Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020. It is a bill that brings into force a budget of missed opportunities—a budget that doesn't serve the Australian people in the way they should have been served when it comes to investing in the infrastructure, the community services and the education services that this country needs. It is a missed opportunity when it comes to addressing stagnant wages. It is a missed opportunity when it comes to closing the gender pay gap. It is a missed opportunity to fire up economic growth. It is a missed opportunity to properly support small businesses, many of whom have sadly had to shut their doors in my electorate in recent months as the economic downturn really hits them hard. And it's a missed opportunity for so many things in the electorate of Perth.
One of the things that has not progressed since the former Prime Minister Turnbull promised it is the Perth City Deal. The Perth City Deal should be embedded in this budget; it should be embedded in these appropriation documents, but it's not there. There is no Perth City Deal. Nothing has progressed since it was promised by former Prime Minister Turnbull. If the government doesn't have any ideas on the Perth City Deal, I've taken it upon myself to write to the minister with some of the initiatives that could be in that city deal. Indeed, I encourage all members of my electorate and all Western Australians to write to the minister with their initiatives that could go into this city deal, whether they be transport initiatives, initiatives that could help the people in the electorate of Cowan or initiatives that could ensure we continue to fire up the Western Australia economy.
One of the things that I'm very passionate about is a light rail for Perth city. I know Queenslanders are working towards a light-rail-like proposal in Brisbane city. In fact, Perth will be the only mainland capital city that does not have a light rail or similar service when the Sydney light rail eventually opens in coming months. There have been so many great proposals of light rail. It'll do something truly transformative for Western Australia. We could go with the Knowledge Arc proposal that would not only connect the great universities of Curtin University and the University of Western Australia with some of our most important tourism assets, including Elizabeth Quay, Kings Park, Perth Stadium and indeed thecasino, if that's your thing, but also connect huge parts of our business community together. It would be a shame for Perth to be the only city that doesn't have hop-on hop-off truly accessible light rail. I know that the member for Stirling is a passionate advocate for other light rail projects. The Scarborough Beach light rail proposal that is pushed by the City of Stirling is something else that would connect the Perth city to the beach, something that is sorely missing in our public transport network.
I've also written to the minister about the need to fund a Common Ground homeless facility. During the global financial crisis, a number of states received funding for Common Ground facilities. There is one in Brisbane. It does fantastic work taking people from homelessness to secure, affordable accommodation. Western Australia does not have one of those facilities and it is sorely needed. We've seen a huge increase in homelessness in the west driven by economic downturn, complex drug and alcohol problems and a change in economic circumstances that has really hit people hard. Our job in this place is to make sure we have services that help lift people out of poverty and homelessness. The review of the Common Ground facility in Brisbane done by the University of Queensland found that it gave government a saving of $13,100 per tenant per annum. Not only are you lifting someone out of poverty, but you are going to save the government money by investing in these services. I'd love to see it in the Perth City Deal.
There has also been lots of conversation in Western Australia about the need for an inner-city university campus. I have a slightly different view: we need an inner-city TAFE campus. We have some small TAFE campuses—Northbridge, East Perth, Leederville and Mount Lawley—in my electorate. They all do fantastic work, but, if I were given the choice, I would take a big new state-of-the-art TAFE facility in the heart of the CBD, open 40 weeks a year. One of the great things about TAFE is that it doesn't shut down for half the year—no offence to the learned academics in the room, who do very important work in that time when they are not doing important teaching and learning work.
You read a lot? I have no doubt that I'm not the best-read person in this chamber right now, Member for Cowan. But I'd love to see a big new TAFE facility. It's something that could come in that Perth City Deal. The lack of investment in vocational education is historical. For the last five years, we've seen a wind-down, year after year, in investment in vocational education. I hope that the Perth City Deal—and possibly the next appropriations bill I speak on—might actually give an opportunity to increase that investment in vocational education.
There are many states and many places in the country that would like to see themselves become home to a national Indigenous museum. The work that's been done by the National Museum of African American History & Culture in the United States has truly allowed the sharing of many stories that had been previously not shared, not told enough or not communicated appropriately in other cultural institutions. Western Australia approaches its bicentenary in 2029. This is a long-term project, but it is the sort of thing that would properly reconcile a very difficult past for this country, in our historical treatment of Indigenous Australians, with what we hope will be a brighter future, making sure that we treat them more fairly into the future.
Then there are the standard community needs that you have. One of the huge gaps in my electorate that has not been addressed in this appropriations bill, and, indeed, was ignored by the coalition in the most recent election, is the lack of community facilities in East Perth. East Perth is in desperate need of a community centre. One option to fix that—an option that I know the Attorney-General and Leader of the House is a quiet supporter of—is to redevelop the WACA ground, a cricket ground that's stood for more than 100 years in the heart of Perth and has provided some of our greatest sporting heroes with a place to perfect their craft. It's now turning into a community facility, as we've got a beautiful new stadium. I always make the point of giving credit to former Premier Colin Barnett for building that stadium. It is loved by Western Australians, and he deserves due credit for that visionary decision. Sadly, it was expensive, but sometimes good things are expensive. It leaves the WACA with no clear direction from government and in need of huge upgrades. Turning it into a community centre with a gymnasium, community space and a piazza would be one way of making sure that we grasp that opportunity and fill that gap, the lack of an East Perth community centre.
The other thing that always concerns me when I look at these appropriation bills is that we haven't got any clear long-term policy when it comes to child care. I commend the government for trying to put more money into the early childhood education and care space. I really do. It is such an essential piece of our education system and an essential piece of making sure that people can participate in the economy. I pay due credit to the co-convenor of Parliamentary Friends of Early Childhood, who is in the chamber right now, but, unfortunately, the policies that are funded in this budget aren't actually achieving their stated outcomes. For long day care, fees have increased 4.8 per cent since December 2017, despite billions and billions of dollars of more money going into the system. In the government's own independent report on the new childcare system, 73 per cent of families said that they've found their fees have gone up or not changed at all. Less than half of providers, just 40 per cent, said they felt there was enough support from the government for the transition to the new childcare system. Eighty-three per cent of parents said that the changes have made no impact on their ability to get a job, go to work or study. Eighty-three per cent of parents are saying that this system is not making it easier to get a job, to get more hours or to get the skills they need.
The system isn't working. Yet we're appropriating more and more money, to do more of the same, despite the government's own independent report showing that it doesn't work. It's such an important area. Kids learn so much in the first five years of their life. It's important to allow parents to go back to work. It's important to make sure that every child is valued and gets those basic skills in life. If we can't properly deliver that, we really do have to look at whether the system we are continuing to fund is actually doing the job it is there to do.
Despite the billions and billions of dollars in this appropriation bill, there is no money to continue the CapTel handset service. For those who aren't aware of it, this is a service that makes sure people who have a hearing difficulty can use a telephone like you or I would. They can pick up the phone and the National Relay Service helps by speaking to the person at the other end and typing in what they say. It allows people to communicate with the outside world. It allows them to maintain, or gain, employment. To save just $10 million, in February next year it will shut. That service has no guaranteed future. That's wrong. It should have been in this budget. It's not.
Similarly, there is no money in this budget to continue Vision Australia Radio. This is a service that is based on the edge of my electorate. Technically it is in the electorate of Curtin, but it is in the suburb of Leederville. It provides a service so that people who have vision impairments—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 16:41 to 17:20
As I was saying, this appropriation bill has no funding for CapTel handsets and the 4,000 Australians who rely on them. It has no funding for Vision Australia Radio and the hundreds of people with vision impairment who rely on Vision Australia Radio to make sure that they hear the nation's news and that they can engage with the print text that we all enjoy in this place. This budget locks in a six-year Medicare rebate freeze. There's not one cent for the new Western Australian women and babies hospital. The budget locks in historic cuts to the ABC, historic cuts to ABC KIDS, historic cuts to ABC News, and a five-year program of cuts to vocational education. Worst of all, when you have a downturn in the economy and a need for active and urgent stimulus, there's nothing for Newstart recipients.
On the positive side, this appropriation bill does enable us to fund the valuable work of our public sector. I'll always stand up for the work of our public servants, who make sure that our nation remains one of the best, if not the best, in the world. They help you with everything from the tax office to Centrelink to making sure that the policy debates we have in this place are informed—sometimes dignified—but always in the national interest.
I'll just pause to note that today is Thank You For Working In Aged Care Day. Aged-care workers do so much to protect the most vulnerable in our society. They look after our grandparents, our family members, and our brothers and sisters. They make sure that we give people the dignity in their later years that sometimes we are unable to give ourselves. Aged-care workers do such difficult work. It is physical and it's deeply emotional. You only need to sit with an aged-care worker for two or three minutes to discover just how much work they do in helping the elderly and the vulnerable in our society work through not just entering an aged-care facility but also some of the very difficult moments as they approach the end of their life. I always take the time to say 'thank you' to the aged-care workers who helped my great-grandmother, Rooke, when she was in an aged-care facility before she passed—as a teenager, they were incredibly nice to me at a very difficult time—and then, a few years later, when I helped my grandmother pack when she was in palliative care. Aged-care workers really are some of the most important workers in our society. It's appropriate we take a few moments to thank them for that work. So, to the aged-care workers of Australia, I say a very, very big thank you for everything that you do.
There are about 1,700 aged-care places in my electorate, but we have some 17,000 people over the age of 70 in the electorate of Perth. We need more aged-care workers. I talk about the funding of TAFE. We talk about making sure that we have the workforce of the future. When we talk about the challenges of cutting vocational education, there is also a challenge in terms of cutting our future aged-care workforce. It's a great career. It is a profession. I think that, if we're honest in this place, many of us would not have either the guts or the dedication to do that job well and, unfortunately, many of us would look at the pay packets of those who work in aged care and say, 'That is a ridiculously low wage for that incredibly important work.' So, on Thank You For Working In Aged Care Day, I'm going to conclude my remarks by saying thank you to the aged-care workers of Australia. You deserve our absolute support, you deserve our absolute gratitude and you deserve more funding, both for your wages and for the facilities in which you work.
Bennelong is thriving right now thanks to the policies of this government and the multiple programs that I'm running locally. Bennelong has some challenges, but these challenges lead to great opportunity. We're arguably the most multicultural electorate in the country, but this has allowed us to grow with understanding and respect and has led to a number of initiatives to bring our own communities closer together. We have a booming population thanks to large amounts of development, or overdevelopment, depending on which traffic jam you're sitting in, but we have committed to local infrastructure to help address the large gaps in our transport capabilities.
Our growing population is leading to a boom in students, so we are reaching out to our schools and students with programs to help them grow and help our communities grow with them. Education is arguably the most important thing we deal with in this place. The decisions we make for our children today will shape Australia for decades to come. If Australia can support our students and schools now, we will ensure that our future is shaped by Australians with intelligence, empathy and opportunities to grow. That's why I'm so happy that our government is delivering record funding for schools and new measures to equip Australians with the skills they need. The current funding for schools will reach a record $19.9 billion this year, with average Commonwealth funding per student having increased from $3,755 in 2014 to $5,097 in 2019. Funding for all 28 public schools in Bennelong will increase by around 52 per cent per student over the next decade to 2029. Additionally, 6,822 local families in Bennelong are benefitting from the new childcare package. This vital fund will help our booming local families and schools.
Additionally, the government has launched a new Local Schools Community Fund, which makes possible funding up to $200,000 to each federal electorate. The 2019-20 budget has provided $30.2 million for the Local Schools Community Fund to provide all schools—government, Catholic and independent—with funding for small-scale projects, which will benefit students and school communities. The Local Schools Community Fund will offer grants between $1,000 and $20,000 for new equipment, building projects and/or additional targeted support—just a few of the examples of the great opportunities this fund could provide to local schools.
Other projects could include small-scale extensions, classroom refurbishments, new computer facilities, mental health and counselling services, playground equipment, library resources or sports facilities. The fund supports the Australian government's commitment to education by contributing funding for those schools in each of the 151 federal electorates. This not only fosters an even greater learning environment where students are able to reach their full potential but also allows more effective and efficient learning environments for students, teachers and the whole school community alike. Schools may lodge one application, and where a school is composed of multiple campuses a school may submit an application for each campus to fund a project between $1,000 and $20,000. Applications must be submitted before 30 September. I encourage all schools in Bennelong to take advantage of this opportunity and to really consider what project will have the greatest positive impact on the entire school community. I wish each and every school all the best for their application process.
Providing funding to schools is of course essential. This government is not only a source of money but also a source of ideas and initiatives. That's why I have started a number of programs with my local schools designed not only to educate but also to grow community cohesion and to prepare students for the world of tomorrow. The first of these is the Bennelong STEM challenge. Educating our future generations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics holds the key to our growth and prosperity as a nation. STEM has received a great deal of attention in recent years, and rightly so. STEM affects almost every aspect of our lives, whether it is through the food we eat, the clothes we wear, how we get to work or how we relax. STEM is indispensable to all of these facets of our lives and many others. For our economy, STEM is the engine that will power our growth into the future. It is central to many of the growing sectors of our economy, such as health, education, finance, mining and manufacturing.
With this in mind, it should be clear to see why training in STEM must be an important pillar of our education system. All too often, people hear the term STEM and think it's coding or technology. This is only partly true. At its core, STEM is a way of thinking. It's about how we critically analyse a problem and create solutions for it. It fosters critical inquiry, lateral thinking and problem-solving, irrespective of which aspect of STEM you study.
For the last two years, we have hosted the Bennelong Schools STEM Challenge in conjunction with Re-Engineering Australia and our friends at Medtronic. Last year's event was a stunning success and featured dozens of schoolchildren using 3D software to design a medical centre for the surface of Mars. It was an excellent opportunity for schoolchildren—many of whom were only in years 5 and 6—to show off their extraordinary talent and their problem-solving abilities. The event will be on again this year, and I can't wait to see what our schools will have in store for us.
Despite shining examples of STEM in schools, such as this, there remains a great deal of work to be done to ensure our younger generations are being given sufficient instruction in the STEM disciplines. Evidence from the OECD indicators suggests that Australian primary school children are spending an average of only seven per cent of their time on science. This is far too low. However, it can be rectified by introducing more STEM qualified teachers early in our education system and prioritising STEM teaching in curriculums. I have every faith this government is up to the task of equipping our school systems to teach STEM. Already the federal government has created a $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which includes $64 million to fund early learning and school STEM initiatives. In addition, the government has launched Digital Literacy School Grants, digital technology massive open online courses and the Principals as STEM Leaders research project. These demonstrate this government cares deeply about the role of STEM in our education system and is committed to expanding it.
The Bennelong Cup is another one of the fantastic initiatives we've run for students in Bennelong. This table tennis tournament for local schools will this year be held for the 10th time in consecutive years, which is an outstanding achievement. Back in 2010, I arranged for table tennis tables to be given for free to every school in the electorate, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Hyundai. But after all these years in the rough and tumble world of school playgrounds, some of them were looking a bit worse for wear, so I've arranged for them all to be replaced thanks again to the extraordinary generosity of Hyundai. These have been rolling out over the last few months, and I'm hopeful that we'll get them to most schools before cup time.
The Bennelong Cup seems like a bit of fun, but it is underscored by a very important message. Bennelong is one of the most multicultural electorates in the country, with large numbers of families from China, Korea, Armenia, Italy, India and many more places. While this gives us a very rich cultural tapestry in our streets and shops, it often leads to segregation in our classrooms and particularly in our playgrounds. A simple fun sport like table tennis can bridge this divide. Not everybody can play cricket or footy, but everybody can play table tennis, and playing sport together creates friendships that cross cultural divides. The Bennelong Cup looks like it is about sport, but it's actually about something much more important—community cohesion and building friendships.
It's not only in our schools that our students are seeing the benefits of our investments, both national and local. This government has also made commitments to our local soccer clubs, investing $450,000 into the Roselea sports fields, which run along the back of three local schools. Our local scouts are also getting some much needed funds to redesign their Meadowbank boatshed. This will be a wonderful new facility, providing both space for scout groups across Bennelong and a new wharf and water access for the residents of Meadowbank. This is a corner of our community which has grown at huge rates over the past few years, and this will provide a much needed public amenity.
Before I leave this appropriations debate, it would be irresponsible to sit down without addressing the tax breaks included in this year's budget. While the budget forecasts a surplus, it also delivers an additional $158 billion in income tax relief for hardworking Australians. This is on top of the $144 billion in tax cuts locked in by legislation last year. The government will provide additional funds and relief for hardworking Australians by more than doubling the low- and middle-income tax offset. Low- and middle-income earners will receive tax relief of up to $1,080 to support consumption growth and ease cost-of-living pressures. That's up to $2,160 for a dual-income family. Over 10 million Australians are estimated to benefit from the offset, with around 4.5 million individuals estimated to receive the maximum benefit for the 2018-19 income year. Some 78,852 taxpayers in Bennelong will benefit from tax relief in 2018-19 as a result of the government's enhanced Personal Income Tax Plan, with 29,663 receiving the full tax offset of $1,080.
Considering the fantastic things this government is doing both locally and around Australia, it's no surprise that we received a ringing endorsement at the polls in May. I look forward to three more years of these sorts of initiatives.
I rise to speak on the appropriation bills. In commenting on these bills, I will make some broader observations about the government's current budget strategy, and then I will make some observations about how it is impacting on people in my electorate of Fraser.
This debate on the appropriation bills is a very important one. The state of the economy is of great concern to many people in my electorate and also, I'm confident in saying, more broadly across the nation. At its heart, the debate that we're currently having about the economy, and how the budget affects the economy, is a debate about Australia's future, our economic wellbeing as a nation, and the quality of life that we should provide for our citizens and for our children. I will contend in my contribution on these bills that the current settings that have been put in place by the government are not providing an appropriate response to either the short-term or long-term challenges currently being faced by our nation.
When we look at the situation currently being faced by the Australian economy and, indeed, by our society we see that economic growth in Australia is at its lowest level since the global financial crisis and Australia is currently enduring a per capita recession. The only thing that is sustaining our economic aggregates at anywhere even approaching reasonable levels is the high level of population growth at present—high by OECD standards, that is. Indeed, what we have is an economy in which economic aggregates are only being maintained in positive territory by high levels of immigration. Household living standards have declined under this government, with real household median income lower than it was in 2013, when this government came to power. Wages are growing at one-sixth of the pace of profits, with this government presiding over the worst wages growth on record. I'm sure this is something every member of this House is hearing from people in their electorates.
Around 1.8 million Australians are looking for work or for more work. Underpinning that statistic is the fact that underemployment has risen consistently under this government, from around seven per cent when Labor left office to 8.4 per cent today. Indeed, it rose by a further 0.2 per cent in just the last month. This reflects the fact that there are many people in our communities who want to work more to offset falling or very slow growth in wages, or who want to use the additional hours worked to deal with issues such as record levels of household debt. Household debt has surged to record levels, increasing by $650 billion under the current government, to 190 per cent of disposable income. Consumption growth is weak and consumer confidence is down. All of the statistics that I've just mentioned really go to how well-off households are, how well-off individual workers and families are and how confident they're feeling about the economy. On a whole range of key economic metrics the economy is doing poorly, and on a number of metrics things are going backwards. Many households are struggling.
It's also important to look at the economy from a macroeconomic level. At that level, things also look problematic on a number of fronts. Productivity is problematic and, indeed, we've seen very, very slow productivity growth for a long time. There has been no overall increase in measured labour productivity for more than two years, and eight of the last 10 quarters have been negative. This is a very concerning trend, in that long-term growth in wages is only achievable if productivity growth underpinning those wages is itself sustainable. Another macroeconomic indicator of concern is gross debt, which has risen to over half a trillion dollars. Then, of course, there are a range of other measures, which I'll talk about more in a moment. Business investment is down 20 per cent and other investment measures are also down. When we look at the economy from a macroeconomic level, there are also a range of stressors. There are a range of concerning trends that, we would argue, this government does not address in this current budget or in its broader economic strategy.
I will just make a couple of broader observations about the macroeconomic situation that we find ourselves in. Firstly, in this situation where a number of macroeconomic indicators are showing concerning signs, what we find is the RBA trying to take action to deal with these by cutting interest rates to record levels. We have a cash rate of one per cent, which is significantly lower than it was at the worst point of the GFC. Yet, at the same time, we have a government that is extremely focused on providing a surplus, with no attention being paid to other strategies that might be put in place. So what we really have is the two arms of policy—monetary policy and fiscal policy—not working in as aligned a way as they should be, and that's why we have all sorts of mixed signals in the economy at the moment. That's why we have the RBA constantly calling for more action, more investment and more of a strategy on wages growth. The Reserve Bank is constantly saying monetary policy alone can't solve these problems. Indeed, that's something which we're seeing from central banks around the world. Yet we have a government whose economic focus is too narrow. Nobody's arguing that surpluses aren't a good thing in the main; nobody's saying that we shouldn't have responsible fiscal management. But we can't have an economic strategy that is monofocused on just that and doesn't deal with a whole raft of other issues. Macroeconomic management has to be broader; it has to be more imaginative than just that.
We see a reduced effectiveness of both fiscal and monetary policy because they are not being aligned as they should be. One example of this is when we look at the channel of monetary policy that is reducing interest rates and hoping that borrowers, therefore, might spend more or, similarly, is looking at the impact of the recent tax cuts. Of course, the extent to which people are likely to spend tax cuts is going to be affected by their confidence levels. It's going to be affected by their level of indebtedness. It's going to be affected by the way in which their wages growth—both current wages growth and their perception of future wages growth—affects their feeling of confidence. What we're seeing is that a lack of attention to these other economic variables is having a deleterious effect on confidence at the household level and at the individual level. We haven't seen the effectiveness of these cuts yet, but, in all likelihood, it is going to be reduced because sufficient attention is not being paid to these other economic issues.
The first broad macroeconomic point I want to make is that we are not aligning fiscal and monetary policy sufficiently. The second broad point I want to make, in an overarching sense, is that the government is talking a lot about uncertainty internationally. It is indeed creating some headwinds for the economy. But we are also seeing, at the moment, the impact of a number of longer-term trends. The weakness in productivity growth has been happening for a lot longer than uncertainty between China and the US or the recent Hong Kong riots or Brexit. What we're seeing are a number of structural issues in the economy which require structural responses. That is why, for example, the Reserve Bank has called for productivity reform. That is why the Reserve Bank has called for bringing forward infrastructure investment that will lead to enhanced productivity growth. I would argue that, yes, some of these international developments are creating additional headwinds and additional uncertainty, but many of the issues that I alluded to earlier as being of concern—low productivity growth; low wages growth over a long period of time—require structural, long-term responses, and we are not seeing that. We are seeing calls for that kind of action by a number of independent expert bodies: the Reserve Bank, Infrastructure Australia and others.
These are serious concerns. I see it reflected in Fraser. I see it reflected in the concerns that people raise with me. They're concerned about wages growth. They're concerned about key cost-of-living drivers in health care and in their power bills, and that's affecting their behaviour, which in turn, of course, affects the macroeconomy.
We would argue that there are a number of key responses that should be accelerated. One of them is infrastructure investment—greater infrastructure investment; infrastructure investment brought forward. Of course, it needs to be on projects with a high BCR, projects that are shovel-ready, projects that can only be brought forward in a fiscally sustainable way. A number of external independent expert parties are calling for this. Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has urged the government to focus on smaller infrastructure projects and maintenance to stimulate the economy out of its slowest growth in a decade, saying:
Smaller-scale, quick-to-market projects that are more easily delivered are a smart way of directly stimulating the economy.
The Reserve Bank has also made a number of comments on infrastructure. Governor Philip Lowe, after cutting interest rates to the lowest level that they've been since Federation, as I mentioned earlier, said that the country can't rely on monetary policy alone. He said:
We will achieve better outcomes for society as a whole if the various arms of public policy are all pointing in the same direction.
He added that infrastructure 'adds to demand in the economy' and, provided that the right projects are selected, 'it also adds to the economy's productive capacity'. That's something that we should be doing now. We should be bringing forward projects. The government talks often about its $100 billion, 10-year pipeline. Too little of that is currently in the forward estimates. Too little of that is being delivered where it's needed right now. And it is true to say that New South Wales and Victoria have a large number of large-scale projects underway right now, but, in other states, particularly in regional areas where the economy is floundering, we could be bringing smaller projects to bear. We could be bringing smaller projects into the market right now and in a way in which the construction sector could cope.
A second area where I think that the government could take more immediate action and where we're not seeing enough action in the current budget or in the current economic strategy is in relation to private sector investment and business investment. Recently, the Treasurer talked to the corporate sector through an address at, I think, the Business Council of Australia, basically jawboning the corporate sector to return fewer funds through dividends and to invest more. Not surprisingly, I would say, many prominent people in the business sector responded by saying, 'Well, these are decisions we make based on the individual circumstances of our company.' I think Mike Kane from Boral mentioned, in response: 'What we're doing is what's in the interests of Boral and its shareholders in the long run.' I could give you any number of other corporate executives and fund managers who said similar things. That's an understandable response. But we do need to see business investment increase in a way that will increase both employment and productivity growth.
But we need more than jawboning. And what the opposition suggests is that we need something like the Australian Labor Party's Australian Investment Guarantee, which would provide additional incentives for investment. It's not enough to implore businesses to invest more; we need to actually provide a different framework where it is actually in the interests of shareholders for them to do so. We need an actual policy in this space, not just imploring or asking businesses to invest more; it's clear that that won't work.
What we see in the current budget settings, in summary, is that there is an economy at the moment that, in aggregate terms, is growing. But it is growing by less than population growth. And within that context of aggregate growth, there are a number of long-term economic problems. Productivity growth is very weak. Wages growth is very weak. In response to that, what we are seeing is that monetary and fiscal policy are not aligned as they should be, and that is reducing the effectiveness of both. So we need a complete reworking of the economic agenda. We need more ambition. We need the government to put infrastructure investment, business investment incentives and wages growth on the agenda for immediate action in order to deal with these long-term structural problems.
I thank the member for Fraser for his comments; I think they are entirely relevant and interesting. I think the member for Fraser is referring to what Dr Lawrence Summers refers to as secular stagnation, which seems to have occurred since the global financial crisis of 2008. He talked about some of the structural changes that may have led to this. But I find it interesting that no-one on the Left ever talks about the fact that we have massively regulated our financial institutions—both deposit and lending—that credit creation is a major part of economic growth and that maybe this overregulation has in fact led to the stagnation that we are currently facing.
The Left also—or the Labor Party in this case—constantly refer to Philip Lowe's comments. The governor of the Reserve Bank could not have been clearer about this. He said there are two ways for us to deal with getting economic growth up. The first is through microeconomic reform lifting productivity. The second is through infrastructure spending. Of course, no-one on the left ever talks about structural reform; the first thing they always head to is spending more money. I ask them: where would you like the New South Wales government to spend more money? Where would you like the Victorian government to spend more money? Where exactly would you like the federal government to spend more money? We have a 10-year, $100 billion pipeline of infrastructure projects, yet the previous Labor government cut back on infrastructure spending. We saw real wage growth fall by 1.6 per cent under the Labor Party; we have seen it grow by 2.3 per cent under this government.
What does structural reform look like? Well, you could look at industrial relations. Ever since the Labor Party's changes in 2008 and 2009, according to them, real wages have stagnated. As we've discussed, that's not entirely true. But it is true to say that, under the Howard government, they were much higher than they are now under the Labor Party's Fair Work Act. But every time you talk about changing it so that it reflects the stated objectives of Julia Gillard, the union movement can't help itself, the Labor Party can't help itself, the Greens Party can't help itself—in fact, the Left can't help themselves. They are immediately up anyone suggesting any structural reform in this area, and claiming that what it is all about is trying to sack workers. Well, it's not. It's simply about bringing about what Julia Gillard said she wanted to bring about, which is certainty and fairness. The Fair Work Act has not delivered that.
And then you have savings and retirement incomes and investments. Every time you talk about any sense of reform in this area, you have the industry super funds—just the other week, Greg Combet said, 'If you want to talk about this, we will go you with a multimillion-dollar campaign.' He was threatening members of parliament to act not in the interests of our nation but in the interests of the industry super funds and make sure they weren't injured by the millions of dollars of members' money they will spend. Now, I ask this chamber: how is that spending money in the members' interests, when all that this parliament is trying to achieve is the creation of a system that better reflects and better secures people's retirement?
Then you have the employee share schemes. Employee share schemes were developed by the previous Howard government to allow workers to benefit from the growth of the companies in which they worked. It aligned incentives. It meant that you weren't just working for a wage; you were working for the benefit of the entire enterprise. So what did Wayne Swan do? He made sure that these things were cut to ribbons. He lowered the rate from $15,000 to $1,000. He made sure that you were taxed upfront, not at the end. And, just to make sure that no-one could possibly look at this, he made sure that the Income Tax Assessment Act was in conflict with the Corporations Law. So, unless you are a company with $100 million worth of turnover and listed on the Australian stock exchange, ASIC will not actually give you relief in order to set up one of these schemes. It was the idea and the outcome of Wayne Swan, a Labor Treasurer, to ensure that workers had no incentive and had no claim to any profit that any company made.
Of course, let us not forget about their changes to class actions. In 2006, there were two class actions involving securities per year. It is now eight times higher. It is funded by offshore litigation funders. It is costing millions of dollars. Director and officer liability insurance is up by 500 per cent and some companies are having trouble placing the insurance. And who gets all this money? The offshore funders; not the shareholders, not the companies. We are currently feasting like locusts upon our corporate sector, which does the employment, which does the innovation, which pays a lot of tax in order for us to fund social services. They're some of the structural reforms where the Labor Party could come together with us to agree and talk about a way forward. But they don't want to talk about that.
It is, despite all of that, an honour to return here today as the member for Mackellar. As this is my first re-election, I'm gratified to be reinstated by my community with an increase in my primary vote. As we know too well, elections are hard work. I stand here as a result of the ongoing support from my wife and daughter and a village of volunteers who gave of themselves and of their time for reasons that I wonder at nearly as much as I am grateful for. Early morning bus stops, phone canvassing, door-knocking, street stalls on Saturdays—the dedication of this team knew no bounds. I thank them all. But though much was taken, much abides. The Northern Beaches community expects much from this government and, rightly, from me too. Like all communities, we have our challenges and our success stories.
For those who struggle and those who live the belief that of those to whom much is given much is expected, I would like to speak to some of you here today. All of us in this place come from unique communities. Even so, despite the ferocity with which we debate, there is much more that unites us than divides us. We spend too much time here constructing walls between ourselves rather than crossing the many bridges that already exist. My community, like so many others, believes that the only way to create and maintain a fair country is through freedom, for no person knows the path to happiness of every person. But care and compassion comes not from the generosity of the state but from our families, friends, neighbours and those voluntary organisations we choose to join and build. History's surest pathway to serfdom is by replacing equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. Our most solemn duty in this place is to preserve and protect all that is right with our nation for all who live in it. Ultimately, let those who judge us, both now and in the future, do so on the basis not of the treasures that we possess but of the gifts that we share.
Liberals throughout the ages have fought for the right of all people—no matter who they are or where they come from—to live life to its fullest potential. Any society organised on liberal principles will never allow a person's destination in life to be determined by where they came from. History has shown that government-enforced equality ultimately and quickly leads to injustice. But we cannot possibly be a parliament of equality of opportunity if we do not make education our highest priority. Too many of our fellow Australians are condemned to live lives of quiet desperation—cycles of poverty that cannot be broken, even when the will exists to do so. The parliament has predetermined that the right answer for everyone is a university education, despite the fact that in other nations only around 20 per cent of people choose tertiary education, and yet these nations provide better outcomes for the economy, national wealth, business formation, productivity, employment and real wages. The United States is just one example. The vast majority of companies in their top 20 by capitalisation were started after 1975. By contrast Australia's youngest company in the top 20 was formed before the Great Depression in the 1930s.
We continue to ignore best practice and inconvenient truths throughout the education sector. We ignored the fact that decentralised education systems are the most successful, as we continued to do all we could to centralise our education system. We ignored the importance of the training of teachers and experimentation in curricula as the major drivers of education outcomes as we ploughed billions of dollars into a system that is producing decreasing outcomes in education. In Australia there is currently a negative correlation between spending and education. We pretend that giving parents freedom to choose is somehow a bad thing for their children, them and our nation. But most of all we pander to a conga line of stakeholders whose self-interest goes unchecked and unchallenged. Our children suffer, our liberal ideals are undermined, the cycle of poverty continues, our economy and national dynamism suffer and the quiet desperation of so many continues to go on, unheard and unheeded. No matter, though—the good and the great are satisfied. If we are to live up to our highest ideals then this parliament should advance the cause of a better and more responsive education system for all, not just for some.
The Northern Beaches is a place of great natural beauty, and we know the fight is on to ensure we preserve our environment for future generations. So who better than the children in our community to show us the way towards a better tomorrow. In June I received an email from Miss Amanda Lewis, a year 5 teacher of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, at St Kevin's Catholic primary school in Dee Why. Miss Lewis has been taking her years 5 and 6 students to Dee Why Beach where they observe local beachgoers and the environment. What they saw was all too common and, more importantly, avoidable—cigarette butts on the ground, rubbish in incorrect bins, a lack of recycling facilities, and the list went on. This is a world that our children will inherit, and we owe it to them to include them as equal voices in these important conversations. Small steps will amount to real change if we all make an effort.
Mr Deputy Speaker Gillespie, did you know that Mackellar has more surf life saving clubs than any electorate in the country? I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that I did not until very recently when Surf Life Saving Australia's CEO, Adam Weir, asked me to co-chair the Parliamentary Friends of Surf Life Saving. Surf clubs embody the great Australian value of volunteerism. The sheer geographical expanse of Australia's landscape and our relatively small population mean we rely on volunteers—those incredible people in our communities who are committed to the service of others—to keep us safe. Our clubs not only patrol our beaches but give back to their own communities. Importantly, young people are a mainstay of these organisations, learning early in life the values of service and leadership. I witnessed this firsthand at the awards night of Whale Beach and Long Reef surf life saving clubs, of which I am a proud patron. Presidents Andrew Pearce of Whale Beach and Peter Kinsey of Long Reef deserve our great praise.
As we all know, some Australians are born in this country and some Australians were born elsewhere in the world, choosing to make a life here as citizens. It is a frequent honour and joy to attend citizenship ceremonies for those who have chosen the Northern Beaches as their home. I'm often moved when I hear the personal stories behind the individuals who make this decision. While my story is special to me, it is not unique. Modern Australia was built by migrants like my grandparents. I'm sure that those I welcome into our community at these ceremonies will make a positive contribution, like my father and his parents before him did.
While it is a great privilege to call the Northern Beaches home, our community is not without its problems. Cottage Point is a small community of just over 100 residents on the western edge of Mackellar. This tight-knit community houses an RFS brigade, marine rescue and multiple businesses. They are located just 45 minutes from the Sydney CBD, yet they are without mobile reception. It's not an issue of convenience; it's an issue of safety. I have fought for this essential service since 2016 and I again call on Telstra to make use of the government's Mobile Black Spot Program, which I fought to make Cottage Point a part of. A phone tower must be built to provide the security of reliable phone reception.
The 46th Parliament is in its early days. However, I look forward to the three years ahead as a time of action, positive change and progress, both here and in my electorate on the Northern Beaches. I am proud to share in the responsibility that we have to our nation and our constituents and I urge all of us not to let them down.
The appropriation bills before the House set out the spending priorities of this tired, third-term Morrison government. In my response today I would like to focus on cybersecurity, given my new role as the shadow assistant minister for cybersecurity and communications. Cybersecurity incidents cost Australian businesses up to $29 billion per year. In 2018, cybercrime affected almost one in three Australian adults. Our critical infrastructure—power stations, transport systems, industrial plants—is currently vulnerable to cyber-enabled attacks. Last week, the outgoing ASIO general director, Duncan Lewis, identified cybersecurity as one of the biggest threats to Australian national security. Strong cybersecurity is crucial to Australia's future, to our economy, to our national security and to our very democracy.
Last week, the Morrison government announced it will develop a new Australian cybersecurity strategy. Since the Turnbull-era strategy will reach the end of its life in 2020, this is a welcome announcement, particularly as it took this government 17 months to produce the last strategy. The 2016 cybersecurity strategy was released by the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, with great fanfare and hundreds of millions of dollars of funding. Three and a half years later the new minister responsible for cybersecurity, the Minister for Home Affairs, now tells us that the Morrison government has made 'strong progress towards the strategy's many goals'. You'll just have to take their word for it, though.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 18 : 07 to 18 : 21
As I was saying, 3½ years after the announcement of the 2016 Cyber Security Strategy, the home affairs minister told Australia that the government has made 'strong progress' towards the strategy's goals, but you'll just have to take his word for it. There's no data or evidence to back up any of the government's claims and no metrics with which we could assess the performance of the government against the strategy's goals. None of the 2016 Cyber Security Strategy's five action plans specified any metrics or outcomes against which you could actually measure success. Where the government did make specific commitments, they went down a memory hole. In the government's A call for views, they describe it as having an 'updated approach'.
There are a few examples. The 2016 strategy promised a minister assisting the Prime Minister on cybersecurity, but, when the member for Cook deposed Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, that position disappeared as well. The 2016 strategy promised annual updates reporting on implementation and progress of the report. The first annual update was published in 2017, but it wasn't until last Friday when A call for views on the new strategy, passed last week, included an appendix A, which included a perfunctory dot point update on the status of the strategy. The 2016 strategy promised annual cybersecurity leaders meetings, CEO meetings and meetings with leaders in the Public Service. The then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, did meet with public and private sector leaders in 2017, but no meetings have been held since. The 2016 strategy promised a layered approach to cyber-threat information sharing, including through a dedicated online portal. Nearly four years later, the government describes the progress made towards this particular outcome in this way:
An interim public-private communications platform has been established while a long term solution is created.
That's very fancy bureaucratic speak for saying that the government has established a slack channel that public sector and private sector companies are currently on. Intel sharing more broadly across Australian public and private sectors is patchy at best. As for sharing threats on cyber.gov.au, the government didn't publish any threat advice at all on that site for 10 months, between September 2018 and June 2019.
If you ask independent third parties about Australia's progress on cybersecurity during the life of the first Cyber Security Strategy, they will say that Australia may even have gone backwards. Australia's commitment to cybersecurity has fallen according to the International Telecommunication Union's Global Cybersecurity Index. In 2014, Australia was ranked third in the world under this index. By 2018, three years into the Turnbull strategy, we had fallen all the way to 11th in the world. Of the 17 Commonwealth entities and agencies audited by the ANAO for their cyber-resilience—one of the objectives of the 2016 Cyber Security Strategy—only six were found to be adequately cyber-resilient—a very poor outcome indeed. Australia's also ranked in the top five nations around the world for data breaches by population. It's a real issue.
The major failing in Australian cybersecurity policy over the life of the current strategy has been an absence of political leadership and accountability within the federal government. The 2016 strategy was politically orphaned when Malcolm Turnbull was deposed and the Prime Minister abolished the dedicated minister from his cabinet. Rather than being a day-to-day policy focus for a minister focused on their job, cybersecurity was reduced to just another trophy on the wall of the Minister for Home Affairs, just another conquest in his bureaucratic empire building. As a result, the initiatives announced in the 2016 strategy were simply forgotten. Cybersecurity is more than just a technical problem.
One issue that was largely absent from the 2016 strategy, and from the consultation document for the development of a new strategy, was the potential for the use of the internet to interfere in our democracy. In the early days of the internet, democratic nations were optimistic about the internet's democratising effects and the potential for those democratising effects on authoritarian regimes. But now we see that, in the event, authoritarian regimes have been able to use the internet to successfully control what their citizens can see on the web. In contrast, it is open societies, democracies like Australia, who are most vulnerable to the evolution of the internet.
Duncan Lewis warned that Australia is a 'rich target' for state-sponsored cyberattacks aimed at spreading false information, interfering with political processes and undermining our democratic institutions. Indeed, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in a recent report, has found that 20 countries have experienced cyberenabled foreign interference in their electoral and democratic processes since 2016.
In February this year the Prime Minister confirmed that a sophisticated foreign-state actor had targeted the Liberal, Labor and National Party head offices—our party organisations—as well as the IT systems supporting Parliament House. Intelligence officials are reported to believe that a foreign actor was responsible for the ANU data breach in June this year where the records of many, many thousands of students and staff, spanning 19 years, were illegally accessed.
Beyond breaching systems, foreign entities have employed a variety of tactics to influence public discourse and undermine trust in elections and democracies. Influence operations work by finding cracks in the fabric of society and exploiting them to weaken trust in our democratic institutions. This is why cybersecurity is not simply a technological issue.
Our best defence against these kinds of information operations isn't a new technology; it's our democratic institutions; it's the health of our institutions. The more robust our democratic institutions, the more they're able to immunise us, to protect us, from these information operations from foreign adversaries. Unfortunately, the Australian public's mistrust in our democratic institutions today leaves them more vulnerable to the types of foreign influence operations that we are seeing around the world. That's why I regard it as an important part of my portfolio responsibilities to push for ways to strengthen the health of our democratic institutions, to increase the public's trust in our democratic institutions, so that these institutions will be resilient and help us protect ourselves from this foreign interference.
There are many things that we need to do to start to improve the health of the democratic institutions in our country, but here are three just to start. Experts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute cyberpolicy centre recommend a key measure for protecting Australian democracy is a healthy and robust media environment. Unfortunately, the Morrison government is actively undermining public confidence in our media. The coalition's misplaced priorities were seen earlier this year when the Australian Federal Police raided Annika Smethurst, of News Corp, and the ABC. These raids further eroded public confidence, the Australian public's trust, in our fourth estate. The Chief Executive of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, Paul Murphy, put it perfectly when he said:
It's yet another example of the culture that's been created in this country of an absolute disregard for the role of journalists in an open liberal democracy …
The second thing we need to do is to restore trust in our institutions through the establishment of a national integrity commission. Trust that our democratic institutions are acting in the interests of the Australian public, not in the personal interests of individuals within a system, is falling in Australia. Currently, only 41 per cent of Australians express trust in our democracy, only 31 per cent of Australians express trust in our federal government and only 16 per cent of Australians express trust in our political parties. We need a national integrity commission to tackle perceptions of corruption and to restore public trust in our democratic institutions. Less than 12 months ago the coalition agreed with this, or at least they said in the lead-up to the election that they agreed.