Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Portfolio; Consideration in Detail
The Morrison government really does have a great story to tell on the environment. For nearly 20 years we've had a rigorous and transparent regulatory framework for protecting nationally important environmental matters. Over the last few years, we've made real progress, protecting threatened species. We're funding practical, on-ground action that engages communities in caring for their environment. As well, we have a world-leading investment strategy for protecting the Great Barrier Reef. But there is more work to do. As a country, we need to better manage our waste and think about waste as part of the circular economy. We need to keep up the good work we have been doing on the reef and on threatened species, to name a couple of key areas.
So, what does this year's budget deliver for the environment? There is the Environment Restoration Fund. The government is delivering on its election commitment to increase recycling and reduce waste, protect Australia's biodiversity and restore waterways through the Environment Restoration Fund. These budget bills provide $100 million over the next four years for the fund. The fund will focus on three priority areas: protecting threatened and migratory species and their habitats; protecting Australia's coast, oceans and waterways by addressing erosion, improving water quality and protecting coastal, threatened and migratory species; and the clean-up, recovery and recycling of waste. The Communities Environment Program is another new program based around community-led projects complementing our restoration fund. Volunteers and community groups care passionately about their local environment and they know it better than most. Both the Environment Restoration Fund and the Communities Environment Program will support local groups to achieve their local priorities. The Communities Environment Program will harness that passion by helping grassroots community organisations deliver projects that address local priorities and will reconnect Australians with their local environment. These bills will deliver more than $20 million across Australia through the program.
Tackling Australia's waste is a key priority for this term of government. An amount of $5.9 million from the Environment Restoration Fund will support initiatives that mobilise communities to remove and reduce plastic waste from coastal regions, preventing it from entering our oceans and waterways, where it has harmful impacts on marine life and the marine economy. An amount of $5.5 million will support ongoing action to halve food waste by 2030, as well as promote recycling and reduce waste. Part of this will be support for Planet Ark and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation to accomplish a circular economy hub to drive that innovation—establish an online marketplace matching buyers and sellers of waste. Last month, under the leadership of Prime Minister Morrison, state and federal governments committed to banning the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres while building Australia's capacity to generate high-value recycled commodities and build the associated demand. This sets a clear path forward and shows that Australia is serious about improving our resource recovery, increasing our use of recycled materials and building demand and markets for recycled products. We will implement the ban in a way that benefits the Australian economy. We will build the capacity of our waste and recycling sectors. This will create jobs, because one person's trash is another person's treasure. This is part of our government's move to a circular economy, reusing our resources for the benefit of the economy and the environment. It's our waste, it's our environment, it's our responsibility. The Morrison government is getting on with the job by addressing critical environmental issues.
Another key focus for our government is to modernise regulatory frameworks, reduce congestion and deliver benefits to the Australian economy. We are committed to the highest environmental standards. Our central environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, implemented by the Howard government, establishes a rigorous and transparent regulatory framework for protecting nationally important environmental matters, such as threatened species and World Heritage properties. An independent review of this act is required to commence by the end of October. I want it to be thorough and look comprehensively at the overall effectiveness of the EPBC Act. I want to work closely with the community, industry and across government to look at ways to improve the EPBC Act and better support sustainable growth, lower the regulatory burden and lessen uncertainty while achieving strong outcomes for the environment. The review will involve extensive consultation and I look forward to that and the participation of all members.
There is more to talk about—the Great Barrier Reef and our threatened species work. I've had something to say about that in recent times. I conclude that we are on track with our most recent budget, and our election commitments, to show this government is delivering on its election promises.
Thank you for the opportunity to ask some questions of the minister. My question is to the Minister for the Environment. Why are truth and science now critically endangered under this government? We are now in the third term of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, but all Australians and their natural environment have no cause for celebration. The Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from 'poor' to 'very poor', the Murray-Darling Basin is in crisis, the nation's faunal extinction crisis is now one of the worst on the planet, Australia's emissions are continuing to escalate as the Morrison government continues its dangerous spiral of climate and science denial, we're seeing ministerial scandals and incompetence, which are destroying confidence in the management of the environment, and as a consequence our greatest environmental challenges now grow much worse.
Funding for the environment department has reportedly been slashed since 2013, in line with its capacity to manage environmental issues. In a backroom deal, $444 million of public funds for reef protection was handed, without a tender, to a small, ill-equipped foundation. Just yesterday we saw a senior minister in the government, the minister responsible for water, drought and natural disasters, say that he didn't know if man-made climate change was real.
I would like to recap on the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government's greatest hits on the environment. The Great Barrier Reef—No. 1: reef health, as I said, has been downgraded from 'poor' to 'very poor'. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority recently downgraded the reef's condition and has become more desperate for action, making an unprecedented call for the strongest and fastest possible action to reduce climate emissions.
No. 2: coral bleaching is worse and predictions are for more intense and frequent bleaching events, twice per decade by 2035 and annually by about 2044.
No. 3: the coalition has a reef envoy, but he is acting more like a reef decoy. It is the member for Leichhardt. He is refusing to accept the truth that climate change is a key threat to the reef. In recent reports he's even been insisting that coral bleaching has been happening for millennia, contrary to scientific evidence, including in the minister's own department. The question is: how could you be an envoy for the reef when you don't understand its greatest threats?
No. 4: the coalition handed $444 million of public money in a back room deal to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. The Auditor-General found the government had failed to comply fully with rules designed to ensure transparency and value for money on the matter.
No. 5: we've had reports that climate-science-denying government MP, the member for Dawson, is attempting to dictate which science should be ignored and which science should be accepted in order to judge the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
No. 6: on threatened species in extinction, Australia is considered to have one of the worst extinction rates in the world, with the highest rates of vertebrate mammal extinction in the world.
No. 7: Australia's faunal extinction crisis has escalated under the Morrison government while his government apparently has no plan to deal with it.
No. 8: critically endangered species have, it seems, been poisoned on land which has a connection to one of the ministers in this current government.
No 7: the now Treasurer, then the environment minister in office, attempted a ministerial bypass of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in an attempt to delist a critically endangered species without publishing reason, contrary to science and in support of a minister's personal interest in a property on which the particular grassland was growing.
No 10: the Prime Minister just made up a piece of legislation that was supposed to be tackling the extinction crisis after the release of a UN report. There was no such legislation.
I'll even go to No. 11: the government has reportedly cut funding for the environment department by almost 40 per cent since 2013, leaving it incapable of doing what it should be able to do without the resources to do what it should be able to do: protect the environment appropriately, including species that are listed as critically endangered.
I'll also take the opportunity to note that Australia's environment and climate face twin political threats: on the Right from an anti-science, backward-looking and dishonest government and on the far Left from the Greens political party, who set climate action back more than a decade when they joined with the conservatives in 2009 to vote down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The Greens political party put their own political interests before serious action on climate and the environment, just like at the last election when their attacks on Labor helped to elect another anti-science, climate-change-denialist coalition government.
In conclusion, this government is asleep at the wheel of Australia's greatest threats and environmental challenges. Without action, Australians will end up paying the price, so I ask again: why is it that truth and science are critically endangered under this government, Minister Ley?
Well, it just seemed to go on for so much longer. You really wouldn't think that she believed what she was saying. We believe what we're saying. We believe in the strong actions we're taking to protect the environment and to engage local communities in that protection. We don't sit on our hands and say it's all too hard or get overwhelmed by international and national challenges; we work hard with key targets in mind and a key focus that brings strong effort from across the government, across the nation and, indeed, across the world. While the member for Griffith appears to want to run down what's happening in the environment portfolio, I would like to talk it up. I would like to talk up our international standing on the oceans and the fact that we have, I say, the best managed reef in the world—certainly to a gold standard. We are investing record dollars in that reef. In fact, it's $1.2 billion—so much more than Labor ever did.
Yes, there was that mention of the $400 million that went to the reef foundation. When has a political party in this place, caring about the World Heritage values of the reef, turned its back on $400 million? Only this Labor Party has done that, and I have no idea why.
We don't resile from the challenges that we face. I've said the No. 1 threat to the reef is climate change. I've acknowledged on Threatened Species Day that the changing rate of climate is a challenge for some of our species. There is absolutely no argument from me with the science. I talk to scientists regularly and I ask them these questions. I'm not afraid of a single thing they say to me. But I also know that Australians are 100 per cent committed to playing their part. Conservation, indeed, is everyone's business. When you look at Threatened Species Day here in the House yesterday, it was delightful to see the member for Griffith cuddling a koala—and I do acknowledge her real interest in koalas—
An honourable member interjecting—
And a Tassie devil. These are things we are doing with our Environment Restoration Fund, which I spoke of. We have got $6 million for koala corridors and hospitals. The member for Griffith mentioned the science, and we want the best scientific expertise to look at the adaptation of species.
Yes, the climate is changing. This is a global issue. It's not something Australians can stand up and change tomorrow. But what we can do is say, 'Here is a vulnerable species. How can we invest in the science?' We know there are too many koalas in South Australia and the genetic diversity is not great, but we know that they love to live where people live, which is where the member for Griffith lives, and we want to protect those populations. We invite her, when the time comes, to be involved in the koala restoration project through that fund. We engage all members. We can stand up as a political party and as a government and look every single Australian in the eye and say, 'We recognise the challenges, but we are here working with you to meet those challenges.'
There were a couple of mentions of the budget. This is a budget conversation; I understand that. It's important to note that we can only do what we do in this space if we live responsibly within our means, invest carefully and make every dollar count. We must make every dollar hit the ground where we know it will have the most value, whatever the agenda.
I notice that the member for Griffith didn't speak at all about one of the key commitments of this government, which is recycling plastics in the ocean. We have an international reputation. We have the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the scientists we have on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and our wonderful envoy, who was unfairly targeted in that speech, and the passion he brings for the tourism industry and the farmers who live along the reef. We didn't hear a mention of farmers, who protect over 60 per cent of Australia's land mass, from the shadow environment—
Mr Conroy interjecting—
Mr van Manen interjecting—
The member for Forde is mentioning various other members. It is so important to just remember that farmers, landcare and the partnership between conservation and agriculture land exactly on the same page with feral animals. We didn't mention feral animals, but I say there is a 'million paws stalk' across Australia every night, with the cats that are killing our native wildlife—up to six million a night, which is pretty horrific. But, again, do we sit on our hands and say, 'It's all too hard; we haven't got enough money; we haven't got enough staff; we can't manage anything,' or do we actually get down, roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty and do something out there in the real world and the real economy?
My question is to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. It goes to the heart of his responsibilities. The question is: what has been happening to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, in absolute terms, under this government? Have they been decreasing, as his ministerial title and duties require, or have they been increasing?
Climate change is a challenge which will have serious effects on future generations of Australians and is already impacting all Australians. Yet this government has washed its hands of serious action to tackle climate change by reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. We have had a rolling public policy catastrophe on climate and energy from those opposite. Three successive prime ministers have put politics ahead of principle.
We had the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott's destructive approach to climate policy is one of the most irresponsible contributions to Australian public life in the modern era. He was knocked off by the former member for Wentworth, Mr Turnbull. Mr Turnbull claimed to be the moderate face of the Liberal Party on climate and energy policy, but he was held to ransom by the hard Right in the Liberal Party—people like the current Minister for Energy, who blocked the National Energy Guarantee and is now even blocking state Liberal governments from trying to fix up energy policy in this country. Then Mr Turnbull was knocked off by the current Prime Minister, and the current Prime Minister has been just as bad as his predecessors. He flew to Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum meeting earlier this year and, in a country which risks being submerged by rising sea levels, he got out his red pen and watered down the calls for action on climate change in the forum communique.
This is a policy failure with profound implications. Australians are already starting to bear the cost of this government's inaction, and we will only see these costs grow in coming years: the environmental costs of damage to iconic natural assets like the Great Barrier Reef and changes to our native ecosystems and habitats; the economic costs from longer droughts hitting our farmers, severe weather events disrupting communities and rising sea levels and storm surges damaging our coastal infrastructure; and the health costs which will come from heatwaves, which will put the elderly and the vulnerable at risk.
Australians want to us do our fair share in tackling climate change with all countries of the world, but this government has adopted a woefully inadequate emissions reduction target. The scientific advice is that to contribute to the Paris Agreement's goal of holding temperature increases to less than two degrees Australia needs to reduce emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. But this government has committed only to a reduction of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, and it is undermining this target with a dodgy accounting trick, using Kyoto carryover units to deliver much less than a 26 to 28 per cent reduction by 2030.
The worst thing about this government's approach is that not only is its emissions reduction target inadequate and not only is it using an accounting trick to weaken a target even further but it has no actual policies for even achieving this low-ball target—no policies for reducing emissions from the energy sector; no policies for reducing emissions from the transport sector; no policies for reducing emissions from the industrial sector; and no policies for reducing emissions from the land sector. So it's hardly surprising that emissions are going up, not down.
Under the former Labor government, emissions were falling while the economy kept growing strongly. Under this government, they are rising and rising at a faster pace with each year of inaction. As last week's national accounts show, under this government economic growth is stalling just like wages and investment. We have a Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction who is presiding over emissions and price increases—not reductions—blocking reforms in the energy sector and failing to put our economy on a path for a clean energy and low-emissions future.
Additional questions to the minister are simple. Will the minister admit Australia's absolute emissions have gone up every year since 2014? What do the official figures project Australia's absolute emissions will be in the year 2020 and the year 2030 compared to 2005? I urge the minister to actually talk about absolute levels of emissions, not per capita or some other emissions intensity measure, which is the way they try to get around this. Because absolute emissions are actually what we are obliged to account for under the Paris treaty and under the Kyoto treaty. They can talk about per capita. They can talk about per GDP. That means nothing compared to absolute levels which we are legally and morally obliged to do. The minister, if he was being honest for once, will admit that our absolute emissions have gone up every year since 2014. If the minister wants to start this debate properly, he will admit that. (Time expired)
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to ask the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction some questions, because every day I hear from people in my electorate of Lindsay who are wanting to know how the Morrison government is working to reduce the cost of living pressures on hardworking families. Cost of living pressures put a strain on household budgets, and this is particularly true when it comes to energy prices. That's why our focus in the Morrison government is on lowering energy prices and gas prices so we can put more money back in the pockets of hardworking families and to the bottom lines of the 14,000 small and medium-sized businesses in Lindsay.
We're backing small businesses in Lindsay with tax relief and encouraging them to grow by extending the instant asset write-off. Lowering energy costs is just another way that we're enabling our local small businesses to employ more people and take advantage of new opportunities to grow and expand. Emu Plains Automotive Repairs is just one of the small businesses in Lindsay run by a hardworking aspirational Australian. In May this year I met with Shane of Emu Plains Automotive Repairs, and he told me that lowering power prices means that his business can grow. Energy companies can't get away with ripping off people like Shane. Local businesses like Emu Plains Automotive Repairs are at the heart and soul of our community. That's why the Morrison government is committed to backing Shane and Emu Plains Automotive Repairs and all the other small businesses in Lindsay with reforms to lower power prices.
Can the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction provide an update on how the Morrison government is working to lower energy prices in my electorate of Lindsay and around Australia, and the implementation of these policies and any alternative approaches.
The standing orders make it very clear that the call alternates between sides; it is not allocated by time. The standing orders make it very clear that the occupant of the chair is obliged to alternate the call. I urge you to consult the clerks.
Mr Deputy Speaker, it might also assist you to know that this issue was ventilated very, very well in a previous consideration in detail in which I ended up being ejected, also under the standing orders, for insisting on the alternation of the call. The Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business both insisted on that being resolved.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is probably going to suit the minister that he gets a go after me rather than before me because my question is to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. When is the minister going to resign? He should resign or be sacked by the Prime Minister. The minister has previously claimed that he was representing his constituents when he sought a meeting with environment department officials on the environmental listing of the Monaro grasslands in March 2017. Yesterday in question time Labor revealed that Minister Taylor has told ABC Radio that he was advocating for himself as a landholder. I'll read you the interview transcript:
JOURNALIST: They do say—I mean, you said it has the potential to have a big impact on landholders, one of those landholders being a company that is—
ANGUS TAYLOR: One of the landholders is me—
I'm a farmer.
And then he said:
I make absolutely no apologies for standing up for farmers in my region. That includes me … It is my job to stand up for us.
That was on ABC Radio Illawarra on 26 July 2019. It's very clear that the minister has no idea why it would be a problem that he would be using his own ministerial powers to stand up for himself without declaring his interest in the matter. It is obviously a mystery to him why the people of Australia would expect him to make the declarations that would be required under the ministerial code of conduct and the parliamentary declarations. In that regard, we already know that the minister failed to declare his joint financial interest in Jam Land Pty Ltd, a company which to this day is under investigation by his own department.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You would be aware that, in the consideration in detail of the appropriation bills, the same rules apply as in the consideration of the appropriation bills in the second reading debate, which is that the ordinary rules of relevance don't apply.
There is a requirement that you need to be relevant to the question. The question before the Federation Chamber is that the proposed expenditure of $965,547,000 in the Environment and Energy portfolio be agreed to. I call the member to be relevant.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. We also know that the minister's own department, as I said, holds no record of any advice from the minister about his interest in Jam Land Pty Ltd. This new information further confirms that the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. On that basis, given that this is in relation to the expenditure in the environment department, I ask that the minister explain why his own department is to this day investigating a company in which he has a personal interest. I also want to raise some questions for the Minister for the Environment, in relation to some of the matters that she raised. Specifically, she's raised the review of the EPBC Act that's expected, as I understand it, to commence in October this year.
Minister, will the submissions to the review be made public and will there be a public call for submissions? Secondly, the minister took issue with my concerns about the expenditure of $444 million in a backroom deal to a small ill-equipped foundation which failed to comply fully with the rules designed to ensure transparency and value for money on the matter. Minister, why wasn't there an appropriate tender process and why do you think it doesn't matter that there wasn't transparency in relation to that process? Finally, does the minister agree with her own science agencies on reef health and key threats? I note that she defended the member for Leichhardt's contribution on the issue of bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Does the minister accept that the reef envoy was incorrect in his claims that there had been bleaching of that nature at— (Time expired)
We have just heard from the member for Griffith—who is all smear and no idea. She did actually have one idea early on, and what she talked about was defending the CPRS. The last time I looked at the CPRS it was a carbon tax. So the review that is going on inside the Labor Party right now—the member for Hindmarsh has put it that they're going to review everything. They're bringing back a carbon tax!
This is about electricity prices, which you doubled when you were in government. The member for Lindsay asked me an excellent question about electricity prices, and as the Bureau of Statistics has told us, in the last two quarters—
Opposition members interjecting—
they're going down. If you don't like the Bureau of Statistics you need to say it, but that's what it's telling us. That's on the back of the DMO and the reference price—important initiatives recommended by the ACCC and being implemented by this government. As we look at wholesale prices, as we go forward, they are coming down over the next couple of years to just above $70 a megawatt hour. That's a 30 per cent reduction on where we currently sit. Crucial to this is more supply and reliability in the market. We have an investment boom going on in energy right now and it's nearly all intermittent. In fact, if you look at the investment in clean energy, renewable energy, in Australia it is double—
Opposition members interjecting—
The investment in renewable energy is double that of the next countries in the world. In fact, it's more than France, Germany and the UK combined on a per capita basis. And that's why our emissions in electricity are coming down at a rapid rate—2.1 per cent last year—and it's also why we will reach our Paris obligations, just as we reached our Kyoto obligations. In fact, not only did we reach our earlier Kyoto obligation, our 2020 obligation, as of December last year, but we are on track to beat it by 367 million tonnes. It's important to note that this is a 1.1 billion tonne turnaround on what we inherited from those opposite—from deficit to surplus. That's what we do: clean up Labor's mess.
As we look forward to the 2030 target, central to reaching that target is the Climate Solutions Package, a $3.5 billion package.
Opposition members interjecting—
This is consideration in detail of budget initiatives. That package includes crucial initiatives to get our emissions down, including the Climate Solutions Fund, which will deliver 102 million tonnes of abatement; energy efficiency initiatives, which will deliver 63 million tonnes of abatement; and hydro projects—Snowy 2.0 and the Battery of the Nation project—which will deliver 25 million tonnes of abatement. In combination, the initiatives in the Climate Solutions Package have us on target to reach our Paris obligations, as we will reach them in electricity, well ahead of time. In fact, I'd like to point out and confirm to the Chamber that we expect to reach our Paris targets in 2021, nine years ahead of schedule.
With that, our challenge is in the reliability of our grid, which is why we're underwriting new generation, we're putting in place the retailer reliability obligation and we're working closely with collaborative states to get more gas into the market at an affordable price. We are absolutely committed to reaching our international obligations while ensuring that Australians get a fair deal on affordable, reliable energy.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
I rise to speak in support of the Morrison government's budget for the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio and the impact it will have on our Pacific step-up. The Pacific is our home, and it's where we can have the most genuine impact and contribution on the international stage. As the Prime Minister says, 'It's our patch and it's our backyard.'
The 2019-20 budget underscores Australia's commitment to step up our engagement in the Pacific and our broader region and to work across government to further Australia's security and prosperity in a contested world. We're committing $12.7 million in additional resources to the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. The facility will use grant funding provided alongside loans to significantly deepen Australia's support for high-priority infrastructure projects in the Pacific and Timor-Leste, reaffirming our commitment to work with Pacific partners to support their development priorities. This facility opened on 1 July this year and will invest in high-priority infrastructure across the Pacific in areas such as telecommunications, energy, transport and water and other essential infrastructure such as the Highlands Highway in Papua New Guinea.
We're also investing in greater collaboration between all of our Pacific neighbours, with $3.9 million going towards developing measures to guard against foreign interference. This strategy will mobilise international collaboration towards stronger global norms and against inappropriate interference and will enable cooperation with regional partners. As part of a broader measure led by the Department of Home Affairs, DFAT will implement a program to support these efforts in our region and more broadly.
Australia has also committed $4 billion in official development assistance, $1.4 billion of which will be directed towards our Pacific neighbours. This is a third of our total aid budget and reflects our enduring ties with our nearest neighbours. It's our highest ever aid spend in the region. We're also increasing humanitarian funding to $450 million, ensuring that Australia can respond rapidly to help those affected by humanitarian crises and allow us to continue to respond to unprecedented levels of displacement and humanitarian need across the globe.
We have also committed $44 million to establish a new National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, investing in one of our most important bilateral relationships. The foundation will provide a new and innovative platform to provide practical support and expertise to Australians developing links and exchanges with Chinese counterparts. It will harness the efforts of the private sector, peak bodies, NGOs, cultural organisations, state and federal agencies and the Chinese-Australian community.
Australia will also step up its engagement on maritime issues in South-East Asia, building on our long history of maritime support across the Indo-Pacific. We will deepen our investment in maritime cooperation, including on regional maritime organisations; maritime domain awareness; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and support for a rules-based maritime order. Since announcing the Pacific Step-up last year there has been a major refocusing of our efforts within foreign policy, aid, defence and policing strategies to make sure that the Pacific is our highest priority. This is important for ongoing prosperity and security in Australia as well as for the prosperity and security of our region as a whole.
In addition to refocusing our efforts on our own region of the Pacific, the government's budget has continued funding of Govpass, a trusted digital identity, a key component in the further digital transformation of government. The additional $4.1 million in funding supports the government's commitment to better and more accessible digital services.
A South Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically is in Australia's national interest. This government has made that achievement a priority. The Pacific is front and centre as our strategic priority, right where it should be, and I'm proud to be part of a government that is leading from the front on these important issues. I wish to acknowledge the work of the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, who is here this evening. I ask the minister to please explain to the chamber how the government's budget will continue to support the Pacific Step-up and our engagement in the region.
My question is also to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. It concerns Australia's engagement with the Pacific region and our program of official development assistance. The question is: why is the government sabotaging its own Pacific Step-up policy and why is it damaging Australia's foreign policy interests by slashing development assistance?
Our relations with the countries of the Pacific Ocean and our international development programs are central elements of Australia's foreign policy. They are both areas that are important to Australia's national interests and they are both areas that are important to Australia's standing in our region and our projection of Australian values in the international community.
When it comes to the high-level principles articulated by this government on Pacific issues and international development there is a bipartisan approach, but when it comes to the way that this government is implementing its policies we see cause for concern. We see a government that says it wants a step up in Australia's Pacific relations but which is undermining its Pacific policies through inaction on climate change, contradictory policies on labour mobility, and failing to treat our Pacific partners with basic respect. It is a government that risks turning the Pacific Step-up into a Pacific stuff-up.
On international development, we see a government that has cut $11.8 billion from Australia's aid budget since 2013. These cuts are having negative impacts on some of the poorest people in the world and they are having negative impacts on Australia's interests and our standing in the international community. Overseas development assistance is a key part of our foreign policy. It's the way we support economic, social and human development in low- and middle-income nations. It also reflects the Australian character—a generous nation committed to the fair go, helping people who need help, and doing our bit to respond to humanitarian crises.
In a region where millions of people live in extreme poverty it's in Australia's interests to strengthen our commitment through development. Development means greater prosperity, security and stability in our region, yet since the coalition government came to office in 2013 it has cut $11.8 billion from the aid budget, run down the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's skills, and outsourced delivery of an increasing number of programs to contractors.
The aid cuts have broken the bipartisan consensus in Australia about the level of investment we need to make in tackling global poverty. We've gone from an aid budget worth 0.33 per cent of Australia's gross national income in 2013-14 to one worth just 0.21 per cent of GNI in 2019-20. The government needs to stop the cuts and start rebuilding the international development program.
The Pacific is a region where Australia has longstanding responsibilities as one of the most advanced economies in the region. It's a region that faces challenges, such as a lack of economic opportunity; the need to improve health, education and gender equality; climate change; rising strategic competition; and security threats from illegal fishing to drug smuggling. It's squarely in Australia's national interest to help our Pacific neighbours meet these challenges. So we welcome the coalition's renewed focus on the region, after neglecting the Pacific for most of its first two terms. We're happy to extend support for the Pacific Step-up, but we have serious concerns that the government is undermining its own step up. Pacific leaders have declared that climate change is the most significant threat to their people. That means the coalition's inaction on climate change is harming Australia's standing in the Pacific. We saw that play out dramatically at this year's Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu.
We saw a lack of respect for our Pacific neighbours from the Deputy Prime Minister saying Pacific islanders don't need to worry about rising sea levels, 'because they can come to Australia to pick our fruit'. We have seen a disappointing start to the new Pacific Labour Scheme, because of the government's deregulation of the backpacker visa scheme. That's why I say that the government is sabotaging its own Pacific step-up through a mixture of arrogance, incompetence and policy contradiction. We saw that in the member for Wentworth's contribution where he didn't mention climate change once. How can he talk about our relationship with the Pacific for five minutes and not talk about climate change once? It reflects this government's innate contradictions.
We saw the Fijian Prime Minister—who is arriving tomorrow or who might, I think, be here today—talk about Prime Minister Morrison's insulting and condescending behaviour at the PIF. We saw their reaction to the Deputy Prime Minister's outrageous remarks where the Prime Minister of Fiji again said they've taken 'a big step backwards' in their relationship because of McCormack's comments.
My questions to the minister are: why did the Prime Minister alienate his counterparts at the Pacific Islands Forum? Can the minister confirm that Australian official development assistance will fall by 0.2 per cent of gross national income next financial year? Will he be locking away the Deputy Prime Minister in a dark box so he's not allowed near the Pacific again?
It's a privilege to rise and speak on the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio, and, in particular, address Australia's Pacific step-up and the work that the government is doing to ensure that we have a strong family relationship with our Pacific region.
I want to thank the member for Wentworth for his contribution and service in foreign affairs. He's a well-regarded serious diplomat who has served this country and is now in this parliament here. He is going to make a great contribution in this place—
Maybe so. I also welcome the member for Wakefield's very valued service. We appreciate his contribution. We hope he goes well in New York.
To the member for Shortland I would say, of course, he is prone to inflated rhetoric from time to time. He does suffer from one very serious ailment and that is believing what he reads in the media. It's a condition that we can assist you with. I wouldn't take all of your news—entirely about what is happening in the Pacific—from what you read in the papers. You may end up with the wrong inflection on what is actually occurring on the ground.
Indeed, since the government announced its Pacific step up, we are, of course, delivering a greater contribution to the Pacific than any other government in history. We're working with our partners through our aid budget—and I welcome the questions on the aid budget. We have had an election in the last six months. In the election there were radically different proposals put forward in the aid budget from the Labor Party and the government, and the people endorsed the government's proposals for the aid budget—that is, to spend $4 billion this year in ODA, including a record $1.4 billion of that for the Pacific. That's the highest amount we've spent on the Pacific.
At the PIF the Prime Minister made the important announcement that we'll spend $500 million for the Pacific specifically. That is a record amount on climate change spending for the Pacific. We'll have a record spend, record expenditure, on climate change in the Pacific, and we're delivering more than ever before for the Pacific out of our ODA budget. It is a bit disingenuous to purport that there have been radical cuts and big damage to our relationships. In fact, the bilateral relationships we have with all of our Pacific partners are strong.
I can record that Prime Minister Morrison is respected and well regarded by leaders across the Pacific. You don't need to read the papers about that. Prime Minister Bainimarama is coming here this week on an official state visit to sign the vuvale partnership—the family partnership. The links that we have with Fiji are strong, vibrant and ongoing. We respect them, and they respect us. That partnership will endure.
I do want to say also that the aid budget is a contentious area from time to time. The government has maintained the funding. Even in an environment where we are in budget repair, we've kept our ODA budget at the level that we believe is sustainable. The Australian people have endorsed that policy and they have rejected the radical spending of the Labor Party and the taxes that go with it.
If you don't believe me on that, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think it can be very important sometimes to listen to your own side. I think it was a former foreign minister from the Labor Party who made a very astute point about the aid budget. He did that in a book that I know the member for Shortland will be passionate about it and will have read thoroughly and will probably have dog-eared bookmarks in, Diary of a Foreign Minister by Bob Carr. He made a very important point about the aid budget, which I think the member could take on board in response to his questions. He said that you can't run the aid budget on borrowings. I thought that was probably the most sensible thing I've ever heard Bob Carr say. You can't run the aid budget on borrowings. It doesn't make sense to borrow for our aid budget. He was right about that.
The government has the aid budget on a sustainable footing, ensuring that we are spending it in the region on the projects that our Pacific partners tell us are the priorities for the Pacific. We are, of course, engaging bilaterally. We're engaging at a multilateral level. We're making sure that the priorities of the Pacific are what dictate what our aid budget is spent on, and we're finding that process is ensuring climate adaptation and climate resilience projects—practical projects on the ground in the Pacific that will deliver real change and real outcomes for the Pacific people. The Pacific is our family. It's our backyard. They're the most important relationships that Australia has. They're regarded this way by the government. The Pacific step-up will continue. It'll be well resourced by this government.
My question on this appropriation is for the Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government and the Assistant Trade and Investment Minister. On 31 July this year, the minister claimed before the House that he does not believe that Labor managed to sign a free trade agreement in government. After that, I asked the minister to correct the record, as, of course, the statement was untrue. He did give a bit of a clarification—a Clayton's clarification, if you like—all for a bit of low-rate political pointscoring. So my first question is: why did the assistant minister seek to turn trade, a matter of extraordinary national significance, into a partisan matter for cheap political pointscoring? As I will run out of time, I'll ask my second question: will the minister commit to genuine bipartisanship on trade agreements and trade issues into the future, given the especially turbulent global context and strain on Australia's critically important economic and strategic diplomatic relationships in our region and beyond?
It was completely disingenuous for the minister to not only imply but directly state before the House that Labor has not signed a free trade agreement in government. Labor supports trade between Australia and the rest of the world because trade generates economic growth, creates jobs, improves living standards and reduces poverty all throughout our region. Labor has a long record as an advocate for an open global trading system and knows that reducing barriers to trade creates more competitive industries and benefits consumers throughout the whole region through lower prices and greater choice.
Chifley, Whitlam, Hawke and Keating went out to the regions long before those opposite ever thought of it. Labor signed the Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement in 2008. It entered into force in 2009. Labor signed the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area agreement in February 2009. It entered into force in 2010. This powerhouse multilateral economic partnership involves Australia, New Zealand and significant developing Asian economies—Brunei, Burma, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, as well as Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia, who entered the agreement in 2011 and 2012. Additionally, Labor signed the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in January 2013. These trade agreements combined opened up the dialogue for Australia and its regional trading partners, paving the way for future multilateral negotiations and diplomacy such as we saw and agreed to in the CPTPP.
It's obvious and it's true that Labor has a rich history of spearheading strong free trade agreements and fostering economic partnerships in government, despite what the assistant minister tried to allege. In fact, it was the Hawke Labor government's deregulation of the Australian financial sector in the 1980s and, in particular, floating of the dollar which made Australia's commodities globally competitive and catapulted our export sector to become the economic powerhouse we know today. Labor in opposition supported the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which bolstered our trade relationship with our greatest economic partner—a relationship built on a rich history of trade and investment. The value of our trade relationship with China is enormous and accounts for a third of our export wealth. As such, ratifying ChAFTA was integral to continuing Australian export growth.
Labor supported the TPP-11, which includes developing economies in our region such as Vietnam and Malaysia, which would only aid growth in the region and is already strengthening and broadening the appeal of Australian standards such as fair industrial relations laws transnationally. The CPTPP has been integral to diversifying Australia's economy and trading relationships, which, in the current context of the very regrettable US-China trade tensions and the sluggish global economy—not to mention a sluggish domestic economy—is even more important to our ongoing economic security.
Labor will continue to work with the reasonable members of this parliament, industry and union stakeholders, because bolstering our regional trade relationships is in the best interests of all Australians. The minister and his party partake in petty politics, treating international trade agreements as conquests, like notches on a guitar. Trade negotiations are for the long term. They take time—they should take time. They go over multiple terms of government, particularly if you seek high-quality, lasting, multilateral trade agreements that benefit all actors involved. If the government would commit to taking a bipartisan approach to trade, Australia will benefit, as it is only through a productive bipartisan approach to international trade that the parties of government can resist movements that seek to blame free and open trade and demonise it for domestic political purposes.
There is an obligation on this government, on Labor as the alternative government, and on the business community to ensure the wider community does indeed benefit from open trading relationships in the world and to argue that the benefits outweigh the negatives. We saw what happened when the US used domestic politics to weaponise international free trade. The TPP became a flashpoint. It was abandoned by the US. If this government continues to use this as a partisan game, the same will happen in Australia. It will rest on your shoulders, and you should be aware of that. (Time expired)
I will just briefly comment on the contribution of the shadow minister. Trade is an issue that needs to be treated in a bipartisan way. I am certainly looking forward to the cooperation of the shadow minister on the three agreements that will be coming up soon before the House: the free trade agreement with Indonesia, the free trade agreement with Hong Kong and the free trade agreement with Peru. It would be good if the shadow minister were taking some notice of this—I am answering the questions she put to me. With the signing of the agreements over the last couple of years, the trade agenda of this government has certainly had benefits for Australia. I look forward to the cooperation of the Labor Party in ensuring that the three agreements before us now are ratified by this parliament in order to ensure that we can get the benefit that will flow from having a free trade agreement with Indonesia, our closest neighbour to the north, with its large population. Australian exporters are looking forward to the benefits that will flow from that agreement, as with the Hong Kong and Peru agreements. This government has a strong agenda on free trade. We have been successful in signing agreements and we look forward to the ones before us. We also look to the EU and obviously we're watching very closely what happens to Brexit. We have officials on the ground to make sure that Australia can react as quickly as it can to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The member for Spence might have to pick up on his diplomatic skills as he heads to the UN! This government has a proud record on free trade. We look forward to the agreements before us.
I thank the honourable minister. I just want to explain to honourable members that I am going to allow the member for Solomon an opportunity to speak. It's supposed to go back and forth, and there has been an error in relation to how I dealt with the minister previously. In fairness to the opposition, I am going to give the member for Solomon the call.
I won't take the full five minutes—maybe four minutes and 55 seconds! I did want to ask the Treasurer—it's a shame he didn't have the time to be with us—about what the strategy is for increasing Australia's trade and economic engagement with Indo-Pacific economies in the next six years. In the last six years, there have been some free trade agreements, but (1) we need high-quality free agreements and (2) increasing trade and economic advantage for Australian businesses is a bit more than just free trade agreements—you've got to do a bit more than that. So I was keen to find out what the Treasurer or any of the honourable members opposite have in mind. There's been a lot of marketing in the trade space. Six years ago this government boasted it was more focused on Jakarta than Geneva, but it's really taken its eye off the ball in the Indo-Pacific. That's why I'm keen to ask these questions.
The revised Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, the TPP, didn't capture all the fast-growing markets to our north. The RCEP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which has the potential to deliver significant opportunities for the Australian economy, is becoming famous for its curious case of shrinking ambitions. I was keen to see what any of the honourable members had to say about that. For years, we've heard promises of substantial conclusion to RCEP by year's end, along with promises of a high-quality deal. But, if you prioritise speed for political gain, as those opposite quite often do, then the quality, obviously, will suffer.
I do acknowledge the bipartisan work on IA-CEPA—negotiating that with Indonesia. From our point of view, our caucus is yet to come to a conclusion and fully consider its position on this. But it's fair to say that signing another deal is not a serious strategy to expand our exports to the region. There's more required than that, particularly at a time when the need to diversify our trade portfolio is becoming painfully obvious. Bragging about a trade surplus has more to do with a mine closing in Brazil than it does with the government's policies. It's not a serious strategy, which is why I'm keen to hear from those opposite, if the time allows and if they want to get up and answer a question—
Blaming the so-called complexity of the global trade climate is not a serious strategy, gentlemen. I have to say you can smell the confusion and blatant lack of any real plan in the government when every second word it utters is an attack on us, an attack on Labor. The only visible plan that I see is a bit of denial, a bit of deflection and a bit of blame, and the government's trade agenda seems to be similar. There's been wonderful marketing but zero long-term planning, from what I can see, so I'm keen to hear a bit more over and above what the honourable member's already offered.
There's lots of growth going on in our region. We all know that, but we need to kick some real economic goals. A real plan for the economy includes some infrastructure investment—that's really got to happen. The Reserve Bank Governor keeps on stressing the importance of that. If we don't have a real plan on regional trade, then we're not going to be able to grasp all of the massive benefits that are going to come in the future. I said I wouldn't take the full five minutes, so I won't. I want to thank you, Deputy Speaker Hogan, for giving me the opportunity to have a bit of a yarn, and I look forward to the next opportunity.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 19 : 40