Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020; Second Reading
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020. The bills outline the additional spending for the 2019-20 financial year, which are primarily the measures that were in the mid-year update in December, but also some of the measures which are related to the response to the bushfires over this very challenging summer. All of the totals are obviously in the bills and, consistent with the way that we usually approach these kinds of bills, Labor will be supporting the appropriation of this money in the usual way. We will also take the opportunity to speak about what we think is some fairly substantial mismanagement of the economy over recent years, well before some of the challenges of the summer emerged.
It is definitely true that the coronavirus and the bushfires over this summer will have a substantial impact on the Australian economy and on other economies, and clearly that means that there will be an impact on the budget as well. We have acknowledged that all along. We've acknowledge when it comes to coronavirus that we will be as constructive as we can in listening to and accepting the advice provided by medical experts and extending, where possible and where appropriate, the hand of bipartisanship as the country works through what will be a fairly substantial impact from the virus as well as from the fires and drought.
But the point that we make and the point that those opposite are desperate for Australians to forget is that we entered this summer from a position of relative economic weakness, not strength. We entered the summer with a report card on the national accounts for the September quarter last year, which we got in December, that showed some very troubling developments but also some longstanding weaknesses in the Australian economy. The last national accounts that we got—and we'll get an update on the December accounts next week—had some very troubling numbers. Quarterly growth slowed in those figures. Annual growth was only 1.7 per cent, which is well below the budget forecast. The economy was barely growing faster than the population. GDP per capita didn't grow at all in that most recent quarter. The private domestic economy went backwards for two quarters and has now experienced the biggest decline since the global financial crisis.
I heard the Prime Minister talking yesterday about how the difficulties in the international environment mean we need to lean more heavily on the domestic economy. The domestic economy has gone backwards on his watch before the fires and before any of us had even heard of coronavirus. Total private business investment went backwards in that last quarter. Wages were growing at only one-fifth the pace of profits. Productivity declined in the quarter and over the year. There are so many indicators in the national accounts released in December which prove beyond any argument that the economy was underperforming substantially before these difficulties emerged this summer.
We also know that because, in the government's own midyear update—which, again, came out in the middle of December, not that long ago—the government itself downgraded expectations for wages growth. They said unemployment would be a higher than expected. So all of this rubbish that the economy was somehow all humming along perfectly, and then we had the fires and coronavirus, and those are the only reasons why things are tough at the moment, is completely and utterly wrong in every way. The economy was floundering under those opposite before the fires and before coronavirus. They are desperate for the Australian people to forget that.
But Australians understand that their wages have been stagnant not just for the last few weeks but for the last few years. Australians understand that it hasn't just all of a sudden, since the outbreak of coronavirus, got more difficult for people to pay for child care or electricity or their health costs. These have been longstanding economic challenges. They are the consequence of a government which had a plan to win an election but not a plan to grow the economy in a meaningful way—not a plan to grow wages or deal with energy to get cheaper and cleaner energy into our economy, which are good for families and businesses. Absolutely no idea how to go about all of that! And that's why we've got economic weakness which is longstanding. It hasn't just arrived on our doorstep with the first cases of coronavirus. Those opposite should stop pretending that that is the only reason. Coronavirus and the fires on their own do not explain or excuse what has been that longstanding economic weakness in our economy, which Australians have felt for too long because they have a government which is incapable of coming up with a plan to support the economy through a very difficult period.
A lot of the talk in the last few days relevant to this appropriation bill is about the government's promise of a surplus this year. The point we make about that—and we've made this responsibly and consistently—is that the priority should be supporting bushfire affected communities, families, workers and businesses and our emergency services, who have done such an extraordinary job in the most difficult circumstances over the last few months. We've said for a long time now that that's got to be the priority. We've been very responsible about that—far more responsible in this case than those opposite were when the floods hit Queensland in the latter years of the Gillard government. The reason we've done that is that we do think that these are difficult and challenging times for the economy and difficult and challenging times for the budget. But the point that I would make about the surplus is this: it wasn't us that asked for the Treasurer and the Prime Minister to be judged on one criteria and one criteria alone—whether they hit a surplus in 2019-20. It was the Treasurer himself and the Prime Minister himself. In the absence of any other commitments or any other plan, they begged the Australian people to judge them on just that one criteria—
It didn't do much to boost domestic demand, as the member at the table says in the last point that he'll make on this subject!
The point I'm making is: this is a test that the government set for itself. This is a test that the government asked to be judged on. It remains to be seen whether there will be a surplus this year. We won't actually technically know the budget position in final terms until September of this year. So we will wait and see what happens in the budget and in the final budget outcome. But they've begged to be judged on this, and I think it's appropriate that people now say: 'Well, if you can't tell us that you'll definitely get to surplus, why did you promise that you would? Why did you print the mugs? Why did you do all the dodgy ads? Why did you do all the sloganeering? Why did you claim victory?' It's the equivalent of claiming victory for next year's premiership. I think it will be humiliating for the Treasurer if he falls short, not because we set the test for him but because he would be failing a test that he set for himself.
At the start of the government, three treasurers ago, but in the same Liberal-National government, those opposite said that there would be a surplus in the first year and every year after that, and they're none for six and they can't guarantee that they won't be none for seven. I think they should be held accountable for their own test. One of the reasons why this matters is that those opposite have enjoyed relatively good economic conditions—challenging at the moment, challenging at times. But overall they're in their seventh year and in their third term and they've experienced nothing like the global turbulence that the former Labor government experienced—absolutely nothing like it. So they have no excuse, now into their seventh year, into their third term, for such a long and damaging period of economic mismanagement. Because they've had those six deficits, despite promising they'd all be surpluses, what we have seen is that net debt in this country has actually more than doubled on their watch. That's an important point. Whenever you hear those opposite talk about debt, remember that most of the debt in the Commonwealth budget is Liberal debt. Most of the debt in the budget has actually been accumulated under the life of this government and not under the life of the former, Labor government.
Net debt has never been higher in this country. It's now $403 billion. It was $175 billion in September 2013 when government changed hands. So it's a 130 per cent increase in net debt. For those who like to bang on about debt, every Australian needs to know and needs to remember that most of the debt in the Commonwealth budget is Liberal debt. Most of it has accumulated on the watch of those opposite. They have more than doubled net debt. If you want to talk about gross debt, it's through half a trillion dollars. It's the only government in the history of Australia that's had more than half a trillion dollars of gross debt. It's $570 billion at the moment. It is more than double what it was when the Liberals took office. It was $280 billion back then; it's $570 billion now. So there is a 104 per cent increase in gross debt. That's not something those opposite like to talk about, but it is a fact, nonetheless.
The point we make about all of this, the point that marries up the seventh year and the third term of economic mismanagement, incompetence, inertia, inaction and ineptitude with what we're seeing now with the coronavirus is that they had no plan for the economy before the virus hit and they have no plan now. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer did a long press conference yesterday where they talked about the significance of the challenge. And I don't quibble with that; it will be a significant challenge. I've said many times that the hit to the economy from the coronavirus will be substantial. But in all of those words that were spoken yesterday at that press conference—probably thousands of words—there was not one word of a plan. There was nothing to give the Australian people confidence that, having been told that this would be a big economic event, the government is actually prepared to do something about it.
The government had no plan before the virus. They had a plan to get through the election; they did that; they got to the other side of the election. I think one of the reasons Australians are so disappointed in the Prime Minister and the Treasurer is that, having won the election, they had no plan to take the country forward—to support growth in the economy when it is flagging, to support wages in the economy when they are stagnant, or to even meet some of the tests they set themselves around deficits and surpluses in particular. As a consequence of that, we've got all that data I mentioned a moment ago—slowing growth and bad outcomes for productivity, wages, business investment, household debt and the private domestic economy. All those things are a consequence of a government that didn't have a plan before the virus and doesn't have a plan now.
Australians are crying out for two things: leadership from the Prime Minister—and he has been found wanting—and some kind of economic plan that will give them confidence that those opposite understand the challenges in the economy but are also prepared to act on them and do something about it. Instead of that, the government spends most of its time talking about the Labor Party and none of its time coming up with a plan to support families, workers and businesses when the economy is as soft as it is today.
Labor has been saying since August last year that the weakening in the economic situation warranted the government doing something about it. Under the member for Grayndler's leadership, we are determined to not just point out where the government has got things wrong but to also be as constructive as possible where we think we can help the government get things right. That's why, way back in August, we went out and said: 'The government doesn't have a plan for this soft economy. Here are some ideas'—and we put some ideas on the table to try and help the government through that. The disappointing bit is that the government hasn't picked up and run with any of those ideas; they are prepared to vandalise and jeopardise the economy in the interests of playing day-to-day politics.
But what has been heartening is the absolute avalanche of businesses, business peak organisations, the Reserve Bank, other credible organisations, expert economists and others in our community who have come in behind some of the proposals we have made. For example, the Australian Industry Group has been very positive about our suggestions for business investment. It has pointed out, as have others, that the Reserve Bank is doing the best it can by cutting interest rates to a quarter of what they were during the global financial crisis. But that, on its own, has not been enough. It has also puffed up asset prices; and it has hurt savers at the same time, as it doesn't really flow through to the real economy. The Reserve Bank can't do it all on its own. That's a point Ai Group has made, and I commend it for making that point repeatedly. Deloitte said that the pain in our economy has been homegrown. EY talked about the economy losing momentum. The BCA said we need to pull all the levers if we really want to get a sustained rise in investment to lock in future productivity growth and income growth.
The point I am making—and it is a bit the same with zero net emissions by 2050—is that there is an extraordinary alliance of Labor, business groups, community groups, unions, the RBA and the IMF. All of these groups know and understand that something has to change in our economy; we cannot continue to limp on like this. Unfortunately, the only ones who think everything is hunky-dory—'What are people whingeing about?'—are those who occupy the Treasury bench. That's why we've had such a prolonged period of weakness, and that's why you have had the Reserve Bank cut interest rates repeatedly but with diminishing effect. That's why you have had the Governor of the Reserve Bank repeatedly calling for the government to do something so that fiscal policy, the budget, the government is doing something to support the efforts of the Reserve Bank in monetary policy.
There's one other point that the Treasurer in particular likes to make. He likes to make some international comparisons, and I wanted to briefly touch on some of those before I make some other points. The Treasurer likes to talk about the IMF forecast—I think he did it again this morning on that interview he did with Fran Kelly on Radio National. He talks about the IMF forecasts over the coming years. Well, let's talk about the IMF forecasts. The IMF has actually downgraded their expectations for our economy by more than they've downgraded the other advanced economies. The government, themselves, as I said a moment ago, downgraded their own forecasts for growth and for wages and for the unemployment rate. And the Reserve Bank has actually downgraded their expectations for Australian economic growth three times over the last little while since the election. I think that speaks volumes about the government's actual performance rather than what the forecast might be going forward.
I do understand as well that for a lot of people in the Australian community they switch on the radio or they catch snippets of the TV news and the conversation about the economy can be quite technical. There are lots of numbers and all the rest of it, and there's a contest of economic policy in this building. But I think what it really boils down to is this: the economy is not delivering for ordinary working people. All of the data shows that. But really, you don't need to be a genius to know that people are struggling. You just need to talk to real people in real communities, who are doing it tough. They're doing it tough because wages have been so stagnant for so long now and they can't keep up with some of those costs of living that I mentioned a moment ago. That's why people are doing it so tough in our community. If you look at wages in particular, we had more wages numbers out, I think, last week, and they were stagnant again. They keep falling short of the budget forecasts. Those opposite have actually got the worst record on wages on record. They've downgraded wages growth in almost every budget and budget update since 2013, and the Reserve Bank says that weak wages under this government has become the 'new normal'. This is what we're talking about here. And at the same time we've got rising unemployment, and those two things are related—the unemployment rate increased last week. Almost two million Australians are looking for work or more work, and 1.2 million Australians are looking for more hours but they can't find those extra hours that they need to feed their families and look after each other. Youth unemployment is bad. There is something like 280,000 extra underemployed Australians since the government came to office.
I could go on and on, but the point is really this: the people-facing part of the economy, the part of the economy that people understand best, the part which is about wages and consumption and household debt, if the government hasn't seen the flashing amber light in that part of the economy, you've got to wonder what they've been doing for three terms and seven years. It beggars belief that having seen what's going on in the economy that those opposite are prepared to do absolutely nothing to turn things around.
There's a hint in why that's the case, particularly when it comes to wages, and that is that the finance minister, who has been the finance minister for every day of this third-term government, was asked not that long ago—I think in maybe May—about wages being stagnant, and he described that outcome as a deliberate design feature of the government's economic policy. That was remarkably frank, remarkably honest. I commend him for that. But it really speaks volumes. This is a deliberate outcome. Those opposite celebrate low wages. It's a deliberate design feature of their economic policy architecture. That's what the finance minister said. He's been in the cabinet every day of this government and he belled the cat. It really does speak volumes about those opposite that that is their economic priority. When it comes to stagnant wages, if that's what they were looking for, well, mission accomplished, because that's what we've had for a long time now.
Those opposite like to talk about risk in the economy. The riskiest outcome is this inertia, inaction, incompetence and ineptitude on the economy. Australians can't afford more and more years of stagnant wages or record household debt. They can't afford to go on under a government which cares so little about them that they won't come up with a plan to turn things around. It's true in the economy, it's true in energy policy and it's true right across the board—no leadership, no plan.
There is one thing that has made people particularly angry in communities around Australia. There are council campaigns in my part of the world, and there are the same in the minister's part of the world at the moment. We're doing a lot of doorknocking. When you get to people's doors in communities right around South-East Queensland, one of the main things that people want to raise with you is the absence of leadership, particularly over the fire season. When things got difficult in Australia, they wanted their Prime Minister to step up. He didn't do it. That's probably the dominant sentiment that people are talking about when you knock on their door at the moment.
What's getting them really, really steamed up, what is making them so disappointed in and so angry with this Prime Minister, is that this is a guy who has said for some time that he can do a better job managing taxpayer money than anybody else. Then, after all the times where he has said, 'It's not our money; it's your money,' and all of these slogans from this adman masquerading as a Prime Minister, they turn on the TV and see these sports rorts, road rorts and change room rorts—all of these rorts that those opposite have been responsible for. They see $100 million go out the door, principally to support the government's political prospects, rather than to support the good work of many other sporting groups who were deemed more eligible and more worthy by the relevant commission and the relevant independent experts. The audit office said that it was dodgy from beginning to end, so people do get steamed up about that. You want to talk about economic management? Well, economic management is about getting bang for the taxpayer buck, and using taxpayer money for such egregious pork-barrelling to support their own political interests gets people very angry, and I think for good reason.
We're up for a debate. We're up for a contest of ideas on the economy, and that contest really boils down to one thing: on this side of the House, we're prepared to provide the economic leadership necessary to come up with an economic plan which makes the economy work for ordinary Australians and not against them. Those opposite are either unwilling or unable to show that leadership, to come up with that plan, and we see the consequences of that in years of economic stagnation, wage stagnation and slowing growth. We see that in years of our economy underperforming when we look at the economies that we compare ourselves to. We see that in rising unemployment. And the problem with that is, when we do approach legitimate challenges like this coronavirus, which will have a substantial impact, we do so from a position of weakness because those opposite couldn't be bothered supporting the economy and making it as strong as they could when things started to turn down some time ago. There was no plan before the virus, no plan during it and no sign of a plan afterwards. That sells the ordinary working people of this country short. They have a right to expect leadership from the Prime Minister and a plan for the economy, and they're not getting either of those things.
It's always interesting to listen to contributions from my electoral neighbour the member for Rankin. The Morrison government have a great story to tell, especially in my electorate of Forde where we're delivering record investment in education, health, the environment and local infrastructure. That's in stark contrast to the comments we've just heard from the member for Rankin. What he neglected to share with the House in his contribution is what those opposite were prepared to do in the lead-up to the election. If they had won, they would have slugged the Australian economy with $387 billion of new taxes, and my electorate of Forde would have paid a direct price.
I'm proud to have worked and to continue to work with so many wonderful groups and people to deliver funding for some truly wonderful projects across my electorate—projects big and small, from upgrading the M1 to the tune of over a billion dollars to something as small as new equipment in our local schools to ensure they can continue to educate the bright minds of the future. Whether you live in Upper Coomera in the south of my electorate, Shailer Park in the north or Beenleigh in the heartland of the electorate, you're reaping benefits from one of the greatest investments in education, health and infrastructure in a generation. These are long-lasting investments that will see more money for local schools, more money for Medicare and hospitals, more money for roads and rail, more money for mental health—particularly for services like headspace—and more money to fix and ensure the sustainability of our environment.
There is no question that mental health, especially youth mental health, is one of the many great challenges of our time. Sadly, we are seeing more and more young people suffer from the devastating effects of depression, anxiety and many other mental health conditions. I'm concerned for the young people across Australia and in my electorate of Forde and the growing issues that they are facing in this space, but I'm pleased to say that this government, through its $503 million youth mental health and suicide prevention plan, is working to assist those facing mental health issues. There is $375 million to strengthen the headspace network and establish an additional 30 new headspaces, including in Upper Coomera in my electorate of Forde. I'm pleased to say that this is the result of work jointly done by myself and the member for Fadden, who's in the chamber, at the table at the moment. It just shows the value of colleagues working together to achieve an outcome for communities where we share a common interest.
We are strengthening our Indigenous suicide prevention programs by investing $34.1 million in tailored initiatives, such as the national plan for culturally appropriate care. We are strengthening early childhood and parenting support by investing $11.8 million in initiatives such as Kids Helpline. Locally, we are delivering $974,000 in funding in 2019-20 to headspace Meadowbrook for the essential mental health services for young people across Logan, including in the member for Rankin's electorate, and there is an additional $750,000 over three years, from 2019-20, to address demand and reduce wait times for services at headspace at Meadowbrook. I want to take this opportunity to thank the team at headspace Meadowbrook for the terrific work that they do each and every day. In addition, we've secured $761,000 in new funding for the establishment, through the Gold Coast public hospital network, of a new headspace centre at Upper Coomera with $926,000 of ongoing funding from 2020-21. The new services are expected to commence in 2020-21 and the residents of the northern Gold Coast, from Yatala and Ormeau, all the way to Upper Coomera, Oxenford and Coomera on the eastern side of the highway, and residents in areas up to Mount Tamborine, will benefit from the new services.
As the member for Fadden knows, the northern Gold Coast is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia, with more and more young families moving there every day. These young families expect improved road infrastructure, better health services and great schools, all of which, I'm pleased to say, this coalition government is delivering. All these families are moving there because there are opportunities for them, and it is those opportunities we want to see them be able to pursue. Our retirees and our small-business owners across the northern Gold Coast want to see increasing infrastructure upgrades, particularly on the M1. During the election campaign we announced more commuter car parking for the Coomera train station—again, this was announced in partnership with the member for Fadden—Medicare funded MRI services and, as I just touched on, additional mental health support.
Last November I had the opportunity to welcome the Prime Minister back to the northern Gold Coast to make some key announcements. We went to exit 41, which is one of the worst traffic hotspots on the northern Gold Coast. It services the Yatala Enterprise Area. Congestion at this interchange, particularly in morning peak hour, can lead to long queues of traffic tailing back onto the M1. This creates a serious safety issue both for those seeking to exit and for those continuing to travel through on the M1. Quite predictably, with the traffic on the M1, the PM was late. But importantly, together with the member for Fadden and the state member for Coomera, Michael Crandon, who has been an advocate for the projects for many years, we announced increased funding of $1.9 billion to boost road and rail projects in Queensland, including an additional $46.3 million in funding to upgrade exits 41 and 49 in Yatala and Pimpana on top of the $50 million we had already committed at the election last year.
This will mean that businesses and residents in those areas will be able to get home sooner and safer. As I touched on earlier, the most important aspect of this is the safety aspect at those two interchanges. With funding to flow from next year, I know the residents on the northern Gold Coast will be excited to see the shovels hit the ground later this year at exit 41. Some of the plans released recently by the state government actually look very good. Business owners and residents across Yatala, Ormeau and Pimpana have been fighting fiercely for these upgrades for many years, and it is tremendous to be able to announce the federal government's commitment and funding to those upgrades.
The northern Gold Coast is also benefitting from the investments we've made in health, with the delivery of a fully Medicare funded MRI licence to Qscan in Upper Coomera, which will mean residents right across the area no longer have to travel to Southport or further south on the Gold Coast to obtain an MRI or a range of other radiology facilities that Qscan have provided in their new facilities. In talking to the Qscan team last week, they were saying that the need and the requirement for the services at their new facility at Upper Coomera has far exceeded what they had originally anticipated. Some 2,537 MRI services have already been delivered at Qscan Upper Coomera since their opening on 9 September 2019. Again, it just goes to show that these wise investments by the Morrison government in fast-growing communities right across my electorate of Forde have had such a positive effect.
This bill gives me the opportunity to remind those opposite that this is what is possible when good governance meets good economic management, which was simply unthinkable when they were last in power. Since coming to government, we have committed more than $25.7 billion towards infrastructure across the great state of Queensland and around $10.5 billion of that will be delivered across the state over the next four years. We have brought forward nearly $650 million in funding and committed more than $680 million in new funding: more money and more projects than what those opposite ever dreamt about. This includes new and fast-tracked funding for projects in my electorate of Forde, with funding to flow from the 2020-21 year. This includes projects like the M1 Pacific Highway upgrades between Eight Mile Plains and Daisy Hill. In addition, we've also made a long-term commitment to funding for the final part of those upgrades from Daisy Hill to Logan Motorway. In addition, on the southern end of the Gold Coast we've made commitments to funding the M1 upgrades from Varsity Lakes to Tugun once the current project from Mudgeeraba to Varsity lakes is completed.
There's the relocation of the Loganlea train station to meet future demand, with better integration with Logan Hospital and the TAFE campus, with $50 million in funding to flow from next year on top of the $15 million we already committed for new commuter car parks at Loganlea train station during the election campaign. There is the business case for the Salisbury to Beaudesert passenger rail. I know that the people out at Boronia Heights, Park Ridge, Greenbank and more generally in the west of Logan, which also goes into the member for Wright's electorate, are very happy to see further progress on this vital rail link to service these growing communities in the west of Logan City.
Since coming to government we've delivered record funding for health, which is delivering results right across my electorate of Forde. Funding for the Medicare Benefits Schedule is now up over $5.5 billion since Labor was last in government. In my electorate of Forde, MBS funding has increased by over $50 million since Labor was last in government. We've increased the GP headcount in Forde from 168 to 205. That's an additional 37 doctors in my electorate alone, an increase of over 20 per cent since we came to government in 2013. GP services in Forde have also increased by almost 300,000, to 1.4 million services on the most recent figures. PBS funding has also increased, with over 2,000 new medicines listed since we entered government in 2013. PBS funding in Forde has increased by over 30 per cent, with 21,000 new people accessing the PBS since we came to government in 2013. It is these figures that tell a story and show that our ability to manage the budget and the economy is delivering results for the Australian people: the ability to deliver record funding on health and ensuring that Australians can continue to access essential services to lead a stronger and healthier life.
On education we're delivering a record $314 billion package of recurrent funding from 2018 to 2019 under the Quality Schools Package. Locally, this means students in schools like Boronia Heights State School in my electorate can expect to see their funding increase from $3,095 per student in 2019 to over $4,600 per student in 2029. That's an increase of almost 50 per cent over the next 10 years. In addition to that, we were successful in obtaining funding for Norfolk Village State School and Eagleby State School to the tune of $500,000 each to build children's health and wellbeing hubs to bring critical medical services to the school, so that those parents who struggle to take their kids to various medical services during school hours in either Brisbane or the Gold Coast can have those services at the school. We hope that, through that, those students will get more timely assistance where they require it. The Australian people have been misled time and again by those opposite, whether it's on health or education, and time and again the facts have proved them wrong.
In conclusion, I'd like to touch on the issue of the environment, which is critically important to all of our communities. But once again it is this government that is delivering for my electorate of Forde by funding local projects and getting local results on the ground. The Communities Environment Program has provided up to $150,000 in funding for community led environmental projects in Forde, including $18,000 for the Indigenous Gardens for Wildlife project at Norfolk Village State School; $18,000 for Conservation Volunteers Australia to rehabilitate a Yugambeh site near the Albert River; $18½ thousand for Beenleigh State High School for a waste management system; $19,000 for North East Albert Landcare Group for their Ormeau bottle tree preservation project and many others. These are just some of the projects, along with record funding in health and education, that will continue to deliver better results for my community over the years to come.
These are of course the appropriation bills, which seek appropriations from the budget for the ordinary course of delivering government throughout Australia. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 relates to the ordinary annual government services—that is, by continuing expenditure for government on services, to fund existing policies—and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020 seeks appropriations for funding of new expenses as well as payments to the states and territories.
The remarkable thing about this government is that, despite the fact that they have been in office for close to seven years now, they still do not have an economic plan for this country. We've been through one of the most tumultuous economic periods in the nation's history, with growth still not having recovered to trend rates from the global financial crisis. We've had the trade war that's occurred between the United States and China that has had a dramatic effect on supply chains for Australian businesses and directly on our economy.
Over the summer we saw just how ill-prepared this government was for the bushfire crisis that affected nearly all states and territories throughout the country and resulted in 33 Australians losing their lives and countless numbers of properties being destroyed, and, despite this, we've still got those on the opposite side who deny that climate change science is real and are still fighting this war against a decent climate change policy in this country.
Now all of this is being compounded by the coronavirus. We've been pointing out that this government's economic management was bad prior to the coronavirus. The coronavirus is only going to make it worse and much more difficult for many Australians, because this government, for the last seven years, has not had an economic plan for this nation, and the Australian people are suffering and they're beginning to ask the question: 'What is the point of the Morrison government? What have they done in terms of economic management that has moved our nation forward—that has stimulated business investment, productivity and growth?' And the answer is: 'Nothing.' The country is in an economic malaise. People are really struggling. And this government just doesn't get it—they do not understand just how much working Australians and small business people and pensioners are struggling at the moment.
We've had growth below trend for many, many years and the IMF and the RBA are continuing to downgrade Australia's economic growth forecast for the coming financial year. The incomes of Australians haven't been increasing. Wages have been stubbornly stuck at that two per cent level and below for the last five years. And it has all been compounded by this government through their support for cuts to penalty rates in awards. So wages haven't been increasing, which means that families have been struggling, and this government has gone and made it worse by supporting cuts to some of the lowest paid workers in the country. Those workers are actually having the amount of money that they take home each week in their pay packets cut because this government supports cutting penalty rates in the hospitality and service sector awards for people who work on weekends. That says everything about the government's approach to economic management and trying to stimulate growth in our economy.
Household debt in Australia is at record levels. We have one of the highest levels of household debt in the OECD. I think we are second in the OECD in terms of the proportion of household debt that the average family in Australia is carrying compared to their income and their assets. In fact, the level of households that are overindebted—this is something that the ABS measures every few years—has been increasing under this government, and that is the level of debt compared to assets and income.
So we've got low wages and increasing debt, and the result is that Australian families are really, really struggling. And they're cutting back on spending as a result. They're cutting back on that discretionary spending that is so important for consumption and small business in our economy. Families are just spending on the basics. They're just spending enough to get by, on the necessities: transport, housing, education and childcare.
That is having a dramatic effect on consumption. Ask any small business in any main town or suburb throughout the country how they are doing under the Morrison government and they will tell you how badly they are struggling. We are seeing that reflected in our national accounts, with very low consumption figures for the last five or six years. Because of that, business investment is falling. Businesses aren't investing in new capital, new equipment, more employees and new technology to increase productivity, reduce costs and create economies of scale.
That's been reflected in the business growth figures that are published regularly by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Business investment as a share of nominal GDP has fallen under this government. There was 17 per cent growth in business investment compared to nominal GDP in 2013. It has fallen to 11 per cent under this government. This is the government that claims to be pro-business! This government claims to be for capital deepening, for ensuring we are improving business investment in this country. But we've seen a reduction in business investment under this government. It says everything about their approach to economic management.
And that, of course, is affecting productivity. It is having an effect on the productivity of the nation and our ability to efficiently use resources to produce income. For the first time in decades, labour productivity in this country has fallen. In the last financial year, labour productivity fell by 0.2 per cent. To put that in context, it means workers produced less in the last financial year than in the previous financial year. That is having a dramatic effect on businesses and growth in our economy.
Ever since we started recording labour productivity in Australia, it has always increased. Labour productivity in Australia has always grown—but not under the Morrison government; it is now falling. That is a complete demonstration of what a bad economic manager this government really is. It is extraordinarily bad, to the point that it is the first time this has happened since we started measuring labour productivity in the 1970s. But not only that, labour productivity growth has been slowing down since 2013. Since this government was elected, it has been slowing down. And it's not only in the space of labour productivity; it's also in overall productivity, particularly relating to capital deepening or investment in new technology and machinery that will grow our economy into the future.
The classic case of this is this government's approach to telecommunications and, specifically, the National Broadband Network. If you want a policy that highlights just how moribund and bad this government is when it comes to infrastructure and economics, look no further than the National Broadband Network. The former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, promised that his new approach to the National Broadband Network—and let's not forget that, when they got elected, they said they were ditching Labor's policy of fibre-optic cable to every single household and business throughout the country and going with a multimedia mix of new technology; and that would involve fibre to the node connecting to the copper wire and also the HFC network, the overhead wires that run through many suburbs throughout the country. As a result of that the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said the cost would be reduced. They promised that the NBN rollout would cost $29.5 billion. Well, have a guess how much it has actually cost. It has cost $51 billion! They've doubled the cost of the NBN through their multitechnology approach and we have inferior technology that doesn't work. That's how good they are at managing infrastructure projects and economics!
It doesn't end there, because Malcolm Turnbull also promised minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second by 2020 for everyone throughout the country. Well, there are plenty of households in the electorate that I represent that are still waiting for that knock on the door and that letter in the mailbox from the NBN to say that they're going to roll out in their street. The rollout is four years behind schedule. It shows how completely moribund and hopeless this government is when it comes to managing infrastructure projects—double the cost to $51 billion and four years behind schedule. What makes it worse is that the people in rural and regional areas are the ones that are really suffering. Is it any wonder the National Party is under such electoral pressure, because they are a complete disaster in coalition with this Morrison government when it comes to the provision of infrastructure in rural and regional areas.
The HFC rollout that Malcolm Turnbull promised would be the saviour and reduce cost is so bad that they stopped the rollout. They stopped it. They said, 'We can't put businesses and households through this anymore because it simply doesn't work.' Thank you, Malcolm Turnbull, for what you've done to telecommunications in this country! Thank you, Scott Morrison, for completely stuffing Australia's telecommunications network through the NBN!
The results speak for themselves. Some may say that I'm taking a partisan approach to this, but you only need look objectively at what the international rankings of internet speeds say about Australia to see just how bad this government is and how much they've stuffed up the NBN rollout. Australia has now fallen to 68th in the world when it comes to global rankings of internet speeds. Over the last year we've fallen from 62nd to 68th—just in one year. That fall has occurred every year since this government took office and took over the management of the National Broadband Network rollout. In terms of the OECD, we rank 32nd out of 35 nations when it comes to internet speeds. There are developing countries in this world that have higher internet speeds than we do here in Australia. That is the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government's legacy when it comes to managing infrastructure projects, particularly the National Broadband Network under this government.
We all know that it's not only the NBN that infrastructure investment has stalled in. For many years now the RBA Governor has been saying if you want to get growth going again, if you want to stimulate the economy, this government needs to invest in infrastructure projects. They often talk about dams on that all side of the chamber and how we should be building dams to make sure that we're conserving our water resources. They've been in government for seven years and they haven't started one! They haven't even got to the architecture stage of planning one. They are unbelievable how much they mislead the Australian public. And now they want the government to put taxpayers' dollars into building coal-fired power stations in Queensland, believe it or not, just to appease that mad lunatic fringe they have in their party that don't believe in climate change and believe that we should be promoting more coal in Australia. They want the government to underwrite to the tune of $17 billion because no-one in the private sector will touch a coal-fired power station with a ten-foot pole. For good reason: it's becoming outdated technology, and in a few years renewable energy will be cheaper to produce than coal fired power. But no! Those in the National Party want this government to underwrite to the tune of $17 billion a study into coal fired power. That is their infrastructure plan for this country. Is it any wonder that the place is in such a mess and Australians are struggling?
This is their record: low growth, low wages, businesses struggling, businesses not investing, falling labour productivity, one of the worst telecommunication systems in the country and no plan from this government. In fact, the only plan that they had was tax cuts for businesses. And how has that gone for the average Australian? They promised if they cut corporate taxes that that would feed through into wages. What's happened? Wages haven't increased at all; the average worker hasn't seen it in their pay packet one bit. You need only go and ask the average family: how are the tax cuts coming through to you in wages? They're not. But what's happened to company profits? They're up by 10 per cent. They've grown by 10 per cent since the tax cuts were introduced. It hasn't gone into wages; it's gone into company profits. It says everything about this government and their economic management. They are hopeless when it comes to economic management and hopeless when it comes to infrastructure.
I rise in support of these bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020. These bills are fundamental to our country, to the people of Australia and to our future, because when we invest in Australia we are investing in the people who live and work here. We are helping vital projects get off the ground through funding; rewarding aspirations and goals; creating resilience; supporting our local schools, hospitals and businesses; boosting our strong economy; helping Aussies get access to life-saving medicines and treatments; building roads and infrastructure; protecting our environment; helping jobseekers find work; and providing support when national disasters threaten our communities and those who live in them. Investing in our country is something we must continue to do so Australia can continue to grow and our future as a great nation in set in stone.
Last week we held the Moreton Bay Jobs Fair in Morayfield in the electorate of Longman, which I am proud to represent. The fair was free to all who came along and proved to be a shining beacon of hope for many jobseekers who just wanted the chance to meet with employers, develop their interview skills, share their hopes for their careers, improve their skills, improve their resumes and talk about the different career opportunities on offer. We are talking about people who may have struggled to find work for days, weeks and even years. They were hungry for jobs. They wanted to work and they wanted to provide for their families. All they needed was support, motivation and confidence.
The Moreton Bay Jobs Fair gave them that confidence, motivation and support. You had to be there to see it and believe it. And let me tell you: to see all those jobseekers and employers in one room was incredible. Not only did we provide ample opportunity for many people who want to work but we helped employers who were hiring on the day come together to find the skilled workers they needed in order to build a stronger and more confident workforce.
On the day, we saw 1,966 attendees come through the door at the Morayfield Sport & Events Centre, with 40 exhibitors and 737 jobs on offer. Due to the coalition government's investment, because of the funds they spent on making this job fair happen, we've opened up a pathway to part-time or full-time work for many people. People who two weeks ago were at their wits end and thought they would ever find a job now have more hope because the Morrison government knew what they needed, believed in them and provided this for them.
People can often find it hard to get their foot in the door when it comes to employment, and many have lost motivation after getting rejected over and over again for jobs. Sometimes all it takes is tweaking your resume or brushing up on your interview skills. It was great to see people feeling more confident as the Moreton Bay Jobs Fair showcased hundreds of diverse employment opportunities in the region from local businesses and apprenticeships, traineeships and service providers.
We saw people of all ages come in, many dressed in their very best, to speak directly to employers hiring on the day about jobs available and to employment service providers, who can assist them in finding and obtaining work. There were also free workshops and information sessions that offered practical tips on resumes and interviews. There was the opportunity to hear from local employers about what they were looking for in an employee. There were sessions on job search techniques, along with advice on transferring their skills.
I would like to thank the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash, for spending time with me last week while talking to local businessowners across the electorate of Longman and being there for the Moreton Bay Jobs Fair. Thank you to the Morrison government for investing funding, time and labour into making this jobs fair happen. Now more people are getting up in the morning and lacing up their boots and heading to work or have the motivation they need to keep going on their journey to achieving their dream career.
That is why these bills are important, as they request legislative authority for top-up appropriations to fund expenditure on activities that require additional funding or on new activities agreed to by the government since the introduction of the 2019-20 appropriation bills in July 2019. These bills also provide funding for the government's response to the recent bushfires. The bills ensure there is sufficient preparation to cover estimate variations related to existing programs—for instance, changes in costs for demand-driven programs. Passage of the bills will ensure continuity of government programs, commencement of new activities agreed by the government since July 2019, and the Commonwealth's ability to meet its obligations for 2019-20 as they fall due.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 proposes appropriations of approximately $3.3 billion. Of this amount, major elements include: $948 million to the Department of Home Affairs, mainly to continue implementing the government's border protection policies and to support people impacted by the recent bushfires; and $592 million to the Department of Social Services, due to higher than expected participant client numbers being supported by the Disability Employment Services program and for the recent bushfire response package with additional emergency relief and financial counselling for affected communities, which provides $50 million in 2019-20 for communities affected by the recent bushfire emergency. The appropriations proposed under this bill also include: $488 million to the Department of Defence, including $88 million for the Australian Defence Force's contribution to the bushfire response through Operation Bushfire Assist and foreign exchange supplementation due to movement in exchange rates under no-win, no-loss funding arrangements; $287 million to Services Australia to support individuals, families and communities to achieve greater self-sufficiency; and $170 million for the Department of Health, including $70 million to support access to medicines and medical treatments, $68 million in departmental funding to support the delivery of government programs, and $30 million towards mental health, Indigenous health and preventative health activities. There is also $66 million for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, which includes funds for wildlife and habitat recovery in response to the recent bushfire emergency, busting congestion in the environmental assessment process, responding to African swine fever and strengthening the Australian Antarctic Program.
Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020 proposes appropriations of approximately $2.2 billion. Of this amount, major elements include: additional loan drawdowns in 2019-20, due to a revised drawdown schedule for NBN Co, which cost $1.2 million; additional equity injections in 2019-20, due to a revised schedule for equity injections for the Australian Rail Track Corporation and the Western Sydney Airport, of $176 million; $166 million for the Australian government drought response, resilience and preparedness plan; and $235 million for loans through the Regional Investment Corporation to farms and small businesses affected by drought conditions.
Last year the Morrison government announced that the electorate of Longman had received a funding boost of $4.5 million through the Roads to Recovery program. This funding is part of the $139 million that the Australian government announced would be delivered to 310 local government authorities nationwide for safer and better-maintained roads. This funding is great news for the community of Longman and will ensure that our local council, the Moreton Bay Regional Council, can progress a number of high-priority projects using local knowledge to deliver safer and better roads for our community. The electorate of Longman has received $1.5 million in funding for Aerodrome Road in Caboolture and to upgrade the T-intersection at Lear Jet Drive with traffic signal control including pedestrian crossings, as well as $2 million for McKean Street in Caboolture and $1 million for Pates Road at Wamuran. The Australian government has committed an additional $100 million per year to the Roads to Recovery program from 2019-20 as part of the local and state government road safety package announced in the 2019-20 budget. The Australian government is also contributing $530 million to upgrade the Bruce Highway from four lanes to six lanes between the Caboolture Bribie Island Road turn-off and the Steve Irwin Way exit, which will improve safety and reliability, increase highway capacity, reduce travel times and congestion, and raise the highway at flood-prone locations. This project is to be commenced this year. This is on top of the $120 million that we've also contributed to the New Settlement Road overpass, which is a duplication of the Boundary Road overpass—it has begun with surveyors, and we'll see workmen there this year as well. This project will alleviate major congestion issues and will mean commuters spend less time in their vehicles and more time at home, which can only be a good thing for the health of our community. This is what the Morrison government is all about: better and safer local roads for the people of Longman.
Investing in our country also means investing in our communities, helping projects get off the ground and supporting our local schools and community organisations. If it weren't for the investment and funding by the coalition government, many local, community and environment projects wouldn't see the light of day. So far, we have granted $423,530 to local organisations and schools through the Stronger Communities Program, the Communities Environment Program and the Local Schools Community Fund. We have also got many applications coming in for other government grants, so I've no doubt that this list will grow.
I'm proud to be part of a government that, to date, has delivered much-needed funds to the following organisations: $11,000 for the Pumicestone State School's Parents and Citizens Association, $8,000 for Bribie Respite and Support Services, $6,000 for the Caboolture Senior Citizens Centre, $4½ thousand for the St Michael's College Parents and Friends Association, $7½ thousand for the Creche and Kindergarten Association, $4,200 for the Caboolture Bridge Club, $4,200 for Beachmere District Men's Shed, $3½ thousand for St Vincent de Paul, $11½ thousand for Volunteer Marine Rescue Bribie Island, $10,000 for Spiders Boxing Club, $11,250 for Caboolture Junior Rugby League, $3½ thousand for the Vietnam Veterans Association, $4,000 for Woodford Agricultural, Pastoral & Industrial Association, $11,250 for Caboolture Branch Little Athletics Centre, $6,000 for Bribie Island Road Saddle Club, $2½ thousand for Endeavour Foundation, $10,000 for Banksia Beach Primary P&C Association, $7½ thousand for Beachmere Junior Rugby League and $12½ thousand for Woodford Golf Club. That's through the Stronger Communities Program.
Then we've got the Communities Environment Program, with funds going to the following organisations: $20,000 for OzFish, $16,000 for Conservation Volunteers Australia, $5,130 for Bribie Island Environmental Protection Association, $16,500 for Burpengary State School, $16,000 for Woodfordia, $16½ thousand for Moreton Bay Birali Steiner School, $16,000 for the Caboolture Region Environmental Education Centre and $10,878 for Carmichael College.
Lastly, through the Local Schools Community Fund, we've provided the following: $20,000 for Northpine Christian College, $14,775 for St Peter's Catholic Primary School, $20,000 for Elimbah State School, $20,000 for Dakabin State High School, $20,000 for St Paul's Lutheran Primary School and Kindergarten in Caboolture, $20,000 for Caboolture Montessori School, $11,305 for Australian Christian College, $14,430 for Jinibara State School, $20,000 for Caboolture Special School, $19,490 for Horizons College and $20,000 for Alta-1 College.
It's an enormous list, and I'm so proud that we've been able to provide these grants. This is why it's important that we're able to continue to invest in Australia in the future. With that being said, I commend this bill to the House.
I support the passage of this appropriations bill. In doing so, I take the opportunity to raise awareness of recent human rights issues in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in countries with which Australia has both a defence and foreign aid relationship—principally, in Vietnam and in the Philippines. In this place I often speak about human rights. I believe that as members of a concerned global community we all have a part to play in advocating for social justice and human rights, particularly within our sphere of influence.
In Vietnam, the crackdown on dissidents continues. The Vietnamese government maintains a monopoly on political power that is supported by a justice system which certainly appears to operate at the whim of government—rather than dispensing justice without fear or favour. To this end, I continue to express my deep concern about the plight of an Australian citizen, Mr Van Kham Chau. In November last year, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, after being charged with terrorism under article 113 of the Criminal Code of Vietnam. Mr Chau is a prominent member of the Vietnamese community in Australia. He has lived in Western Sydney, with his family, for more than 30 years. Clearly, he has had a long and abiding commitment to the notion of human rights. Indeed, like many of us, including in this place, he has been critical of Vietnam's human rights record. But what he hasn't done is participate in or support any acts of violence against the Vietnamese authorities or anyone else for that matter.
Mr Chau has been imprisoned without a fair trial and without access to proper defence lawyers. It's disheartening to see that the human rights situation in Vietnam continues to worsen with its crackdown on basic human rights and freedoms very much intensifying. In the case of Mr Chau, I should indicate he's a retired baker who lived in Berala in Western Sydney. He still supports his wife and he raised his family there. Since he's been incarcerated in Vietnam, he's been twice hospitalised due to a serious deterioration in his health.
With no evidence presented by the Vietnamese authorities to substantiate a charge of terrorism, it is imperative that the Vietnamese authorities adhere to their human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. With Mr Chau's case listed for appeal next week, I reiterate the call for the Vietnamese judiciary to uphold the international norms of due process and respect for the rule of law. If Mr Chau is going to have any opportunity of fairness or equality before the law, he must be given proper access to legal representation.
Recently human rights concerns were brought to my attention about a protest that took place between the police and land rights activists in the village of Dong Tan in Vietnam. I'm advised that approximately 3,000 officers from the police riot squad and security forces violently entered the village, resulting in the death of an elderly villager, Mr Le Dinh Kinh, as well as three police officers. There were also reports that over 30 villagers were arrested by the Vietnamese authorities following this confrontation.
I understand Mr Kinh was killed as a result of a targeted attack on his home. Mr Kinh was 84 years of age and a prominent advocate for land rights. He was an activist. He represented and spoke up for the people of the village, particularly in relation to land confiscations by the Vietnamese authorities. I'm advised Mr Kinh suffered a violent death, with several of his children and grandchildren being arrested. I understand, at this stage, many of them remain in detention without charge.
The issue of land confiscation for economic gain by the authorities in the Dong Tan area is not a new issue; it's been ongoing for some time with unfair and arbitrary land seizures being a major problem in the country. Once again it appears that the authorities have flouted the rule of law with police displaying disproportionate force against local citizens.
I'd also like to speak about the Philippines. Extrajudicial executions have been the principal human rights concern for some time and have escalated under the nationwide drug campaign which has seen in excess of 27,000 people executed over the last three years. These are extrajudicial executions, involving no court, no judiciary, simply empowering the police to use deadly force. President Duterte certainly acts with some impunity, regardless of the UN Human Rights Council resolution which has now determined that there should be a transparent inquiry into these extrajudicial executions in the Philippines.
The way he deals with many of his detractors is similar to the case we see with respect to Senator Leila de Lima. She's an elected senator of the Philippines parliament, but she continues to be detained on trumped up charges, certainly politically motivated, and has still not had access to a fair trial. She has been incarcerated for more than three years. She was a known critic of the president and the way he has administered his antidrug campaign and deals with human rights advocates. Senator de Lima's commitment to democracy, justice and respect for the rule of law is certainly commendable and, in these circumstances, most courageous.
The United Nations human rights resolution certainly demonstrates that the international community is no longer willing to remain silent in the face of these blatant attacks on human rights. I'm proud of the fact that Australia supported the intervention of the UN human rights commission to conduct an investigation into these mass killings. As members of the concerned international community, we have a moral if not legal responsibility to do all we can to encourage countries, particularly in our region, to adhere to their international obligations. This is even more so given Australia's strategic and defence relationships with the Philippines. The Philippines should not be allowed to continue to flout the UN resolution simply because it has the backing of the People's Republic of China. I note in terms of the vote on the UN Human Rights Council with regard to this particular issue in the Philippines that many that opposed the resolution were countries that themselves have a dubious human rights record. You would expect that those countries that sought to be on the UN Human Rights Council would have an overall commitment for the protection and promotion of human rights, but, alas, it doesn't appear the case. People can be corralled against supporting a resolution that was carried by the UN Human Rights Council, as it was on this occasion.
I would like to use this as a background for drawing some attention to a mechanism which is gathering momentum internationally and also proving effective in promoting human rights through its use of foreign policy and is currently being investigated as part of an inquiry by the subcommittee of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. This mechanism is premised on the use of targeted sanctions against serious human rights violators abroad, including issues of visa bans and asset freezes. This is not a new concept, but certainly one which has been enacted in the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom and is seen to be part of what is known as the global Magnitsky movement. I also understand that the European Union is advanced in a process of developing their own global human rights sanctions regime which is similar to what is provided under the Magnitsky provisioning.
The introduction of such legislation ensures that serious human rights abusers are held accountable for their actions and that Australia does not become a haven for a global corruption and human rights violators. I certainly agree with the words of Elaine Pearson, the Australian director of Human Rights Watch, when she says:
By joining other countries with similar laws, Australia will be sending a strong message to abusive leaders everywhere that there are far-reaching consequences for their actions.
As a country with a significant presence in the Pacific region, I believe we do have a major role to play in the promotion and protection of human rights, and certainly particularly within our sphere of influence. This is particularly so with countries that we have a strategic relationship with, as well as with those countries we provide humanitarian aid to. On all sides of this parliament we have a commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights. We need to assert ourselves in respect of human rights and social justice and in our respect for the rule of law. One thing I am absolutely convinced of is that when the rule of law is set aside or deconstructed, inevitably the first casualty always is human rights itself. We do have a role to play.
I rise today to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and update the House on a number of key developments in my electorate of Reid. Since I was elected I have had the opportunity to hear from constituents who have contacted me through mobile offices that I have conducted, community events and surveys, and they've provided valuable feedback about their vision for our electorate.
One issue that is important to residents of Reid is better hospital and health outcomes. Our government's strong economic record means that we have been able to invest in our healthcare system, in Reid and across Australia. Reid is home to the Concord Repatriation General Hospital, which not only provides outstanding care for our community but also has strong historic links to our veteran community. Last year, the Morrison government invested $6.7 million to develop the Soldier On Fussell House accommodation facility, to be co-located at Concord Hospital. The project includes the National Centre for Veterans' Health, an Australian-first state-of-the-art centre for specialised care for veterans.
Fussell House will provide accommodation to the families of those ex-Australian Defence Force personnel who require treatment at the hospital and at other hospital facilities within the Sydney region. During its first year of operation, an estimated 140 veterans and family members are expected to use Fussell House. This federal funding contributes to the New South Wales government's redevelopment of our Concord site to create the National Centre for Veterans' Healthcare. It will provide integrated and holistic specialist services to veterans who have been physically and mentally impacted by their service to our country. I am very proud that the Morrison government is supporting this very worthwhile development, and that Reid's strong connection to its veteran community can be supported through this historic hospital.
Through the Morrison government's landmark $1.25 billion Community Health and Hospitals Program, we have provided $2.2 million for the expansion of community midwifery services and a new outpatient clinic at Concord hospital. The federal government investment has allowed up to 350 women a year to access care closer to home. This is fantastic news for expecting mothers and families who live in Reid.
We've also been able to deliver Medicare funding at record levels. Almost nine out of 10 Australians who visit their doctor have no out-of-pocket costs, with GP bulk-billing rates at a record 86 per cent—up from 82 per cent under Labor. Reid has one of the highest bulk-billing rates in New South Wales, with the GP bulk-billing rate coming in at over 90 per cent. Medication is also more affordable under our government through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Since coming into government, the coalition has invested $10.6 billion to add more than 2,000 new medication listings to the PBS. This means that residents of Reid can access life-saving medication. Australia's healthcare system is being consistently enhanced through our government's strong economic record and our prioritisation of Australian people.
An issue that is frequently raised in Reid is the need for affordable and reliable energy. Many people and small businesses in Reid are struggling with the cost of their power bills. This month the Morrison government announced that it is expanding its electricity price protections to ensure that one million extra consumers get a fair deal on energy. The government has extended the coverage of the default market offer to Australian households and businesses with solar systems and with flexible or time-of-use tariffs in New South Wales from 1 July this year. This means that over one million extra electricity customers will have access to these consumer protections.
For customers who find pricing and discounts confusing or who do not want to negotiate further for a better deal, the default market offer will be a strong price safety net and a reference point to help consumers compare offers and find the cheapest deal. Diversifying our energy sector through sustainable technology will drive down electricity prices and prepare Australia for a global post-carbon economy. Our government has established a $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund to support investment in new energy generation, storage and transmission. This builds on our Underwriting New Generation Investments program to improve competition and reduce wholesale prices. We will keep working to lower the prices on your power bills and secure affordable energy through new technologies.
Our government has also recently secured a commitment from the New South Wales government to inject an additional 70 petajoules of supply into the east coast gas market annually. The $2 billion deal also includes emissions reduction projects to deliver carbon abatement, with $960 million in federal funding dedicated to a responsible transition of the New South Wales electricity sector to lower emissions technologies. To keep power prices low, we are securing traditional energy sources while developing our renewable energy investment in New South Wales. I look forward to updating the House about the ways we are securing affordable and reliable energy to residents in Reid and for all residents across the state.
It is always wonderful to share good news in this place about how the Morrison government is supporting projects that are meeting the needs of our growing community. One such project that is almost completed is the amenities upgrade to Concord's Cintra Park netball court. The Morrison government contributed $1.2 million to the upgrade as part of the Community Development Program, with a further $400,000 supplied by the City of Canada Bay Council. The netball courts are primarily used by the Inner Western Suburbs Netball Association, which now has over 3,700 members and has been experiencing year-on-year growth of approximately five per cent. It is not hard to imagine then why this upgrade was so needed. The president of the Inner Western Suburbs Netball Association, Leanne Blackmore, is thrilled that the new facilities will soon be able to cater for the growing number of players.
Since the election last year, I have worked closely with the community and council to see that this project received the funding and attention it needed. I am so proud to say that the new fit-for-purpose facility is due to open next month. The new amenities will support growth of netball in the inner west of Sydney and provide upgraded facilities for the local community to enjoy. The upgrade will mean that the community can now enjoy a new canteen, an outdoor covered barbecue space, covered spectators areas, repurposed meeting rooms, office and administration spaces, change rooms catering for both males and females, a medical room, storerooms and showering facilities. I am sure our local sporting groups and school communities will enjoy these new facilities very soon, and I very much look forward to their upcoming official opening.
A strong economy ensures that we as a government can support essential upgrades and infrastructure for our community. Reid is home to one of the most diverse electorates in Australia, and I am so proud to represent Reid. I am so proud that the Morrison government continues to support the many cultural and religious groups that make up Reid and make it such a vibrant place to live. One example of this fantastic diversity is the Sri Karphaga Vinayakar Temple, which officially opened early last year and now serves the Hindu community of Reid and Western Sydney.
I recently joined Reid's Hindu community at the temple for their first inaugural chariot parade, an annual festival known as Ratha Jatra. Hundreds of devotees attended for the service offerings and street procession that took place in Homebush West. Last year the Morrison government delivered $135,000 of federal funding for an upgrade to the temple's security system through the Safer Communities Fund program. Most recently, the temple received $19,000 through the Morrison government's Stronger Communities Program for upgrades to kitchen facilities and amenities and for the purchase of an electronic monitor. In the Hindu tradition, it is common to serve food to devotees as an act of virtue and charity, so the new kitchen facilities will be highly valued by the community.
A strong economy means we can support our local communities. As a government, we have ensured that the new temple in Homebush West can meet the needs of our large Hindu community in Reid. Having seen the way the temple brings people together through a shared faith, tradition and culture, I know how valuable this funding has been for our electorate. Strong economic management means that our government can continue to support the key priorities of the constituents in Reid. It means we can look after the needs of residents and small businesses, make sure our healthcare system is strong and provide essential infrastructure to our community groups. I look forward to updating the House on a number of federally funded projects that will improve the lives of the residents in Reid during the coming months.
I want to make some remarks about partner visas. Now, it is a fact of life in modern Australia that Australians fall in love with people from other countries and they may get married here or overseas. It's only natural then that people want to bring their spouses or partners here to build a life, and often there are children involved too. Our country has seen this and benefited from these relationships for many decades, but I want to air my serious concerns about the growing backlog and the delays in processing spouse and partner visa applications under this government.
There are now over 90,000 Australians whose family lives are stuck in limbo. They are waiting, waiting, waiting for years for their wife, husband or partner to get a visa. The queue and the processing times have been growing steadily for years, and this is a growing scandal. I see it every week in my electorate office. Some weeks, I see it every day. I open the emails in the morning and there it is—another case. These are people who can't get an answer, who can't understand why it takes so long. Many are separated from loved ones and children. They're running down savings, hopping between countries, unable to establish a household, unable to accept employment and unable to get on with their lives. Thousands of others are living in Australia just hanging out for years on bridging visas.
The issue, for once, in the department is not a shortage of resources, because people now pay $8,000 for a partner visa application. It appears that spouse and partner visas are being deliberately held up because the government has imposed a legally questionable limit on the number of places. This year, the government again cut the number of partner visa places to 39,799. That's a cut of 8,000 places from the previous two years. It's harsh and it's cruel. That's a separate argument, though. For most of the family migration program, and this is important, the minister has a clear legal power to cap and queue the number of places. Except, under the Migration Act, spouse and child visa applications are different. They're supposed to be processed on a demand driven basis. Indeed, section 87 of the act, which has been there for decades, explicitly provides that the minister's power to cap certain visas does not apply to spouse and child visa applications, so there's a genuine legal question over the minister's behaviour.
In 1989 the Hawke government introduced legislation seeking a power for the minister to cap annual spouse and child visa numbers. That didn't get through. In 1996 the Howard government again sought such a power for the minister, yet on both occasions this parliament rejected the legislation. The Senate then did not want the minister to be able to cap the number of spouse visas issued. There was a view that Australians should be free to settle here with their spouses. I'll quote Philip Ruddock, who was the shadow minister in 1989 and then later became the immigration minister. He said:
I regard it as absolutely unconscionable for a government to say half way through the year, 'We have enough spouses in now … no more husbands and wives …
I've been told that the department has had legal advice, year after year, for many years, that what the minister is doing breaches the act. Yet the queue continues to grow. Why? Well, because the government is hiding behind their annual planning level to cap the number of spouse visas issued every year, which is contrary to the intention of the Migration Act—the law.
To explain: the Minister for Home Affairs loves to trumpet, at the moment, his so-called cut to migration. Remember that? He tells us now he has a ceiling of 160,000 places for 2019-20. He's cut migration to suck up to Pauline Hanson. But, within this, the government counts 39,799 partner visas they say they'll issue. But this whole cut to migration is a sham. It's a scam for a cheap headline to try and fool Australians and suck up to One Nation. There is no cut to migration, because more than 216,000 people now are just hanging out in Australia on bridging visas; most are waiting for their substantive visa to be processed. So he has cut the number of permanent visas, like partner visas, spouse visas, and he's just forcing them to wait for longer and longer in the community, so he can run around saying, 'I've cut migration,' when he hasn't. This includes tens of thousands of husbands and wives of Australians waiting for their partner visas.
The delays are not about integrity. Of course dodgy applications should be weeded out. But the refusal rate has been about the same for a long time, at about 10 per cent. The delays are political. The government is deliberately not processing spouse visas, just to manipulate the headline migration number for their own political purposes. I'm reliably advised that the government knows this may not be legal. They quietly removed the child visas from the cap in 2016. They didn't say much about that. The child visas are not subject to an annual limit now, but spouse visas still are.
So what's the legal basis for this? The Department of Home Affairs is very secretive about this and what's really going on, but FOI documents have revealed that the government stops and starts processing to manipulate the numbers. There's an email to overseas staff processing partner visas—I will quote one; there's a whole bunch of them—that says: 'Effective immediately, there are to be no further grants in the family stream until I come back to you with the number of places left available to grant before 30 June 2018.' They're including the spouse visas, illegally, in this cap. The government also told staff not to tell applicants that their visa was ready to be granted, to cover up how they were manipulating the queue.
The human impact of this is profound. I represent one of the most multicultural electorates in the country. Migration is the biggest thing, every day, that comes through the door of my office—not Centrelink; not the NDIS mess; not the aged-care mess the government's made; it's migration.
The legality of this is highly dubious. The minister may claim it's just a planning level or a queue, but if it looks like a cap and it sounds like a cap then it's a cap.
Even if this is somehow legal, as a matter of decency in policy more places should be made available. Australians love who they love. The Howard government at least had the decency then to admit that spouse visas could not be capped, and the then minister, Senator Vanstone, went to the government when the queue got too long and got extra places allocated to the program to meet demand and let people love who they loved.
But it's unsurprising, given these legally dubious caps, that the processing times for spouse visa applications have also increased significantly. Despite paying $8,000, most onshore applicants are now waiting two years or more, and offshore applicants are now waiting more than 18 months. But basic mathematics tells you that, unless the government changes their approach, the only outcome there can be is that people will wait longer and longer: two years; 2½ years; three years; 3½ years; four years; five years—it's the only trajectory that's possible. It's a function of maths.
The government, of course, is not focused on any of this—any of the real problems in the migration system. Their current focus is their outrageous privatisation of the visa processing system—the billion-dollar tender that's out, still waiting. The Prime Minister has had to excuse himself from consideration because one of his Liberal Party mates, Scott Briggs, is in the running for the tender. The government should give away their privatisation plans and focus on fixing the system.
I also want to remark that the persecution and treatment of Julian Assange are unconscionable. He's an Australian citizen who has the same rights as you or me, and the Australian government's ongoing failure to speak out against his extradition to the United States and demand his return is shameful. It's wrong. It's immoral. And it's offensive for the Prime Minister to say that he should 'face the music'—as if this is any ordinary case! It is not. It is entirely political. It corrupts our alliance with the United States when our government is too scared and too cowardly to defend our own. It corrupts our democracy when our government refuses to fight to defend Australian citizens just because they don't agree with their political philosophy. The precedent that extradition would set would dangerously undermine our sovereignty and have a chilling effect on journalism and the media's ability to hold power to account in this country and across the world.
We need to be very clear-eyed in this House as to what extradition would mean. One of our citizens, an Australian, would face what is effectively a death sentence. The current charges would see him confined in extreme isolation for 175 years. Indeed, it's possible in the state of Virginia, which has the death penalty, that more charges will be laid once he's extradited that would see him killed. Australia has a long history of opposing extradition—a proud history—wherever there is the risk of a death penalty.
If that's not enough, there's the torture which has been inflicted on him. It's an astounding phrase—'the torture that's been inflicted upon an Australian in the United Kingdom'. It should not be said lightly and must never become acceptable. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, investigated Julian's case. He said he shows 'all the symptoms for prolonged exposure to psychological torture' and his health conditions are so dire that his life is now at risk. When the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture reports on one of our citizens, surely the Australian government should speak up and demand his return. There's nothing but silence from the government. It doesn't matter whether you agree with him, it doesn't matter whether you disagree with him, it doesn't matter whether you like him, it doesn't matter whether you dislike him; he's an Australian and he's entitled to the protection of the government.
Of course, if the death penalty or torture are not enough to spur this government to action, there are broader important principles at stake; there is a lot more to this inherently political case. Let's be clear. He's been persecuted to punish him for exposing war crimes and the misuse of state power. Those who committed the war crimes have never been prosecuted. He's been persecuted to silence him forever in his WikiLeaks project and to scare others into silence. I note that we've had a power failure.
I don't personally agree with all that Julian Assange or WikiLeaks has done, but, if we're to protect our democratic values, that must never be the point. This case goes to the importance of journalism and journalists in a democracy holding power to account. Publishing embarrassing, classified footage of war crimes in Iraq is journalistic behaviour supposedly protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I will quote Kevin Rudd. He said: 'If the case is essentially that Julian Assange broke the law by obtaining and disclosing secret information, then I struggle to see what separates him from any journalist who solicits, obtains and publishes such information.' The claim we often hear in response is that 'he's not a journalist'. That is irrelevant. The protection exists in the law for journalistic activity, not some special class of persons. It should extend to all of us, to any Australian engaging in journalistic activity.
What Julian Assange has published is in principle no different than the Pentagon Papers, in 1971, which exposed the truth about the Vietnam War and the actions of two United States presidents. The chilling effect that this US case would have on the media globally is profound. The pursuit of Julian Assange is very deliberate; it's calculated to mute whistleblowing and investigative journalism. If Julian Assange is guilty of a serious crime for publishing classified material revealing war crimes, then democracies are weakened. Media across the world will be too scared to publish in the future if that's what they want. Then there's the dangerous principle of extraterritoriality, which is nerdy and boring and is getting lost in the propaganda. But let's be clear. If this American bid succeeds, the precedent is terrifying for our democracy.
What Julian Assange did in 2011 is not espionage. There's no evidence he attempted to hack into US government IT. There is no evidence he encouraged others to do so. There is no evidence that any lives were lost or serious harm done. Importantly, he's not a US citizen. His actions took place outside the USA. Let's be clear. Under the precedent of extradition that the United States is seeking in this case, anyone who publishes anything that the United States government brands as secret could be prosecuted under the US Espionage Act—anyone who publishes anything, anywhere in the world, could be extradited to the United States.
Now, unbelievably, the Trump administration has stated that Julian Assange has no First Amendment rights to free speech and free press because he's a foreigner. So, under this precedent, US criminal laws apply everywhere—even when people have never been to the United States, including journalists or any Australian wherever they are—but US constitutional protections don't apply to them. Our government should take this seriously and defend our sovereignty and freedom.
I'll just make some brief remarks on the sexual assault allegations. There has been conflicting and sensational reporting for years. Allegations of sexual assault and rape are incredibly serious matters that should not be weaponised for political purposes. The media confusion regarding this is deliberate. Julian Assange shone light and exposed corruption. Suddenly the bright lights turned back on him, and he's a hacker, a narcissist, a spy. He doesn't shower, you know; he's not clean. Then there's the story he doesn't even feed his cat properly. Then he's a creepy predator. Citizens mustn't suspend critical thinking or their analytical capabilities when such allegations are made.
I'd encourage people to read the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture case review. These are his conclusions, not mine. He concluded that he's been subjected to a preliminary investigation for nine years with no charges; that the police tampered and rewrote evidence to manufacture these charges; that he didn't run away from interview—he actually went to the police and authorities several times while in Sweden and was given their permission to leave the country. It was only when he was in London that he heard of the secret extradition proceedings in the United States to extradite him that he said he couldn't go back unless Sweden provided assurances that he wouldn't be extradited to the US. They refused to give those assurances. He offered repeatedly to give evidence from asylum, but the objective was to keep the investigation alive, to keep him in suspended animation for nine years with no charges.
Then, magically, of course, the case was dropped, wasn't it, when he suddenly got into British custody and was allowed to face extradition to the United States. Despite all of this—an effective death sentence, torture and manifest injustice—our government refuses to speak up and defend this Australian. Ministers hide behind their weasel word talking points about legal processes and having his day in court. I say again: it doesn't matter if you agree with him, it doesn't matter if you like him, it doesn't matter if you dislike him; he's an Australian with the same rights as you or me and he's entitled to the protection of his government. As Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen—and I never thought I'd be in a club with them in this parliament—said aptly last week in London, 'Julian Assange is our ratbag, and we should bring him home.'
I'm delighted to speak on these bills today, because they illustrate the heart of the Morrison government's agenda for a strong economy. Securing Australia's prosperity depends on a thriving economy. More job opportunities, improved living standards and better essential services are only possible with the right economic settings in place. Our government is dedicated to creating more and better paying jobs, and I'm pleased that over 1.5 million more Australians are in jobs since our government was elected.
Unlike those opposite, on this side of the House, we believe that hardworking Australians should always keep more of their hard-earned money. I'm proud of our government's commitment to making taxes lower, simpler and fairer. We have delivered tax relief for over 10 million taxpayers around the nation, and our legislative plan means that, after six years, 94 per cent of taxpayers will pay no more than 30c in the dollar.
Small businesses, as we know, are the lifeblood of our local communities, and I'm proud that our government has delivered tax relief for the 3.4 million small and medium businesses employing over seven million Australians around the nation. Only a coalition government can be trusted to deliver tax relief for working families and businesses, and we fought, and we will continue to fight, Labor's plans for higher taxes, whether those taxes are on our retirees, on housing incomes or investments.
Under successive state and federal Labor governments, Australians were hit hard with creeping electricity prices. For many people, particularly our self-funded retirees, our age pensioners and those on fixed incomes, switching on the air conditioner or heater became an unaffordable luxury. Australians deserve better. This is why our government has worked to reduce power prices by stopping price gouging by big energy companies by passing our 'big stick' legislation, which introduces significant penalties for companies that rip off their customers. We've banned sneaky late-payment penalties. We require energies to pass on savings to customers. And we're investing in new power generation, with 12 projects shortlisted, including six renewable pumped-hydro projects, five gas projects and one coal upgrade project in the works.
Our strong record of responsible economic management has seen our government provide record funding for public hospital services, increasing funding from $13.3 billion in 2012-13—before we came to government—to more than $29 billion in 2024-25. With GP bulk-billing rates at 86.2 per cent, which is up from 82.1 per cent when Labor was last in government, more Australians than ever are able to see a GP when they need to.
A fundamental pillar of our health system, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, continues to enjoy record investment under our government, with nearly 2,300 medical listings worth over $10 billion added to the PBS since we came to government. In practical terms, this means that life-saving medicines which can normally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, are available in some cases for just $6.60 for those who hold concessions or $41 for general patients per script.
In the defence sector, our government is protecting Australia's future security and interests by investing over $200 billion over the next 10 years to modernise Australia's defence capability, securing our nation while strengthening our defence industry and creating Australian jobs. Our defence industry is made up of highly skilled men and women, and I'm very excited about the growing defence industry job opportunities in South Australia, which will see increased demand for workers with trade, technical, science and technology skills. Of course, the most important thing is that we are doing this to protect the men and women of our defence forces, who work so hard and put their lives on the line to protect all of us here at home.
Just last week, I was delighted to have the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, visit the Tonsley Innovation District in my electorate of Boothby to announce a $2.9 million project supported by Innovative Manufacturing CRC, BAE Systems and ASC Shipbuilding—great opportunities for students and people wanting to get into the defence sector. Underpinned by our commitment to a strong economy, our government is dedicated to ensuring that industry and researchers collaborate as much as they possibly can, working closely together and allowing us to grow Australian jobs and further develop our defence industry capability.
It's often said that an important measure of a society is how it treats its vulnerable, whether they are the very young or the elderly. Improving aged care for all senior Australians is one of our government's key priorities, and it's why one of the first acts of our Prime Minister was to call the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to make sure we get care for our senior Australians right. In terms of aged-care funding, I'm delighted our government is delivering record investment across the aged-care system, up from $13.3 billion in 2012-13, growing to $21.4 billion in 2019-20, up to an estimated $25 billion in 2022-23. That's an increase of over $5 billion of extra support for older Australians over the forward estimates.
Australians are living, on average, longer than they were 50 years ago. Ensuring they have choice in aged care and that they have the proper support to remain in their homes if they wish to do so are essential to ensuring their quality of life. Since the 2018-19 budget, the government has invested in providing 44,000 new home care packages at a cost of $2.7 billion, and the number of home care packages has increased from around 60,000 under Labor in their last year of government to almost 160,000 in the year 2022-23, which is an increase of over 160 per cent. Again, I might remind those opposite that, despite Labor's plans for $387 billion in new taxes, at the election, Labor made no additional funding promises in their costings for home care packages or additional funding for aged care quality workforce or residential aged care.
Only a Liberal government, a coalition government, can keep Australia's economy strong and support our senior Australians to receive the very best quality of care that they deserve. As such, it's wonderful to see the reactivation of the Repat Health Precinct underway in my electorate of Boothby. I've previously spoke many times in this place about the devastation that was felt across my community, South Australia and particularly in our veterans' community when the former South Australian state Labor government announced the closure of the Repat hospital in 2015. Labor's heartless, cruel decision hurt so many people. However, I'm delighted to say that the Morrison government is supporting the Marshall state Liberal government to reactivate the Repat and return this site to a thriving health precinct where people will once again receive the very best of health care available.
With $30 million of Commonwealth funding provided for a specialist state-wide brain and spinal centre at the revitalised Repat precinct, the Repat will provide excellent care for people who have experienced acute brain and spinal injuries. The Repat will also provide the very best dementia care in South Australia, and I think it will be the best dementia care available in the nation as we are partnering with—and this is a landmark partnership—the nationally respected aged-care provider HammondCare. HammondCare will deliver an innovative cottage-homelike environment for people with dementia at the Repat site. The project represents a multimillion-dollar investment in caring for people with dementia and very severe dementia, and it will provide around 120 jobs for South Australians.
I'm very proud that the Morrison government will feature in this partnership, as we are providing funding for the operation of a Specialist Dementia Care Unit at the site as well. We are also ensuring that the much loved Repat Chapel, remembrance garden, museum and SPF Hall will be protected and preserved as community assets for future generations. And we are committed to once again making sure that the Repat is a centre for veterans in our community and, as such, we're providing $5 million in federal funding to establish a Veterans' Wellbeing Centre in the heart of the Repat, where our veterans feel safe and feel loved.
I'm pleased to report that close by we are heading towards the finalisation and conclusion of the Flinders Link Project. That's expected to wrap up in the second half of this year. With joint state and federal funding, Flinders Link involves a 650m extension of the current Tonsley rail line up to Flinders Medical Centre and the Flinders University. This will finally link the Flinders Precinct with the city. Additionally, this project will see the construction of two new train stations and an integrated shared pedestrian and cycle path right next to the railway line, giving people new transport options. Fourteen of the 20 Flinders Link rail bridge girders have now been installed, and residents are beginning to see what an incredible impact this will have for our local community and the area.
Late last year I was delighted to have the Prime Minister; the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure; Premier Steven Marshall; and the SA Minister for Transport visit the site with me to see this incredible project underway. The Flinders Link Project will mean that local residents have a brand-new public transport option. Staff and patients at Flinders Medical Centre will have a brand new public transport option and so, too, will 25,000 students at Flinders University, plus all of the staff who support them. This is going to unlock billions of dollars of local investment, including new student accommodation at Flinders University, new educational facilities and healthcare facilities. It is a really important and exciting project for our local area.
We're also working on a range of other local infrastructure upgrades to bust congestion around my electorate. Boothby is an electorate that is relatively close to the city, and we have a lot of people pass through our electorate every day on their way to and from work. Therefore, we are undertaking the Darlington upgrade, which is a $600 million contribution by the federal government. There is also the joint state-federal upgrade of Fullarton and Cross Road intersection, the Hove Level Crossing project and the Goodwood, Springbank and Daws Road intersection upgrade. We're also investing in fixing the Mitcham Hills road corridor.
I was particularly excited to see the Australian Space Agency formally launched by the Prime Minister last week. This is incredibly exciting for South Australia. We've invested tens of millions of dollars to place the Australian Space Agency in Adelaide, which will act as a launching pad to triple Australia's space economy to $12 billion and create up to 20,000 jobs by the year 2030, which will open the doors for so many local businesses here, and we look to attract many new businesses as well.
I am particularly proud of our government's strong record on environmental protection and emissions reduction through our $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package. This includes our $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund, which will support practical emissions-reducing projects such as capturing methane from landfill and storing carbon in forests and soils. We're also investing $1.4 billion in the Snowy 2.0 renewable energy project, which will supply many homes with zero-emission pumped hydro energy. We are also doing a range of other things in this space. Importantly for so many communities around the nation, we've also created the $100 million Environment Restoration Fund to support practical action on waste and recycling. This will also protect our rivers, waterways and coasts and support our threatened and migratory native species. This is very important to my local residents, who include some very active volunteers in the hills and along the coast. They are people who care very deeply about the environment and do a lot of incredible work to protect our natural heritage, our native vegetation and our flora and fauna every day. I want to conclude by thanking them and all the other volunteers in my electorate for the wonderful work that they do each and every year in Boothby.
Unlike some, Labor will always support appropriation bills moved by the government of the day. On behalf of the member for Rankin and shadow Treasurer, I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that:
(1) after six years in office the economy is floundering on the Government's watch;
(2) Australians are struggling with stagnant wages, with wage growth stalling further;
(3) net debt has more than doubled under this Government;
(4) the Government does not have a plan to boost wages or growth in the economy; and
(5) it is because of the Government's failures that Australia meets the challenges and uncertainties of the bushfires and coronavirus from a position of weakness, not strength".
I also support those amendments.
Today I would like to pay tribute to my friend Ben Wyatt, the Treasurer in the McGowan Labor government of Western Australia, who yesterday announced in Perth that he will leave politics at the state election in March next year. Ben wants to spend more time with his wife and his children, while they are still young, and we all in this place wholeheartedly commend him for that. This is a big loss for politics in my home state of WA. It's also a big loss for the Indigenous people of Western Australia. As well as being Treasurer, of course, Mr Wyatt is WA's Aboriginal Affairs Minister, and he is cousin to the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon. Ken Wyatt, the member for Hasluck.
By any measure, Ben Wyatt has been one of the most successful state treasurers in Western Australia's history. When he came to the job in March 2017, he inherited a set of books that can only be described as disastrous. WA had lost its AAA credit rating, state debt was heading towards $40 billion, and massive budget deficits were forecast for years ahead. The resources construction boom had come to an end in WA, which of course affected the state's finances. But that wasn't the main reason for the mess inherited by Ben Wyatt and the McGowan government. The main reason was the lavish overspending and poor financial management by the former Barnett government. Ben set out to prove yet again that Labor governments are better financial managers than the Liberals: he has succeeded, and it will always be one of his principal legacies as treasurer of our great state. The Western Australian economy has returned to growth and the government's finances have been restored. The budget is in surplus, and the McGowan government is the only state government in Australia that is reducing debt.
Mr Wyatt's spending restraint was not always popular in the community, or even with some of his colleagues at times, but the results speak for themselves. Ben and I studied together in the law school at the University of Western Australia, way back in the nineties—it's possible we shared a shandy or two during that time. As anyone that knows Ben will be able to confirm, he is great company and a good, honest man and we are lucky to have had him serve in the parliament and, particularly, as the Treasurer of Western Australia. Clearly, Ben will continue to contribute to the community as he moves out of politics.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Ben's family for allowing him to play such a pivotal role over the past 16 years in the success of our state of Western Australia. It is entirely a good thing that Ben will now spend more time with you, the whole Wyatt family, and I really wish him the best. Obviously we will miss him in political discussions, but I have no doubt that he will continue to contribute and give us a call when he thinks we can do things a bit differently. Best of luck, Ben. I really wish you all the best.
This summer has seen the best and worst of Australia. Catastrophic fires have devastated this country. We've lost precious wildlife and far too many homes, and, of course, 33 people have died, which has devastated their families and friends and entire communities. In January, the Labor shadow cabinet met in Batemans Bay and heard from Warren Sharpe, the local emergency management officer and economic development manager from the Eurobodalla council. He spoke of how he and his team coordinated the response to those terrible fires that went through the community. I thank Warren, his team and all his supporters, who gave their all to defend that community and that region. Now they turn to rebuilding it. It is a big task and I wish them the very best.
Many Australians are rightly angry and concerned that the government was asleep at the wheel leading up to and during summer's bushfire disaster. As we know, the Prime Minister refused to meet with experienced firefighters and fire chiefs, who had warned some time ago that such a disastrous bushfire was on its way. What I've seen on the ground in fire affected communities has been, frankly, devastating. But the amazing and resilient people I've met across the country working on the recovery and rehabilitation of this great place have given me hope, and it should give us all hope. I'd really like to thank the people of Batemans Bay for their wonderful hospitality, particularly David at The Venetian cafe and coffee roasters, who is also part of the Empty Esky campaign. I'd also like to thank those at The Sandbar restaurant, a fusion of Japanese and modern Australian cuisine using local produce, which, of course, is challenging given the bushfires. The Sandbar is one of the finest restaurants I've ever had the pleasure of visiting in Australia. I thank them for their wonderful hospitality.
So much of our agricultural sector has suffered. Sometimes referred to as the 'forgotten farmers' in Australia, beekeepers around the country have experienced catastrophic losses because of this devastating summer of bushfires. While in Batemans Bay, I drove up the road a bit and met with Therese and Laurie Kershaw, who drove me to see where these bushfires had ripped through the New South Wales South Coast. The Kershaw family have been beekeepers for generations. Laurie knows those forests like the back of his hand. We drove for miles on the day I visited. It looks like this bushfire burnt forever. They showed me the burnt out sites and forests near Nelligen that used to sustain hundreds and hundreds of beehives. Now there is nothing left. There is no bush, there are no bees, there are no birds. It is all silent. It is difficult to describe the loss beekeepers and the bees have endured, not just the hives but the lost habitat that produces the buds and flowers that feed bees so that they can make the money that we consume. It is really hard to tell how that forest will recover from the devastation.
As we know, bees do much more than produce honey. The importance of honey bees to our lives cannot be understated. The importance of a healthy bee population to this country is critical to how we live and what we eat. Bees carry pollen between plants to fertilise them and help them reproduce. These pollination services can improve agricultural crop yield and quality, with pollination services contributing up to $1,730 million to Australian agricultural production every year. Because of the loss of habitat from the bushfires, Laurie Kershaw now has to import a form of feed for his hundreds of beehives. He tells me that there is no way to tell how a weakened bee population will recover without the stronger natural food of pollen from flowers in the environment.
The strength of his beehives is important to the almond growers in the region, who rely on bees provided by Laurie to pollinate almond tree flowers. The Australian almond industry makes a significant economic contribution, with almond exports worth $552 million every year. The export volume of Australian almonds grew from 54,000 tonnes in 2017-18 to over 60,000 tonnes in 2018-19. The market for this product has changed, with Australian almond exports to China and Hong Kong growing from two per cent of our total almond exports in 2017-18 to 20 per cent in 2018-19.
In the last several years alone, the almond industry has undergone significant expansion, with a gradual increase in planting of their orchard stock to 50,000 hectares. But, due to this bushfire season and the loss of bees, this expansion is now at significant risk. While it is impossible to quantify the loss of Australian bees from the summer's bushfire crisis right now, what is clear is that it has had a devastating impact on the health of the existing population and the population overall.
I would like to thank the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and Beechworth Honey for introducing me to hardworking and dedicated apiarists like Therese and Laurie Kershaw. I will continue supporting Australia's beekeepers in their recovery efforts as best I can, and I urge all my colleagues in this place to do the same. I urge the whole community to always buy Australian honey. Check your labels. It is the best honey. It is the only sure way you will know you're buying pure honey, and it will support people that are doing it tough after this season. Also look for it at your local markets. I know local honey always costs a bit more, but as an amateur apiarist I can assure you there's a reason for that: you have to invest a lot in the equipment. It's worth every single extra cent you spend on honey to buy it from your local producers.
My own electorate was not immune to this summer's bushfires, though, luckily for us, all fires were quickly contained and damage was minimal. This was due in no small part to the many amazing volunteers across the country that assisted in battling fires, in evacuations and in recovery efforts. Gordon Hall of Secret Harbour in my electorate is one of those integral volunteers. Gordon serves as national chair of the SES Volunteers Association, representing over 30,000 SES volunteers across the nation. Last week, I met with Gordon in my electorate office in Rockingham to discuss the bushfire crisis and listen to his views regarding securing compensation and other help for tireless SES volunteers. Gordon expressed disappointment that the government's response to the bushfire crisis was announced without consultation with the emergency responder peak volunteer bodies. It is imperative that we, as policymakers, listen to Australians like Gordon, who have seen what disasters like the recent bushfire crisis can do on the front line. Volunteers like Gordon represent the best of Australia—mateship, selflessness and courage—and I sincerely thank all the volunteers who have worked over the summer assisting with these bushfires and countless other endeavours to support those on the front line.
In some sad news for my local electorate of Brand, and certainly for my local Rockingham-Safety Bay Labor branch, we had to say goodbye to branch stalwart Terry de San Miguel. Terry was the eldest brother of 10 and father to Norm and Rod. A Hope Valley-Mandogalup stalwart, Terry and the de San Miguel family eventually retired in Shoalwater, my home town. Terry worked on the Fremantle wharf for 30 years before finishing his career at Austal Ships in Henderson. In recent years, he volunteered at the SOUL Soup Patrol in the Rockingham area. Of course, Terry was a very strong Labor supporter and a very active branch member.
Terry was known in the Brand electorate office for his fruit and vegetables—well before I was elected as member for Brand. After a visit to Dwellingup, he'd always come back bearing gifts, often big bags of carrots, leading some in the Brand electorate office to call him 'Vegeterry'! He volunteered for the Labor Party in the state seats of Kwinana and Rockingham and federally in Brand for as long as any of us can remember. Terry was well known for his old MTT bus, which he would park at the Hope Valley polling booth, where he served as booth captain. The bus would, of course, be adorned with as much ALP paraphernalia as possible, and he would provide tea and coffee for all the Labor voters—I'm sure he wouldn't discriminate; Terry would have given tea and coffee to anyone who asked, because he was that kind of guy.
I first met Terry as I embarked on the 2016 election campaign. I knew that Terry could always be counted on to participate in doorknocking and leaflet drops and all the things you do in a campaign. All the little volunteer get-togethers that you have, Terry was always there. On polling day, he was up before dawn, spent all day at the booth and then cleaned up—he was 80 when he was doing that, so I really thank Terry for his work—and then he followed up with a bit of scrutineering to boot. As we know, the 2016 election was in the middle of winter—obviously winter in Perth is not as bad as it is in the eastern states, but it's still pretty cold, and it was very good of Terry to put in that effort all day on a cold winter's morning in Rockingham.
Terry was a family man. He was a good Catholic and, of course, he was a Labor man. In his later years, I would often see Terry down at the St Joseph Chapel, a church in Safety Bay, on Sunday mornings, and I'd like to thank in particular Sister Kathleen and the other sisters at the chapel, who kept an eye on Terry in his later years and made sure he was looked after, kept well and always had a friend to talk to.
I'd also like to thank the wonderful staff at the Aegis nursing home in Shoalwater. They are wonderful people who cared for Terry in the Dolphin Cove ward. I'm very familiar with that ward. It's the dementia ward where my dad spent his last days before his death a number of years ago, and I thank the staff there for the care they gave my father. I know the care they gave Terry would have been the best available. We remember Terry for all that he contributed to the party and to the community, for his vegetables, for his good humour, for his commitment, for his fun and for his great spirit. He was always good to chat to because he was always ready for a chat, and he was a very kind, warm-hearted man. Vale, Terry de San Miguel.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Brand has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.
I am pleased to support the latest appropriation bills—Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation (No. 4) Bill—which seek authority from parliament to provide for additional expenditure on activities which require further funding or on new initiatives agreed to by the government since the 2019-20 budget appropriation bills No. 1 and No. 2.
In the time since I addressed parliament on 11 September on the first two appropriation bills, a number of significant events have occurred such as the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the bushfire emergency and the coronavirus outbreak in China, hence the need for these appropriation bills to accommodate new measures. By maintaining strong fiscal discipline and spending restraint, our government is able to strengthen the nation's finances to be able to respond to natural disasters, domestic emergencies and international shocks. Our government must strive to keep taxes low and inflation under control. A low inflation environment helps keep interest rates low, maintaining housing affordability for millions of Australian households and families paying off mortgages on their homes and paying interest on small-business loans. We must be cognisant of the increasing cost-of-living pressures faced by Australian families, our key constituency, who are experiencing a reduction in their disposable income with reduced spending power. Recognising the financial pressure on households, our government must pursue policies which minimise increases in the cost of fuel, electricity, gas and utilities.
Labor's net zero emission target by 2050 is unrealistic and will drive up costs and make our industry less competitive. In particular, Australian industry is competing with emerging Asian economies in our region that have become mechanised, automated and technologically advanced with access to affordable labour and cheap energy supplies. Our government must adopt policies which make Australia more productive and increasingly competitive in the context of a global economy.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) provides for additional funding of $3.3 billion to fund the ordinary annual services of the government, which includes the departmental costs of Australian government agencies and funding within administrative outcomes that have been previously endorsed by parliament. In particular, there are a number of key appropriations worthy of note. The Department of Home Affairs has been allocated $948.4 million to continue implementing the government's border protection policies and support people impacted by the recent bushfires. By continuing to provide an appropriate level of resourcing to the Department of Home Affairs, the Morrison government is ensuring our national security, in particular by intercepting the smuggling of illicit drugs, weapons, contraband and prohibited weapons at the border before they enter our country to be distributed through organised criminal networks and cause harm on our streets. I am pleased to note the recent success stories of the Australian Border Force and the Royal Australian Navy in intercepting shipments of illegal drugs destined for our communities. Similarly, strict enforcement of visas by persons entering Australia ensures the integrity of our immigration system and preserves our national security.
The appropriation bill allocates an additional $592.6 million in funding to the Department of Social Services due to the Disability Employment Services program supporting a higher than expected number of participant clients. Increasing workforce participation by making workplaces more accessible to people with disability is a positive initiative which allows people to achieve their full potential by contributing to society. In addition, an extra $50 million in funding has been provided under the recent bushfire response package for additional emergency relief and financial counselling for affected communities to assist the recovery effort in communities affected by the recent bushfire emergency.
The Department of Defence has been allocated an additional $488.8 million, including $87.9 million for the Australian Defence Force's contribution to the bushfire response through Operation Bushfire Assist. I take this opportunity to formally acknowledge all Australian Defence Force personnel and reservists who assisted with the bushfire recovery efforts across our nation. Although there were no bushfires in Moore, our neighbouring communities of Yanchep, Two Rocks and Gingin were affected. Our response must be measured in the areas of fire management logistics, fuel load management, increasing water security, and apprehending arsonists who deliberately light fires. It was reported in the media that approximately 183 individuals were charged with lighting fires across Australia over a two-month period this summer. It is a national disgrace. Simply attributing bushfires to climate change and emissions reduction is irresponsible and shows a lack of understanding.
It is important to ensure that defence spending is increased to beyond two per cent of gross domestic product to ensure that the Australian Defence Force has the necessary resources and operational capability to protect Australia's national interest within our geopolitical region at a time when many of the emerging nations in our region are expending a significantly greater proportion of their gross domestic product on expanding their military. We need to invest more in upgrading our defence bases across Australia and in the acquisition of vessels, equipment, armaments, technology and the training of our military personnel. Australia has a greater role to play in maintaining the security of our region by protecting key freight, trading and energy routes.
Additional funding of $287.5 million has been allocated to Services Australia to support individuals, families and communities to achieve greater self-sufficiency. Access to aged-care services continues to be a key priority within my electorate, which currently has a high level of unmet demand and long waiting times for elderly residents. An increase in aged-care funding for additional places is one of the most important considerations in the upcoming budget. As of 30 June 2019, there were 434 residential aged-care places funded in my electorate, with a further 16 short-term restorative care and 121 transitional care places, bringing the total number to 581 places. However, this is still insufficient to meet demand. Local families require improved access to aged-care services and facilities to meet their individual care needs and financial circumstances. Forward planning is required in order to have sufficient resources available to meet the future aged-care requirements of our community.
The Department of Health is receiving $170.6 million in additional funding, including $70.3 million to support greater access to medicines and medical treatments; $68.2 million in departmental funding to support the delivery of government programs; and a further $30.2 million towards mental, Indigenous and preventative health activities. On behalf of my constituents, I am pleased to see subsidised access expanded to include new medications under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme; and subsidised access to a wider range of imaging and diagnostics services, pharmaceutical benefits and professional consultations. For instance, this year, subsidised access to medical services such as continuous glucose monitors for diabetics has been expanded to cover a wider range of eligible patients.
In terms of medical services, the federal government has delivered on its funding commitment of $158 million towards the Joondalup Hospital expansion, due to commence later this year. However, the Western Australian state Labor government has failed to keep its 2017 election commitment to match federal funding, falling $62 million short of its commitment in the current state budget. Electors in the northern suburbs will hold the McGowan government to account for this $62 million shortfall, as demand for medical services in Joondalup continues to grow, as our regional city services the wider northern coastal corridor, and as waiting times get longer.
Recurrent funding of Medicare services continues to be a growing area of expenditure in the budget. A number of constituents have contacted me in relation to expanding federal subsidies to cover reimbursement for a greater range of out-of-pocket medical expenses. I forwarded these proposals to the Minister for Health for evaluation and consideration as part of the budget process.
This appropriation bill provides an additional $66.2 million in funding for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment for initiatives including wildlife and habitat recovery in response to the recent bushfire emergency, busting congestion in the environmental assessment process, responding to African swine fever and strengthening the Australian Antarctic Program.
Water security and agriculture are two very important issues in our region. Expanding the water supply to include non-rainfall-dependent sources to provide water security to Perth's northern corridor is one of my main priorities. In the environmental context of a drier climate and the growing urban population over the past 20 years, increased groundwater abstraction has resulted in a fall in the watertable, with local lakes and wetlands drying up. Our horticultural industry, our businesses, our local governments and our households have all been impacted by water licensing, reduced allocations and sprinkler bans. Australia's first full-scale groundwater replenishment scheme is operating within the Moore electorate. Annually, 28 gigalitres of treated water from the Water Corporation's wastewater treatment plants in Craigie and Neerabup are being recharged into our groundwater supply, the Leederville and Yarragadee aquifers. New bores are being drilled—in Beldon, Heathridge and Neerabup—which are being connected to the plants via pipelines being constructed in Joondalup, Currambine and Neerabup. To secure the future water supply for our growing population, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment must allocate the necessary funding to expand water recycling to other wastewater treatment plants to our north, such as Alkimos.
Moving on to Appropriation Bill (No. 4), an appropriation of approximately $2.2 billion is provided to fund the non-ordinary annual services of government, including capital works; services; payments to the states and territories, and local government authorities; and funding for new administered outcomes not previously endorsed by parliament. Significant appropriations include additional loan drawdowns in 2019-20 arising from a revised drawdown schedule for NBN Co of $1.2 billion; additional equity injections of $176.9 million in 2019-20 due to revised schedules for the Australian Rail Track Corporation and the Western Sydney Airport; and a further $166.9 million for the Drought Response, Resilience and Preparedness Plan.
The rollout of the National Broadband Network in the Moore electorate is largely completed. For the majority of residents, access to high-speed internet is now adequate to meet their needs. However, particularly in the older suburbs, in certain locations, there is still remedial work to be done to improve the level of service. As with any large technology rollout, there have been instances in which problems have been encountered and technical issues which required resolution.
My office has been working with NBN Co to resolve a number of concerns on behalf of residents. In my electorate the City of Joondalup receives financial assistance grant from the federal government for the purpose of road construction and also in the form of general-purpose financial grants. In the 2019-20 budget, the grant to the City of Joondalup totalled $5,595,749, which greatly assists the City of Joondalup in providing essential services to ratepayers without significant increases in rates. It is essential that this level of funding continues to be maintained. (Time expired)
I acknowledge the contributions of the member for Brand and the member for Moore. I will talk to some of the issues around climate change little later. Sadly, I disagree with him. I guess that's to be expected!
Recently we had the release of the Closing the gap report, which provided a salutary reminder of how far we've yet to go to improve the outcomes for First Nations people across this country. I have often stood up in this place and bemoaned the way in which this government—and, for that matter, previous governments—has addressed the needs of first Nations People in this country and the lack of engagement with them around what programs might work in their communities and around programs that affect them. I'll come to that in more detail shortly. But it is clear that we need to be thinking about, and doing much better at, programs that are specific to First Nations communities across this country, reminding ourselves about the differences and diversity across First Nations populations in Australia.
Sadly, the Closing the gap report makes that very, very clear. It shows the difference in outcomes of people who live in major metropolitan centres across all domains and those who live in very remote communities, many of whom comprise a substantial proportion of the Aboriginal population who live in my electorate. What they emphasise, in my view, is that the appalling outcomes are in part a response to the failure by successive governments to engage with First Nations people, to provide the capacity for them to participate in the decision-making about programs that impact upon them and to give them the controlling decision-making over those programs. In fact, it's quite the opposite. There's been a dramatic withdrawal of those responsibilities, starting primarily with the abolition of ATSIC in the Howard government years, then the intervention in the Northern Territory which actually took away and denied any rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to have any role in decision-making about things that affected their lives, and that's largely remained the case since then.
The Productivity Commission publishes the Indigenous Expenditure Report which provides estimates of Australian state and territory government's expenditure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. When combined with other information, these estimates contribute to a better understanding of the adequacy, effectiveness and efficiency of government expenditure on services for First Australians. The most recent edition of this expenditure report was released in 2017.
What this report showed us very clearly was that large proportions of First Nations budget are not being spent in areas characterised as being specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in programs directly controlled and managed by them, but in fact a movement away from direct funding of Aboriginal community controlled organisations and engagement with Aboriginal organisations to mainstream funding. There's been quite a significant decrease, so the proportion of total funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people away from specific programs has declined from 22.5 per cent to 18 per cent. That raises some very serious questions.
If we really want to address these close the gap figures and if we take the government at its word—and we've heard the Prime Minister in this place say these things: they want to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, make sure things are not being done to them but with them. All of those are fine words, but they're simply rhetoric, sadly. The evidence is very clear: there's absolutely no intention by this government to actually sit down, discuss and respond to the concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the way in which government funding is affecting their lives.
Perhaps one of the best examples is the current determination by this government to impose the cashless debit card across the Aboriginal population in the Northern Territory when that population have said very clearly that they don't want that universally applied compulsorily across their communities. You can't, on the one hand, say that you are working with, understanding, listening to, talking to and allowing people to make their own decisions, and then ignore them. That's precisely what this government is doing.
This was built on the back of the appalling record of income management in the Northern Territory and the system which was applied as a result of the emergency response initiated by the Howard government with Prime Minister John Howard and then Minister Mal Brough imposing on the Northern Territory the intervention. The result was the provision of the compulsory BasicsCard. What study after study of compulsory income management has shown is that the BasicsCard and others don't work. Despite the fact that Aboriginal people say it doesn't work, despite the evidence it doesn't work, it's poorly targeted, it's not cost-effective, can result in very negative experiences—social stigmatisation, exclusion, financial hardship, increased stress, financial harassment, discrimination—and can damage financial management skills, the government's determined to now impose compulsorily, uniformly, across the Aboriginal population in the Northern Territory, 22,000 people, this new card.
You can't have it both ways. Sadly, this government fails to listen to what Aboriginal people have been saying. This is also true for another program which the government funds, and that is CDP. Aboriginal people have been telling the government that this program is a failure. All the evidence says it's a failure. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are saying, 'Don't do this to us. We want a new program.' They've been telling me very clearly they want a program which looks something like the old CDEP—Community Development Employment Projects. Whether it's the same or similar really doesn't matter. But what we know about CDP is that it lacks community control, it penalises participants and it breaks down community wellbeing. We've seen an increase in break-and-enters to steal food, predominantly by children and young people, an increase in disengagement in all programs by young people in particular, an increase in domestic and family violence, an increase in financial coercion and family fighting, and an increase in mental health problems, feelings of shame, depression, sleep deprivation and hunger, and a decrease in the amount of money that is being spent on essential food. That's a health problem, and we've seen that writ large across the Northern Territory.
Aboriginal people have made very clear what they want. They want to be engaged with and they want to have agency over their lives. What the Productivity Commission's reports demonstrate is that they're not given that agency. Predominantly, the mainstream funding goes through mainstream agencies and doesn't engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, except perhaps in one domain: health. The health department directly funds 150-plus Aboriginal community controlled health organisations across this country. But they are Aboriginal community controlled health organisations. None of the other departments do this. In education, for example, there is no equivalent. There's no real engagement with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community around educational outcomes anymore. There's no real engagement around housing. We've seen less money going into housing than previously was the case, and that adds to the compounding effects of poor decision-making and a lack of awareness and concern for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the outcomes that they should be achieving through these budget measures. There are simple solutions: just do as you say you're going to do. Give Aboriginal people control instead of the position you've adopted. Hear the voice, provide them with the capacity to run their own lives and do things differently, and we will get better outcomes.
The other matter I want to talk to briefly today is climate change. I'm embarrassed, frankly, by the very nature of the debate in this chamber around climate change. We've seen the hysteria, the hyperbole and the hypocrisy of the Morrison government, refusing to accept the legitimacy of a zero net emissions target for 2050, despite the evidence that's there for all to see. They have tried to maximise an opposition to this based on fallacies and they are ignoring the advice of people they would otherwise listen to. They are ignoring the actions of the state and territory governments, the international community, BHP, the Commonwealth Bank and other institutions, all of whom are supporting net zero emissions by 2050. Why is it so hard? The tragedy is that there are many on that side of the chamber who believe they should listen. Some would ordinarily listen to organisations such as the Rural Health Alliance.
I want to commend the Rural Health Alliance for producing a position paper on climate change and rural health. The Rural Health Alliance has acknowledged that 'climate change is having global health effects', that 'climate change is a risk multiplier in that it exacerbates pre-existing health and social issues', that 'rural, regional and remote communities are disproportionately at risk of direct climate change health effects from exposure', that 'climate change causes indirect health effects that are predominantly mediated through changes in the biosphere resulting in: an increase and change in the pattern of vector-borne, water-borne and zoonotic disease; air pollution from bushfires, dust and aeroallergens; food insecurity from changes in land use, crop yield, biodiversity loss and drought; issues of water scarcity, quality and affordability; migration and forced displacement; and social unrest and conflict'.
Well, hear, hear! The Rural Health Alliance represents the health interests of people who live outside of major metropolitan centres. These are the people in regional and remote Australia that the National Party and the Liberal Party say they represent, but they won't listen to them. What those people know is that they've got to mitigate the effects of climate change and take direct action around making sure that we effect a change in the way we do our business to avoid the monumental disaster that will happen to us with global warming. The ignorance which is being perpetrated by the government is astounding. As I said before, the hypocrisy, the hyperbole and the hysteria they're generating doesn't warrant the sort of attention they're being given. Let's have a reasonable discussion in this country about climate change and understand the priorities of the nation, not just your own political interests.
It's very clear that if we don't make the changes to our public policy on climate change that are being advocated by people such as the Rural Health Alliance and every other major interest group in this country that has an interest in the best outcomes for this country then we're going to fail Australians of this generation and subsequent generations, and that would be an enormous shame. The responsibility rests squarely—squarely—with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Nationals and the members of the coalition.
I rise in this place to support Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020 and to speak about the work of the Morrison government and show that once again a coalition government can balance the books and provide for Australians when things get tough. The government hasn't wasted a day—not one day—in ensuring that Australians continue to live in the best country in the world.
Our priority is to plan for an even stronger economy that is built on resilience and rewarding aspiration—and lower taxes, so that you can keep more of what you earn. We're about reducing the cost of doing business, whether it be deregulation, finance, or getting paid on time. We want to equip Australians with the skills that Australians need in order to boost their success, delivering better wages and more jobs. We're about expanding our trade borders so that we can access more markets and create more jobs. We are about building the infrastructure our economy needs to continue to grow. It's about keeping our budget strong to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on and to help them deal with the challenges they face each and every day. We're about playing to our economic strengths and realising our opportunities.
We have a budget that's been returned to balance for the first time in 11 years. Contrast that with Labor, which racked up six record deficits totalling $240 billion. Labor hasn't delivered a surplus since 1989. More than 1.5 million more Australians have found jobs since we came to government. More than 55 per cent of those are full-time jobs. Employment grew by 1. 4 per cent through to January 2020. Since we came to government, over 837,000 more women have found jobs. That's 58 per cent of the total number of jobs created in that time. More Australians are finding jobs. The percentage of working-age Australians on welfare has fallen, and they're now at the lowest rate of welfare dependency in 30 years. More than that, we've delivered what I believe all Australians are proud of: a further $158 billion of tax relief, building on our already legislated Personal Income Tax Plan. This is the biggest simplification of personal income tax since the early 1990s. We are abolishing an entire tax bracket, making income taxes lower, fairer and simpler. We are lowering the 32.5 per cent rate to 30 per cent in 2024-25 and ensuring a projected 94 per cent of taxpayers will face a marginal tax rate of no more than 30c in the dollar.
Earlier this month, the RBA Governor, Philip Lowe, said that Australia's economic fundamentals remain very strong and provide a solid foundation for us to be optimistic about our future. So this is about getting the policies right. This is not about turning your head at the latest thing that comes around the corner. It's being strong, sensible and balanced. The Australian taxpayer understands that a Liberal-National government understands economics. We understand that the taxpayer needs to keep more of their money in their pocket. And if you've got a strong, certain and stable balanced budget moving forward, it means that you can invest in the services that all Australians want and deserve.
I'd like to focus for the next part of my speech on the record health funding that we've delivered. This is so important for someone like me, who had lived and worked in the healthcare system for my entire working career and spent a lot of time trying to improve the system. We have had record funding for public hospitals: $22.5 billion in 2019-20. That's up from $13.3 billion in the 2012-13 budget. That is an increase of 69 per cent over Labor's last budget.
It's not just about public health funding to hospitals; it's also about GP visits, and we had a record number of GP visits that were bulk-billed in 2018-19—a total of 136.5 million GP visits. This compares to 105.8 million GP visits bulk-billed in Labor's last year in government in 2012-13. So the bulk-billing rate has increased from 82 per cent under Labor to about 86 per cent today. I know Australians everywhere want the opportunity to be able to get health care that is fair and health care that is excellent.
Further than that, though, we've also invested in a very important initiative, which is the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan. In fact, the Prime Minister has articulated how important this is to him at a very personal level, and I'm very proud of the fact that Minister for Health Greg Hunt has been working very strongly in this area. It's an investment of $503 million. This is the largest suicide prevention plan in Australia's history. More than that, we're about expanding preventive health services and allowing people to get access to the mental health care that they need. We are expanding the headspace network and providing a significant boost to Indigenous suicide prevention, as well as early childhood and parenting support.
I want to turn now to the specifics of recent months. We all know that there have been external economic shocks across the globe; we've had droughts; we've had bushfires; and then, more recently, the coronavirus epidemic that's emerging. Australia has had an amazing response, and I'm very proud that we are a government that is ready to respond as this emerging epidemic occurs. As the Prime Minister has said, we are not immune as a country, but we are as prepared as we can be. Australia was one of the first countries in the world to declare coronavirus as a disease of potential pandemic. On 21 January it did this, and that was more than a week before the World Health Organization. That is because our government works very much hand-in-glove with the experts. Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer for Australia, has also worked hand-in-glove with the experts across the states and territories. This shows a government that is organised, that is proportionate, that is reasonable and that is responding rapidly as things occur.
We all know now that at this point in time there have been 23 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, and many of those have recovered—in fact, 15 of those have recovered. But a further eight cases have been identified on the Diamond Princess. I'm very pleased to say that, again, the Australian government has stepped up to respond and support those people in that situation. In fact, there have been two constituents of mine who have been on the Diamond Princess, and I've been in daily contact with them during this period of self-isolation. They have now been moved to Japan, which is really wonderful news because they are now out of that situation, which I'm pleased about.
I will also say that I have a further two constituents who have been moved with Qantas down to the Howard Springs area in order to make sure that they are going through a quarantine period for another 14 days. Again, I've been in daily contact with them. It's been very difficult for these people, but I'm very grateful for what they are doing to help ensure that all Australians are safe. They've undertaken a lot of personal sacrifice to go through this self-quarantine for 14 days while on the Diamond Princess and now a further 14 days in the Howard Springs area.
I would like to say that this has been a very important step that the Australian government has undertaken. It's been difficult, I know, for people who've had to change what they're doing with their daily life, but they are doing it for Australia and they're doing it to keep Australians safe. It's a very important initiative that we have undertaken, and we've been able to, at this point in time, contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Furthermore, all Australians quarantined on Christmas Island have been medically cleared and returned home. The National Security Committee of cabinet has agreed to extend the entry restrictions on foreign nationals who have recently been in mainland China for a further week until 29 February 2020, to again protect Australians from the risk of coronavirus. As before, Australian citizens and permanent residents will still be able to enter, as will their immediate family members.
Additionally to this, the Australian government is not just about excellent communication through all the experts and different levels of government with the people themselves who are affected, but also about containment in order to ensure that we are not exposed to this rapidly emerging problem. We've also gone further to invest in finding a cure. This is very important, because medical research in Australia is amongst, if not, the best in the world. The government has recently announced a $2 million investment to help develop a coronavirus vaccine. This morning we were receiving an update from the CSIRO, a wonderful institution which is on the front foot with regard to the development of the vaccine. These are decisions that are underpinned by medical advice and recommendations that are expert, and all Australians should feel very proud of the fact that Australia is taking the global lead in the response to the coronavirus epidemic. The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity was the first institution to grow the virus—a very important step to finding a cure or a vaccine for this globally emerging problem.
I will say that on top of this, we have actually not only been able to manage this situation but also allow Australian-Chinese to return to Australia from mainland China. Most people may not know this fact, but there's been 34,000 people travelling from mainland China to Australia since 1 February 2020, and there's not been any human-to-human transmission cases in Australia. I would like to congratulate all of the staff who have been involved in making sure that there's a safe and secure passage of those people home from a difficult circumstance. But we continue to require Australian citizens who have been to mainland China to self-isolate for 14 days from the time that they left mainland China, and obviously these people are following that advice carefully since we've had no cases since the return home of those 34,000 people.
Australia is one of the 58 countries that has introduced some form of travel restriction on passengers who've been in mainland China. Our experts have advised that the situation has not been improving for the last two weeks. But we are hopeful that we are getting to a point where things will start to stabilise in mainland China itself. It is very concerning that things have been happening overseas in other countries where we haven't seen containment, and it is definitely a wait-and-watch scenario. But, as the Prime Minister has said, we want to get as many of the brightest and smartest minds in Australia working on this task. Australia is part of an ever globalised world health system. It is very important that we show real leadership in our handling of the coronavirus, and it's wonderful we have this investment going into our medical research. Australia is part of an ever globalised world health system, and it is very important that we show real leadership in our handling of the coronavirus. It is wonderful that we have this wonderful investment going into our medical research.
I'd also like to point out that Australia has also been investing in very important at-home concerns such as ovarian cancer. Today I wear the teal ribbon to recognise those that we have lost to ovarian cancer and to recognise the investment made by the Australian government of $20 million into improving early detection, diagnosis and management of this terrible disease. Every day four women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It's a cancer that is so difficult to recognise because the symptoms are non-specific; they can be something like abdominal pain or distension of the abdomen. Women, if they have any new symptoms, should see their GP so that they can have the opportunity to have some early diagnosis or screening if they do indeed have a terrible problem like ovarian cancer. I'd like to recognise my co-ambassador, who is here today in the chamber, because it has been a very bipartisan response across the chamber and in the other place as well. Congratulations to all the work that you are doing in this area.
We should recognise the women who have lost the battle with ovarian cancer. It is one of those cancers that runs under the radar. It's wonderful to see that there is so much investment going into this area. Hopefully, like we've seen with breast cancer, where the rates of mortality have plummeted; and like we've seen with cervical cancer, where Australian research has been at the forefront of finding a vaccine for HPV, which therefore, again, has resulted in the plummeting of the incidence of cervical cancer, I'm able to stand here in the chamber in future years to say that ovarian cancer has had an improvement in its outcomes, because 43 per cent survival at five years is not good enough.
Lastly, I'd like to say that I've been very proud to be part of a government that has continued to develop an economic plan and has maintained a AAA credit rating, and that we have a strong economic plan despite these external shocks, because we are resilient people and we made the right choice in May last year.
Thankyou, Deputy Speaker Vasta. You must be very prescient to know the topic of my speech, because I was going to say that it was a great honour to represent the parliament at the 74th United Nations General Assembly, along with yourself. Obviously we were well represented if I was there with you. I want to begin by thanking the post that we have in New York at the United Nations, particularly Ambassadors Gillian Bird and Mitch Fifield. We were privileged enough while we were there to see the transfer between these two ambassadors. Ambassador Bird had served five years at that mission; a very long stint. She did a great job representing our nation in what is a very complex multilateral forum. I'd also like to thank Ambassador Hockey for his kind assistance during our delegation. I'd like to thank all of the mission staff for putting up with us asking for briefings while they were busy on their committee work. We're particularly thankful to Peter Stone for looking after us and facilitating all the mechanics of our delegation visiting.
There is a tendency to take the multilateral institutions that were formed after the Second World War, after a period of total war, for granted. I think that all too often we think to ourselves that these things are permanent, that they're permanent fixtures, that they will exist whether we put a big effort in or a small effort in. That thought, which I think is there in the public, in our own national institutions and in this parliament, shouldn't be had. We should realise that this is a precious asset that was bequeathed to us by a generation of soldiers and statesmen, people who wanted a more peaceful, more just and more orderly world. In the limited time I have before 90-second statements, I want to say that there are some threats to that and we should be mindful of those threats.