Tuesday, 3 March 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020; Second Reading
Every morning Australia's Prime Minister wakes up and asks himself what he believes are the critical questions that will guide him and the country through the day: What's today's excuse? Who or what will I be hiding behind today? Australia's Prime Minister is allergic to taking responsibility, which is pretty odd, to say the least, for a prime minister. This is a joke, but it's not a funny joke, because it's on Australia and on Australians. With this Prime Minister everything is always someone else's fault—the Labor Party, by and large; the states, often; sometimes even the National Party; and, indeed, the very processes of government, which is presumably why he has formed a very special cabinet committee consisting of the one person he can trust: himself. It is absolutely extraordinary.
But it's not just things or people he hides behind; it's facts. He's allergic to them too. He likes to make up his own. Of course, when he's not doing this, he's also very concerned about people who ask him questions. He's so angry all the time, when instead he should be getting on with his job. This couldn't be more important for the series of reasons that I will go into in this debate on the appropriation bills. Let's recognise one thing in this place: at the moment the gap between the aspirations of the Australian people for themselves, their communities and their country and the vision of this government is enormous. It's enormous and it's getting bigger by the day.
People around the country and in my electorate have different ideas about what we should be doing, but they want our government to take responsibility. They want leadership. They don't want a Prime Minister who is always looking over his shoulder, always looking for someone else to blame or something to hide behind. This attitude isn't just trashing his government, although he's doing a pretty good job of that, it's trashing our system of government, as we have seen so clearly in recent weeks in question time in this place and also as the Senate estimates process has kicked off. I spoke a moment ago about the Cabinet Office Policy Committee, a device for internal control within the government and a vehicle to shield documents from parliamentary scrutiny and FOI, which undermines a fundamental principle of our Westminster system, a system which the manager of government business himself tried to undermine in this place in question time last week.
We're seeing a Prime Minister who, on the one hand, won't take responsibility but, on the other, continues to centralise power to himself, dismantling the proper processes of cabinet decision-making put in place not just by Labor governments but by governments including that of his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull. This is not surprising, on one level, because we see every day in this place the hubris that has characterised the Prime Minister since he won the election. Normally when leaders bring to this place a sense of hubris and a sense of confidence they bring with that an agenda—not this Prime Minister and not this government. This appropriations debate is taking up the time of this place at the moment. It's an important bill, and I should be clear that we will be supporting the legislation. We'll be supporting the appropriation; we won't be blocking supply. But where else is the government's legislative agenda? It's completely absent. They have no plan for this country and no plan for this parliament, a parliament which has been sitting four or five weeks. It is making absolutely apparent to the Australian people as well as those of us here the absolute failure of the government to advance any agenda in this place or outside of it for Australians.
What we are seeing more profoundly from the government, following a very difficult summer for Australians, is something that compounds all of these things: a failure to even seek to bring Australians together through difficult times. Australians right across the political spectrum are entitled to expect political leadership that brings us together in circumstances where too many Australians feel separated from one another, despite, generally speaking, but in many cases, sadly, because of the shocking events of the summer of fires and the recent response to coronavirus. Let's think about trust and politics. Let's think about how we restore that. Fundamentally, we do so by how we behave in this place, how we act and how we conduct ourselves: whether or not we take responsibility for our actions and our responsibilities. On this mark it is no surprise at all that trust in politics is ebbing away, that Australians feel frustrated that government is not on their side, that Australians feel that this place is not a place where a government can even be held accountable. I think in estimates yesterday 258 questions were taken on notice. That makes a mockery of a fundamental mechanism of government accountability. Australians have a right to know about these things. We can't see continue these procedural devices, this failure to accept that there is a role for legitimate criticism and legitimate debate in this place. We cannot allow it to continue. Australians are entitled to expect more. For any government with any vision, one thing is fundamental: trust in the capacity of government, our politics and our political institutions to deliver on their promises. This is something that should unite all of us in this place who bring to it our sense of how the world should be, but this government, through running down the norms of our democracy, is undermining the very system that we all serve in and should be proud to serve in.
These appropriations of course go to the functioning of the government. I will make a couple of very brief remarks about the state of the Australian economy. Obviously, we are facing very significant challenges at the moment as we move, hopefully, towards a phase in the bushfire season that's characterised by recovery rather than immediate response. In saying that, I acknowledge, as all of us have, the extraordinary work of community leaders and our volunteers to help rebuild communities and keep communities safe. I do acknowledge the member for Gippsland, the minister at the table, for his efforts in holding together a community under real pressure over the summer, a summer that must have been very difficult for him. He showed the sort of leadership that we should all try to show under these sorts of circumstances.
Now all of us in there place are grappling with the impact of coronavirus—an enormous economic impact on Australia across a variety of sectors, particularly higher education and tourism but felt across the economy as we start to consider the supply chain changes and challenges across pretty much every sector of the economy. But it's not just the economy at large which is being impacted; it's particular areas of the Australian economy. As the shadow minister for multicultural affairs, I've spent much of my time in areas dominated by Chinese Australians—places like Box Hill in Melbourne, where we see a localised impact which is driven in part by fear but also in part by racism. That is something that again we have to acknowledge in this place.
This is a time when many Australians are feeling pressure. Many Australians are concerned about family members and friends overseas who are affected. They are concerned about risks to themselves. They are concerned about damage to their businesses—businesses which have been trading at 50 or, in some cases, 70 per cent below the usual marker for many weeks now. Businesses are closing. People are losing their jobs. The very least we can do is stand with these proud members of our community, listen to their concerns and reach out to them as we have done, of course, in the bushfires. I would say that there as well there is more that can be done, as the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Gorton suggested yesterday, recognising that there are many gaps in the supporting policy framework that the government has put forward—gaps that we continue to learn about, where announcements are not matched by the reality when it comes to funding commitments.
If we're going to consider the state of the Australian economy today, let us not be distracted from two things. First, the government should seek to pass the test it set for itself and not rewrite history. The government should accept the state of the Australian economy under its watch had deteriorated markedly last year before the impact of these events. We need to consider them. We need to respond to them appropriately and as we have done in many cases. I think particularly of the public health dimension of coronavirus. We should do so in a bipartisan manner. We should stand together. But we also shouldn't see other members of this government emulate the Prime Minister and look for excuses when it's time to take responsibility, because of course challenging times like this are those times where Australians deserve real leadership from their government, whatever political persuasion it is formed from. These are times when Australians are entitled to expect taking responsibility and setting a firm direction, directly engaging with Australians, directly engaging with the issues confronting us as a country and taking them on.
I mentioned in the context of the coronavirus my concern that racism is on the rise in Australia. Sadly, I think this is something that's not solely a feature of this debate. We've seen many incidents of it. We need to think about how we can better respond to bring Australians together. We know that the security agencies have warned us about right-wing terror and far-right extremist organisations. It's deeply concerning, to say the very least, that the main concern of some members of this government in the other place is taking issue with the offensiveness of that language. That's absolutely ridiculous. Our focus should be on keeping people safe in their communities, not having these ridiculous semantic debates about the hurt feelings of people based on their own ideology, which of course has nothing to do with the ideologies in question here.
I also want to talk a little bit about climate in the context of the bushfires and the bushfire response, making one broad response about a community which was briefly affected in my electorate of Scullin: Bundoora, an area quite close to the Melbourne CBD and an area unused to the sort of impacts places like Gippsland are used to. I think that has brought home to many people how real the risks of climate change to our everyday existence as Australians are, how different the summers of today are from the summers of my imagining or perhaps yours, Mr Speaker. The time for relaxation has become a time of deep anxiety for many Australians. When we recognise the extraordinary contribution of ordinary Australians pulling together to support one another, let's think about the big challenge we face: to pull together to ensure that we can do everything we can to deliver an Australia that leads the way when it comes to taking action on climate, to keep all of us safe. Not simply so that we and our children, and perhaps our grandchildren, can enjoy the precious natural environment that we have today but to make sure that the very world in which we live is a world in which we can continue to live on the terms that we do today. This is not a time for anyone to do anything else but to acknowledge the extraordinary existential seriousness of this crisis, to learn from the experiences of the summer and to take action. This is something that will condemn this government if they don't acknowledge the facts soon.
Also condemning this government are the continuing revelations about program delivery. I refer specifically to sports rorts and also to 'road rorts'. When it comes to the community sporting grants, I was shocked to find that not a single organisation in my electorate of Scullin—I'm not sure how many in Blaxland; I ask my colleague—received a single grant from the government. Not one! This is something that compounds cynicism in the community. I was at the Lalor Sporting Hub on Sunday. Four community sporting clubs were coming together to reach out to the community, and their sense of frustration and cynicism and distrust of government was apparent.
This is something which goes beyond the individual grant decisions made and those not made. It goes to how Australians see a government which is heedless of their concerns, heedless of the things that matter to them, and I think this is something that needs to be confronted by members of the government. They can't turn away. They can't hide behind arguments that are, frankly, preposterous around the dating of advice to the Prime Minister's office. They need to come clean on that. We need to get to the bottom of this and the involvement of the PMO, but we need the government to acknowledge something more fundamental. This is not how government should be conducted. This is not how community organisations need to be treated. There needs to be a more transparent way of supporting volunteers in our community and meeting the aspirations we share about boosting community support and community involvement.
Sports rorts are one thing, of course. But then we have the $3 billion worth of 'road rorts' and Pork 'n 'Ride where we see incredibly important government investments being dictated, perhaps in this case not by a marked up Excel spreadsheet but, by a marked up map of electoral boundaries, where we see in Melbourne's east and south-east a variety of park-and-ride facilities being supported without any consultation. In some cases, it's clearly the case that no parking facility can, in fact, be constructed. Whereas, in the growing western suburbs, there's not a single facility. We see in Queensland all three park-and-ride—Pork 'n 'Ride, again, I should say—facilities service one electorate: that of Forde. This approach to government demeans us all. What is so disappointing is that members opposite don't recognise this or won't recognise this. They won't recognise they have in their leader a Prime Minister who won't take responsibility. He will do everything he can to avoid his responsibilities and he fails to stand up for the Australian people.
It's a pleasure to be able to speak on the Appropriations Bill in this chamber and outline some of the issues that the parliament faces at this time. It gives us a good stock to look at the challenges we face in terms of prudent budget management and making sure that we're appropriating the funds necessary to run a nation against a backdrop of what is unquestionably an incredibly challenging time.
We've obviously gone through difficult economic and environmental circumstances as a result of the drought. There are a lot of communities across the country that have struggled for some time, needing income security and, of course, access to one of the most important commodities we have, water, because it's the lifeblood that enables their crops to grow and for grass to grow to feed their cattle so that they can go on and earn a livelihood and an income for them and their community. So many communities have dealt with such a difficult blow as a consequence of the drought.
The same is also true as a consequence of the recent bushfires. I see members in the chamber present who have been on the forefront of that catastrophic event across the eastern seaboard of Australia. While many of those communities are in the process of rebuilding, much of it will take a long time. Many of those communities have faced devastating consequences. People have lost their lives and their homes, and community infrastructure as well as wildlife has been lost. Anyone who's been involved with fires knows that it will take some time to repair and rebuild. My grandfather and grandmother experienced the consequences of the Ash Wednesday bushfires in the early 1980s in upper Beaconsfield in Victoria. They knew full well the consequences of bushfires and the impact they can have on communities as well as the time it takes to not just rebuild but reconnect and resew the social fabric that holds those communities together.
Then, of course, we have the more recent challenge of the coronavirus. I don't think we should underestimate the seriousness of the events that are about to present themselves to Australia. It needs to be acknowledged in a bipartisan way that the government has provided outstanding leadership in confronting the challenges, threats and risks of the coronavirus. We can implement strong border protection measures because we have strong borders and because we have a government that understands the importance of doing so and not tolerating leakage. We're in a position to respond economically because we have a budget that the government has been determined to return to a healthy balance. We have spending under control, and, of course, we have reassured ourselves, with advice from the expert medical health services across the country and with the cooperation of the states, that we can provide the assistance that Australians need.
More critically, while it is a health crisis—and it is—it is also going to cascade into a challenging economic one. I know there's a lot of discussion at the moment in the community about how the government should respond. I have been heartened to hear in the language from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that they're taking a prudent, a responsible and—critically—a considered approach to how the government should work to reassure small businesses, employees and employers so that, throughout any difficult economic times to come, people can be kept in jobs and small businesses can trade through and be central to any economic recovery following the economic consequences of the coronavirus.
I hear a lot of calls out there for short-term or rash stimulus measures without full consideration. We saw that during the global financial crisis from those opposite. While there is no doubt there was some benefit from some aspects of it, in practice it was largely wasteful. In comparison to the options available to Australia—because we had higher interest rates which were able to be cut by the Reserve Bank as well as higher mineral prices—we just saw money being thrown around for marginal benefit. They baked in extra costs, which we are continuing to pay and which, of course, future generations will have to repay. I see some calls for that sort of broadbrush approach again. Similarly, I hear suggestions that we should somehow move infrastructure programs forward. If you go out to the market place, people will already tell you that there are massive capacity constraints with supplies and labour for projects to be brought forward. That is not a sensible solution either.
What is necessary is a targeted approach to make sure that government invests where it can add the most value, because the practical reality that's going to unfold in the coming weeks as a consequence of this, particularly the slowdown of manufacturing in China, is that we will have Australians who will be willing buyers of goods, but there will be suppliers with, in some cases, nothing to sell or limited stock to sell, and you're going to have service based businesses that will have plenty to sell but not necessarily the volume of willing customers. Just throwing more money at that problem won't solve it, just as cutting interest rates won't solve it. While it is an approach that could have a marginal effect, it would be better if the RBA turned around and, rather than cutting interest rates, looked at options to help banks loan more money to small and medium businesses so that they could trade through the economic challenges to come and, critically, keep people employed so that they can keep supporting their families and keep paying their mortgages so that they can be a part of the recovery once this temporary crisis ends. But they can only do that because we have a secure economic environment and a secure health environment. That's been at the heart of this government's approach since the day it was elected.
Throughout the speeches of our political opponents, they will wax lyrical about how they could have done things better, with no evidence to justify it. They would have left this country with less financial security and less border security, and we would be in a weaker position to respond to this crisis. In the end, government has to provide reassurance to the Australian people. If people are going to back themselves, they need to know that they are going to do it in an environment where the government has their back and is able to deliver them the security that they need to make decisions with confidence. That's what you get under the Morrison Liberal-National government—and not what you would get under the opposition, particularly had they come in at the last election and committed to spend billions of dollars and rake in hundreds of millions of dollars of new taxes. With less money in people's hip pockets, you wouldn't need stimulus, because people wouldn't have any spare cash in their pockets.
The other challenge we face at the moment is in the context of climate change policy. I hear a lot of pronouncements from members opposite about what they think policy should be. The member for Melbourne, the Marxist member for Melbourne, now Leader of the Australian Greens, comes into this place and his answer is always to take decisions out of the democratic processes and hand the responsibility over to the United Nations to make determinations about how our policy should be decided. The Independent for Warringah does exactly the same thing—undermining confidence in our democracy and sovereignty. Anybody who thinks the solution to getting stable, considered ongoing climate policy is to take decisions away from the people who are elected to represent and govern this nation and hand that decision-making responsibility to the unelected and the unaccountable, with scant regard to the human, economic, social, political and environmental consequences, is kidding themselves.
The Independent member for Warringah has even recommended that unelected, unaccountable bodies be responsible for giving the green light about whether elected and accountable people, ministers of the Crown and this very parliament, can decide things like emissions targets. That is not a sustainable basis for policy into the future. It's a direct subversion and subjugation of this parliament. I have no doubt there will be plenty of people who argue that this is necessary. Many years ago, Clive Hamilton, the far-left academic—who got it right on China, I might add, but on not much else—made the argument that maybe we just need to suspend democracy to meet the challenges of climate change. That will work if you don't have any plan to return to it and/or you have no respect or regard for it. That seems to be the approach the Independent member for Warringah has taken: a disregard, not just for this parliament, but—let's not misunderstand what that means—also a disregard for the people of Australia.
People took these policies to the last election—and the last time I checked two of those people sat in this chamber. The Labor Party didn't; they took a different, idiotic policy—but, nonetheless, a different policy—to the last election. People on this side of the chamber, who sit here and represent the people of Australia—149 people—campaigned on a different platform. But those opposite want the tail to wag the dog, with scant regard for the will of the Australian people—and it needs to be called out. Similarly, the plan of the opposition needs to be called out as well, because you have the deception of the Leader of the Opposition saying on national television and in this chamber and everywhere else that he wants a target of zero net emissions by 2050—'but, by the way, we're still going to export coal'. I've never heard such a deceptive statement. It is one designed to manage the different constituent groups inside the Australian Labor Party, but it treats the Australian people as mugs. How on earth could you do that and account for the fugitive emissions that come with it? It is a deception.
If members on the other side want to chortle and a laugh because they're either going along with the deception or being deceived, neither hold them in good regard. The thing we need and owe the Australian people, whether it's on reducing emissions, the coronavirus or any other economic response, is honesty and trust to build confidence to take everybody forward together. What we see from members in the crossbenches and members of the opposition is in clear contrast with this government. The foundation of our relationship with the Australian people is to take honest plans to the election. It is to take honest plans that we then seek to implement during our term of government. It's an honest plan, rather than the deception and dishonesty advocated by our political opponents. The cost of their approach is real. When you go to an election and say one thing and then immediately after do the opposite it corrodes trust in this very institution, the chamber itself. I see members on the opposite side nodding. I'm glad they do, because that was shown that clearer than during the previous administration, where you had a Labor Prime Minister say, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' They then came into this chamber and treated the Australian people as mugs. They deceived them at the election and then turned around and voted for it in this chamber. That is the sort of policy that undermines long-term confidence to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to deliver sustainable change and to build trust with the Australian people. It's that dishonesty—and they sit there and they chortle and laugh at the contempt they have for the Australian people.
Well, that is not the view on this side of the chamber. We're going to treat Australians with honesty and build respect and trust, because that is the only way that we can confront the challenges that we face in the short, medium and long term. That's why, rather than having a debate about their policies, we're actually delivering substance on how we're going to achieve our targets. That's why we're bringing forward a road map to give people an understanding, to give Australians an understanding, about the choices that this country faces—versus making ambit, empty and dishonest promises to the Australian people, as the Leader of the Opposition and the parrots who sit behind him do. They simply represent and repeat lines that they cannot substantiate and back up with hard evidence. The Australian people will judge them at the next election, and should. Some of us will stand up and call out, as we did about their dishonesty about their retiree tax. They said it wouldn't hit people on low incomes—only for the Leader of the Opposition to explain to the Australian people afterwards that it would. Some of us will never give up in making sure that we expose the deception of the Australian Labor Party.
I point out that, without doubt, the greatest thespian in this House has just endowed his wisdom on us, so thank you very much to the member for Goldstein. I want to talk about the Indo-Pacific Task Force, a trade task force that I lead, and trade in general. Trade remains the domain of federal government agencies, ranging from DFAT to Austrade, and increasingly of state and territory agencies, including the Northern Territory government's Department of Trade, Business and Investment, which I must say does a fantastic job of promoting the investment opportunities we have in the Northern Territory of Australia.
While the federal government obviously retains overall competence in negotiating agreements with foreign governments that should be advantageous to Australian businesses, workers, unions, investors and, of course, exporters, the Indo-Pacific trade task force that I lead was set up last year to help feed into a trade policy agenda that a federal Labor government would take to the next election, with a particular focus on markets in our immediate region, those that have five to six per cent growth, as in South-East Asia and the subcontinent. This government could be doing a lot more on trade, particularly to tackle those nontariff barriers that Aussie investors and exporters continually face in many markets, which does penalise them unfairly. We need to be doing a lot more. This government does very little, to be honest, to address this issue—particularly the nontariff barriers—because it is much harder than signing trade deals.
So we need to think about how agencies like Austrade work: whether they could function better—I think there's no doubt about—and whether they are adequately resourced to do their job. They need to be supporting businesses that are investing or setting up a nationally. Austrade needs to be adequately resourced to do that important work. As part of the work of the Indo-Pacific trade task force, I and my colleagues have held a number of consultations with stakeholders in Cairns, Darwin and Melbourne and soon will hold them in Adelaide, Perth and Townsville. The feedback we're hearing consistently is that much more could be done to support Aussie exporters to export their goods and to export services and digital trade opportunities, which is a new frontier that Australians are well-placed to be at the forefront of.
Speaking of new frontiers, we all know that the global climate challenges we face are indeed a huge opportunity for us. I'll be leading a delegation to Indonesia soon. It'll be one of the things in the digital technologies space and the renewable technologies space that I'll be talking about with our Indonesian friends. When we consider action on climate change and taking up those new technologies, the Climate Change Performance Index recently placed Australia at a dismal 56 out of all nations in the OECD and the EU, whereas Indonesia had come in at 39. So there is a huge appetite in Indonesia. They're doing a lot better than us when it comes to a range of measures, which is to the shame of those opposite. Nevertheless, there's a lot more we could be doing with Indonesia, and I look forward to having those discussions with our Indonesian counterparts.
Let me shift to the defence of the Australian homeland. In the Defence portfolio, I note the government's announcement of a $1.1 billion program of infrastructure upgrades to RAAF Base Tindal. RAAF Base Tindal is in Katherine in the Northern Territory. This investment is part of a $20 billion defence funding commitment to northern Australia over the coming decades, which is bipartisan. $737 million of this $1.1 billion is being committed to upgrade the airfield at Tindal, extend the runway and build extra fuel storage facilities. The federal government has said that an additional $437 million would go towards engineering services on the base for power, water, sewerage and 108 new live-in units for our Defence Force personnel. The Minister for Defence Industry has guaranteed that Defence's managing contractor would be required to maximise the involvement of local industry from the Katherine region and the wider Northern Territory. They speak of 300 jobs in the construction phase at Tindal. I think even more can be done to help local industry and ensure their participation in all phases of this project work.
The reality is that, without strong advocacy from the government—and I am advocating strongly now for the government to do this—these local companies won't be given a fair go. The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that the local companies that have the capacity to do this work can get a go at doing this work and not just the tender-savvy foreign state owned enterprises who can afford the lobbyists and the slick marketing campaigns. It is unfortunate, but I have to inform the House that recently in Darwin a relatively small contract, mainly civil works, went to a foreign state owned company when there were three locally owned Territory companies that were more than capable of doing that work.
I think the federal government needs to wake up to itself because in the Northern Territory and around Australia companies are sick and tired of being overlooked for this type of work, particularly when the federal government went to the last federal election promising that they would breakdown packages of work into smaller packages precisely so that local companies could get a look in. But when that happened in Darwin a contract was given to one of the biggest infrastructure companies in the world—a state owned infrastructure company up against some locals who should have been getting that work. So we want to see an end to that. The federal government has to start living up to the rhetoric that they spouted to Australians before the last federal election.
I now move to another issue that is very important to Territorians, and that is the Productivity Commission's recent report on remote-area tax concessions. I note that the Productivity Commission's report on remote-area tax concessions was published last week on Wednesday 26 February. The report recommends that remote-area tax concessions and payments should be rationalised and reconfigured. It calls for the zone tax offset to be abolished and it calls for the remote-area allowance to be refreshed, which means a redrawing of boundaries that, in the report's own words, would exclude at least 25,000 annual recipients in my electorate and a further 33,000 in cities of the Northern Territory, like Alice Springs and Katherine in the member for Lingiari's electorate. The report notes the cost-of-living pressures on Indigenous Territorians, who pay much more than Australians in major metropolitan cities for their groceries, but it doesn't go into the cost-of-living pressures across the territory, including in my electorate in the cities of Darwin and Palmerston, compared to major cities like Sydney and Melbourne.
We need to be careful in how we measure remoteness, because what might seem like a scientifically objective measure can't capture the local reality of life on the ground for communities in rural and regional Australia. This is about values, not some kind of objective yardstick which transforms Darwin and other places in the Territory into metropolitan regions magically just by changing our thinking. That does not change the price of goods and services when Territorians go to purchase them.
The argument that Darwin is no longer regional because it's a city rather than a town misses the obvious fact that the entire physical, economic and cultural centre of gravity of our nation is heavily biased towards the south and the south-east of the Australian mainland, which the majority of people in this place do represent. But those members are not the whole of our nation. Regional Australia has had a gutful of the bias towards those metropolitan centres when we are not only part of our nation but a vital part of our nation.
We don't have access to the same cheap flights and easy connectivity or access to cheap goods and services that you can get, for example, in Sydney. Just measuring up remoteness on a city's size is not a particularly convincing argument, because there are transport costs and often, as is the case in many regional parts of Australia, that is on top of getting goods and services. The cost of the goods and services is added to by those transport costs, and that must be taken into account.
So Northern Territory members and senators do not support the Productivity Commissioner's recommendation to abolish the zone tax offset. It's important to people living in regional and remote Australia. The federal government, those opposite, should be investing in the north, not ripping more money from hardworking Territorians—money that gets ripped out of our local economy and that would help the individuals receiving that zone tax off-set. That, I add, has not increased since 1993, so we're talking about a zone tax off set that has not increased for a long time, so it's lost its purchasing power already. But it also hurts the local businesses in my electorate and many other regional electorates because you're ripping funds out of our economy.
Instead of directing reviews on how to cut even more from regional areas, the federal government should start focusing on investing in the Northern Territory. The federal government have said that they will not follow the Productivity Commission's recommendation, but, to be honest, we have heard that before. In fact, we heard that there would be no cuts to education, no cuts to health and no cuts to the ABC. We've heard so many pre-election promises from those opposite that haven't been realised. In six years there have been continual cuts. So I'd like a firm commitment that those opposite, the federal government, will not cut the zone tax offset. On behalf of Territorians and, I'm sure, many others in regional Australia and northern Australia in particular, we want confirmation that this federal government will not cut the ZTO.
Zone tax offsets are important, and we certainly need to be looking at how to encourage more people to come up and live in our amazing Northern Territory and enjoy our amazing Territory lifestyle. The federal government needs to guarantee that Territorians won't be thrown under a bus. The Northern Territory government are doing all that they can, but we need federal investment. Rather than the neglect that we've seen from this Commonwealth government when it comes to the Territory, we want to actually see some investment. The last figures out of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility showed that about one per cent of that $5 billion fund had been drawn down. We want to see a lot more action and much more serious intent. More than serious intent, we want to see the investment actually happen in the Northern Territory.
In my submission to the Productivity Commission on the zone tax offset, I made the point that this federal government had an opportunity, a good opportunity, to increase it when there was a white paper on northern Australia that recommended that FIFOs, fly-in, fly-out workers, no longer receive the zone tax offset. About 20 per cent of them got the offset. With those savings, there was an opportunity to increase the zone tax offset, remembering what I said earlier—that it hasn't been increased since 1993. They didn't take that opportunity, which is a shame. But it is an issue that's very important to Territorians.
I just want to stress again that we want those opposite, the federal government, to commit to not cutting the zone tax offset. Jobs keep people in the north. When the federal government rips Commonwealth jobs out of the Northern Territory, that doesn't help either. Start investing in the Northern Territory and in our jobs, and that will make Australia a stronger place.
I rise to make my contribution on Appropriation Bill (No. 3). I'm very proud to be from south-western Sydney, which has long been an area of excellence for education. Our students consistently achieve remarkable results, and tertiary institutions, recognising the need to harness these great young minds, are setting up in our part of the world. The future is in their hands.
On 30 October last year I had the pleasure of visiting St Francis Xavier's Catholic Primary School in Lurnea for the CSIRO's STEM in Schools event. I was pleased to meet Ms Rearne Goodwin, whose class undertook a number of activities which developed the students' ideas to help fight climate change. Seeing such bright and aware young men and women working together to address one of the biggest challenges of our time was very rewarding.
STEM is such an important program to harness the bright young minds that I saw at St Francis Xavier. It is crucial for a number of reasons: it secures Australia's scientific and research future, and the jobs provided by these vital industries; it helps to solve local and global challenges such as climate change; and it continues Australia's proud history of being first in science and research. It secures Australia's scientific and research future and the jobs provided by these vital industries. It helps to solve local and global challenges such as climate change and continues Australia's proud history of being up first in science and research. I'd like to thank the principal, Gayle Reardon, and Ms Goodwin and all of the students at St Francis Xavier Catholic Primary School for welcoming me.
Many of the high schools in Werriwa spend the first several weeks of the new school year getting to know the year 7 cohort. They do this by spending time getting to know them in a project based learning environment. It's a collaborative way of learning that allows the students to get to know each other and allows the teachers to test in a safe environment the strengths and challenges of the group. It allows them to put students in literacy and numeracy groups so that they are able to improve and to start the joys of high school. It helps with planning and makes sure students are best placed to commence their next six years of school. Recently, I visited Lurnea High School, the school I attended, to spend Valentine's Day with the year 7 students. Lurnea High School has implemented this innovative program over the past six years to introduce the new year 7 cohort to high school. Students spend the first four weeks undertaking cooperative research, making and thinking about projects that will benefit their community or school. This year's projects were based on unattractive or unused parts of the school. They made plans to beautify the areas so they are versatile and useful space that encourage learning and recharging. Previous years have seen year 7 students design parks in the local area into green spaces that they as teenagers would use. A couple of years ago this work inspired flying foxes to be installed in one of our regional parks after several of these groups suggested it would be a very good idea. I especially enjoyed chatting to this year's students about their designs and models. The designs were costed and the presentation included a sales pitch to encourage investment by local businesses. Some of the sales pitches were really worthy of the best ad agencies, and even included the school motto. I'm not sure how the recharging stations for mobile devices in every design will work, given the limited number of power sockets versus the number of students with smart phones. However, I congratulate the students for their wonderful and enthusiastic work, and Ms Cahill for leading this project. I would also like to welcome Ms Kylie Landrigan to the school as Lurnea's new principal. I very much look forward to working with her.
The awareness of issues and developing of innovative solutions is nothing new to the region. Miller Technology High School has a similar induction program for its year 7 students. They were looking at ways to tackle homelessness and its causes and find solutions. I was pleased to be able to speak to them, and I took many and varied thought-provoking questions. One of the students suggested that the money that had been spent on New Year's fireworks could be better spent on providing housing for the less fortunate. It was something that I couldn't agree with more. The students at Miller Technology High School are only too aware of the inaction of the New South Wales government and the federal government on developing good policy to combat homelessness in our country. Between the 2011 and 2016 censuses the total number of homeless people in New South Wales increased by 27 per cent. A closer look at these numbers reveals our national shame in even more significant numbers. The census numbers reveal that between 2011 and 2016 the total number of people sleeping rough increased by 35 per cent and the total number living in severely crowded dwellings increased by 74 per cent. The number of people living in supported accommodation or boarding houses increased by 19 per cent. Over 2,000 of all homeless people in New South Wales are First Australians. I know that in electorates like mine there are lengthy waiting lists of up to 20 years for community housing. I've seen constituents who, though they are considered a priority with disabilities or other issues, have been on the list for over three years with no offers in sight. These are our most critically vulnerable people. Homelessness is not caused just by loss of employment. In the 2016 census, 17 per cent of the homeless population in New South Wales were employed full-time and over 16 per cent were employed part-time. Full-time workers who are homeless increased by 45 per cent in that five-year period. Part-time workers increased by 84 per cent. The fact that full-time and part-time workers are homeless shows just how much pressure real Australians are facing now. Many factors increase both the number of homeless and their vulnerability.
Councils, like at Liverpool City Council, have taken up the slack and have recently presented a draft Homelessness Strategy and Action Plan. In fact, people in the Liverpool area are facing some of the highest rates of drivers for homelessness anywhere in this state. This means that parts of Werriwa maybe facing some of the most extreme increases in homelessness into the future. We must develop policies in all areas of government to address both the homelessness crisis and the drivers that cause it.
The students at Miller High School know that providing housing that is affordable, safe and appropriate makes a profound difference in people's lives and it's just the right thing to do in a civilised country like ours. I'm pleased that the students across Werriwa are aware of these issues and aware of the lack of action from state and federal governments on the matter. We need to support our students and schools so their future can be in their hands.
It's on that note that I notice the local schools grant program is vastly inadequate for its purpose. In the last round of the grants program, schools in Werriwa requested $503,000 worth of funding for very worthy projects. Twelve schools in Werriwa were awarded a total of $200,000, but 11 further projects could not be given any funding—this is despite being assessed and classified as suitable. This shows that more should be done to ensure our schools have the support they need to provide our kids with the education they deserve.
To add to the costs that government is forcing others to pay, I turn to people with type 1 diabetes. The National Diabetes Services Scheme has historically supported those who have type 1 diabetes—a lifelong illness that a person who suffers for has done nothing to encourage. It's a disease that strikes randomly and without warning. It means that people with diabetes need to prick their finger up to 15 times a day just to work out what they need to do in terms of food, insulin and activity, and all to keep them healthy. The advent of continuous glucose monitoring and flash glucose monitoring means that every five minutes a person with diabetes automatically gets their results and then gives them the opportunity to choose what they need to do next. This incredible advancement has drastically improved control for all people with diabetes, reducing the pain and inconvenience of the dated pinprick method. In November 2018, the government announced flash glucose monitoring would join the NDIS continuous glucose monitoring scheme as of 1 March 2019. However, it wasn't until February 2020, after significant pressure, that the monitors were listed. They are, however, only accessible for people under 21 years old, females planning pregnancy or those who have concessional healthcare cards. Once you turn 21, have a child or once you start working again, subsidised access is lost. Let me remind the government, diabetes is a lifelong condition and complications can strike at any age. The costs for anyone outside these extremely limited criterion are prohibitive.
My constituent Renee Marshall came and saw me in January. Renee is an Australian netball umpire and represents her country officiating at major netball events. She's a young, vibrant woman who is active, and she also has type 1 diabetes. Like all people with diabetes, no matter their age, she wants to take the best care of herself to give herself the best life she can and avoid complications that will cost thousands of extra dollars a year to our health budget. I feel for Renee and all those people with type 1 diabetes around Australia. They do not have fair and equitable access to the technology. As Renee wrote to me:
I've never really been one to ask for a pity party, but I've been through enough and have seen many friends suffer from complications such as early onset glaucoma to let this one slip. I feel as though I'm being punished for not having decent enough control of my diabetes to not warrant an Ambulance call-out. Please when someone asks how we can improve our system, talk about type 1 and how complications can be prevented.
Minister, this is someone who, like all members on this side, is pleading for you to help. There is social and budgetary value in ensuring people like Renée, and all people with type 1 diabetes, can access this technology—like others can in different countries around the world. I call on the government to make the NDSS fair and equitable and to allow people with type 1 diabetes to access this technology.
Thankfully, there are groups in Werriwa that have long supported the community and the important services that primary healthcare providers give to the region. I want to acknowledge the Friends of India Australia for their recent donation of $6,000 to Liverpool Hospital's mental health unit. This donation enabled the purchase of cardiorespiratory bikes for the assessment of patients in the unit. For a long period of time, Liverpool Hospital's mental health unit has been the primary care provider for people in south-west Sydney who have acute mental health needs. As our awareness and acceptance of mental health needs increase, so does our understanding of the influences of our mental wellbeing. We are starting to see very strong links between mental and physical health and fitness. In the face of this, people who suffer severe mental health issues tend to develop metabolic and cardiovascular disease. The donation from the Friends of India Australia and the subsequent purchase by Liverpool Hospital is an important step for the people of south-west Sydney.
Again, I thank the Friends of India for their generosity and continuing love and care for our community. They were out again on the weekend for Clean Up Australia. Our diverse community does much for us, and it is wonderful.
I thank the member for Werriwa. Before I call the Leader of the Opposition, I ask members to please read standing order 62 with respect to when your colleagues are on their feet. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
Over summer Australians stepped up on the bushfire crisis—well, most Australians. This Prime Minister, of course, we know, didn't step up. He was behind in each and every way. Eventually he conceded that there was a need for a national response to the bushfire crisis, but last night we found out, yet again, that so much of it was about spin and marketing rather than substance. We found out last night that there isn't actually a National Bushfire Recovery Agency. It isn't actually an agency, remarkably. All it is is Mr Colvin—a fine Australian—doing his best, but just as a member of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Even more extraordinary is what else we found out in Senate estimates, after a question from Senator Watt:
Can you point me to where this national bushfire recovery fund is in the Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements? I've had a look and I can't find it.
Ms Bradshaw responded:
The $2 billion fund is a notional fund …
So, Senator Wong asked:
Could I ask this way: can you just confirm that there is no additional appropriation in the additional estimates statement for this portfolio for the $2 billion?
Mr Colvin replied:
Now, 'notional' is defined in the dictionary as 'existing only as an idea, not as something real.' It's little wonder that just $200 million has actually gone out the door—throughout all of the programs that have been allocated—$200 million, when the Prime Minister made it very clear when he declared that the money would be available straightaway. We know that businesses in places like the South Coast are saying they just haven't seen a dollar come through. The fact is that across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, a total of five farmers and small businesses have so far received emergency bushfire loans worth just $400,000.
Compare the hands-off approach on bushfires with another program: the sports rorts saga. In Senate estimates there have been more smoking guns in this sports rort saga over the last 24 hours than at one of Senator McKenzie's gun clubs!
They've all been out there for all to see. And this Prime Minister, who said on election night that it was a miracle, has been exposed not as a Messiah but just as a naughty boy! He's not keen to talk about it—and at the press conference he just gave, he slinked out as soon as a single question was asked. I'm waiting for him to brush it all off as an on-rorter matter—because this Prime Minister has been caught misleading this parliament, misleading the Australian people, and using taxpayers' funds as if they were the funds of the Liberal and National parties.
Let's have a look at what we now know. On 3 April, Sport Australia gave their list to Senator McKenzie. On something that's dated 4 April—note: dated 4 April—allegedly, during that period, over 70 per cent of the projects were turned over in a different list. So 70 per cent in 24 hours. Who said they can't be efficient? Can't get money out the door for people whose homes have burnt down or for communities who have been decimated, but in 24 hours, we would have it believed, that decision was made. So the 5th of April came and went and so did the 6th, the 7th, the 8th and the 9th. We got to the 10th and Senator McKenzie sent a list to the Prime Minister's office. The Audit Office says that this was what she intended to fund—'intended to fund'. We now know that those words stack up.
So the Prime Minister gets this list on 10 April and the election's called at 8:30 am on 11 April—or 8.29 am to be precise—and the writs are issued and we're off to an election. But at 8:46 am—after we are in caretaker mode—Senator McKenzie sends the list to the Prime Minister's office. So between the email to the PMO the previous day and the email to Sport Australia—it wasn't quite the same list—there'd been a change made. It wasn't quite the same list. The National Audit Office gave evidence on oath before the Senate yesterday that that change, with a project out and a project in, was made at the request of the Prime Minister's office—direct evidence that the Prime Minister was involved in these decisions.
But it didn't end there. Remember, we're hours into caretaker mode, and there are provisions under the Westminster system which make very clear that, once you're in caretaker, the government can't allocate funding without consultation with the opposition. Partisan politics end when an election's on because—a bit like sports should be, and a bit like these grants should be—there's meant to be a level playing field. But at 12.35 pm on that day, Senator McKenzie's office sent a different list of projects to the Prime Minister's office—one project out and another nine projects in. I wonder what the basis of it was? We know that there were multiple lists and that there was colour coding that occurred with all of these lists flowing to and from—a pantone chart of corruption, coded green and red and orange—to show where the marginal seats were on all of these colour-coded spreadsheets. Why would Senator McKenzie send it across to the Prime Minister's office? Allegedly, according to this Prime Minister—who has said this in the parliament not once, or twice or three times or four times or even five times but over and over again—all the decisions were made on 4 April; no changes made; nothing to do with him.
At 12.35 the list goes to the Prime Minister's office. Minutes later, after it's ticked off—eight minutes later—the final list—another one—goes across to Sport Australia, sending across another final revised list of approved projects. It's just extraordinary! The Prime Minister has misled parliament on at least seven occasions, including five times on a single day.
But this isn't some accident. This is a debate that has been going on for a long time. This is a deliberate mislead of this parliament and the Australian people. What we're finding with the sports rorts saga is that every day more and more information comes out which completely contrasts with the Prime Minister's message. The problem isn't just the abuse of the electoral system and the abuse of taxpayers' funds. The Prime Minister obviously misheard the Beastie Boys song as 'you gotta to fight for your right to rort for your party.' What we see from the Prime Minister with this funding is on the one hand volunteer organisations—the local bowling club, the local cricket club—that rely upon Australians selling their raffle tickets, selling their sausage rolls on a Saturday, giving up their time, giving up hundreds of hours to put in applications—but of course we know that the fix was in. They had a go and they got done over. That's what's happened here. In contrast, the Sans Souci Football Club in the Prime Minister's electorate received funding for a project that not only was completed but had already been opened, for which they gave thanks to the local soccer organisation and the district and the local council. No problem—out goes to money.
There is the North Sydney pool. The only way it could be closer to the centre of Sydney, located where it is next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, would be if it were on the bridge! That is the only way it could be closer. But apparently country people swim in it! That's the justification for this, while good organisations have missed out on funding right throughout the country. There are girls and women who can't have access to change rooms because the funding was redirected.
We have urban congestion which apparently only occurs in Liberal and National Party seats and marginal seats. There's no reason why people who drive through electorates that happen to be represented by the Labor Party should get a fair share of funding, because apparently you can solve congestion based on electoral maps.
This government, which can't get money out the door for bushfire recovery, has hundreds of millions of dollars, and in some case billions of dollars, flowing out the door based upon the electoral map. And this Prime Minister has tried to cover it up each and every day. He's deliberately misled the parliament on multiple occasions. He has said that it all occurred on 4 April. He has said that he had no part in the decision making. But the National Audit Office have given direct evidence before the Senate about what has really gone on here.
Remember those giant novelty cheques, with people like Georgina Downer—not elected to anything? That's your illustrated guide to rorting taxpayers' funds. That's what they represent, there for all to see. But as far as they're concerned it's okay. The Prime Minister, in this parliament, when he went off script just briefly in the very short answers he's giving, spoke about the member for Lindsay. The only problem was that she wasn't in the parliament at the time—whoopsadaisy! But that's consistent with the absolute rorting that has gone on here.
This inquiry has been extended to June. The government is still blocking the release of documentation, the 136 emails between the Prime Minister's office and Bridget McKenzie's office. The government is still blocking the information with all of the applications that were put forward in good faith by hardworking Australians representing their local communities. The fact is that the government are so arrogant they think they can get away with anything. And rather than put all the information out there and say, 'Whoops!' they threw Bridget McKenzie under the bus. Bridget McKenzie's appearance before this committee is going to be pretty interesting, as will Mr Gaetjens's, the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, who was put on to give this independent inquiry, into what was an independent inquiry, but wasn't given any of the colour-coded spreadsheets. He wasn't given any of the information and didn't interview anyone in the Prime Minister's office. This absolutely stinks. We will pursue it, because taxpayers demand transparency and demand a government that represents the nation, not just its own interests. (Time expired)
I really appreciate my colleagues turning out for my Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020 speech! I appreciate the support that they're all showing. In 2017, Anglican archbishops from around the world said in a letter to global leaders that climate change is the challenge of our generation. Former US president Obama said:
… no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate.
The great David Attenborough said in January this year:
The moment of crisis has come. We can no longer prevaricate.
The IPCC report, also in January this year, said:
Climate change creates additional stresses on land, exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems
Experts and eminent leaders around the world are calling on governments to do something.
Here in Australia, Australians have felt all of the effects of climate change over the long black summer we just experienced. Last year was our hottest on record according to the Bureau of Meteorology. It was also Australia's driest year on record. We've seen catastrophic bushfires rage across the country taking lives, destroying homes and attacking businesses. Cities were choking on a thick layer of smoke, causing breathing difficulty, especially to those who are sick, are elderly or have asthma. We were warned about this over a decade ago. Ross Garnaut's 2008 climate change review warned governments of the risks, of more intense and more frequent bushfires. The Australian Academy of Science warned of the impact climate change would have on the sick, the elderly, the very young and the poor. There is something the Morrison government could do now if it had the political will to do it.
The Business Council of Australia, not exactly a left-wing cabal, has come out in support of the Paris Agreement and transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050. Rio Tinto, Australia's second-biggest miner, has announced its commitment to action on climate change, with a net zero emissions target by 2050. Every Australian state and every Australian territory has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, yet standing alone on the burning deck the Morrison government is opposing progress towards the decarbonisation of the Australian economy. The Prime Minister is completely out of step with Australian businesses, Australian governments and the Australian community. His reckless and extreme position is the consequence of the stranglehold the hard Right of the coalition have on climate change policy in the coalition.
Last week government data showed that there was no reduction in emissions in the quarter to September 2019 and annual emissions reduced only by a pitiful 0.3 per cent in the year to date. That is not a canter; that sounds more like someone flogging a dead horse. There has been a collapse in renewables investment under the Morrison government. Just last night in Senate estimates the Clean Energy Regulator backed industry, business and investors that a lack of climate and energy policy is hampering renewables investment, which would lead to lower power prices for Australians. So, rather than leading Australia to stronger economic growth, higher real wages and lower energy bills by achieving net zero emissions by 2050, the Prime Minister is only concerned about keeping peace in his divided party room and keeping his job—keeping his backside in No. 1, to quote the former Prime Minister.
The coalition government have been in office for seven years. The current dismal economic prospects for working Australians are completely the result of this coalition government's economic mismanagement. Their fingerprints are all over this economy today. New data revealed that weak wages growth has stalled further. The ABS wage price index confirmed that wages growth remains stagnant at 2.2 per cent, falling short of budget forecasts yet again, which were downgraded only two months ago. The Treasurer has claimed that wages growth is a core focus for this government. Guess what? It's a joke. A core focus? It has been a complete failure.
We have seen youth unemployment increase to 12.1 per cent. There are now over 271,000 young Australians without a job. The recent labour force figures revealed a record high number of underemployed Australians. There are 1.2 million Australians—think of that—looking for more work but unable to find it. Since Prime Minister Morrison took office there are nearly 90,000 more underemployed people.
New data last week showed that capital expenditure has collapsed again. It absolutely destroys Treasurer Frydenberg's claim that the economy was performing strongly before the coronavirus outbreak hit and the bushfires hit. Private new capital expenditure plunged by 2.8 per cent in the December quarter—well below market expectations. Capital expenditure is more than 30 per cent lower than when the Liberals first came to office and business investment is around its lowest level since the 1990s recession. When the economy was already struggling from weak consumption, stagnant wages, declining productivity and record high household and government debt, we had news that construction work pretty much collapsed in the December quarter.
The Prime Minister and the Treasurer had no plan for the floundering economy last year and it looks like they don't have a plan for 2020. Because of the Morrison government's inaction, Australia meets the serious challenges and uncertainties of the fire season and the coronavirus outbreak from a position of weakness, not from a position of strength. Ignore the slick advertising coming from those opposite. Look at the economic data that the reliable government departments put out. There's no doubt that the coronavirus is damaging confidence in the economy, in our communities and all around the world. Stock markets are very jumpy. We've seen serious assaults on the stock markets. But there are also longstanding problems in the economy that predate these challenges.
The government seems to have set itself one test and one test only—to get to a surplus. They have to justify those black cups that they're flogging off to punters. It's a test that the government set for themselves. Whether they fail that test remains to be seen. They promised a surplus in their first year. I remember former Treasurer Joe Hockey saying that they'd have a surplus in their first year. They're now in their seventh year. They've promised it every year after. At the moment they're batting none for seven.
Labor, along with the Reserve Bank and the business community, have been calling on the coalition government for some time now to bring forward a plan to address our longstanding domestic economic challenges and to get business investing again. It's time that the Morrison government stopped navel-gazing and stopped putting out glossy ads that actually misrepresent the facts. It's time they focused on coming up with a comprehensive plan to restore the economic and wages growth that have deteriorated on their watch.
From the calls coming in from my electorate of Moreton I know the frustration that people feel about the rollout of the NDIS. After six years of mismanagement of what should have been a world-class scheme, people with disability have been left out in the cold. A departmental review of the scheme has found that the scheme is plagued by delays and it is frustrating for those who engage with it to actually understand. This finding is echoed by the experience of some of my constituents.
The review recommends to trial the NDIA agency delegates performing all planning functions in-house—though the review notes that 'this may have a requisite impact on the Liberal-imposed staffing cap'—to fund navigator roles to help people find their way through the system and to create a participant service guarantee to ensure basic standards are met, legislated time frames for decision making and for the publication of NDIS reports, greater involvement in the carer workforce, a national outreach strategy that would facilitate rollout to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and also their culturally and linguistically diverse communities, the reinforcing of NDIS objects and principles, and a return to the original version of the 2011 Productivity Commission report. Labor welcomes all of these recommendations. It's important for those who need NDIS funding to have access to the scheme. It is also important that those who are fraudulently claiming funds from the NDIS are flagged, caught and punished so that the money for people with disability is going to the actual people with disabilities or the people caring for them and not to these fraudsters that have swooped on this honey pot.
It was recently reported that a whistleblower revealed thousands of dollars are being stolen from vulnerable clients every day but these frauds are rarely being investigated. It is not good enough that there is a general acceptance of fraud in the NDIS scheme or an acceptance that $2 billion is lost through fraud and that the rarely recouped stolen money just gets replaced with other taxpayers' money. The minister has a padlock on the front gate of the NDIS for the genuinely needy and then he's got a welcome mat out the back for the crooks and the fraudsters. This is the great disability robbery, and the Morrison government is waving the white flag and slugging the taxpayer in the hope of covering it up. Why is the Prime Minister so hard on people with disability but, it turns out, so soft on criminals? Maybe, having removed $4.6 billion from the NDIS, the government identifies with these people who are ripping off the system.
People with disability and Australian taxpayers deserve transparency when it comes to NDIS funding. There needs to be a regular reporting to parliament of the NDIA's progress, particularly in tracing down the fraudsters and the criminals. The NDIS scheme is too important to be treated like an ATM for fraudsters and criminals. It's too important to be continually mismanaged by this coalition government.
The Coopers Plains level crossing in my electorate of Moreton has been putting lives at risk for too long—some say for over 50 years. The RACQ rate this crossing as its No. 1 crossing to fix in Queensland. I was pleased to hear that the Labor candidate for the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Pat Condren, announced last week that a Labor city hall would contribute one-third of the construction cost of the Coopers Plains rail crossing grade separation. Not only will Pat Condren fix the Coopers Plains level crossing; he's also committed to fixing another dangerous crossing in my electorate on Warrigal Road. The Warrigal Road Runcorn level crossing is also on RACQ's list of the five most dangerous level crossings in Queensland. The local Labor councillor, Steve Griffiths; and the Labor candidates John Prescott and Trent McTiernan have been working hard to get these improvements to improve local infrastructure, and I congratulate John, Trent and Steve on their hard work.
Pat Condren's announcement is in stark contrast to the LNP mayor, who will not even commit to paying the council's fair share to fix the Coopers Plains level crossing. The LNP council has been playing favourites with infrastructure expenditure for years now, paying 50 per cent of the cost of north side works but only committing to 15 per cent when it comes to the south side. In fact, the only infrastructure grade separations on the south side have been funded by the federal government—for example, the Kessels and Mains Road intersection at Macgregor and the Elizabeth Street rail overpass at Acacia Ridge. These dangerous level crossings—two of them in the top 5—need to be fixed, and we can't waste any more time arguing over who should pay. A road overpass instead of a level crossing with boom gates—boom gates go up and down 138 times a day, which causes delays, frustrations and danger. These are dangerous crossings for commuters. At the Coopers Plains crossing alone there have been 28 cases of cars hitting the boom gates in the last seven years. A road overpass will significantly reduce the risk of horrible accidents occurring. A Labor-led federal government committed to fixing the Coopers Plains rail crossing; it was an election promise last year. I'm calling on Pat Condren to say well done for committing to fixing it now.