Monday, 2 March 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020; Second Reading
I rise at a time when the country is facing unprecedented challenges due to the impact of the coronavirus and at a time when the world is bracing for the further effects of what is now being classed by many as a pandemic. It certainly has been classed as such by the Morrison-McCormack coalition government.
The coronavirus emergency response plan has been initiated. That action has been taken not to cause panic but, rather, to enable our services to take further action so that we are as fully prepared as we possibly can be to cope with what is to come. Australians should take comfort in the position the country is in, and I want to acknowledge the decisive and early steps taken by this government about two weeks ago, led by our Prime Minister and our Deputy Prime Minister, in putting in place measures to restrict movements into the country and enforce quarantine and self-isolation measures. That was not necessarily popular, but, as coronavirus continues to spread and take its toll on human life and causes extreme difficulties in other countries, I think we can all agree that the measures that were taken were the right ones. Those measures are working, and I personally thank our Prime Minister for his leadership on this matter.
I would also note that the Prime Minister's leadership stands in stark contrast to that of the Leader of the Opposition, who on this matter, on Thursday last week, chose to play politics and call a series of divisions for the sole purpose of disrupting the operations of this House. The Prime Minister, the health minister and others on the National Security Committee of cabinet had asked for pairs so they could sit out those divisions and focus on the important task on that day, which was to make decisions about further responses to coronavirus. I note that Labor refused those requests and continued to call for division after division that day. The national security meeting was interrupted some seven times by those divisions, as our ministers had to head into the chamber for pointless vote after pointless vote. Shame on the opposition for putting petty politics ahead of the safety of this country.
As we continue to feel the effects economically from coronavirus, I want to mention the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, of which I am chairman. We have just commenced an inquiry into diversifying Australia's trade and investment profile. This will look at whether we need to diversify Australia's trade markets, and it will consider our level of reliance on foreign investment. Recent events have ultimately highlighted our vulnerability as a nation, and it's important to consider ways in which we can mitigate these risks. We are taking submissions from interested individuals, businesses and organisations until 9 April, and I would point out to interested people to go to the trade committee's web page to find out more.
Despite the difficulties we are currently facing, there is much to celebrate in terms of what's being delivered and what's going to be delivered. I want to focus on some of the Australian government's investments and plans for future delivery to secure the future of North Queensland and Central Queensland, to improve the facilities that we have and to provide a better standard of living for all.
I'm going to start with water security—most notably, dams. Firstly, I note the $10 million investment which has gone to the Bowen-Collinsville Enterprise economic development group to progress the Urannah dam project to shovel-ready stage. It's a project that both I and the member for Capricornia, who is in the chamber, are very interested in because of the economic benefits it will bring about for our respective electorates and the communities therein. The 1½ million megalitre Urannah dam will be a game changer for the region. It'll open up at least 22½ thousand hectares of high-value agricultural land. It'll support regional communities like Bowen and Proserpine in my electorate, and Collinsville in the member for Capricornia's electorate. It will also supply water for current and future mining projects. The Urannah Water Scheme provided an update just recently on their progress. GHD, the renowned engineering firm, are their consultants, and they're set to begin site studies any day now, which will involve soil sampling and many other things. The other big news for Urannah is that the renewable energy hub which will be located near the dam received a $2 million grant towards the development of a proposed 1.5-gigawatt pumped-hydro electric plant. The Urannah Water Scheme and the renewable energy hub combined will deliver water security for North Queensland, and another source of fairly reliable power to go into the grid.
Another investment is in a project eagerly awaited by both North Queenslanders and Central Queenslanders, a high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power station at Collinsville, which sits in the electorate of Capricornia but will provide lower electricity prices for the entirety of North and Central Queensland. This government has invested $4 million to support Shine Energy's feasibility study for this proposed one-gigawatt plant. While Labor has trashed this idea, I have to say that there have been two different studies: one conducted by the current Queensland Labor government and another conducted with funding that was allocated by the former Gillard Labor government. Both of those studies have pointed out that a clean-coal-fired power station—a supercritical coal plant in North Queensland—would actually bring power prices down. Despite this, Labor wants to deny the traditional owners—Shine Energy is a traditional owner company run by the Indigenous people of Collinsville. The Birri people, the traditional owners of the Collinsville area, want an opportunity to provide jobs and a brighter future for their people, for their region. It's being talked down by the Labor leader. The Labor leader has labelled that project 'pathetic' and 'a nonsense'. Let's hope he can explain why if he has the courage to accept the invitation by the Birri people and Shine Energy to meet with them in Collinsville and find out more about their energy park project.
The Dawson electorate is specifically benefitting from a massive investment into our roads. Just four projects—the Mackay ring road stage 1, the Mackay ring road stage 2 or Mackay port access road, the Mackay northern access upgrade and the Horton River flood plain upgrade in the Burdekin—add up to almost $1½ billion in investment in the Bruce Highway in my region alone. Mackay ring road stage 1 is a $500 million project. We work hand in hand. It goes across the electorate of Dawson and the electorate of Capricornia. It's a $500 million project which is going to be completed this year. Eighty per cent of the funding—close to $400 million—comes from the Morrison-McCormack Liberal-National government. This is the biggest infrastructure project that the Mackay region has seen in a long time. Ring road stage 1 will divert traffic out of busy city street for motorists and businesses and will provide not only motorists but heavy vehicles a quicker and safer route to the north of Mackay. It's an 11.7-kilometre stretch of highway which allows this traffic to avoid 10 sets of traffic lights. It includes 13 new bridges and nine overpasses, and it lays the foundation for the Mackay ring road stage 2 or, as I called it before, the Mackay port access road.
This stage of the project puts the ring on it, if you will, by taking this road through to the port of Mackay. It provides a strategic connection between the port and the vital Bowen Basin and Galilee Basin mining regions as well as the prime agricultural regions to the west of the city and also our mining service hub area, Paget, thereby boosting our export potential and freight movements. I would also note that a recent supply chain study for the region—the Mackay-Isaac-Whitsunday agribusiness export supply chain mapping study—stated that two of the key factors for realising the growth potential in our region were road infrastructure and port access, and that is happening thanks to the significant investment from the Morrison-McCormack government into our region.
Work is also beginning on another connected element for our road network, and that's the $120 million Mackay northern access upgrade. The work will include increasing the Bruce Highway from four lanes to six from the Ron Camm Bridge to Mackay Bucasia Road, upgrading a number of busy intersections and constructing bridge overpasses. It will reduce congestion and increase capacity at the city's northern access point.
The other half-billion-dollar project to upgrade the Bruce Highway is taking place further north at the Horton River, between Ayr and Townsville. This is a major upgrade which will replace a dangerously low-set bridge, put in two new overpasses and 13 other brides and upgrade nine rural intersections, including a few that are very unsafe. It will widen the road, install wide centre-line treatment and ultimately create a far safer option for motorists and also in terms of flood immunity on a section of the Bruce that floods regularly. About every two years it cuts off access north and south.
I should also mention another major investment into flood immunity on roads. That's in the Whitsundays, along Shute Harbour Road, which links Proserpine and the Bruce Highway to Airlie Beach and Cannonvale. The area around Hamilton Plains suffers regular flooding, which cuts off people in the Whitsundays from schools, the hospital and the local airport. This is another completely state controlled road which has been ignored for years by the Palaszczuk government. I saw an avenue for investment under our Roads of Strategic Importance program and I worked to secure $29.6 million to address the area's flooding issues, improve travel times, keep the coastal communities in the Whitsundays connected and secure the movement of tourists who come to visit our beautiful Whitsundays.
While we're focusing on the beautiful Whitsundays, I want to mention another boost to the region's economy, through the passage of laws late last year to remove import duties and cut through red tape for superyachts which are looking to holiday in our waters. This is allowing Australia, and in particular the hotspots of Cairns and the Whitsundays, to attract these big-spending superyachts to our region. This is estimated to be about $3.5 million of extra revenue into the Whitsundays region each year.
I want to touch on some of the investments in community infrastructure taking place in my electorate under programs such as the Building Better Regions Fund, before moving on to consider the sports facilities which have benefited from funding over the last year to 18 months. Sticking to Proserpine and the Whitsundays again for a moment, we are investing $5 million into the rebuild of the Proserpine Entertainment Centre, which copped an absolute hiding from Cyclone Debbie. When work started on the rebuild following the cyclone, the local council found that the building had serious defects. Rather than a repair job they needed to consider a completely new centre. I was happy to go into bat and secure that funding.
We have also invested $3.6 million into the Proserpine administration building—the council building. They are going to house a new disaster centre there. This building also suffered at the hands of Cyclone Debbie. The facility will act as a local disaster coordination centre. Due to the severe weather events—floods and cyclones—which are a fact of life in the north, this investment will benefit the entire community. Further north, in Bowen, another Building Better Regions grant of $9 million will stop waste water heading into the Great Barrier Reef and instead allow that treated water to be harnessed for local irrigation in parks and gardens and to be utilised for business and community development and perhaps even farms.
Finally, on to sport: in Mackay, the Harrup Park Country Club's Barrier Reef cricket arena project was awarded $10 million through the government's Regional Growth Fund. This will see the construction of a 2,000-seat grandstand with media and corporate facilities to attract major cricket and AFL sporting events to our region, providing diversity and another boost to the economy. The proponent, Harrup Park Country Club, is seeking funding from the state Labor government to bring the project to fruition, but they are still sitting on the sidelines at the state level. I would urge the member for Mackay to stand up for her electorate and secure funding from the Palaszczuk Labor government for that project.
Other sports projects in Mackay to receive a boost include the Mackay Basketball Association with stadium seating. The Morrison-McCormack government invested $300,000 by a community development grant to enable to club to put in the seating that they need for the hugely popular spectator sport and the other groups that use this facility. Mackay Hockey Association also received half a million dollars under the Community Sport Infrastructure Grants program to put in a new artificial turf. This will benefit 750 junior and senior hockey players in the city. Pioneer Tennis received $50,000 under the program to put up minicourts to get young players off to a good start. A number of local groups—rugby clubs, soccer clubs—received funding for lighting, enabling them to play night games or host night events. This is just about a necessity in our steamy summers. The Slade Point Rugby Union Club received $22,000. Brothers Football Club received $490,000 to light up Leprechaun Park and put in an additional field. Dolphins Football Club got $200,000 for night training facilities, and $480,000 went to the Whitsunday Moto Sports Club near Proserpine for night karting and motorbike events.
In the north of my electorate, in the southern suburbs of Townsville, we have seen investment into sporting facilities that were just about wiped out with the flooding: $500,000 for Townsville Basketball Association and $362,000 for NQ Football for female change room facilities. All these things are creating a better Dawson electorate.
I rise this afternoon to speak about the lethargy of this budget in addressing the significant policy challenges of our coming generations. I note that I do so today in a particularly timely way, because it's the same day that Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and first millennial ever to run for the office of President of the United States, has withdrawn from the race. It's a sad day for millennials. The hits just keep on coming for us. It's a good opportunity to talk about where our intergenerational inequality issues are at here in Australia. I note that if we take stock right at this second in the chamber, we might just about have equality. If the member for Dawson legs it a bit faster out of the chamber, then we might actually be at an accurate representation of millennials in the country. Last year was the first year where there were more Australians born after 1980 than before, and last year was the first year when there were more millennial is in the workforce than gen X or boomers combined. Yet, millennial's comprise only 10 per cent of the parliament—there are less than 20 of us here in both the House and the Senate. But, at this one moment while I'm making this contribution, I note that there are three from each age group in the chamber—we are actually at equilibrium! So maybe things aren't as bad—
Shut it down! Going to the issue of intergenerational inequality, economic growth has been slow for a decade. Australia's population is ageing. Climate change looms. The burden of these changes falls mainly on the young. Young people face real concerns about housing affordability, stagnating wealth and incomes and future budget pressures.
It is a wonderfully conservative idea to carry on about the left redistributing wealth. We heard it again in question time today, when they themselves actively seek to redistribute wealth in the opposite direction. In Great Britain, 75 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted to remain in the EU in 2016, whereas 66 per cent of those aged 65 to 74 voted to leave. Guess which side won? In Australia, at the 2019 election, Scott Morrison's government was elected with one of the lowest voter turnouts since the advent of compulsory voting as the nation's young turned their back on this democracy, after enrolling in droves for the same sex marriage postal survey. That being said, electorates with higher proportions of younger people were more likely to swing towards Labor.
Put it all together, and it's hard to shake off the feeling that politics is currently being driven by older people against the wishes of the young. The age related voting divide isn't about generational warfare; it is actually driven by economic disparity which is produced by politics, not by people. Intergenerational inequality is often presented as a zero-sum battleground between the old and the young, usually by people who wish to see their structural advantage endure. But it doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. We are in this together. Millennials are in precarious work with low incomes. That means they may not be able to provide the necessary tax revenues to support boomers in their twilight years. The current rate at which earnings are growing will not fund our future welfare needs. Overburdened hospitals and cuts to social care don't help any generation; they make things harder on everyone.
The socialist historian RW Tawney captured the wider sense of responsibility for future generations when he said of education, 'What a wise parent would wish for their child, so must the state wish for all its children.' We won't reignite intergenerational solidarity if we entrench resentment across age groups, which is a fundamental prong of this government's re-election platform. The economic divide is real. It's systemic causes are ignored by this government—in fact, in some ways, they are entrenched by this government. What we can do to shift these dynamics is to create shared intergenerational spaces. That could be home-share schemes where elderly people rent out affordable rooms to young people in exchange for a helping hand. That could be nursing homes for 4-year-olds and partner programs for their parents. That could be second act volunteer programs between retirees and young people who need to foster life skills and understand that their community cares for them. We have to think about these matters, because at the moment this government will not. We have to act on these initiatives, because at the moment this government will not. We have to harness the different struggles across the generations as a force for unity before the self-absorbed and self-sustaining government causes these fractures to polarise our community for good.
Progress doesn't move in a straight line. It zigs and zags. In my first speech I spoke about being galvanised through the resistance. Coming up to one year since being elected to the parliament, I want to reflect on what it means to be in opposition. You oppose something by standing up to it, but also by being its opposite. It means being compassionate and inclusive, where they are cold and exclusionary. It means being committed to accuracy and to precision, where they are sloppy with the truth and the facts. Or, when it comes to climate change, it means being at total war with them. It also means preserving your greatest effort for the true battles over the course of our future—battles like this one, battles like intergenerational inequality and preserving the memory of how the people before us have opposed and how they have resisted and how they have won.
With that in mind, I want to turn to a few of the specifics around this afternoon's appropriation bill, which comes at a critical time for our country, when we are at the tail end of the summer of catastrophic bushfires and now we are at the breaking point of a coronavirus pandemic. Labor will be supporting the uncontroversial appropriation of this funding, but my support does not mean that I am giving the LNP government a free pass for their significant economic mismanagement over their seven years in government.
Last week we saw the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, telling the Prime Minister that he cannot just deport his problems. Prime Minister Ardern's observation of how this government deals with problems is pretty spot on. If there's a problem, this government will just ignore it until it cannot ignore it anymore. Then they will obfuscate until that strategy runs out as well. Finally, they will just cast the blame on others.
They've been very quick to shift the blame on the economy to the bushfires and coronavirus. I'm not denying that they will have a substantial impact on our economy on the scale of which we cannot yet quite understand, but we have to remember that this isn't the government's first nine months in power—it is their seventh year in power. They might shrug their shoulders and they might point their fingers, but Australians remember the economy was floundering before the fires and before coronavirus. Australians haven't just started being hurt by unemployment and skyrocketing electricity prices and completely unmanageable childcare fees in the past few months. We remember because we feel like we haven't caught a break in years. We've been feeling the rising cost of living, and we've been feeling that compounded by economic mismanagement, so I will not allow this government today to use the bushfires and coronavirus as an excuse for not addressing the longstanding challenges that families in my electorate of Lilley, on the north side of Brisbane, have faced for years.
There has been some need for responsible and proportionate and measured stimulus to boost the economy for some time. It's something we've been calling for for nine months. Economic growth was downgraded before the bushfires, before coronavirus. To say the economy is only starting to hurt now doesn't match the facts. And it's not just Labor saying this; it's the RBA, it's business, it's everyday people who come here and look to us for solutions.
In the government's own midyear update from December last year, they downgraded their own expectations for wage growth. Currently wages are growing at one-fifth of the pace of profits. They've not just been stagnant for the past few months; they have now declared through Mathias Cormann, the Minister for Finance, that wages are low by design—low wages are a deliberate part of the government's economic strategy. This must be such a huge relief to the teachers, nurses, retail workers, hospitality workers and tradies across the country who are struggling to get by every week, who are up to their necks in debt because of low wages, to be told by this government to consider their low wages as part of a grand national design.
With low wages, government and household debt together have reached new record highs. This seven-year government has promised a surplus every year, and so far they have delivered deficits every year. Six budgets—not a single surplus. That's pretty shocking for a party who claims their greatest strength is economic management. Gross and net debt have doubled on this government's watch, and what they're not shouting about is that in 2013 under the Labor government net debt was $175 billion—it's now $403 billion. Gross debt under the Labor government in 2013 was $280 billion. Gross debt is now at $570 billion. Most of the debt in the Commonwealth budget is LNP debt. Most of the debt has been accumulated under this LNP government, not under the former Labor government.
At the end of February 2020, the Prime Minister suggested that as we face difficulties in the international economy we need to lean more heavily on the domestic economy. But this suggestion is completely ignorant of the fact that domestic and local economies are hurting too. With record household debt, high unemployment and low wages people cannot afford to go out and spend money at local businesses and in their local high street. Businesses are hurting; local jobs are being cut.
In Lilley, over the past few months alone, we have had Lockheed Martin at Pinkenba shut down operations altogether; we've had Virgin Australia cut 750 jobs from the corporate office on the inner north side; the historic Arnott's—an iconic part of Brisbane's north side—has been sold off to a private US equity giant; Nundah Village has been labelled 'the village of the damned' in the Courier Mail because of all the shopfronts closing down along the village; and last week Tigerair announced that they were closing their Brisbane base, with something in the vicinity of up to 100 jobs that could be lost. These closures hurt local businesses. These closures hurt local jobs. These closures hurt the local economy.
Unemployment is now at a crisis point, with almost two million Australians unable to find work or actively looking for more work. Data from the ABS last week revealed that the unemployment rate has jumped to 5.3 per cent. The RBA recently named a consistent increase in the underemployment rate as the most likely trigger for another interest rate cut, after the RBA slashed rates three times last year to a record low of 0.75 per cent.
Perhaps worst hit by this government's policies are the social services and the people who rely on them. I've said before that this government prefer cuts over compassion. The way this government manage our social services is not like a government but like an external administrator winding up a failing company and putting it into administration.
When it comes to how this government view Centrelink recipients, their actions speak louder than their words. Instead of treating vulnerable Australians with empathy and compassion, this government have introduced demeaning, contemptuous legislation that further stigmatises and isolates people who are down on their luck. They have refused to increase the rate of Newstart above the poverty line, they have sent illegal robodebt notices, they have pushed for mandatory drug tests, they have introduced a cashless card system to control how welfare is spent, and now they are trying to increase the liquid asset test so Australians who are looking for a job have to burn through their savings before they even get to Newstart. How much contempt can one government have for a group of people who are just looking for a hand up? People receiving Centrelink benefits are not the caricatures this government would like you to think they are. They are people like Marcia, who contacted my office because she had stage 3 breast cancer and was told by Centrelink that she needed to go on Newstart because she was not sick enough for the Disability Support Pension!
The LNP have gutted $4.6 billion from the NDIS, leaving Australians with a disability and those who care for them without the support they need. One of my constituents, Karen, who is frequently wheelchair-bound because of a number of illnesses, told me that when a person has several illnesses they tend to get lumped into the too-hard basket by the NDIS and forgotten about by the very service tasked with looking after their welfare.
The LNP cut $2 billion in funding for aged care. The aged-care system is in crisis. There is not one part of the aged-care system that has not been seriously compromised. Two constituents, Joyce and Ray, have both told me they were told they faced a 12-month waiting period for their approved aged-care package. What is the government's response to decrease waiting times? They drip-feed 14,000 new aged-care packages to older Australians, while over 100,000 people are still sitting on the wait list.
The economy is supposed to work for the people, not the other way around. A surplus is pointless if people are struggling to get by. Those opposite are unwilling or unable to show leadership. They refuse to come up with a decent plan. We are seeing, in years of economic weakness, wage stagnation and slowing growth, an absolute failure to address the policy challenges that Australians are asking their federal government to fix. Economic management is what the government prides themselves on. It's what the Prime Minister and the Treasurer asked Australians to trust them with at the 2019 election. Where has that trust got Australians to now? If the government cannot deliver a healthy economy, they have delivered nothing in seven long years. I will close my remarks by noting that millennials are now four out of six in the House of Representatives—a good outcome!
We are now in the third month of the third decade of the 21st century, and the further we move into this century the further we move away from the certainties of the past 30 years. The optimism of the post-Cold War era has long faded. September 11 and the rise of authoritarian powers over the last 20 years remind us that there are realities in this life that we cannot avoid—the reality of competition, self-interest, disruption and conflict. Indeed, the coronavirus reminds us of how fragile modern life can be. As the Roman poet Horace wrote during the reign of Caesar Augustus, you can drive nature out with a pitchfork but she keeps coming back. Peace, order and prosperity are hard fought for, must be cultivated and cannot be taken for granted. We must work to secure them every single day, and that is the task of government. I'm proud to say that the Morrison government is leading to secure our health, prosperity and security during this uncertain time for our country.
We are also witnessing increasing competition between the United States and the People's Republic of China—strategic competition, economic competition, competition in artificial intelligence and technology. Both countries are building rival digital universes supported by virtual and physical networks. Fifth-generation mobile technology, or 5G, is a decisive battleground in this competition. At the heart of any debate on the 5G network in this country is the question of our digital sovereignty. Since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia it has been a principle in international law that each state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory. The United Nations Charter recognises and upholds this principle. In the digital age, sovereignty now extends beyond the historical territorial definition. It must also include the right of nation-states to protect the privacy and security of their citizens' information and communication and the integrity and availability of the networks themselves.
The 5G network in this country will be the central nervous system of our political, economic and cultural life together. It will enable the Internet of Things, bringing together a host of devices transformed by artificial intelligence—driverless cars, fridges, robots—and will also include services such as accounting, remote surgery and key functions in the health sector, to name just a few.
What has changed? Why are there concerns around 5G and security? Why are the stakes so high? With 5G there is no distinction between the core and the edge of the network. That makes it much harder to protect. 4G and previous generations of mobile technology allow for this distinction between the core and the edge of the network. In 4G, the core is where data is stored and transferred. It is where the computing happens; it's the brain of the network. The edge is the customer-facing components—the radio towers and antennae that you see on buildings. Data is centralised and therefore easier to protect. 5G uses a different radio spectrum that doesn't reach very far, so you need more equipment closer together to overcome obstacles to transmission. As an aside, that poses unique challenges in our country, given the fast continent that we live on. You also need to decentralise the data to enable the Internet of Things, so the core in a sense ceases to exist, which make it far more difficult to cordon off the central nervous system.
With 5G you get a much faster network, but you also create a much larger surface for cyberattack. The whole network is virtualised, and therefore it must be protected. A big risk to our digital sovereignty will always be foreign interference in our networks through cyberattacks. Sadly, the record over the past few years indicates that we in Australia are a regional target of choice for denial of service, intellectual property theft and espionage. 5G disruption could be used against our interests in a number of ways. For example, a remote actor could stop a ship from communicating as ocean traffic approaches, causing a collision that disrupts more traffic and critical supplies to our domestic economy. Remote controllers could cause engines in power plants to overheat and disrupt power generation for hospitals, factories, storage facilities and other critical parts of our economy. Finally, systems that manage access to traffic lights, tunnels, bridges, airports and dams could be attacked, causing injury and fatalities. Therefore, our 5G vendors and providers must be trustworthy and have our nation's interests at heart. That is why the government framed the decision to exclude Huawei from our 5G network in the following terms. I'm quoting from the 23 August 2018 press release, which said:
The Government considers that the involvement of vendors who are likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law, may risk failure by the carrier to adequately protect a 5G network from unauthorised access or interference.
The government didn't name Huawei directly, but no-one pretends otherwise. Indeed, this was confirmed in late January by Simeon Gilding, a senior fellow at ASPI and the former head of the Australian Signals Directorate's signals intelligence and offensive cyber missions. I doubt there is anyone else within government who is as uniquely qualified to speak on these matters.
Gilding's chief concern was that Huawei could be compelled by the Chinese state to provide clandestine access to our network through back doors and that no amount of work by our smartest and brightest people at ASD could protect against such a risk or threat. He wrote a very influential article on 29 January 2020 posted on The Strategist on the ASPI website, '5G choices: a pivotal moment in world affairs'. This is how he concluded:
Although I remain sceptical about some of Huawei's marketing claims, my concerns are not about the company or the quality of its products. They relate to the legal and political power of the Chinese state to compel the company to do its bidding. It's simply not reasonable to expect that Huawei would refuse a direction from the Chinese Communist Party, especially one backed by law.
… it's all about capability, opportunity and intent. The ability to compel Chinese vendors of 5G equipment is a strategic capability for China's intelligence services.
We should be very thankful that we have people like Simeon Gilding working to preserve our sovereignty. I firmly stand by the government's decision to ban Huawei, as do my colleagues across the parliament, including those sitting opposite.
Interestingly, if our reasons weren't enough to the ban, we could look to the United Kingdom for guidance—and, no, I'm not being ironic. I refer to Huawei cyber security evaluation centre oversight board: annual report 2019, which is a report to the National Security Adviser of the United Kingdom. The Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre Oversight Board is a facility in Oxfordshire in the UK. It belongs to Huawei Technologies and it was established with Her Majesty's government to mitigate any perceived risks arising from the involvement of Huawei in parts of the UK's critical national infrastructure. The report is very telling. Last year in March the key conclusions from the oversight board's fifth year of work were:
The Oversight Board continues to be able to provide only limited assurance that the long-term security risks can be managed in the Huawei equipment currently deployed in the UK;
The Oversight Board advises that it will be difficult to appropriately risk-manage future products in the context of UK deployments, until the underlying defects in Huawei's software engineering and cyber security processes are remediated …
Its final conclusion was:
… the Oversight Board can only provide limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei's involvement in the UK's critical networks can be sufficiently mitigated long-term.
This report was handed down seven months after we made our ban. I think those conclusions themselves would give any policy-maker, any decision-maker, pause when considering Huawei as a 5G vendor. So, as I said earlier, I support our government's decision, as do many in this House and in the other place. I should note in fairness though that the report also says:
These findings are about basic engineering competence and cyber security hygiene that give rise to vulnerabilities that are capable of being exploited by a range of actors. NCSC—
The National Cyber Security Centre—
does not believe that the defects identified are a result of Chinese state interference.
But that's where we part company with this report, because it is not good enough to just believe; you also need evidence.
This government, once again, is not prepared to risk our digital sovereignty when Huawei is subject to Chinese law. I refer to the 2017 National Intelligence Law in China, which says, 'All organisations and citizens shall support, assist and cooperate with national intelligence efforts in accordance with the law.' So I think it's entirely reasonable to expect Huawei—or indeed any other Chinese company—to cooperate with the wishes of the Chinese government. That would place us at risk if they were a vendor.
Huawei has been very unhappy with reports about its links to the Chinese government—and I don't want to get into a great deal of detail here except to say there is research on the internet which demonstrates the opacity of the ownership structure. One such report says the Huawei operating company is 100 per cent owned by a holding company, which is in turn approximately one per cent owned by Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and 99 per cent owned by an entity called a 'trade union committee' for the holding company. We know nothing about the internal governance procedures of the trade union committee. We do not know who the committee members or other trade union leaders are or how they are selected. Given the public nature of trade unions in China, if the ownership stake of the trade union is genuine and if the trade union and the committee function as trade unions generally function in China, Huawei may be deemed effectively state controlled. I'm not asserting that. I'm saying there are reports out there that assert that or at least indicate that and I think it's up to Huawei to prove otherwise.
As I said, they've been very sensitive recently and there are examples in the press. It was reported in Bloomberg on 23 November last year that Huawei Technologies Company is suing critics in France who alleged it has ties to the Chinese state. It is suing a French researcher, a broadcast journalist and a telecommunications sector expert for their claims. Huawei, according to this report from Bloomberg, has confirmed those claims. This is worrying because, in order to make the right decisions on national security, we need to have a free press, we need to have free speech and we need people to be able to express their views without fear of defamation.
Unfortunately, that's not just confined to the European continent. We also have ASPI receiving threatening letters from Huawei itself. I have this letter dated 14 October 2019 before me. It says, 'To whom it may concern: we were informed that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has completed a paper and will publish it soon.' It goes on to say what the paper is about. It says, 'Huawei categorically rejects the unfounded and inaccurate statements and allegations in the paper published by ASPI.' Then it says at the conclusion of the letter: 'We request ASPI state and/or report Huawei in a factual, objective and impartial way. Otherwise, we may commence defamation proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against the office-bearers of ASPI and the authors of the paper.' It referred, of course, to a paper published in late last year. I don't have it here, but it was called Engineering global consent: the Chinese Communist Party's data-driven power expansion, dated 14 October 2019 and authored by Samantha Hoffman—a very good paper indeed.
What have they done since then? They hired Nick Xenophon, former senator, as their strategic counsel. It's an odd choice. Mr Xenophon is about to go on a public affairs blitz with town halls throughout the country, arguing the case for Huawei. I find it quite interesting because there's the old Nick Xenophon and there's the new Nick Xenophon. For example, in July 2009 he travelled to Tibet as part of an all-party parliamentary group to visit the Dalai Lama. There is a report on this online. They criticised the Chinese government:
Religious repression, "patriotic education" and undemocratic social-economic reforms, including the forced settlement of nomads, have fanned the flames of unrest in Tibet and brought untold suffering to the Tibetan people.
The report then goes on:
We commend His Holiness, with whom we had the privilege of conversing at some length, for his pragmatic and conciliatory approach to the Tibetan situation and for his calm determination.
So Nick Xenophon is now effectively pursuing the strategic aims of a large Chinese company with, I think, clear links to the Chinese government. My question to Mr Xenophon is: why is he not registered on the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme? Why he is going through Australia, trying to influence our public policy process, but has yet to sign up to the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme? In the remaining time, I call on Mr Xenophon and his associates to register and do so in the national interest so that we have full transparency about his dealings with Huawei and the Australian people.
As Labor's longstanding policy, we will be supporting the appropriation legislation, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020. Historically that has been our position and it remains our position today.
But as the shadow minister for veterans affairs and Defence personnel I want to take the opportunity to talk about issues facing our current and ex-serving men and women and the government's failures across this space. I've been making a point of getting around and meeting as many Defence personnel and veterans as possible to see what they're doing and hear what they think is best for them, their families and their communities. Obviously one of the issues is veterans' mental health and the alarming suicide rate. They have been receiving a lot of media attention, and rightly so. The high number of veteran suicides is a national shame and a personal tragedy for the individuals concerned and their families. There have been more than 400 since 2001, though anecdotally we suspect that there are many, many more. This is significantly more deaths than occurred for ADF personnel on overseas operations during this period.
That's why late last year, having listened to families affected, Labor announced that we would back a royal commission into the issue, and we called on the government to establish one. So we were a bit intrigued when, on 5 February, the Prime Minister announced that the government would establish a new permanent National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention. We've cautiously welcomed the proposal and said we were happy to look at the detail. But like others, including veterans' suicide royal commission campaigner Julie-Ann Finney, we've become increasingly concerned that this is not better than a royal commission, as the government has claimed. The government has some work to do to convince us and the public that they're genuine about this space and taking action accordingly.
We know the devil will be in the detail, so we urge the government to address the concerns of Ms Finney and other veterans' families quickly, to release the enabling legislation and the terms of reference as soon as possible and to consult widely and wisely on this matter. We call on the government to put this on the next COAG agenda, because there will be need to deal with the states and territories, particularly in the area of coronial inquiries, police investigations and the like. We will then be able to see if the commissioner will indeed have all the powers of a royal commission, as the government has announced. But better still why not just announce a royal commission so we can get to the bottom of veterans' suicides and deliver accountability and justice for veterans and their families?
On a related note, the government committed to developing a new mental health and wellbeing strategy and national action plan by the end of last year. Labor support this, and I've met with the minister to provide input. But the government has dithered, delayed and failed to meet its own deadline. The latest was that the Department of Veterans' Affairs was to provide a draft strategy and action plan to the government at some indeterminate date this year. Just when we'll see the final strategy is anyone's guess, and frankly, with its proposal for a new national veterans' suicide commissioner, the government needs to get on with the job and deliver this as soon as possible.
We also know that there are serious problems with DVA and the veteran support system. In Senate estimates in October last year, Labor exposed that the government had failed to deliver an election commitment to cut waiting times for claims through the DVA and streamline processes through the new MyService system. DVA officials revealed that overall waiting times for processing claims had blown out in recent times, and we've seen reports that simply allocating a file can take up to 75 days. The secretary of the department has admitted that the department has been hit hard by ongoing funding and staffing cuts, which has driven a massive outsourcing and casualisation of DVA's workforce, with around 45 per cent of staff now being non-permanent APS employees and 26 per cent being labour hire contractors. DVA has had more than 16 per cent of its secure jobs cut since the LNP came to power here in Canberra in 2013, which has seriously eroded the capacity of the department to deliver its service. This is simply unsustainable. It's frustrating for us that this government has been in office for nearly seven years and is now playing catch-up and desperately trying to come up with a plan in its third term.
Be that as it may, we're willing to work with the government and the veterans' community in as bipartisan a way as we possibly can to address the important issues of veteran's health and wellbeing. That's why Labor took to the last election a range of policies in this space. We committed $31 million to develop seven veterans' wellbeing centres across Australia, including in Townsville, Ipswich and elsewhere. The government embraced this policy, with six veterans' wellbeing centres, although the details still remain sketchy and the progress slow. Interestingly, in my electorate, in Ipswich, we were left off the government's list of veterans' hubs. The government reneged on a commitment that they announced in 2016 election to deliver one. I have told the minister for veterans affairs directly that we need additional centres where there are significant ex-service communities.
I will touch on a few other hot topics where I have recently received significant feedback from veterans. First, following the release of the Productivity Commission report on the veterans support system on 4 July last year, the government committed to provide a response as soon as possible. It's now been more than eight months and we're still waiting. The government is yet to make a formal response. The PC report had a number of worthy recommendations, but it also included a number of recommendations that Labor cannot support. This includes scrapping the Gold Card for dependents and outsourcing the administration and monitoring of the veterans support system to an independent statutory agency, which the PC calls a 'veterans service commission'. Both of these proposals are very unpopular with veterans and I have called on the minister to rule them out. Regrettably, he has failed to do so, which has only created further anxiety in the community.
Secondly the government is sitting on a review of the totally and permanently incapacitated—TPI—or special rate disability pension, and it has presided over a whitewash in the form of an inquiry into the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme. Labor supported these reviews in principle, but given that both were announced just before the election we questioned the government's commitment and suspected it was just another example of government kicking the can down the road and seeking to placate veterans accordingly, hoping that they would haven't to deal with the issue after the election. Since then we had concerns that the terms of reference of the reviews have not stressed all the concerns raised by veterans and there's not been adequate consultation. We know the Prime Minister received the final TPI review in August last year, following an earlier secret KPMG report. It's been sitting on the Prime Minister's desk for more than six months. I call on him to release the review and the government's response as soon as possible to provide certainty for our TPI veterans. What is the Prime Minister hiding in relation to this matter? Release the review.
The DFRDB inquiry conducted by the Commonwealth Ombudsman concluded in early December last year. I'm pleased that the government and Defence apologised for the dodgy and misleading advice that many DFRDB scheme members received. The government admitted that it has caused a lot of confusion and distress for people over the years. It's clear that ADF members relied on advice from Defence to make critical decisions about their retirement, and they were let down badly. We know that many veterans are very unhappy with the review's finding that they did not experience a financial loss as a result of bad advice and that this doesn't warrant financial compensation. If they have suffered financial loss, it's no wonder the government's done nothing to assist them. I can assure the government that these veterans are very unhappy with the government. The government should be working with those veterans to compensate them if they have suffered some form of detriment, so that if there has been defective administration they are capable of getting compensation for detriment caused by that defective administration. But there's no evidence—none whatsoever—that the government's been working with veterans communities to see whether any of those veterans have suffered any form of detriment.
On the Defence personnel side of the portfolio, last year we were shocked to hear that the government had decided to abolish the well-respected Defence Reserves Support Council—the DRSC—to essentially replace it with an in-house Defence appointed body. For more than 40 years the DRSC has played an important role in increasing understanding and support for reserves, including having regional organisations and employer and employee organisations represented on the council. This announcement was made late on a Friday afternoon under the cover of another secret KPMG review, so you can see a bit of a pattern developing here. The DRSC national council members were shown the KPMG report only days before the announcement as a fait accompli, and they were effectively given their marching orders. This is an absolute disgrace, and the government's handling of this and the treatment of the DRSC has been utterly appalling.
Finally, there has been a lot of interest in and concern about the new veterans card. I know there's been a mixed response to the card and the associated lapel pin among veterans, and I've received a fair bit of negative feedback about it. Labor broadly welcomed the launch late last year—or the relaunch, relaunch and relaunch again—of the card and the discount scheme, which are intended to provide veterans with access to a range of offers and benefits from participating businesses. But it has taken far too long for the government to roll this out, and again we question the government's commitment and the urgency to deliver it.
The relaunch on 3 November was the third time the government had recycled this announcement since it was first announced. It was announced in October last year and it had been announced during the election campaign. Three times they have announced this. At the outset, no businesses were on board, and even now there are few details on how the card will interact with other, existing discount schemes and what advantage the card will have over other programs. The government even attached the card to enabling legislation which was introduced by the government into parliament last year, in February, only for it to lapse, of course, when the election was called and parliament was prorogued. After the election, the bill was reintroduced, and the government insisted it was a priority for the new government. It was only passed on 22 October last year, with Labor support.
So, in the end, veterans had to wait for more than a year to see the veterans card after it was first announced, and, even then, the government and DVA completely bungled the rollout. Other MPs and I—and, I'm sure, those opposite—have received numerous complaints from people about the complicated and cumbersome application process. It turns out each veteran needs to be a client of DVA first and apply online via DVA's MyService portal, and needs to have an email address. Based on the comments we've heard from the Prime Minister and the minister, it could be argued that the veterans card and lapel pin were designed simply as a mechanism to count veterans and gather more data on them. Launching something that many veterans don't want and forcing them to apply for it online is not the best way to gather information about them. I note the next census will include a question that identifies veterans, and so it should; I welcome that. It will be a much more transparent and effective way of understanding how many veterans we have.
On top of the other requirements just to get the card, veterans need to sign up to the Australian Partners of Defence, APOD, platform and create an account before they can start accessing discounts. Clearly, this makes it very difficult for older veterans who might not have access to computers or the internet or have an email address. Once you've jumped through all of these hoops and you've got your card, many of the discounts offered are pretty paltry, such as maybe a dollar off a $100 supermarket purchase. Further, a number of veterans in regional areas in my electorate of Blair have pointed out that they will not benefit as much as people living in major centres, where there are more participating businesses. As one advocate put it recently, 'The veterans card isn't what the veterans were told it would be—a bone fide recognition program—given it's not much better than the general public can get.'
The latest instalment of this saga is that the minister has written to MPs asking them to approach small businesses in their own electorates and ask them to participate in this discount scheme. It sounds fine in theory, but it's just another example of the government shifting onto MPs' offices the cost of delivering a program and drumming up support. We've seen a number of grant programs of late, and it is simply unreasonable to expect MPs and their staff to do the legwork for government departments.
Labor hope the veterans card and discount scheme doesn't turn out to be the tokenistic policy, the thought bubble, we feared it would be when it was announced. Unfortunately, this seems to be an incompetent and secretive government that has failed to deliver for veterans. It seems to be a government determined to outsource policy responsibilities of departments to independent agencies and a government determined to privatise when it can. Make no mistake, we honour those who have fallen and we need to look after the living—Labor will always stand with you. We want to be as bipartisan as we possibly can, but there are differences, and we do have some serious criticisms of the way the government is handling the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
I rise in support of the appropriation bills. I'd like to record, for people listening in my electorate, what we do down here in managing the nation's finances and talk about the wonderful support that the Morrison-McCormack government is giving to all people in aged care and people who rely on income support. It all comes down to balancing the books. We are not spending government money; we are spending taxpayers' money.
Through Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020, and as part of the MYEFO—or Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook statement—more appropriations are made. These bills appropriate over $3 billion, and the MYEFO has highlighted what needs ongoing support. First of all, with these bills we support Home Affairs with almost a billion dollars—$948 million to be exact—to implement our border protection policies and also support people who have been impacted by the recent bushfires. Also, the Department of Social Services required another $592 million for higher than expected disability employment services payments and for additional emergency relief and financial counselling for communities affected by the recent bushfire emergency. Thirdly, the Department of Defence has additional funding of $488.8 million, including $87.9 million for the Australian Defence Force contribution to the bushfire response through Operation Bushfire Assist.
I would like to thank all those people from the Reserve forces who turned up in the Lyne electorate, building fences with BlazeAid. We had a wonderful get-together with people from company D as well as the Lions Club, the Rotary club, and the fauna group, which was rescuing all the burnt and damaged wildlife. It was all done at the Wauchope Showground. The Wauchope Showground ended up being an emergency Noah's ark in the middle of the bushfire. All these domestic animals, including horses, from small- and large-acre properties had to go somewhere, and, like all good country towns, the showground was opened up. Volunteers poured in. Donations of food and bedding were assembled with the help of other people who came over from Lake Cathie. It was just an amazing response that we saw in the face of the bushfires.
The Army Reserve turned up for weeks. They had to leave their regular jobs, and many of them had to learn all about fencing, which is really critical when you're running a grazing enterprise. Unfortunately, many grazing enterprises in Upper Hastings, around Birdwood and Yarras, were severely damaged. Houses were lost. In fact, over 152 houses were lost in the mid-coast area alone and about 25—I'll have to check the exact figures—in the area of the Lyne electorate that goes into the Port Macquarie-Hastings council area. The Reserves turned up in 35, 40 degree heat, clearing debris and rebuilding fences so that the stock could be grazed safely and not lost. We're eternally grateful to them.
There is also $287 million for Services Australia to support individuals, families and communities to achieve greater self-sufficiency. Another appropriation goes to support our health budget. There's $170.6 million extra, including $53.2 million to support access to medicines and medical treatments. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is one of the most shining examples of our wonderful health system. Australia has a health system that is second to none. I've had experience in Canada. Whilst I haven't worked in America, I've seen how the American system works, and it's different in every state. Then there's the NHS, which is another similarly iconic health system. Out of all the places I've worked, I think the Australian health system is the best. We cover all avenues.
We don't rely just on the public health system. We have Medicare in the community, we have the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and we help make health insurance affordable so people can take control of their own hospital requirements and make it sustainable to stay in private hospitals. That takes the pressure off the public hospitals. If our private hospital system were to fade away, and not be as prominent as it is in delivering health care, the public hospital system run by the state governments wouldn't be able to cope. So these provisions are really important. All those wonderful biological drugs and cutting edge treatments—like Keytruda for lung cancer and all the biologicals and the CAR T-cell therapy—are available at minimal cost to average, everyday Australians. In other nations around the world, you have to be incredibly well insured, way above what we can deliver in our health insurance system, or have huge capital behind you to access these wonderful new lifesaving, targeted treatments: biologicals, immunological drugs and the other general cardiovascular, neurological and dementia drugs. You name it—cutting edge medicines are available in Australia.
There are also appropriations for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment for wildlife and habitat recovery. As you recall, no doubt, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews, there was $66 million appropriated for that cause to help our wildlife recover.
As I said, we are not spending our money; we're spending taxpayers' money. Just so that it's on the record, and a lot of people who don't have to rely on income support may not appreciate this, but people who do receive it are very grateful for the support that we give them to get their life back on track—including in aged care, with the huge support that we give that industry. We have some of the biggest aged-care facilities in the country in the Lyne electorate. We have the second oldest demographic and the second highest incidence of dementia. In the recent funding rounds there were specialised sections of the funding to expand dementia care in residential and non-residential. Our budget is funding the royal commission into aged care. We've got a new aged-care commissioner with exceptional new powers of surveillance for the maintenance of standards. All these things come from taxpayer dollars.
I should mention that our income support, our welfare, has a very highly targeted and comprehensive net, so that people don't fall through the cracks. One in three dollars goes into that budget—one in three taxpayer dollars goes into the welfare support budget. That is a huge amount, so we have to be very targeted, and we want to support people when they need it most. Recently there have been comments about Newstart. We all support a fair go for people who have to rely on Newstart. Because we've got record participation in the economy and growth, the number of people depending on Newstart is the smallest it's been for decades, and the number of people in part-time or full-time employment has grown to the highest rate, similarly, for decades. Newstart is not a wage replacement or a supplement; it's taxpayer funded income support to assist people while they look for a job. In the press people have recently been questioning the Newstart amount, and I want to put on the record that it has increased over the last 20 years. It's been indexed. There were comments in the press that Newstart hasn't been raised for 25 years. It is raised twice a year every year in line with the CPI, which is a widely accepted measure of the changes to cost of living. In 1994, the payment rate for a single person on Newstart was $294 a fortnight and today it is $559 a fortnight, plus there's the energy supplement and there are also other additional payments and allowances.
For those who rely on income support via Newstart, there is also Commonwealth rent assistance if they are in community housing or in the private housing market. The most that can be is up to $185 a fortnight for a couple with children. There is also family tax benefit A and B, depending on the number of children and the age of the children, which can be quite considerable. There is also a pharmaceutical supplement. That is why one shouldn't be dismayed when people in the press or other people arguing the case say that things aren't enough on Newstart. It is not meant to be a replacement wage; it's meant to support people while they get back into employment—and that's what we are doing. The maximum under family tax benefit A for a couple with children is $242 a fortnight and, under family tax benefit B, the maximum is up to $158 a fortnight. It's not the same for everyone, because every family is different. Some have many more children and others have fewer children who are dependent. So it's very hard to be blanket about what any one person would receive to support them whilst they are getting back into full-time employment.
The other thing I should mention is that we are supporting a huge number of industries that have been through the major floods in the north of the country and now we are supporting people in the southern part, in Queensland, New South Wales, down the South Coast, into Victoria and over into South Australia. There's billions of dollars there in support. I might add that some people are getting frustrated because some of the support payments which are administered by the state governments aren't getting through quickly enough. I exhort my state colleagues to get the bureaucracy fired up, shorten the delivery phrase and get the funds in the pockets of the people cleaning up after the fires. Get those contracts up and get the money out to support bushfire affected businesses and farms. The clean-up is critical and needs to be started as soon as possible.
In my state of New South Wales they have appointed a lead contractor. In my council area that was the worst affected, which was the MidCoast Council, they have special areas declared and developed to take all the debris from burnt houses—whether they are asbestos tainted or untainted. There are special provisions, and they are keen to roll. People with insurance won't have their insurance payout consumed in the clean-up of the burnt property, because that is now covered in a fifty-fifty arrangement between the Commonwealth and the state governments.
But the delivery of those funds and the management of that scheme—and also the Rural Assistance Authority—for people whose property or businesses have been damaged by the bushfires, are administered by the states. That's what a lot of people don't understand. They say, 'Well, the federal government said that they were giving this money out,' but we rely on the states. That's how it works in our Federation. The states are the delivery organisations of services and schemes like this. So it is a partnership with the state governments, but sometimes the paper work takes way too long. Time is ticking. People are itching to get their lives back on track. So I implore my state colleagues to make it simple. If there are more negotiations needed about the guidelines, our ministers are ready, willing and able to stump up and negotiate.
I commend these appropriation bills to the House. As I said, it's all about the dollars and managing the economy to get ourselves back into the black as well as to cope with all these emergencies and extra demands on taxpayer dollars.
These appropriation bills 3 and 4 allocate funding so that government services, public works and government programs can continue. Public expenditure of course relies on sound economic management by the government. Despite the Morrison government's spin and boasting, this government's economic management record highlights failure and incompetence. When I talk about the government's spin, this is a government that brought forward the last budget to 2 April in order to be able to supposedly bring forward a budget that was in the black and then go into an election immediately afterwards on the claim that they were good economic managers. I quote exactly what the Treasurer said in his opening line on that evening: 'Tonight, I announce that the budget is back in the black.'
The budget has never been in the black and the way things are going it is unlikely to be. I believe that the Australian people are getting a little sick and tired of the spin that comes from this government on every single issue. You can get away with it up to a point, but this government has now been in office for almost seven years—longer than the full term of office of the last Labor government. Yet again, as we saw in question time today, the Treasurer will come into the chamber and pretend that all is well; that his government is managing the economy beautifully; and that it's all the fault of the previous Labor government. This is almost seven years into their term of office. It is time this government took responsibility for their own poor track record, because the public don't want to hear spin. They want to see a government that's telling them the truth and doing what is necessary in order to get the economy back on track.
Given what has happened in recent times, it is unlikely that the budget will get back in the black, as the Treasurer keeps saying. I note that his new spin is now that it's a 'balanced' budget. Whatever the term 'balance' means I don't know, but I do know that the economy of Australia is struggling. We now see the government coming into the chamber almost on a daily basis, hiding behind the coronavirus and the fires of the last summer, saying that the impact on our economy from the fires and the coronavirus is why they may not be able to get the budget back in the black.
The facts are clear. The reality is that even before the coronavirus and the fires the Australian economy was sluggish. Wages were stagnant. Gross national debt went from $280 billion when the government took office to $570 billion. It has more than doubled. This is this government's debt. Net debt has gone from $175 billion to, last Friday, the latest figure is $430 billion—2½ times what it was when this government took office. They haven't got net debt or gross debt down; it's actually increased under their watch.
We know that two million people are either unemployed or underemployed; That is, they are looking for work or looking for more work. We've seen private health insurance rates drop markedly because people simply cannot afford to pay the private health insurance premiums. Household debt has reached record highs. I read only today that 40 per cent of recent retirees are struggling financially. That is a statement from Industry Super Australia.
The greatest indicator of all that the economy is struggling is the record low interest rates of 0.75 per cent. When this government came to office they were around three per cent. To fall to 0.75 per cent, which is less than inflation, is saying that the Australian economy is struggling. That's why the Reserve Bank has dropped their interest rate to 0.75 per cent, and we hear that tomorrow it might even fall further. The Reserve Bank, of all authorities in this country, is a strong and credible organisation whose advice we should look to and take seriously. If the Reserve Bank Board is saying that interest rates have had to come down to 0.75 per cent and maybe have to go even further, it's because the Australian economy is struggling and the Reserve Bank Board is trying to do what they can to stimulate the economy.
Then, the latest of those figures that one can point to, to assess whether the Australian economy is doing well or not, is the value of the Australian dollar against the US dollar. Today it has fallen to 0.65 of a US dollar—that is, 65 cents US for each Australian dollar—one of the lowest figures that I can recall in a long time. The reason it has fallen is that the global confidence in the Australian economy is also falling, and that's why the dollar falls.
This is a government that fails to understand what needs to be done and, instead of perhaps spending more money on infrastructure projects that it could bring forward or establishing a stimulus package similar to what the Rudd-Gillard governments did, this is a government that goes in the opposite direction. It cuts public funding to the NDIS by $4.6 billion in order to try and go back to the Australian people and say, 'Look, we balanced the budget.' We've done it on the back of some of the most vulnerable people in this country by not allocating to them the funds that were set aside for them of $4.6 billion! As we keep hearing, by cutting Medicare bulk billing incentives in regional parts of Australia right now, again, people who are going to doctors, and who obviously need medical support, are finding they may have to pay more for them. Cutting hospital funding, cutting funds that go to pensioners and failing to adequately fund the aged-care system in this country—these are all vulnerable people to whom this government is saying: 'I'll take money from you in order to try and prove that I can get the budget back in the black.' It is simply not working because, quite frankly, those kinds of measures never do. All they do are ensure that less and less money is spent in the economy, and that in turn has a flow-on effect in terms of the economy going backwards rather than forwards.
With respect to that, in my own state of South Australia the economy is dire. I have read report after report indicating that the South Australian economy is in trouble and, indeed, is struggling. Recently, in the last couple of weeks, we have had a prominent South Australian businessman Sam Shahin call on the state leaders—not political leaders, state civic leaders—to come together and develop a strategy for a way forward for South Australia. That's how much concern there is out there about the direction of the state. Can I say, in my view: that is an absolutely clear message that there is little confidence in the Marshall Liberal government in South Australia.
As with their federal counterparts, the South Australian Marshall Liberal government turns to austerity, privatisation, sell-offs and service cuts in order to try and balance its own budget. And we have seen since coming to office this government wanting to close South Australian service centres, which provide a whole range of government services to people face-to-face, at Modbury, Mitcham and Prospect. They are all set to close. The South Australian government's argument is that online transactions, which are now available to the public, are replacing the need to have these face-to-face service centres and they are much more efficient et cetera. It is simply more spin and not true. People want those service centres to remain open in all of those three areas—Modbury, Mitcham and Prospect—and, indeed, the statistics will show that they are being used, but the South Australian government will close them because they need to balance their budget. Simultaneously, they want to open a new South Australian service centre at Mount Barker! And, surprise, surprise: where's the logic in doing that? The logic is that it was a 2018 election promise to the Liberal candidate for Mount Barker at the time and, after he got elected, he's asking his government to deliver on that promise. So the logic of using online services applies to other people in South Australia but not to the Liberal seat that they won as part of the election outcome. The even sadder thing about that is that new service centre—which I support, because I believe the community out there also deserve to have one of these centres—will be paid for by communities in other places that will lose their own service centres. The even sadder thing about that is that the new service centre, which I support because I believe the community out there also deserve to have one of these centres, will be paid for by communities in other places that will lose their own service centre.
I turn to the Civil Contractors Federation of South Australia. Only in the last couple of days its CEO, Phil Sutherland, issued a press statement. The press statement relates to Infrastructure Australia's priority list of projects that should be funded by the federal government. I will quote directly from Mr Sutherland's comments. He said that this situation is 'completely unacceptable and totally lamentable'. He was referring to the fact that there was no South Australia project on the list. He said:
It is a matter of very serious concern that there is not a single new road or rail project earmarked for SA on Infrastructure Australia’s updated high priority list.
He went on to say:
Alarmingly, this has been the case for several years.
That sums up the attitude of the federal government here in Canberra towards South Australia. The truth of the matter is that, as Mr Sutherland went on to explain in his press release, there are 10 projects that he could immediately identify as warranting national infrastructure funding because they are projects that need urgent attention—projects that have been the cause of some 500 people being killed in the last eight years—but not one of them is on the priority list, and South Australia will likely get nothing.
The reality is that, at both federal and state level, these are governments that think that the way you manage an economy is simply by retreating and going backwards, and then, in turn, allowing the private sector to take control of everything. In South Australia we are seeing more of that with the Marshall Liberal government wanting to privatise rail services. I understand that the three shortlisted companies that have bid, and one of them is likely to get the contract if it goes ahead, and I expect that the Marshall government will do everything it can to do that, are companies named Adelaide Next, Keolis Downer and TrainCo. Interestingly, not one of those companies is from South Australia, so South Australians, who need the work and who should be part of any economic progress in the stake, are not even being given the opportunity of bidding for or getting major South Australian government contracts. That is where the state is heading and, not surprisingly, is why the state is going backwards, because every time that happens profits are shifted out of South Australia to elsewhere, which, in turn, makes the economy struggle even more.
South Australia has consistently had a high unemployment rate for the last two or three years. That has been the case ever since the federal government turned its back on General Motors Holden. From that day onwards, confidence in the South Australian economy has fallen and is continuing to fall. Whilst the South Australian government will go out and say, 'But unemployment in the last month's figures fell from 6.3 to 5.7 per cent,' they don't say that total employment also fell that month. In other words, people are simply giving up looking for work, coming off the employment list or, as I've seen with many young people that I've spoken to, moving interstate or overseas because they have given up trying to find work in South Australia. It is simply not good enough. South Australia is a state that has huge potential. It is a state that in years gone by showed that it can stand on its own two feet and did so well. I believe that with the right policies—policies that encourage, not discourage, investment and that support government initiatives in the state—South Australia could do a lot better than it is doing. That is exactly the same argument that I would use for the federal government. It is not austerity measures that work; it is indeed the opposite.
I'm pleased to rise today on these appropriation bills to raise some pressing local issues. In 1998 I chaired the Werribee Residents Against Toxic Dump—we were called WRATD—a community group formed to lead my community's fight against CSR's plan to develop a toxic dump in Werribee. This campaign taught me how to work at the grassroots level and I believe led to me sitting here as my community's federal representative in this chamber. I learnt to be a local member from a couple of exemplars. The Hon. Julia Gillard referenced this fight with CSR in her first speech in this place because she was involved as a candidate. I worked with Julia and Barry Jones, who was our local member. We brought that fight to the federal parliament, and today with that history I bring another fight to the federal parliament.
Like many others in my community, I thought that our fight and win had sent the strong message to governments of all stripes that community consultation is not a tick-and-flick exercise and that ignoring community sentiment came with consequences for proponents and legislators. Imagine my disappointment then when in the last sitting fortnight local community activists started calling me to say that an Age journalist was contacting them asking for comment about the Transurban proposal to store contaminated soil from the West Gate Tunnel project in our community as a backup option. My immediate reaction was to assure them that this couldn't be true. I was sure that any environmental effects statement would have had to have addressed these issues prior to the project starting. I was sure that this was merely a rumour that would prove to be untrue. What followed was even more disbelief, because this was, in fact, true.
Since then I have been in discussions with local community groups, experts and colleagues from all levels of government over Transurban's plan to place contaminated soil in Wyndham Vale. Following these discussions I want to say clearly: I do not support Transurban's toxic soil plan for Wyndham. I am bemused that we are hearing talk of plans for extenuating circumstances when there is no plan detailing the final disposal or treatment facility. Further, I'm not confident the backup plan being discussed will have the safety measures in place to protect people and to protect our precious environment.
My objections and the objections of many in the community are not about the West Gate Tunnel project. Tens of thousands of the 270,000 people who reside in the city of Wyndham commute to and from the city for work and pleasure. To do their jobs and to enjoy their free time they pay the Transurban tolls. Tens of thousands of locals will use the West Gate Tunnel on completion. Like me, they support the Andrews government's investment in this much-needed piece of infrastructure for Melbourne and the entire western suburbs. But, like me, they are bemused that Transurban and its construction partners, John Holland and CPB, are casting about at the eleventh hour to organise the disposal of contaminated soil in a project that will see the removal of 1.5 million tonnes of soil.
I'd like the House to know too that this is a market led project—that is, that Transurban made an unsolicited approach to government with this project. They have been through several processes. One of these processes was an environmental effects statement where the history of the area where the tunnel is being built has been detailed, including maps of groundwater movement over many years. I have an attachment to that EES. I note that most westies would know that where they're planning this tunnel used to be an incredibly industrialised part of Melbourne where there were gasworks; rail and trams lines; supply, laydown and storage areas; maintenance areas; warehousing; filling of low-lying or swampy areas; the Bradmill textile factory; James Hardie; motor garages with other vehicle services, including service stations; drycleaners and dyers; engineering and metal manufacturing; refining and finishing works, including foundries and heavy engineering firms; iron, steel and other metal works; electroplating and enamelling; bulk fuel terminals and refineries; and chemical manufacturers and storage. That's where the tunnel is being built. I don't think it would take much imagination for anybody in the west to figure out that there would be a bit of contaminated soil when you started digging in this space.
One of the worst pieces of information that comes from this EES is the fact that was there were some quarries in that area as well, and that they have been filled. They had been used for the disposal of solid and liquid wastes. There's been a solid inert landfill, an abattoir and a stockyard site located at Kyle Road, Altona. So it is a surprise to me to think that Transurban are, at this late hour, determining that they're in desperate need of a backup plan when, in fact, as far as I'm concerned, they should have already had detailed plans. It is dumbfounding that this enormous company with a history of major project development can claim it didn't know the soil would be contaminated. Anyone from the west—in fact, two local governments raised red flags during the EES about this. So there's no surprise that my community objects to the way it was informed, the lack of consultation and the stupidity of thinking the soil should go anywhere for storage unless it was for treatment—let alone at the site being suggested, which is 70 metre from new homes with more being built as we speak. The site is also inappropriate because it is too close to the Werribee River and a tributary that runs through the site after a deluge. But, mostly, we object because the site will not have the required linings—synthetic and clay—that are required to take contaminated soil of this kind.
Let me be clear, too, to all those already claiming that this is driven by 'not in my backyard' attitudes or sentiments. You couldn't be further from the truth. This is about setting the standard for the private sector and for government. There should be no shortcuts, no matter the importance of the project. Transurban need to understand that their market led project has to follow the rules. Contaminated soil should be taken from source to appropriately licensed disposal or treatment sites.
My community has fought this fight before. I know. I led that fight. Now we will fight it again. Last week, a committee was formed at a public meeting. Tomorrow night, once again, my community will come together, this time to fight Transurban's toxic soil plan. I urge all concerned locals to head down to Station Place at 6.30 pm for this rally. I'll be there because my community matters to me. I'll be there because I'm their federal member. I'll be there because I was raised in this community and I've raised my family in this community. I will always stand with my community. In 1998, I lead our community's fight against CSR's toxic dump in Werribee. In 2020, I will stand with my community as their federal representative, fighting Transurban's toxic soil plan.
Another local issue is being raised with me by concerned locals living at Federation Village. I want to bring to the House's attention the plight of a group of locals in my community who, it would seem, are being taken advantage of by the administrators of their retirement village. A few weeks ago a group of residents from the Federation Retirement Village in Werribee came to my office to explain how Allswell and Ingenia are enforcing exit fees and upping weekly maintenance contributions—some to as high as 13 per cent—or, as they call it, 'rent' on the residents of this village. This is in comparison with the modest increases to pensions, and this is while Ingenia proudly promotes on their website, 'No, there are no body corporate charges, no council rates and no entry or exit fees.' The residents of these villages have retired, many of them on fixed incomes, and are reliant on the modest aged pension. The owners of Federation are continuing to up rents on these fixed-income locals, and when they're priced out of paying the rent the exit fees are astronomical. Worst of all, they're getting away with it.
While Allswell on their website promotes the same language, word for word, about exit fees, there's one addition: an asterisk. That asterisk is for residents of the Federation Villages around the state. It's simply not fair for people who've worked their entire life to be treated this way. There have been promises that the market will fix the exit fee problem. In the past, when these things have been raised in the federal parliament, we have seen some market pressure and some change in those areas. That is not the case for the residents of the Federation Village in Werribee—or, for that matter, in their locations around the state.
So, while I urge Allswell and Ingenia to do the decent thing, I believe it is time for us to have a nationally consistent approach to retirement villages and to the fees they charge, and an end to the ridiculous exit fees that these locals told me about, where $70,000 can be taken off any sale of their property. With the population getting older and the need for retirement villages growing, we must fix this dodgy practice now. While I'm pleased to hear that there is now a dialogue between the operators and the residents, and I hope that that there will be positive action to come, it shouldn't be left to good faith. As a country let's fix this problem now and save older Australians these hassles down the track.
The electorate of Lalor sits in Melbourne's outer west, our amazingly diverse and fast-growing Melbourne's west—
Dr Mulino interjecting—
I say hello to the member for Fraser, who shares some of the burden of being part of an intense growth corridor—where our community is growing through things like a hundred babies a week being born and 6,000 dwellings a year being built, outpacing every prediction made by governments. Wyndham is home to many records and statistics, but perhaps the worst statistic we own is the fact that we are home to the greatest number of residents who travel two or more hours a day to go to work. The congestion we face as a community is the main contributing factor. While the state government are doing great things to reduce this—removing local level crossings, offering more public transport options and building the West Gate Tunnel—it was disappointing to hear about the Urban Congestion Fund of this government and that it has gone down the same path as other funds under this government.
Despite all the stats and common sense about building congestion-busting infrastructure, as the man in the cap tells us all the time, or when he's donning his shiny hat, he doesn't see us in Wyndham. We're not worthy because we vote Labor. What did we get from this government, going into the last election? Zero. Absolutely nothing. In fact, in Victoria, coalition seats and some marginal seats received 89 per cent of the $1.26 billion allocated across Victoria. That left 11 per cent for the rest of us, but nothing for Lalor—absolutely zero. I've been on my feet in this chamber so many times talking about parking at train stations and talking about Labor's commitment at the last election to build the Wyndham West Link and create two bridges on the edges of our city to move us in and out. But the government claims we didn't ask. Well, in fact, we did. Lalor proposed projects at the last election, and even our previous mayors wrote to the minister about the infrastructure we needed, but we got nothing.
It is apparent to everyone in my community and in my electorate that this government does not care about people living in the outer west's growth areas. We are not part of their consideration of where they might spend money, and they will ignore the incredible congestion in our part of Melbourne while pouring money for train station car parks into other seats, like Kooyong. It is outrageous. This government needs to take a good hard look at itself. One of the proudest things you ever see on election night, whether you've won or you've lost, is a prime minister who stands up and says that they will govern for all. This Prime Minister has failed that test, not just in my electorate but across Melbourne's west. He has failed that test.
Tarneit train station is the second busiest V/Line station in the state of Victoria, and you have to get there before 7 am to get a park. These are families who are dropping off children at early childhood education centres at 6 am and picking them up at six that night, and they're travelling for two hours a day. They need this government to start to care. They need this government to have a good hard look at itself, the way it budgets and the way it apportions taxpayer funds, remembering that people in my community pay taxes too. It's time for this government to wake up. It's time for this government to take the outer suburbs of Melbourne's west seriously.
In rising to speak on the appropriation bills I want to talk about this government's incompetence in managing the economy. The speaker that preceded me, the member for Lalor, very powerfully set out how this government's inattention and lack of investment to the west of Melbourne is having a very negative effect on people's quality of life. I want to build on that and explain how this government's incompetence over many, many years is now putting this economy in a very parlous situation and making it very susceptible to risks in the global economy.
This government claims that, over recent years, it has performed on the economy in such a way that it has put this economy in a reasonable position to withstand the risks that are arising as a result of the coronavirus, recent fires and the drought. But let's look at what this government has done over seven years. It inherited an economy that was growing strongly, that had wages growth and that had high levels of investment, and what we have now is an economy which, over recent years, has experienced the worst period of wages growth in recorded history; an economy that is experiencing negative labour productivity growth for the first time that records have been kept; and an economy that is experiencing unemployment that is far higher than comparator economies. One can compare our unemployment to unemployment in the United States and the UK—economies which are experiencing unemployment at the lowest level for many decades. Our unemployment is stuck at levels that it shouldn't be, because this government is failing to reform. On measure after measure, our economy has been underperforming for year after year.
Underemployment has been rising for years now. In many parts of our country, underemployment is over 10 per cent of the labour force and underutilisation is approaching nearly 20 per cent in some regional areas. This is a huge number of people who aren't being given the opportunity to join the labour force, to find employment. This is a vast number of people whose skills and talents we aren't taking advantage of. And this is a vast number of people whose living standards are far lower than they should be and whose circumstances are far more precarious than they should be.
This government will trumpet its own success by saying that this or that many jobs have been created or it has invested this or that number of dollars. But when you dig beneath this government's claims—and there aren't many of them—every claim this government makes is built on numbers that are based on population growth. Nothing this government has done is based upon policy reform, productivity growth or sustainable long-term growth. Everything this government bases its economic claims upon is based upon the fact that the number of people in this society is growing. They are hollow claims, and people in Australia's communities are seeing these claims for what they are.
You don't have to look too far with this government's claims to notice that time and time again what they look at are aggregates but every measure that is per capita, every measure that is at the household level, every measure that looks at wages growth or per capita spending and every measure that really affects how people feel in terms of their quality of life or their vulnerability to economic shocks—every measure that actually means anything to people—is going backwards. But this government comes in here time and time again and pats itself on the back, because a few aggregate numbers are going up. Well, people are seeing through that.
The reason that it's important to look back over the last seven years—seven long years; seven inert years; seven years where nothing has happened—is because the government are now in the business of expectations management. They should have been in the business of economic management. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer come in here day after day and say, 'Isn't it amazing; we balanced the budget,' when they've in fact been claiming that the budget was in surplus for months and months. So the government are now in the expectations management game, and what they are trying to do is say, 'Oh, everything is great, but now we have one or two unexpected shocks.'
The reason that this economy is not in a good position to weather shocks is that nothing has happened in relation to economic reform for the past seven years. And people in the community understand that things are going to be a lot worse in our economy than they needed to be, because this government has been sitting on its hands. We are going to face some tough times, but what we need to make absolutely clear is that the times that Australia is going to face over the next six months needn't have been as bad as they will be, because this government has put Australia's economy in a far worse position entering into this period than it needed to be.
The other thing I want to stress about the shocks that this economy is facing—the drought, the season of fires, and now the coronavirus—is that in each of them the government had a period over which it had notice. The drought has been with us for years, but their response to it has been completely inept and heartless. We had questions in question time today showing that there are still farmers who aren't getting a response from the government many, many months after programs were announced by the government and they've been patting themselves on the back.
The fires are a great example of how this government had significant advance notice of risks and sat on its hands. We only need to look at the fact that a large group of ex-commissioners of the fire services from around the country were begging the Prime Minister to meet with them to talk through ways in which the Australian government could invest in strategies to deal with the growing risk of fires, given climate change and other factors. The Prime Minister wouldn't meet with them. Then when the fires occurred—and they occurred over many months—this government was again too slow to act. So we had shocks to the economy that were in fact foreshadowed by many experts, and this government did nothing even when the risks were known far in advance.
Again with coronavirus: it is true that in December, or the middle of last year, we weren't foreshadowing the specifics of how the coronavirus would break out, but we have known now for well over a month that this is a significant risk for the economy. One only needs to go to a whole range of websites that have been tracking the exponential growth of the number of cases of coronavirus in China since the middle of January. We're now almost two months down the track from when this was flagged as a serious issue, and what is the economic response? All we get from the government is coming in here, question time after question time, saying how sober and measured and calm they are. They're so sober and calm and measured at they're not doing anything. The Australian public again is seeing through this.
Let's look at the coronavirus. Let's look at the fact that a number of commentators for some time now have been flagging how serious this could be for the economy. The government has not run through any kind of plan in the public realm, but keeps saying 'wait for the budget'. Let's look at the fact that S&P some weeks ago downgraded its forecast for the Chinese economy significantly—an economy which we of course are highly interdependent with. They foreshadowed that there would be significant impacts on the spending of its tourists and students. Let's look at the comments by Alex Joiner, an economist at IFM Investors, which again alluded to the fact that this was going to have a serious impact on tourism. China's tourists represent 15 to 16 per cent of tourists to Australia but they outspend many other tourists by significant margins. Their spend in Australia is greater than that of American, British, Japanese and New Zealand tourists put together. Let's look at the fact that the education sector was flagged as one. Moody's said a couple of weeks ago that Australian universities will be harder hit than those of any other country.
So there have been people who for some time now have been flagging that this is an emerging issue. It's true that it's impossible to precisely model how this is going to play out, because that depends upon how the health impacts evolve in countries right around the world. But it is absolutely clear that this is going to have a material impact. Those opposite seem to want do nothing for weeks and weeks and months and months, by coming here and patting themselves on the back for being sober and measured.
Top economists at JPMorgan have said that the coronavirus outbreak has completely changed the dynamics of the Chinese economy. That was weeks ago. What do those opposite have to say? If you look at the Treasurer's answers in question time today, they'd almost be verbatim the same as his answers one week ago, two weeks ago and three weeks ago. I say that having had the excruciating displeasure of having to listen to all of them over the last month or more.
I could run through many commentators, here and around the world, who have foreshadowed that action is going to be needed. We see no plan from those opposite, just as we haven't had a plan for the last seven years on productivity. All we have from those opposite is 'We're going to balance the budget.' That's the sole test they give themselves. It's the most narrow and ineffective way in which to view an economy. Time will tell whether they meet their own test. Even if they were to meet their own test, it's a wholly inadequate way in which to look at the long-term challenges this economy faces.
What does the economy need right now? Let's go to the Governor of the Reserve Bank, who has pushed monetary policy to its limits. We'll see tomorrow whether the Reserve Bank feels the need to push interest rates even lower than they are, which is almost a quarter of the level they were at the depths of the GFC. They might go lower still—that's what the markets are guessing. The point is that the Reserve Bank has made it clear that, no matter how low interest rates go, monetary policy cannot do this alone. The governor has said, 'Monetary policy is not the only option.' He said:
We will achieve better outcomes for society as a whole if the various arms of public policy are all pointing in the same direction.
He's a very diplomatic person. He would never presume to tell the government what to do when it comes to fiscal policy, but it's fair to say that when the Governor of the Reserve Bank is using expansionary monetary policy and says that fiscal policies should be pointing in the same direction, that means he believes that fiscal policy should be expansionary at the same time.
So what could fiscal policy look like if it was ambitious, well calibrated and more expansionary than it currently is? As we've said on a number of occasions, as the opposition, we don't have full access to the government's briefing on the exact state of the economy, so it's not for us to give highly calibrated policy responses. But we have said on a number of occasions that we would work with the government to develop policy in a range of areas—and a range of areas that could be fiscally prudent, such as increased infrastructure expenditure, with shovel-ready projects at the local level that could have a real impact.
Another area is to bring forward some of the stage 2 tax cuts, particularly those which would have an effect on effective marginal tax rates where those are discouraging people from entering the workforce and especially those where they would have a positive impact on spending. We saw from the government's first tranche of tax cuts, from evidence given in the House Economics Committee by the banks, that approximately a quarter of it was spent. We need to get money into the hands of people who are going to spend it at a far higher rate.
Another area is Newstart. We have for a long time now said that Newstart needs to be looked at. Raising Newstart would have the double effect of, firstly, being very sound public policy and, secondly, putting money into the hands of people with a high marginal propensity to consume. It's something this economy desperately needs. When it comes to it being sound public policy, I only need to go to the Business Council of Australia's recent submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart. Recommendation 2(b) says:
The single rate of Newstart ought to be increased for people who are unlikely to return to sustained work in recognition that as it stands, Newstart is not adequate to live on long-term.
We also of course need a settled energy policy, but that's far too complex a set of failures on the part of those opposite to deal with in 15 minutes. I will simply identify that issue and then move on to something else.
Then there are the tax incentives for investment. As was alluded to, as was identified in question time today, business investment in the last recorded period as announced today has fallen in the last quarter. This is a sign of this economy moving in the wrong direction. This is a sign of business confidence heading in the wrong direction. We need to, as a government, do something proactive that would both be beneficial for the economy in the short term and have very positive long-term benefits.
In summary, our economy is facing some outside challenges, but what is absolutely critical when we look at the predicament the government faces is that we firstly have to hold this government to account for having sat on its hands for seven long years—seven years of failed opportunities. This government has put our economy in a position that is far more vulnerable than it needs to be. Secondly, when it comes to dealing with these external issues, we do have advanced notice to varying degrees. The drought has been with us for years. We had experts tell us we're at increased risk of bushfires. We have had experts for weeks now telling us we need a plan for coronavirus. This government should be doing far more than just waiting for the budget to see if they can scrape a surplus. We need action from this government today in order to get people's wages rising, get people into jobs and raise people's living standards. That's the job of this government, and they're not doing it.
Clearly the whips knew that the member for Fenner would be on duty, because they have put duelling economists on today. However, I suspect that if we leave him to adjudicate which speech won he'll make the wrong decision, so we'll just get stuck into it. I'm going to drop some wisdom on the member for Fraser. He comes from the Austrian school, so he should just sit back and enjoy—oh no, he's leaving.
As we have stepped into the new decade we have encountered an onslaught of unmitigated social, environmental and economic crises. The devastating fires of the black summer, the ensuing floods and storms which ravaged Sydney, leaving thousands of households and businesses without power, and of course the spread of the coronavirus around the world have made it a very difficult start to the decade. However, I can proudly report that, despite these challenges, under the Morrison Liberal government the state of Mackellar continues to be strong. Our economic management, sensible and practical environmental policies and innovative solutions to roads and traffic congestion are resulting in a better, more prosperous Mackellar. The upgrades around the Northern Beaches Hospital site as well as the widening of Mona Vale Road, the introduction of the B-Line and the impending construction of the Beaches Link Tunnel are all assisting in making people's lives less stressful by easing traffic flow. However, it is my melancholy duty to report there is still a thorn in the side of us beach and bush people, and that's the unfinished roadworks at Warringah Road, a two-year project that is now three years overdue. People like to criticise private sector involvement, but it might be of interest to know that these roadworks were spurred by the development of the public-private hospital on the northern beaches. The roadworks started a year before the hospital started being built and they will end four years after it was successfully completed. And, of course, there is Wakehurst Parkway.
When you're in an ambulance being rushed to Northern Beaches Hospital—one of the most successful hospitals in the history of New South Wales—you obviously want to be taken by the quickest and most-direct route to get there. On the northern beaches that is sometimes not possible following rain. The Wakehurst Parkway is one of the main roads connecting the upper northern beaches to the new hospital and the city. However, according to a recent report, it is closed due to flooding over 10 times a year on average, sometimes for a few hours and sometimes for a few days. When combined with the fact that we are the only part of any major city in the world whose major link is a drawbridge, it's an extraordinary state of affairs. Not only is this inconvenient but it's dangerous to the people I represent. We are lucky to have a state-of-the-art hospital run by an excellent company that is showing the public sector how to run a hospital in Frenchs Forest, but when access becomes difficult when the road is blocked you have to question how helpful that is. Currently, it is a two-lane road, which is grossly inadequate to cope with the volume of traffic it receives, not to mention when lanes are closed because of car crashes. The people of the northern beaches deserve better, and they deserve this. The council and state government have dragged their feet on this and have dodged their responsibility for too many years. We don't need to hear anymore that it's too expensive or too hard to be done or that they're undertaking yet another report. Indeed, we found out only the other day from the minister for planning that, since 2017, the Northern Beaches Council has been in receipt of $5 million from the state government to fix this problem and, three years later, they still haven't released the report. It needs to be flood-proof and it needs to be widened.
I've written to the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge, as well as the New South Wales Minister for Transport and Roads, Andrew Constance, and implored them both to work together to get this done for community. I'm glad to report to the House that Minister Tudge has already informally indicated that he will do what it takes to get this done. This project has been talked about for decades, but the time for talk is over. We now need to see action.
Narrabeen Lakes Public School is just across the road from my electorate office and has a long and proud history of educating students in the area. I've been fortunate to meet with those students on a number of occasions, and it became clear to me that there was a need for facility upgrades. Understanding this, under the Local Schools Community Fund I secured $20,000 to restore their outside green space area so the children could have the facilities to play outside with their friends and learn the importance of exercise. It is important to note that this area services a suburb that has large numbers of units and multidwelling blocks. A good education requires balance between learning inside the classroom and outside on the playground, in open space, and I am happy to assist in providing that. I do so despite the fact that the New South Wales Department of Education has close to $3 billion of unspent money that it has received from this federal government under Gonski 2.0.
Under the same scheme I secured just under $20,000 for two St Lucy's classes located in Narraweena and Narrabeen. I notice the interest of Deputy Speaker Wicks in this matter. St Lucy's offers education for children with a disability, and this money will be spent on the installation of hearing loops in their classrooms because we want all students to have the same opportunity to learn in an environment which is suited to them.
A society is great when those within it strive for greatness, not with the intervention of government bureaucrats. Volunteer organisations prove this rule every day of the week and, as we conclude this black summer of bushfires, I don't think anyone could deny that it was not the government which saved the day but volunteers like the Rural Fire Service. The Volunteer Grants program is a wonderful opportunity for the government, for the taxpayer, to provide some assistance to these volunteer organisations. I'm proud to support the Long Reef Surf Life Saving Club with the purchase of a new boat trailer and cover. Our surf lifesavers do an amazing job each summer. When the red and yellow flags are flying, swimmers know they are under the watchful eye of some of society's best. It is also great to know that the Long Reef Surf Life Saving Club, whose clubhouse was built just after World War II, will be getting an upgrade this summer after we secured almost $2 million from the federal taxpayer to help fund the program with the state government.
It gives me a great sense of achievement on behalf of my community to highlight these advances, to know that we as a community achieved so much with so little and that the state of the northern beaches is so strong. Most notably, it gives me great pleasure to do so because I speak of hope and opportunity. These are the creed of the Liberal. We know that all great advances have come from freedom, that when that freedom is couched in a fair society, it is best used by all for all. That freedom in a moral environment that stresses that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us is one that develops the greatest hope and opportunity for all of us.
Today we face many challenges—most notably at the moment the coronavirus. But I have no doubt that we will face this challenge, overcome it and be stronger for it. Why? It is not because of what lies ahead but because of what lies behind. We have faced so many challenges in the past. We have faced them together and we have overcome them all. Economically, we face the challenge of falling productivity. Productivity is the key to all the issues we face. Aristotle, Socrates and Pericles are the result of productivity.
When our civilisation worked out how to feed everyone without needing everyone to do that, it allowed some people to go off and be thinkers, writers, inventors and innovators. If we are to solve the challenges of our time, we need to be able to collect capital and deploy it in pursuit of the solutions, and we need to do more with less. Productivity is the outcome of innovation. It is well understood that Australia's productivity fell badly under Labor when they introduced the Fair Work Act—an act that has done so much damage to our nation and its people but done so much for their donors. If we are to encourage innovation, we need to reward risk and forgive failure. The Labor Party does the opposite. We need to improve our tax systems. We need to renew and revolutionise our industrial relations systems. But, most of all, we need to improve our education system.
Liberals throughout the ages have fought for the rights of all people, no matter who they are or where they come from, to live lives to their fullest potential. Any society organised on Liberal principles will never allow a person's destination in life to be determined by where they came from. History has shown us that government-enforced equality ultimately and quickly leads to injustice. But we cannot possibly be a parliament of equality of opportunity if we do not make education our highest priority.
Too many of our fellow Australians are condemned to live lives of quiet desperation in cycles of poverty that cannot be broken, even when the will exists to do so. This parliament has predetermined that the right answer for everyone is a university education despite the fact that in other nations only around 20 per cent of people choose tertiary education, and those nations provide better outcomes for their economy, national wealth, business formation, productivity, employment, real wages and the people they seek to serve. The United States is just one example. The vast majority of companies in their top 20 by capitalisation were started after 1975. By contrast, Australia's youngest company in the top 20 was formed before the Great Depression in the 1930s.
We continue to ignore best practice and inconvenient truths throughout the education sector. We ignored the fact that decentralised education systems are the most successful, as we continued to do all we could to centralise our education system. We ignored the importance of training teachers and experimentation in curriculum as the major drivers of education outcome, as we ploughed billions of dollars into a system that is producing decreasing outcomes in education. In Australia, there is currently a negative correlation between spending and education, and we pretend that giving parents freedom to choose is somehow a bad thing for their children, them and our nation. But, most of all, we pander to a Congo line of stakeholders whose self-interest goes unchecked and unchallenged. Our children suffer. Our Liberal ideals are undermined. The cycle of poverty continues. Our economy and national dynamism suffers. The quiet desperation of so many continues to go on unheard and unheeded. No matter though, the good and the great are satiated. If we are to live up to our highest ideals, then this parliament should advance the cause of a better and more responsive education system for all—not just for some.
As we know, some Australians are born in this country and some Australians are born elsewhere in the world, choosing to make a life here as citizens. It is a frequent honour and joy to attend citizenship ceremonies for those who have chosen the Northern Beaches as their home. I'm often moved to hear the personal stories behind the individuals who make this decision. I think of my own family and how we came to become Australians. My father was the son of a Jewish migrant who fled communist oppression in 1957. When he arrived in the country, my father was a young man and learnt English by selling encyclopedias door to door. I will not repeat some of his learned language out of respect for this chamber. His mother, my grandmother, helped sustain her family by spending her nights screwing caps on toothpaste tubes—many nights she came home with bleeding fingers.
While my story is special to me, it is not unique to Australia. Modern Australia was built by migrants like my grandparents. Those who I welcome into our community in these ceremonies I'm sure will make it a positive contribution, like my father and his before him, and that is what has made this one of the greatest countries in the world.
In 2008 Ross Garnaut's climate change reviewsaid that unchecked climate change would lead to more hot days, droughts, extreme weather, hailstorms, thunderstorms and floods. Here in Australia we've witnessed a summer with much of that in abundance. It's been a brutal summer for the east coast. The city of Canberra was hit by severe smoke haze. On Thursday, after almost 40 days of continual operations by the ACT Emergency Services Agency, the Orroral Valley fire was officially out. That fire was the first fire to threaten Canberra since the 2003 bushfires. ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan, the first female commissioner of the ESA, has been honoured with the ACT Award for Excellence in Women's Leadership.
The recent bushfires have brought out the best in some, but for others it has led to the spreading of misinformation or even disinformation. On 7 January the member for Hughes told ABC radio that the majority of the fires were lit by arsonists, a claim echoed by the member for Dawson on Facebook a few days later. Earlier this month the home affairs minister told ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas:
It started because somebody lit a match. I mean there are 250 people as I understand it, or more, that have been charged with arson. That's not climate change.
His colleague Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells went further, telling the other place that 'ecoterrorists' were behind the fires and that 40 per cent of the fires were deliberately lit.
Then there's the truth. Only about one per cent of the land burnt this bushfire season in New South Wales, and an even smaller percentage in Victoria, can be officially attributed to arson. The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said that three per cent of the bushfires in that state this season were deliberately lit. None of South Australia's deadliest or most destructive fires are being treated as suspicious. As for that claim of 250 arsonists, New South Wales police said only 24 people were charged with deliberately lighting bushfires between November 2019 and 6 January 2020.
Misinformation around these isolated events is scary enough, but even more concerning is the level of climate change denial and complacency in the coalition. Liberal Senator Jim Molan told ABC's Q+A audience earlier this month that he was 'not relying on evidence' when it came to climate science. I'm pretty sure Senator Molan doesn't take the same approach when he's sick and going to the doctor. The Deputy Prime Minister in December dismissed concerns over climate change as 'ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies'—perhaps channelling the words of the member for New England, who clearly wants his job, but hardly reflecting the state of the science.
While the fires were burning, the energy minister was in Madrid arguing for Australia, along with only a few other countries in the world, to be able to use loopholes to meet our climate change agreements, to effectively be able to cheat our way to achieving what we promised. The Climate Council's Will Steffen called Australia's performance of those COP25 meetings 'disgusting'. The Prime Minister last year, like Tony Abbott before him, boycotted the UN Secretary-General's climate leaders summit, despite being in the United States at the very time the meetings were taking place.
The fact is that Australia is getting warmer and Australia is getting drier. The lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's sixth assessment report, Dr Sophie Lewis, wrote in December that the bushfire seasons are becoming longer, more extensive and more severe and will continue to do so if climate change continues unchecked. Dr Lewis continued:
Climate change has influenced the likelihood and severity of extremes we have experienced. For example, the November 2018 Queensland fires have been linked to climate change and scientific literature.
Dr Lewis, a climate scientist and ACT Scientist of the Year, is calling for action. She writes:
The current bushfire crisis in Australia is impacting health, industry and economy, and the natural environment. Further widespread impacts should be expected under future warming. Risk reduction, climate adaptation, policy and planning is required now.
Last year was Australia's hottest on record. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the temperature was up 1.52 degrees on the long-term average. It was also Australia's driest year on record. Globally, it was the second-hottest year since records began nearly a century and a half ago.
And we cannot say we weren't warned. As I mentioned, Ross Garnaut's 2008 climate change review warned of risks of more intense and frequent bushfires. In 2015, the Australian Academy of Science warned of the impact climate change would have on the sick, the elderly, the very young and the poor. In 2016, the government's own defence white paper described climate change as a 'major challenge'. Last year, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences said that climate change was reducing Australian farms' average annual profitability, down 22 per cent. Last month, the University of Melbourne released research, authored by Tom Kompas, Marcia Keegan and Ellen Witte, showing that the cost of inaction on climate change is 20 times the cost of action.
The Prime Minister talks about adaptation but, in 2017, when he was Treasurer, the coalition discontinued finding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, a Howard government initiative. The Prime Minister spruiks technology as the way forward on emissions reduction. But less than a year ago, he was claiming that electric vehicles would 'end the weekend'. He was standing alongside Senator Michaelia Cash saying, 'We're going to stand by our tradies and we're going to save their utes.' So I'm not sure how seriously we should take our Prime Minister when he says that his government's answer is technology.
The Business Council of Australia has come out in support of the Paris Agreement and transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050—as has every Australian state and territory, 73 countries around the world and Australia's biggest bank and our biggest airline. COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong said climate change deniers in the coalition should 'shut up' and stop standing in the way of action. He and the small business community he represents know the cost of climate inaction. Mr Strong told the ABC last month that 'there will certainly be businesses that will close and not reopen' as a result of the recent bushfires—a tragedy that has been linked by experts to climate change.
It's not just extreme weather. Climate change is literally reshaping Australia's coastline. In March 2019, the Western Australian state government identified 55 hotspots where coastal erosion is expected to cause serious issues within 25 years. In Victoria, the state government last year warned that sections of the Great Ocean Road risk being washed away within five years—and the Apostles are slowly dwindling in number. As Crikey reported last month, erosion has melted away 50 metres of the coast in seven years at Inverloch, south east of Melbourne. That includes 20 metres of erosion since the beginning of 2019. In New South Wales, the damage to Newcastle suburb Stockton is so severe that residents are considering a class action. At Shellharbour, south of Sydney, the city council has warned that 94 homes are at risk from erosion and sea level rise. Dr Mick O'Leary, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia, told Crikey that increased erosion was 'absolutely climate related'. Victorian Marine and Coastal Council chair Anthony Boxshall said that the situation was very likely to get worse.
Climate change is real. Australians can see it, smell it and feel it. As Nick Cave's Darker with the day goes:
I smell smoke, see little fires bursting on the lawns
People carry on regardless, listening to their hands
Australia is the developed economy that is most at risk from climate change. We need action now. It is in our interest to encourage the rest of the world to move more rapidly on climate change, rather than to be dragging the rest of the world back, as we did last year at Madrid—while they watched our lands burn; while they watched bushfires take a full one per cent of the Australian landmass.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to a great Australian. David Yencken passed away on 21 September at home in Albert Park, Victoria after a 66-year career in the public service which earnt him praise and multiple awards. Before he went into the public service, David ran one of the earliest art galleries devoted to Australian painting. He opened Brummels Gallery in South Yarra in 1956. The following year he broke new ground again. He opened one of the first motels in Australia. In 1965, David co-founded Merchant Builders Pty Ltd, which went on to win three Victorian Architectural Medals and several other architectural awards, including the inaugural Robin Boyd Environmental Award for changing the face of residential Melbourne in 1972.
David went on to serve as the inaugural chair of the Australian Heritage Commission from 1975 to 1981. It was established after the Whitlam government's Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate, of which David Yencken was a member. In the eyes of many, David Yencken's work secured the commission's future. Historian Graeme Davison wrote: 'It might easily have suffered the fate of other reforms of the Whitlam government. In Yencken, however, the commission found a director with the required combination of diplomatic finesse and political tenacity'—qualities not always found in the city.
David went on to work as the Secretary of the Ministry for Planning and Environment in Victoria, where he oversaw a comprehensive plan for the redevelopment of Melbourne's central business district. His work was recognised with several Royal Australian Institute of Architecture awards, among the many honours that he received during his career.
David Yencken was the joint leader of the Australian delegation to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 1981 and 1988. Other public roles included the Prime Minister's Urban Design Task Force in 1994 and 1995; chair of the design committee of the Australia Council for the Arts; and president and later patron of the Australian Conservation Foundation. He was an honorary fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia, an honorary fellow of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, and an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to conservation and history, awarded in 1982.
Outside his impressive career, David also demonstrated true altruism in gifting his South Coast property, including a house now included on the New South Wales historic houses list, to the New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service. He is survived by his wife, Helen, and his children, Andrew, Daniel, Anja, Lars, Jessica and Luke.
I want to finish by again quoting Graeme Davison, who along with academic Alan Pert, said of David Yencken:
He has integrity, sincerity and a capacity to inspire and lead his colleagues to achieve goals beyond their expectations.
May he rest in peace.
It's such a pleasure to follow the member for Fenner because I wanted to pick up on a few of the issues that he raised in his address. As the member for Fenner said, according to the Bureau of Meteorology we have just lived through our hottest year since that organisation began to collect records in 1910. It was also the driest year on record, which came at the end of the hottest decade on record. So, we have the hottest year and the driest year at the end of the hottest decade—three records broken, all within the space of a few months. There's never been a stronger case for action on climate change.
To keep global warming below two degrees, scientists have told us—again and again—that we must pursue ambitious pollution reduction targets now. Thankfully for this country, with climate action comes great opportunities. If Australia is smart, if we actively plan for the future, if this government ends its obstruction and finally shows some leadership on climate change, we can maximise our natural advantages as we move into a lower carbon era. We can both reduce emissions and flourish economically.
Australia is a land with abundant potential for renewable energy. We live on a large and open continent bathed in the crystal blue light needed to power solar farms. Our coasts are long and gusty, perfect for shifting wind turbines. Australians readily understand this. Most people don't see investment in renewable energy as in any way controversial or a matter for politics or ideology. They have been voting with their feet for years. When we came to government in 2007, there were a few thousand homes with rooftop solar panels. We are now at two million homes with rooftop solar panels. It is an industry which has grown at an amazing rate over the last decade. That's more than one in five households reducing their electricity bills and cutting their pollution, saving money while they're helping the environment.
You also see this in business. Wesfarmers, of course, owns the Bunnings stores. They've got dozens of Bunningses now that have rooftop solar, reducing the electricity bills in those Bunnings stores and doing their bit for the environment. Some of these store will have batteries as well, so they'll go towards taking care of the majority of their electricity needs from their panels and their batteries.
The proportion of Australian households with the solar panels on their roofs is higher than any other country in the world, and with that comes a great opportunity for installers of panels, the technicians that work on them. Of course, those large-scale renewable projects come not just with the jobs in installation but also the fact that lowering energy prices supporting other types of businesses as well. This offers particular opportunities for rural and regional towns, which have the space needed to house these massive projects. With proper government encouragement and leadership, renewables can really help drive our regional communities.
Port Augusta, South Australia, a town which was built around coal power generation, is now home to over a dozen renewables projects, including the largest solar farm in the Southern Hemisphere. Developments in that area have attracted 3,000 jobs during the construction phase and an ongoing 200. But it's not just the renewable energy jobs; there are the spin-off jobs and, for example, the cheaper energy produced by these projects being used in other sectors like local vegetable producers, who are growing tomatoes and using solar power for the greenhouses and for the desalination they need to water those tomatoes. You see the jobs in a traditional area in agriculture also being empowered by this vestment in renewables. That region can now reasonably claim to be the renewables capital of Australia, and it's proof of what we can achieve when government, industry and workforce work together.
Queensland has prospects that are just as strong. In the past couple of years Queensland has led the country in renewables construction, with more than a third of our country's commissioned projects. With so much space and light and some of the best renewables resources on earth, much of this is happening in the north of the state. Queensland's largest project is located 60 kilometres south-west of Townsville, where the Haughton solar farm is installing over one million panels—enough to power 170,000 homes.
These success stories can be found right around the country, with workers in Geelong building turbines in the same factories that once built the Ford Falcon, with wind technology supplying extra income for farming communities across New South Wales and with hydro power already generating the vast bulk of Tasmania's energy.
Renewables offer huge upsides for regional communities: jobs in construction, jobs in maintenance, jobs in generation, and, of course, as I mentioned, the greatest supply of cheaper energy. That's even before we look at initiatives like carbon farming or tree planting. Unfortunately, this growth in investment in renewable energy has occurred in spite of the federal government rather than because of it and has occurred despite a bizarre ideological resistance to the sector.
Under this Prime Minister, the coalition has left all of the heavy lifting to the states and territories. The states and territories have all chosen to adopt a policy of zero net carbon emissions by 2050. Every state and territory, every part of Australia, already has this target. Really quite bizarrely, the Prime Minister has said he supports the New South Wales target but he doesn't support having a national target that is the same. It is quite odd. We want to help the states and territories achieve this zero net emissions target. We want to support them in the work they're doing. They are setting goals. They are sitting pathways to zero net carbon emissions. Why wouldn't the federal government partner with the states and territories to achieve that goal?
Our biggest airline, our biggest mining company and our biggest bank support this target. The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group support this target. The National Farmers Federation and the meat and livestock corporation support it. The government talk about the problem for farmers, but the farmers representative organisations adopted this target. States and territories and business have adopted it. Actually, the people who are looking increasingly isolated in not adopting a zero net emissions target by 2050 are those opposite. This is a mainstream position across our economy and, for the most part, across politics. The Liberal and National state MPs have also signed up to these targets.
It is extraordinary that those opposite can't get it together to do the same. Government decisions, or a lack of decision-making, I suppose you'd say, are placing a handbrake on investment. They're sabotaging the future of the renewables industry, and the sector really is crying out for some leadership at the federal level. Investment in new industries requires policy certainty, and that's the one thing that we truly have not had at the federal level. It requires a stable environment to attract finance. The government is simply refusing to give that certainty, to give the stable framework that will allow greater investment in this area. This obstruction absolutely must end. This is not just a little error of judgement; this is a deliberate sabotaging of the opportunities to invest in our future. It is vandalism, a very deliberate act of vandalism.
A recent survey of renewable energy executives found the lowest level of confidence since the survey began. This comes at the same time that new investment in clean energy projects collapsed by more than 50 per cent between 2018 and 2019. Solar farms are being told not to put the energy they're generating into the grid because the grid can't cope with the amount of energy they're generating. This is truly an absolutely disastrous bungling of the situation by the government. This kind of uncertainty and obstruction is an investment killer, and that means it's a jobs killer. Imagine what Australia could achieve if, instead of blocking progress, the government joined the states and territories or led the states and territories in helping them achieve their zero net emissions targets. Imagine what Australia could achieve if the whole country were pulling in the same direction instead of having state governments moving ahead and the federal government slamming on the handbrake, wasting time with 19 different energy policies. Imagine if the federal government had actually been leading the way on greater investment in renewables.
The government is spending a lot of time talking about the cost of action, but we're now staring at the cost of inaction. This summer has been the most tragic example of the cost of inaction—lives lost, homes lost and massive loss of animal life. The rebuilding task is monumental and it will take years. Years after the cameras and journalists have moved on we will still be rebuilding after this horror summer. But this is a glimpse of our future if we are not prepared to act—not just Australia but of course the whole planet—in addressing the dangerous impact of climate change. Even the Prime Minister admits that our summers are getting longer and hotter and drier and that this means worse natural disasters. What he doesn't have is any plan to deal with that. As a recent report by Deloitte Access Economics found, the annual cost of natural disasters alone is forecast to double to $39 billion by 2050. And it's not just emergencies, of course, that will cost us more. As the Climate Council said:
Rising temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and declining water availability in some of our most important agricultural regions pose significant risks for the nature, distribution, quality, and affordability of our food …
The Prime Minister should tell the truth about the cost of inaction—the cost of inaction for Australian families. He should admit that this cost of inaction—Melbourne University has calculated it at $2.7 trillion—will hit Australian family budgets.
What happens to the cost of insurance as these natural disasters become worse and more frequent? What happens to the cost of food as we live through drought and flood and fire? What happens to the cost of our power bills as the uncertainty of this government's energy policy means a freeze on investment in the new energy that would otherwise be built? A responsible Prime Minister would not hide from these questions. As economist Ross Garnaut argues in his new book, Superpower: Australia's low carbon opportunity, if Australia rises to the challenge of climate change it will emerge as a 'global superpower in energy, low carbon industry and the absorption of carbon in the landscape'. We should be recognising the threat that climate change poses to our nation, and we should be arguing for stronger action globally on this very dangerous phenomenon.
For the last six years, instead, we've had a federal government that has refused to rise to this challenge. The opportunities are there waiting for us to grasp, if only this government were prepared to see them. Australia cannot afford three more years of squandering our future.
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020 and to talk about the cost of the bushfires on my community. The economic cost to my electorate from the bushfires is incredible. The cost of direct damage from the fires, which has been the major focus of the government, is, of course, vast, but the costs outside of this direct damage are wide ranging. The impact of the lost tourism season cannot be overstated. On the New South Wales South Coast, so many businesses rely on the income drawn from the busy summer season to get them through the rest of the year. We aren't talking about businesses that make a significant profit every year. We aren't even necessarily talking about businesses that make a small profit every year. We are talking about mum and dad businesses, family run shops and micro-businesses that make a modest 'just enough to get by'. They don't have nest eggs to fall back on. They don't have security in the bank that they can get new loans with. They don't have the buffer space for additional interest payments. But—and this is the key point—these are the businesses that the South Coast economy relies on. They employ our kids in the school holidays, they give jobs to mums that need flexibility in their work hours, they take on trainees and older workers.
These businesses mean jobs for locals, but they are also vital in attracting tourists. They are our lifeblood. It is true that tourists travel to Jervis Bay for its crystal clear waters, but there is so much to see and do. They take a cruise on Dolphin Watch Cruises or go diving with Dive Jervis Bay. They grab a burger at the Great Husky Bite or grab a drink at Jervis Bay Brewing. Maybe they are on a road trip and just passing through for the day, so they stop in at Milton Meats to grab some steak for their barbie and rent a cabin at Holiday Haven Lake Conjola. Perhaps they get a paddleboard lesson with Simon from Ulladulla Surf School or buy a souvenir from The Fig Tree Forest. They might even buy some bait from Robs Bait n Tackle and go fishing on Burrill Lake.
But what happens when, one day, the tourists are forced to leave, and so Robs Bait n Tackle loses 80 per cent of its income; Jervis Bay Brewing Co, which only just opened, can't cover their startup costs; and Dive Jervis Bay have to put off three of their skippers because they can't afford to pay them? What happens when The Great Husky Bite loses $100,000 in one summer and can't pay their business loans? The answer to that is tragically simple: businesses start to close and people lose their incomes. They lose their jobs. The consequences of that are dire. If these small and micro businesses, these family businesses, start closing, then we risk losing the supports of our tourist season. If we lose the places they buy food, the boats they go whale watching on and the bars that they drink at, then when they come for the crystal clear water there is nothing for them to do. So they stop coming back, and one bad season turns into two and then into five. The New South Wales South Coast stops being a top destination for tourists and our economy breaks down.
The costs of inaction to address this unfolding economic crisis are so much greater than the costs of acting could ever be. But the government are dragging their feet. It took this government 61 days from the time the Currowan fire started burning to announce their small-business package. For businesses that had only lost income, the government was making concessional loans of up to $500,000 available—not ideal but a start at least. But then it took another 16 days for the eligibility criteria to be released for these businesses to see the guidelines. It took 16 days for the government to allow small businesses struggling with the loss of 80 per cent of their income to apply for these loans—not to receive money; to apply; to know whether they were eligible. The government's great saviour to small business—absolutely outrageous!
The Morrison government's help for small businesses in this crisis has been appalling. It has left businesses struggling, distressed and confused. Even today the government is squabbling with the New South Wales government about why only 20 per cent of grants and five per cent of loans have been approved. Businesses are struggling, crying out for help, and the Morrison and Berejiklian governments can't decide whose fault it is. Well I don't care whose fault it is; I just want it fixed. The New South Wales government say the guidelines are the problem. Well I have been asking for the government to fix those guidelines for weeks. The assistance has been slow, inappropriate and inadequate. It is the common thread in the bushfire response for individuals, mental health, tourism and wildlife.
I have three words: out of touch. They have no idea about the reality of this crisis on the ground. They have no idea about people like Bede and Angela from the East Lynne Store, who fought to save their store from the fires only to lose power and be forced to throw out all of their famous home-made pies. They have no idea about people like Joe from Burdett Real Estate, who has seen hundreds of cancelled holiday rentals, with people deciding to holiday elsewhere this year. The government has no idea about people like Ruth from a Nowra courier company, who now has to draw funds from her pension. They have no idea about people like Katrina from Caterina in Kangaroo Valley, who has had to let go of two of her employees.
The loss of jobs across my electorate is huge. Just today I spoke to Max from Yatte Yattah. Max's farm was severely damaged by the fires. He lost nine out of 10 buildings, including his home. Max is retired, but he uses the farm forest on his property for fences and sheds. He has leased the grazing rights on his property to a local dairy farmer. He needs help to build after the fires. But, because Max is retired and less than 50 per cent of his income comes from the farm, he has been told it is unlikely he will receive the primary producers grant. So much damage, kilometres of fences, gates and the loss of his income, but he doesn't fit the guidelines. Still, Max is showing his beautiful prize roses at the Milton Show this weekend. That's just our community—the show must always go on. I look forward to seeing them there.
When Gerry from Conjola tried to apply for the 13-week disaster recovery allowance, Centrelink asked him for a copy of his 2019-20 tax return—a difficult request to meet when we are only halfway through the tax year. Carol from Yatte Yattah was told she did not live in a bushfire affected area. Greg, a truck driver from Yerriyong, lost all his income in December and January, but Centrelink took nearly five weeks to process his application. The government has asked contract cleaners for their October and November payslips—from before the busy holiday period. They just don't understand the nature of casual contract work in tourism areas. So I say it again: they are out of touch. The costs of inaction for my community are huge. We rely on the tourists and we need them to come back.
On 19 January, the Prime Minister announced an initial $76 million tourism recovery package. The package was, and I quote from the Prime Minister's media release here, 'to protect jobs, small businesses and local economies'. That package was announced 19 January, but I have spent every day since then trying to work out exactly where this money is going. How is it being spent and how can my local tourism operators access it? You wouldn't think this would be a difficult question. The money was for local events of tourism and marketing campaigns. Again, I quote from the Prime Minister's press release, 'One in 13 Australian jobs rely on tourism and hospitality.' So then why didn't the Regional Tourism Bushfire Recovery Grants Program for tourism events open until more than four weeks later? Four weeks when we had an economic crisis unfolding on the South Coast, businesses closing and jobs being lost! They didn't even say who would be eligible until the day the program opened. I have local tourism operators crying out for help, and government is dragging their heels. No-one seems to know where the money is, how they can access it or what it will do. Over and over again, I am left asking: where is the money?
Well, it seems like we found some. According to the Cairns Post, $40 million of bushfire recovery funding has been redirected to fund a coronavirus tourism campaign. The federal government has apparently 'opened up bushfire tourism recovery funds'. Perhaps this is why my local tourism operators can't get help. Instead of committing additional funding to address the impact of coronavirus, the government is stealing from Peter to pay Paul. This is just not good enough.
Every day I am out in my community speaking with local groups. Last week I delivered some funding assistance to two fantastic local environment groups, Eurobodalla Landcare and the Coastwatchers Association. At the Kangaroo Valley Show, I also chatted with a Kangaroo Valley wildlife group who are working hard to look after our precious wildlife. What has been a common thread amongst all these groups and more is their concern about pests. With so many local wildlife displaced by the fire and so many trees burnt, the threat of foxes and feral cats is greater than ever. On 16 January, the environment minister announced $50 million to help contain feral predators. Sounds great—just what we need! But again we are left asking: where is the money? My local Landcare groups have not seen it. Grass roots organisations working to protect our native wildlife are trying to find it. They are desperate to get some help.
Once again, the community has stepped in where the government should be. Wildlife Stations Shoalhaven was created in the immediate aftermath of the fires, and they were inundated with volunteers willing to give up their time to make water stations. Even at the Kangaroo Valley Show, I watched as the pile of birdfeeders and water stations grew by the minute. Local people stepped in and stepped up. But where is the government? Where is this $50 million? That is what I want to know. That is what my community wants to know.
The distress in my community, the trauma, is real. I am not exaggerating when I say that people have been to hell and back. When I saw Gerry at his farm in Conjola only two weeks ago, he told me how he was only just starting to feel okay seven weeks later. Gerry's story is distressing—not just how he fought the flames and how he wasn't sure he and his partner would make it out, not just because you can still see the scorch marks on his house, and not just because he lost all his wildflower farm after two intense firestorms, but because, in Gerry's words, since the fires he has been traumatised by his government. On 12 January, the health minister tweeted a phone number that people impacted by the fire could call to get mental health help. So that day Gerry rang that number, but there was no answer. A little while later he tried again. He was told they didn't know who he could speak to. They said someone would call him back, but they never did. He tried again a couple of weeks later and was told the counsellors don't work on Saturdays. He was asked, 'Why do you need a counsellor?' He was given no help. So he told his story to the ABC, and the ABC gave him the number of a trauma counsellor. Why, when we are told over and over again by this government that help is available and that they care about people on the South Coast, did Gerry have to contact the ABC before he could get help from a trauma counsellor? Over and over again, I am left asking this question. Why are so many people in our community falling through the cracks? Why can't they get help? Where is the money?
I could go on. I have so many stories to tell. So many stories have been shared with me. I have been heartbreakingly honoured to hear them. It's been a privilege to be there for so many people and to help take some of the burden from them when I can. I just wish I could say all these stories were different and that they were a one off, but what I am hearing time and time again is that this government has left people without the help they need. It has been too slow in delivering their promised funding, help and support. People in my community only see broken promises from a government that doesn't understand and, frankly, doesn't care. Well, I care, I am listening and I will keep standing up here until something is done.
I rise today to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-20 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-20. Whilst routine in nature, these bills provide us with an opportunity to further scrutinise the government on a number of their decisions and initiatives—or, more appropriately, a lack thereof. This government is rudderless. It lacks direction, it lacks vision and it lacks a sense of responsibility to the Australian people and our floundering economy.
I have recently remarked in this place about the devastation of the 2019-20 bushfire season and its widespread impact on virtually every Australian. We cannot truly understand yet the true cost of the recent bushfire crisis, and I suspect we'll be feeling the ramifications for many years to come. It's particularly important that we are mindful of the long-lasting effects of this crisis, once the news cameras stop rolling and communities, families and businesses get back to rebuilding and seeing the damage that's been done. The health impacts, of course, are as yet unknown.
Naturally, I'm supportive of any measure to address this crisis and provide support to those who have been affected in recent months. These bills—while, once again, routine in nature—are quite significant. They include over $5 billion in ordinary government expenditure, and that's a lot of government money—a lot of taxpayers' money. Given the government's failure to boost the economy—their mismanagement of it—I think it is only right to scrutinise the government's approaches in this arena. We will, of course, be supporting these bills and will not block supply, but I will take my allotted time to highlight some of the many issues with the government's approach and their failures in recent years. The Liberal-National government have demonstrated in recent sittings that they will shut down debate at any time, with their born-to-rule mentality on spectacular display for all to see. They do this to escape scrutiny, evade the public eye and rush through contentious legislation. I will be taking my time today to provide the government with some of the constructive criticism that they are so keen to avoid.
Those opposite have a lot to learn in a whole range of areas, not just in the economy and the budget. I remarked before that the great folly of our time is the belief that those opposite constructed themselves as sound economic managers. They are not. The reality is that those opposite have made some truly irresponsible economic decisions throughout their time in office. Their decision to throw away $444 million of taxpayers' money on the small and ill-equipped Great Barrier Reef Foundation is just one example of how irresponsible the coalition government is with taxpayer money. We now know they didn't learn from this lapse in judgement, thanks to the ever-evolving sports rorts scandals. This is an absolute disgrace. The Prime Minister was directly involved in this heavily politicised scheme, with his office having sent over 130 emails to the then minister's office about the scheme. Any attempts to suggest the great marketing manager we have as a Prime Minister holds no responsibility for these complete rorts is a joke. This is the program that saw funding thrown at projects that were not appropriately chosen by Sport Australia; 76 projects in round 3 of the program, in fact, were not recommended at all. Money was given to clubs for projects they did not need, and many grassroots community sporting organisations were completely ignored.
Those opposite do not know how to be responsible with taxpayers' money. These are not the only examples of the government's complete and utter mismanagement of taxpayers' money and irresponsible budgetary decisions. We have not even looked at the money wasted on reopening Christmas Island—a media conference stunt held by the Prime Minister—nor the secrecy over the government's decision to give $423 million of taxpayer money to power those decisions. The coalition is so out of touch they will consistently throw away taxpayers' money, often for their own political purposes. Yet shockingly, those opposite are still so determined to get their surplus.
On the face of it, getting the budget in the black is not a bad thing, but when done so through such terrible austerity measures that services stop being delivered to the most vulnerable shows extremely poor political judgement. I could mention many things but one thing that I do know is they have underfunded the NDIS so patients I see with severe disability are being denied what they need to function in our society. I was contacted today by the family of a little boy called Ahmed, who has severe cerebral palsy, who requires gastrostomy feeds, who requires transport to all his services, who requires support at home so his mother, who has three other children and suffers from chronic medical conditions—including diabetes, hypertension and heart disease—can get some rest and go to her own doctor's appointments. She just had his funding for NDIS cut back by half—absolutely disgraceful—for no known reason. I have spoken about the NDIS before and the fact that the NDIS has been denied to some of the most vulnerable in our communities because they can't get assessments in an appropriate time. This is just another example of the underfunding of the NDIS. Yet we hear from those opposite 'nothing to see here; there's no problem'. It's ridiculous.
We know that people are having to pay more and more for out-of-pocket medical expenses to the point where many people don't go to their doctor. They don't go because, even if they are sick, they can't afford the gap fees. One in 10 prescriptions written by doctors are not being filled because of costs. These are some of the poorest and sickest in our society. We know also that, with the collapse of the public hospital outpatient system, many people are not getting to see the specialists they need. I recently had a phone call from a lady who had incontinence because of a spinal injury. She couldn't afford to go to a private urologist, couldn't afford the gap fees—we have no private urology clinic in my electorate—so she asked me to ring the specialist to get her in and ask for her to be bulk-billed because she couldn't afford to see him. This is a lady who had persistent incontinence of urine and faeces—absolutely terrible.
This Liberal-National government is denying countless NDIS participants, people who are sick and require medications, the treatments they need. It is quite bizarre that they rob some of the most vulnerable in our society to be seen as responsible economic managers. It is doing little for my community in these areas, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
I've remarked in this place before that I've sought the government's support for a number of extremely worthy projects in my community. Upon being re-elected last year, I wrote again to the Prime Minister, not just to congratulate him on his election victory but to ask him to support a number of commitments that Labor would have funded for my community. I received no response from the Prime Minister, but I received a partial response from one of his assistant ministers indicating that nothing would be done.
I'd hoped the Prime Minister would consider the merits of supporting a number of local sporting organisations by upgrading some local sporting fields and facilities, including female changing rooms in one of our busiest rugby league grounds in Eagle Vale, but to no avail. I'd hoped the Prime Minister would see the value in protecting Macarthur's local disease-free koala population, but I got no response. I wrote to the environment minister about this—no response. We hear the plaintive cries from those opposite about what they're doing for our native wildlife, but they're doing nothing in my electorate of Macarthur.
I wanted the Prime Minister to see the need to upgrade local infrastructure for one of the fastest growing communities in Australia, but this government have completely ignored my constant reminders of the importance of this. They've said no to establishing a paediatric intensive care unit at Campbelltown Hospital for our rapidly growing and very busy paediatric unit. Worst of all, they've failed to commit to a rail link from the new airport, Western Sydney Airport, to Leppington, where the corridor has already been preserved and would be relatively cheap to build. They've failed to commit to the rail link from Western Sydney Airport to Macarthur. They're absolutely disgraceful decisions. These vital infrastructure projects have been recommended by every organisation I've met with. They are vital if our community is to receive the wonderful benefits that will come with the Western Sydney Airport, yet they've been ignored. They'll throw money away when they want to, they'll strip support from the NDIS, they'll strip support from health facilities and they'll consistently ignore the need for better infrastructure in Macarthur and south-west Sydney.
Not only are the government irresponsible in the management of the federal budget, they lack the skills to manage and turn around our economy. I believe that no-one in this place knows better than me the likely effects of the coronavirus that is spreading throughout the world. There will be major economic costs as a result of this. My hope is that, if it does come—or when it does come; I think it is inevitable—significantly into Australia, the spread will be slow, because I can tell you now that our health services, if the spread is fast, will not be able to cope. I'm very worried about the aged-care system. The lack of attention to aged care in the six or seven years of this government has been terrible. I'm very worried about how aged care will cope with the spreading of coronavirus. As I said, I hope the spread will be slow and that we will be able to deal with it, but I am very, very worried. The government's ignoring of the aged-care system and the lack of funding for the aged-care system puts us increasingly at risk of a medical disaster. It's very important that they now turn around and start funding aged care immediately and appropriately.
I'm very concerned about the effects on our emergency departments and our acute services in our local hospitals with the advent of the coronavirus. I think the fact that our medical services have been chronically overloaded and underfunded, particularly in growing areas like Macarthur, for many years is really putting us at risk. The Minister for Health can talk about the PBS and listing of medications, but overall health services in Australia have been under significant stress because of a lack of federal government funding.
An injection of funding for infrastructure in the growth corridor of south-west Sydney makes a huge amount of sense in terms of things like transport, which I have mentioned, health services, education, TAFE—some of the vital things in our society that help us all function. They've chronically underfunded it and left us in dire need of adequate financial and economic support.
Long before the bushfire crisis and long before coronavirus the economy was floundering. The Prime Minister and his government cannot hide behind those two things. Their mismanagement over six years in office is largely to blame.
Each and every time we hear those opposite carry on in a sanctimonious manner about their track record versus ours on the economy, we'd do well to remember some simple facts. Labor saved the economy and protected Australia during the GFC. Yes, we spent money. We provided stimulus to Australians to prevent families and businesses from going under. That was the alternative. There is no point in denying it. We saved the economy and we saved Australian businesses. At times, it seems that those opposite would have preferred more people to default on their mortgages, have their cars repossessed, get into more debt, lose their jobs and have their businesses shut down. That was the alternative, and would have been the reality if Labor had not provided the stimulus the economy so desperately needed. This government needs to listen to that lesson. We grew the economy again in the wake of the GFC. In contrast, those opposite have allowed the economy to stagnate. They did not have a global financial crisis to face, nor do they have one to blame.
The arrogance of those opposite and their mismanagement have caused our economy to flounder. Those opposite have been in power for six years. They have six years to answer for. Growth continues to slow in our economy. It's almost halved since the Prime Minister and his Treasurer took over the job. Wages are stagnating. There is a huge amount of underemployment and unemployment figures are rising. The impacts of coronavirus and the bushfires will be felt throughout Australia for many years to come but, in terms of the economy and wages growth, those opposite knew that the economy was already floundering. Almost two million Australians were looking for work or more work before the bushfires and before coronavirus.
I spoke recently about unemployment, underemployment and underutilisation within my own community of Macarthur. South-west Sydney has an estimated unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent and we have a rate of 14.5 per cent youth unemployment in south-west Sydney. These are terrible figures. People can't find work and those who are in work are not being paid enough and are not working long enough hours. Our economy is in desperate need of a boost, but I doubt that those opposite have the wherewithal to do anything in this economy, other than just let it stagnate. I've attempted to work with the government. I've advocated for my community and I have advocated for investment in our economy. But this government does not want to listen—and it is irresponsible.
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020, and I'm pleased to follow my colleague Dr Mike Freelander—a passionate advocate for his community. This government is letting Australians down. They are being let down because the government has no plan to deal with a stagnant economy, with low wages growth and high underemployment. It has no plan to deal with the rising cost of living. Its only plan is to cut services that many people rely on, particularly in times of hardship.
The national economy is floundering, and the underlying problems emerged long before the recent disasters of bushfires, floods and coronavirus. This third-term government has had seven years to prove its economic credentials and key indicators confirm the economy is stagnant. Economic growth has slowed since the election, slowed since Scott Morrison became Prime Minister and slowed since the Liberals came to office. On Friday 7 February it was downgraded by the RBA for the third time since the May 2019 election.
Underemployment is high, with almost two million Australians looking for work or seeking more work. Roy Morgan recently reported that, while 1.2 million Australians were unemployed in December, another 1.38 million were underemployed. While our region struggles with underemployment, businesses tell me they struggle to find the skilled workers they need to grow and expand their businesses. On the Central Coast of New South Wales, apprenticeships have fallen almost 25 per cent since this government came to office in 2013. In my electorate of Dobell, there are 560 fewer apprentices in training than there were when this government came to office.
This government is presiding over the worst wages growth on record. Stagnant wages are a concern in my community, where the median wage at $44,782 is significantly lower than in many other regions. Wages are growing at one-fifth the pace of profits. Senior economists have consistently forecast that wages growth will slow even further—and that was prior to the bushfires, floods and coronavirus.
Household spending is growing at its slowest pace since the global financial crisis and local small businesses are struggling as a result. We've recently learnt that the average Australian mortgage is now over $500,000. The Reserve Bank of Australia says big mortgages are the main reason households are cutting back on their spending. The best way to help local businesses is to put more money in people's pockets through real wages growth. Household debt is at record levels, and consumer confidence is well below average. In 2019 the level of household debt to income exceeded 190 per cent, and housing debt to income was over 140 per cent. Living standards have also fallen under the Liberals, with real household median income lower than it was in 2013. Business investment is down 20 per cent and is now at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. Labour productivity has declined for the first time on record. Net debt has more than doubled.
In its latest Statement on Monetary Policy, the RBA emphasised the Australian economy was navigating a period of slow growth, noting, 'Growth in nominal household disposable income has been low for more than five years,' and that Australia was experiencing 'the slowest rate of growth in consumption in a decade'. December retail trade fell 0.5 of a per cent, and the latest NAB Monthly Business Survey showed business confidence had plunged to its lowest level in six years. Labor, the business community and the Reserve Bank are calling for responsible and proportionate investment in the economy.
The government could adopt ideas put forward by Labor: introducing the incentive for businesses to invest and bringing forward infrastructure spending, a wages policy, an energy policy. If the government want to adopt Labor's proposal to bring forward infrastructure spending, I could give them a few suggestions of where to start. Over 30,000 people leave the coast each day to commute for work. For a population of over 350,000, roads have not kept pace with population growth. They are congested and often unsafe, and they need proper investment. We have been waiting for roads like the Pacific Highway through Wyong to be upgraded for 20 years. The Urban Congestion Fund could have been used to fast-track that essential infrastructure project. Quite often the highway through Wyong resembles a carpark. This is the main road to the hospital in emergencies, to the M1 to get in and out of town, and to the business parks in the north of Wyong. What have I discovered since the election? Rather than dealing with these high-priority projects, the Morrison government funnelled the Urban Congestion Fund into the adjoining Liberal-held seat of Robertson. We now know that 94 per cent of funds went to Robertson. Local roads funding has been rorted.
Our community deserves better. Our community deserves its fair share. People in my community are struggling, and the government either doesn't get it or doesn't seem to care. In a devastating summer, where thousands of people have been impacted by bushfires and floods, the government is cutting support for people in their time of need. This government's $9-billion-a-year cut to emergency relief funding is a blow to my community. The Wyong Neighbourhood Centre will lose $140,089 each year. Dawn Hooper is a life member and retired president of the Wyong Neighbourhood Centre. She said the centre uses this funding daily to help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including women and children fleeing family and domestic violence. The centre also covers Toukley and Wyoming for emergency relief with less than half the amount it previously needed to service Wyong alone. In a crisis, emergency relief can keep food on the table, a roof over your head and the power switched on. San Remo Neighbourhood Centre manager, Jillian Hogan, told me their emergency relief funding stretches to Blue Haven, Charmhaven and The Entrance in my electorate of Dobell. The Prime Minister's cuts mean the centre will need to help more people with $20,840 less each year. There are more people, not fewer, living in poverty in our community. Since New Year's Day, the centre has provided emergency relief to families affected by the Charmhaven bushfire. The Prime Minister should step up and reverse these cuts, properly support communities in their time of need and restore emergency relief funding.
When people are struggling to keep a roof over their head or food on the table, out-of-pocket costs put healthcare out of reach for many. Under this government, out-of-pocket costs to see a GP or specialist are climbing. The government's own health department has revealed that people in Dobell are paying an average out-of-pocket fee of $32.65 to see their local doctor. This is a record high, up $7.21, or 28 per cent, since the Liberals were elected. The health department has also contradicted the government's claims on bulk billing, revealing that 24.4 per cent of patients in Dobell have to pay to see a GP. This is before people fill a prescription or are referred to a specialist. Specialist out-of-pocket fees are also at record highs, with people in my community paying an average of $83.71 to see a specialist, up $28, or 58 per cent, under the coalition government. With just 22.3 per cent of people in Dobell always bulk billed by specialists, these costs hit thousands of locals every year—particularly those who are sick, frail, elderly or living with a disability. As a pharmacist, I worked at Wyong hospital for almost 10 years, and I know this means more people will be first to turn up to the emergency department, putting greater strain on our overstretched hospitals, particularly as we're heading into the winter flu season.
Another cost-of-living pressure impacting many families on the Central Coast is the cost of child care. There are over 10,000 children under five living in my community. The government's own data has revealed that the cost of child care is continuing to soar on the Central Coast. Fees on the coast have risen by 6.1 per cent over the previous 12 months, over three times the CPI. There are services on the coast charging above the government's hourly fee cap, the level the childcare subsidy is pegged to. This means families in my community are paying significantly more out of pocket for child care at a time when many households are struggling to get by. The government pretends there is nothing to see here while families on the coast continue to struggle. Across Australia, fees have increased by 34.6 per cent since the Liberals were elected. The government has broken its promise to families that the new system it introduced would bring fees down, and it has no plan to control rising fees. The government must act urgently so high-quality, early education is affordable and accessible for every child, particularly those growing up in regional and remote communities.
Sadly, we learnt over the summer that over 1,200 people have died while waiting for help from the NDIA and that thousands of dollars are stolen from people with a disability each and every day. The NDIA accepts a 10 per cent fraud rate, and the government has hardly chased any of the $2 billion already stolen from people living with a disability. I'm working alongside the shadow minister holding NDIA forums and meeting with participants and carers who are struggling to get by. At one forum at Liverpool, hosted by the member for Werriwa and the member for Macarthur, I met Sharyn, who is the carer for her sister, Beverley. Beverley has a condition that means she cannot be left at home alone. She requires care seven days a week and overnight respite when Sharyn can't be with her. Sharyn moved into the family home where Beverley has lived all her life to care for her following the death of their mother. Sharyn balances caring for Beverley with running her small business and trying to spend time with her partner, children and grandchildren.
Beverley's NDIS package worked well for the first six months. That is, until May last year when her support budget, for no known reason, was inexplicitly cut to the point where Beverley does not have sufficient support while Sharyn is at work. A request for an unscheduled review to resolve this took over six months. When Sharyn made formal complaints to the NDIA on three occasions, she received auto responses and/or generic responses telling her the situation would be looked at but not given any time frame. When consideration did take place, the planner told Sharyn that, if she couldn't make the funding work, she should consider alternative accommodation for her sister. Beverley doesn't want to leave her lifelong home, and Sharyn doesn't want to stop caring for her sister. The government needs to show empathy for NDIS participants and their carers. The government shouldn't callously prop up its budget at the expense of people living with a disability and those who love and care for them.
Sadly, we've also learnt that over 30,000 people have died over two years while waiting for a home care package. In a wealthy country like Australia, people shouldn't die waiting for help from the government. On the coast, the number of people waiting for home care continues to increase year on year. Recently, I met Liliane and her mother, Odette. Liliane has been caring for her mother for over six years and, during this time, has struggled caring for her mother and her children. Odette received a level 2 package in 2014. She's been approved for level 3 but has been waiting for two years. Her daughter was receiving the carer payment, however, between balancing caring for her mother and her children and her employment, her payment was cancelled. She's now struggling with debt, making it even more difficult to care for her mum.
Almost one in three people in my community are aged over 55, and more than 22,000 are recipients of the age pension. The unannounced closure of Centrelink in Tweed, Newcastle and Mornington Peninsula has people worried about what Centrelink will be closed next. The general manager of the Department of Human Services, which runs Centrelink, has sparked more concerns with his recent comments. He said:
We have a responsibility to the taxpayer. Leasing offices is expensive.
The government has a responsibility to the frail aged, to the overworked carers, to those living with disability, to veterans, to students, to the struggling families who need to deal with Centrelink. They will not be reassured by the objective of the Department of Human Services to maximise the benefits of digital capabilities—in other words, pushing people in their time of need to online portals like My Aged Care. There are three Centrelink offices in Dobell: Lake Haven, Wyong and The Entrance. The Entrance Centrelink is also a Medicare office. With limited public transport, it is already difficult for older people, people living with a disability and carers to get to those offices for the support they need. My community could not cope if it lost a Centrelink or Medicare office. On behalf of the aged pensioners, carers, people living with a disability, students, veterans and families on the Central Coast, I am calling on this government to keep our Centrelink offices open.
This government's robo-debt scheme has been found to be illegal. Emails forced into the open reveal that the Morrison government, despite defending robo-debt, knew it was illegal. Given the financial hardship and distress resulting from this abuse of power, the public are entitled to know on what basis did the government think this scheme was justified. Over 10,000 people have signed up to a class action that will test the legality of this scheme. These people deserve to be treated better by the government. They deserve to be treated with the proper duty of care.
This third-term government is letting down my community and people across Australia. It is letting down people in crisis by cutting emergency relief funding in their time of need. It is letting down people with a disability by propping up its budget at the expense of people living with a disability, and their carers. It is neglecting older Australians who are waiting for home care packages. Every day we hear of more cuts and threats to the services that people need. Every day we hear more stories of tragic failures to help those most in need—people dying whilst waiting for NDIS packages and older Australians dying whilst waiting for home care support. And every day we learn more about this government's rorting of billions of taxpayers dollars for its own political purposes. I will continue to hold this government to account and to fight for a fairer deal for people in my community on the Central Coast. Our community deserves better. It deserves better than a callous indifferent government that turns its back on people in their time of need. It deserves better than a government that is propping up its budget by not properly supporting older Australians waiting for home care and by not properly supporting people with disability waiting for their NDIS packages. Our community deserves better.
Well, it's been hard to keep up with the rorts and corrupt programs that the Morrison government rolled out in the lead-up to the last election. There have been sports rorts, regional rorts, road rorts, car park rorts, pool rorts, grants for women's change rooms for footy clubs without women's teams, grants for projects that had already been announced and built—and just coincidentally happen to be in the Prime Minister's electorate—and regional infrastructure grants that went to swimming pools underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We saw 156 out of 166 grants allocated under the Building Better Regions Fund—94 per cent of grants—going to electorates that the coalition either held or was targeting in the two months before the election. Incredibly, we have seen $636.7 million in grants handed out by the Morrison government in the six months leading up to the last federal election. That is $100 million more than the government provided to the ABC in the same period. It's been hard to keep track. We've seen so many rorts that they have all combined in the public mind into one great big rort—a rort so big it has its own chaotic weather system, a 'rort sharknado', swirling with Liberal candidates and National Party donors, all trying to get their taste of the latest corrupt program. We saw astonishing things flying around in this 'rort sharknado': destroyed notes, colour-coded spreadsheet and breaches of the caretaker convention. But at the centre of it, at the heart of this government, in the middle of the 'rort sharknado' we find nothing—no climate change policy, no wages policy, no productivity policy, and no plan to guide Australia's already stalling economy through the challenging international environment that we now face. We find just a whirlwind of rorts swirling around an empty core—no policy agenda and no point to its existence.
Those opposite talk small government and then carry big cheques. They talk small government as IPA research follows and carry giant novelty checks as Liberal Party candidates. Perhaps the worst thing, though, about all these rorts is that the Prime Minister insists it is all fine. He asked a former staffer of his to investigate it and he confirmed that it was all fine. In fact, it was so fine that we didn't even need to see the report. If it wasn't so serious, it would be laughable.
The Prime Minister has been content to dish up the most shameful, slippery spin in defence of these corrupt programs. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that it was fine that his government ignored literally hundreds of independent recommendations from Sport Australia in favour of grants for projects in targeted seats because all those projects were 'eligible'. It's as if giving the Gold Coast Suns the premiership cup last year, regardless of how well they performed on the field, according to the rules would have been fine because they were 'eligible'. Even this couldn't hold up, though, as we learnt that 43 per cent of the grants provided in the sports rorts scandal went to ineligible projects.
The Prime Minister spent weeks telling the Australian public that he wasn't involved in the sports rorts scandal, that it was all the minister. And then we discovered hundreds of emails from his office to the former minister about which project should receive grants. The thing is, though—and this is the worst part of it—that he never expected the Australian public to believe this flimsy fig leaf of a defence of this program; he expected the Australian public not to care. His calculation was that Australians would expect politicians to act in their own interests over the interests of the Australian public, to act in a partisan interest over the national interest. All members of this chamber, all parliamentarians, should be outraged by this reflection on the integrity of all of us. Australians should expect better of their government, this parliament and their democracy. We should be outraged on their behalf.
This isn't a Canberra bubble issue or a political triviality; this goes to the heart of the integrity of our system of government. University of Sydney professor Anne Twomey told the Senate committee inquiring into the sports rorts scandal that this is 'a very serious matter involving unlawful government spending of public money on a significant scale'. Professor AJ Brown, a board member of Transparency International, has made it clear that it is 'a clear case of political corruption'. At a time when public trust and confidence in our democracy is in freefall, this entire scandal underlines the urgent need for a national integrity commission in this country, with teeth, to ensure that rorts like this never happen again.
On national television yesterday, we saw the Minister for Home Affairs struggling to answer the question 'Why is right-wing extremism growing in this country?' No less an authority than Mike Burgess, the head of ASIO, told us as much last week. But Minister Dutton, seemingly ignorant of the cultural conditions necessary for the growth of far right extremism, stumbled into an answer—the dark web. It wasn't quite a George Brandis style metadata moment, but it revealed the same level of technological ignorance we've come to expect from this government. The dark web is simply a part of the internet comprising sites that you can't search for on typical search engines like Google. You can access it within minutes, though; all you need to do is download a free specialist driver that has access to The Onion Router.
Sites on the dark web were designed with privacy in mind, which is a neutral value. Political activists and dissidents use it to elude the eye of autocratic states. At the same time, drug dealers, hackers and child abusers try to use it to traffic in their illegal, destructive and propulsive goods. Silk Road was an infamous early black market that flourished on the dark web, and certainly the dark web requires policing. But, as the Minister For Home Affairs suggested yesterday, it is not where people are being radicalised to right-wing extremism; that is happening in plain sight. Today, people are being radicalised on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and then often pushed towards less restricted but still public forums like Reddit and 8kun, previously 8chan. 8chan is notorious for hosting extreme right-wing views celebrating Nazism and violence. But it is not the dark web; and nor is The Daily Stormer, an explicitly neo-Nazi site that mobilises so-called tribal armies in campaigns of targeted harassment against enemies.
Take, for example, Caleb Cain, who was the subject of a New York Times profile last year. A young college dropout, Caleb was unsure and insecure in the world. He sought belonging and purpose. He found this with right-wing extremists on YouTube, not on the dark web. He found this with far-right videos. Cain was vulnerable and brainwashed, he was ideologically seduced—a condition made easier by YouTube recommendation algorithms, which drove him to more and more extreme content. Cain's story is an extremely common line. After five years, he finally left the rabbit hole of alt-right rhetoric and conspiracy theories. Radicalisation happens to non-radicalised people—not the people lurking in the shadowy recesses of the web already but those on popular mainstream platforms.
Right-wing extremism is even more mainstream than social media platforms. You only need to turn on the TV. When white nationalist Blair Cottrell, a convicted arsonist and stalker, appeared on mainstream Australian television, we know that the Christchurch terrorist was watching and cheering. Blair Cottrell is a man who venerates Hitler and wishes that Mein Kampf would be taught in schools, but he was invited on television not as an extremist but as a commentator. He was invited on television not as a white supremacist but as a concerned citizen. When a violent champion of Hitler is presented to the public as a concerned citizen, the sound you hear is the shattering of the Overton window—the customary boundaries of victim discourse. Recently we've seen a Victoria Police member flash an alt-Right hand sign at a public rally he was policing. We have had the head of ASIO tell us that, increasingly, men are gathering at homes and clubhouses around the country to salute the swastika and discuss arms and training.
Blaming the dark web for this misses the point badly. In fact the Christchurch Call to Action, the New Zealand and French governments' response to the massacre of 51 men, women and children by an Australian, does not mention the dark web in its recommendations to combat right-wing extremism—not once. What's more, the Christchurch call stresses non-technical measures to counter violent extremism—intervention programs, social cohesion programs, increased law enforcement and government working with tech companies to offer counter-narratives to extremist propaganda. Yet we now know the government has invested less than $2 million a year in extremist intervention programs since 2013-14 and, more broadly, has invested under $6 million a year in programs that counter violent extremism. Regarding its collaboration with online service providers, the government speaks of 'a range of activities' to promote positive alternatives and counter the messaging depicted in violent extremist propaganda. But it can't specify one; it can't give a single example.
Abhorrent things are bought and sold on the dark web. But using the dark web as the answer to the question of why right-wing extremism is growing in this country is ignorant and inadequate, not least when the global terror index says there's been a 320 per cent increase in far-Right terror over the past five years. It's alarming that the minister responsible for countering domestic terrorism and violent extremism doesn't seem to understand either radicalisation or the internet, and it's alarming that the minister can't account for the rise of radical right-wing extremism in this country.
This morning Australians woke up to a newspaper headline that the personal data of more than a million Australians was at risk—a depressingly familiar occurrence. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner receives around 1,000 notifications of data breaches under Australia's mandatory data breach notification scheme. This time we didn't learn about the scheme through a mandatory notification from the company but from a whistleblower. The whistleblower released documents that allege that power company Alinta's cybersecurity has been rated as 'recklessly bad' by auditors and that the company has a 'cavalier approach' to security. Leaked reports and emails tell us that EY completed an attached damning privacy internal audit in June 2019. The report highlights fundamental issues with privacy, data protection and compliance with legal obligations in cybersecurity. Elsewhere the auditor suggests that customer data has been so poorly secured that Australian privacy law may have been breached.
Here is what else we know. When Alinta was sold to a foreign owner three years ago, the Foreign Investment Review Board imposed a number of specific obligations on the company to protect personal data it held about its customers. There's nothing surprising about this. David Irvine, the chair of the Foreign Investment Review Board and the former head of ASIO and ASIS, has repeatedly warned about the need to protect Australians' personal data in foreign acquisitions. He has made this clear in a series of speeches. This a sensible and proportionate intervention.
The risks and consequences of data breaches and misuse have been growing significantly in recent years, and so too has the attention of FIRB. But what has the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government done to protect the security of Australians' private data? Spoiler alert—nothing. A year ago the Attorney-General told Australians:
Existing protections and penalties for misuse of Australians' personal information under the Privacy Act fall short of community expectations …
He's right: Australian privacy law requires companies to take reasonable steps to protect personal data that they hold from misuse, interference and loss as well as unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.
Yet, despite there being around a thousand security breaches affecting Australians' personal data disclosed every year, the OAIC has never sought to impose a pecuniary penalty—a fine—on a company for failing to protect Australians' personal data in contravention of privacy laws. Compare this with the EU, which has so far seen 144 million euros in fines for breaches of its General Data Protection Regulation, or even with the US, where, in July last year, the credit reporting agency Equifax agreed to pay at least $575 million as part of its settlement with the US FTC after its inadequately secured networks were breached and the private data of 147 million Americans was compromised. The Attorney-General was right when he said existing protections were inadequate, but that was 12 months ago—12 months of growing risks and consequences of data breaches of Australians while the government has done nothing to follow through on its commitments. While FIRB has been getting increasingly concerned about the risks to Australians' private personal data, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has done nothing on data security for 12 months. Just like the Attorney-General's religious discrimination bills and his national integrity commission bill, his privacy act amendments are MIA.
This is just like the situation we confronted before the banking royal commission. There are chronic cultural problems with the way that Australian organisations treat the personal information they hold. There's a culture of impunity in the face of regulatory inaction. To put it bluntly, no-one believes there are regulatory consequences for failing to protect Australians' personal information. Sure, you might cop a bit of bad PR and a temporary stock market hit, but it will wash out in no time.
Australians deserve better. The Morrison government needs to act to ensure that Australians' personal information is treated with the care and respect that it deserves. This government talks a big game on security issues, but it's just not capable of following through.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 today is something that is supported by the Labor Party and contains important measures that should go through. But people should be in no doubt that, when the Morrison government talks about their great handling of the economy and their great handling of finances, they are trying to pull the wool over Australians' eyes. It's an example of debate in this country, led by this government, letting down the Australian people.
The Australian people know that there are external crises and threats that are affecting our country. They know about the coronavirus. Sadly, far too many Australians know about the local bushfire threats to life, properties and the economy. But they also know—and it doesn't matter how many times the Morrison government tries to pretend otherwise—that under the Morrison government stewardship the economy is floundering. They know that spin is no replacement for delivery. The truth of the matter is that net debt has more than doubled under this government. Gross debt is well over half a trillion dollars. Record highs are what we're experiencing. Household debt is a real issue, and you only have to talk to people in your electorates. I would urge members on the other side of the parliament to do so to know the burden that these debts are placing on them. Economic growth has slowed. It's halved under Morrison's leadership. The Australian economy is not just in danger from internal—
Certainly. Under Prime Minister's leadership economic growth is in real trouble. Australians know that under the Prime Minister's leadership they are struggling. They know that one of the reasons why they are so concerned about how we as a country are going to deal with the economic hits from coronavirus and the bushfires is that under Prime Minister Morrison's leadership—
An opposition member interjecting—
or lack of—I take that interjection and I accept it from my friend. Under the Prime Minister's lack of leadership, Australians are feeling the pinch. Two million Australians are looking for work or more work. Many Australians cannot keep up with the cost of living, because wages growth has been stagnant. It has hit record lows under this government and has been stagnant for record periods. That means that people who are going to work are working hard day in, day out but aren't earning enough money to be able to put food on the table, to pay the bills and to look after their families.
What we need at the moment is a government that will not just make announcements. We need a government that will deliver appropriate and well-thought-out stimulus packages and that will choose people over politics. We need a government that doesn't just say, 'We support infrastructure and we're putting money into infrastructure,' but actually delivers the money for infrastructure. In my electorate of Dunkley, they need to tell us what they are doing with the announced budgeted funding for car parks and roads that we haven't heard anything about or seen delivered in the nine months since the election. They need to talk about how they are going to deal with these extraordinarily high levels of underemployment—people who just can't find enough work. They need to look Australians in the eye and explain how they are supposed to live on an amount of Newstart that means they can't even get to job interviews because they can't afford public transport, let alone do all the other things that are required in order to be able to get a job.
What we need now is a government that cares more about delivering than it cares about promoting itself. We don't need a government that says it's providing bushfire relief to small businesses and farmers yet does nothing but engage in an 'it's not my fault, it's your fault' debate with the New South Wales government when it becomes apparent that, although there have been hundreds and hundreds of applications for the relief, it hasn't been delivered. People don't care whose responsibility it is; they just want politicians to roll up their sleeves, to get to work, to put rhetoric and debate about whose fault it is behind them and to deliver. That's not what is happening under the leadership of Prime Minister Morrison. We need a government that chooses people over politics, and we need a government that's willing to lead a national debate in a grown-up manner, to treat the parliament of Australia with the respect that it deserves and to stop talking about a Canberra bubble as if this institution of government and leadership doesn't matter.
When I go around my electorate, as I have been doing in the last two weeks, talking to local Probus groups—a hundred people at a time—we talk about politics and whether it's broken. To a person—it doesn't matter whether they're Labor or Liberal or support any other political party or individual—the members of the Probus groups I've been speaking to are dismayed and distraught about the way in which politics is being conducted, particularly in this parliament and particularly in question time. These are people who have been watching question time in parliament for a long time, and they agree with me that what we are seeing under the leadership of this Prime Minister is some of the most blatant disregard for the traditions of debate, the Westminster system, integrity and leadership in politics that we've seen almost ever—certainly in a long time. It's just not good enough.
We have challenges that we are facing as a country, as are many countries around the world, and we should be facing them from a position of strength. We won't do that with a government that won't acknowledge when things have gone wrong, apologise and fix them—a government that won't acknowledge the structural and other problems that are occurring in our economy under their leadership and work to fix them but just want to get on with slogans and marketing rather than delivery. That has to change.
The other thing that I hear very often at the moment when I go around my electorate and talk to people at the local sporting events—because I have an electorate, Dunkley, where sport is in our veins and is part of our community and part of our identity—is dismay, sadness and, somehow, almost a sense of inevitability about not being able to trust a government to deliver sports grants and funding in a meritorious, fair and transparent way. Apart from the rorts, and the way in which that has meant that hardworking volunteers in community and sporting groups across this country have been misled into thinking that the hours and hours of work they've put into applications might actually result in some funding on merit, what the sports rorts—and now the infrastructure rorts and the park and ride announcements that predominantly went to Liberal seats—have done is to continue to undermine the public's confidence and trust in politicians and in government. What it has done is feed into the cynicism that too many citizens feel about those of us who are privileged enough to be elected to this place to represent them. That's doing them a disservice, because democracy matters. Government matters. The leadership of the country matters. If we have a government that continues to treat taxpayers' money as if it's their own money for their own political purposes, that continues to refuse to answer questions about how they spend that taxpayers' money and tries to deflect actual scrutiny about the way they're spending that taxpayers money, then we have a government that continues to do a devastating disservice to the people of Australia. We need a government that builds trust and builds belief, not one that continues to undermine it.
Last year, not long after being elected as the member for Dunkley, I wrote to the Minister for Youth and Sport to bring to his attention requests that had been made to me by local sporting groups for funding. The Frankston Bombers Football Netball Club and the Frankston Rovers football club and the Baxter Soccer Club use Baxter Park. They have growing numbers of participants, particularly when it comes to women and girls playing football. They had a pretty reasonable request: that I speak to the government about some funding—about $180,000—for lights, which are really needed. So I wrote to the minister asking for a process to put in an application about the merits of that and to get funding. What I got back was a letter that said to me it wasn't possible for the federal minister to work with me to deliver this funding, because there was no more funding available for sports grants. At the time I thought: 'That's very unfortunate. How can we have a federal government, which says it's committed to all these things like supporting facilities that will help girls and women play sport, say there's no more money left?'
Since we've heard about the sports rorts, I guess it makes more sense now. We've got a government that was willing to spend millions and millions of dollars—billions of dollars—to fund sports applications in electorates that mattered to them; to allocate money for projects that were finished, so they could make an announcement; and, unbelievably, to fund the redevelopment of a swimming pool in North Sydney under a regional development fund. But, now that they've regained power, the minister won't work with me to deliver funding for a meritorious project in the Labor held seat of Dunkley.
Although we are an outer metropolitan seat, the entirety of my electorate is more regional than North Sydney. There is no doubt about that. If a swimming pool in North Sydney can be funded under a regional sporting and infrastructure fund, it's not unreasonable for Dunkley's needs to be funded. You would have thought that out of that money the government might have actually been able to put in the full $10 million that the council required for the Jubilee Park redevelopment for a centre of excellence for women in sport, but it couldn't. Because of advocacy from the groups and from me and the state member, in the end the council had to stump up the rest of the money.
You would have thought a federal government might look at Emil Masden Reserve in Mount Eliza and the hundreds and hundreds of young people and adults who play four or five different sports there and say, 'This is a regional facility; maybe we could fund that?' Not so much. Bayside Gymnastics Club perhaps could have gotten a commitment for funding from a government that's splashing money around. They didn't get one. Frankston basketball has been left absolutely in the lurch by the Liberal government, which took money away from its redevelopment. No funding for them. Bruce Park? No funding for the clubs at Bruce Park. No funding for Frankston Bowling Club, who want to put in a synthetic lawn and chairs for disabled bowlers to be able to bowl. No funding for them. They're the sorts of projects that we need funding for in the electorate of Dunkley, and I'll be continuing to push for them and support applications that they make on merit, expecting that there will be a transparent and fair process.
One of the most important things to people in my community is education. There's almost nothing more important than equality and fairness in an education system that gives young people a chance to succeed in life. We need to do more in this country to stop the visible inequality between Australian schools. We can see it in my electorate, where we have some magnificent schools and other schools that are just crying out for some support.
This government says it's committed to sector-blind needs-based funding. Well, by 2030 under coalition policy almost all private schools will be funded at or above their full school resource standard while almost all public schools will remain below it. It's great that private schools will be funded, but it's outrageous that public schools, where often, particularly in my community, children and families in need attend, won't be. It's not good enough. I will continue the fight to make sure that these schools are funded. It's why I was so pleased to be able to support a number of schools across my community making applications for money for libraries, playgrounds and wellbeing centres. I'll be going around all the schools talking about this because education is vitally important and nothing we should be doing means more than supporting schools to deliver for our young people.
Every time the hapless PM says, 'How good is Australia?' we should remember that this is the bloke who bailed to Hawaii when the country was burning. Like the marketing campaign asked, Australians asked, 'Where the bloody hell are you?' Great leaders are there in times of need. Over this summer Australians needed leadership, but we got nothing. We got a couple of snaps from Waikiki while the Blue Mountains burned. The PM was focused on his own hide, not those of the people he is tasked to represent.
This is a government led by an ad man without a plan. Australians every day are feeling the heat. Australia was once a nation that punched above its weight, a nation that prided itself on the ability to lead the world. Now we're declining in global rankings across the board. Australia's falling rankings signify a rotting government. This is a government more obsessed with looking out for its mates than it is about stopping declines in standards. Each year it goes on the further and further we fall behind. Let's look at some facts.
The coalition have slashed $4 billion from the R&D tax incentive, contributing to a brain drain in this country. We're now ranked 127th, below that of Slovenia and Greece. Renewable energy investment is down. Investment in renewable energy has dropped 60 per cent in the past year alone. We are ranked 15th in the world for sustainable energy, equal last amongst wealthy countries. We join Chile and Argentina as the only OECD countries without a price on carbon or pollution in any form.
Childcare costs are skyrocketing. Since the coalition took power in 2013 childcare fees have increased around 34 per cent. That means Australians are paying more than $14,000 a year under the Liberals compared to about $11,000 under Labor.
We see school performance declining under the coalition. Once ranked in the top five of the best-performing schools, Australia now ranks 16th. This means Aussie kids are 3½ years behind Chinese kids in maths education. They're also a full year behind from where they were in science achievements in 2007.
The cost of sending your kids to school is too high for parents. The cost of secondary education increased by 125 per cent from 2010, under Labor, to 2019, under this Prime Minister. The cost of educating a child in government schools from K to 12 is now $68,000. This figure climbs to $127,000 for Catholic schools and $298,000 for private schools.
Our gender gap is getting worse. Under Labor, in 2007 Australia sat in 17th place in terms of gender equality. In 2019 we fell to 44th out of 153 countries, a decline of 30 places. At this rate we'll be sitting with Saudi Arabia in about a decade.
Poverty is increasing under this government. In Australia in 2018 there were three million people living below the poverty line. One in eight adults and more than one in six children are living in poverty. Australia has the 16th-highest poverty ranking out of 34 of the wealthiest OECD countries, but we are the second-wealthiest country in the world.
The cost of medical care is getting too high for the average Australian. The cost of medical and hospital care has tripled in the last 20 years. This means some families are cutting corners to save money while forgoing emergency protection products, like life and health insurance. The average price of insurance itself has jumped by 118 per cent. Meanwhile Minister Hunt confirmed that insurance costs will rise by another 2.29 per cent this year.
Electricity prices have increased under this government. The ACCC found the electricity prices are now 20 per cent higher under the coalition in 2019 than they were under Labor. Under Labor, electricity prices were hovering at around $1,200; now they're in excess of $1,500 per family.
Spending billions on defence: the government is claiming about $90 billion over the next 30 years to build ships and submarines. But what we found last week was that the company building the ships has said they're not going to meet the 90 per cent local content rule that we were promised and instead try and meet 60 per cent, which they still refuse to put into contracts. Whatever happened to the country that designed and built and manufactured and sold and exported goods and inventions all around the world?
Australia can achieve great things. Two men, Mark Lidwill and Edgar Booth, both invented the electronic pacemaker in the twenties. Nowadays, over three million people have it worldwide. The famous Hills hoist, the most iconic Australian invention, was created by Lance Hill for his wife in 1945 when their backyard became too small for their clothes line. The ute was an Aussie invention, dating back to 1932 when a farmer requested Ford Australia to make a two-in-one car-truck—we know what happened to the automotive industry under this government. Lewis Bandt took that two-door Ford V8 Coupe and grafted the high-sided open utility to what we know as the ute today.
Another great Aussie invention was of course the electric drill. Arthur Arnot developed the 75 kilo electric drill, powered by a DC electric motor, to drill through rock and coal. The dual-flush toilet was developed by Australian Bruce Thompson as a way of saving water. It's estimated that around 32,000 litres of water are saved each year by Aussie households. Of course the black box flight recorder was invented by Australian scientist David Warren in the 1950s. In modern times, the black box is installed in every commercial flight around the world.
The incredible Cochlear implant was invented by Australian professor Graeme Clark in the seventies. These days around 350,000 people now have the ability to hear because of Professor Clark's work. The first inception of Google Maps was developed in Australia in the early 2000s called Where 2 Technologies. In 2004 it was bought by Google, and those Aussies helped develop the maps we use today.
In 1851, James Harrison from Geelong created a mechanical ice making machine—the first refrigerator. Wi-fi technologies are used by billions of people around the world today. A key part of that technology came from Aussie John O’Sullivan's research at the CSIRO in 1992. The ultrasound scanner that millions of pregnant women rely on was invented in 1976 by an Aussie firm called Ausonics. Nowadays millions of pregnant women rely on ultrasound technology as it's used in the diagnosis of medical problems.
Australians are rightly asking this: when did we go from a country whose government stood up for people, not stood on them? When did we become a country that had safety nets to stop people falling through the cracks to one where the government actually pushes people through the cracks, a country with the highest wealth inequity chasm in history? When did this government lose sight of the Aussie ethos of working together for the common good to one which focuses on greed and deception of taxpayer dollars? When did we become a country where wage theft is an acceptable practice? When did the government decide that people with disability and those with the least to give be the ones who carry the can for those with the most in their pockets? When did this government decide to force farmers off their land so global mining giants can pillage the land beneath them and to frown upon those working in blue-collar jobs? When did this government decide to offer more protection for those who steal workers' wages than it does for the victims themselves? When did we become a country whose government is watching wages stagnate and costs go up when more and more Aussies are in housing stress and when families are now paying on average 46 per cent of their wages on a mortgage compared to that of seven years ago? I'll tell you when. It was on May 2019 with the re-election of a government through a deceptive campaign, a government which has done nothing to help everyday Australians, a government that when people needed leadership the PM had taken off overseas and now keeps blaming the opposition. Australians have many things to be proud of. This current government is not one of them. It's people in communities like ours out in the outer suburbs and the rural fringes that are suffering the most.
There's been no investment in major infrastructure for seven years under this government—we can't get a single road project. There's a massive amount of population moving out to the north of Victoria and we can't get simple road projects, simple upgrades to schools, medical—all these things. We have a failing NBN—an NBN that was the envy of the world under the Labor government but now is a joke. In fact, in many areas Telstra are now cutting their 100 megabytes per second plans. They can't deliver it because this government changed from an NBN to an MTM, which became known as Malcolm Turnbull's mess. A place where fixed wireless—
Mr Pasin interjecting—
Please, Member for Barker, you shouldn't interrupt because all you do is to show you don't have to have a long neck to be a goose! We see, every single day, that businesses can't function because of this government's failure to deliver a proper National Broadband Network. We were leading the world in these things. We were a country that could be proud of what we were doing. But, under this government, we have seen Australia's rankings in many, many different categories fail and fall backwards, because this is a government that is not interested in working for the Australian people; it's only working for itself.
Mr Pasin interjecting—
As we sit here today and listen to government members carry on like pork chops, we know that there are billions of dollars of taxpayers' money being deliberately rorted. These programs have been corrupted by a government that has no integrity and no Australian values. It's all about its own self. Its own survival is far more paramount than what it does for the country. That's why we have a government that is seeing emissions rise. We have minister after minister after minister after minister being investigated because of rorting and because of their actions that are outside of what should happen. If we want to talk about the integrity in parliament and in democracy we can't look at this lot opposite, because there is none—it is a total vacuum of integrity and decency.
Each and every day, Australians have to wake up and face what they've got—a government that does not care about what they're doing. Each and every single day, kids go to school and as they sit there they're looking at classrooms that need repairing—stuff that needs to be done. As I said, we're watching kids fall backwards. And what does the education minister do? Nothing. And this is an education minister that thinks that Africa is a country! Let's remember that. That's our starting point.
We see a government that has continually done nothing but allow the extremists in their parties to control. We see a government that is run by the backbench of the National Party more than it is run by the frontbench of the Liberal Party. We see that each and every day. This is a government that has failed Australians on each and every level. What it is doing is really dragging us backwards—this country of ours that is so great and has delivered so much across the world. And what do we get? We get a government that has no faith in its people, no faith in the country's ability, and is too busy focusing on itself.
The more and more we look at this the worse and worse it gets. There is not a member on that side who could actually stand up and say they've got the integrity to do their job properly, because they haven't, or they would be standing up each and every day and saying, 'You know what? As a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a friend, you'd be doing everything you could to do the best for your kids and your grandkids. But this government doesn't.' You only have to listen to the rhetoric. They focus on the now. They're not interested in the future. They're not interested in building wealth. They're not interested in building a greater society. They're only interested in building their own egos. And Australians are paying for it.
We have seen the carry-on over Holden deciding to close. Well, we knew that was going to happen. Of course that was going to happen, because this government ripped the guts out of it. They went to an election saying, 'We're going to destroy the auto industry.' Well, that's one thing they started that they actually completed! And now we do not have an Australian manufacturer of motor vehicles. Everything has to be imported.
However, the one thing that they will continue to do, day in, day out, without fear or favour, is to make sure that they feather their own nests above everyone else's. Australians are paying every day because of the incompetence of this government. And the sooner it ends, the sooner the nightmare's finished, the better off we will be as a nation. We will see better health care. We will see better climate policies. We will see better employment. We will get a government that actually wants to help Australians—as I said, to stand up for them, not stand on them. That is the difference between this side of the House and that side of the House. We are not focusing on our own importance like they are; we're focusing on the nation's importance, and that's the difference. We're not running a government where, each and every day, you just don't know what's going to happen. Are we going to have the member for New England have another hissy fit, do another weird little video and come out and start attacking the Deputy Prime Minister? We don't know. We don't know what the member for Dickson is sitting there doing, day in, day out, plotting away; we just know that he's not sitting there quietly. It's time that this government focused—
That's just a simple thing—a protection racket of stupidity that runs in this government. Australians deserve a lot better than the pathetic excuse we've got running the government benches at this time.