Thursday, 6 February 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Corio proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government’s failure to be up front with the Australian people about matters of national importance.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
It is such a disappointment. Indeed, it is fast becoming a national disappointment. The Prime Minister of Australia is said to have taken on an impossible task. In his own words, he 'performed a miracle' in winning an unwinnable election. This is the man who, after years of short-term prime ministers, was meant to be the great figure who would bring harmony back to the political universe. This is the man who is reputed to be above all the political spin and politics of this place and who, it is said, has a unique ability to speak to the heart of 'the quiet Australians'. This is man who, it is alleged, is the new John Howard of this country.
Nine months on, it is now abundantly clear that all of that is just a marketing campaign of the cheapest order. This is not a man who rails against 'the Canberra bubble'; this is a man who revels in the fact that he lives in 'the Canberra bubble'. This is not a man who empathises with ordinary Australian; this is a man who, since day one, has seen himself as born to sit in this chair inside this building. This is a man who has an enormous self-belief. But his complete conviction in the correctness of literally every step he takes leaves no corner in his heart for the wisdom of anyone else, and certainly not for the voice of the Australian people.
All we have seen since he was elected is a man who is loose with the truth, a man who is constantly engaging in double-down, and a man who is leading a government that is incompetent. Look at the economy. Last May, he said his government was getting the economy back on track and back into the black. But what is the reality of that? Since he became Prime Minister, economic growth has slowed. Underemployment has increased to a point where two million Australians are now looking for work. We've got the worst wages growth on record. Household debt is surging. We now have a situation where people are making the most appalling decisions about what they cannot buy at the supermarket with the money they do not have. And, never forget, it is the Liberals who, since coming to government, have more than doubled the debt.
And then we see the most astonishing performance, with the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. Amid all the challenges that this minister faces, he decides to engage in taking pot shots at a local mayor about travel expenses; and, in the process, he circulates a dodgy, doctored document to local newspapers. It's low rent. It's student politics. It's profoundly stupid. But, as it turns out, there is a question about whether it might be—
Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I am loath to interrupt this self-immolation, but the member at the dispatch box accused the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction of circulating 'a dodgy document'. That has been dispelled by the police today. He accused him personally of doing it. That has been dispelled today and the member should withdraw that accusation.
You need to read the letter. The fact of the matter is that the question as to whether it broke the law was significant enough in the minds of the New South Wales Police that they established Strike Force Garrad to investigate it. And what does this Prime Minister do in that moment? He rings a person who he describes as one of his best friends, the New South Wales Police Commissioner, to talk to him about it. Can you think of a less appropriate action for an Australian Prime Minister to take?
The former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said it would have been much better had that call not been made. David Ipp, the former anti-corruption commissioner, said an ordinary citizen would not be able to get that information from the police. So what is it about the Prime Minister that entitles him to that information?
But what do we hear from the Prime Minister when it's all put to him? What we get is double-down. He comes in here and he says:
As I told the House four times yesterday, I was going to talk to the New South Wales police, I don't know who they thought I was going to call. Did they think I was going to call the parking infringements officer at the Sutherland police station? Maybe I was going to call the water police, or the dog squad …
This is a Prime Minister who makes light of the most serious matters. When it comes to the question of climate change all we hear from this Prime Minister are matters which are simply not true. Here's the fact: during the Rudd and Gillard government, emissions fell by 15 per cent; since this government's been in place, emissions have been going in the wrong direction. The Prime Minister says that they are on track to meet Kyoto—they are not. The Prime Minister says that they will meet the Paris targets. It's business as usual at the moment—they will not.
And then we get to the question of this most tragic of summers and the performance of this Prime Minister. Never forget 4 January 2020. On that day, the temperature in Penrith hit 48.9 degrees. On that day, the entire South Coast of New South Wales was being ordered to evacuate, as it was under threat. One-hundred and fifty fires burned across New South Wales, 80 of them out of control and 12 at emergency level because of ferocious strong winds. Batemans Bay residents were stuck because of the threat that they were under. The New South Wales Premier, describing the situation as very volatile, said, 'It's not safe to move, it is not safe to leave these areas.' The New South Wales RFS Commissioner said, 'The focus becomes saving lives and saving property as much as we can.' This was rated as one of the most catastrophic days of the entire bushfire season, and on that day, of all days, what did this Prime Minister do? He cut a party political ad. He cut a party political ad which referred to the Australian Defence Force and which had images of the Australian Army, and at the end of it, there was a button where you could donate to the Liberal Party of Australia. Let me say this: the honour and sacrifice of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force do not belong to Scott Morrison or the Liberal Party. They belong to this nation. And the idea that he would go out there and seek to politicise that on that day is one of the single most astounding acts I've seen since I've been in politics. Indeed, Piers Morgan, the conservative commentator for ITV in the UK said:
Wow. A self-promotional commercial with cheesy elevator music? This is one of the most tone-deaf things I've ever seen a country's leader put out during a crisis. Shameless & shameful.
That was Piers Morgan.
The fact of the matter is this: character is not defined by the good days. Every one of us enjoys the experience of success. But character is all about the bad days; it is defined by the bad days. In a crisis—in this case, in a national crisis—character and what occurs on that day opens a door and a light shines on what is laid bare within. And the truth is that over the last few months, what we have seen in the face of adversity is the incredible character of ordinary Australians. The Victorian Country Fire Authority reported just yesterday that it's received 5,400 inquiries in the last few weeks about becoming a volunteer. We've seen drop-in centres overwhelmed. We've seen charities flooded with money. We've seen kids wanting to donate their own pocket money and this country has been flooded with goodwill from around the world. In the last few months, in respect of ordinary Australians, we've seen them shine in sacrifice and service. But that character has stopped short at the door of this Prime Minister. Because this is a Prime Minister who has completely failed to show leadership in this country. There has been no empathy or support for the Australian people from this Prime Minister. This is a Prime Minister who dodges responsibility at every opportunity.
And rather than going out there and standing with ordinary Australians, being about them, he is all about doing whatever he can to stay in that chair inside this building. This Prime Minister is not a man of the people. This is a Prime Minister who is 100 per cent entirely focused on himself.
When the opportunity was given to me to speak on the MPI from the opposition today, the government's failure to be up-front with the Australian people about matters of national importance, I took the opportunity to prepare a speech. I thought maybe we'd talking about the drought. Maybe we'd be talking about coronavirus. The issues that are really affecting people around the nation. I thought we'd be talking about veterans' suicide. There's nothing on the matters that are consuming the Australian public at the moment. There is the opportunity for the opposition to walk in and raise these, but nothing.
Last night, I spoke to a family in Childers. They're just a humble family. They have an aqua farm business enterprise. They grow plate-sized fish that go into the Asian markets. Their business has stopped. There are a run of families along the same road who are all in the same boat. They're saying, 'What's the go?' The reality is that those in China who would've normally been the recipients through the fish markets over there, as a result of the virus, are not leaving their homes. They're not buying from the fish markets. They're not going to their restaurants. They're staying indoors. As a result, the demand for their product has dried up.
The secondary factor as to why they're having trouble as a result of the coronavirus, which I believe is a matter of national importance, is that because fish travel on aviation logisticial assets rather than seaborne assets, and because of the restriction of aircraft travel with personnel between the two localities, the cargo space in the bottom is not available. That's what I thought we were coming in to talk about in matters of national importance: Australians that were affected by the coronavirus.
I thought we were coming in here to talk about the effects of drought. I would make the assumption that both sides of the House welcome the recent rains. And thank goodness that we're moving into a period of time which all of us refer to as the 'wet season' in northern Australia. It's worth noting that as a result of the drought we should be signalling to the states, in particular those farms that back up to national parks, that in any good neighbourly relationship if my fence burns down and you're my neighbour we go halves in the rebuild. That's what makes for good neighbours, until you back on to a national park. If you back on to a national park and you've been affected by drought and touched up by the bushfire national parks are not going to put their hand in their pocket and build—that's on your own.
At least they managed to get a very small snippet of climate change in there. It wasn't too long ago that those on the other side of this chamber were espousing that climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our time. Now it gets about 30 seconds of coverage in an MPI when we talk about national importance.
This week we made some incredible announcements on veteran suicides—
An opposition member interjecting—
which I know the member was most welcome to receive. Veteran suicide is something that this government is absolutely—and I assume from the silence that we are united in this chamber on the work that is being done.
I want to now speak to some of the work that we're doing in the interests of Australia and Australians and our plan for an even stronger economy is clear about building resilience and rewarding aspiration. On this side of the government, we're getting in and lowering taxes so that Australians can keep more of the money that they earn. We're reducing the cost of doing business. We're reducing the energy cost. We're deregulating finance. We're making sure that people get paid on time. When I walk around my small business sector those are the matters of importance. That's what they want to see our government doing. We're equipping Australians with the skills that Australian businesses need to boost their success. We're delivering better wages and more jobs.
We're expanding our trade borders to access more markets and create more jobs so that once we get through this coronavirus saga we can flourish. We're building the infrastructure our economy needs to grow, investing $100 billion over 10 years in my portfolio, the roads and infrastructure portfolio. These are never before seen, unprecedented, amounts of infrastructure, and Queensland is the recipient of $10 billion of that on the Bruce Highway alone.
Australia's economic fundamentals remain very strong and they provide a solid foundation for us to be optimistic about our future.
It shows that things are moving in the right direction. Those on the other side of the chamber can come into this place and talk down the economy, but if you're a business holder in Australia, these are the issues that are matters of importance, these are the issues that are relevant. When the IMF forecasts next year start starts with a three per cent and then the following year in the high threes, that's what gives our economy confidence.
It's been a devastating summer for many families facing the unprecedented bushfire crisis, while others face incredibly tough conditions battling the drought. I acknowledge all of those members in this House who made a contribution to the condolence motion for the drought. There was some absolutely heartfelt commentary coming from both sides of the House. That's why we're committed to doing whatever it takes to make families and businesses, towns and communities get back on their feet. We'll be upfront with Australians as to what that's about. We have taken additional steps to prioritise legislation such as the bushfire tax assistance laws to ensure that all payments we've announced for volunteers, individuals and businesses during this bushfire season are tax free, as well as making donations to the Australian Volunteer Support Trust and the Community Rebuilding Trust tax deductible.
An honourable member interjecting—
I'm not a fighter! The coronavirus is absolutely front and centre of what the Australian public are talking about. Veterans affairs is a serious matter, and those on the other side of the House do appreciate that. We stand in lockstep on it. I'm going to cut my time short now. I just want to acknowledge the work of the members for Herbert and Solomon and all those others in this chamber who have served who have made a contribution to those changes that were announced this week.
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to follow the member for Wright and to also recognise those in the House who have served. This matter of public importance is about one thing. It's about a Prime Minister and a government that is psychologically incapable of levelling with people about the real challenges in our society and in our economy.
During this horrific fire season, when the nation was crying out for leadership and when it was crying out for empathy and compassion and unity, this Prime Minister showed that he was either unwilling or unable to provide that for the Australian people. It's the same when it comes to the economy. When so many Australians are doing it tough—stagnant wages, record household debt, declining living standards, skyrocketing bills for child care and electricity and private health—when the nation is crying out for assistance from its government, for some kind of plan to get the economy going again, these clowns opposite just go missing in action. Their economic mismanagement is defined by three things: inaction, incompetence and ineptitude.
It's true that there is no shortage of challenges in our country at the moment. We do acknowledge that the coronavirus and the bushfire season will have an impact on our economy, but it's equally true, as the Reserve Bank has just pointed out, that our challenges in the economy are longstanding and are home grown as well. The sum total of the Treasurer's economic plan is to cross his fingers and hope that people forget that the economy was already weak before the fires hit and before people had even heard of the coronavirus impacting around the world.
He hopes that people won't remember that the last national accounts had a series of very weak numbers. He hopes that people will forget that the economy was already slowing, that the private domestic economy has gone backwards for two quarters, that consumption is at its slowest pace since the GFC and that business investment is the worst it's been since the early 1990s recession. He is desperate for people to forget that, in the most recent budget update, the government itself said growth would be slower, wages would be weaker and unemployment would be higher. That's what the government was saying about the economy that it has managed for three terms now, before the fires and before the virus hit. He spends all of his time pretending that anything that's going on in the economy is entirely out of his control, and he was at it again this morning on Fran Kelly's program on Radio National. He wants every Australian to think that things were going perfectly before, and then these matters that were out of his control hit and that's what's responsible for the economy being weak.
But we on this side of the House know better—all of us who spend time with real people in real communities. We are not turning our backs on them, not making them shake our hands, but really listening to them about their challenges with wages, living standards and bills, which people just can't seem to keep up with no matter how hard they work. People out there know what's going on. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister hope that, by not levelling with people, somehow people won't understand what's going on. But they do.
This Treasurer has proven himself serially unworthy of the very powerful office that he holds by spending all of his time obsessing about Labor and not levelling with people about the big challenges in the economy. He put out a long press release yesterday that didn't mention wages once. He is always talking about how they've got things bang on in the economy, but ordinary people are struggling because the economy is not delivering for ordinary working people. That's something we on this side of the House understand and want to change.
This economy has been growing for almost three decades now. We're very proud of that in the Labor Party, because Hawke and Keating created that remarkable run of success and Rudd and Swan protected it when it was in its greatest peril. We are very, very proud of that. The fact that that three decades of continuous economic growth, the envy of the world, is at risk today is not just because of the coronavirus or the horrific fire season; it is because of a government that doesn't have a plan to boost the economy. This economy is not growing fast enough to create the kinds of opportunities that the people we represent need and deserve in this society. It is long past time for this government to level with the Australian people about the challenges in the economy and actually do something about them.
It has been a long time since I have debated matters of national importance with the member for Rankin. We last did so here in the ACT at the Australian National University, and it is a delight to stand here and do it again today.
This government is upfront with the Australian people about matters of national importance. We are upfront with them because we took to the election a plan to keep our economy strong, to keep Australians safe and to keep Australians together. We were upfront with the Australian people and they rewarded us with their support to continue in government. This is in contrast with those opposite, who could not be upfront—particularly with the actual cost of their 45 per cent emissions reductions target. And what is their target today? Exactly.
The coalition is always upfront about its plans. We are focused on the matters that matter, the matters of real importance to the Australian people, unlike the bubble issues we've seen demonstrated by those opposite in the last two days. We are about a stronger economy, building resilience, rewarding aspirations, creating jobs, delivering better services, lowering taxes, reducing the cost of business whether it be in energy or in deregulation and equipping Australians with the skills they need and that businesses need as well.
In relation to jobs, this is what we took to the Australian people: that we would be a government focused on jobs. Have we been upfront with them and have we delivered? The answer is yes. The labour market is strong, with workforce participation at record highs, and working age welfare dependency is at its lowest level in three decades. Since the coalition came to government, 1.4 million new jobs have been created. Our economic plan is working.
We saw another strong month for jobs, with 29,000 jobs created in December and the unemployment rate falling to 5.1 per cent, again beating market expectations. Employment growth of 2.1 per cent through the year to date is more than double the OECD average and nearly three times what it was when we came to office. But our very disciplined approach to budget management has allowed us to respond to areas of need without increasing taxes or cutting spending in other areas.
Let me turn to the areas of national importance that this government is focused on today. It's been a devastating summer for many Australians, with bushfires and drought. And we have the coronavirus outbreak that the government is dealing with as we speak. It's our strong economic management, which we were up-front with the Australian people about delivering, that allows us to stand strong on behalf of the Australian people and respond to these issues.
Firstly, the bushfires: since MYEFO we've announced a $2 billion national bushfire recovery fund. We've stood up a national bushfire recovery agency, modelled on the great work of the drought and North Queensland flood recovery agencies, capably led by the Hon. Shane Stone. As the Prime Minister has said, we will focus, we will do whatever it takes to support those communities and businesses hit by these fires and, if we need to do more, we will. The government this week has introduced priority legislation—the Treasury Laws Amendment (2019-20 Bushfire Tax Assistance) Bill—to make sure that all of the payments we are providing to volunteers, individuals and businesses during this crisis, during this bushfire season, are tax free. We will also make sure that donations to the Australian Volunteer Support Trust and the Community Rebuilding Trust are tax deductible.
We haven't forgotten those Australians facing drought. We're investing more than $8 billion in drought relief, including the $1 billion announced since the election. One of the areas that I'm most proud of is the initiative the federal and South Australian governments have struck in a deal, and that is the up to 100 gigalitres of water which farmers can access. Farmers can buy that water at a discounted rate. To do what? To grow about 120,000 tonnes of fodder, to put more fodder into the market, which is so needed by farming communities across Australia.
But the coronavirus that we're focused on today is most important. Government departments and the Prime Minister leading the National Security Committee of the cabinet is focused on protecting Australians with what is a very difficult issue not just here but globally. We can't do this unless we're up-front about our need to keep our economy strong. That's what we're focused on doing—the Morrison government will always be up-front with Australians, because we're focused on them, not petty politics like those opposite.
( This Morrison government has failed to be up-front with the people of Australia about its failure to have a real climate change mitigation strategy and to actually reduce emissions. Australians are reeling from extraordinary bushfires. Experts ranging from former and serving fire chief commissioners to 274 climate, weather and fire scientists have made it clear that human-caused climate change is linked to the increasing risk of frequent and severe bushfires in the Australian landscape. Australians who have lost homes and livelihoods are calling for real action on climate change. Young Australians are rallying in the streets, calling for politicians to step up, to show leadership and to act to preserve their environment, their future and the world. Yet this Morrison government cannot be up-front with the Australian people because it is led by a Prime Minister who chooses spin and sophistry over truth and transparency, who chooses lies over facts. They are led by a Prime Minister who continues to claim that his government is meeting and beating the Kyoto and Paris targets. That is simply not true. The latest official 'government' data confirms that Australia will not meet the Kyoto commitment to cut emissions by five per cent next year. The horrifying truth is that emission reduction will be 0.3 per cent—pretty much a rounding error!
The government data also confirms that emissions will be down by less than five per cent over the next 10 years. Scientists—the experts, not the people who bring lumps of coal into parliament—say we must reach net zero emissions in 30 years. Under the trajectory that this Prime Minister is presiding over, we'll get there in 230 years. It's possibly the actual definition of too little too late. And the people of Australia aren't going to be fooled by the Prime Minister going around the country doing deals, where he's trying to claim the actions that have been taken by state governments to actually reduce emissions. They're the ones who are acting, and this federal government is failing to act and failing to be honest with the people of Australia about it.
This government's climate policy has been ranked last in the world. Australia is the highest per capita producer of greenhouse gases. Because this government won't tell the truth, not only can we not protect Australia from the effects of man-made climate change, we can't be leaders around the world, something that Australia has a proud history of doing on very many topics, including climate change. If it wasn't for Australia, the world would not have banned CFCs. We wouldn't have dealt with the hole in the ozone layer. We are all proud of that. That's our legacy and that's been trashed because we have a Morrison government that can't be honest about its failure on emissions in coalition with a National Party that can't even be honest about the link between man-made actions, climate change and bushfires.
When the Prime Minister tells Australian people that we need to focus on adaptation, he's actually telling them that he and his government have given up. He's flying the white flag. He is telling the students out on the streets calling for real action on climate change that they just need to adapt and accept a future of extraordinary droughts, devastating bushfires, extreme heat, raging floods. They just need to accept that their future will be no icebergs, minimal biodiversity, barren landscapes, drowned island nations and increased inequality for the people around the world.
I can hear the National Party members of this chamber scoffing at what I'm saying and that's the failure they bring to this parliament and that they bring to the coalition government. Well, I don't accept it. I don't accept that a government should act like this. Labor doesn't accept that we shouldn't mitigate. We will never accept it and we're not going to let this government pretend they're doing something that they're not.
It's a bit sad, really, all this doom and gloom. I'm getting tired of the continuous talking down of our strong Australian economy, especially by those who have no direct impact on the economy. I refer to those, of course, opposite and some quarters of the media. Thankfully, many everyday Australians that I speak to on a daily basis in the electorate of Longman that I proudly serve are switching off to these doomsayers. As a result, they have a more positive outlook for their future and that of their families.
Whenever Australians think about this wonderful country we call home, they think about everything positive that Australia has to offer. This includes: an abundance of jobs and stepping stones to the most incredible career opportunities; tax relief for them and their families; record investment in the important things such as our schools, hospitals, infrastructure and roads; believing in the talent of people living with disability and supporting them on the journey to achieve their dreams; helping Australians to build and develop their skills; a government that is backing our local businesses every step of the way; a strong and confident workforce; and a booming economy. I say it again, a booming economy.
Australia is truly the best country in the world to live, raise a family, and work. And every day, the Morrison government is out there getting things done for the everyday Aussie and working tirelessly to build, grow, boost, and maintain our strong economy and resilience, and rewarding aspiration; all this to secure the future of every Australian out there.
The Morrison government has a solid plan for Australia's economic future, and we'll never stop fighting for Australians as we continue to work on delivering a strong economy that will guarantee jobs for every Australian. Support our Aussie farmers, veterans, older Australians, families and the everyday Australian, those who have been through devastating natural disasters like the bushfires, and back our local businesses.
I would like to try a new concept and talk about the positives that the Morrison government is achieving, using something that is clearly foreign to others in this House: the facts. Fact 1: unemployment is 5.1 per cent compared to 5.7 per cent when Labor were last in government. Fact 2: nearly 1.5 million jobs have been created in six years. Fact 3: the rate of welfare dependency is now the lowest it has been in 30 years. Fact 4: that's why the government has legislated tax relief for 10 million Australians, because we believe that Australians should keep more of what they earn. This rewards and encourages hard work. Tax relief means families can get ahead and that more money flows through our economy. The government has also lowered taxes for 3.4 million small and medium businesses. These employ over seven million Australians. This will help them to create more jobs.
Fact 5: with a stronger economy the government is delivering more funding for schools—an extra $37 billion over a decade. Fact 6: for hospitals, the government's new five-year arrangements deliver an extra $31 billion. Fact 7: since 2013 over 2,200 medicines, worth over $10.7 billion, have been added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. These help people suffering from cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Fact 8: investing a record $100 billion in transport infrastructure will ease congestion, connect the regions and boost our economy by creating more jobs and opportunities.
But I would like to speak about something that is dear to my heart. It's called confidence. As a small business owner myself over the past 19 years, I can testify that small and medium enterprises are all confident under the coalition—any coalition government, especially this one. In contrast, when Labor are in government it's time to batten down the hatches. Where and how are they going to hurt us next time? What tax are they going to put on us? What levy are they going to put on us? They don't want aspiration, they don't want success; they just want to push people down. That's how they work, they just want to push people down.
Well, we won't stand for it. We're going to encourage small business to get out there and invest, because when they get out there and invest the economy flows. They put on more staff. I can say that with all the doom and gloom that those opposite been talking about, my two businesses in retail had a record year last year—both of them. We had record Christmases. Those are facts, they are absolute facts that are undeniable. When I talked during the election to small businesses which are out there, there was a civil contractor who said that the phones stopped just before the election because they thought Labor was going to get in. But they started ringing on the Monday after!
We had a printer in the local area who said the same thing. There were no jobs, but all of a sudden the election happened and the phones started ringing again. That's what confidence is. You guys are destroying the—
When people try to work out where things went wrong for this government—and I've noticed over the Christmas period, and I suspect many of my colleagues have noticed, particularly commentators in the press who thought that the Prime Minister was some shrewd operator have been trying to work out why he wasn't as shrewd as he normally was—they will go back to this date: May 19. That's because on May 19, the day after the election, they put their feet up on the desk. They got smug, complacent and arrogant. They thought they didn't have to worry about how they used to do things, that they were home and hosed and that they could resist the way in which they needed to make decisions and the way they had to work with other people. They thought they were above it all and didn't need to follow the rules in the way they once were. It's that arrogance and complacency that people paid the price for.
This wasn't just some sort of political tactic with no consequence, because so many people who suffered through these bushfires suffered because this arrogant government refused to listen to people in the know—people who had fought fires for decades. These were people who have made that their life's work and who knew what was required. Importantly, they said: 'Something is changing; something is different out there. These fires are not like the ones we used to fight decades ago. We have to deal with this differently. The fire seasons start earlier and finish later, and they require more resources.'
They wrote to the government earlier in the year and the government ignored them. They raised their concerns regularly and the government refused to meet with them. We hear the Prime Minister say, when he is challenged on why he didn't take on board the advice of these people who have a huge amount of experience, who are in the know and who care about what's going on, 'I just talk to people who are currently in the job.' What a disgraceful way to treat people who have gone out of their way to warn the government and say, 'You need to do things differently.'
The Prime Minister dismisses the experience and wisdom of people who've been in the job before but he can pick up the phone to former prime ministers. John Howard was Prime Minister so many years beforehand, but he could pick up the phone to him. I actually don't have an issue with that. I think we should rely on the experience of former prime ministers regardless of their political hue. But, if you can do it with him, why can't you do it with experienced people who reckon that you need to do things differently?
And then we should ask: why aren't you counting the cost of ignoring that advice? There was the equipment and the resources and all the assets that were required to help people fight these terrible fires, and they weren't there. So then he had to play catch-up. Worst of all, what got me going on the day that the Prime Minister decided to go out and make the announcement that he was bringing in all these reservists—finally, after getting back from his overseas jaunt and actually showing some form of leadership—was the reaction of the Rural Fire Service commissioner to what was going on. That person took a calculated risk to chip the Prime Minister of this country publicly, saying that on one of the toughest days they faced during the bushfires they'd had to divert resources to deal with the Prime Minister's announcement about what was going on. They had to do that at that point in time, and it was clear they hadn't been consulted. Why? Because the government spent more time cutting a political ad that they could put up to get a few dollars for political donations than they did talking to a bloke with the integrity of Shane Fitzsimmons. It was just a disgrace!
The government are not upfront and they're not serious about it. And it's not only that. They're not just complacent; they're also full of cowardice. They won't deal with some of the serious things driving climate change because of those people over there—the member for New England and the member for Dawson, who scoffed when people were raising issues about climate change during the course of this discussion. That is why the government will not take climate change seriously, why they're quite happy to ignore all the advice about what's going on. We've just heard, with the chortling that is going on over there, that they refuse to accept what is happening. The public know this is an issue. The people in those bushfire-affected areas know this is an issue. They're expecting better and they deserve better, and they don't need a smug and arrogant government in this place.
Those opposite have been attempting to score cheap political points ever since they arrived back in this place earlier this week. They're politicising the bushfires. Meanwhile, on this side, the Morrison government's responsible economic management has put Australia in a position to respond to the challenges that the Australian community has faced over these past few months. Unlike those opposite, we on this side of the House don't punish aspirational people for working hard; we don't accrue more and more debt, putting the country in a vulnerable position. We certainly don't answer every challenge our country faces with a new tax.
The Australian people saw through this charade and voted for responsible economic management and a strong economy that can withstand global headwinds and difficult times like those we have experienced with the fires, the drought and now the coronavirus. Thanks to the strong economic management of the Morrison government, we were able to establish the National Bushfire Recovery Fund with an initial $2 billion for communities impacted by the bushfires. This fund will help get tourists back into our wonderful regions, deliver infrastructure projects to stimulate local economies, support the environment and wildlife recovery, and build resilience for the future. In response to the trauma of the recent bushfires, the National Bushfire Recovery Fund will provide mental health support so people have the resources they need to get through this emotional and raw experience.
Our economic management means that we are pushing ahead. We are getting on with the job. We feel this on the ground, too, on this side. We've been getting out and helping our local communities. Over the summer I've stood with people in the remnants of their homes, destroyed by bushfires. I've spoken with RFS captains and crews and asked what we can do to help. I have received an overwhelming response from my community, putting themselves forward and contributing to community care kits. They are doing all they can in wanting to help fellow Australians in need.
It's our responsible economic management that will help grow our country. I've seen this firsthand. It's happening now in Western Sydney, with one of our country's biggest infrastructure projects, and certainly the biggest infrastructure project Western Sydney has seen in a generation. Our strong budget position enables us to invest in infrastructure for the future of our country. The Western Sydney Airport, the aerotropolis and the Sydney Science Park will be a game changer for Western Sydney and beyond. Local students studying science, technology and maths will have access to the jobs of the future in Western Sydney. A strong economy enables us to invest in this, to support these emerging industries as well as make it easier for small businesses to thrive and employ more local people.
It's our strong economy that enables us to invest in the health of our country. We've added over 2,200 medicine listings, worth around $10.7 billion. It also means that we can apply local initiatives. In Western Sydney in Lindsay, unfortunately, we have higher than New South Wales average levels of obesity in both adults and children. I'm working really hard with our community, our doctors, our hospitals, our health practitioners and our sporting organisations to address this very real and serious issue around the health of our community.
We are doing things on the ground. We are getting on with the job. Whether it is bushfires, building future resilience or investing in infrastructure that will grow our country, the Morrison government cares about our country. We are getting on with the job, unlike those opposite.
This catastrophic summer has thrown into stark relief the character of this government and has shown with greater clarity the true colours of the man who sits at its top. At a time when Australians have been crying out for national leadership, our Prime Minister was reduced to nothing but a hashtag—ScottyfromMarketing—falling back on his core skills of spin, obfuscation and outright misinformation. This is a government that has shamefully argued that black is white, rather than apologising to the Australian people for its lack of leadership and appalling behaviour. This is a government that has no limits when it comes to shamelessly exploiting situations for its own political ends.
It's almost hard to believe that, at the height of the fires, the Morrison government was instead focusing its energy on producing a Liberal Party ad about the crisis. Unbelievable! But this tawdry episode tells you everything you need to know about our Prime Minister and the government he leads. It's a government that has failed its leadership test in every area: on the economy, on ministerial standards, on the proper management of public money, on environmental protection and on integrity.
But nowhere is this government's glaring, belligerent refusal to act in the national interest more obvious than in the areas of climate change and energy policy. For six years this Liberal government has waged a savage war on climate change and renewable energy. They've defunded or abolished important agencies like the Climate Change Authority, the Renewable Energy Agency and the Climate Commission. They've supported inquiries attacking renewable energy and they have actively refused to listen to or deliver on legislation to drive down carbon emissions. Their climate policy was ranked dead last—that's worse than Tony Abbott's best efforts, and it's even worse than Trump's America. Of course, they've absolutely failed to deliver on a national energy policy that's going to be critical to slashing emissions, driving down power prices and meeting Australia's Paris targets. Indeed, they've launched 18 energy policies—every single one a failure.
The Morrison government likes to say that the reason it can't act on climate change is that it wants to deliver cheaper power, but of course that's utter nonsense. Indeed, the very opposite is true. It's renewable energies that will drive down the cost of energy in Australia. All the Morrison government has delivered is sky-high energy bills, climbing emissions and a dramatic collapse in renewable energy investment and jobs.
You'd think that the unspeakable catastrophes that we have seen in recent months, coupled with the palpable anger of the Australian people, might have led this government to an about-face on its climate denial, but, sadly, you'd be wrong. This was confirmed today with the announcement that the member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt, has been promoted to the influential position of Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia. This is a deeply concerning appointment, as is the conflation of resources and water in the one portfolio. Not only has Mr Pitt been a longstanding opponent of climate action; he's also one of the government's most strident champions of nuclear energy. Given that this government often touts the Newcastle and Hunter region as a potential location for a nuclear power plant, this appointment concerns me and my community greatly.
On any measure, be it cost, timing, energy needs, waste, environmental and health risks, or non-proliferation, nuclear power is to be found wanting. My fears are compounded by the fact that a Liberal-controlled parliamentary committee gave the green light to nuclear power only two months ago. This government's openness to nuclear power is madness. Even if we manage to sort out all the profound issues with nuclear power, we're still left with the unavoidable reality that it's even more expensive than renewables. The appointment of the member for Hinkler to this important ministerial position demonstrates that the Morrison government remains, as always, resolutely opposed to real action on climate change. But now people in my community also have to worry about what nuclear energy plans the Morrison government has up its sleeve.
It's time for the Morrison government to come clean with the Australian public about what it really has planned for nuclear energy and which communities are in its crosshairs.
As we have this matter of public importance today about the government's supposed failure to front up with Australia's people on issues they feel are most important, I think it's worth noting what we've done in this week of parliament. We spent the first full day devoted to the bushfires: to setting forward the criteria, acknowledging our firefighters and acknowledging the loss and desperate plight of so many people who have been caught in the bushfires. We've put in place a lot of the criteria, making sure that everyone understands the delineation of the federal and state governments, giving the people out there who had been affected the criteria they need so they can move forward. We had another two days of discussion in the Federation Chamber as well, giving every member of parliament the opportunity they've craved so that they can inform their own electorates what they're doing in relation to the bushfires this summer.
We then spent considerable time on the coronavirus. Again, we've been criticised because we're not fronting up with the issues that most affect Australians, but we've devoted so much of this time to the coronavirus, talking about how it's affecting our people and what steps we're putting in place to protect our people, talking about what we're doing with Christmas Island, understanding the relationship we have with our scientists, understanding the conversations we're having with China and talking about the spread of this disease and how we're doing our utmost to look after and protect our people. We are also talking about how we are trying to protect and boost our trade in the face of coronavirus. There are also the impacts and, again, the steps we are taking to protect our reputation agriculturally. So, again, people will be saying, 'I hope the coalition government comes back and lets us know exactly what they're doing in relation to coronavirus.'
We've also devoted so much time to talking about what we're going to do to protect our veterans. We are putting in place a commissioner who not just in the now but into the future will make sure that we do everything we can to look after the mental health of our serving military personnel and who will also look into and look after the mental health of our veterans. The commissioner will make sure that we do everything we possibly can to assist them while they are serving in the armed forces and also when helping them transition back to civilian life.
We have worked on a strong economy. We have worked on some of the other issues associated with the things that are most important to the people of Australia.