Tuesday, 15 October 2019
Governor General's Speech
It is the procedure of this place that, post an election, the parliament is called and the Governor-General addresses the parliament about the agenda of the newly elected government. I acknowledge, in making this speech, that it is actually quite some months since that occurred, but I think this is an important opportunity for members of this place to talk about the issues that confront the nation and the agenda of the government that has been elected and to express the views of their constituencies on those matters. I want to take the opportunity to do that today.
I want to start by saying that I was very impressed and I thought it was a wonderful thing that the Governor-General made the welcome and acknowledgement of country in the Ngunawal language. It was a really lovely thing to hear the Governor-General of this nation speak those words in the language of the original inhabitants of the place on which we meet, whom we acknowledge as our parliament opens each day. It is important to acknowledge that, in the Governor-General's address outlining the priorities for the government, there were a range of matters on which the newly elected government indicated it would take action in the area of Indigenous Australians—significantly, identifying that the first Aboriginal minister for Indigenous affairs, Mr Ken Wyatt, had been appointed. I welcome that, as many people would have.
I was a bit disappointed with the government's fairly weak commitment in terms of a voice to parliament from our Indigenous Australians. We had the First Peoples of the nation gather at Uluru to express to the parliament of the nation their desire for a structure to create a voice to parliament directly from our First Peoples. I think it is really important to have far more commitment and progress on that. I was particularly proud of Labor's platform at the election, with the commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. But I think it was a very gracious indication by the Governor-General of the respect that he pays to Indigenous people.
I was able to join the Governor-General and his wife, Mrs Hurley, for lunch last Friday in my electorate. They were in the electorate to speak at the Mental Health in the Workplace luncheon that is a regular feature of our calendar in Wollongong. This year it was raising funds for the One Door Illawarra service and some of the programs that they run around people with mental health challenges. They have a wonderful clubhouse there. The local chair, Professor Frank Deane, and deputy chair, Janine Cullen, have done a great job in not only running that service but keeping opportunities for community members who want to be able to give some support. This luncheon is one of the ways that they deliver on that. The Governor-General gave a fantastic speech to that gathering about the importance of workplaces being places where people with mental health issues feel supported and able to continue to contribute. I will say—I'm sure I'm not telling stories out of school, because there were several hundred people at the luncheon—that Mrs Hurley led us in a resounding rendition of a song that she'd written for the One Door Mental Health service, as well as 'You are my Sunshine', and it was just a really lovely thing for her to do. I thought the room was very moved and touched by her contribution as well.
The Governor-General's speech outlined a range of areas in which the newly elected government is seeking to take action, and I want to address those in the time that I have available to me. The first area that his speech went to was the economy and tax reform. In particular, the government outlined some of its priorities around managing the economy. I have to say that, several months down the track, 'much greater effort is required'—as we used to say when I was writing school reports. Only this week we've seen the RBA Board minutes released. They tell us that economic growth is the lowest in a decade, wages are stagnant and employment is fragile.
The reality for so many people in our community is that those who have work know that their wages have been stagnant and simply not keeping up with the cost of living for too long now, and the government of the day doesn't have any solutions for that. It really is a significant area that government must engage on. Those who have a less reliable attachment to the workforce—I'm thinking of people who are in casual employment or contract employment—are increasingly seeing their capacity to earn an income undermined because of this wage stagnation. It is always difficult when you're a casual or contract worker to manage the family budget, or your own budget if you're an individual, and this overall impact on the workforce means that it's even more difficult and more unreliable for people who are in casual or contract work arrangements. And then there are the many people who want to get into the workforce but are dealing with things like the retail sector, which is hugely important in my own area, suffering from the effects of a severe lack of confidence in the economy. These are real issues facing people in my electorate, as they are people across the country, and they are an important part of the story of economic management. As I said, I think the government needs to do better.
The second area the Governor-General's speech went to was regulatory reform and industrial relations. The government has focused a great deal on what it calls 'lawlessness in the union movement'; however, the most concerning stories that have come out in my local area have been about the exploitation of workers. Indeed, only last week my state colleague the member for Wollongong, Paul Scully, had the state shadow minister in Wollongong to talk to students at the University of Wollongong about the sorts of exploitation of young people that they've seen in the workplace. This is certainly something that our local Labor council, the South Coast Labor Council, and affiliated unions have been doing a great deal of work on, and the Illawarra Mercury reported that one of the students—Zak Jory—talked about what had happened to him. He'd worked for more than two years and he'd been underpaid by about $20,000. He'd worked long hours but he didn't get penalty rates or overtime. The international studies student unionised with his fellow workers and he ended up settling with the company, but for a fraction of the wages that he had lost. This story, as told to Paul Scully and the state shadow minister Daniel Mookhey, is not unusual. We hear it constantly. For young people entering the workforce to have their early experiences be ones of exploitation is really unacceptable and something that should be the focus of far more attention by this government rather than the union bashing that they tend to undertake.
The third area that I particularly want to talk about is a priority on infrastructure, and the Governor-General outlined some of the government's priority. For my own area—and I've spoken in this House before and I will not give up talking about this until the government takes some action—there have been no infrastructure commitments for the last seven years. I really need the government to understand that Wollongong is the third-largest city in New South Wales, with a significant commuter base and with a major port that requires a great deal of truck movement, and Wollongong seriously needs an upgrade of its road and rail infrastructure.
I'm very pleased that the Labor team understand the importance of our region and back it in. I was able to go to the election with a $50-million commitment for the Maldon-Dombarton rail link, which is an important part of connecting us to Western and south Western Sydney; $55 million for safety upgrades to the Appin Road, a major arterial road; and $50 million for safety upgrades to the Picton Road, our other major arterial road. These three pieces of infrastructure feeding into our region badly need investment by government, and we, sadly, did not see a single commitment from the Liberal candidate to our transport infrastructure. To be fair, the Liberal candidate in my seat didn't have one commitment across any portfolio area, but the transport area is obviously something that should be about nation building, it should be beyond party politics, and it was very disappointing.
The Governor-General also spoke about the areas of health and mental health that the government was looking at prioritising during this period of the 46th Parliament. I acknowledge that in this space of mental health the One Door Illawarra group, which I mentioned in my opening comments, does fantastic work at their clubhouse. I was able to get a $20,000 commitment for them from a Labor government, if we'd been elected, to do some really important upgrades to that clubhouse to allow them to extend the sorts of activities that they undertake. I'll continue to try and lobby and find that funding for them.
The Governor-General, on behalf of the government, also spoke about the NDIS. I want to say that this is an area where the government really has to pick up its act. I notice our shadow minister making the point today that it's been, I think, over 1,000 days since the head of the NDIA, which runs the NDIS, moved on, and there's been no replacement, even, of the person running the agency that's required to deliver this scheme. There's been a cap on the recruitment of staff, which—as so many people across the chamber must know—is resulting in people taking far too long to get their plans in place, far too long to get their plans reviewed and far too long to have issues that come up dealt with. We find case after case coming through our doors in electorate offices with people who are exhausted, to be honest, from dealing with the NDIA trying to get an appropriate plan in place and to access the services and equipment that they need. And so, in terms of the NDIS, while the government says it is committed to it, it needs to show by its actions far more strongly that it's actually delivering on that.
On the NDIS, I also just want to make the point—it's been raised with me by several local providers, and I've written to the minister about this—that the government made a commitment that there would be additional funding put into packages to allow the service providers to make the adjustments that they need in their organisations in order to be able to deliver—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17:08 to 17 : 21
Before the division, I was just making the point that one of the areas in the Governor-General's speech that the government had indicated they were going to prioritise was the NDIS. I made the point that there is the need to appoint a head of the NDIA, the agency that runs the NDIS, and the need to address the fact that there is significant underresourcing because of the cap that's placed on the employment of people who deliver agency decisions. That's causing major gaps in time for getting plans in place and reviewed to ensure that the services and equipment people need are delivered. This is an issue that every electorate office will be dealing with consistently.
I also want to highlight the fact that several of my providers—most of them are not-for-profit providers of long standing in our area—have raised with me their concern that the government made a promise to the sector that it would put boosted additional funding into packages to enable providers to make the adjustments they need to provide services to people. Those could be things like new software or adjustments in staffing and so forth at their organisations. They're very upset that the government has actually gone back on that commitment and is saying to them that they have to take that money out of the client's package. In effect, that takes the money from the client. That's against the providers' ethos, and they are very, very unhappy. I have written to the minister about that.
I want to touch generally on the fact that education was mentioned in the Governor-General's address. Obviously, it was a major area of disagreement between the government and Labor in the election campaign. I'm very disappointed, on behalf of my constituents, not to see the $18 million in additional funding that would have gone into our schools. There was also increased funding for our TAFE and universities, and a much fairer and more accessible early childhood education commitment.
This was particularly so for the University of Wollongong. We had a $10 million commitment for a facility for intelligent fabrication and $1 million to establish a 3D-bioprinting facility. This was for really important research work that our university does in 3D and biotechnology. It would have helped us to build on that. There was also $2.5 million for the Early Start Discovery Space bus. That bus engenders excitement about science, technology and maths in preschool-aged children and is taken to other regions, including to my colleague the member for Gilmore's area, where there are disadvantaged children who aren't able to access the amazing discovery space facility that is at the University of Wollongong.
There was a section on government services, and I won't even begin to go through my gripes with this government on delivering services. When you look at the waiting lists to get processed for the age pension and at the robo-debt scheme and so forth, these are all things I have spoken about in this House before. Government service delivery is an oxymoron. They are not delivering government services in a timely way, in a compassionate way, in even an effective way. It really does need a great deal more attention.
In a similar vein, climate change was listed. Obviously there is a significant disappointment with the government on climate change and, as many of my colleagues have said, a PR exercise and grasping at whatever alternative talking points you can think of, whether it's recycling or plastics in the ocean. As important as they are, they are not an alternative for an energy policy and action on climate change.
I mentioned Indigenous Australians at the beginning, but there's also a section on older Australians. In my area the waiting list for home care packages is a disgrace. The fact that there are people in this nation dying before they receive the home care package that they were assessed as needing is a disgrace, and the impacts on families who are the carers for these elderly people are heartbreaking. It was just not acceptable, in particular, to have women, but also men, come in and tell you that they have had to give up their job in order to be able to look after elderly relatives. It's just devastating for families. There really must be urgent attention given in the aged-care sector. Obviously we have the royal commission, and that is doing important work, but we need action now on so many of these aspects.
Finally, the Governor-General's speech on the government's agenda addressed ending violence against women. This is a very important area in which to take action. It is by and large done on a bipartisan basis. I was very pleased, with my colleague the member for Whitlam, to secure a commitment of $1.5 million for the Illawarra Women's Health Centre to establish a service to support women escaping domestic and family violence. I thought that was a really important initiative that they were looking at putting in place. I will continue to lobby this government to find opportunities for agreements to enable this wonderful service, which does amazing work locally, to be able to run that program on domestic violence.
As I said, I thought the Governor-General did a wonderful job in the presentation of his opening of this parliament. I acknowledge that the agenda outlined by the government was covered in that speech, and I hope I have given some idea about the areas of that that are important in my electorate and where we would like to see more achievement delivered on those priority areas.
It is an honour to return here today as the member for Mackellar. At my first re-election, and with an increase in my primary vote, I'm gratified to be reinstated by my community. As I know too well, elections are hard work. I stand here as a result of the ongoing support of my wife and daughter and a village of volunteers who gave of themselves and their time for reasons that I wonder at nearly as much as I am grateful. Early morning bus stops, phone canvassing, doorknocking, street stalls on Saturdays—the dedication of this team knew no bounds. I thank them all.
But though much is taken, much abides. The Northern Beaches community expects much from this government and, rightly, from me. Like all communities, we have our challenges and our success stories—those who struggle and those who live the belief that, from those to whom much is given, much is expected. I'd like to speak to some of those here today. History has shown us 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 lives of quiet desperation, cycles of poverty that cannot be broken even when the will exists to do so. This 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 these nations provide better outcomes for the economy, national wealth, business formation, productivity, employment and real wages. As just one example, in the United States the vast majority of companies in their top 20 by capitalisation were started after 1975—I believe it is 19 out of 20 of those companies. By contrast, Australia's youngest company in the top 20 was formed just before the Great Depression, in the 1930s.
We continue to ignore best practice and inconvenient truths throughout the education sector. We ignore the fact that decentralised education systems are the most successful, as we continue to do all we can to centralise our education system. We ignore the importance of teacher training and experimentations in curriculum as the major drivers of education outcome, as we plough 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 outcomes. 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 suffers; the quiet desperation of so many continues to go on, unheard and unheeded. No matter, though—the good and the great are satiated. 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.
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 there is that 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 the only way to create and maintain a fair country is through freedom, for no one person knows the path of happiness for every person. Care and compassion come 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 not on the basis of the treasures we possess but on the basis of the gifts that we have shared.
Australia remains one of the great nations on our planet, and our planet remains the best planet in our solar system, if not the entire galaxy. To be born here is to have won life's great lottery. One of the things that make us so great is that we are always building a more perfect nation in so many areas. One of the economic challenges we face is improving the productivity of our economy. There is little doubt that one of the reasons our productivity has not been better is due to Labor-era laws—whether it is the legacy of corruption and inaction of the Carr-Keneally state government, or the Gillard-Swan spendathon on pink batts or Gillard's trashing of our workplaces through the Fair Work Act. All of these things have made it more difficult for the people of Australia, our hardworking families, to enjoy a better life.
In 2016, the Liberal Party announced the National Innovation and Science Agenda. Its specific goal was not only to increase the amount of research and development going on in our community but also to make sure it stayed here in Australia and got commercialised so that all of us could enjoy the fruits of the great ideas that so many of our fellow citizens come up with. Right on cue, the IMF recently released a report demonstrating that too many of our exports are raw or uncomplex in their nature. The NISAhas never been more important, ensuring that our already competitive advantage in quantum computing continues and is extended.
It is at this point that I want to mention the extraordinary leadership of Michelle Simmons at the University of New South Wales centre for quantum computing. It is no exaggeration to say that the development of quantum computing will be as significant as the discovery of the electron. Reforming employee share schemes so that start-ups can get access to the best and brightest and so that the best and brightest can get their fair share of the benefits of their ideas is more critical now than ever. This is how Silicon Valley was built. This is how innovation will be built in Australia. From pure science to grants, tax reform, capital market incentivisation, and higher institutes of education, and to programs that allow researchers to get a share in the commercial benefits of their work, NISA is a groundbreaking program that is changing the structure of our economy and making all Australians better off.
As we know, some Australians are born in this country, and some Australians are 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 to hear the personal stories behind the individuals who make this decision. I think of my own family and how we came to become Australians. My father was the son of a Polish migrant who fled firstly Nazi invasion and then, in 1957, communist oppression. When they arrived in this country, my father was a young man and learnt English by selling encyclopedias door to door. Unfortunately, the standing orders do not allow me to repeat some of the words he learnt in that exercise. His mother, my grandmother, helped to sustain her family by spending her nights screwing caps on toothpaste tubes at the Colgate factory. Many nights, she came home with bleeding fingers. Modern Australia was built by migrants like my grandparents. Those who are welcomed into our community at these ceremonies will, I am sure, make a positive contribution, like my father and his father before him.
This year, I am again hosting a food drive in my office, accepting food donations on behalf of Foodbank. Hunger is a hidden crisis in Australia, with over 3.6 million Australians seeking food relief at some point each year. Half of those are children. The items will be collected at Foodbank on 16 December. So I encourage Northern Beaches residents to consider what they could give this Christmas to support those in need. Foodbank will accept tinned food, packaged goods, and personal hygiene and laundry products.
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'm proud to share in the responsibility that we have in our nation and our constituencies. We shall not let them down.
It's been over three months since the Governor-General gave his address and outlined the Morrison government's agenda for the 46th Parliament. In my response, I firstly congratulate General David Hurley on his appointment as Australia's 27th Governor-General. He comes to the office well credentialed, and I believe with the good wishes of most Australians. I also thank Sir Peter Cosgrove for his time as Governor-General of Australia. Sir Peter served with distinction, and leaves the office with much respect and affection from the Australian people.
Of course, I would not be here to give this address at all were it not for the good people of Makin who, on 18 May, once again elected me to represent them in this place. They have placed their trust and confidence in me, and that comes with a great deal of responsibility, which I take very seriously. It is indeed a privilege and an honour to represent in parliament the community that I've spent my life living and working amongst.
On the subject of elections, it's already five months since the May election. That means that this parliamentary term has two years and seven months left in it in order to complete a three-year term. It is simply not long enough. Parliamentary terms should be much longer. However, whilst my view is that terms should be for four years, I'm fully cognisant of failed attempts in the past to change federal parliamentary terms and the complicated House of Representatives and Senate relationship, not to mention the difficulty in changing the Constitution.
An alternative proposition which should be considered is to have fixed three-year terms. Since Federation in 1901, parliamentary terms have effectively averaged less than 2½ years. Section 28 of the Australian Constitution states:
Every House of Representatives shall continue for three years from the first meeting of the House, and no longer, but may be sooner dissolved by the Governor-General.
Interestingly, the Senate has fixed six-year terms, with half-Senate elections every three years, unless of course a double dissolution occurs.
Frequent elections are costly and disruptive to policy implementation and a stable economy. That's why most other governments in Australia and overseas have four- or five-year terms. Australia is one of only three countries with a bicameral parliament that has a three-year lower house term. Four-year terms were considered and ultimately rejected by the Constitution founders but subsequently supported by several reviews, with the most recent being a 2004 report by parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. However, referendums in 1974, 1977, 1984 and 1988 on constitutional changes to parliamentary terms all failed. Most notably, the 1988 referendum, which proposed four-year terms, was lost convincingly, with only one-third of voters being in support.
Whilst there continues to be widespread support for four-year terms for the House of Representatives, the complicating factor is changing the six-year Senate terms. Four-year lower house terms, without also extending Senate terms to eight years, would mean that half-Senate elections would be held separately to House of Representatives elections. Voters would not likely be happy about longer Senate terms, nor would they be keen on voting twice—or the public cost of another election. It would also require changing section 7 of the Constitution. Constitutional change is difficult. Of 44 proposals to change the constitution to date, only eight have been agreed to—hence the dilemma.
An alternative option for more stable government is therefore fixed three-year terms, which may be possible without constitutional change. With bipartisan support and appropriate exceptions so that early elections can be called where the government has lost the confidence of the parliament, fixed three-year terms should be considered. They would ensure a full three years, and end the uncertainty surrounding election timing and the manipulation of election dates for political advantages by governments of the day. The idea is not new, with former senator Gareth Evans introducing a private senators' bill back in 1981 to lock in three-year terms by changing the Constitution. That bill was never pursued. Given the difficulty of changing the Constitution to four-year lower house terms, the fixed three-year term option has considerable merit.
On a separate matter: the loss of public confidence in what were traditionally considered reputable, respected pillars of society should be of profound concern to us all. I refer to religious institutions; international corporate entities, including our major banks, national utility providers and health insurers; and so many other sectors of society that in recent times have come under scrutiny and lost the confidence of the Australian people. Indeed, right now we have another two royal commissions underway, looking into two other sectors.
Of particular concern is the public loss of confidence in our parliaments and even in our judicial systems. When civic leadership at all levels is lost there is an imperative to act. It seems that we live in a world where traditional values, common decency and generosity are diminishing traits. Why large corporations such as IT providers and big banks and utility providers, who are already making billions of dollars in profit, see a need to offshore their operations, evade tax or squeeze more money out of customers when they already make healthy profits baffles me. It seems that greed and self-interest come first and foremost. Corporate culture needs to change, and governments have a role in leading that change.
Regrettably, I have no confidence that the leadership will come from the Morrison government. Its response to the banking royal commission is indeed disappointing. This is a government that does not have a long-term, inspirational ambition for Australia. It is a government that is filled with lots of empty rhetoric and big-dollar claims but is very light on substance. It is a government that keeps shielding itself by pointing to Labor's term in office. Can I point out to members opposite that that was six years ago. This government has now been in office for over six years. It can no longer shirk its responsibility for its own failures. How long does this government need before it takes responsibility and accepts that it has had plenty of time to turn around the so-called failures of previous governments? This is a government that has indeed failed. It has failed to manage the Australian economy, failed to implement an energy policy, failed to rein in the big banks, failed to fix Australia's health system, failed to competently roll out the National Disability Insurance Scheme, failed to implement an effective climate change policy, failed to fix the Murray-Darling Basin mess, failed to fix the aged-care crisis facing the nation, failed to articulate a coherent foreign affairs policy and, on a matter that is very important to my home state of Australia, after six years, failed to commence construction of the 12 submarines and other naval shipbuilding that is expected to take place. This is a government that talks big numbers, but we see very little action on the ground.
I turn now to the state of the Australian economy. I'll quote the campaign line used in Bill Clinton's campaign speech some two decades ago: it's the economy, stupid. It was an effective campaign line because everything hangs off the economy. So what is the state of the Australian economy after six years of a coalition government? Unemployment is rising. We saw the figures last month at 5.3 per cent. In my home state it is 7.3 per cent, the highest across the nation, and there are other job losses to come. Underemployment is now at 1.1 million people or thereabouts in this country, which effectively means that we have around 1.8 million Australians looking for work or looking for more work. Household debt is at record highs. Wage growth is stagnant. Consumer confidence is down. Productivity is declining. Living standards are falling. And net debt has doubled.
Those are not my figures. Those are the figures that are presented by economists and, indeed, in some cases by the government itself. The figures don't lie, and the story with respect to the Australian economy is not good. That's why the Reserve Bank has cut interest rates to an all-time low of 0.75 per cent. That in itself sends out a very strong message that the economy of this country is in crisis. That rate, 0.75 per cent, is an all-time low, and the Reserve Bank did that in the hope that lower interest rates would prop up the Australian economy. Regrettably, I don't believe that that will be the case. Indeed, when I read the comments of other economists, I see many of them feel the same way. I spoke to one person recently who made it very clear from his analysis and his assessment—and this is a person whose opinion I value—that it will make absolutely no difference at all to the Australian economy, just as reducing interest rates from one per cent to 0.75 per cent and prior to that from 1½ to one per cent et cetera had made no difference. The reason is that, when you get interest rates that low, it is no longer the interest rates that are a barrier to investment; it is concerns about the future economy of this country. People will not borrow, even at those rates, if they have no confidence in the future of the economy of Australia. And that is exactly what is happening.
And so the continuous lowering of interest rates is not the solution that this country needs. Quite frankly, I think it's starting to have an adverse effect. As others have commented, it would appear that people, rather than invest their money in Australia when interest rates are so low, start to invest their money in overseas jurisdictions where they might be able to get a better return. If that happens, that's simply a drain on the funds in this country that could otherwise be used for investment purposes. And so it seems to me that the government's whole strategy of managing the economy has not only failed but continues in a downward spiral. The more it cuts interest rates and the more it cuts expenditure to lower-income people in this country, the worse the economy is going to get.
Regrettably, not only do I not believe that the cuts in interest rates are going to solve the economic woes of this country; for two other reasons, I think they will do the opposite. One is that the big banks, as we have already seen, will not necessarily pass on the interest rate cuts in full. And yet, at the same time, they will cut the interest rates for anyone who's got money deposited with them, thereby cutting income to people who are dependent on their investments with the big banks. One of the groups of people that I'm particularly concerned about with respect to that are the Australian pensioners. For them, the cuts to the interest rates will cut further the meagre income that they already have. These are people who are likely to be hit twice, and they will be hit twice in many cases—not in all but in many cases—because on one hand they will lose interest income whilst on the other the deeming rates, which the government still maintains at too high a level, will be used to affect their pension income. So not only will they get less money from the banks but the amount that the government will deem that they earn when they don't actually earn it will remain high. And so they will be affected in both cases. My understanding is that there are something like 600,000 pensioners who are subject to the deeming rates alone.
This is a government that is no friend of older Australians, and yet it is older Australians who in most cases not only built this country but, quite frankly, are the ones who keep spending their money and boosting the economy wherever they live or wherever they go. For them, whatever money they seem to earn or have as income they are prepared to spend. This is a government that wanted to cut pension incomes by changing the indexation formula. It cut the pension of 330,000 Australians by changing the assets test. It wanted to cut the energy supplement from them. It wanted to raise the pension age to 70 years. It has left 129,000 older Australians waiting months and months—in some cases years—for home care packages, and tens of thousands more have been waiting months and even years for elective surgery. In the meantime, the cost of living for all Australians and, in particular, older Australians, who are often on a fixed income, keeps rising while their income continues to fall.
These are people who, in many cases, have no other option. They can't go out and get part-time work. They can't secure income from any other source, and so relying on the pension or the meagre interest that they might get from their bank deposit is all they have. Yet this government seems to think that it will make savings by squeezing people on low incomes, who are the most vulnerable in our society. If the government thinks that the answer to fixing the economic woes of this country is to squeeze the poor, it is sorely wrong.
On that note, I turn to the issue of Newstart. The base rate of Newstart has not been increased in this country since 1994. Yes, there have been some minimal CPI increases, but the base rate has not been increased since 1994. On the last figures I saw, there were 723,000 people on Newstart. Nearly half of them were over the age of 45 years. These are not young people who are simply bludging. These are people who have lost their jobs—probably in most cases they have been retrenched—as a result of changes in our economy and who now, because of their age, are finding it extremely difficult to find work. To ask them to try and survive on less than $40 a day is unreasonable, just as it's unreasonable to say to them: 'Just go and get a job. Our focus is on getting jobs for you.' As I said earlier on in my remarks, there are 1.8 million Australians trying to get work or trying to get more work. For these people, it's a pretty tough gig trying to get work when you're out there and, in some cases, you've got limited qualifications. But they're being told that they can, supposedly, live on less than $40 a day.
It is not only unreasonable to ask them to get a job but it is unreasonable to ask them to survive on $40 a day, particularly if they have children. It is high time that this government accepted that Newstart needs to be increased. If Newstart were increased, it would actually boost the economy, because these people don't have spare money and they would therefore spend their money and generate economic activity in their local communities and beyond. Indeed, there have been studies to that effect, which show that tax revenue in this country would probably increase to the tune of about $1 billion simply through an increase to Newstart. I have no doubt that those studies are pretty much on the ball because I am confident that any money that the government paid in additional Newstart would all be spent throughout the community.
My time has just about run out, but I say this in respect of the Governor-General's address in which there was a vision outlined for the 46th Parliament for this government. It's a vision that, quite frankly, doesn't set too many KPIs, too many benchmarks, against which the government can be measured at the end of its term. That is quite deliberate, because this government knows that it doesn't have a particular plan for this country. It doesn't have an agenda that gives us any hope for the future. It is prepared to just muddle along from one month to the next, one year to the next and then perhaps from one election to the next, in the hope that, if it doesn't upset people too much, they might re-elect the government. We need a government that's prepared to do a bit more than that, particularly at a time when the world is screaming out for leadership.
I refer to His Excellency's address on opening day, in which he said:
… a new parliament marks a new chapter in our country's history.
It marks an opportunity for our nation's elected members and senators to come together to tackle important new issues, and to view existing challenges with fresh eyes.
That is best achieved when members and senators focus on the lives, welfare and opportunities of the people of Australia. I commence by thanking the electors of Moore for entrusting me with being their representative for a third term. I pledge to keep doing my very best to ensure that our community continues to have access to the infrastructure, facilities and services required to develop as a regional city, the second CBD to Perth. My vision for Moore is to see the greater City of Joondalup continue to grow, prosper and develop into a safe, vibrant regional city that will provide locals with essential services and employment opportunities close to home for generations to come. I'm committed to ensuring continued access to world-class health care, a wide variety of professional services available in our community and higher education opportunities within our innovative Joondalup Learning Precinct. To achieve this, I will continue to advocate for the necessary infrastructure, including improved roads, community facilities and high-speed internet to connect Moore both physically and digitally to other metropolitan activity centres.
For the past six years I have been proud to serve as a member of the Liberal-National coalition government, achieving many key milestones which have benefited our community. We have a strong track record of delivering key projects, including: the six-kilometre extension of the Mitchell Freeway from Burns Beach Road to Hester Avenue, costing $209 million; a new $50 million cybersecurity research centre at Edith Cowan University; and the opening up of the Neerabup Industrial Area, located in close proximity to Joondalup's CBD. Joondalup will benefit as more businesses relocate to Neerabup, with up to 20,000 workers based within five kilometres, making Joondalup their closest centre for professional services, banking, supplies and hospitality. The freeway extension, the widening of Wanneroo Road, and the grade separation bridge over the intersection of Joondalup Drive and Wanneroo Road are all intended to better connect Joondalup with Neerabup.
There is still much more work to be done to benefit local residents and business people in our northern suburbs community by delivering essential services and investing in community infrastructure. Over the next term of government I will be a strong advocate for a number of priority projects, including: extending the Mitchell Freeway for a further six kilometres northwards, from Hester Avenue to Romeo Road; widening the Mitchell Freeway between Hodges Drive and Hepburn Avenue; extending the northern suburbs railway to Yanchep, providing a continuous link from Yanchep to Perth via Joondalup; and expanding the Joondalup hospital, with a $360 million construction program to reduce emergency department waiting times and alleviate the need for local patients to travel long distances into Perth for medical treatment. It should be noted that the federal government has already delivered $158 million in funding towards the expansion of Joondalup hospital; however, the WA state Labor government has reneged on a 2017 election commitment to extend the hospital. To date, no provision has been made in the McGowan government's state budgets for its share of the Joondalup hospital expansion. This is an unfulfilled election commitment which is forcing local residents to drive long distances into Perth for medical treatment—in most cases a two-hour round trip for each medical appointment.
In terms of priority community facilities, there is the construction of a new clubhouse for the Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club; new club rooms at Heathridge Park for the Ocean Ridge Amateur Football Club, Ocean Ridge Tennis Club and Ocean Ridge Cricket Club; and the upgrade of the facilities at MacDonald Reserve in Padbury for the Whitford Junior Football Club. These are projects worthy of federal funding support. In addition, a strong case can be made for federal funding going towards the master plan upgrades at Percy Doyle Reserve for the Sorrento Bowling Club and facility upgrades at HBF Arena in Joondalup, which is utilised by a number of sporting clubs, including: the Joondalup Brothers Rugby Union Football Club, Joondalup Netball Association, Joondalup Little Athletics, Team XTR Triathlon Club and the Joondalup Lakers Hockey Club.
My vision is to develop Joondalup CBD into a vibrant hub through the government's City Deals initiative. In April this year the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, the Hon. Alan Tudge, visited the City of Joondalup to discuss plans for the redevelopment of Boas Place and the potential for the relocation of a federal government department to Joondalup. This would add substantial commercial floor space to Joondalup and act as a catalyst for construction, generating local employment and the economic activity necessary to activate the city centre. The long-awaited Ocean Reef Marina redevelopment is anticipated to commence next year, with support from the Western Australian state government. This project represents over 55 hectares of developable area, with a gross development value in excess of $1 billion.
I'm a strong advocate for the expansion of the Joondalup Learning Precinct, including a $200 million building program at the Edith Cowan University over the next five years. Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Chapman recently led me on a tour of the new $48 million science building under construction, which is due to open next year. In addition, further investment in North Metropolitan TAFE will transform the Joondalup Learning Precinct with state-of-the-art vocational education and training facilities to develop the skilled workforce of the future. I'm a strong advocate of increased investment in research and development and the commercialisation of Australian inventions and intellectual property. The City of Joondalup has a strategic advantage in the fields of higher education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
International education is Australia's third largest source of export income. We welcome students from all nations in our colleges and universities. Their presence strengthens international cooperation and understanding, establishing important business links and networks in the future. I was pleased to have visited the campus of the China Australia Business College of Shanxi, which plans to establish a campus in Perth's northern suburbs, around Yanchep, which will facilitate international education exchanges between Australia and China, further strengthening our bilateral relationship.
The northern suburbs of Moore are home to a large number of mortgage holders, for whom maintaining a lower taxing, low inflation and low interest rate environment through responsible economic management is a priority to ensure housing affordability. Local employment self-sufficiency is a key priority to avoid the creation of dormitory suburbs from which residents commute long distances to work each day. A key strategy has been to improve the connectivity of Moore in all directions to promote economic development and growth, as greater visitor numbers provide for consumers and market demand essential to grow our local market. This can be achieved by adopting a regional approach to infrastructure. We are joining the cities of Joondalup, Stirling and Wanneroo, which have a combined population in excess of 500,000 residents, and we have developed a cooperative working relationship in interacting with government. Infrastructure projects such as NorthLink connect multiple electorates, promoting regional and outer metropolitan economic development.
One of the local priorities is the revitalisation of Hillarys Marina, which, although it is a major tourist attraction, is experiencing a downturn in business activity. Through tourism development and marketing, this precinct can be activated as a thriving economic centre. I held preliminary discussions with Greg Poland, Mike Holtham and Michael Tilaka from the Strzelecki Group about initiatives to revitalise Sorrento Quay and boost visitor numbers to assist local traders. Suggestions included providing bicycle facilities, outdoor fitness equipment, a children's playground and destination marketing to draw crowds. I recently held a business forum with all stakeholders, including the shadow minister for tourism, Alyssa Hayden MLA, the state member for Hillarys, Peter Katsambanis MLA, the Wyllie Group, the Strzelecki Group, the Department of Transport and the City of Joondalup to boost the precinct.
Western Australians represent 10.4 per cent of the national population, yet we will receive 12.6 per cent of infrastructure spending in 2019-20, amounting to $911 million. In the forward estimates this rises to 14.7 per cent, or $5.7 billion. Consider our track record. Since being elected to government in 2013, the coalition has committed more than $13.5 billion in transport infrastructure investment in Western Australia. This includes $1.6 billion in the current budget and $2.8 billion in last year's budget. It was the Liberal-National coalition government that reformed the inequitable distribution of the goods and services tax prior to the election. The reform package will leave Western Australia $4.7 billion better off over the next decade. A GST floor of 70c will be implemented in 2022-23, and in 2024-25 the GST floor will increase to 75c.
A strong approach to law and order remains a priority for my constituents, particularly in the area of the misuse of illicit drugs. The Liberal coalition government has invested in increased border security and upgraded Customs screening in a concerted effort to detect and intercept drugs and illegal contraband at our borders before they cause harm on our streets. More than 4,000 criminals who are noncitizens have had their visas cancelled and been deported. Our national security policies will ensure that foreign fighters and terrorists will be denied entry into Australia.
It has been a priority to increase defence spending to two per cent of gross domestic product. Australia is located in a geopolitical region where emerging nations are spending as much as six per cent of their national GDPs on defence. In order to maintain and enhance the effectiveness of the Australian Defence Force, we must invest in the facilities, infrastructure, equipment, weapons, technology and personnel to protect and defend our nation and its national interests. It is reassuring to see continued investment in our domestic defence industry, which ensures that local expertise is maintained.
As our population ages, there is the need to provide more aged-care and respite care facilities to meet the growing need in Moore. It is encouraging to see additional aged-care facilities planned at Burns Beach, Currambine, Edgewater and Joondalup. The federal government must ensure that an adequate number of places are funded each year for our elderly residents. In addition, the federal government should be cognisant of the needs of self-funded retirees—in particular, the increasing cost-of-living pressures and healthcare costs. Deeming rates ought to be reviewed more regularly in light of the current low-interest rate environment, which affects our retirees' interest-bearing investments.
Our nation benefits from increased international trade and investment. One of my key priorities since being elected has been the development of export markets for Australian produced goods and services. My work has focused on building relationships with the Association of South-East Asian Nations. It's a region with which I am most familiar and where I have developed a network of connections. There are tremendous opportunities to supply the emerging economies of South-East Asia and beyond with premium Australian agricultural products, professional services, technology, resources and energy. We must implement strategies to further develop our economy through value adding and downstream processing.
In terms of environmental initiatives, I am involved in furthering the work of the LNG Marine Fuel Institute, which aims to convert the maritime shipping industry to the use of low-emission and environmentally friendly liquefied natural gas as a mainstream marine fuel in place of the existing heavy fuel oils used in global shipping, which emit significant amounts of toxic sulphur and nitrous oxide pollutants into the atmosphere. The objective is to replace the use of heavy fuel oil as the primary fuel for maritime shipping with more environmentally friendly LNG, which is produced abundantly in Western Australia's north-west.
By promoting and facilitating the use of LNG as a marine transportation fuel, the federal government can partner with industry to help grow Australia's economy and create jobs whilst reducing pollution and emissions on a large scale. The barriers preventing the transmission from heavy fuel oils to LNG include a lack of appropriate infrastructure, such as bunkering facilities, and the lack of an appropriate policy framework. It should be a priority for the Commonwealth to implement an emissions control area covering all Australian ports, as has already been done in the USA, Canada, China, the North Sea and the Baltic.
As a lifelong Christian, I'm a supporter of traditional family values, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, multiculturalism and reconciliation. In the current debate on religious freedom, it is important that we're respectful and tolerant of the religious beliefs of all Australians. Governments should not restrict the rights of Australians to worship freely according to their faiths, beliefs, values and conscience, except in instances where hate, violence or illegal acts are incited. Simply disagreeing with the religious views of another person should not be grounds for government intervention. Religious freedom extends into the realm of cultural freedom, which is important in our multicultural society. Individuals must be free to live their lives according to deeply held values and beliefs, which are not only religious but cultural in nature, without impinging on the rights of others to exercise their rights and freedoms.
Looking to the future, I believe that all Australians should become more united through reconciliation and multiculturalism. Australians should all be united as one people under one flag, regardless of our origins or history. Indigenous Australians, new migrants from different ethnic backgrounds and persons born in Australia should all be treated equally, with access to opportunity and advancement based on merit. Having emigrated from a country which had a policy of recording a citizen's race on official documents, I can appreciate the benefits of not having one's racial background recorded on Australian official documents. Our Constitution should promote harmony, unity and the principle of a single national identity, rather than differentiation based on race or ethnicity. In any debate surrounding a referendum to change the Constitution, the principle of national unity should be promoted: one people united under one flag.
I thank the many volunteers and supporters who assisted me during the federal election, working on prepoll early voting, putting up signs, delivering leaflets, attending functions and at the polling booths on election day. It was a massive team effort. The positive election result in Moore, which saw me re-elected with an increased margin, could not have been achieved without all the support.
In particular, I thank the members of the Moore division of the Liberal Party who supported my campaign. There are too many volunteers to mention individually, for fear of excluding some. However, special mention goes to President Colleen Borger, Sheldon Ingham, Eve Currie, David Anson, Tony Brooks, Sherryl Paternoster, Kate Taylor, Wayne Carroll, Marcus Henriques, Jan Norberger, and David and Cindy Harding. I would also like to thank my team of dedicated staff who work long hours to ensure that my office operates smoothly.
To conclude, this term of parliament provides the opportunity to deliver improved services, community facilities and infrastructure for the people of Moore. I pledge to do my very best to ensure that our community continues to have access to the infrastructure, facilities and services required to develop as an outer metropolitan regional city.
We need to talk about dams. I know that dams have been on the agenda this week, but there's one dam in particular that we need to talk about, and that's Warragamba Dam. The New South Wales government's proposal to raise the Warragamba Dam wall continues to be exposed as reckless and a simplistic response to a very complex and important issue.
This is supposedly not a proposal to increase the availability of water supply for Western Sydney, although Premier Gladys Berejiklian did cite that as a reason for wanting to raise the dam wall during the New South Wales election campaign. Apparently that's not the reason—not that there are any clear plans for supplying drinking water to the aerotropolis which is to be built around the nearby Western Sydney Airport, perilously close to Sydney's major water supply, but that is another issue. What we're told is that the purpose of raising the Warragamba Dam wall is to reduce the risk of flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley. But what we have learned about are the consequences for the Blue Mountains of this proposal to build a wall and leave it empty. A report on the leaked draft environmental impact statement reveals that up to 1,300 hectares of World Heritage bushland could suffer permanent damage. That's permanent damage from temporary inundation. This is an area that is rated unique in the world. The local tourism industry depends on that World Heritage listing, and anything that undermines it also threatens this key economic plank of the Blue Mountains. If this is the sort of impact that is being anticipated, the New South Wales government needs to come clean with the community and international agencies, like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, because this would seriously undermine our World Heritage listing, the basis of so much that matters for the Blue Mountains.
Now, in June this year, a UN report assessing the state of the Blue Mountains World Heritage listing raised concerns about the proposed addition to the dam wall. UNESCO said any increased temporary inundation was 'likely to impact on its outstanding universal value'. It called on both the New South Wales and federal governments to send it any environmental impact statements before any decision on the dam was made. I welcome the comments from the federal Minister for the Environment, who told the ABC that no construction activity on raising the dam wall would happen unless all government approvals were in place. She said:
I look forward to working closely with the World Heritage Committee and keeping them informed about the actions we intend to take which recognise the value of this world class natural landscape.
But it isn't just environmental assets at risk. The New South Wales government's assessment of cultural heritage is a 2,000-page report the traditional owners were given only 40 days to respond to. Many sites of Aboriginal cultural heritage would be flooded, and I think the historical context is important. We need to remember that the Gundungurra people were forced off their land in the 1940s when Warragamba was built. I want to single out two women in particular who have been instrumental in helping raise awareness about the impacts. They are Kazan Brown and Aunty Sharyn Halls, two strong Gundungurra women.
What remains of our Aboriginal heritage in this region is crucial, and I support the traditional owners in their plea for more time to consider the 2,000-page report on cultural heritage impacts. I also welcome the New South Wales Legislative Council's inquiry into the raising of the Warragamba Dam wall. That inquiry is going to look at things like conflicting reports on the planning height for the dam wall raising, which vary from 14 to 17 metres, and the potential use of the raising for additional storage capacity as well as flood mitigation. It will also look at plans for future property development on the flood-prone land in the Hawkesbury-Nepean flood plain. It's not called a flood plain for nothing. It will also consider the adequacy of the environmental impact assessment process to date, including the assessment of impacts on World Heritage, Aboriginal cultural heritage, the ecological values of the greater Blue Mountains National Park, the Warragamba community, and communities on the Hawkesbury-Nepean flood plain. It will also examine the nature and extent of the alternative options for flood management that form the basis of the cost-benefit analysis of the project.
So they have much work to do, and I look forward to the findings of that inquiry. I do note that already a joint submission from 17 Indigenous and environmental NGOs from six countries has been made to this inquiry. They've raised concerns about the consultant commissioned by the New South Wales government to do the cultural and environmental assessments, SMEC, with concerns that there is a history of abusing Indigenous rights across the globe, most notably in South-East Asia, Mongolia and Africa.
I also want to address some of the silly and dangerous comments that have been made when this issue has been discussed. Any politician who tries to paint this as a trees-versus-lives debate should be ashamed of themselves. There has been development on flood-prone land across the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley that should never have been allowed. Yet, here we are, and we have another plan designed to allow the opening up of more land for development and, as I said, according to the Premier, to provide additional water storage capacity. The state government cannot continue to ignore the mounting criticism coming from all directions, including those international bodies, federal and state departments, and leading scientists.
I do want to take a moment to acknowledge the work of Harry Burkitt from the Give a Dam campaign, the Colong Foundation and the former member for Macquarie Bob Debus, who have all helped raise the issues of concern, which the New South Wales government would so happily have swept under the carpet as they tout purely a benefit approach to this project. In fact, the New South Wales government's own charts, which have been leaked, suggest that a 14-metre lifting of the wall only provides a small benefit during extreme flood events. As Professor Jamie Pittock, a flood management expert at the ANU, said, 'It really undercuts the argument for raising the dam wall.' His view is that no matter how high you build the wall, floods will still happen in this area. And, as I said, there are some leaked documents suggesting a 17-metre wall raising. So there is much to be examined before decisions are made on this. Right now, the focus should be on fully exploring all options, including the provision of major regional road evacuation options for existing residents in the event of a large flood—something that has not been prioritised by the New South Wales government.
One of my biggest fears is that raising the wall could lull governments, developers and residents into thinking that they are safe, when we need to actually be preparing for a flood, and that, at a stroke of a pen, a future minister could change what might be empty space in case of flood into water storage, thereby increasing the likelihood of a catastrophic flood. All affected communities need to be involved in consideration of a range of strategies that could protect lives in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley and that don't result in the destruction of World Heritage areas.
The dam raising proposal ignores the reality that several rivers contribute to flood levels across the Hawkesbury, including, among others, the Grose River, the Colo River, South Creek and Macdonald River. In fact, the problem outlined in the 2015 Hawkesbury Nepean Flood Plan shows that the Grose River in particular drains a high rainfall from the Blue Mountains and can have a significant effect on flooding at Windsor. In addition, the flood plan includes the fact that the river level rises at North Richmond even before floodwater arrives via the Nepean River or Warragamba Dam.
The New South Wales government should also be looking at the serious issue of long-term water supply for this ever-expanding Western Sydney population. These are issues that are simply not properly being addressed. I'll continue to demand that the New South Wales government consults with our whole community to ensure that our voices are heard. This is a matter of the utmost importance to both the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury.
I've had the privilege in the last few weeks of visiting some of my local aged-care residences and retirement villages. I've been very grateful for those invitations to the new Rivera Place that the Richmond Club opened, to the Uniting Hawkesbury Richmond aged-care facility and to Riverside Gardens, a lovely retirement village in North Richmond. What those visits have demonstrated is ongoing concern amongst our ageing population and their families about levels of services. For those in retirement villages, it's things like in-home care and getting the response that you need when you just need a bit of help to stay in your own independent space. But they're also concerned about access to after-hours GPs, and that's something we really need to consider—how we better deliver those sorts of services to the more outlying areas of Sydney. Access might be great in the CBD, but in areas like mine it is hard to come by.
For those who are living in aged care and their families, there are always concerns about the adequacy of dementia support and the adequacy of government funding to ensure the right numbers of staff to look after people with quite high needs. So I will continue to work with my local aged-care facilities and my seniors in retirement villages. They have done so much for our country. They are now in their twilight years, and they really deserve our support, ensuring they have a high quality of life as they, hopefully, slow down and take it a bit easy.