Thursday, 13 February 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government to focus on the needs of Australians
I call upon all those honourable 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—
Members will recall that when this Prime Minister knocked off Malcolm Turnbull—just before he said he had his back in the Prime Minister's courtyard, after Malcolm Turnbull knocked off Tony Abbott—he described Turnbull's government as a muppet show, day after day after day. Now the muppet show is back—the sequel. It's not a 30-minute episode but a full-length movie. We can see it playing out with the PM, Fozzie Bear, as its director. There's no question who is Animal: it's the member for New England, trashing things up and wrecking things as much as he can, although Senator Abetz did apply for the role, and audition. And, of course, Statler and Waldorf: who else but Senator Canavan—although there are a number of other opportunities—and the member for Flynn. There he is, going up to his spot on the balcony. And, of course, there's Gonzo: the Minister for Energy. Who else! Disaster after disaster, but he just muddles through and somehow survives. It is always brave, of course, to reboot an old series, but early reviews are not promising. The mistake, of course, was to remake 'Pigs in space', as 'Pork in sports', but that's what they've done.
The fact is that this government are led by an ad man with no plan—no plan for the economy, no plan for wages, no plan for climate change and no plan for the aged-care crisis. And they certainly had no plan for the bushfire crisis. Remember what they said, day after day, week after week, month after month? They said: 'It's a matter for the states. We don't need a national response to this.' When I went with the member for Page to his electorate, we were told—certainly, I was—by the volunteer bushfire firefighters that they needed economic compensation. They'd been working on the North Coast for months, since the Rappville fire. What did the Prime Minister say? He said they wanted to be there. That's what he told them. What was his response finally when there was a national approach? He made an announcement and he did an ad—a marketing response—with all the military assets, the jingle, and the link to donate to the Liberal Party button as part of the ad.
He couldn't pick up the phone to Shane Fitzsimmons, the New South Wales RFS commissioner but, of course, he could pick up the phone to the police commissioner in New South Wales about the fraudulent document that was given to The Daily Telegraph by the Minister for Energy's office. He could do that. The fact is that, if you care about people, you listen and you engage. You don't have to force people to shake your hand. You don't have to run out of town. The fact is that, if you listen to Australians and treat them with respect, you will get it back, but this Prime Minister continued to evade his responsibility as our national leader when there was a national crisis. It is no wonder that he has been written down because of it. The fact is that this government is only concerned about its own political interests. We saw the doctored document. We've seen sports rorts mark 1, and now volume 2: $150 million put in the budget in May, that was brought forward in March then announced—so it's real money, not election commitments, real money that was in the budget—$150 million for women's sports, except it didn't fund women's sports. It funded their marginal seat election campaign.
This government doesn't understand the difference between taxpayers' funds and LNP funds. This government had candidates who aren't even members of parliament, with oversized cheques with their photos on it, pretending it was their money they were handing over. No wonder they're obsessed with integrity when it comes to industrial relations but don't want a national integrity commission. They don't want one. They promised one in 2018, but they know that if there were a national integrity commission it would have been right after the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction; it would have right after the former Minister for Sport; it would have right after those people pretending that taxpayers' money was their money right around the country, such as the candidate in the member for Morton's electorate. He's a member, but he doesn't get to make the announcement or be at the announcement made by a minister, even though he lobbied for the project, and yet the candidate does. We've got women's sports rooms for teams in South Australia that don't have any women players. And at the same time in the member for Kingston's electorate she can't get proper funding.
The fact is that we saw it all week: a government of chaos and division. A government in which the Nationals thought it was a terrific idea, on the day when we commemorated the victims of the bushfires in regional Australia, to have a ballot for the leadership of the party—a circumstance whereby, on the floor of the House of Representatives, there were 67 votes for the government's candidate and 75 for the candidate not backed by the government. He's a fine candidate, and you're doing well, Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien. I was proud to vote for you.
The fact is that, unlike the government, we on this side of the House are making it clear what our principles and values are and how we would be guided into a Labor government after the next election. Next Wednesday in Brisbane I'll be giving the fourth vision statement, speaking about respecting and valuing older Australians; speaking about the need for superannuation and proper retirement incomes and the important place of older people in the workforce; respecting blue-collar workers and not expecting them to work until they drop; respecting the position with regard to aged care. The issues that we raise today, which we asked about flat, were about the sorts of circumstances like residents lying or sitting in urine and faeces; half of the people in aged care being malnourished; a quarter of young people dying in the first year; 30,000 people over two years, who had been assessed and approved for their aged-care package, who died waiting to get a place. What was the response of the deputy leader of the Liberal Party? He said it was a distraction. That's what he said when we asked questions about those issues.
Labor will continue to advance our positive agenda. The five themes I outlined at the National Press Club were: jobs and an economy that works for people; creation of wealth and its distribution; jobs and skills in Australia; good action on climate change creating jobs, reducing emissions and reducing power prices. What have those opposite had to say about these issues? This is what the minister here, who is going to respond, had to say. This is the bloke in charge of resources, 'We have got a real risk, particularly with solar panels and lithium batteries, that they could turn out to be this generation's asbestos.' That is what they have said. What a disgrace. Matt Canavan said, 'Renewables are the dole bludgers of the energy system.' And when Senator Molan went on Q+Aand we encouraged Q+A to invite more Liberals, because there were two of them and none of us; but we're not complaining—when asked, he said, 'I'm not relying on evidence.' Well, we will rely on evidence, which is why one of our themes is to take action on climate change.
We want a fairer Australia—no-one held back and no-one left behind. We'll support aspiration to education and opportunity. We'll make sure that we build infrastructure, including high-speed rail. We want to deal with our place in the world, where Australia is a proud nation, where we punch above our weight, not like when we go to international climate change conferences and say, 'What we need is a fiddling of the books and an accounting trick, rather than actually reducing emissions.' But this Prime Minister has been even worse. He went and spoke about 'negative globalism', in criticising the UN and other international bodies, but there he was this morning: happy to come to the UN International Women's Day breakfast. He was happy to do that!
The fact is that this government have been on a victory lap since May. They don't have an agenda for the future, which is why every single answer to a question today was about the Labor Party. They need to understand that they're actually the government, and they should start acting like it. (Time expired)
It's a pleasure to speak on an MPI. It's been a couple of years, so I'm looking forward to it. I'll wait for a moment too, because it's the first time I've spoken from this dispatch box. I consider it a great honour, and I acknowledge my community for giving me the opportunity.
One of the phrases in the matter of public importance is 'to focus on the needs of Australians'. That is one thing I can agree with the Leader of the Opposition on—when he spoke about his address to the National Press Club and how one of the first things he would focus on was jobs. That is something we always need to look at when we are in this place, representing our communities or representing the government: what have we as representatives or what has our government done with respect to jobs?
In focusing on the needs of Australians, one of the successes of this government—the government that I'm a member of—has been the job creation that has happened under us over the last six years. In that time, over 1.5 million jobs have been created. Unemployment rates have fallen, and we have a record number of people in work. Male employment is at a record high, female employment is at a record high and, very importantly, we have record-high youth employment. I think that is a very proud statistic to have as a government. Employment continues to grow at record levels. So that is fulfilling and focusing, I think, on one of if not the primary needs of Australians.
I want to go through a few things about why I think we've done that. These statistics don't just happen. They happen because of the policies and the focus of the government—what the government is achieving. I represent a region that is a very high exporting area. I have beef producers, pork producers, growers of blueberries, macadamias and many other agricultural products. I think one of the proudest achievements of this government—and, compared to when Labor was in government, we've had far more achievements in this area—has been trade agreements. One of the major things that has maintained the wealth of this country over a long time is the fact that we have always been a trading nation.
To give an example, one of the biggest private employers in my region is an abattoir. They employ, at any particular point in time, over a thousand people. They are standing up—
I'll take that interjection—virtually all of them, Member for Moreton. We have very few visa workers. The Casino community owns that meatworks. We have three generations of two families who work there, and we have very few visa or foreign workers there. They're proud of it, and so they should be. On the free trade agreements we've implemented—obviously, we had the President of Indonesia here this week, which was an historic occasion, and we've done a further trade agreement with them. What we've done as a government is get literally hundreds, if not billions, of customers for our agricultural producers. We've given them hundreds of millions of extra customers and better access to markets where they can sell their product. And that has had a real impact. The drought has been very devastating, but, behind the drought, over the last number of years, the prices for the majority of agricultural products—almost across every agricultural product—has gone up. And that, as I say, hasn't happened by mistake; it's happened because it's been a focus of ours. We've had some wonderful trade ministers, starting from Andrew Robb, since we've been in government, and it has had real results on the ground and created extra jobs and growth and prosperity, especially in regional Australia.
There's another thing that's very important. I'm, again, very proud of the government and its focus on infrastructure. Almost since day one, back in 2013, we've wanted to have a focus on being an infrastructure government. Just to give you some examples—we've obviously got a $100 billion infrastructure program over the next 10 years—one of the biggest infrastructure projects in regional Australia for many years was in my patch. It was the dual duplication of the Pacific Highway between Woolgoolga and Ballina. That project alone directly employed at any particular point of time around 2,000 to 3,000 people. The flow on from that is huge—the indirect jobs that that brings when you have so many people coming to work in a program.
We have, again, some really targeted infrastructure programs that are very important to regional Australia, things like the Roads to Recovery Program—that didn't always exist. The Roads to Recovery Program came from John Anderson, a previous Nationals leader, who understood that regional Australia needed more help beyond what local councils could provide. The Roads to Recovery Program, now widely accepted by both sides of parliament, was the result of a Nationals leader.
The Bridges Renewal Program is a new one. I know Warren Truss, the previous member for Wide Bay, was a champion of this program. Why is that important? Take Kyogle. They have a very small rate base, but they have something like 300 timber bridges, which is an enormous piece of infrastructure to maintain for a council that would struggle to maintain those with the rate base they have. We see that. We understand that. We understand the importance of that, because the area is an important economic driver. They produce great produce around Kyogle, so we instituted that program to make sure we could help them out.
I won't go through it all, but I tell you what, the Building Better Regions Fund, again, is about increasing efficiency and increasing productivity and increasing jobs in regional Australia. It has been a real focus of this government, and it doesn't just happen. It is one of the reasons that we've had the record job growth that I started with. With some of those things the opposition may well say they agree with that infrastructure. They may well agree with free trade, even though they couldn't nail many deals.
I tell you one thing we do disagree on—and I think the last election highlighted where Australians sit on this—is tax. This is one of the major philosophical discussions that we have in this place and where we disagree, because we have been arguing about tax cuts in this place since we got here. We obviously, as you know, Deputy Speaker, were arguing for small business and business tax cuts, and the other side have always opposed that. I don't think they understand that we live in a competitive world, and that, if we want our small businesses and if we want our large businesses to survive and flourish, we have to match and we have to be internationally competitive. We have one of the highest tax rates for companies in the world. We did get through the tax cuts for the smaller businesses, and that was very important. Why do we understand that? We understand that because a lot of us on this side have managed a business or run a business. We understand that when you give businesses a tax cut they will put more of that money back into the business, they have more money to invest in the business and they have more money to employ people in the business. I think it's a great shame, because I actually think that up until the last parliament that Australia had really had a bit of a bipartisan approach on tax cuts. Believe you me, probably one of the glory days of the Labor Party were the Hawke-Keating years. They understood tax cuts. They were cutting company tax rates, large and small.
They obviously don't understand that now, because they opposed us and fought us all the way on those tax cuts for business. They still oppose the tax cuts for large businesses, so they still don't get it. The other big distinction was the tax cuts for small—
It was also the tax cuts. We went to the last election wanting to decrease people's taxes. They went to the last election wanting to increase people's taxes. That was the distinction. That was the big difference that the Australian voters saw. Again, I don't think they have heard it. They are great at coming up with ways to spend money. Labor have never had an issue with finding ways to spend money, specifically tax money.
At the last election we saw that the Australian people understand how the economy works. They understand that we need to keep businesses competitive by having international competitive tax rates. They understand that, by putting more money in their hands, we are going to be a more successful economy. They reject, again, higher taxes and a bigger government that will obviously be more wasteful. I think this government over the last six or seven years, which is why we keep getting re-elected, has been definitely focused on the economy. (Time expired)
Appropriately for a government run by an ad man without a plan, the last fortnight has had real a Mad Men vibe to it. They're a self-indulgent rabble obsessed with their own soap operas of personal vendettas without a care for the needs of any of those outside their own little personal bubble. Indeed, parliament's farewell for the departing Deputy Speaker, the member for Page, this week ended up a lot like the infamous Sterling Cooper farewell party for Joan Holloway, except this time it was the member for New England who drove the John Deere lawnmower over the Deputy Prime Minister's foot while important overseas guests were in town. It's been chaos as this divided government without a plan have been mugged by reality. They've got no plan for jobs, no plan for wages and growth, no plan for the economy, no plan for climate change, no plan for energy and—as we saw quite clearly in question time today—no plan for the aged-care crisis. On every front, the pressure on this government is rising as the reality of the challenges facing Australia grows. Now, after seven years of self-obsession and self-indulgence in the ministerial wing, you can just imagine the Prime Minister staring at the blank piece of paper pinned to the wall, Don Draper style, trying to come up with a pitch for an ad that will fix it all.
If there is one thing this Prime Minister knows, it is that when you don't have a plan you rebrand. We've seen some pretty absurd rebrands from marketing teams over the years, such as the new Coke, iSnack 2.0 and the modern Liberals. The Prime Minister's Don Draper-styled rebranding of his secret past as a suburb's rugby union fan into a die-hard Sharks supporter from the shire after his pre-selection was a bit of a stretch. The rebranding we saw today in question time drew a longer bow than at Agincourt, as those opposite claim consistency on government policy, despite having launched 18 separate energy policies in seven years.
But it's the name changes on the sign out the front of this divided government without a plan that have been the most absurd rebrand of all. Across seven seasons of Mad Men, the ad firm rebranded itself from Sterling Cooper to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce before finally settling on Sterling Cooper & Partners. What amateurs! Across the seven years of this coalition of chaos, the ad firm sitting on the government benches has already rebranded itself from the Abbott-Truss government to the Abbott-Joyce government to the Turnbull-Joyce government to the Turnbull-McCormack government and most recently to the Morrison-McCormack government. You can still buy the commemorative mug for that one. Get it now because it's going to be a collector's item.
The current crisis is demanding a new rebranding effort. Will it be the Morrison-Joyce government or the Morrison-Littleproud government? What we know is that after this week the Australian public will be asking—I can't use the Prime Minister's former marketing team in here—what was the point of the three terms of this coalition Australian government? It hasn't been about the Australian people. It's always been about them: helicopters to Liberal Party fundraisers; holidays to Hawaii and the Philippines; travel rorts; sports rorts; talk small government and carry a big cheque; bonk bans; Malcolm hating Tony; the member for New England hating the member for Riverina; everyone hating Malcolm; the Queensland LNP hating everyone else. At every juncture it has always been about them, not the people who elected them to come here to serve Australia.
It's a striking contrast with those sitting on the opposition benches today. The Albanese Labor team are setting out a positive vision of what we will stand for. There will be a choice for the Australian public at the next election. The Leader of the Opposition has already issued vision statements on jobs of the future, the economy and democracy and will very soon issue one on older Australians. In this week it's worth noting the vision statement on the future of democracy, because it has taken a battering under this government. My constituency see scandals like sports rorts—and sports rorts 2.0, the sequel, has an even bigger budget—and they are outraged at a government that is not serving their interests. It's a government that serves partisan interests, not the national interests. It's a government that serves the personal interests of those sitting opposite, not the interests of the Australian public. We need reforms, like a National Integrity Commission, to restore confidence in our democracy. We don't need an advertising campaign; we need substantial reforms to our democracy to restore confidence. This week when we tried to talk about a National Integrity Commission those opposite gagged debate. That really says it all.
Today's MPI is 'the failure of the government to focus on the needs of Australians'. Those on the other side have lost their way when it comes to focusing on Australians, particularly coalminers in this country. At the moment the vision that those who sit on the other side of this chamber have is very bleak for that industry. I was brought up in Central Queensland. I went to an all-boys boarding school there and a lot of the guys I went to school with went and worked in the coalmines. Their fathers worked there. My father worked in the coalmine. He was a white-collar worker.
Most of the coal industry guys, rightfully, have belonged to a union of some type and have during their lives predominantly supported those on the other side, the Australian Labor Party. Every time I catch up with my school alma mater, whether it's at an old-boys reunion for the boarding school or elsewhere, more and more of them say to me: 'I can no longer support the Australian Labor Party. They used to represent us. They no longer do.' Increasingly those who wear high-vis and work in the Bowen Basin in Central Queensland are supporting us, and this is not just at the federal level.
I remember my state colleague Jim Pearce, the member for Fitzroy. He was an absolute gentleman. He came up through the coalmine ranks. He was an electrician. Jim originally came from Mount Morgan and was one of Labor's gentlemen. Unfortunately, he lost his seat in Fitzroy. It was unthinkable that the seat of Fitzroy in Queensland could be lost by Labor.
This is relevant because the MPI is about the need to focus on Australians. I'm highlighting the fact that those on the other side have forgotten their core people. They've forgotten a core of Australians. They have turned their back on them.
We're putting our money where our mouth is. In my portfolio we are looking after Australians who are choosing to use our investment in infrastructure. There is $100 billion. Never before in Australia's history have we invested more in infrastructure. In Queensland there is $10 billion for the Bruce Highway. RACQ, the motor vehicle association, said that that was the single infrastructure priority for Queensland. We're addressing those needs.
We're also focused on reducing the cost of doing business across the country. We're providing all Australians with the skills that they need to succeed and boost their chance in getting a job. Unemployment under us is better. Unlike those opposite, the Liberal-National government is not raising taxes and is not levying Australians to pay for the response to the last cyclone, because this government has had stronger economic management and is resilient.
We did vote for that, but I can assure you that, because of the strength of the economy under this government's leadership and because our management of the country, we haven't had to rush back into this place and inflict a levy on the Australian people.
Mr Perrett interjecting—
We come from a broad church, Member for Moreton. We all come from business backgrounds. It was once highlighted to me that those on the other side of this House could not hit the side of a barn with a forecast, when it comes to the economic outlook. We are also getting on and helping those communities who have been affected by this horrendous drought. Some of my businesses and farms up home haven't had income for seven years. We welcome the wonderful rain that's coming. We've put our money where our mouth is, because we have a strong economy, in helping those farms and families that have been affected by drought, by putting $20 million to keep kids in school—$5 million of that is for child care—and giving $1 billion of drought loans to farmers to buy fodder, transport stock, build water infrastructure, agist cattle, mend fences and refinance their existing debt. A new small business drought loan up to $500,000—there is half a billion dollars for that. There's $200 million extra for the Building Better Regions Fund to fund projects in drought hit communities and support those economies. There's an extra $138.9 million for Roads to Recovery, to build those strategic pieces of infrastructure. Of course you can only do that when you have a strong, stable government.
I congratulate you on your accession to your position, Mr Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien. We've come to the end of the first sitting fortnight for 2020. I think we would all acknowledge that we came back here very conscious that the nation needed a great deal of us. But I have to say that people could only look at what's happened in this last fortnight in this parliament with a great deal of disappointment.
Sitting at the heart of the government is a huge hole. That hole is the lack of a plan for the issues that Australians are facing and that they need a government to address. It became obvious day after day, through question time over the last two weeks, where we've canvassed issues such as the bushfire recovery response. It is perfectly legitimate for opposition members to raise the concerns of their communities about how the government is responding to the bushfires, both in terms of the reconstruction process and the longer term efforts we need around climate change in order to address the challenges. Each time we ask this, those opposite get up and say it's politicising the bushfire action. It wasn't about politicising; it was about doing legitimately what vulnerable communities that need voices in this parliament had asked my colleagues to do. In particular, my colleagues the member for Macquarie, the member for Gilmore and the member for Eden-Monaro were asking questions that were directly what their communities were asking them.
If the government had had an answer, they had an opportunity to get up and say, 'Look, that's a genuine issue and this is what we're doing about it.' But they don't, because they don't have a plan. They don't have the capacity to put in place the reforms that are needed, so they just hit out at members who are speaking out on behalf of their communities. That's what we've seen in the last fortnight. Why do you get yourself into that position as a government? You get yourself in that position because you think a cheap slogan will solve every problem. It doesn't get you through at the end of the day.
In this debate I particularly want to take the opportunity—and I thank the Leader of the Opposition for putting this issue up—to talk about what we saw in question time today. The government have had two weeks to say, '2020 is going to be a big year for us as a government, with big challenges in the community, such as education'—and we had debate this week in the parliament about the fact that we've lost over 140,000 apprentices in this country. They had a big opportunity to talk about the fact that a report came out that noted there is a significantly higher and growing proportion of people over the age of 55 on Newstart allowance. But they're struggled. There was an opportunity to talk about that. But, no, we didn't get that. We got leadership fights. We got bunfights within parties which focused on: 'Will we split? Won't we split?'
We got opportunities to be transparent covered up by gagging debates and refusing to release documents. We got sports rorts in its various forms. That's what we got from the government.
Today we asked about the aged-care sector. I can tell you—and I know colleagues from this side and I have to assume colleagues from the other side—that this is one of the constantly increasing bread-and-butter issues in our electorate offices, with families ringing in tears because their elderly relatives are not getting the support that that need. The government's response was, 'We created 10,000 places.' As the shadow minister said, only 5,000 were actually implemented, and they know the waiting list is over 110,000. They know that's the waiting list and they think a bandaid like 10,000 will solve that. Who are those people? These are the people in their 90s who have been assessed as needing high care to stay in their homes and they're being told they'll have to wait three years. That's the reality.
I want the government to take the example of an amazing 90-year-old lady in my electorate, Val Fell, who received an Order of Australia this year—in her 90s! Val takes phone calls from people who are dementia carers. She organises an large annual conference in Wollongong for the carers of people with dementia. She is constantly lobbying and going off to conferences. Val, in her 90s, could teach this government a lesson about caring about the most vulnerable in our community.
Deputy Speaker, I also take the opportunity to congratulate you on your ascension to the position. I welcome the opportunity to address this matter of public importance. As a proud Western Australian and a proud regional member of parliament representing a regional seat, I completely reject the premise of this matter of public importance. I refer to my own seat and the success of the economy in my seat and the success of the hardworking people in my seat of O'Connor.
If I can just start by the surprise I had when I read this morning's media and PVO was talking about this group of members of the opposition who are meeting together. I thought Otis was a lift, and they were meeting together in a lift, but apparently it's a restaurant in Canberra. I didn't know that, because I come from a long way away from here. I have always known about Otis lifts. You could safely fit the sensible members of the Labor Party—certainly those who have any understanding of regional affairs—in a very small lift.
I applaud the member for Hunter, who certainly had a nearer-to-God experience in the May 2019 election. He has certainly starting to listen to regional people and, hopefully, there are some more people on his side that will follow him, because regional seats like mine contribute to the very strong economy that this government has produced. We are heading for our first budget surplus since 2007 and, as has been pointed out by previous speakers, that has enabled us to meet the challenges. There have been challenges with drought, there have been challenges with bushfires and, more recently, we now have the challenge of the coronavirus. The government is in a good position financially to be able to meet those challenges and deal with them.
Going back to regional seats like mine, we heard earlier today from the new minister for resources—and I take the opportunity to congratulate him publicly—that our resource sector last year produced $279 billion. I think that was the figure that you mentioned, Minister, representing eight per cent of our GDP. The great state of Western Australia produces a very large proportion of that national income. That national income allows us to provide the programs that make this country the greatest country on earth. We can look after all of our people in the best way we possibly can. That resource sector also provides thousands and thousands of jobs across my electorate.
Obviously the regional city of Kalgoorlie is a working example of the strength of that resource sector and the jobs it provides. In fact it provides so many jobs that we can't find people in Kalgoorlie to fill those jobs. So, one of the great initiatives of this government has been the designated area migration agreement, where a panel of businesses and the local government in Kalgoorlie and surrounding areas can nominate those positions that need to be filled. They're not just positions in the mining sector. They are also positions in child care, in aged care and in the health sector. These are the sorts of jobs that the DAMA is allowing those agencies and businesses in Kalgoorlie to fill, through a very sensible migration agreement.
Agriculture is also a very important part of the economy in my electorate, and of course the free trade agreements that we have signed as a government since 2013, when I was first elected, and I'm very proud to have been part of that journey. Demand for our agricultural products goes through the roof and, quite frankly, prices are at all-time highs. And now that we've had rain on the east coast and are seeing breeding stock kept and flocks starting to be rebuilt, I think we'll see even higher prices and new price records set. That is in large part because of the free trade agreements and the market access we have achieved for our industries as a government.
I want to conclude by saying that the government's record and performance over the past six years has allowed us to be in an excellent position to deal with the challenges we confront on an almost daily basis. That is why the Australian people, on 18 May last year, put their trust in the Morrison government to continue to manage the economy in order to provide the services they require. (Time expired)
About a decade ago I was finally able to afford the means to travel. So, for the first time, I travelled to an academic conference in France. I didn't have a lot of money, so I went online and looked through some hotels that I thought I could afford, and I found this hotel on the outskirts of Paris called Le Jardin—the Hotel Le Jardin, just outside of Paris. I thought, 'This looks all right; I'll book this place.' Well, 'le jardin' in this particular hotel turned out to be a dusty collection of fake plastic flowers, hidden away in the hotel's foyer. It occurs to me that this government is the political version of Le Jardin. Whether it's the NDIS or the NBN, whether it's education or health or aged care, this government continues to fail everyday Australians.
Today we see reports in the newspapers that access to the NDIS is dependent on postcode, with children in lower socioeconomic suburbs waiting for two years for the help they so desperately need. You've got to wonder: what kind of government presides over a system that discriminates against children in disadvantaged areas? What kind of government presides over waiting times for home care packages that are so long that people are dying as they wait? What kind of leader turns his back on a country as it burns? What kind of government puts out a political advertisement asking for donations in the middle of a bushfire crisis? What kind of government doles out taxpayer money—'a hundred dollar bill, y'all'!—to pork-barrel their own electorate, for their own electorate's advantage? It's not your money; it's taxpayer money. It's money that is paid by the hardworking mums and dads and the volunteers who applied for those sports grants in good faith, believing they would be assessed on the basis of merit, not a colour coded spreadsheet. What kind of government? A government that is so focused on itself that it has forgotten how to govern, a government that is so plagued by chaos and division that it is failing to look after Australians, with no plan for jobs, no plan for wages growth, no plan for climate change, no plan for energy—no plan, just spin. It is a government that continues to defend its sports rorts, even in the face of a scathing report by the Auditor-General, that tells Australians that it's undertaken its own internal review and then refuses to release that review, citing precedence and consistency. It's just a whole lot of spin.
I have noticed something. I have noticed that the government used to use to word 'stable' a lot during question time in their Dorothy Dixers.
Have you all noticed that? In every question they used to ask about stable government—but not any more, because even the theatrical calisthenics of the member for Stirling can't save this government from their own hypocrisy when they talk about stability. Even Scotty from marketing can't put enough positive spin on this government's track record to make it appear even remotely competent in looking after the needs of Australians.
It's a shame that, at this stage of the week, it always degrades into this kind of abuse between two political parties in a chamber. We can be better than that. We can be so much better than that and focus on the big issues. Frankly, this week we've focused on a lot of tiny issues. We've focused on a lot of superficiality. The party opposite were so obsessed with themselves that they didn't recognise the Indonesian President's visit. They were utterly obsessed in the Senate with playing the most puerile games since Federation, like trying to stop the Manager of Government Business in the Senate. Yesterday, the media was absolutely subsumed with Labor's obsession with siding with the crossbench to prevent parliament working. That was their contribution to politics for the day.
Labor is a party that actually had no policy around tax cuts, except trying to copy the government. Last quarter we had $8.1 billion of tax cuts. That is not peripherals or superficialities; this is money in people's pockets. This is what the job of government is: responsibly managing the economy and making sure that the September quarter last year showed a $4.5 billion increase in what Australians had in their pockets. It effectively boosted that September quarter by 60 per cent. That's the serious work, that's the grinding work, of running the books and still running a balanced budget.
We've worked on border policy. We've worked on the feasibility around base-load energy. But all Labor can obsess on is their 'walk both sides of the street' approach to emissions, where you have the Otis group emerging this week. It's fascinating that Otis was the guy who invented the elevator with a safety mechanism. You will need more than a safety mechanism to get out of this one. You don't even have a policy on emissions that you can stick by on both sides of the street. The minute you change towns or you leave the city and head to the bush, it is a different policy—trying to please those in the country; effectively trying to reach out to the inner-city Greens who are taking their seats. That is their fixation.
All we are asking those opposite to do is to take seriously the big issues, like the government does—things like international education and responding to coronavirus. That is the work that's quietly being done. I'll throw a little olive branch across to the other side and say that, when those opposite were in government and had a one-seat majority—governments like the Gillard government; certainly not the Rudd government—despite all of our criticism, they were quietly doing good legislative work on the way through. That's something that we have consistently done as well. I don't mind recognising that. A finely balanced parliament can get the job done and we are proof of that.
But, of course, what's so disappointing is that the party opposite has seven members sitting along that bench who deep down wish they could have Albo's job. There are seven MPs along there who think they deserve the Leader of the Opposition's job—and it is only a matter of time. Increasingly, what we see is a cardboard cut-out figure who doesn't know where he stands.
Australians can be sure of a few things. They know that we're focused on jobs. They know there are 100,000 fewer Australians living day to day off welfare, thanks to this government. The previous Labor government increased the number of those completely reliant on welfare payments by 270,000. These unfortunate souls relying on welfare payments could have been in the economy, but it was a government that didn't know how to manage it. The population's gone up in the last 12 months by 300,000 people in Australia, and welfare reliance has dropped by 100,000. They are big numbers, but every one of those is an intensively case managed family—an intensively case managed household—often with no-one in it working for a number of generations, and we have been working slowly to give them the opportunity this great country can offer.
We haven't been that happy about declining PISA standards. But what did we see from the other side of politics? We saw them simply frittering away education money through Gonski 1—just re-investing in the same stuff that doesn't work. They haven't been able to make the tough decisions in education for years. This is a side of government that, given the opportunity and the reigns of health policy, was simply unable to do anything except defend their legacy of having created Medicare. This a party that, when it got tough, when it got really hot in the kitchen, deferred PBS approvals and told Australians to wait for life-saving medicine, because they just couldn't run the budget. That is why they sit on the other side and have an attack like this on fundamentally peripheral things. It has been most disappointing, not for us but for the Australian people, who watch it with embarrassment.
It's astounding, isn't it? The topic of the debate is 'the failure of the government to focus on the needs of Australians' and the previous speaker, obsessed with politics, spent 3½ minutes speaking about the Labor Party. I would note, Deputy Speaker, that it is the first time I have risen while you have been in the chair. I voted for you, as the nation saw when I held up my ballot paper.
The talk over the summer, before we came back here for this fortnight, was about bushfires. The sky turned red, our cities were shrouded in smoke and Australians got scared about the future—as if this were a portent—and angry about the lack of leadership from the Prime Minister. Just at the very moment that the nation needed leadership, the Prime Minister and the government failed the Australian people. There has been a lot of focus in the media and the community on the Prime Minister's holiday in Hawaii. I actually don't care about that. Let the bloke have a holiday with his kids. What I do care about is the fact that he lied to the media, snuck out of the country and refused to tell anyone who was in charge.
I withdraw 'lie'. He did sneak out of the country without telling the media and try to get away with it. But that is not the real failure. The real failures in leadership are far more serious. He failed to prepare the nation for the crisis that was to come. The scientists have been telling the government for six months what to expect. He failed to invest more in aerial firefighting—the things that actually mattered. He didn't take advice. He wouldn't meet with the emergency services chiefs, because he might have had to utter the C-words—climate change—and he failed to prepare the public.
Part of national leadership is taking advice and explaining to people what might come. I've seen what good leadership looks like, in Victoria. It's Daniel Andrews. I was there on Black Saturday in Victoria, when John Brumby prepared the state for what was to come and then had the courage to face up and learn the lessons of failure. There was a failure in response. He was too slow. We have seen Albo being the Prime Minister, all around the country, from opposition. The smirk, the defensive arrogant grin, the partisan, ad-man response, asking people to donate to the Liberal Party!
Australians are decent and fair. The interesting thing, though, is talking over the summer with people who voted Liberal but who aren't sold. They voted against us. Let's be honest: they didn't vote for the government; they voted against us. But they are suspicious of who the Prime Minister is. The polling says it. The research says it. The community tells you. There are a huge number of people who voted for this government who haven't really bought the product, and they don't understand the Prime Minister. What they saw over summer was not just a bad month or two; this was that moment of crisis when the true character of a man, the true character of a government, is revealed. People saw the true character of this government: arrogant, entitled, lacking empathy, forcing people to shake hands, all spin and marketing, all about themselves. The Australian people don't matter to this government. There is no plan for bushfires. There is no plan for the nation. There is no plan for low wage growth. There is no plan for the economy. There is no plan for 110,000 older Australians waiting for their home care packages. There is no plan for the untold thousands waiting for their NDIS packages, after the government cut $1.6 billion to prop up their fake, mythical surplus. There is no plan for jobs.
It's all Labor's fault, apparently, according to all those opposite. It's as if they want people to forget that they have been the government for seven years now. This guy is not a first-termer. The Prime Minister has been in the cabinet for seven years. As we learnt this week, they don't even have a plan for themselves. They are chaotic. They're divided. On the day of the bushfire debate they decided to have a leadership challenge and decide who was going to be leader of the National Party. That went well. A civil war erupted, which has led to your elevation, Deputy Speaker. As I said, that's a good thing. We are not reflecting on the chair; we voted for you. Ministers resigned. My electorate, one of the poorest electorates in Victoria, got not one dollar of an electoral commitment, because they were all out there rorting billions of dollars, spraying it around for their own political purposes.
I rise to reject the premise of the Leader of the Opposition's statement. The measure of the success of a government is to keep the country safe and the economy strong, through the good times and the bad, and to be able to provide rapid and immediate support during these bad times. Australia has had a bad start to the year. The devastating bushfires throughout parts of Victoria and New South Wales will have long and lasting effects. Tragically, 33 people have lost their lives, including six brave firefighters; 2,900 homes have been confirmed lost, and more than 10 million hectares has been burnt out.
Due to the strength of the Australian economy and the good fiscal management of the Morrison government, when times got tough the government was in a position to step up and give assistance to those who needed it most. The message from our Prime Minister was strong: 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 bushfire period has been unprecedented. While we are prepared, well organised and well resourced, the Morrison government can be proud of the immediate relief provided to residents, businesses and organisations in bushfire affected communities. Immediate financial assistance was available in a matter of days, with a disaster recovery payment of $1,000 per eligible adult and $800 per eligible child. So far over $105 million has been paid through the disaster recovery payment, and an additional $15 million has been paid in child payments. That is about a government that is listening to the needs of Australians. We are a government that is focused on delivering. We listen. We care. We deliver.
But we're not just there for firefighters, for the bushfires, for immediate disaster recovery. We're also there and prepared for other things that have happened more recently this year, including the coronavirus outbreak. Australia is an island. Throughout our history the tyranny of distance has actually provided us with a safe harbour from diseases, pests and threats from other parts of the world that have had to deal with these. But, in an increasingly globalised world, with affordable air travel and Australians' penchant for overseas travel, it's becoming harder to stave off a public health emergency such as the novel coronavirus. But, due to good practices and a responsive government, Australia is ready.
We've been ready to protect our citizens and provide support to our international neighbours. The Australian government has worked with departments and agencies to implement measures to manage the risk of coronavirus. Containment is key—and we have achieved that—but so is problem-solving. With strong borders and a strong understanding of population health, we can combat and work to minimise the impact of global health outbreaks such as coronavirus. I'm proud that our Australian government has invested in medical research, resulting in world-class institutes like the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. We should all be proud, as Australians, that the Doherty institute was the first lab outside of China to sequence the coronavirus. The Morrison government is working on minimising the effects of the virus, which will ultimately benefit Australians from both a health point of view and an economic point of view.
When health emergencies hit we have to be ready. Australia was ready, responsive and receptive as a result of being continually focused on the needs of Australians. We listen, we care, we deliver for Australia. I completely reject the proposition of the opposition.