Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020; Second Reading
Before question time I was drawing the House's attention to the precarious state of the world and the fragility of the postwar rules that were made, these institutions that were created, after a period of total war—the Second World War. Really what we find now is that the United Nations is at its weakest since the Suez Crisis. I think, in witnessing this closely when we were at the General Assembly—the member for Bonner and myself—the first thing that struck us was the precariousness of the institution itself.
Before we left I got the Parliamentary Library to give us a bit of an overview on the United Nations budget. Its finances, as of 30 April 2019, had unpaid assessments totalling $1.7 billion, which is an increase of $146 million on the previous years. In recent years the UN's regular budget has been facing financial crisis, and 2018 was considered to be the worst year in the past 10 years. I can tell you that we saw that up-front at the General Assembly, because on 4 October the secretary-general wrote to member states and drew their attention not just to a budget crisis but also to a continuing liquidity crisis at the United Nations due to unpaid assessed contributions. He followed it up on 10 October with a memorandum regarding the financial situation of the organisation and went through, chapter and verse with member states, the budget cuts and the efficiencies that were being made because there was a liquidity crisis—that is, there was this great threat that the UN would actually have to cease operations for periods.
You saw the effect of this in the institution—the withdrawal of interpretation services for many of the meetings and other budget measures around the place. I guess one question is whether an institution can run if it's constantly underfunded. We now know that we need the United Nations more than ever. We face continuing international crises, so this precarious state of finances is a particular concern, and I think it has serious consequences for us.
We tend to think that this institution will always be there, but really what we see is crumbling infrastructure on the part of the rules based system. We constantly see national leaders now say that they're in favour of a rules based order but then go on to give very nationalist speeches. You saw that in the case of the US, you saw that in the case of Brazil, you saw that in the case of Iran and you saw that in the case of Turkey. Many other nations at Leaders Weeks were almost using the UN as a forum to communicate domestic messages. That is a particular concern that I observed at the General Assembly.
The second thing that I think the House should be aware of is peacekeeping, which was amongst the most important things that we have done in our time with the UN. We are still great contributors. Australia is still a great financial contributor to peacekeeping efforts. When we think of the budget, some of these peacekeeping operations are basically budgeting month to month, so you can imagine how precarious some of these missions are.
Being the eighth-highest contributor out of 102 states is an important thing, but we have allowed the operational involvement to wane over the last decade or so, and we've got less than 40 personnel on peacekeeping missions around the world. Perhaps that's understandable given the pace of the ADF's contribution to other coalition efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands, and certainly I understand that it's been a very busy time for the ADF. The void is now being filled by other countries—by Pacific countries, which I think we would all think is a good thing, but we also see increased involvement from China. We need to accept that this is the consequence of Western nations retreating from peacekeeping.
We see China gaining both operational experience, which we know the People's Liberation Army is short on, and forming relationships with other nations and other regions. When part of a multilateral, rules based order, we might welcome this and think it's a good thing. But in an age of unilateralism it could be problematic, particularly if the Western world is retreating from the tough, difficult and dangerous work of peacekeeping. Australia has important capabilities in training, logistics, transport and encountering improvised explosive devices. We could put that to great use on these peacekeeping missions. I think it's not just a duty. Peacekeeping makes the world much safer and it keeps the uncivilised forces of chaos further from our shores.
We tend to take the multilateral, rules based order for granted. I think it has been common for democratic leaders—and we saw the Prime Minister do this—give almost nationalistic speeches and presenting fairly unilateral ideas, even as they profess to a rules based order. That is a very dangerous thing, because we're fooling ourselves that if we say 'Australia first' or 'America first' or any other nation first, the other country is not going to adopt the exact same posture, the exact same behaviour. What it creates is a culture where the leaders, over time, keep pushing the limits. Of course, that is a very dangerous thing.
I think we are facing a world where we're seeing the old rules existing in name only and unilateralism being the order of the day. Blocks of countries are acting in coalitions or there are fragile kaleidoscopes of nations. I think this is a consequence of George Bush's invasion of Iraq, but it was probably inevitable in any event in a multipolar world and in a world where we see the foreign policies of countries like Russia and China not just try to escape the rules when it suits them or to reshape the rules when it suits them but also try to colonise the architecture of the United Nations and other international agencies.
As I said before, if we were in a time of peace and harmony and multilateralism and international cooperation, this might be a desirable thing. But we are not in that era. If people think this is something that's just going to occur with countries that we don't have much in common with, I'd urge them to read the Royal United Services Institute's Whitehall report Taking control. They are an influential body in the United Kingdom. The report's executive summary encourages the UK to, in effect, abandon the rules based order and to 'focus on the homeland' and to 'secure the neighbourhood'. So we see even nations that have a long history of involving themselves in the affairs of the world—the United Kingdom had a long history of that—now retreating from that world. We see the foreign policy voices saying that that would be a desirable thing.
I don't think it's a desirable thing. I think the only approach that Australia can take to a time when international relations are more dangerous, more predictable, more short-term and more unilateral than ever before is that we should have a greater investment in our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We should have a bigger network of diplomatic posts around the world, we should put more emphasis on protecting the rules based order and we should be careful to set an example ourselves as a parliament—as should the government. I went and watched the Prime Minister's speech, because we play for Team Australia when we go on these delegations. But we do need to be more savvy about the sort of situation we now face; it is a very, very dangerous one. People say it's the most dangerous since the 1930s, but it's probably actually the most dangerous ever because, of course, we have nuclear weapons. We have a whole range of international challenges that demand cooperation.
With those remarks, I'd just like to say that it was a pleasure and a great honour to represent the parliament at the United Nations General Assembly, the 74th session, and I hope that I can use that experience in some way while I'm deputy chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade by bringing some of what I saw to our deliberations—and to the deliberations of the parliament.
I'm very pleased to see all my colleagues here to listen to me during this most important appropriation bill speech. When I was at school, I remember hearing the story of the world's longest heatwave. The record was set in Marble Bar in 1923-24. For 160 days, it was—using the old measurement—over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That gave me a greater appreciation of the struggles and the efforts of previous generations of Australians, and the hardships that they went through to build this country up.
The Bureau of Meteorology used to have a whole page about this record, the Marble Bar heatwave of 1923-24, on their website, under 'Climate education'. It said:
The world record for the longest sequence of days above 100°Fahrenheit (or 37.8° on the Celsius scale) is held by Marble Bar in the inland Pilbara district of Western Australia. The temperature, measured under standard exposure conditions, reached or exceeded the century mark every day from 31 October 1923 to 7 April 1924, a total of 160 days.
Surprise, surprise! That's no longer on the Bureau of Meteorology website. It has disappeared, maybe down a memory hole. I'm not sure. It gets more interesting. There's a gentleman called Chris Gillham, a researcher from Western Australia, who has found out that, as the bureau have gone about what they call their 'homogenisation of the data', or the adjustment of the data, that record—
I'm pleased that the Labor Party actually called that—because there are many members here in the chamber to hear these facts I'm talking about. Our historic Marble Bar temperature record, the longest heatwave in the nation, the longest heatwave record in the world, is no longer—because our Bureau of Meteorology staff, sitting in their offices in Canberra, have looked back into the past and found that the people taking that temperature record almost 98 years ago made a mistake and measured it too hot. I will give you a few examples. On 7 March 1924, the raw recording at Marble Bar was 40.8 degrees. But, as I said, 98 years later, someone sitting in an office in Canberra worked out that they made a mistake and the temperature was actually only 39 degrees—1.8 degrees cooler. On 15 February 1924, the raw recording from Marble Bar was 44.3 degrees. Again, they didn't know what they were doing and they read it wrong; we know that because of the adjustments that have been made almost 100 years later. The true temperature, according to the BOM, was 43.2 degrees, down 1.1 degrees. Yet there was one day they actually got the temperature right. On 23 January 1924 they recorded 44 degrees up at Marble Bar. Yet the bureau says that number was right!
This cooling of the past temperature records has reduced that 160-day world record heatwave back in 1923-24 to 128 days, which makes it no longer a record—
What a shame that the Manager of Opposition Business doesn't want to hear the facts. Here we have a historic record that should make us all realise what our pioneers went through, living through the longest heatwave in history. But this is no longer. The past has been changed according to the Bureau of Meteorology. They know better today, sitting in an office 4,000 miles away, what the temperature was back in— (Time expired)
Yes, I know, but the motion's still not in order—I'm sorry. Just for the clarity of the member for Dawson, it was a difficult situation because he'd concluded his speech. If he'd actually got in first that would have happened and it would have been in order, but we've now moved past that point. 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. So the immediate question before the House is that the amendment be agreed to.
Today's release of the annual Infrastructure Priority List from Infrastructure Australia confirms that Tasmanian infrastructure is stuck in the slow lane. IA has again declared that the business case for the Bridgewater Bridge requires further development and anticipates this project will not be delivered until 2030. That is six years longer than the government has been telling people in my electorate, after a long delay already. The IA report states that the business case was evaluated by Infrastructure Australia in June 2019. The project is undergoing further planning and assessment with support from the Australian government and the Tasmanian government. This revelation comes after the Tasmanian government advertised the position of project director as a five-year fixed term contract ending in 2025, despite telling the public that cars will be driving over the new bridge by 2024. So either somebody's being paid more than $200,000 a year as project director to twiddle their thumbs for a year or the Liberals know that the Bridgewater Bridge is going to take longer than they are telling the public.
The fact is that, under the Liberals and the Nationals, Australian infrastructure is being treated as a massive slush fund. Whether it's the $3 billion in urban congestion funds that have gone overwhelmingly to Liberal seats and seats that the government is targeting, somehow bypassing the Labor-held seats that have higher congestion needs, or the hundreds of millions of dollars in rorted sports and community infrastructure, this corrupt government knows no shame when it comes to dipping its hands into the public purse for its own political purposes. The only Labor seats that got a look-in with infrastructure funding are the seats that the Liberals targeted at the last election, including my own. But the people of Lyons were not fooled. I am pleased to say they re-elected me with, I'm humbled to note, an increased majority. The fact is that infrastructure funding should go where it is needed in order to meet community requirements and not prop up Liberals and Nationals with dodgy pork-barrelling.
Tasmania is drier than ever before. Average rainfall across the state is down and, when rain does come, it's hard, it's fast and it's in shorter bursts. Our farmers are struggling to feed stock. Our cities and towns have their water rationed. Our dams are at increasing risk of running low, threatening the viability of our hydroelectricity system. Tasmania needs a state-wide water strategy. As I told the House last night, Tasmania has a number of water authorities and each does a fine job in looking after its own narrow interests, but what we need is a water strategy that pulls everything together and looks at water security in a holistic way. Tasmania needs a water strategy that examines where water is plentiful and where it's not, whether we can move it, how we would do it, how much it costs and who pays. This strategy should examine the infrastructure that is required to meet our irrigation, our drinking and our hydro needs and whether efficiencies can be gained via shared resourcing.
I'm sure there is plenty of information buried in numerous reports produced by these individual agencies, but I am yet to see evidence that anybody has pulled it all together into a whole-of-state strategy that takes into account the likelihood of a drier and warmer Tasmania.
I withdraw, Deputy Speaker. I call on the National Water Grid Authority to work constructively with the Tasmanian government to develop a Tasmanian water strategy. Let's not quibble about whether it's a local, state or federal responsibility. Let's get the strategy researched and written and have the fight later about who pays to put it all into action. The fact is that Tasmanian farmers cannot wait another decade before seeing real action when it comes to Tasmanian water security.
Labor has released a policy for zero net carbon emissions by 2050, and don't those opposite just love it! They've responded to our announcement with childish outbursts and histrionics which illustrate all too well how they intend to conduct themselves in any debate about climate change action. There will be no debate. There will be only war. There will be no regard for science nor for facts. There will be only hysteria. There will be no mature acknowledgement that more than 70 countries, Australian state governments, including Liberal governments, and major business groups and peak bodies have all announced net zero targets. There will be only a stubborn shaking of heads before stuffing those heads in the sand.
I've said before in this place that I truly lament the political weaponisation of climate change action, because climate change is a scientific fact, like relativity, gravity and ageing. It simply is. It's not Left. It's not Right. But that is how it's being shaped. If you want climate change action, you're a raging greenie who wants to tear down civilisation and force everyone to wear Birkenstock sandals. Any cost associated with climate change action is labelled a tax, while the higher costs of inaction are not. The fact is that Labor's 'Net zero by 2050' policy offers enormous opportunity for jobs and economic growth, especially in our regions. It offers opportunities for our farmers to diversify their income by expanding into carbon sequestration, something that will also help provide more canopy and restore denuded soils. Moving to zero net emissions is not about shutting down our $200 billion resources industries, which is how those opposite paint it in public. It's about grasping the opportunities of the 21st century and ensuring that we do not become an economic backwater while our international partners and competitors rocket ahead with new technologies that drive stronger economies.
There's a group called Farmers for Climate Action. It understands the need for Australia to take stronger action on climate change and that action in the regions can make a big difference. Recently I had the pleasure of being shown the work being done by the Derwent Catchment Project, a grassroots community organisation guided by evidence and science, which is working with farmers in the Derwent Valley to implement better land management practices and long-term strategies to prevent land degradation. This not only benefits the environment but results in better outputs and more productivity. The people running this project are experts in agriculture and environmental science. They are not political commentators. They are working in collaboration with local farmers who not only understand the benefits of sound environmental management but who are now seeing the benefits in the production of their goods. The Morrison government, meanwhile, is too caught up in itself and its own interests. It's too busy pandering to the hard Right of the party to appreciate the real work being done for the benefit of our agricultural sector. It's too busy fighting with itself, with the so-called modern Liberals squeaking away in the corner. They occasionally put their heads up above the parapet and make their voices heard, but they get slapped down and shouted down by their colleagues, so they disappear and don't put their votes on the line when it counts. They are too busy fighting amongst themselves to recognise that without climate change action our agricultural industries face further challenges.
As a member of a largely rural and regional electorate, I am very familiar with the poor telecommunications coverage that rural and regional communities face. Several towns across my electorate—towns like Miena, Broadmarsh and Lachlan—are all subject to intermittent or non-existent phone and internet connectivity. The unreliability of these services is an enormous disadvantage to those Australians who live and work in our regions, disconnecting them from the digital communications opportunities that their urban counterparts are so familiar with. We all rely so heavily upon our phones and a stable internet connection for work and for recreation. We use them as tools for learning and shopping, and to access health care and welfare services. Our regional residents are not so fortunate. Importantly, and this is particularly relevant given the bushfires so many Australians have just experienced, not having reliable telecommunications can place people in danger during natural emergencies like bushfires and flooding. I know many people in the community of Woodsdale, for instance, are concerned about their inability to use a phone and what that would mean in the case of medical emergencies and road accidents.
This is not news to me. I've spoken to countless constituents across my electorate who have to live with the reality of poor telecommunications and internet infrastructure, and I have raised it several times in this chamber. I acknowledge that many of my constituents are benefiting from the results of the Mobile Black Spot Program, a program I do hope to see supported well into the future despite some of the delays in some of the rounds that are still yet to occur.
Infrastructure Australia includes this issue of telecommunications as a priority. IA recognises that poor coverage is a barrier to inclusion and is preventive to economic growth. It is well-established that addressing these gaps is expensive, and even when done quality can be poor and there can be minimal returns on the investment. But we shouldn't look at telecommunications coverage in the regions as a business analysis; it's a community analysis. People need phone coverage, and we need to put out more mobile phone coverage and more broadband and internet coverage. The Morrison government talks a lot and uses a lot of slogans, and it's just so smug, but the reality is it's overseeing a rotting infrastructure and is failing to address the critical issues that are affecting so many people in my electorate and across the country.
On Monday night, I'm proud to announce the Brighton Council carried unanimously a motion for this government to increase Newstart payments. The Brighton Council represents an area in my electorate which includes Bridgewater and Gagebrook, areas of high socioeconomic need and very low incomes. A lot of people are on Newstart and other income measures. Brighton Council, fed up with this government's reluctance to increase Newstart, carried a motion unanimously, and there are people of all political persuasions on that council—people with Liberal leanings, people with One Nation leanings, people with Labor leanings and there may even be a Green; I'm not sure. People of all political colours came together on that council to say to this government: 'Increase Newstart. People cannot live on the rate at which it is now with rents skyrocketing, with cost of living going through the roof and with transport costs in Tasmania—and for appalling public transport in the Brighton Council; it's absolutely abysmal. People can't afford to live on the meagre income that is provided by Newstart. So I genuinely implore those opposite—I'm sure there are people with good heart over there—increase Newstart. Increase Newstart; give Australians who are on income support a better chance at a decent life.
Northern Tasmania, some of which is in my electorate, has been hit very hard by this government's tradie crisis, with 684 local apprentices and trainees gone in northern Tasmania. That's been the result of seven years of Liberal government—684 local apprentices and trainees gone in northern Tasmania. That's an absolute disgrace. We've seen evidence from the shadow minister this week and figures today about the fall in the number of apprenticeships under this government's watch at a time when we need to be growing our economy and growing our skills base. What this government has presided over, over the last seven years, is a reduction in the skills and training of young Australians. They seem content with that. They seem content with robbing young Australians and young Tasmanians of a future in trades and skills. They should stand condemned for it.
It's with pleasure that I rise to speak to highlight across a number of sectors how the Gold Coast has benefited since the May election last year, and in particular in my seat of Moncrieff. Whether you are from Southport in the north, Miami in the south or Nerang to the west, the Morrison government has delivered for the people of Moncrieff.
The Gold Coast is one of Australia's fastest growing and dynamic cities. According to the ABS, it's projected to be home to more than 1.2 million people by 2050.
Please come up and have a holiday, anytime you please! This rapid growth presents challenges. I've been pleased to work with my Morrison government colleagues, including the Deputy Prime Minister, to deliver vital infrastructure for our city. And I must disagree with the member for Lyons, who talked about $100 billion as being 'rotting'—$100 billion across 10 years is not infrastructure rotting away; that is the Morrison government delivering for all Australians around the country, including in my electorate of Moncrieff.
We are still celebrating, actually, the additional funding that we received in November—the $157 million extra that was injected into the Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A, which will go from Pacific Fair, my local shopping centre, all the way to iconic Burleigh Heads, where, I must say, we have fantastic fish and chips, and a beautiful view of the ocean from a grassy knoll where you can sit and watch surfers surfing away on the waves, and of course it's a wonderful local domestic holiday destination. But locals and visitors alike will be able to jump on board at Broadbeach at Pacific Fair and they'll be able to ride all the way to Burleigh or go the other way and ride to Helensvale and then catch the heavy rail to Brisbane if they need to. This connection will make the Gold Coast an even better place to live and work and will also take cars off the road, to bust congestion. It will create more than 760 jobs in my electorate, which I'm thrilled about. It'll boost the local economy. And, ultimately, it'll deliver more customers to small business along the route.
In addition, $45 million was brought forward for the M1 Pacific Motorway upgrade, which affects all those who travel to and from Brisbane and Tweed Heads. Funding for this upgrade will flow through this year to deliver on our promise to the people of the Gold Coast on getting home sooner and safer—a Morrison government promise across the board.
I'd like to talk about aged care and what we've delivered in that sector. Improving aged care for senior Australians continues to be the government's key priority. Every Australian has the right to age well and with dignity. Our older generations have fought to defend our democracy and have worked hard to build the Australia that we all enjoy today. That's why one of the first acts of our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was to call a royal commission into aged-care quality and safety, and I commend him for his leadership. The findings of the interim report into Australia's aged-care system demonstrated that aged care in this country needs significant change to ensure our older Australians receive the best possible care in their most vulnerable years. We do not shy away from our responsibility as a government to ensure our elderly are looked after and respected.
In our very swift response to the interim report, the government announced a funding package of $537 million. This response focuses particularly on three areas. The first is: more home-care packages to reduce wait times and connect people to care sooner. The second is: to better manage medicine and physical restraints. And the third is: to help the transition of young people out of residential aged care. We've set an ambitious target: to end younger people entering aged care by 2022. Since the election of this coalition government, we've delivered increased investment across the aged-care system. We'll deliver $5 billion in funding boosts in the forward years to 2022-23. The government remains committed to supporting senior Australians to live in their own homes longer.
I will move on now to veterans. There is a large veteran community living in my electorate, with more than 1,000 men and women who have served our country, and have served our country well. There are three RSLs in Moncrief—Nerang, Surfers Paradise and Southport—and Gold Coast veterans and their families will benefit from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, known as DVA, Building Excellence in Support and Training—BEST—grants program. This funding will help Gold Coast ex-service and community organisations to continue to put veterans and their families first.
The Vietnam Veterans' Federation received a $135,506 grant through the Department of Veterans' Affairs, known as DVA, BEST grants program. This funding means the federation can continue to provide support through their advocacy service to all local military veterans and war widows by assisting them with their entitlements and their claims. The service of the advocates is in very high demand because of their skills and outstanding records of results. It's through the dedication and hard work of ex-service and community organisations that veterans and their families receive services, support and opportunities that allow them to continue having active roles in their local communities.
We've also established a national commissioner and family advocate for veterans' affairs. This powerful new body will tackle the very difficult area of ADF and veteran suicides. This means we will get to the bottom of each and every case and learn lessons that can help improve the lives of our veterans and their families into the future. The government also supports transition to civilian life for at-risk veterans. Research shows that veterans under 30 who are involuntarily discharged are at a higher risk of suicide than the general population. We want to ensure that they get the support they need as they navigate the range of government services on offer.
We invest in programs that support young and vulnerable veterans who leave the Defence Force. The government has invested a record $11 billion to support 280,000 veterans and their families each year, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs reforms has resulted in shorter waiting times for claims. The Morrison government has also launched the Australian veterans card and lapel pin so that veterans can be appropriately recognised by businesses and the community for their service to our community.
To summarise, I would like to outline to those opposite that the Morrison government is delivering for Australians—day in, day out; week in, week out; sitting week in, sitting week out—and I think they need to have a good look at themselves, stop playing politics and look at what we're doing for Australians around the country.
It's my great pleasure to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020. I want to respond to some of the things that occurred immediately prior to me coming to the despatch box. I think it's incumbent upon all Right-thinking people in this place to call out some of the behaviour that we've seen in this debate here today.
I think most people in this parliament find it absolutely abhorrent that one of us can come into this place and use it as a place to amplify absolute ignorance, and yet time and time again we see the member for Hughes doing exactly that. I don't find it extraordinary that, from time to time, democracy provides to us in this place a representative who sometimes has views that are outside those within the mainstream. What I do find extraordinary is that he finds comfort within those who form the government parties.
If we are to accept the central argument of the member for Hughes and those who provide him comfort and who suck up, we are somehow required to believe that there is some grand conspiracy that is held by every single mainstream scientist in this country and in every other country around the world. Somehow there is some grand conspiracy that is hoodwinking centrist politicians, educators and policymakers. Somehow this thing that we all know to be true—that our climate is changing around us as a result of human activity—is a massive conspiracy, and people like the member for Hughes are the only people who are willing to stand up and rail against. If it is such a massive conspiracy, if we are all wrong, why is it that every mainstream conservative government around the world has accepted the fact that climate change is real and that we have to do something about it? Every mainstream conservative government around the world except perhaps for this one!
I'm not surprised, given the fact that the Prime Minister thought that it was appropriate to bring a lump of coal into parliament—as somehow agitating a political point. I'm not surprised, given everything that has been in the tenor of Australian political debate around this most divisive issue, that the member for Hughes finds some comfort within the Liberal Party and within the coalition parties around these wacky ideas. But I am surprised that there haven't been more members it his own party—in fact, the majority of members of his own party—who stand up against it.
I know that there are good people on the other side who accept the science and are willing to stand up. I see in the chamber the member for Bennelong, who gave an excellent speech a week or so ago in this place. I hope I do not quote him incorrectly. He made the observation that the bushfires were not the result of climate change but 'they were climate change'—a comment that I had to agree with. I remember the member for North Sydney making the observation that it is our responsibility as a country to reach the objective of zero net emissions by 2050. It is not an extraordinary observation, I have to say, given that every premier—whether they be Liberal, whether they be Labor, whether they be LNP—have made the not-so-extraordinary commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
We haven't pulled this figure from out of the air. We have said that if we are going to sign an international agreement called the Paris Agreement, which has the objective of ensuring that as a globe we do not exceed temperature rises of two per cent on preindustrial levels, then we have to change the way we are living and we have to make some changes to the way we are organising our economy. If we are to meet that objective by 2050, then we have to meet the objective of zero net emissions by 2050.
This is a simple proposition which was recognised by every single government, including our own, that signed up to the Paris treaty. It was a fact that was recognised by every single one of those state premiers—Liberal, Labor, LNP, conservative, not so conservative—who signed up to that target. It was on the basis that, if we are going to reach the objective of seeing our global temperatures not exceed two degrees of warming by 2050, then we've got a job of work to do.
A sensible person who signs an agreement says, 'We could do all the work in the last five years, or we could make some gradual changes between now and then.' But, in the absurd madness that this place has become, where simple propositions become the stuff of a political football—where a simple scientific fact, a simple economic fact, cannot stand at face value but becomes weaponised in the absurd political debate that has occupied this place since 2010—somehow we cannot accept that basic fact. It's alright if you stand in Macquarie Street, Liberal or Labor, and say, 'We will reach zero net emissions by 2050.' It's alright if you stand in Spring Street and say, 'Zero net emissions by 2050,' but somehow if you stand here in Canberra and say the same thing then that is a grand heresy; that is something that is absolutely reckless.
I beg you: is that where we've come to? Is that where this place has come to?—that we cannot accept a basic scientific fact, a basic economic fact and say, 'What have we got to do to put our shoulder to the wheel and reach that objective?' Frankly, whenever I leave this place, whether it's the end of this term or in several more terms—that's in the hands of my electors—I will not be able to look those people in the face and I will not be able to look my own kids in the face and say, 'I did not do everything within my power as a legislator to ensure that we put our country on the right path.' The most reckless thing that we can do, the worst thing we can do, using this place as a platform to amplify utter ignorance, is to send the message: 'No change; nothing is necessary.' That's not leadership. That's not what we're sent to this place to do. That is an absolute abrogation of our responsibility as politicians, as legislators, as members of this august institution.
We have an obligation to shine the light, to give an example to the people we represent and to guide them to the future. Imagine if we were to take ourselves back 30 years, prior to the invention of the personal computer, and we were to enter a class where a group of young women were learning to type. I use this example because I sat in such a class, as the only bloke in a class full of young women learning how to type. Knowing what we know today, if we were to say to that group of young women, 'The path to a great future, to a secure future, for you is that you move your typing speed from 20 words a minute to 120 words a minute,' would that be leadership to that group of women, to that group of students? If we knew for a fact that in a few years time these things called personal computers were going to be invented, and the whole idea of stenography and typing pools would be abolished, and we stood in front of that class and said, 'Class, the way to a bright future for you is to up your typing speed', that would be absolute recklessness. That would be an abrogation of our responsibility to that group. We'd say to them, 'The way to a bright future is not learning how to type a letter but learning how to write one.' It is exactly the same thing that we as legislators are doing. If we are saying to the people that we represent, 'You need do nothing more than we are doing today. Change nothing, because the world is going to be the same,' then we are abrogating our responsibility to the future; we are abrogating our responsibility to our children.
When I see people like the member for Hughes coming into this place time and time again and using this important institution, our great parliament, as a forum to magnify and amplify his ignorance and his bizarre conspiracy theories that somehow the fine public servants who serve all sides of parliament, the people who work for the Bureau of Meteorology, the people who work throughout the rest of our Public Service and every other scientist who advises government, are somehow involved in some bizarre conspiracy—it is an absolute insult, and it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to call it out as lunacy. He is not one of us. I call him out today. I know there are plenty of good people on that side of the House who know for a fact that what I am saying is true. If we are going to take this debate forward, if we are going to take this country forward, we have got to be able to overcome that sort of madness. I call on every member of this place to do your part to ensure that we give absolutely no comfort to people who peddle that sort of ignorance.
Before I start, I want to pick up on a couple of points the member for Whitlam made—not that I'm entirely sure what they had to do with the appropriation bill. The first was the statement that he or she is not one of us. A person who is sitting in this place has been elected by their electorate. Whether we agree with their views or not, they are a part of us. They are a part of this august institution.
The second point I want to pick up on is: he made some excellent comments about doing the right thing, about being a guide, about being a light. But this afternoon the opposition has called quorums and shut down speakers—more than just the speaker he was referring to in his speech. I don't necessarily see that as shining a light for democracy or living up to the trust that's been put in us. The member for Whitlam might not have been involved in that, but, as a way of responding to the comments he made, I think we can all reflect on the behaviours we undertake in this place.
I want to comment on three important areas of this government's support and investment which are particularly assisting my electorate: the support and investment in small business, in health research and in vocational education and training—all of which have a profoundly positive impact on the people living in Curtin. Small business is the backbone of our economy, and this is particularly true in WA. There are 3.4 million small and medium businesses in Australia with an annual turnover of less than $50 million. Some 7.7 million Australians are employed by small business. Around 99 per cent of all businesses in WA are small businesses. In WA there are 354,000 small businesses with a turnover of less than $10 million. These WA businesses employ 647,000 people. In my electorate of Curtin, there are over 26,000 small and medium-sized businesses across a vast range of industries and professions. When I have been out and about in my electorate meeting with some of the small businesses I have been astounded by the variety that we have. In Curtin, they range from financial and insurance services, scientific and technical services, health care and social assistance through to retail, hospitality, construction and education and training.
Our government understands the importance of small businesses to our communities, and that's why it has been lowering taxes for small and medium businesses and increasing and expanding access to the instant asset write-off to help businesses reinvest in their businesses they grow. The government has legislated lower tax rates for small and medium-sized companies. The government has also legislated to bring forward increases to the unincorporated small business tax discount rate. Small businesses with a turnover of less than $10 million have access to a range of valuable concessions, helping them get ahead. This government has also continued its strong record of backing businesses and helping them invest, grow and employ more workers by increasing the instant asset write-off to $30,000 and expanding access to medium-sized businesses. Of course this is of enormous benefit to the three million small and medium sized businesses across Australia and, more importantly to me, the 26,000 small businesses in my electorate.
As I mentioned, I've been out and about meeting a number of the small and medium sized businesses in Curtin and all of them tell me that, while there are, and have been, business challenges over the last year or so, they have expressed their relief at the tax relief that is being legislated and the instant asset write-off. They have also expressed their delight at some of the other steps, particularly in red tape, that the government is taking. Some of those businesses include a florist in Wembley called Manic Botanic who have utilised the instant asset write-off to purchase a new fridge to help grow and expand their operation—and they do do magnificent bunches of flowers. Likewise, my local cafe, Deli Chicchi, who, I have to say, make some of the best coffee in Western Australia, recently purchased a new enclosed window display cabinet, using the instant asset write-off scheme, and this will continue to grow their operation.
These business owners in my electorate, and in Australia more broadly, are independent and resilient. They work extremely hard, and in fact they never switch off. These business owners want the appropriate level of support from government but, above all, what they want is an environment in which red tape is minimised and they have the flexibility and opportunity to get on and do what they do best. This is exactly what our government is focused on: providing these small and medium businesses with the environment they need to succeed and the means for them to invest and grow their businesses.
The second point I want to make that is vitally important in my electorate of Curtin relates to health, particularly to medical and health research. In my electorate we have 11 hospitals, a mix of private and public, which service not only the people in Curtin but across Perth and Western Australia. Of significant interest to me within this mix is the fact that Curtin is home to a great hub of vital medical research facilities. We have over 10 world-class research institutes such as the Lions Eye Institute, the Australian Alzheimer's Research Foundation, the Harry Perkins institute, the Telethon Kids Institute and the Perron Institute for Neurological Research. We are also home to the University of Western Australia which of course undertakes an enormous amount of medical and health research.
Last year I visited CliniKids in Curtin, which is the Telethon Kids Institute's first clinical service and the first of its kind in Australia. CliniKids focus is putting research into practice by providing therapy support and individualised programs, including speech therapy, psychology, occupational therapy and diagnostic assessments to children aged zero to 12 with development delay and/or autism spectrum disorder. This bespoke clinic has been designed in collaboration with families to meet the specific needs of children. The Morrison government supported the development of this project with an investment of $600,000. This funding, together with generous donations from private donors and the Telethon Kids Institute, has ensured a purpose-built and unique design and fit-out which benefits the kids and their families.
I also recently visited the Telethon Kids Institute after attending the opening of the discovery centre last year. I met with the director, Professor Jonathan Carapetis, for a tour. This facility has now been collocated with the new Perth Children's Hospital, and this collocation enhances the institute's collaboration with clinicians, nursing staff and other applied health professionals, leading to better care, better treatments, and better health and development outcomes for our kids and young people. They are undertaking a broad array of vital research, and it was absolutely fascinating to take a tour and meet some of those researchers. I confess: I didn't actually understand what some of them were talking about, but it was absolutely fascinating nonetheless.
The government understands that health and medical research, like health reform more broadly, is a long-term investment. This is why we have the $20 billion long-term Medical Research Future Fund which is investing in and supporting Australian health and medical research. The fund aims to transform health and medical research to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to the health system's sustainability. In this year's budget, we committed $6 billion over the forward estimates for medical research. This comprises $3.5 billion for the National Health and Medical Research Council, $500 million for the Biomedical Translation Fund and $2.3 billion for the Medical Research Future Fund.
In my electorate of Curtin, 13 Medical Research Future Fund grants have been awarded since the fund began—$35 million to the Telethon Kids Institute for a vaccine to combat rheumatic heart disease; $4.91 million to UWA for generating Indigenous, patient centred, and clinically and culturally capable models of mental health care; and another $2 million again to UWA for the evaluation of clinical pathways and patient outcomes for breast MRI in assessing and staging breast cancer. I would also add that, from 2018 to this present time, the NHMRC has awarded $57 million to research projects at UWA, covering issues such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, cancer, genomics, infectious diseases and mental health. In essence, the hub that is Curtin in education, in medical health and in medical health research is vitally important, and this government gets it and this government invests in it.
I did say I was going to speak about VET. I've actually spoken about the importance of VET a number of times in this chamber over the past week. It is vitally important to our country that we have an extremely strong, stable VET system sitting hand in hand with the higher education system. In Curtin, 16,000 people are studying VET qualifications. Across Australia, that number is clearly a lot more. VET is vitally important to the future of this country, making sure that people have the required skills for a future which is undergoing quite dramatic transformation. I refer back to the member for Whitlam. Yes, we don't want to actually be training people right now for skills that aren't going to be needed tomorrow. We should be training people and giving them the skills and the capacity to upskill for the future through the provision of excellent vocational education and training.
We have a number of VET providers in my electorate, and I recently met with them with the assistant minister and, at another time, with the minister. The providers are really excellent providers—dedicated and committed to ensuring that their students have the capacity to succeed, that they are taught and trained extremely well, and that they can get through and actually have a great career pathway. To all of the VET providers in my electorate, I say: thank you—thank you for reaching out to us and for sharing with us your concerns about red tape and your desire for us to implement some of the reforms that we've actually been talking about with you. We really appreciate that feedback, and you'll see that we are actually implementing that feedback this year.
By way of concluding, one thing I know when I'm out and about in my electorate of Curtin is that the people of Curtin are hardworking and independent people, and they want to succeed in their endeavours. The Morrison government understands this completely and is providing the right environment, investment and support for the people in my electorate to get ahead.
The debate on the appropriation bills gives us an opportunity to reflect on, in particular, through one of these principal arms of government, with respect to government expenditure and also the raising of revenue, broader considerations about how that's occurring within the economy. At this point in time we are seeing an economy that has not, for quite some time, been performing the way it should be, especially for ordinary Australians who have expected that government would be able to do something to make life easier for people.
In particular, I'm very conscious of the fact that the government talks a big game on issues around unemployment. They say, for instance, that when they came into office nearly seven years ago unemployment stood at 5.7 per cent at the end of the GFC. They make a big deal that unemployment has gone down from 5.7 per cent to 5.1 per cent. I have to say: while any reduction in unemployment is welcomed, are they seriously cheering about an unemployment rate that has gone down just over half a per cent? At the same time we have seen the rate of underemployment reach record levels—underemployment where—
I come back to the point that we as a nation are experiencing record underemployment. This is where people feel that the wages that they're being offered, the hours that they're being offered and the type of work that they are being offered is not meeting their needs. They have bills to pay, families to raise and mortgages that they want to meet, and they don't believe that the way they're working or the hours that they're getting are meeting what they require.
We have a government that, in the budget documents that underpin these bills, constantly makes predictions about where wages are going that don't eventuate, or there is absolutely no wages policy in evidence whatsoever as to where they want to lift wages in this country. Earlier in the year the Reserve Bank argued that the government should be encouraging a lift in wages and doing so by changing what we've experienced at the moment, where they expected that wages will go no higher than a certain amount. The Reserve Bank argued that the reins around that should be eased up. The expectation was that that, in effect, would flow through to the rest of the economy. And what was the government's response? They refused to. This, as I said a few moments ago, in a climate where people are expecting that wages should improve and that they should be getting better than what's on offer. The government refused the urging of the Reserve Bank to do so, which is ludicrous.
What we are seeing, to try to help people out, are tax cuts that were promised, that the government said would lead to a major uplift in consumer confidence and a major uplift in, for example, measures like retail spend. It has hardly had the impact that the government desired or expected whatsoever. We should be seeing, for example, a government that takes on board what the Reserve Bank is saying in terms of public sector wages. We should also be seeing an argument carried out in the public domain around employers. When quizzed by Treasury, 40 per cent of CEOs said they would not pay a pay increase this year, which leads me to make the observation that I genuinely believe that enterprise bargaining in this country is approaching a point where it's going to break. If you're going into negotiations where 40 per cent of CEOs refuse to countenance, to consider, to contemplate an increase in wages, you're going nowhere in enterprise bargaining whatsoever.
It's not like the climate with respect to profitability is tough. It's not like, for example, dividend growth or the payout of dividends is tight or difficult. It's not like we're seeing senior executives reining in their own salary and remuneration expectations. Yet ordinary wage earners are being told that they should just cop a situation where 40 per cent of CEOs are saying they won't increase wages, where the government's refusing to lift public sector wages and are also refusing to back up their claims in budgets that they'll see wages increase, but not have a policy to see that occur. Ordinary people are being made to pay for that incompetence, that inability of the government to see wages policy move in this country.
What else are we seeing as a result? We are seeing an economy that's not working in the way that people expect. Growth is still chugging along. It's not expected that it will increase anytime soon. If anything, the impact of recent events is adding on top of that sluggish growth, where the expectation will be that coronavirus or the bushfires themselves, as has been flagged during the course of this week by the government, are going to cause another hit. An economy that wasn't really firing to begin with, that wasn't sparked up and operating very well, is going to have even further challenges presented as a result of some of these other instances. But the government's big game plan was that, no matter what, it was going to pursue a surplus. It was going to get to that surplus regardless of the economic conditions. Why? Because this was a political ambition, not an economic necessity.