also be used to help to ensure that the use of medication in residential aged care is appropriate and in line with best practice and community expectations.
A stronger economy is also delivering for our schools, with record funding for education. This budget delivers needs based funding for students, providing more support for rural and regional students and programs for literacy and numeracy. This budget will see $310 million in needs based funding provided through the Quality Schools Package. The 93 schools in my electorate of Cowper will see Commonwealth funding per student more than double over the next 10 years. Importantly, this funding is tied to reforms that will boost education outcomes for students, who are the future of our nation. This is the job of the Australian government, with the National School Reform Agreement coming into effect in January this year to ensure our schooling provides access to high-quality education for all students.
This Australian government is investing $100 billion in infrastructure over the next 10 years in rolling programs to get Australians home sooner and safer. This includes an additional $23 billion of new funding to ease congestion, to better connect our regions, to improve safety on the roads and to meet our national freight needs. The Australian government is committed to improving road safety. This includes a major boost to the Black Spot Program, targeting safety issues on urban and regional roads, in addition to funding to the Roads to Recovery Program, which provides vital roads maintenance in local government areas. Since 2013, the government has committed over $33 billion in projects in New South Wales, including over $24 billion in New South Wales through the Infrastructure Investment Program. In the Cowper electorate, the Liberal-National coalition government has committed $971 million of the $1.2 billion project for the Coffs Harbour bypass. The residents of Coffs Harbour have patiently waited for the final case study and the environmental impact study for this project. I commend the government for its continued commitment to this project.
With the Local and State Government Road Safety Package, the coalition government has committed an additional $50 million per year to the Black Spot Program. Having in my time as a police officer in New South Wales attended serious and fatal accidents, I'm acutely aware of the significance of this initiative and funding, and, again, compliment this government on its commitment to road safety.
This is a budget that builds on the hard work and commitment of the coalition government during the past years and, most importantly, it provides economic security— (Time expired)
I rise today to speak on the appropriation bills and I appreciate the opportunity to speak today on a wide range of topics. I would like to start by thanking my electorate of Brand that covers the cities of Rockingham and Kwinana for once again electing me to the service of them as the federal member for Brand. It's an honour I take very seriously and I look forward to another three years of work in their service.
If I can reflect on the previous term starting in 2016—my first—some of the relationships I have formed and the friendships I have made with MPs and senators, many of whom have now retired or were ultimately unsuccessful at the last election. Politics is a tough business and it can be even tougher when, despite the best efforts, things don't go your way. But the voters decide on election day, and I will always respect the decision of our voters. Australian democracy is such a wonderful thing but, as members opposite know, it can be equally as heartbreaking, particularly in tight contests. In this light, I would like to acknowledge some of my friends and colleagues I was elected with on 2 July 2016 who did not return to this place this time around.
Susan Lamb, the former member for Longman, was a true warrior for her community in Longman. In one three-year term, she fought day in and day out for the interests of her electorate and for all Queenslanders. Susan chaired Labor's Australian jobs task force to call out the Turnbull-Morrison government on its lazy and uncaring approach to employment in Australia. In a time of rising insecure work and record levels of unemployment, Susan and other colleagues spoke with Australians around the country about their concerns. She worked hard every day in this place for hardworking Australians, and I thank her for the work she's done.
Justine Keay was the member for Braddon and, although she did not hold that seat in May, Justine remains a fierce advocate for the people of Braddon and for all Tasmanians. Justine was a wonderful colleague who served with great humour and also such passion for the causes she fought for. She also worked on Labor's Australian jobs task force as its secretary and held the Turnbull-Morrison government to account for failing to protect the penalty rates of over 700,000 workers and for failing to do anything about the stagnant wages growth in this country. In fact, as it happens, Susan, Justine and I, along with the member for Fremantle, shared the front of the Daily Telegraph once. Hopefully, that was my first and last time ever in that position. Susan, Justine and Josh fought hard in the by-election caused by the citizenship restrictions in the Constitution about a year ago. As we know, each of them won those by-elections, and I pay tribute to my friends Susan and Justine for their efforts in those by-elections. Those efforts were exhausting and placed extraordinary pressure on their personal and private lives.
Sadly, Ross Hart was not re-elected as the member for Bass. Ross was an active participant in one of the most important yet underrated and sometimes misunderstood parliamentary committees. I speak, of course, of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, chaired very ably in the 45th Parliament by Senator Dean Smith with his very able deputy chair, the member for Bruce, Julian Hill. I served on this committee with Ross and, despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of paperwork, Ross would consistently put insightful questions forward and would raise matters important to good public administration for the benefit of all Australians. He was another exceptional Labor advocate for the state of Tasmania. The former member for Bass was a good and hardworking colleague in this place, and I wish him all the best in the future.
I was also elected in 2016 with the former member for Lindsay, Emma Husar. Emma is a rare and exceptional woman who would always stand up for causes close to her heart and for vulnerable people whose plight it is important to bring to the attention of this parliament. Emma spoke often in this place and outside this place about the critical need for this nation to face up to the extraordinary tragedy of family and domestic violence, which kills, on average, one woman a week by a man who is their former or current partner. Emma was a good friend and colleague who refused to let her own personal experiences of domestic violence hold her hostage, instead speaking out and using her position in this place to highlight the terrible plight of many women and children in what, sadly, is a very violent Australia that is unable to protect its vulnerable from aggression, mental torture, harm, homelessness and death.
Cathy O'Toole was another extraordinary Queenslander who spoke out time and time again for her local communities in the electorate of Herbert. Cathy and I served together on Labor's First Nations caucus committee for three years. She was a tireless advocate for Indigenous Australians in Herbert and across Australia but especially on Palm Island. Very importantly, Cathy O'Toole called out the excuses and lies of that rip-off merchant Clive Palmer. When Clive Palmer dodged his responsibilities to his workers in Queensland and left them without pay while he laughed it off and kept showing off about his millions and billions, Cathy fought for Queensland workers and held him to account in this parliament and, indeed, in the courtyards of this parliament. I'll never forget it. I was sitting in my office; I had the news going on in the background and I heard Cathy's very distinctive voice coming over television, demanding of Mr Palmer, whilst holding a media conference in a courtyard here, why he wasn't paying the Queensland workers that he had sacked through the closure of the nickel refinery and why he was allowed to get away with this. I pay tribute to the former member for Herbert for her excellent work in standing up for workers of Queensland.
I hope the current member for Herbert advocates just as strongly, but he may be swimming against the tide, because the Liberal Party failed time and time again to call out the rotten, divisive and racist fearmongering lies of Mr Palmer during the recent campaign. He is anti-Queensland and he's manifestly anti-Western Australian. He ran misleading attacks on our biggest trading partner, and everyone in this place needs to call out Clive Palmer for the charlatan that he is.
I would like to thank some of the amazing Labor candidates we had in Western Australia in the 2019 election campaign. Even though we will not see them here at present, I have no doubt this is not the last time we will hear from these very good and hardworking people. In Canning we had the wonderful Melissa Teede, a strong advocate for regional funding and her community at large. It was a pleasure to campaign with Melissa across the vast electorate of Canning. Everywhere we went—in schools, down at the local foreshore of Mandurah and at the Peel Health Campus—everyone knew Melissa and everyone was grateful for her keen advocacy. Like most of Western Australia, Canning and its people have long been taken for granted by the Western Australia Liberal Party. Melissa's commitment to this region and the campaign has ensured this won't happen again.
In Stirling, Melita Markey ran a fabulous campaign against a tough opposition. Melita is a vibrant and dedicated person that works hard to achieve social justice in her community. She remains a strong advocate for victims of asbestos-related diseases. I know we'll see Melita out in the public forum time and time again.
In Pearce, Kim Travers and her team knocked on just about every door. They pushed hard on infrastructure spending in the outer suburbs of Perth, particularly the Ellenbrook rail line. This is another community that was ignored by the former Liberal state government and had their promised rail line cancelled. This is just one example of how the Liberal Party of WA has taken the people of Pearce for granted in recent times. Kim Travers has assured that this will not happen again.
In Hasluck, the long-serving local government counsellor James Martin ran a strong campaign to advocate for working people right across Perth's eastern suburbs. Hasluck is a seat that has changed hands many times over the years, and it's always a hard fight to win. James and his team did exceptional work across the seat of Hasluck. I particularly want to mention his campaign manager, Brendan McShanag, for all the help he gave James in supporting him through that campaign.
In Swan, Hannah Beazley worked hard to promote the interests of small businesses and defend the Australian public health system that did no less than save her life. Her commitment to public policy in WA and Australia will endure, and she'll continue to make an exceptional contribution to the community. Swan is yet another seat the Liberals have taken for granted for a long time in Western Australia. Hannah and her team, alongside the larger WA Labor team, have changed that. I really want to thank Hannah and her family for all their efforts over that campaign. It was a long campaign for Hannah and all the other Western Australian candidates.
I want to thank again these candidates and recognise their sacrifices and those of their family and friends. Putting yourself in the public eye is a very difficult thing. It's challenging to the individuals and their family and friends. The campaign is unrelenting and the media and public scrutiny can be entirely overwhelming. All of our candidates stood up, were strong and tried their very exceptional best. I'm sure we'll see many of these candidates in the public eye again making some important contributions to public life.
I'm sad that these fine Western Australians will not be joining me in this place, but there are many new Labor faces that will join the federal parliamentary Labor Party: Josh Burns, the member for Macnamara; Libby Coker, the member for Corangamite; Senator Nita Green of Queensland; Daniel Mulino, the member for Fraser; Peta Murphy, the member for Dunkley; Alicia Payne, the member for Canberra; Fiona Phillips, the member for Gilmore; Senator Tony Sheldon of New South Wales; Senator Marielle Smith of South Australia; Kate Thwaites, the member for Jagajaga; Senator Jess Walsh of Victoria; Anika Wells, the member for Lilley; and David Smith, the member for Bean, who has joined us from the other place. I wish all of them the very best. I encourage all MPs from all sides to open their doors to new MPs from across all sides of this place. As always, we retain the highest standards of respect that were shown to all of us when we were new.
I haven't heard all of the first speeches. I don't know whether the member for Bean has a second first speech coming up. The speeches we've heard from our new parliamentarians have been exceptional. I observe that many of the new Labor MPs have paid a great deal of attention to the great effects of climate change and how we need to address and take action to reverse those effects, and show enthusiasm and willingness to commit to recognising Indigenous Australians and fighting for a voice for them in this parliament.
I also want to briefly acknowledge some retiring MPs from the other side. While we may have disagreed one or 700 times, their commitment to public service cannot go unnoticed. The former member for Curtin, the Hon. Julie Bishop, served for 20 years in this place. The former Minister for Foreign Affairs, her commitment to Australia is unquestionable, and never more seen than in the downing of MH17. I acknowledge the former member for Stirling, the Hon. Michael Keenan, who served for 14 years. He is another Western Australian and served as the Minister for Justice in this place.
I acknowledge a former member from South Australia, the member for Sturt, Christopher Pyne, who served for an eternity in this place—well, 26 years! He was the former Leader of the House, and he clearly did a magnificent job in that role. It's a rare role to get, and a very difficult and challenging role. Of course, he did it with great humour. It was sometimes hard to keep a straight face during his work in that. I acknowledge his great work in many ministries, but particularly as Minister for Defence more recently.
I'd like to acknowledge the former member for Gilmore Ann Sudmalis, who served for five years. Her commitment to her constituents as a local member in a tough marginal seat is to be commended, and I really want to recognise Ann's work. She finalised the Report on the impact of inauthentic art and craft in the style of First Nations peoples by the Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs. Ann, along with other members of the committee, did a terrific job finalising this report, and it will serve as a testament to her effort in this place in the committee system. I really hope members and senators across the board have a read of this report. There are good things that our lawmakers in this place can do to protect the visual and other evidence of a 65,000-year-old culture in this place. Best of luck to Ann for her future. We travelled together too, and we had good times; she's great company.
There are, of course, former members from the Labor side that retired at the last election. I won't reflect on them now—how could I possibly in just over a minute—but, at the next opportunity I have, I'll reflect on the legacy of the great Wayne Swan and the former member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin. In the meantime, I really want to acknowledge all those who stood for parliament in the last election—all those, across both sides of the House, who stood and fought and lost. It's a very challenging thing to do. It's taxing on one's family and friends, and some members of the community find it taxing as well. I acknowledge that and I want to congratulate each of you on stepping forward, putting yourself in the public eye and taking that risk. It doesn't always pay off, but I hope all candidates that weren't successful and who have since retired will continue to contribute to our communities and participate widely in public forums.
I'm delighted to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-20 and cognate bills today because they really go to the heart of what we are doing as the Morrison government to deliver on our plan for a strong economy. There are a range of elements to our plan for a strong economy, which we took to the Australian people at the May 2019 election, and they're all really important things that we will be doing for the Australian people.
First of all, of course, is that we will be creating another 1.25 million jobs over the next five years. We have a really proud record on jobs creation throughout the terms that the coalition has been in government. We saw 1.3 million jobs created from September 2013 when we came to government. We know there's nothing more important than making sure every single Australian who wants a job can get a job and that every single Australian who wants to have a go will get a go. That's why we're firmly focused on making sure that we are creating as many jobs as possible for hardworking Australians.
We also said that we would maintain our budget surpluses and pay down the debt that was left to us by the previous Labor governments. And we're certainly getting on with delivering our budget surpluses. We will deliver the first budget surplus in more than a decade. This is something that I'm incredibly proud to be a part of, and I just want to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and all of our ministers for their hard work and for making this possible. As we announced in the federal budget this year, in 2019-20 we will deliver a surplus of $7.1 billion; in 2020-21, a surplus of $11 billion; in 2021-22, a surplus of $17.8 billion; and, in 2022-23, a surplus of $9.2 billion. This is all while doing a range of really important things for the community, like delivering tax cuts and guaranteeing investment in essential services like health and education, in our environment and in roads and rail infrastructure. We'll also, as always, make sure we keep Australians safe, because there is nothing more important than keeping our community safe and secure.
In terms of tax cuts, it was really exciting to come back to the federal parliament after the election and see that the first thing that we were doing—and the first thing that we delivered—were tax cuts for millions of Australians. These cuts are putting money back into the pockets of hardworking Australians. As I often say—I say it all the time in my community; I'm sure people are getting sick of hearing it, or maybe not—the money that hardworking Australians earn is their money, and I want them to keep as much of that as possible, because, at the end of the day, people are best placed to spend their money on what they want to spend money on. I would much prefer that people spent their hard-earned money than have governments spending it for them. That's why I am absolutely delighted that more than 10 million Australians will receive immediate tax relief thanks to the tax package that we passed as soon as we came back to the federal parliament. We know that millions of Australians have already put in their tax returns and are benefiting from this. Low- and middle-income earners with incomes up to $126,000 will receive up to $1,080 per individual, and dual-income couples will receive $2,160. This is all about, as I said, enabling hardworking Australians to keep more of their money that they have earned.
We're also making sure, through the tax reform that we put through, that we're delivering longer-term reform so that eventually 94 per cent of Australians will pay no more than 30c in the dollar. This was a really important part of our tax relief package, because the issue of bracket creep hasn't been addressed for some time. Again, we want to make sure that hardworking Australians are keeping as much of their money as possible.
In the last parliament, we delivered tax cuts for small and medium businesses. My electorate of Boothby is home to so many wonderful small and medium and family businesses. I'm delighted that we have already lowered the tax rate for these businesses to 27.5 per cent. We have fast-tracked tax cuts for small and medium businesses so that, by the year 2021-22, small and medium businesses will be paying only 25c in the dollar. That's what we have done so that we are supporting our small and medium and family businesses and making sure that they can reinvest in their businesses and can employ other hardworking Australians.
In terms of education, we are doing very good work in preschools, schools, universities and vocational education and training. When it comes to vocational education and training, we're investing over $525 million to deliver the skills and training that we need to help more Australians get a job in their chosen field. I'm particularly excited that, in my home state of South Australia, we're going to see so many defence jobs coming online. We're going to be training a lot of people so that they can take advantage of the offshore patrol vessel work that is coming online, as well as the work on the future frigates and submarines. We know we need to train up and grow a skilled workforce so that they can get a job in these areas, which will be wonderful.
In terms of our schools funding, I'm delighted that public schools in my electorate will receive, on average, a 60 per cent funding increase per student over the next 10 years. That's really important, as well as the funding we are providing to preschool, early childhood education, and universities.
Hospitals and health care are another thing that we are able to increase our funding for, thanks to our plan for a strong economy. We have increased Medicare funding. We have increased hospital funding. There is record bulk-billing. An issue that resonates so much with my local community, and probably with every single person around the nation, is that we have invested more than $10 million listing new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. I think it's well over 2,000 new or amended medicines that we have managed to now list. These are medications that might cost people tens of thousands of dollars if they had to fund them themselves, and, in so many instances, they are life-saving or life-changing medications. So I'm incredibly proud of the fact that the Morrison coalition government has managed to balance the books so we can afford to invest in the PBS and make sure that people are getting the medication and the help that they need in their moment of crisis and, often, distress.
In my local electorate, I'm incredibly proud that I worked with the Minister for Health to secure federal government funding to reactivate the Repat hospital site. The Repat hospital is a much-loved community hospital. It was established to look after and care for war veterans and it operated for just over 70 years, until the state Labor government made the very devastating decision to shut it down during their last term in government in South Australia. This caused enormous distress to my local veteran community and to my community more broadly, because so many people received treatment at the Repat. It was—and is—a place where people felt very safe. They felt loved and they felt cared for. So I worked very hard with the Minister for Health, and I'd like to acknowledge and thank him today for supporting me to secure funding to help the South Australian Marshall Liberal government reactivate the Repat hospital.
Federally, we have committed $30 million to establish a brand new severe brain and spinal injury unit. This will be a wonderful and very important addition to the treatment that's available to people who have had catastrophic brain or spinal injuries. This will be in a place that is easy to access, that's quite central for people across metropolitan Adelaide to access, and, as I said, the Repat precinct is a place where people have always felt safe and always felt very well cared for. I know that there are a lot of former Repat staff who are really keen to come back and work at the site, which is really exciting.
Federally, we are also placing one of the specialist dementia care units on the site as well, and the state Liberal government, the Marshall Liberal government, is going to establish a best-practice dementia care precinct on the Repat site, which is really important for our community, especially in light of the devastating Oakden scandal, which, unfortunately, happened under the previous state Labor government. People who most needed our care, our most vulnerable citizens, were not being looked after and cared for as they should have been. So, I'm just delighted that we will be putting these people, some of our most vulnerable citizens, in a place where they will again feel safe and secure and will never, ever again be out of sight or out of mind for the community or for governments.
In addition to that, we're also investing $5 million to establish a residential eating disorder facility at the Repat site and on the precinct as well. Again, these are people who are vulnerable and who need specialist care and attention in a place that is safe, caring and loving.
On top of that, we are making sure that we are bringing our veterans back to the site. Of course, some of them may need the services that we are adding to the site as well. But we are making sure that not only will we have an offering for our veteran communities—they can use the hydrotherapy pool and the new gymnasium facilities and also the new cafe that will go in there—but we are providing $5 million in funding to establish a Veterans' Wellbeing Centre. This will bring more people into the site. It will mean that veterans who are using the hydrotherapy pool or the gym, or both, and are then having a coffee with their friends—which is exactly what used to happen on the Repat site before the Labor government shut it down—will also be able to access advocacy and other wellbeing services when they're on the site. So it's going to be, very much, a hub, and it's going to be a place where there will be a lot of people coming and going to get the care that they need. It will provide a really exciting and vibrant focus for my community, and everyone is incredibly excited about what's going on there.
The other day in this chamber I spoke about the infrastructure investments that are going on around my electorate. As I regularly say here and when I'm at home, the Morrison Liberal government is all about busting congestion in my community, and we've seen so many great projects already off the ground—some of them actually concluding. The Oaklands crossing grade separation, for which I managed to secure the first-ever funding commitment from a state or federal government when I was the candidate for Boothby and then increased that funding when I got elected, is pretty much entirely complete. There is now a train underpass, and this 40-year-old problem for my community is fixed. We've just seen the Flinders Link rail project commence. That's a $125 million investment that will attract something in the order of $1.5 billion of university and private sector investment to build new health infrastructure, new student accommodation and a retail precinct. It's really exciting that our small investment has leveraged very large additional investments that will mean more permanent jobs for our local community, will bring more students into the area and will also help out the hospital nearby.
The Darlington upgrade is well and truly underway. The state government has come on board to partner with us to deliver the Hove rail crossing grade separation, which is another really important issue. We've now committed something like $2.7 billion to the North-South Corridor. We will be fixing the Fullarton Road-Cross Road intersection, the Springbank Road-Goodwood Road-Daws Road intersection and also one of my local roads, the James Road-Old Belair Road intersection. So there are a lot of very exciting things going on in that space.
Our plan for a strong economy also means that we can afford to do the very best by our environment, both in a global sense and in a local sense. We've got a lot of really exciting programs that will support very important local environmental works. We are also investing $3.5 billion in our climate solutions package to reduce emissions across a range of industries. As I have said regularly, and I will continue to say: we will meet our target to reduce Australia's emissions to 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
Sitting suspended fro m 13 : 02 to 16 : 00
I rise to make my contribution to the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-20, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-20 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 and to add the voice of my community, which would have liked to have seen much more support for the needs of the Werriwa constituents. The opposition will, of course, support these bills, but there are remaining concerns about what effect they will have to assist the economy and the constituents of the electorate that I represent.
The government, which is now in its seventh year, is presiding over an economy which is floundering, and they pretend there is no problem. The numbers show us that economic growth is at the slowest it's been since the GFC, with the national economy falling from the eighth fastest in the OECD in 2013 to 20th today. Australia is now in the longest per capita recession since 1982. Wages growth has been stuck at or around record lows for the last few years under this government and, with the further reduction of penalty rates on 1 July this year, there is little money left in people's pockets to do anything about spending and stimulating the economy, and that is what seems to be so desperately needed. The Prime Minister's and the Treasurer's fall back is blaming the Labor Party. It is time they realised it is they, the government, who need to provide the guidance and improve the situation.
We have weak consumption, and productivity growth has fallen in the last four quarters in terms of GDP per hours of work. Household spending is weak, slowing further from last year and contributing just 0.1 percentage point to growth. Unemployment and, more importantly, underemployment remain high too. I'm constantly contacted by constituents seeking support who are over 55 and have little prospect for work. The job network providers are little support, invariably sending people with disabilities or a lack of skills to totally inappropriate jobs and further demoralising and depressing them. These people want to work. They're happy to contribute, and certainly, with the low rate of Newstart, they would prefer to find a job. But barriers to them finding employment are so great, and I can see nothing in the government's current agenda that will change their terrible situations any time soon.
The latest ABS statistics for the month of June 2019 show 711,500 Australians are unemployed and more than a million are underemployed or seeking further hours at work. There are more than 1.8 million Australians looking for work or more work and unable to find it, and that is a tragedy. Under the Liberals, youth unemployment remains more than double of the national average, having increased to 12 per cent. That means more than 266,300 young Australians are unemployed.
These bills do not address the things that matter to the people who live in my community. Existing customers of the NBN continue to receive substandard service, and future customers face delays with an out-of-date copper network unable to provide the speeds that will improve Australia's standing in the world. It is unacceptable that Australia is now ranked 57th in the world in internet speed. At the end of 2015, Australia was ranked 48th; in mid-2012, 39th. It is the wrong way to go. This atrocious position puts the country behind Trinidad and Tobago, Panama and Moldova, and it's just a hair's breadth faster than Kosovo.
While it may seem cliche, our older Australians made Australia what it is today. They fought wars or sent their sons overseas to fight, they were frugal during recessions and poor economic times and they worked hard, but as the aged-care waiting list continues to climb they are not finding any comfort in their later years. Disproportionately on these waiting lists are women.
It is better for a person's wellbeing that they be able to stay in their own home, but it is also better for our society overall. It's disappointing that this is not being addressed. Centrelink is still letting my age pension constituents down. On several occasions we've been asked to assist when constituents' patience has run out. I don't blame them for that—their patience is quite amazing. Many of them have been waiting for over six months and up to 12 months for age pension applications to be processed. That is unacceptable. It further concerns me that these bills will see the surplus that is talked about by the government come from vulnerable people waiting for support promised by a properly funded and functioning National Disability Insurance Scheme. Many of my colleagues and I have detailed endlessly the frustration of our constituents when waiting for approvals, reviews and information from the NDIS. To understaff the scheme in order to prop up a bottom line is not acceptable—it's not fair. Worse, it's being done at the expense of my constituents and their families. Constituents are constantly contacting my office about these issues. Parents have been waiting for her nearly over a year for early intervention NDIS plans for a five-year-old autistic child. They are fearful that by the time the child's needs are addressed she will have turned seven and no longer be eligible for the early intervention. All the while, their daughter falls further and further behind her classmates. That is just one of the many distressing stories from people who contact my office.
I'm very concerned about those members of my community who don't reach out but accept the information that is provided to them. A recent report from Settlement Services International, entitled Still Outside the Tent, found significant barriers to improving access to disability services for people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, such as those in my electorate of Werriwa. Sadly, this report adds weight to the fear that language barriers, digital literacy and a cultural aversion to government mean that, despite the horror stories that we were told before, we aren't even hearing the full extent of the failures of the government when it comes to these social services. As a nation we can and must do better.
While the government are focused on trying to quash backbench revolts, I am listening to the people of Werriwa. When they speak to me at mobile offices out in the electorate or at my electorate office, they tell me they want their schools and hospitals properly funded and resourced, they want the government to address the cost of living, they want to see their wages and conditions protected, they want a bigger and better spend on infrastructure and they want the climate crisis addressed and to have much cleaner and cheaper energy provided.
Every child, regardless of circumstances, should receive a world-class education. We took that policy to the last election. In contrast, since this government has come to power it has attacked our public schools. Funding has been slashed and, in the process, the kids who attend public schools in this country have been let down. The people of Werriwa are also suffering when it comes to health and hospitals. Under this government, the national average waiting time for elective surgery is the longest on record. The number of people presenting at emergency departments is the highest on record, and the number of hospital beds available for elderly Australians is the lowest on record. Yet this government and those of the prime ministers before the current Prime Minister continue to cut Medicare and from hospitals. When you or your loved one is sick you don't want to be worrying about whether your local hospital has enough beds or that you have enough money to cover the cost. And we definitely don't want an Americanised health system in this country.
The people of Australia deserve a world-class education system. They want their world-class health system protected. And they want world-class infrastructure. They need to be able get to and from work without the hassle of finding a car park and without the hassle of overcrowded trains and congested roads. My constituents tell me they want to get home at a reasonable hour to see their children, take them to training and practice and help them with their homework. The latest report issued by the Greater Sydney Commission, The Pulse of Greater Sydney, confirms what my constituents are telling me. Western Sydney residents are being left behind by both state and federal governments, which are failing when it comes to addressing current issues and future planning. Sixteen per cent of Western Sydney residents still can't access major hubs within 30 minutes, compared to five per cent in most other parts of Sydney. Successive Liberal governments have built big-ticket infrastructure projects like the north-west metro, NorthConnex and the CBD and eastern suburbs light rail, all the while forgetting and ignoring the residents in my part of the world.
With the Western Sydney airport on the way, the people of Werriwa need roads, rail and improvements to commuter parking. They also need a fuel line to Western Sydney Airport. It is simply extraordinary that the idea is even being considered to truck—yes, truck!—fuel to the airport. Government data has detailed how Liverpool, the gateway to the new airport, exceeds annual national air quality standards for exposure to small particulate pollution by 25 per cent, and yet we're going to get more trucks on the road. One of the major contributors to small particulate pollution is diesel emissions. The plan to move 65 B-doubles from the nearest fuel refinery through the streets of south-western Sydney to the airport, and back again, is ludicrous. It's not just an infrastructure issue; it's a public health issue.
And while we're on the topic of the Western Sydney Airport, the south-west rail extension from Leppington to the airport is the shortest and most cost-effective way to get rail into the new airport. The land corridor is there. The people want it. Local councils want it. I now ask the government to get on with that job. And when the people drive to these railway stations, they also need commuter car parks—not empty promises. In January before the last state election, the member for Holsworthy and the New South Wales Premier were at Edmondson Park railway station, committing to 1,100 parking spaces by mid-2020. But with the state and federal elections now out of the way, the recent New South Wales budget told a different story: $212,000 is allocated in the 2019-20 budget for planning of the new car park, so let's beware of the election promise.
There are quality-of-life issues and there are cost-of-living issues. My constituents continually raise with me the higher cost of power bills, while the government continues to flip-flop and fight amongst itself on energy policy. Is it coal? Is it nuclear? I heard yesterday the big stick is back. Government and business around the rest of the world are moving on, but Australian consumers continue to pay more for their power bills. What was once emerging technology mere years ago is now commonplace, and all the while this government has been in policy stasis. It has failed to capitalise on the growth of industries in the 21st century. Household batteries, for instance, are an example of this. They're proven to slash power bills, improve grid security and support new jobs and local industries. Another emerging technology that has become commonplace is community microgrids, such as those in New York. Again, they are proven to slash power bills, improve grid security and support new jobs in local industries.
Instead of fostering the new technologies of the 21st century and, in the process, creating new jobs and bringing down power prices, we seem to have a government stuck in centuries past. Nuclear power is not the solution and it's not green. It creates waste that no-one wants in their backyard, and that waste is radioactive for the next 24,000 years. This is not a government that looks to the future; it's a government that is focused on holding this country back and keeping it in the past. It has no clear reconciliation plan, no plan to address transport and congestion, no plan to make the NDIS work as it should and no plan to fight the rising cost of living for Australians. On this side of the House, we are committed to Australia and to the constituents in my electorate. We need to get Australia on track and moving into the future.
I'm very pleased to be here to contribute to this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020. I particularly want to mention the $100 billion of infrastructure funding—as we know, this is an increase—that will be delivered over the next 10 years into Australian communities. Those of us who live in rural and regional Australia know how important infrastructure actually is. Building local infrastructure is an absolutely crucial step in connecting our local communities and creating local jobs. In my role as the Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories, I'm committed to ensuring that the Australian government continues to deliver the appropriate services and infrastructure to regional and remote communities. I'm actually very proud to be part of a government that is actually building vital infrastructure and providing essential services for people who live, work and retire in regional areas.
In the role of minister for territories, the appropriation bill presented to the House simply reaffirmed the Australian government's commitment to our external territories. We continue to invest in building the Norfolk Island economy and the Indian Ocean Territories' economies, and we continue to fund essential services and infrastructure. We've seen funding allocated in the actual budget to Norfolk Island in 2019-20. We are working very hard to support the local economy of Norfolk Island to be strong and vibrant, and there is support in the latest budget towards the Norfolk Island Regional Council's tourism strategy to increase visitor numbers and tourism income, as well as investment in Cascade Pier to improve the safety and frequency of cruise and freight ships. We're also continuing to support a range of programs through the Regional Development Australia program on Norfolk Island to support tourism, to attract investment and to develop grant applications. There are also supports in there from the Building Better Regions Fund that include an environmental strategy, upgrades to Banyan Park and replacement of the 2G network.
I continue to work with the administrator and will continue to work with the community to explore opportunities to strengthen and to support the local economy through the delivery of infrastructure and services. I've met with Mayor Adams, and I'm looking forward to meeting with many more members of the community in this role. As I said, we're continuing to support much-needed infrastructure in our Indian Ocean Territories. The service delivery is delivered, as the member for Curtin knows, by the Western Australian government, and these services include education, justice, community policing and environmental regulation. These are funded by the federal government, and we're going to be funding new repairs and maintenance to existing infrastructure, including a new crane and mooring system. There are services continuing to be delivered by the department, including power, health and public housing; and services and support provided by the private sector under contract, including managing the port and airport and delivering air services.
We'll continue to work on providing practical and long-term strategic projects, which are really important for the longer term to support the local economies. That includes strategic assessment of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, releasing commercial land and residential development opportunities, and a crown land management plan for the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. We're preparing heritage management plans and funding a regional investment officer to identify economic development and investment opportunities, and to attract investment.
We're also working to increase tourism numbers and the local training association to build local skills and capacity—something I'm particularly committed to. There is funding for a review into tourism and an action plan that will be driven by the administrator of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and the regional development organisations. It will be very powerful, very direct and local. And there's funding to update the Flying Fish Cove master plan to ensure that it remains a vibrant and attractive area. So there's ongoing efforts in our Indian Ocean Territories and in Norfolk Island.
Now, in the time that I have left to me, through the appropriation bill as well, I want to really talk about some of the things that are particularly important in my own electorate. One of the things that I think this government has done particularly well is the funding of health. I want to talk about the medications that have been listed on the PBS at a cost of over $10 billion. These really matter. I believe that what we are here to do is support the health and wellbeing of people in our electorates, and the focus on PBS listings has certainly done that. When you are out in your community and you listen to people, the issues that matter most to them are the health of themselves, their family members, others within the community and their friends as well.
I'm very proud of the first ever national plan for endometriosis, of which I've spoken previously in this place, and of the support from the health minister as well to actually make sure that we have a national endometriosis plan. Over 700,000 women in Australia that we know of are affected by this particular disease and there is no cure, so the funding for research, for management and for better education around it are really critically important.
We're also ushering in a new era for health care through funding for dementia research. In my electorate, Tuia Lodge at Donnybrooks, a fantastic new aged-care centre, received $1.45 million so that local people can stay in their local communities. This is really important to those of us who live in regional communities. The lodge is also going to receive recurrent funding to be able to operate an extra 11 aged-care places. To some people, that may not seem like a lot but, in Donnybrook, it's an awful lot and it means that so many more local people and their families can stay in their local community, and that is what we as a government are about.
We are also going to provide teenagers and young adults in Margaret River with access to free or low-cost youth mental health services. That injection of funds is particularly important. I've worked consistently since being in this place to get more headspace centres into rural and regional communities. There is one now in Bunbury, I secured a another in Busselton and we now have Margaret River as well. Each one of these matters to people who live a distance from what perhaps people in city areas take for granted. They're not just around the corner or up the road.
I also want to focus on the 64,900 taxpayers who have received tax relief after we were able to pass that through this parliament in its first week. And another 18,652 amazing and fabulous small-to-medium businesses in my electorate have received tax relief. One of the things I've repeatedly said while out in the community is that one of the things that with our small-to-medium enterprises do well, particularly in regional areas, is give our local people their first job and often their last. They also support our local community service organisations, support our local amazing volunteers who work in emergency services and they support our sporting clubs as well. For almost anything that's happening, the local business gets the tap on the shoulder.
So everything we do as a government to support our local businesses, to me, is a real multiplier in our economy. We know that our small businesses actually employ nearly half the private sector workforce and that really has a massive impact right across Australia. We need each one of these businesses because each one of them supports local jobs that then has a knock-on effect for every other business in our electorate.
I know that the City of Busselton successfully applied to the federal government to accelerate Roads to Recovery funding—again, local jobs, local people. We've got a lot of what's known as roads of strategic importance in our part of the world as well, roads that connect so much of the economic activity. The south-west is a $16 billion GDP region. There's a lot that's not known about my south-west outside the area. There are people who are just can-do people—they get on with their job. And we have everything from agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism, retail—you name it—to construction in my electorate. That's why the funding for the Bunbury Outer Ring Road is so important. The federal government has committed $682 million for this infrastructure. Again, the $100 billion is getting right out into most parts of Australia and certainly into my electorate.
These are the sorts of programs, along with the Building Better Regions Fund, that deliver projects that matter in small communities as well. Sometimes it's the smallest amount of money that can make the biggest difference. That's something that we know. We know that our local volunteers really make the most of every dollar that comes their way, whether they're working with a men's shed—and we support the men's sheds—or in our emergency services. We saw some funding go into a new training centre for our St John Ambulance volunteers in Busselton. What a great result. We've also seen some funding go into aged-care facilities in Dunsborough. That will be a wonderful catalyst in the community, providing not only fabulous care but also local jobs. Sometimes these types of facilities in smaller communities can make the most difference and become a major employer and economic driver.
Connectivity for us really matters. The Mobile Black Spot Program has helped so many of those who live and work in my electorate, particularly some of our farmers and our tradespeople. A story I've told previously is that of a local anaesthetist who lived in the Ferguson Valley, which is quite hilly. When he was on call, he would have to go and park his car at the top of a hill if he was to receive a phone call to be able to get in and provide the service at the local hospital. That was one of the first places that was successful in receiving one of the Mobile Black Spot Program towers. For the residents in rural and regional communities, the service that is provided by our emergency services—whether it's fire and emergency rescue, St John or right across the board—are critical. They also rely very much on connectivity. This can make a huge difference. We've had fires in recent times, and one of the critical issues is local people being able to get messages about what is actually happening in their communities.
I also briefly want to touch on the $1.1 billion funding that goes into Landcare. It's been said previously that our farmers are some of the best environmental stewards, and I would agree with that. It is the work they do on the ground, the simple things they do day in and day out. Inevitably they want to leave the land and the water sources that they use in better condition than they found them in. Many of those farms are intergenerational businesses, so they take it very seriously. They want to be able to continue to farm, to produce some of the best-quality food in the world from Australia and to maintain our capacity to provide the world—and perhaps some of the niche markets ahead of us, through the free trade agreements we've been able to achieve—with some of that fine-quality food. Everything we do to connect our producers in rural and regional areas and enable them to take advantage of some of these free trade agreements and the opportunities that go with them is what I really care about. Equally I really want to acknowledge the work that's being done on the ground by our farmers that is often overlooked and not well understood. They do a fantastic job, and I'll support them every day.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 16:29 to 16 : 47
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, which provide appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the annual services of the government for the remainder of 2019-20. In particular, I want to direct my remarks to the growing needs of my electorate of Holt, which is situated in the rapidly growing suburbs in the outer south-east of Melbourne.
Prior to the 2019 election, the federal electorate of Holt was substantially redistributed. Areas like Endeavour Hills and Doveton and Hallam, which had been part of that seat for many, many years—in Endeavour Hills' case, for about 28 years—were taken out. Holt lost about 42,000 voters. What happened was that the seat was then redistributed and incorporated suburbs like Blind Bight, Botanic Ridge, Clyde, Clyde North, Cannons Creek, Junction Village and Devon Meadows; the established existing suburbs of Lynbrook, Lyndhurst and Narre Warren South; and the newer suburbs of Pearcedale, Tooradin and Warneet. It changed the complexion of the seat quite dramatically. It also continued the consolidation of the seat in the City of Casey, which is one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia. For example, at the end of 2017, the Casey City Council had a population of about 327,000 people. It's going to continue that very rapid growth, and over the next 20 years it's going to become bigger than the population of Canberra—that's one city council on the edge of the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. With this massively growing and rapidly growing community, there have become major challenges in social infrastructure and physical infrastructure. The area, notwithstanding the investment that's been made by the Andrews state Labor government, is struggling to keep up, and demands for new essential services continue to need to be addressed.
At the end of 2018, particularly given the investment that the Andrews government had made in the period between 2014 and 2018, I was very pleased to see that Daniel Andrews was re-elected, particularly given that he had delivered the biggest and most successful infrastructure build in the state's history. Over the next four years, I will continue to look forward to working with Daniel Andrews and the state member for Cranbourne, Pauline Richards, in particular, to assist them and to also watch them develop—to build new schools, new roads, new public transport infrastructure, which they have been doing in my constituency, as well as developing health facilities and increasing the spend on two local hospitals, which are Casey Hospital and Dandenong Hospital.
It's important to note that, whilst the Victorian state government has delivered over recent years, unfortunately, over the six years of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison coalition government, the investment from the federal just doesn't match in any way, shape or form the investment that's been made. That counts given the growth and how it could benefit from the injection of federal government funding.
For our residents, one of the key priorities is to upgrade our roads in Holt given the rapid population growth; the suburb of Cranbourne East is the fastest-growing suburb this Australia. It's really quite amazing when you drive along Clyde Road toward Narre Warren just to see the massive growth of infrastructure and massive growth in housing estates. That's going to continue unabated notwithstanding some of the concerns about a slowing economy or an economy that some people say is at risk with the housing prices downturn. Given the population growth, there is continued impetus for people to come out and live in this area because there is affordable housing. But the affordable housing, unfortunately, is not being matched by roads, hospitals and other services to match that—and also cars.
Data recently collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed more than 100,000 extra cars and trucks have hit roads in Victoria in the past 12 months. In the first time in the state's history, the number of registered vehicles has surpassed five million vehicles. In 2014, 4.4 million vehicles were registered. Cars in particular have continued to dominate the figures as Melburnians in the city's outer suburbs are left with no other way to travel, even though there is obviously substantial investment being made by the state government in public transportation—rail in particular.
At the last federal election, in recognising that, the federal opposition had a plan to address this growing problem by investing more than $850 million to upgrade these congested roads, create new jobs and slash travel times for residents in these south-eastern suburbs. In Holt, what did that mean? It meant that an extra lane would be added in each direction to Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road in Cranbourne between Thompsons Road and the South Gippsland highway. In addition, Labor had a plan to contribute $65 million towards the completion and duplication of the 10.7-kilometre stretch of Thompsons Road which is a major east-west feeding road in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, between Frankston-Dandenong Road and Berwick-Cranbourne Road. I guess I hope that, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Morrison government will be able to match this proposal, because it is important that they do co-invest with the state Labor government. I'll be writing to the Prime Minister to ask, in the spirit of bipartisanship, for that co-investment.
It's also important to note traffic congestion. My constituency, depending on which part you're in, is between 40 and 48 kilometres away from the city centre. There are a lot of people that work that need to drive into the city centre. We have a lot of tradespeople and a lot of construction workers, and they need cars. They need to drive their utes. They need to drive their trucks. They need to be able to drive from their work to their place of employment. So a proper investment in roads and rail is important. It's not just a political point I'm making; it's a point that improves the quality of life for our people and includes economic prosperity. For example, there's been some costing. Without a proper investment in roads and rail, the economic cost of congestion will triple to about $9 billion by 2031.
One of the key priorities on top of roads is broadband and telecommunications structure in Holt.
One of the disturbing parts of being in a major growth corridor not so far away from Melbourne is that, in some cases, in some parts of my electorate people can't get access to mobile phone coverage. We're encouraging people to shift out to these outer suburbs. That there are so many young families not being able to get mobile phone coverage in this day and age is astonishing and disturbing. We need new mobile phone towers and we need them sooner rather than later. I know that there is a complex process, where a company might approach a local council and seek to sort of position them. But when you have got areas where a woman trying to ring Cranbourne Police Station because someone is attempting to break into her home doesn't have a landline because the NBN wasn't installed and she can't get mobile phone access, it's pretty concerning. It's pretty concerning in this day and age, as I have said, that in a modern suburb with all this modern housing that you cannot have access to a phone. I think that's really disturbing. People say there are black spot funding opportunities—that's for sure—but there are still substantial and important areas in my constituency where you cannot access mobile phone services. That is incredibly important, and I'll be continuing to push the government and work with the government to ensure the people in those areas get those services.
I'm also looking forward to ensuring that my electorate receives appropriate federal funding and support for the two local hospitals that I mentioned, Casey Hospital and Dandenong Hospital. Both are located just outside of my constituency. We really do need, given the population growth, to invest more in hospitals and in mental health locally. For example, Casey Hospital does not have an MRI. That hospital is based in my friend and colleague's electorate, La Trobe. During the federal election, the federal government announced that there would be an MRI licence granted to St John of God but that's not in Casey Hospital.
Casey Hospital is a public hospital. I'm aware of the situation where the wife of a serving police officer was assaulted on the Packham line. It was suspected she had a brain bleed. She was taken by ambulance from Pakenham to Casey Hospital but there was no MRI, so in that emergency situation, she had to be transported to another hospital where there was an MRI. If people are familiar with Casey Hospital, the state government has made enormous investments because of the physical growth in that area. With the hundreds of thousands of people who have been coming into this area, Casey Hospital has turned into a major regional hospital but it doesn't have an MRI.
I will just counsel the federal government, again putting this forward as a suggestion, that it's crazy that a hospital of this size, which is just about to open an seven- or eight-storey facility to expand the services being offered, doesn't have an MRI. As I understand it, there are no plans for an MRI and I don't think that's appropriate; I don't think that's satisfactory. People in our region, in Holt and in those areas, deserve an MRI. They pay their taxes. I do think it's a service they do need and they deserve and I'll be working to ensure that they do get that.
During the last election, I was at the Casey Hospital with our former Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, where we made a $22.4 million investment commitment to meet that rapidly rising demand for services not only to take the pressure off the hospital's emergency department because it is a busy hospital but also to create extra beds for a mental health facility. We do have a problem, given the growth rate, of adequately providing services for people with mental health challenges. Labor's plan would have been to ensure our people in the region with severe mental health challenges could access improved models of care in acute and high-dependency beds. That commitment of $22.4 million was made not just to meet the rapidly rising demand of services in the emergency ward but also for the acute and high-dependency bed services. I will again be asking, respectfully, that the Morrison government look at that because it is something that we absolutely need.
The other thing in talking about mental health is youth mental health. I commend the Morrison government on the commitments that they are making. I know that the Minister for Health has a commitment to youth mental health. I have worked with Professor Pat McGorry over a number of years on the issue. We had, in 2011 and 2012, a suicide cluster of young people in the south-eastern suburbs, and it was a horrible period of time for our community. Professor McGorry and Orygen Youth Health worked with us to bring that to the attention of the then-Gillard government, and we got an investment for two headspaces—the Narre Warren headspace and the Dandenong headspace. They've since been supplemented with the early youth psychosis service that is provided by Professor Simon Stafrace and the Alfred clinical psychiatric service. However, even though it is good that we have two headspaces, we need an additional headspace.
The other thing I'd like to point out—and I could go on and on—is the concerning feedback that I'm getting about the issue of youth migrant mental health. We know that there are some priority areas that have been put forward by Professor McGorry and those who offer the headspace service in terms of at-risk-youth demographics, but one of the things that have been concerning me is some of the stories about young people from migrant backgrounds—and we have a lot in my area—who are disinclined to access these services because they're not friendly. There is a story that I'd prefer not to go into, where one person of a particular cultural group turned up and she almost felt turned away from headspace. That young woman will not go back, and that is not satisfactory. We really need to be making sure that there are standard levels of clinical care that can be provided, and we need to encourage young people of migrant backgrounds to not be reticent about using these services, because in many situations they are most in need of the services.
I'm running short of time. I've given some indication of some of the priorities for the next term in Holt and some of the requests we'll be making of the Morrison government. But, in particular, in terms of youth mental health, this is an investment in our future, and we need to be paying more attention to putting more resources into providing appropriate levels of care for young people in my area.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak today in support of the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 and the associated appropriation bills. In my electorate of Braddon, people are working hard. We have nearly 10,000 small businesses, a lot of them mum-and-dad businesses. We have thousands of equally exceptional people who get up every morning and go to work, with the expectation, quite rightly, that the government won't get in the way and will provide opportunities. During the election campaign, I spent a lot of time talking with these people. We chatted, and they told me about what was important to them. No matter where they lived—whether it was on the west coast, King Island, Burnie, Smithton, Devonport or Wynyard—what was important to the hardworking people of Braddon was things like providing for their families, having the opportunity to make their lives better and having the expectation that, if they work hard, they can achieve goals and achieve dreams. They spoke to me about accessing the health services that they need, the education requirements that they so desperately need, being able to travel around their region safely and keeping the cost-of-living pressures down.
I agree with all these things, because they are all important to me as well. The best way for government to help the people of Braddon—it's all about economic management. It has been shown over decades that a coalition government can responsibly provide the services that people in my electorate expect, because only a coalition government can manage finances. The people in my electorate get it. If they have to be responsible and balance their own personal budgets, they expect the government to be responsible enough to do the same. It's simple.
It was this government who restored the budget to balance. After years of Labor deficits, we handed down the first budget surplus in over 12 years. That is a significant turnaround in our nation's finances. We also reduced taxes, so the working people of Braddon could keep more of what they earn for them and their families. They have more in their pockets to deal with the rising cost of living. Nearly 40,000 taxpayers in Braddon will benefit from tax relief in 2018-19 as a result of the government's enhanced personal income tax plan, with just over 16,000 receiving the full tax offset of $1,080.
I'm passionate about education. I want every person in my electorate to be able to access the type of education that's right for them, right for their time and for their lifetime. Whether it's at primary school, high school, university, TAFE or on-the-job training, everybody should have access to education when they need it. It doesn't matter whether you're eight, 28 or 80. It doesn't matter whether you live in the city or the bush. I know and my electorate knows the only way that governments can responsibly increase funding to education is if there is more money in the bank. Because the budget is now in surplus, we can now increase funding to all 49 schools in Braddon. That's a 49 per cent increase to all of Braddon's public schools over the next decade. But that is just the start of the good news. Earlier this month, the west coast regional study hub was opened, thanks to the Morrison government's commitment of $2.5 million. This will give those who want to live on the west coast greater choice and access to educational opportunities. It will allow them to study courses they want without having to move away from home, which often comes at a significant cost both financially and socially. If students want to stay with their family and friends, then they should be able to do that. That's why this is such an important investment. This Friday, I will be attending Marist Regional College in Burnie to open the new learning areas for grade 9 and 10 students thanks to an $830,000 fund from the Morrison government. A local schools community fund of almost $200,000 was recently announced. This wonderful initiative is for schools to fund small projects. I remind them that applications are now open, and they should get them in.
Having money in the bank means that we can afford to invest in health services. That is important to the people of Braddon. Funding of public hospital services in Tasmania has increased by 45 per cent since we came to office, from $294 million to $425 million. This government continues to commit to the PBS, providing affordable access to new medicines as they have become available. Since 2013, the Morrison government has listed over 2,000 new or amended items on the PBS. This represents an average of around 31 listings per month or one each day at an average cost of around $10.6 billion. I meet people everyday in my electorate. Time and time again they stop me and tell me their story about how some new drug that has been listed on the PBS is making their life that much better. Some of them tell me that the only reason a loved one is alive today is because some new drug has been listed on the PBS. The government is also providing record funding for the health system, including Medicare. In 2019-20 we will invest a record $104 billion in health. That is up from $75 billion seven years ago.
As I mentioned, reducing the cost of living is extremely important in my electorate of Braddon, so it's great news to everybody to hear that the Morrison Liberal-National government has a plan to achieve that. We're delivering a multimillion dollar injection into our region as well as thousands of jobs. What I'm talking about here are the Battery of the Nation project and Project Marinus. Tasmania's potential as Australia's newest renewable energy powerhouse is now recognised right across the nation. We have what the rest of the nation really needs—low-cost, reliable, clean energy—and we have plans to deliver that energy to the rest of Australia. We will do this through the second Bass Strait interconnector, Project Marinus. This will allow Tasmania to expand the amount of renewable energy provided to the national grid system, and enhance greater investment in other renewable technologies, such as our $250 million Granville Harbour wind development, which is currently under construction on our west coast.
The Morrison government has committed $56 million to fast-track Project Marinus, and that's important to the people in my electorate of Braddon. Marinus will enable more than 400 megawatts of existing dispatchable reliable generation to be transmitted to Victoria, power currently unavailable due to a limited Basslink interconnector capacity. This is good news for Victorians as well, because 400 megawatts is enough to power up to 400,000 homes. Subject to development of the business case and funding arrangements, it's expected that Marinus link will be able to supply electricity to the mainland from 2025. The construction of Marinus is expected to generate between 500 and 1,000 construction jobs in my region.
The Morrison government is also committed to working with the Tasmanian government to underwrite the first phase of Tasmania's Battery of the Nation project. The government is also providing $2.5 million to support Hydro Tasmania identifying a suitable Battery of the Nation project site. This represents the single biggest economic opportunity for our state. Importantly, for those that live on the north-west and west coasts, the three short-listed sites are in our backyard. By the end of next year we should know about the final site, and it's hoped that it will progress to being shovel-ready by 2021. Pumped hydro can deliver 24/7, round-the-clock, renewable, reliable power, and the Battery of the Nation is expected to deliver up to 2,500 megawatts of reliable renewable hydropower to Tasmania and Victoria, including 16 gigawatt hours of storage. Projects like Marinus, Battery of the Nation and Snowy 2.0 reinforce the investment that has already been made in renewable power across Australia, and it provides reliability that doesn't come at the cost of driving prices up and compromising energy security.
The Morrison government's $100 billion transport infrastructure investment across Australia is important. When my constituents are driving around the electorate of Braddon, they're not belting along a freeway, and we don't spend much time in traffic jams. However, this investment will ensure that everybody in my area can get home safely on country roads as well as town ones. This investment in our area will improve travel time, reliability and it will also make sure that our national highway, the Bass Highway, is safe for all road users. The Cooee to Wynyard planning study is a great example of how the federal Liberal government is keeping its promise to Braddon. We said we'd pay for a study into the challenges on this stressed part of the highway to be undertaken, and the study has now been done; it's completed. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister visited Braddon and made a further commitment of $40 million to deliver the recommended improvements that were identified during that report, and I look forward to the Tasmanian Department of State Growth developing this program of work over the next few months.
The government's commitment of $60 million to upgrade 112 kilometres of the Bass Highway, between Wynyard and Marrawah, is another example of how vital works are progressing in our region. The works are wide ranging. They will include road widening, overtaking lanes, intersection improvements, road reconstruction and general road safety measures. Specifically, some of the projects identified include the Bass Highway through Brittons Swamp, south-west of Smithton, which is affected by significant undulations caused by road users, including school buses, agricultural vehicles and trucks. Sections of that highway will be rebuilt and strengthened. A new passing opportunity will be constructed between Wynyard and Smithton, as well as constructing courtesy stopping bays for slower traffic and agricultural traffic along our roads. And where the Bass Highway has been widened in the past at Rocky Cape, it is now dangerously close to a busy community facility. Rather than diverting the highway at that point, funds will be provided to rebuild this facility. Safer access will be provided for the Boat Harbour school, including a right turn facility on the Bass Highway. That's good news for those kids crossing the road. Engagement with the Waratah-Wynyard Council and Circular Head Council is important to ensure that these projects are conducted in a mutual, cohesive way along the 112-kilometre section of the Bass Highway between Wynyard and Marrawah.
As a heavy vehicle operator and as an agricultural contractor I've driven many of the roads in Braddon and I understand the difficulties that the precarious nature of our windy agricultural country roads provides to all road users. I also understand the amount of school traffic and tourist traffic that utilises our roads. It is important that these two road user types can work harmoniously and safely. This can only be done if we've got a good, safe, well planned road network. We can only provide that network if we've got funds in the bank. This is another classic example why, if we want something done, there's only one place to turn and that is a strong Liberal-National Coalition.
I rise to speak about trade, engagement with our Asia-Pacific region, and Darwin's and my electorate's role as a regional hub. I'm happy to speak to the re-introduced appropriation bills, but what I'm not happy about is the government's self-congratulation on economic issues over which it has no control. We saw it last week, when my parliamentary colleague, the member for Fairfax, could not help himself, trying to take credit for this year's record monthly trade surpluses. We all like to see a trade surplus, but inferring that they're somehow the work of the Liberal Party is a bit rich. These record trade surpluses, for the record, are due to a near doubling of the world price of iron ore, which is good news. It's risen from about US$69 a tonne to US$121 a tonne in the last six months. Like me, you've probably been to Karratha in Western Australia. All those iron ore ships are just queuing up there. It's great for our nation that that price is high, but the reason for the price being high and the trade surplus is more about Beijing's economic stimulus program and a dam bursting in Brazil. I hope neither of those have anything to do with the Liberal Party—rather, I hope that the dam bursting had nothing to do with the Liberal Party.
Australia is one of the world's great trading nations. We always have been a great trading nation, from when First Nations people in northern Australia were trading with other First Nations in our Asia-Pacific region right through to us supplying the British Empire with agricultural commodities. Of course, we benefited as a nation from the mining boom following the Second World War. We overcame challenges in the 1960s and 1970s, when our major trading partner at the time, the UK, started preferencing its European neighbours ahead of us, its loyal Commonwealth cousins. But there was good news again with the Labor Hawke and Keating governments. The deregulation of our economy opened our markets to the world. Today the Asian markets to our north are absolutely vital for us. Japan was our leading merchandise export destination until the extraordinary economic growth in China saw it claim the top spot 10 years ago. Fifty per cent of our entire merchandise exports go to China and Japan, largely in the form of those raw materials. Nearly a quarter of our merchandise imports come from China alone. Twelve of our largest 15 trading markets are in Asia, and the Asia-Pacific region accounts for over 70 per cent of our total trade value.
As I told the House last week, Territorians pay close attention to trade. Our proximity to the growing Asian markets is one reason. Another is the deep and enduring links that we have with our neighbours to our north. These markets are vital for the economic development of the Northern Territory and Darwin in particular, long and rightly regarded as Australia's northern gateway to Asia. That's why I'm very pleased that the Leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, has appointed me to lead a trade task force for the Asia Pacific. In this role, I will be working closely with the shadow minister for trade, Madeleine King, and the shadow minister for northern Australia, Senator Murray Watt.
Labor has played a major role in advancing and advocating for an open global trading system, reducing trade barriers, which creates more competitive industries and generates high-skill, high-wage jobs for Australians. Our party has an equally long history of recognising and acting on the immense economic opportunities presented by Asia's rise to become the heart of global economic growth. We strongly support an open, rules based, multilateral trading system under the auspices of the WTO, as well as trade and investment liberalisation through APEC.
High-quality global, regional and bilateral trade agreements which include major Asian economies have been a key driver of Australia's success story of consecutive economic growth over 20 years. But we must ensure that the agreements continue to be high-quality trade agreements. We mustn't assume that Australia can continue to benefit from Asia's economic growth without working harder to seize the opportunities which our region presents to Australian workers, consumers, businesses, exporters and investors. This is particularly important at a time when the rules and norms of the global and regional trading systems are more contested, politicised and securitised than ever in living memory.
Australia stands to gain from deepening its trading agreements, people-to-people and business-to-business links, outward and inbound foreign direct investment, and, importantly, the Asia literacy of Australian workers, businesses, students and exporters. Labor's trade task force for the Asia Pacific will consult with everyone—unions, exporters, business councils. We will hold industry forums and report to the Leader of the Australian Labor Party and the shadow trade minister on what our nation needs to do to increase our trade engagement right across our region.
The task force will review existing policies and develop policies to deepen Australia's trading, investment, educational and people-to-people links with the region. It will also examine proposals developed by Australian and regional policy-makers, think tanks and academics to develop plans of action for Australia to lead efforts in promoting the multilateral trading system and potential reforms to the WTO. The task force will work with state and territory governments and councils to find potential synergies that could feed into a future federal Labor government's trade and investment engagement strategy with Asia.
The Northern Territory government is pursuing an ambitious international engagement, trade and investment strategy. We have huge trade opportunities in defence, agribusiness, energy, international education, minerals and tourism, to name just a few. We also have a huge competitive advantage with our proximity to Asia and our proximity to the equator. As it turns out, for space launches it's very handy to be close to the equator. We have ample land, water and mineral resources. We have local expertise. We have great people-to-people relations within our region. We are a young and culturally diverse population. Darwin truly is the gateway to Asia.
I will be working with the Northern Territory government, and with industry groups in the Northern Territory, in Western Australia and North Queensland, but also around the country. But this is clearly very important for northern Australia. It is a nationally significant region of our country that has great benefits for the rest of the nation. That's why I urge the federal government to make investments in the North: to bring forward the funding to rejuvenate Kakadu; to fund the ship lift; to start spending some of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, or the NAIF; and to fund the City Deal for Darwin. These are nationally significant projects recognising the strategic and economic importance of northern Australia for the whole of Australia.
What we need to do now, and why I've chosen to speak on these topics during this debate on the appropriation bills, is we need to convince the Morrison government that this is a national priority. Labor went to the last election with a coherent and costed policy for Darwin and the Territory. For example, one specific proposal—building a ship lift—is of great value for both military and civilian use. Rather than ships going to Cairns or Singapore, they'll be able to stay in Darwin, where they're based, for routine maintenance and refits. This means jobs for Territorians and a significant improvement to our range of Defence infrastructure in the north. A ship lift in Darwin Harbour or in the Top End will create a whole marine services industry around it. The present Defence facility at HMAS Coonawarra is actually not big enough to lift the future offshore patrol vessels, so it is due to be decommissioned in the next couple of years. So I'll continue to take every opportunity to urge the Morrison government to take up the proposal and to build the ship lift. I think, in these last couple of sitting weeks, I have already mentioned the ship lift quite a few times, and I will continue to advocate for it.
I see the trade task force as also being, like the ship lift, nationally important, because trading with our region is the future of our country. I want to continue to build relationships in the region, and I have a fair bit of personal experience in doing that. Many years ago now I set up a small Australian charity in Timor-Leste to improve maternal health outcomes and to build schools in remote areas. Through my work in Timor-Leste and Indonesia out of the Top End, I met people like my friend Colin McDonald QC, who has long fostered Australia-Indonesia friendships through the Bali artist camps. But it's not just Asia; it's the Pacific as well. We will focus our attention on our friends in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands as well. I want to commend the Prime Minister for travelling into the Pacific on his first overseas trip. There is no doubt that targeted and sensitive aid engagement with our near neighbours is incredibly important. It's an important means of building positive relationships, and clearly this is a matter of strategic importance, as well as it being important for us to be good neighbours.
Another area that intersects our strategic and economic interest is building a disaster response and emergency management capacity from Darwin into our region. We all know that the region to the north of Australia can be quite unstable geologically, and there have been some political changes to the north that we've been able to respond to, one being the East Timor process of self-determination. We were able to respond to that out well of Darwin. So Darwin is crucial. I'm very proud to represent Darwin and Palmerston here in the federal parliament. The weather is heaps better than down here, and people tend to get sick less often!
Finally, I want to invite all members to attend our Facing North function on 9 September here in Parliament House. It's the first sitting day of the next sitting period, on 9 September, a Monday night. My fellow Territorians will once again be showcasing to everyone down here in this place our talents as Territorians and our potential for the nation. Please put it in your diary—9 September—and come and learn a bit more about Australia's northern gateway to Asia.
I rise after a nationwide investigation into the performance of ASQA's monitoring and regulating of the training sector. They regulate TAFE and small training organisations all around the country, and all but two states have handed over their powers to ASQA. This government, and I assume the entire parliament, would like to see a flourishing diverse and high-quality training system in Australia, one where brand Australia is known as a great place to educate, train and employ. In that role, ASQA has an incredibly important role—supporting training across a geographically diverse country like Australia, dealing with our significant international student caseload, which has its own unique requirements, and, of course, helping our employed citizens of tomorrow acquire, in a relatively short time frame, the skills that we know are going to be needed in the future. With those changing requirements, we need an agile sector. We need people after a career of service to the nation to then say, 'I will serve by being a trainer.' And we need to have an enhanced system that is obviously monitored and kept at high quality. ASQA began in 2011 and has been responsible for just over 2,200 organisations in this country. But, on my investigation in every state and territory, talking to remote training providers in Aboriginal communities and speaking in the outer suburbs of Sydney, where the hope of a career or a future can be dashed so easily by the absence of a place where one can train somewhere in your neighbourhood for a job one can dream of, I know that for these trainers and providers there are enormous concerns about the shortcomings of ASQA.
I want to just start with a quote. It's a quote from ASQA. By ASQUA's estimation you are liable for the possible maximum penalty of 600 units for each of the 89 VET statements of attainment alleged to be issued outside its scope of registration. The total maximum penalty on that calculation—sharpen your pencil—is $11,214,000 were ASQA to refer this matter for civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court. However, your client may be able to dispense with the possibility of facing that heavy penalty if it were to agree to pay one-tenth of the maximum penalty pursuant to an infringement notice. You'll be very relieved to know, Member for Bennelong, that would be a liability amount of just $1,121,400. 'If your client is amenable to paying that reduced that sum, I advise without instruction that ASQA may be amenable to conciliated on the bases that the cancellation decision is set aside and a conditional grant of registration is reinstated. Please advise on your client's position.'
Now, no-one would want to see a dodgy provider getting away with blue murder, and we've seen plenty of that in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Every provider I spoke to said that, if there were to be another provider engaged in fraud, mismanagement and irresponsible training practises, of course they should be driven from the sector. That is the common clarion call from every group I've spoken to. But they don't appear to be the stories that I have before me. Some of the highest thinkers in this relevant area of law in the three major cities all have the same view as barristers representing many of these RTOs just hoping to survive the ASQA audit. It appears to me ASQA is increasingly using the AAT as a vehicle for extinguishing RTOs simply by legal cost, reputational damage and delay.
One would hope that all authorities with the difficult jobs ASQA has would demonstrate a form of model litigant conduct, meaning that it would not deliberately engage in legal tactics designed to damage the respondent rather than just arriving at some form of clarity. But, increasingly, that is not how RTOs feel. From the highest levels, those who monitor the sector say it has become increasingly difficult to establish any form of rapport with ASQA. This stands in complete contrast to RTO relationships with New Zealand's regulator and Canada's regulator. They give us an example of the two-phased approach of both regulation and capacity building that need to be done by regulator concurrently at the appropriate time. By capacity building, I don't mean putting on a forum in a capital city once every few months, where you simply tell people what you're doing but don't answer their questions. ASQA, I'm told, give the impression it is willing to wield the big stick and keep pressing the same points. Its time management is terrible. What should be a day's audit stretches out to three.
An Indigenous community organisation I have been talking to with a flawless record in Western Australia audited for the first time by ASQA in April was sent the bill for 25 audit hours and ordered to pay $22,000 for the privilege of being shut down—for a single audit visit! This is money that isn't delivered to the front-line for training young Aboriginal youth. No-one wants a bad trainer out there but one would want to know why a RTO could be winning a state award for the highest quality of training and then be told to walk the plank by ASQA a few months following. There is no consistency if the auditors themselves can visit an RTO, raise minor administrivia then leave the building and, within a few months, the RTO gets a letter explaining ASQA intends to shut it down. There is no resemblance to the initial audit visit.
That lack of consistency between auditors must be of enormous concern. Remember TAFE is under the same regulations. You hope that TAFE plays by those same rules. But TAFE is a big gorilla; it can afford cop a few rough audit reports because it can just shuffle things between units, close a module down and shift students across to something else. A small RTO, a tailored niche RTO which is the only training provider to, say, main roads can't do that. Staff working on building better roads for Victoria don't want to travel an hour and a half to TAFE and that's why you have a flourishing private RTO sector. It is why state governments tender to private RTOs. Snuffing out an RTO by simply telling it, 'If you want to take on this decision, there's the door to AAT, and lawyer up,' is not the conduct of a regulator that is building confidence in our sector.
This is not just a domestic issue; this is about brand Australia. We sit within a peloton of developed English-speaking nations that offer training. We don't have to do much to molest and damage our training sector for those students to go to Canada. They're quite happy to and capable of getting a Canadian degree and, in turn, form relationships with Canada and be added to their skilled workforce at Australia's expense. It's not in our interest to nickel and dime every RTO on minutia. Of course RTOs will run into problems. Name me a GPS school or a top-tier university that hasn't, at some time, fallen short on administrative requirements. They need to be given a helping hand and that's what we set this regulator up to do.
There is such inconsistency now that these experiences are completely unpredictable. We find now that nearly half all of these matters that ASQA gives no alternative and no internal independent review are simply forwarded to AAT. Many of these don't stand up at AAT at all. I would expect that the regulator, acting as a model litigant, confident in the cases they send off to Federal Court, should win most of them. The fact that they win potentially less than half of them indicates that they're sending off to the AAT more for the purposes of legal expense and reputational damage and delay. As long as an RTO is suspended there are no more enrolments. The agents put a line through the RTO's name. The damage done is enormous. I just want to make sure that the damage is proportional to the issues found by that auditor when they visited. I hate to think that this kind of thing could happen to an RTO when there hasn't even been an auditor visit the premises, but it does happen purely on desktop and paperwork checks.
This aggressive and adversarial conduct is an enormous concern to me. We respect the absolute independence of these regulators and we wish them well in their job, but I'm absolutely compelled to report what I hear from the RTOs as well. I'm not in a position to substantiate a lot of these matters, and that's why I don't go into absolute specifics. I respect that in many cases ASQA does an incredibly hard job, but I just ask for a small Indigenous RTO working in remote Australia to be given a second hearing and to have a second visit from the auditor after they have been given a chance to address some of these concerns. But this broadly overreaching and focus on overcompliance has now almost gained ASQA an affectionate term for an absolute focus on administrative trivia.
No-one deny the critical breaches that should stop an RTO immediately, but too often we're simply seeing them referred to schedules and items and not given any suggestion on how to meet them. ASQA is not meeting halfway to have a discussion about the level of administrative performance they want to see from RTOs. No—what they say is, 'We are a regulator, not a consultant.' So they have bred a new industry of former ASQA auditors who leave only to become consultants to help RTOs get through the very ASQA process they were once part of. They start their advice with, 'I can't guarantee you that we can even succeed in this process, because we can't even tell you how ASQA will respond to our own efforts to heal the situation and respond to their concerns.'
Example: working with RTOs that encountered issues like non-compliant marketing material, because they claimed on the website that they're centrally located and close to transport. ASQA took issue with that, saying they weren't near a train station. I don't want to hear that the colour of a logo was different on the website than it is on their letterhead and may lead to some confusion. I respect absolutely that ASQA should be able to reach out to students and ask for feedback on satisfaction, knowing that an RTO can't possibly keep every student happy if they're in the business of passing and failing, but, with respect, I think we need to make sure that we don't have a regulator that actively goes and cultivates student complaints for the mere purpose of further frustrating and creating additional legal thickets around that organisation being able to continue to do its job.
There have been RTOs that have had issues with trainer verification—trainers working in the industry who have been there for a lifetime but didn't have sufficient content on their professional develop log and therefore were considered unsuitable to be a trainer. I appreciate that ASQA says there they're zeroing in on the bad guys, but there's a big difference between risk and poor quality. We want risk addressed in many cases if it's affecting student quality, but there's a significant risk in simply providing training services across a diverse nation like Australia in multiple states under different arrangements and various distances from metro areas. The second rectification period should be available, and if isn't in the legislation, in the NVETR Act, we should look at this very matter.
There's provision for independent internal review, but only for decisions made by a delegate. Increasingly, where decisions are wrapped up with most of the commissioners involved in the decision, it's impossible to get any form of independent internal review under the current design of the legislation. That's just keeping the AAT busy. After migration, which occupies the AAT probably more than it should, I don't want to see ASQA as number two. I don't want to see our training sector sending more work to the AAT than the rest of the entire private economy of this nation. That's not where it should be heading. What I'm worried about is a cultural change over time. Two or three years ago the sense was that if a small RTO applied for a stay, it was more than likely going to be granted. Stays play a very important legal role in allowing the respondent the time to assemble their case. But increasingly it looks like when ASQA feels that more damage is created by giving one less time, less time is what you get. Where it suits ASQA to delay the process because of the reputational damage and cost, it appears that's the decision that the RTO cops. I'm disturbed that virtually every application for a stay may now be refused for no good reason that I can see. A stay is very important legal option that should be available and should be offered by a model litigant—in this case, ASQA.
The default position between cancellation and suspension is also very important. What typically happens, as described by RTOs, is that the audit occurs, the audit panel returns and a letter comes back bearing no relationship to the vibe that was experienced when the auditor visited. A lot of the stuff was minor, so they asked, 'Can we see your indemnity, please?' They show that their indemnity is up to date and they walk out satisfied. But then a letter comes back saying, 'You didn't give us your detailed indemnity document for us to read; therefore, you are noncompliant because you provided us with nothing.' But they'd provided the auditor for what they asked for and the auditor walked out happy. We could go through too many examples.
I'm worried about Australia's reputation as a place for high-quality training, as ASQA is, but I suspect at the moment the culture has shifted too far in one direction. I am worried about damaged reputations. I'm worried about families putting all of their livelihood and the resources of extended family to build an RTO to meet specific niche needs in our community that TAFE can't meet. I don't expect kids from Punchbowl to sit on a train for 50 minutes to go to TAFE if there's an RTO solution in the suburb that's available. That's being closed down. It's a privilege to be a regulator. Those regulators are well paid. They're generously resourced. It's not about the number of RTOs in this country; it's about their quality. I think if there are quality RTOs seriously wanting to be better, ASQA plays a role in helping that to occur.
The election result is terribly disappointing for many Australians—not all, but many. Not so much for us on this side of the House, but for the millions of people who voted for Labor and who share the values we represent. There are millions out there who desperately wanted and still want a change in government in this country. Those people are completely forgotten, ignored by the government and indeed laughed at during question time, like the people in my electorate of Bruce.
I'm not aware of one single election commitment that the government made for my electorate—not one. Not one thing was promised in the City of Greater Dandenong, which is the second most disadvantaged municipality in Victoria—not one. There are 190,000 people who live in my electorate. Nearly half of these people have an annual income under $41,600. They don't get a tax cut. Maybe they get a few hundred bucks at best, compared to the $11,000 tax cut that I get and everyone in this parliament gets because of this government's priorities. Around 7,000 people in my electorate rely on Newstart to try to get by. They don't get a cent. Twenty thousand pensioners in my electorate are rightly worried that this government will again try and cut their energy supplement and reduce their pension. Pensioners right now are angry at the Liberals' too-little too-late change to deeming rates, which is continues to sneakily reduce the pension for millions of Australians.
There are desperate people, thousands of people, in my electorate who've been waiting for years for this government to simply process their claim for asylum. They're now hungry and vulnerable to appalling workplace exploitation and sexual exploitation. Homelessness is increasing. Deputy Speaker, you should see the queues in the soup kitchens and the food banks every day in my electorate because this government took away the $247 payment which was all they had to survive on. It was all they had, and it's gone. The most vulnerable people in Australia, the people who need the government most of all to survive, do not feature in this government's priorities—not one bit.
One need look no further than the NDIS. The Liberals built their flimsy surplus on the back of cuts to disability and a $1.6 billion underspend. It should be a source of shame. You rabbit on, government, about quiet Australians, but the truth is that's just political waffle. It's cover for the cruelty and the lack of care you inflict on the people who most need help. For me, the most important quiet Australians—the ones that matter most—are the people with no voice and with no political power; not those who choose to stay silent and get rewarded for their trouble. Speaking in support of Labor's NDIS bill in 2012, the now minister stated
We all know we need a new system of support based on need rather than state based rationing. The individual must be at the centre of this … able to pick the supports, aids, equipment and service providers of their choice.
Well, right now in my community that's not the experience of far too many people. Most people who approach my office now would be delighted to continue under the state based support they had previously from Victoria. It's the Commonwealth's rationing now that has them living in fear. The NDIS has been starved of resources. Tens of thousands of Australians are missing out each year. The average recipient now is being short-changed by $13,000 a year. On average, participants are using only 50 per cent of their plans, because they can't access the services.
But it's not just about money. The NDIS is being undermined by the Liberals' ideological obsession with attacking, cutting and privatising—the P word—public services. Take the NDIA's staffing. When established, it was projected to have a peak staffing level of 10,595 permanent public servants by last year, a professional, capable staff to help Australians with a disability to access the support they deserve. But that was trashed by the Liberals in 2016. The Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer, decided that 3,000 staff would be enough: 'That will be plenty.' So how, people may ask, is the work getting done? Are 3,000 people actually able to do the work of 10,595 people? Funnily enough, no. The Liberals' insidious staffing-level caps—the ASL caps as they're known—don't save money. What they do is force the agencies to privatise—to outsource—and to waste money on expensive temporary labour hire workers instead of skilled ongoing, cheaper public servants. We have desperate families waiting up to a year for a plan, and as long again for a review when its gone wrong because their initial plan didn't provide the right support. You should get it right the first time. It's cheaper. Plans are now shuffled between and glued together by five different, inexperienced labour-hire workers for over a year.
What the government is doing to cut and outsource the NDIS is bad, but it's not unique. It's all part of the Liberals' ideological escalating attack on public services. It's an irrational agenda of privatisation and cuts. In my first speech—I'll quote myself, as the ministers love to do in question time—I said:
… great societies have great public services, which require excellent public servants …
The Australian Public Service is one of our nation's most critically important institutions. It's responsible to the government but also to the parliament and the people for service delivery and policy advice. A responsible government should see itself as a steward of the APS, nurturing its capability and its knowledge, which has been built up by taxpayers over decades. It's capital, if you like. But in the first five years after coming to office in 2013 the Liberals cut the number of public servants by nearly 15,000. That represents a cut of nearly 10 per cent of the entire Australian Public Service just in the first five years of this mean little government. No wonder people can't get through to Centrelink or get their disability plan done or get a visa for a family member to visit or have their citizenship application processed. No wonder the Liberals consulting and corporate mates are growing so rapidly in Canberra, and no wonder the rorting private labour-hire firms grow ever larger, feeding expensive casual workers to agencies simply unable to employ staff to get the job done.
Of course, no-one even knows the true picture, because the Liberals are addicted to secrecy. They avoid answering questions. They won't tell the truth about the extent of labour hire and privatisation. Apparently no-one knows. No bureaucrats know and no ministers know. It just happens. What's the government's rationale for these cuts? There is none. Literally, the only reason the government has given is that they thought it would be a good idea when they got elected to return the public service to the size it was when John Howard left office in 2007. Since 2007, Australia's population has grown by four million people, or nearly 20 per cent—and their response was to cut the Public Service by 15 per cent. Aside from the growth of the population, the demand for public services has grown even more rapidly because of our ageing population. The challenges we face as a nation are immense, requiring complex policy responses, but the Liberals' brain-dead, moronic response is just to keep cutting, privatising things to their private sector and consulting mates to make a profit on.
These cuts are not necessary to balance the budget—far from it. They sometimes pretend they are, but the truth is that APS salaries now comprise less than four per cent of the Commonwealth budget. Cutting the Public Service again and again is not structural or fiscal reform, and it doesn't save money. The Liberals are wasting taxpayers' money with this obsession with privatisation and outsourcing. We learnt last year through the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit that the staffing caps have driven a shocking blowout in expenditure on private consultants and contractors. This is not political spin. I'm going to give you two quotes. In its submission to the inquiry the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet noted:
With the implementation of staffing caps in the Australian Public Service, agencies have more frequently needed to engage external contractor and consultancy services to fill key roles. Through removing ASL caps—
the government could do that—
agencies may have greater flexibility to recruit specialist staff at a reduced cost.
And the ABS put figures around it, as they do. They told the inquiry that contracted ICT staff are twice as expensive, and non-ICT staff are 125 to 150 per cent more expensive, than public servants to employ. These figures, which do not even include the recruitment fees—you know, those spotter's fees you pay to the agencies—make clear that this high human capital cost therefore has a significant impact on ABS costs and budgets.
This is not an academic debate. It's not 'a bubble debate', as the Prime Minister would say. The Liberals' agenda of cuts and privatisation is hurting every Australian who relies on quality public services. It's not just the NDIA. Take Centrelink for example. Right now, Centrelink is being privatised piece by piece. It started in the 2017 budget when the government cut 250 Centrelink jobs, and since then another 2,750 call centre jobs have been privatised. Thousands of labour hire employees are replacing the public servants. They're sitting there in the department. They're paying overheads to these dodgy private firms to do the same job because the government's so ideologically obsessed with privatisation and cuts.
Over the last two years official figures show that DHS—apparently they've now changed their name to Services Australia; they reckon that might improve things!—spent more than $880 million on labour hire contractors to staff their privatised compliance function, that's robo-debt, and their privatised call centres, that's the one no-one can get through to. Privatisation hasn't improved things for age pensioners, the unemployed or families needing support. More than 46 million calls to Centrelink went unanswered last year. For 5.3 million of those calls, people just gave up. They were abandoned and they hung up. Centrelink pretend that the standard processing time for an age pension is about 49 days, but everyone knows, when you dig into the stats, that most of them take far longer. Then there's the immoral, possibly illegal, robo-debt extortion of the most vulnerable Australians—the debts they cannot disprove but do not owe.
But the worst is yet to come. Things are going to get worse because, unbelievably, the Liberals are now hell-bent on privatising Australia's visa and citizenship processing system. There is a $1 billion tender out right now—the tenders are with the government—which would see thousands of jobs cut from the Department of Home Affairs and for-profit contracts given to Liberal mates. If there's one thing that should be done by public servants, surely it's the assessment and the processing of visa and citizenship applications—people who come to our country. Who can stay? It's extremely private information.
The government will tell us solemnly that we have to privatise it as it will deliver better service at a lower cost. It's absolutely true that we need better service. The Department of Home Affairs is a complete mess. It's a broken department. The most common problem every day in my electorate, and I know the member for Calwell's electorate, because we've spoken about it, is people who are frustrated and crying for help with the visa system or their citizenship application. The government has cut so many staff and so much funding over the last few years—they cut $180 million in the 2016-17 budget—that the system's in crisis. The backlog of visas grows, and there are now over 200,000 people in Australia just hanging out on bridging visas. Their lives are in limbo. They're on bridging visas because they're desperately waiting for years for their partner visas, business visas, student visas and, even now, dependent child visas to be processed. I have Australian citizens who've fallen in love, got married overseas and had kids for a few years come into my office, and their kids are sitting at home on the couch playing Xbox, and have been for a year, because they're literally too terrified to leave the house. They can't start school in a public school until they have their permanent resident visa, or their parents have to pay astronomical fees. Their parents can't afford the medical insurance, and they're not covered by Medicare, so the kids are literally playing Xbox waiting for their visa to be processed.
This approach is straight out of the failed conservative playbook overseas. It goes like this—we've seen this movie—first, they cut the services to create a crisis. Then they tell us the only answer is privatisation. This is my prediction: the private operator, a government mate, soon introduces two fee scales—higher fees for premium services that rich people can pay, and other fees for most Australians, like people in my electorate, who will be told by the Liberals to just suck it up and wait. Second, over time—once the capability of the public sector is being destroyed, just like has happened in the UK—the tenderers rise the prices. The successful tenderer establishes a monopoly. It will be hard to the point of impossible for anyone to compete. Then there'll be up-front costs for government to later insource the function, like has happened in the UK, and the taxpayer gets royally screwed for decades. And third, the private operators donate generously to the Liberal Party.
The evidence for this is right out there in public, in the tender documents. It was reported that in industry briefings for the tenderers, the department noted 'the potential for offsetting the cost of building a new online platform by providing premium services'. Now, that's public service speak for a two-class system based on how much people are going to cough up for their visa. A private operator will chase more profits through higher visa service fees. This undermines the integrity of the program and creates a two-class system, which Australians should roundly reject. It's un-Australian. Just have a look at Britain, at what a mess the mass privatisation of core public services has been. It has higher costs; it has worse services. Then there are the contractors who go broke and are bailed out by the taxpayer to the tune of billions because they're 'too big to fail'. That happens. Look at the Carillion disaster. The government have to abandon their plans to privatise visa and citizenship processing, and, in particular, abandon their plan to privatise it to Scott Briggs, a close Liberal Party mate of the Prime Minister's.
Finally, I'd just observe that this is not the end. Two days before the election, when the government thought no-one was listening, they announced another $1.5 billion of sneaky little cuts to the Public Service to pay for some of their election promises. It's called an 'efficiency dividend' because they're too dishonest to tell us what else they will cut. They've hidden the impact. Their cuts and privatisation agenda are fast approaching a national crisis. Members of this House should call them out forcefully and daily, because Australians do not want their services privatised. I challenge any of the opposition members to go into their electorates and ask their voters: 'Do you want Centrelink privatised? Do you want the department of immigration privatised? Do you want Medicare processing privatised?' You know the answer is no.
The previous speaker, the member for Bruce, is in a gloomy mood, I suspect!
The Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-20 and cognate bills are about the government getting the finance to meet its commitments, and it is about those commitments, particularly in my electorate of Grey, that I want to speak to today. Having been the member for Grey for almost 12 years now, I believe that the commitment that we have from the current government to my electorate is virtually unsurpassed, and I'm very, very pleased. This is largely swinging off the back of the $100 billion that we've committed to major infrastructure over the 10-year period, which has enabled us to lift that level of expenditure in infrastructure right across the board.
In Grey, the Joy Baluch AM Bridge at Port Augusta is being duplicated. This is a $160 million commitment from the federal government. Another $72 million will be spent on building dual lanes and a flyover to the north of Port Wakefield, which is one of the great bottlenecks in South Australia, particularly on holiday weekends where traffic can be backed up for hours. Those tenders have actually gone public in the last week. We talk about these projects for so long, and I know the public gets frustrated, but this is happening. These are going out to tender at the moment. Those projects, like all the others, will be topped up by a 20 per cent contribution from the state. These are major programs.
In the budget period, prior to the election, we actually committed $44 million for the Horrocks Highway. I don't know whether you've ever been to South Australia, Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon; if you do go, I suggest you visit the beautiful Clare Valley in the electorate of Grey. To do so, you will have to travel up the Horrocks Highway, but at the moment I'd have to say that's not a pleasant experience. But we're going to fix that. We've also allocated $50 million for similar works on the Barrier Highway, which leads to Broken Hill. Broken Hill has a unique and special affiliation with South Australia. In fact, it runs on South Australian time. Sometimes I wonder why we run on South Australian time, half an hour out of sync, but Broken Hill chooses to go with us, and that's a good thing. A lot of people in Broken Hill have family in Adelaide, and their children will attend South Australian schools for their education. Broken Hill has even supplied the current captain of the Adelaide Crows, which we are grateful for.
There is $100 million committed in the budget to road works west of Port Augusta, including $25.6 million for the Eyre Peninsula. That funding program is to address the closure of the isolated—and, when I say 'isolated', I mean it's not connected to the national network—narrow-gauge rail network that is over 100 years old and which has become, basically, not fit for purpose any more. Once upon a time, this railway delivered the goods and services into the hinterland. In fact, the railway was built before the land was cleared. It enabled goods and services, water and supplies to be taken up the railway line as the settlers cleared the scrub off and started farming the lands.
Things have changed. In those days, if farmers were delivering grain to port or back to the railhead, it may have been a two- or five-tonne trailer pulled by horses. In the sixties, of course, we went to bulk handling, and a truck was eight tonne. Now a truck can pull into your paddock and take out 80 tonnes in one hit. Things have changed. Fertiliser is no longer delivered on the train. Perishable goods are no longer delivered on the train. The world has moved on, and we have to move on with it. The last user of the railway couldn't reach a final agreement with the operators, so that will go all road transport, and we have to deal with that in a government sense. I often say that the road users pay fuel tax, which goes towards the building of roads. The railways do not. They build their own roads, as it were. And so that money is coming back onto the Eyre Peninsula now. It will be met, once again, by a 20 per cent contribution from the states, who have committed $32 million to upgrading the Todd Highway, building some passing lanes on the Lincoln Highway and possibly building a haul corridor into Port Lincoln.
And there are things changing on the Eyre Peninsula at the moment. We are expecting a barging operation port to open up for harvest this year, which will change the flow of grain anyhow, and there are two proposals to build a deep-sea port on the Eyre Peninsula. So we're up for the game, and this government is investing in meeting that challenge.
During the electoral contest—so this is an electoral commitment—we committed a further $64 million to begin the duplication of the Augusta Highway, which runs north of Port Wakefield, which I've already mentioned, for 200 kilometres. Now, $64 million will not do the whole duplication of the highway, but it's a start and it's a very solid start. I don't know exactly how far it'll go and I've got some ideas on how to make a cheaper road, rather than a more expensive road, that will meet the same purposes, but I'll be talking that through with the South Australian government over the next couple of years. As an electoral commitment, the main thing is that we actually get the finance and the commitment in the works in this electoral period, so we've got three years to make that happen and are really looking forward to it.
More than that, we are continuing the re-railing of the Adelaide-Tarcoola railway line. That's 600 kilometres or 1,200 kilometres of single rail. It's being made in Whyalla at the Liberty OneSteel Whyalla Steelworks. It's being welded together in triple length in Port Augusta. There are about 40 people working on the welding facility there. We are also producing and welding rail for the building of Inland Rail in New South Wales. Already one component has gone out, and there are more orders in the system. The Australian Rail Track Corporation, as a government-owned enterprise, has always bought its steel for rail from Whyalla, and we will continue down that path. So that is producing jobs in Whyalla and helping to make sure that industry is a success going into the future.
We've got some trouble in the north of the state. It's pretty badly in drought at the moment, it must be said, but the ability to run sheep in South Australia has been enabled for over 100 years by the Dog Fence. It's the longest fence in the world—5½ thousand kilometres. In South Australia we have 2,200 kilometres of that Dog Fence. Sixteen hundred kilometres of it is 100 years old and in a corresponding state, it must be said. It's leaking dogs. We've had a period of drought. There's been a high number of dogs to the north of the fence. There's been a high number of kangaroos, which have virtually been in plague proportion, completely out of kilter with the environment as it was intended, which have been leaning on the fence. When camels and other things hit the fence, the wire has become so brittle now that it breaks and the dogs come through.
I was talking to a station owner pastoralist up near Marree when I was up there only a few weeks ago. He estimates he's lost 1,700 sheep in the last 12 months. Sheep at the moment are probably worth between $200 to $300 a head. That is an enormous loss. That is just one operator. The dogs are coming further and further south. We've seen them up to 350 to 400 kilometres south of the fence. They are on the bottom side and they are breeding. Once we get the fence fixed up, we can set about eradicating the dogs inside the fence again. This is an investment for generations. It will actually provide hundreds of millions of dollars of income to South Australia over the next 60, 70, 80, 90 years. I am looking forward to that getting on.
I was speaking earlier in the main chamber about mental health issues. Since we've come to government we have three new headspace units in the electorate of Grey. We had one in Port Augusta; we now have a headspace in Whyalla; we are committed to one in Port Lincoln and we have another one operating which is calling the flying headspace running out of Port Augusta with the Royal Flying Doctor, servicing the communities of Maree and Oodnadatta. That is up and running. I'm very pleased with that, and we'll see where that can perhaps go in the future.
Mobile phones are the No. 1 source of complaints I get from my constituents. I am at pains to tell them that the technology is such that it will never get behind every rock and every tree and up every valley. But as we continue to invest through the government's Mobile Black Spot Program—something that the other side of politics had never invested any money in—in Grey we have either built, under construction or have the commitment for 39 new mobile phone towers. We've got two new rounds of funding coming up, $60 million each. I intend to see and make sure that some more of those mobile phone towers go into the electorate of Grey. Not only do they provide that safety provision; it's certainly a great advantage to the tourism industry, because there are a lot of people now who, when they lose their mobile phone connections, get lost because their maps don't work any more. It is an unfamiliar thing for a lot of people now to go where there is no mobile phone reception. There is also the fact that agriculture is increasingly relying on connectivity to drive our wonderfully technologically advanced agricultural industries.
For the local councils, we've lifted the Roads to Recovery funding by 25 per cent. It's worth remarking that local councils are a creation of state governments, which provide lots of regulations for local councils to comply with but very little funding. The federal government is one of their major funders. Through the Roads to Recovery program—obviously the FAGS grants stay in place—for the South Australian councils that had leaned very hard on myself and the member for Barker, there is a continuation of the special local road funding component, which is a recognition from the federal government, which has existed for the best part of 16 years now, that the current formula is a disadvantage to South Australia because of the way the numbers were drawn up in the original process. I'm very pleased that that is going. Roads to Recovery has paid for the sealing of roads like the Port Clinton to Ardrossan road, the Bulumbah to Kinnard road and the Kyancutta to Mount Wedge road, which I had the great privilege of snipping the ribbon on a few months ago.
Since the coalition came to office in 2013 the Building Better Regions Fund has put more than $40 million back into the electorate of Grey. We have some new rounds coming up. They are great programs—building new wharves, a fish unloader in Ceduna, waste water plants, sporting facilities. There has been a lot of investment in sporting facilities, either new ones or revamping old ones. Flood mitigation, tourism development and telecommunications. We got a substantial amount of money under the Building Better Regions Fund to link Elliston, a coastal town on the Eyre Peninsula, to the main phone network, because there had been a radio connection before, which was totally overloaded and getting to the point where mobile phones and fixed phones were dropping out on a regular basis. To be able to get that town rewired, because we have a government that has a program that is interested in building the infrastructure of rural Australia, has been a great advantage to us, and I am thankful for it.
I will just touch on drought now. Certainly the drought of eastern Australia has been affecting South Australia. I must say, it's patchy. Even last year there were parts of my electorate that had the best season they'd ever had. There were others that were constantly drifting for the whole 12 months. I took the former minister, Senator Bridget McKenzie, to the Cowell, Arno Bay and Cleve area last year. She said she'd never seen anything like it. We were looking at roads that were drifted over half a metre deep, and farmers that couldn't afford to shift the sand off the roads; technically it's their job to get it off the road and put it back in their paddock. She was able to extend the Drought Communities Program through to my electorate and through to South Australia, it must be said. Consequently, after three different rounds now, I have 19 district councils that have received a million dollars to undertake works within their council region. All the works are good for the community, but the very good thing about it is that predominantly they focus on using local tradesmen and local workers because droughts don't just affect farmers; they affect the towns, the communities and the people that work within them.
We've had a very wide range of programs. One I like to wax on about a little is in my home town of Kimba, where they used a lot of the money to build a plastic water run to make the water run much more efficiently—it probably shifted from about 10 per cent efficiency to 100 per cent efficiency—to put water in the town dams so we could water the town ovals. It has a 50-year guarantee on the plastic. That will reward the community for 50 years. It will save money for water for 50 years. Peterborough airstrip got a million dollars, as did Uni Hub up at Upper Spencer Gulf. We're really kicking goals. I'm very thankful to the government for the attention they show.
I rise in support of the appropriation bills and wish to take the opportunity to speak to a range of community priorities and concerns across my electorate of Mayo on which, naturally, as the member, I am seeking to work with government to address.
A south-eastern freeway project of great urgency to my community is the Verdun interchange. It has long been a source of exasperation to my community that it is a one-way interchange. The result is that commuter traffic, buses and freight transport are all funnelled into the main street of the historic Hahndorf community. It's one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mayo. I recall one constituent telling me about a pregnant woman parking in the main street and having her driver's side door ripped off by a truck as she opened it. That's simply because we have a one-way freeway interchange right next to it. Upgrading the Verdun interchange will allow traffic to enter the freeway when heading away from Adelaide and to leave the freeway when heading towards Adelaide, and it will significantly improve traffic flow. It would also allow easier access for tourists seeking to visit Hahndorf and the wider Adelaide Hills region. I've advocated for the upgrading of the Verdun interchange since obtaining office in 2016. Recently, at one of my 21 community forums in Mayo, residents raised the issue of the interchange again. They were so motivated, they instigated their own residents' petition, and I've been advised they've collected nearly 500 signatures to date. The Turnbull government honoured a 2018 by-election promise to fund a $1 million traffic study into the movements around Hahndorf and nearby Verdun. I would expect this study will soon be close to completion. However, the results are yet to be made public. The community will tell you that we do not need a study to tell us what needs to be done. We need it to be a two-way freeway interchange. I've been advised that the upgrade will cost an estimated $15 million. This will be money well spent, and I will continue to do all I can to lobby government to make sure this project is an infrastructure priority for Mayo.
There is also the Victor Harbor Road. Sadly, Mayo roads are over-represented in South Australia's road crash statistics. This week my community is grieving the news of two more single-vehicle fatalities: one at Normanville and one at the notorious Victor Harbor Road at Mount Jagged. I've long campaigned for the duplication of the Victor Harbor Road, and the federal government's last budget announcement of $73 million to complete the duplication of the South Road to McLaren Vale was welcomed. However, work on this road is really needed at the other end, and what has been promised won't start until 2022 and isn't expected to be finished until 2027. It also, as I said, doesn't address the real problem and that's the lack of overtaking lanes at the other end of Victor Harbor, a windy, incredibly busy highway. The South Australian government has promised to build an overtaking lane between Crows Nest Road intersection and the roundabout near the wildlife park, but we need to do more and we need to do this quickly. The Victor Harbor Goolwa region is one of the fastest growing urban areas in South Australia and on the Fleurieu, and it is the most visited day trip destination outside the metropolitan area. When I'm home, I drive down the Victor Harbor Road several times a week, and I know how dangerous it has become. RAA statistics show that 43 people were killed or seriously injured on a 48-kilometre stretch of Victor Harbor Road between 2012 and 2016, making it a high priority for the RAA. Victor Harbor Road is a high priority for me, and I will continue to advocate to all levels of government to make the Mount Compass to Victor Harbor section of the road safer. We need urgent funding for more overtaking lanes and, for as long as I'm in this place, I'll be working hard to deliver that.
The Murray research institute: the Murray River and its tributaries are the lifeblood of our communities between the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. From Langhorne Creek to Goolwa and every community in between, we rely on the environmental health of the Murray for our economic, environmental and social wellbeing. Yet, because we are at the bottom of the river, we are the most vulnerable communities, and climate change is putting added pressure upon a river system that is already under enormous strain from the upstream mismanagement of large corporate irrigators and their political servants. In recognition of our vulnerability, in the lead-up to the 2018 Mayo by-election I called upon the federal and South Australian governments to set up the South Australian Murray River research institute. The vision was, and is, for the establishment of an institute based in Goolwa, dedicated to research on how to make our part of the river more resilient to the ebbs and flows of upstream conditions, to find new solutions for the management of salinity, water, wetlands, ecosystems and nutrient levels, to provide real-time summaries on the ecological condition of the river and to monitor and report on the socio-economic benefits for stakeholders during ebb and flow events. A well-resourced South Australian Murray-Darling research institute would plug an important gap in scientific expertise, and I will continue to advocate for it to benefit our South Australian river communities.
Aside from ensuring that we have a research institute, we really do need a regional engagement officer in Goolwa. An urgent and complementary measure to the research institute will be for us to have a permanent presence on the Lower Lakes and in the Goolwa region, ideally in Goolwa. Having a regional engagement officer able to engage with the community would not only help to build trust in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan but would provide an important avenue for our communities to voice our concerns directly to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority about the ongoing management of the river. We desperately need to salvage a workable plan, and having direct community access to the MDBA will help us achieve that.
A very beautiful part of my electorate is Yankalilla. The Yankalilla District Council was one of the first councils in South Australia to ban single-use plastics earlier this year, and I was pleased to attend the ceremony that officially recognised our council of Yankalilla as a Refugee Welcome Zone. Yankalilla may be a small town on the Fleurieu coast but its size belies a strong, vibrant and inclusive community. Following the closure of the library at the local area school, much of the community-driven advocacy has taken place in a space known as 'the centre', but the centre is bursting at the seams, and Yankalilla council is eager to expand the community library to ensure that it's able to meet the needs of our growing community.
Relatively minor upgrades, like a change to the layout and refurbishment of tired facilities, will ensure that our library is able to ramp up their already successful programs and branch out into new additional programs too. Even modest technological upgrades will enable the library to further develop basic IT support services. Such an initiative would offer residents young and old the opportunity to learn new skills as they connect with the world in a safe and responsible manner. While these plans may have been temporarily deferred due to budgetary constraints, I am strongly committed to working with the District Council of Yankalilla to deliver a good outcome for the library.
Something that's very near and dear to my heart is the Amy Gillett Bikeway. For the past decade the Santos Tour Down Under has kicked off the international pro cycling calendar, and many of the stages wind through the beautiful scenery of my community of Mayo. Consequently, cycling is now a very popular recreational activity in Mayo. In fact, cycling has become such an attraction that, in 2010, the then state Labor government heeded the persistent lobbying of the Adelaide Hills rail trail group and the local council and built the first four-kilometre stage of the Amy Gillett Bikeway from Woodside to Oakbank.
Named in honour of elite cyclist Amy Gillett, who was tragically killed in 2005 during a training ride with the Australian women's cycling team, the bikeway follows the abandoned corridor of the old railway line to Mount Pleasant. I know Amy's mother, Mary Safe, and along with the work of the Amy Gillett Foundation to improve road safety and awareness of cyclists, Mary is very proud of the bikeway as a legacy to her daughter. Stage 1 was followed by the six-kilometre stage 2 to Charleston. Then, after considerable public pressure and much time, we eventually got the seven-kilometre stage 3 to Mount Torrens, which was opened in 2014.
Since then, the vision for completing the bikeway to Mount Pleasant via Birdwood has stalled. Thousands use the bikeway, and it is a huge tourism drawcard for my electorate. My community can see the enormous social and economic potential to finish this project. The state government has clearly indicated that it feels it has contributed their fair share, and other tiers of government now need to step in. The local Adelaide Hills Council has limited resources, but it is committed to the project. As am I. I've advocated for the Amy Gillett Bikeway again since obtaining office, and I will continue to lobby the federal government to contribute to what would be a very small, modest investment to an enormously worthwhile project.
Another bike trail that is particularly exciting in my community is the flat to vale trail. It is a high priority project in the McLaren Vale wine region. It's my pleasure to join in advocating for this much-needed project, alongside the flat to vale trail community group, the coast to vines bicycle user group, the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine & Tourism Association, and the Onkaparinga council. This proposed shared pathway between McLaren Vale and McLaren Flat would link the highly successful Coast to Vines Rail Trail in the heart of the McLaren Vale region, providing an off-road link between the townships and tourist destinations where currently there is none. The proposed pathway offers opportunities for the Santos Tour Down Under and would connect with other tourism and cycling trails, including the sports park link trail, the Coast Park Trail and even a future Onkaparinga River trail.
Surf lifesaving, I think, is important to many members in this place, and the Aldinga Bay Surf Life Saving Club is a great example of the community spirit that is alive and well in Mayo. The club suffered a devastating loss after the demolition of their clubrooms due to severe storm damage last year. The irrepressible club volunteers have been out on patrol and training for over a year now, where they were based out of sheds and shipping containers until the recent completion of their operation centre. Yet, this setback has not and will not slow them down. The club has a vision on how they can serve their community and plan to extend their patrolling commitments by having satellite patrols at other locations in our community, including nearby Port Willunga.
At the same time, they continue to focus on their budding lifesavers, the Nippers, who, with the correct training skills, will be patrolling the beach of Aldinga and perform one of the estimated 12,500 rescues that are done each year at beaches across Australia. I look forward to working with the club over the next few months to ensure that the volunteers have the equipment they need to serve our community in the upcoming summer.
One of the greatest concerns in my community is bushfire risk. Mayo has some of the highest bushfire risk zones in the nation, and yet many across our region also have very poor telecommunications and internet. Mayo has 130 identified mobile black spots but has only managed to secure five funding sites under the Mobile Black Spot Program, many of which were announced prior to me entering as the member. One of the sites is the Montague/Cherryville, and it has been abandoned. I have advocated for the money for this site to stay in Mayo and, after discussions with the Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government, I understand there is a good chance that will be negotiated. This is great news, because our list of black spots remains very long.
One area that has slipped through the gaps is Cherry Gardens in the Mount Lofty Ranges. Steep terrain and tall trees mean the area has a great deal of difficulty with mobile phone reception and can only access satellite NBN. A number of retail service providers are now starting to disconnect their ADSL services. My office has received numerous complaints about poor telecommunications in Cherry Gardens, and these complaints were recently aired at a well-attended community meeting. After discussions with the industry, I have advised an efficient cost effective solution is for us to install 4G infrastructure on the NBN tower recently built at the Blackwood golf course, and I have had positive discussions with the state Liberal member for Davenport, Steve Murray, about the South Australian government potentially also supporting a regional digital connectivity project for Cherry Gardens. I think that's what the community wants to see: all levels of government working together.
I'll continue to advocate and use what I can—my powers of persuasion in this place. However, we do need the telecommunications industry to also get on board. There are many black spots in Mayo, and I will continue to advocate very strongly for all of them. We need to have safe connectivity right across our community. Thank you.
I rise to support the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 and related bills, and I am delighted to be standing here as part of the new Morrison government and having given my first speech yesterday.
Our government wants to enable opportunities for all Australians to live their best lives, and I'm delighted that the NDIS, which is one of the largest and most important social institutional reforms that the government has undertaken in a generation, seeks to do just that. We are committed to providing individual choice and control to people with significant and permanent disability, to create opportunity so they can achieve their goals and contribute to the vibrant social and economic life in our community. The target for this scheme is to serve half a million participants in the next five years, and this is a very big agenda that we're talking about. So in order to deliver this, it's very important to continue to monitor progress, and progress to date has been significant and promising, ensuring that the systems in place are robust and fully-funded, because we are an economically responsible government.
The scale and complexity of the program's rollout has been unprecedented, and we'll be able to reach more Australians with a disability than ever before. Eighteen of the 122 service delivery sites have been newly opened within the last six months. As at 31 March 2019, there are more than 277,000 participants benefitting from the NDIS around Australia, including more than 11,000 children in the Early Childhood Early Intervention program. We all know families with young children who are struggling with disabilities, and this is very welcome.
These statistics represent a 13 per cent increase over the prior quarter. More than 85,000 are receiving this NDIS support for the very first time in their life. But we do continue to seek to improve the NDIS through continued evaluation and monitoring of progress. The data on participant outcomes shows improvements across various domains including children's development, community participation, personal relationships and choice and control for people with disability since the NDIS began. However, the data equally reveals the opportunities and challenges ahead of us, and more work needs to be done with respect to these. On this matter, I'm delighted that the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Stuart Robert, has been elevated to the cabinet, indicating Scott Morrison, our Prime Minister, has significant support for this program that will benefit people immensely.
There are many opportunities going forward, but there are three particular priorities. The first is tackling the longer-than-ideal wait times for children. Mr Robert has indicated that the government will work with key early childhood early intervention partners to secure additional resources for children's access to early childhood supports in a timelier manner. Second, Minister Robert has indicated we will work towards ensuring that plans are tailored and individualised for every single child. The NDIA will provide a standardised interim plan for six months for children who are experiencing significant waiting periods for a plan, where the time between an access decision and getting a plan is greater than 50 days. It is important that these children don't wait for unnecessarily long periods of time. Interim plans to be replaced by a full NDIS plan will be issued within six months.
Third, we will compensate new participants with a six-month standardised interim plan with a package value of $10,000 in the event that they are not categorised as complex or for those who are not transferring from an existing Commonwealth, state or territory disability program. If they are transferring, their interim NDIS plan and package will reflect their existing support levels. This amount will never be below our commitment to this minimum threshold of the $10,000 standardised interim plan. These initiatives deeply reflect our commitment to participants with complex support needs. We want to ensure participants will be immediately streamed to an NDIA early childhood specialist to develop their plan and appropriate funding package to ensure those with disabilities receive the support they deserve. I know the families of Australia will be delighted.
To support these initiatives, the NDIA will increase the capacity of its national access team. It will continue to closely monitor the progress and timeliness of access decisions, and Minister Robert has taken a personal interest in ensuring that this does occur. The NDIA will also provide additional support to ECEI partners in areas experiencing delays by redirecting available partners to assist with planning activities. This recovery plan forms part of a larger plan to deliver the final 20 per cent of the NDIS.
Significant improvements in planning pathways for participants who have a two- to three-year plan include expanding the NDIS community connectors program to support and assist hard-to-reach communities, which include Indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and ageing parents of children with disability. We all know someone who is an older Australian who has a disability and there are many parents who worry about the future of their children as they themselves age.
It is only by building a stronger economy that the government can deliver and guarantee the essential services that people with disabilities, their families and their carers rely on, and deliver them the outcomes that they need. So, too, do we need a strong economy to deliver for our local communities. I'm proud that the Morrison government has made significant commitments to the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the people of Higgins. As I mentioned in my first speech yesterday, Higgins is a geographically small electorate compared to some of the other electorates in Australia but we do extend from Chapel Street to Chadstone. We are demographically a younger electorate than the average electorate, with many people who are university students wanting to start their working lives. The biggest employers are health, education and professional services.
I'm delighted that the commitments the Morrison government has made to the people of Higgins include an important number of initiatives. The first of those is in the area of health and wellbeing. There are significant investments made into a number of important local institutes. The first of those is Very Special Kids, which is based in Malvern within my electorate. Very Special Kids is a wonderful place to see caring people looking after children who have difficulties and hospice care. This initiative aims to build world-class facilities for kids and their families at very vulnerable periods of their life.
There's also a significant investment into the Institute of Cancer at Cabrini Hospital, Malvern. I myself have been on the board of Cabrini and I am delighted with the significant investment. This will improve the capacity for researchers and clinicians to work towards life-saving breakthroughs. It will also provide outreach for palliative care in the south.
We have significant investments into residential centres for treating eating disorders, an incredibly important and growing problem in Australia. This will be established through the South Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network, which covers the Higgins electorate. There's also an investment into a new headspace centre in Glen Iris. We know that youth mental health is so incredibly important to address, and I welcome the significant investment in 30 new headspace centres around Australia. It's particularly important in Higgins, since we have a very large and thriving LGBTI community. Unfortunately, people in the LGBTI community have higher rates of difficulties that need to access these important mental health services. So I'm delighted that there will be a headspace in Glen Iris.
There will also be significant investment in sporting and community facilities locally. The Yarra bike trail has been a wonderful place for people to go and ride their bikes along the Yarra for many years. It's actually an extensive network along the Yarra and its tributaries, including Gardens Creek. The Yarra bike trail promotes bike riding, which is great for kids, great for families and great for our community. We're investing in ensuring that key sections are made safer for all cyclists. That will improve both access to and use of this important keeping fit part of our life.
We are also going to upgrade the Murrumbeena Park, which is great to ensure that there are gender-appropriate change rooms. We know that across Higgins and across Australia there's been an explosion in sports for women. That has been on the back of the AFLW, which is a wonderful initiative, with more women participating in AFL football. But we are also seeing a flow-on effect to other sports that women are participating in, including netball and other sorts of sports. So I'm delighted that the Murrumbeena Park will ensure that we have gender-appropriate change rooms in our local area.
Higgins is one of those places that has a very small area of open spaces, so we need to treat those open spaces with a great deal of thought and consideration. We are also investing in an upgrade to St Mary's Salesian Football Club, again to help promote women and girls in sport, with upgraded female facilities. And finally with regard to sporting and community facilities, we have some capital investment in the Riversdale Soccer Club to cater for growing demand.
We have also improved measures for public safety and congestion. I'm delighted that a Morrison government will remove the Glenferrie Road level crossing at Kooyong station. This has many outcomes. Firstly, it will bust congestion, but it will also help to make safe one of the most unsafe level crossing in Victoria. It's a level crossing that has been on VicRoads' watchlist since 2013 and has not been responded by the Daniel Andrews state government. It is the only level crossing that has rail, road, tram and pedestrians. It needs to be removed. We have also funded a business case to provide a master plan to look across the Glen Waverley line to ensure that a number of different level crossings are more effectively assessed in order to come up with the best solution to remove them. We've funded CCTV and lighting in Poath Road, Hughesdale, to improve safety and help local shoppers and traders.
We are also providing investments into some alternative forms of housing in Higgins. This is important as rising rent problems in Higgins occurs, because we have a number of older Australians who are on the age pension. These people, who are living in the community and have been there for a long period of time, don't want to move out of their community. With the increasing costs of rents in inner-city Higgins, it's very important that we provide opportunities for people who are on age pension to ensure that they can continue to live in their community. So we've made an investment into the Glenloch aged-care facility in Prahran to enhance support for those facing disadvantage. We're also providing funding to The Craig Family Centre in Ashburton to deliver special programs to reduce social isolation and develop confidence diminished as a result of family violence. I'm delighted that a Morrison government is delivering on its agenda to help Australians to have a go and to get a go. I'm delighted to support this appropriation bill.
I'm not sure what planet the member for Higgins is living on if she wants to be congratulated for the NDIS and says that age pensioners will be looked after under this government when we have the minister responsible saying that pensioners in this country have a generous support from the government. I don't know what pensioners she's talking to. I can tell you that pensioners do not have a generous amount to live on. They simply are making ends meet. That is how out of touch the member for Higgins is. She's got absolutely no idea.
I want to talk tonight about the government's neglect of the NDIS. Whatever fantasy alternative world the member for Higgins is living in, I spoke on a motion whereby the government wanted to be congratulated for implementing a stop-gap measure to fix a mess that they themselves had created. The government wanted to be congratulated for the so-called big announcement by the minister referred to by the industry and the actual sector as a stop-gap measure. What an absolute joke.
Whilst no doubt the NDIS has been a landmark initiative for the country, developed and introduced by a Labor government, sadly, it's been neglected by three successive coalition governments, who among the other things that they have done—and I note the member for Higgins is leaving the chamber now—have played political football with the NDIA funding, placed a stifling staff cap restricting the ability of the NDIS to serve Australians and, most recently, underspent on the NDIS, claiming a lack of demand. Now, I know when I speak to local residents that they have had horrific experiences with the NDIA. I was with a mother at Jindalee in their lounge room about three weeks ago, and the tragedy that that mother had regarding her two children in dealing with the local NDIA office, dealing with all of the complexities that the failed scheme is offering that family, broke my heart. Yet this government wants to be congratulated this week for the work that they're doing.
One of the first things I did after being re-elected was to hold a roundtable at the Goodna Salvation Army centre with the shadow minister, the Hon. Bill Shorten, to talk to carers, residents and front-line workers that are feeling the full brunt of the government's mismanagement of the NDIS. Now, the government's track record of supporting people who are doing it tough is appalling. I wrote to the minister, Stuart Robert, and I hope his office is monitoring this or someone in the government is listening, because, if a member of parliament can write to a relevant minister six weeks ago and not even have an acknowledgment, what hope does a resident, community group or someone dealing with the NDIA have on offer when this minister simply refuses to meet anyone, refuses to take the time to listen to the concerns? I once again say to the government: if you're serious about fixing the problems, listen to the sector. Listen to the community that is trying to deal with a system that is completely and utterly failing them.
We know the government's track record of supporting people who are doing it tough is appalling, and there's no other word for it. I just want to touch briefly on the issue of Newstart. This government expects people to live on $39.83 a day. At the moment, that's all they're willing to give people without a job to survive on. And today they conveniently released figures showing that some people on Newstart missed jobactive appointments. I'll tell you why: it is because those living on Newstart often have to choose between putting food on the table for children or going to a job interview—choosing whether to turn the heater on at night or whether they can afford petrol. They get $39 a day. Maybe those opposite cannot appreciate just how tough it is and what this means for each and every recipient. The Prime Minister has said over and over again—we hear it day in, day out—those who want a go will get a go. I say to the government again tonight: start giving a go to those people on Newstart. Why not give them the opportunity to get ahead rather than confine them to a life of poverty? It's good enough for former Prime Minister John Howard and people like Senator Dean Smith and Senator Arthur Sinodinos, people who understand that the issue of Newstart payment rates cannot continue.
Through the debate on the bills today I want to make sure we have a close look at the government's finances. I can tell you it's not good enough under this government. As much as the government would have you believe otherwise, the economy is tanking. We're navigating dangerous choppy waters. When it comes to the budget, remember that net debt has more than doubled under the government's watch and gross debt is now well over half a trillion dollars. That's a record high. The LNP went to the 2013 election claiming that there was a debt emergency. We all remember the debt trucks spiralling across the country. Since that election we've seen a debt and deficit disaster. Both kinds of debt are growing at a faster pace on the government's watch than under any previous Labor government, including that which had to deal with the GFC. This week we've seen media reports and research from across sectors and industries that proves this is the case. The new report by the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey, also known as HILDA, has found that living standards have stagnated since the global financial crisis and that poverty is on the rise. The report is sombre reading and is something that I would hope all members of the government are having a good look at, because something needs to be done before it's too late.
I will go through some of the economic facts, which I think are sobering. I hope the government will hear this message. The report says that household incomes are stagnating after years of weak growth and that they are now worth less than they were a decade ago. The average household income is actually $542 less than it was in 2009. Let's be crystal clear, living standards are going backwards under this government. I'll say it again: living standards are going backwards under this government. As the shadow Treasurer said, this is what happens when a third-term government has a political strategy to distract from its failures but not an economic policy to boost growth, wages and living standards. It's proof of what people I'm hearing across the community have been telling me—that wages and living standards have been going backwards and that it's becoming harder and harder to put food on the table and send kids to school under this government. Poverty has started rising in the last two years. The HILDA report author, Professor Wilkins, said that improved living standards among the poor 'had not been maintained'. He said:
We certainly hope it is a temporary blip, but it certainly does sound an alarm bell as to whether that does reflect a more sustained trend …
From where I'm sitting and from the residents that I've been speaking to—I know where hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Australians are sitting—I don't believe the government has heard these alarm bells. The government comes into question time, day in, day out, telling us how strong the economy is, how they're delivering for all Australians, whose side they're on and who's getting a go or should have a go, as if you should have to tell people that you're on their side. I don't understand why anyone in government would want to have to reassure people. You would hope that the government of this country was on everyone's side and that there was not a choice to be made, but, nonetheless, I'll leave that for government members to explain. We recently found out that consumer confidence has fallen to a two-year low despite two RBA interest rate cuts and the passing of legislation for personal tax cuts. That is certainly not something I would describe as confidence in the economy.
Australians are crying out for this government to pull its socks up and actually take some meaningful and positive action to boost the national economy, but all the signs at the moment are showing that the government is not interested in doing that. I will go through some of those signs in the time I have tonight, because they show a clear and present danger. The Australian economy has slowed to its weakest level since the tail end of the GFC. 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, with the measure having fallen for the last three quarters, for the first time since the 1982 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 than profits. Productivity has fallen for four consecutive quarters. Household spending is weak, and living standards are growing slower under the Liberals than under the previous Labor government.
These are not the signs of a strong economy, as I said. These are signs of an economy crying out for leadership and for some stimulus from a government which simply refuse to listen. They even refuse to listen to the Reserve Bank, economists and state coalition treasurers calling to bring forward infrastructure investment. We hear often about the so-called $100 billion infrastructure pipeline, but it's nothing but a pipedream, as we demonstrated last week with questions to the Deputy Prime Minister about very specific projects and very specific time lines, and he was unable to—or chose not to—provide the information.
The current Deputy Prime Minister is either not doing his job as Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, or, as I suspect, the government has no real plans for the infrastructure pipeline and the projects that this country so desperately needs to begin construction. We hear the current Deputy Prime Minister bang on about water and dams, but the government doesn't build any. They bang on about the same projects, but they don't actually deliver on what they say they're going to do—all these types of projects which generate the stimulus and, more importantly, the jobs the economy needs.
I want to speak a little bit on unemployment tonight in my remarks, because I want the chamber to remember unemployment and underemployment remain too high under this government. The latest ABS statistics for the month of June show 711,500 Australians are unemployed and more than 1 million are underemployed. There are more than 1.8 million Australians looking for work, or more work, and are unable to find it. Under the current government, youth unemployment remains more than double the national average, having increased to 12 per cent. More than 266,300 young Australians are unemployed, and of particular concern is the underemployment which stubbornly remains at 8.2 per cent. Coupled with increasing insecure work, this is leaving too many Australians struggling to keep up with the cost of living. This hurts the economy that matters most to families around the kitchen table. Wages are stagnant, household consumption is weak, household saving is low and, as a result work, is insecure.
An honourable member: They got to keep $387 billion though.
As I just heard from the interjection from those opposite, they aren't denying those figures. They know that to be the truth. There is the absence of wages growth and the cuts to penalty rates—and, let's remember, this government has delivered to workers in this country the largest pay cut since the Great Depression—and the most expensive electricity prices that our country has ever seen. And, of course, there are the spiralling costs of child care, with one-in-four families in the electorate of Oxley being worse off as a result of the government's changes.
More needs to be done to complement interest rate cuts to put more money back into people's pockets. The RBA has already made it clear that monetary policy can only do so much, and the elephant in the room here is that interest rates are already at an all-time record low—far, far below that of when Labor was dealing with the GFC—and the RBA are being left with a quickly diminishing space to move even further.
But, as I stated in my earlier remarks, I guess what really shook me last week was the demonstration of this government being so out-of-touch when the new Minister for Families and Social Services—who I had never heard of; I had to Google who Senator Anne Ruston was—said of the pension:
It is a generous amount of money that the Australian taxpayers make available to our older Australians.
I don't know about you, but when I visit pensioner groups, seniors, superannuants groups and Probus clubs and talk to them about the issues facing older Australians, not one single person comes up to me and goes, 'We have a generous amount of money.' That doesn't happen. I don't know why on earth the minister, who is responsible for that payment and who oversees policies to deal with senior Australians, thinks that's an acceptable way to treat older Australians. I don't think it is. These are Australians who have worked their entire lives. It could have been a slip of the tongue. All she needed to do is apologise for that and say, 'I got it wrong.' But she didn't do that. She simply said: 'Well, you know, in my opinion, let them eat cake! Pensioners have it too good.' I don't think that is the case, and certainly the pensioners in the Oxley electorate and, I reckon, all pensioners across Australia, don't think so either.
We know that when it comes to dealing with the economy, which is entering choppy waters, and when we're dealing with transfer payments Australians are relying on to make sure that they so-called get ahead, they can't rely on this government. We know that the Australian people deserve a government focused on them. I certainly hope today's debate provides that as well.
I always love coming to the Federation Chamber. I think our ratings are somewhere between the test pattern and the shopping channel, but I think the shopping channel is a long way ahead. The good thing about it is it allows an honest expose on issues as you believe they should be.
Just because you read it, doesn't mean someone said it. I looked at the headline the other day in The Courier Mail. Although I thought, with all due respect, I gave an honest view, it wasn't a proper reflection. Why I say that in an appropriation discussion is because one of the major appropriations, of course, is Newstart and pensions. The reason this might be clever for the day but probably not clever in the long term is, quite obviously, I think I'm incredibly well paid. I think I'm incredibly fortunate, but I have a real empathy for those who are not. I want to make sure that we do whatever is within our power by getting the budget into a position where we can help pensioners and people on Newstart. No-one in their right mind is going to say a person can exist on 280 bucks a week. It's just not possible. The problem now is, of course—I say this to anyone who is listening, and that's probably no-one, unless there's somebody up in the fourth estate watching—you take a person out as an advocate for you. You take a person out as a talking head for you because you can't validly hold an argument and support or promote a position because everybody just has a retrospective on what they believe you may have said, and it's beyond you. I hope there's another talking head that takes the spot and does the job, because it's vastly more difficult for me now to do it.
On to other issues. It is incredibly important that we develop this nation. One of the biggest fights I had when I was the Deputy Prime Minister was to make sure we had the appropriation—we might have had the promise, but we had to make sure we had the appropriation—for Inland Rail in excess of $10 billion. It was a mighty battle. It was a battle of the coalition. It was a battle to make sure that the National Party was heard and that we had delivery on that issue. It was something that had been a policy objective of the National Party for so many years but, to be quite frank, we hadn't gotten there. We hadn't gotten the money. There were a number of foolish people walking around carrying sleepers and knocking in spikes, but they didn't actually have the dosh behind it to build it, which is what you need. If you want to construct a railway line, you have to have the money to construct a railway line. Now we've got the money to construct a railway line and we've got to build it, because we've got to develop this nation off the coast. We've got to make sure that the trucks are not going through your electorate, Deputy Speaker Hogan, but are running on the railway tracks down inland. You want your commuters, the people in the caravans with the kids, to not be in the same corridor as the haulage. That's why it's important. We've got to get this project built, and I think it should be front and centre of a real desire of our government—I'm sure it will be—to make sure it happens.
Likewise for our dam stocks. The dams of this nation are absolutely fit for purpose for about 1970, but they are not fit for purpose for a nation of 25 million, now racing towards 30 million. We have got to build more water storage. The reason we are running out of water is the droughts, but it's also because we've got so many people, and the people are utilising water. They expect to live in a modern Western democracy, and they expect to be able to wash their cars, water their lawns and have a shower. This requires an increased amount of water for an increased population, so we need increased storage. But we have all these impediments that have been put in place, a lot of them by state governments. There has to a proper review on what these impediments are and a joint push at COAG to remove these impediments. If your priorities are frogs and pelicans over people, then we're never going to build another dam. It's just not going to happen. But, if your priority is people, then, after a logical assessment of the current situation, you'll know that we have to build further water storage and we have to start now. It has to go beyond studies. It has to go to yellow things pushing dirt up, to testings, to access roads, to getting it to happen. The people in Queensland have to talk to Jackie Trad—maybe if you're renting a house off her—and you have to talk to other people and say, 'You are just holding the whole show down.'
For my own election, I really understood how important delivery is in my own electorate. You have to be able to go to everything from the veranda at Urala to the Chaffey Dam extension and the APVMA and show people why you are relevant to them. Down here, about 90 per cent of what we do is politics—parochial, partisan, chest-beating politics—and that's it. We all carry on, get on Sky News, get on the ABC, and it's all that's partisan parochialism. But I can assure you that in your electorate it's 90 per cent delivery. It's 90 per cent being a public servant and maybe 10 per cent politics. In fact, in some instances, the less you talk about politics in your own electorate, the better you're going to go. They want to see the Chaffey Dam extension, because, without the Chaffey Dam extension, Tamworth will run out of water. They want to see decentralisation. That's why they say, 'The APVMA moving to Armidale: a great thing.' It shows that you don't just talk about it; you actually do it, you actually deliver.
Now we have to take the next step. There's a CRC. I'm trying to find Senator Bridget McKenzie so I can talk to her about how we can both lobby for an agri vet research centre for the period of time that it's allowed. We want to make sure that we make Armidale a centre of excellence for agri vet chemicals so that, if you want to know where the greatest collection of intelligence for agri vet issues in the world is, you go to Australia and you go to Armidale. Part of that plan in the past was the Regional Investment Corporation going to Orange so that, if you wanted to be in agri-finance and agri-investment, you'd go to Orange. We're trying to create these centres of excellence in our nation. We're trying to match up with the United States. When they developed Chicago for soft commodities, we wanted to develop Orange and Armidale for research. These are the sorts of things people want. They want this vision; they want a logical vision of where we're going.
All the time there are the basic necessities of a modern life. Communications is one of them—mobile phone towers. If you have a heart attack, you'll want to ring someone. You can't do smoke signals from the side of your car. You've got to be able to get on the phone. If you break down, or your partner breaks down, or your wife breaks down, or whoever, or if they have a flat tyre and they can't change it, they've got to be able to ring somebody. They've got to be able to connect to somebody. It gets a bit scary if you can't have a mobile phone. If a pensioner falls over on her way to the tip trying to burn her rubbish and she hasn't got a phone, she hasn't got any connections so no-one will know about it and she'll just lie there. These are the things you've got to do.
These are the reasons that people have a government—to deliver those sorts of services. You've got to get the medical services into areas. In my area you've got to respect Aboriginal Australians. You've got to make sure you don't always come up with your parochial reasons of why not. You need to get down and meet them and find out why you can and how you can. We've got to make sure that we promote the social interaction of people, so supporting things like your local tennis club is important and not just for the sport; it gets people out. It gets people mixing. It gets people talking and it gets people who otherwise maybe don't have a reason to talk to another person talking. I'd like to make a big commendation to Ash Barty and the way she's conducted herself. We are proud of her and how she is presenting our nation.
One of the things the Prime Minister said, and I agree with him, is that we have to make sure with this investment, with these appropriations, that we get more from our standard units of production, and one of those is soil. We've got to invest in research into soils to understand how we get a better return from them because we have an obligation, and not only to Australia. Those opposite talk about a $100 billion ag industry. Well, you know, unless it's inflation, you're not going to get there unless you do something substantially different. One of those things is to increase irrigation. Invest in the Bradfield Scheme so you can irrigate the western districts of Queensland and New South Wales, and create reliable access to irrigation water to improve the production capacity of the soil itself. You need this sort of expertise. It's got to go from research, though, to delivery into the paddock.
We have scalded soils, but people now know you can get gypsum onto it to break it up and get better production. In the past, we understood the benefits of superphosphate. A lot of the country was phosphate deficient and phosphate would make a huge difference. We have big problems now. Zero till is incredibly important to Australia because it keeps the carbon content of the soil up. But now we are talking about banning glyphosate, which, for people who don't know, one of them is Roundup. If we ban Roundup, we have to go back to cultivation. If we go back to cultivation, it means we have to turn the soils over to kill the weeds.
An opposition member interjecting—
You have to make a call whether you want to feed 10 billion people by 2050 or whether you want some of them to die. That's the call you've got to make. Stop living in this dream world where you can somehow feed the population that now exists in the world without the technology and the research to do it; it just won't happen. You won't see the people who starve to death in this nation but they'll exist in North Africa, they'll live in deprivation on the Pacific Islands and they will die in South America and other nations. In the general food stock, the people at the bottom will starve first but they don't live in Australia, so we don't care about them. Therefore, you've got to understand that if we have to work with Roundup then we have to work with Roundup because the alternative is somebody somewhere else—this becomes the zeitgeist we follow—dies.
If you want to see a great example, there is one near London. There is a trial plot where you see no Roundup, no chemicals, right up to proper management, all using the same form of wheat. The first hectare gets a tonne to the hectare. That's very poor for England but probably not too bad here. The best plot had 10 times what the plot with nothing had. We have to realise the calorific curve in the world now is bending down; we can't feed the people we've got. We have to take the next step—appropriations. Statements of the Prime Minister about soil science, glyphosates and how we actually make sure that we get the return off the land are about being realists, and not just for Australia. We must not go on our own little bender about what we want to do but actually reflect on where the globe actually is and what our moral job, our moral responsibility is in a global context.
The thing Australia can do is assist. It will never be the food basket of the world or South East Asia—impossible—but it must do more than its share in feeding and clothing people. That is one of our moral jobs. To do that, we are going to need the dams, we are going to need the science, and we are going to need to understand that we've got to hold our noses and continue to use glyphosates and the things that give a better yield. If we don't want to do it, we've got to come up with the alternative that takes its place. You can't say, 'I want the same from less'. It's not possible.
Mr Husic interjecting—
I will take the interjection. He's just said glyphosates are the same as asbestos—or thereabouts. That is a ridiculous analogy. It is absolutely—
Mr Husic interjecting—
That is a ridiculous analogy. You can't possibly do that because, firstly, you are talking about a building product and, secondly, you are talking about how you feed people. They're completely and utterly different.
It's a ridiculous analogy. You can't possibly do that, because with one you're talking about a building product; with the other you're talking about how you feed people. They're completely and utterly different.
In my electorate, sporting facilities, water facilities, road facilities; making sure we get the Kempsey to Wollomombi road fixed up; making sure we get the CRC into Armidale; making sure we get the university presence into Tamworth; making sure we extend Dungowan Dam; making sure we build on the netball facilities at Glen Innes, the saleyards at Inverell, the saleyards at Scone, the equine centre at Scone—all these and more are part of how we build New England and build our nation. Bolivia Hill realignment; Scone bypass; in the future Tamworth bypass; Merriwa to Willow Tree road. Have a vision for your area as if it is its own little nation, which in itself gives a vision for the nation and how it becomes a better place.
Listening to the member for New England, it is very clear to me that he shares my view this is a government with very little vision. It needs more vision than it has, not just for New England but also for my electorate of Macquarie. It's been so clear in the week since the election that this government is visionless, directionless and very, very tired. It's all well and good to give an area attention in the few weeks leading up to an election, but it's what comes after that counts. It's the vision that you have for the area and how you deliver that vision that really matters. That comes from the conversations that you have with the people on the ground who make our local towns and villages tick: the people who work in our hospitals and our aged care facilities and who teach in our schools; the people who run small businesses and work in small businesses; the people who do the school run and fill up their cars with petrol at the local petrol station; the ones who scan your groceries as you go through the check-out or do the dishes in your local restaurant or drive the school bus or deliver your pizza on a Friday night.
What is really so obvious to me, as we stand here at the end of our first major sitting fortnight, is that the Morrison government's plan for these people is non-existent. They have a plan to attack the Labor Party, but a plan to attack the Labor Party for the next three years doesn't pay for the groceries or cover the electricity bill. A plan to attack Labor for the next three years doesn't make the commute to work any shorter or lower your childcare fees or give you a job. Attacking the opposition isn't being in government. I don't think this government has worked that out yet, after six long years.
My community has an absolute right to vote for who they want to represent them, but they also have a right to expect that a federal government, whatever federal government is elected, will support them to provide them with the services that they need, no matter who the local member is. So how about some vision for the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains? I've got a few ideas where you could start. Let's start with infrastructure projects that need doing in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, which, quite frankly, could have been done any time in the last six years. Project idea No. 1: the Hawkesbury Heights bike and walking path. This is a crucial piece of human infrastructure because it's helping humans have a better life. It's about being able to walk or ride from Hawkesbury Heights to connect with Winmalee, where the shopping centre is and the schools are. Right now it is a major thoroughfare and people take their lives into their hands even when they walk on the side of this busy road. We want to give mums a safe place to walk with their prams. We want to give kids a safe place to ride with their bikes to school or after school. We want to give older people a safe place to get some exercise. The opportunity to do this was really evident after the 2013 bushfires, when that natural disaster had done a lot of the work of clearing the pathway. But of course there was a missed opportunity. This government missed an opportunity, as Liberals do. We committed $400,000 in the last election, as did state Labor. The government hasn't matched that, but the government could.
Project idea No. 2: safety upgrades to the notorious stretch of Great Western Highway at Faulconbridge. We made a $15 million commitment in the campaign that, had we won government, we would have delivered on this piece of really crucial Great Western Highway road. The government didn't bother matching it, yet this is a really busy stretch of road that anyone who uses it can see is a disaster waiting to happen. Cyclists in particular have been campaigners for this stretch of road to be upgraded because they do take their life in their hands every time they ride up or down that stretch. So there's another idea.
Project idea No. 3: Blaxland commuter car park. I heard the minister talking about a station car park upgrade in the neighbouring seat of Lindsay today. That's nice, and we welcome that, but one of the reasons mountains people drive down to Emu Plains station is that the parking is hopeless at Blaxland. How about upgrading Blaxland car park? We committed $2 million towards this project. It's a quick infrastructure project that would improve the quality of life for people in that area, not just the people who park there but the residents who now face extra cars through their streets because the car park is overflowing by about 7.30 in the morning.
Project idea No. 4: let's build a third crossing of the Hawkesbury River, but let's do it properly—and how about we do it now? What we know through Senate estimates is that while this was an announcement, a $200 million commitment, that was made by both sides of politics in this election, there were a couple of key differences that are now beginning to emerge. One of them—one of the really big ones—is that the funding under the Liberals will trickle out over the next few years. Our funding commitment was to do it now and get it done. We will see only $5 million towards this bridge in the 2020-21 financial year, and there is only $30 million of an at least $200 million project in the forward estimates. That takes us to around 2022-23. That's—what?—four years away, and we're only seeing about $35 million of that funding. That tells me that we're not building a bridge, that there will be no bridge built in four years time. In fact, the extra roughly $165 million or $170 million is pushed out into the never-never. We don't actually know when this bridge is going to be built. Anyone with a baby now who's hoping that they're going to see an improvement in traffic by the time their kid starts school is going to be sadly disappointed. Anyone who's got a teenager in high school and is hoping that one day it won't be such a huge effort to negotiate the traffic as they take their child to and from school or across the bridge to sport also is going to be sadly disappointed. Their child's going to have their own licence by the time we get anywhere near to seeing this bridge. That is not good enough. It should be brought forward. The other troubling thing about this project is that the New South Wales government is calling it the Richmond bridge duplication. That's hardly a third crossing. But I welcome any Commonwealth expenditure to improve roads and bridges in my electorate. All the upgrades to the intersections and approaches to Richmond bridge in recent years were funded by the Commonwealth, actually, from allocations first made by Labor in 2011, which we announced in 2010. That's $20 million of work. That will actually be more than the investment this government makes over the next few years.
Those are a few roads projects that would significantly improve the quality of life. If this government had a vision for the people of the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains they would grab those projects and throw themselves into getting them done fast.
This government could also have a vision for our athletes and our sports people. Yes, there's the Knapsack Park commitment we shared. I am looking forward to working with council on getting the best result for the soccer and cricket and other users of that oval, but Warrimoo Oval also needs upgrades. A $50,000 investment would make a huge difference to that football focused sporting community, as would Wilberforce's Woodlands Park lighting upgrade for that family based soccer community. All those things would show some sort of commitment to the people of Macquarie that this government really does care.
The other way that we could show that this government cares about the future of the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury would be by investing in education. How can you have a vision for the future of a well-educated population ready to face the challenges ahead without starting with early childhood education? Our Hawkesbury Community Outreach Services mobile playgroup would have been a great place to start with an upgrade of their van to travel—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:25