Thursday, 3 September 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government's failure to take responsibility for the significant challenges confronting the Australian people.
I call upon all those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
This Morrison recession is the first in 30 years. For many Australians it will be an experience that they have never had before and that, indeed, no-one ever wants to have. We have one million unemployed already, but on top of that we'll have 400,000 more unemployed by Christmas. These figures don't really indicate what happens during a recession. What happens is that people lose their livelihoods. People will lose their homes. Families will break up. It will have a devastating impact on Australians, and, we know, on their families and their communities as well. During a recession, we see open shopfronts. We see a cumulative impact, which is why we have sought from the very beginning to limit the impact of what is an international incident—COVID.
But the fact is that this government has been dragged to any action that it's made. We know that this week we were due to have snapback according to the government. The reason we had to sit—this from a government that doesn't like parliamentary sittings—is that its legislation was all due to cut out in September. They said that all government support could be withdrawn. So, we haven't had snapback but we have had rollback. We have had cuts to JobKeeper, cuts to JobSeeker and cuts to the wages of low-income workers. We have had it at a time when the economy is struggling.
We don't argue that wage subsidies should be there forever. We have never done that. No-one has said that. But what we say is that you don't withdraw support at a time when the economy needs it, because it will make the recession deeper and longer. Deeper and longer will be the Morrison recession, because of the Prime Minister's arrogance.
The Prime Minister tomorrow will chair something called the national cabinet. It is not national and it is not a cabinet. There is more accuracy, I reckon, in the name the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. What we've seen over a period of many months is the Prime Minister being prepared to make big announcements, including border closures of states, when it's convenient, but then go out there and undermine it. What we then saw is it transition into a meeting where by the premiers tell each year what they're going to do and the Prime Minister announces it at the end—a non-participatory chairing of the so-called national cabinet. We have seen tough talk on borders, and today we got it again, this from the Prime Minister who let the Ruby Princess in and let Tony Abbott out—two mistakes when it comes to border closures in this country.
We saw a Prime Minister who spoke about early action. But let's be fair dinkum here. He supported closing the border from China but not from the United States and not from anywhere else. There was no testing when you arrived at Sydney or Melbourne airport—straight through, not even temperature testing let alone quarantines. He opposed school closures before they happened. He opposed lockdowns before they happened. He opposed Newstart being increased before JobSeeker came along. He called that 'unfunded empathy'. That was the term that this Prime Minister used when we were arguing the case. And on wage subsidies, the JobKeeper program, this Prime Minister said yesterday that he didn't hesitate. Oh, yes! AAP on 26 March headlined this on wage subsidies:
… Prime Minister Scott Morrison isn't having a bar of it.
We know that, because he said the same thing to us privately, in the private meetings that were being held. He said it everywhere. What we have is a Prime Minister whose only addiction and only consistency is that everything goes to marketing. We've had JobKeeper, JobSeeker, JobTrainer, JobMaker—everything gets tested. HomeBuilder—even though not a dollar has gone out on that program. It's more promo than Scomo for this Prime Minister. Remember the Defence ad at the height of the bushfires—couldn't pick up the phone to Shane Fitzsimmons and tell him that Defence was involved but they had the ad ready, complete with the 'donate to the Liberal Party' button.
Then we come to aged care, summarised in one word by the royal commissioners when they brought their interim report down: neglect. It still didn't result in any action, even though we saw in January and February internationally the need to get people out of nursing homes and into hospital if they were infected. We saw Newmarch and Dorothy Henderson Lodge—there were reports on them that were buried by this government. The bells were ringing, but no one was listening. As of yesterday 460 elderly Australians who have helped build this country have passed away—nursing home residents. We see ants and maggots in open wounds, we see untreated infections, we see shocking accounts of thousands of sexual assaults in aged-care facilities. News Corp's 360 campaign is showing more leadership than this Prime Minister and this government. And in the Senate today we saw Minister Colbeck censured. It's the first time that's happened in more than half a decade, and what did we see from this Prime Minister? He just dismissed it all. He said, 'Graham Richardson got censured.' You bet. And he resigned from the Senate, not just from the ministry. The fact is that this minister is not up to the job and he should go, but so should Minister Taylor, so should Minister Sukkar—they're all lining up at the door.
This is a government without vision. We know that from last year. The economy hasn't headed south just because of COVID. It's starting position was so weak. We had growth below trend. Every quarter that this man has been the Prime Minister and the Treasurer has occupied his spot has been below trend. We saw wages flatlining, productivity going backwards, consumer demand going backwards, business investment going backwards, every key economic indicator—that was the starting point. They're just occupying office rather than doing something with it. We've heard no plan for the economy. There's been no social policy advancement, there's no agenda on the environment and they don't have an energy policy. They are just there to stop us being there. That's what defines them: what they're against rather than what they're for. Tony Abbott, of course, said that. They don't even have the ticker to take on someone like the member for Hughes over the extraordinary comments that he's made about hydroxychloroquine—dangerous misadventure, inappropriate from any member of parliament.
What will be the legacy of this government? They may as well be a bunch of waxworks, a government designed by Madame Tussauds. Take a selfie with any one of them, put it on Instagram and try and convince some of your friends that they're real, that they are a government. There's no responsibility. There's no accountability. It's all politics. They're all announcement, no delivery. They're always there for the photo op, never there for the follow-up. We heard it today, graphically, from the Prime Minister and the agriculture minister when the member for Eden-Monaro asked her first question about a $200 million fund, annually in financial years, for bushfires—$150 million for recovery and $50 million for resilience. They said it wasn't necessary. There are people living in vans! The woman who the Prime Minister forced to shake his hand is living in a van with her young kid in Cobargo, but nothing's needed. What did they say? It'll be all available again next year. Next year they can make another promise and deliver not one cent.
It's a great pleasure to follow the Leader of the Opposition. It's an opportunity I've been looking for for the last two weeks, and I've got it now.
We've heard a lot of noise from those opposite, and I'm sure there'll be more. I know you're keen to hear this, Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien. It's a headline which will have some impact: 'Labor group's war on gas appliances'. I thought it was the Betoota Advocate until I looked closer. It wasn't from the Betoota, that great publication allegedly from Birdsville, out past Windorah; it's from The Australian, written by Greg Brown, and it's an exclusive. What is the great plan for recovery from those opposite? Labor's environmental action network is launching a campaign for people to junk their gas powered household appliances. They want a ban on the barbecue. Can you believe it? I'm so pleased it was the Leader of the Opposition in the MPI today. Can you imagine the Leader of the Opposition out there with the member for McMahon and the member for Maribyrnong? They're in their camouflage, they've got their hard hats on and sledgehammers in hand and they're tearing through the kitchen, looking for the gas powered appliances to take out—the gas powered hot water system, the barbecue. They want to put a ban on barbecues—no more gas! This is all they have in the opposition. Quite simply, we are serious about recovery in our economy; we are serious about the actions that we take.
The Leader of the Opposition is calling for resignations. Well, I have a resignation that the Leader of the Opposition should be asking for, and that is the resignation of Minister Bailey in Queensland. Minister Bailey should resign from his position in Queensland. He is misleading the people of my electorate; he is misleading the people of Queensland. In fact, the local member, Stephen Bennett, the member for Burnett, has called for Mr Bailey's resignation today. Do you know why? I'm sure you do, but I'll inform you anyway. In my electorate, in our region, we have delivered $173 million for a regional deal, including $10 million for a conveyor at the Bundaberg port. That is 100 per cent funded by the Commonwealth, with a contribution from Sugar Terminals Limited to deliver that conveyor system. Minister Bailey has come out and said he has only been asked about it in the last month. That is ridiculous. It was announced in April 2019. There has been six months of work between governments and between officials. All they have to do is approve it. The Queensland Labor government owns the port. The Queensland Labor government needs to provide the approval. Minister Bailey is out there saying that he knew nothing about it until recently and that the reason for the delay, the reason they don't want to approve this very important piece of infrastructure, is the GST. Can you believe it is the GST which is stopping the building of a conveyor at the Bundaberg port from being approved by the Queensland Labor government, from being approved by Minister Bailey?
I find this completely nonsensical. The Leader of the Opposition has spent 10 minutes railing against the government, when his own side has a plan for banning barbecues and a Queensland Labor minister is stopping jobs in our electorate—stopping those jobs cold—at a time when they are desperately needed. Our money is in the bank. It is ready. We are ready to deliver. We are ready for this project to move forward. I congratulate the local member, David Batt, the member for Bundaberg, and the member for Burnett, Stephen Bennett. Today they've launched a petition calling for this project to be approved. I would encourage not only all those people in my electorate but all Australians looking for jobs in regional Australia to get onto that petition and sign it.
We take responsibility in these challenging times for leading the nation forward, for delivering on our economy and for providing future growth and opportunities. We continue to provide support for the Australian people at one of their most difficult periods of time. Mr Deputy Speaker, without reflecting on you, I'm sure that you are old enough to recall the last recession—1990-91. I remember it. I was an apprentice. I was on the tools. It was a very, very tough period of time for the Australian nation. It was the recession that we allegedly had to have. Well, currently we are in a difficult position because of an outbreak of a virus around the world which is impacting all international economies, and of course it impacts Australia's trade. But the resources sector continues to be a shining light. It continues to deliver to its customers. It continues to ensure those supply chains are maintained.
In terms of support in Australia, we've provided and committed $314 billion in assistance to Australians. That is a record level. If we hadn't made those commitments, an additional 700,000 Australians would be out of work. Through the JobKeeper program, we're supporting some 3½ million Australians and some 900,000 businesses in our electorates and in the electorates of those opposite. We are providing opportunities to ensure that apprentices and trainees are able to stay connected to those businesses that employ them, through a 50 per cent wage subsidy, to the value of $2.8 billion. As a former apprentice, I recall that it was fairly tough because you were paid not a great amount of money—in fact, I recall my take-home pay was under $60 a week as a first year. I know times have changed and that's improved substantially, but the fact that the Commonwealth is willing to support 50 per cent of apprentices' wages is no small thing. It will make a difference into the future for those individuals and allow them to complete their training and go on to be incredibly productive members not only of our society but of industry and to continue to drive our economy, to provide opportunities into the future.
So we are helping businesses through the pandemic. We're helping individuals and households. In fact, we've provided further support for our seniors and pensioners in support payments of $750 in tough times, and I know that that money has been very much appreciated. A $1 billion relief and recovery fund has been set up to support the regions, which is allocated, including money towards air freight. That will make a difference, because it's about bottoms on seats. The best thing we can do for businesses is to get customers back through their doors, to provide further opportunities for them.
We've temporarily waived the environmental management charge for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—that is $8.1 million. In my local area—and our local area, Mr Deputy Speaker—the Lady Elliot Island resort is very appreciative of the fact that those fees have been waived. It has meant that they are able to ensure that they are ready to go when tourists return to those areas, particularly international tourism. There is $10.1 million in support for national parks in the Northern Territory; and $165 million provided for domestic aviation network guarantees. We have continued over a long period of time to support the Australian people in their time of need.
In my electorate of Hinkler, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, we have over 1,400 businesses that produce some of the best agricultural produce not only in this country but around the world. It is critical that we continue to have not only confidence in that industry but confidence for those farmers and businesses that are making investment decisions right now. What does that mean in a practical sense? It means quite simply that they're deciding whether to plant or not. They're deciding whether to invest their hard-earned and take a risk as to whether they can actually get that crop off in the future. To do that, they need labour, seasonal labour, and they need it available at the time that the crop is ready to pick. This has been a very, very challenging period of time not only for those businesses but right across the country. We have to ensure that the hundreds of millions of dollars that pour out of my electorate in agricultural product can be delivered.
The hardworking men and women of the resources sector will continue to do what they've done over recent weeks and months—that is, manage the pandemic. They have managed it incredibly well in terms of their local processes and procedures. They're ensuring the health of their employees and, most importantly, they're ensuring the lights stay on in this country. They've made significant commitments–and I take the point from the Leader of the Opposition earlier: it affects the individuals in this parliament as well in terms of isolation periods and being away from families. But there are members working in the resources sector who for months have not been home and have not seen their families, and it has been incredibly difficult for them. So I want to thank them all again, publicly, for the work that they are doing. They continue to help drive the Australian economy. They continue to help ensure that there are jobs into the future, and, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I'm sure you'd agree, they will continue to do that because it's necessary.
[by video link] In the rhythm of parliamentary life, it really does feel remarkable to be making a speech in the parliament in this way, beaming in by video link, as colleagues have been doing over the last two weeks. It's an amazing part of an extraordinary period through which we are living. But the COVID-19 crisis has not just been characterised by novelties; it's been in so many ways characterised by a sense of fear, and that's been felt in no greater way than in the aged-care sector.
We've been focusing on aged care over the last couple of weeks in the hope that what we would hear from the government is a plan about how to fix the problems that are so endemic throughout the sector. But when you listen to what the government's been talking about in response over the last couple of weeks, you hear a group of people who are doing everything they can to try and avoid responsibility. They'll talk about what's happening overseas and how it's much worse there. They'll talk about the fact that, yes, they're responsible for regulating the sector but maybe they're not so responsible for its operation. They'll talk about the fact that, in Victoria, there's a whole lot of other stuff going on and so, in some ways, they can't be held responsible for what's going on in Victoria—it kind of doesn't count.
Indeed, we heard a contribution from a Victorian government senator who made the point that there are thousands of people who die in aged care every year, and so, in a sense, another 450 is almost just business as usual! That was an extraordinary point to make. It's obviously heartless. It's obviously repugnant. But it's also so tone-deaf, because it fails to understand that, in aged-care facilities, there is a deep sense of anxiety about the possibility of a COVID test coming back positive, and, for those aged-care facilities where it has come back positive, there is a white-knuckled fear about how they're going to stop this virus from spreading throughout their facility.
Aged care is a sector in which remarkable people work, looking after our loved ones—working, actually, for not a lot of pay, and doing so in such a brave way where they're exposing themselves to danger. It's not their issue, but what they're faced with is what they're not given to work with. In a sense, the faults are systemic. You have a system which is dramatically underfunded, where the Prime Minister himself, as Treasurer, cut billions of dollars out of the sector, forcing people to work across multiple facilities. We've got a sector where there's not enough PPE available—and the government is explicitly responsible for infection control. These issues go to the ability of the sector to manage infection control, and the infection got in there. Manifestly, that is the government's responsibility.
But this failure to take responsibility was seen yesterday as well, when we had the worst figure in relation to the contraction of our economy in almost a century. This is a dramatic event—one where we see a million people who are unemployed. The expectation is that another 400,000 are going to join that number by the end of the year. Small businesses are deferring $56 billion worth of payments. But, when the Treasurer got up to talk about it, the first thing he did was to point overseas. He pointed directly to the northern hemisphere. He wasn't trying to take any sense of responsibility for what has gone wrong here. Yet the fact of the matter is that, before COVID even struck, you had a whole lot that was wrong with an economy which was already anaemic, with record slow wage growth. We'd had, already, GDP per capita contraction of two quarters consecutively in the last couple of years, which means that, but for immigration, we were already in recession. We'd seen household debt at record levels. The truth of the matter is that the seeds of the Morrison recession were sown well and truly before COVID struck. But what we don't get from this government is any sense of taking responsibility for this at all.
Young people in this country—people who are feeling like, at a really difficult moment in their lives, they've lost an entire year—are looking for hope, but a precondition of that hope is that we have a government which takes responsibility, because that's the basis upon which a plan for the future can be developed and one which so clearly has not been developed by this government. But, without that plan and without taking that responsibility, what we've got in this country is fear. We have a nation where there is uncertainty and where there is fear. We have a nation where there is also no leadership from the Morrison government. (Time expired)
Well, of course, yesterday it was terrible—though probably not surprising—to see confirmation that we are now technically in a recession in this country, with the ABS June quarterly GDP figures showing a seven per cent drop in our GDP—the most significant quarterly drop since the Second World War. Unfortunately, in March—though it was much smaller—we also had a reduction. Thus now we've had two quarters of a reduction in our GDP, which meets the definition of a recession.
There are two components to that figure announced yesterday: one we do know and one we don't know. What we do know is that, compared to so many other economies around the world, particularly nations comparable to Australia, comparatively that is the smallest reduction in GDP, when you compare it to nations in Europe and other nations like the United States et cetera. Seven per cent is nothing to be proud of, but it could have been so much worse. That's the second point about that figure: we'll never know how bad and how significant the reduction in GDP for the June quarter and the March quarter, and future quarters, could have been if we hadn't taken the action that we took—that the Prime Minister and the cabinet took—to ensure that we limited the economic impact of this coronavirus pandemic on our nation.
There are three components to what could have happened. One, of course, did happen, which is that we did, for health reasons, need to make decisions to curtail the normal activity of life in this country and request and require certain businesses to not continue to operate so that we could limit the transmission of the disease in those early stages. That was obviously an enormously stressful and difficult proposition for so many businesses who were confronted with the proposition of whether they would have a livelihood anymore and how long they might have to try and survive, if they could survive—for days or weeks, let alone months. That was something the government needed to confront.
As to the second and third elements of that, had we not undertaken the support that we did, particularly for those businesses that had an impact through the restrictions that we put in place, what might those businesses have had to do? Were they going to have to lay off significant numbers of their employees? They simply would not have been able to meet their wages bill. If that happened, would employees who were no longer employed suddenly dramatically contract the consumption that they would normally undertake in our economy? So, quite rightly, we as a government announced a series of measures—the cornerstone of which was of course the JobKeeper program—that put us in a position to say to businesses: 'We don't want you to have to make any difficult or tough decisions about reducing your employee count. We don't want you to have to make a decision, when there is so much uncertainty before us, about reducing employees. Maybe you can't afford to keep them on right now ,or you think you won't be able to keep them on much longer, and you want to make that difficult decision as early as possible to reserve your cash flow and your cash reserves.' The JobKeeper program will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest economic responses to a crisis that could not have been predicted. The crisis was not the fault of anyone in this country—in particular, our government. It was thrust upon us, out of nowhere, and it required a very dramatic response and a very significant response. That is exactly what our government delivered, and the success of that cannot be understated.
We've obviously announced a whole range of other economic programs to respond to the challenges of this. But in a week like this, where we have tragically had confirmation of a significant reduction in the size of our economic pie, our GDP, what's very important to remember is that it could been so much worse if we hadn't made the decisions that we made very early on, and very significantly, to make sure the health challenges of this pandemic didn't turn into a dramatic economic challenge because so many businesses were left alone with no support from their government to help them through. We certainly have done that. There is more to be done, and we will continue to do more, and a lot of the programs we have announced are going to continue for a long time into the future. I'm proud to be part of a government that has risen to the dual challenges of addressing an unforeseen and frightening health pandemic and ensured that we are providing support so that our economy can recover on the other side of this challenge.
[by video link] The Leader of the Opposition said a few weeks ago that COVID is like an X-ray: it highlights and it lays bare the situation that we face across our country. Well, there is one matter that COVID has made completely transparent, and that is the type of leader who today runs our country. It doesn't really need to be said that the Prime Minister exercises more power across our nation than any other single person. Yet there is a really clear pattern emerging here: when Australia is in crisis, when there are failures and when there are difficulties, it is always someone else's fault. That is not leadership. It is not leadership to take credit for good news but to run from bad news. But, during COVID so far, that's what we've learnt about the leadership of the Prime Minister. I want to talk a little bit about some of the examples of where we've seen that during COVID. But, actually, this has been quite a consistent theme that I have observed over the two years during which the Prime Minister has been in this chair.
You will remember, Deputy Speaker, the horrible bushfires that ravaged large parts of our country during December-January. Twenty per cent of our country was on fire. A billion animals died over that summer. And what did we see this Prime Minister, the most powerful man in the country, doing? Well, he was missing in action for quite a long time, and then he popped up on radio, and his response to this was, 'I don't hold the hose; I don't run the control centre.' It was petulant and, frankly, I found it a bit pathetic that the person who has more power than anyone else in our country would essentially dismiss any responsibility at what was one of our country's greatest hours of need.
Robodebt is another really good example. This has been a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of Australians where the Australian government decided that it would write aggressive, nasty legalese letters to some of the most vulnerable people around our country demanding that they repay a debt to Centrelink. More than 400 young people died soon after receiving their letter under robodebt. This scheme was morally wrong, and we found out later that it was illegal. This has Scott Morrison's fingerprints all over it, because the Prime Minister created this scheme while he was in the Treasury office and he oversaw this scheme continuously while he was Prime Minister. But what did we see when we saw that the scheme was going wrong? We got a really mealy-mouthed apology from the Prime Minister—one I, frankly, would not accept from one of my own children—and we've still had no proper inquiry into what went wrong in that program, one of the biggest public policy disasters I've observed in the time that I've been in this parliament.
Another really good example is sports rorts. This was a genuine outrage where we saw a government minister take the taxpayer dollars that are paid by hardworking Australians and use them in a way that was highly political to try to win marginal seats in an election. It was completely wrong. We know, with absolutely completely black-and-white evidence, that the Prime Minister's office was up to its neck in this, because we know there were emails going back and forth debating which different groups who perhaps were not eligible for the funding would be getting funding through the program. And what happened at the end? The Prime Minister sent a minister out to take the hit for that and washed his hands of the whole affair. He effectively just said, 'The minister is responsible; I had nothing to do with it,' when we know that that was not the truth.
I want to talk a bit about aged care, because this is probably the most profoundly disappointing, disparaging and awful point of the Prime Minister not taking responsibility for things he is clearly in control of. There is no question that aged care is a federal responsibility. What has happened to older Australians living in aged care under COVID has been utterly disgraceful. From what we can see, even though, as soon as Newmarch House occurred, it was obvious that we were going to have outbreaks in aged care, basically the Prime Minister stood back and did very little to prepare the sector for this. We've got almost 500 deaths now in aged care around the country, and what does the Prime Minister do? He just says that basically this is a lack of investment over many, many years. Well, this Prime Minister has been part of a government for seven years. You do not get to say that after seven years when you have had the power to fix these problems.
There are many other examples. We talked a little bit before about the Ruby Princess. But I just want to leave the House with one question. I really wonder, when I see these examples and when I look at the Prime Minister: if you don't want to be responsible, why did you seek this role? You have the power to affect things as they change around our country, and today you're washing your hands whenever anything goes wrong. It's not leadership and it's not good enough. (Time expired)
I stand in strong opposition to this matter of public importance. It is nothing more than a distraction from the current challenges facing Australians due to the pandemic. From the outset, the coalition government worked decisively to support all Australians through the coronavirus crisis. In fact, the Prime Minister declared the coronavirus a pandemic on 21 January, two weeks before the World Health Organization acted to do the same. That's what I call leadership. We have done everything possible to provide safety to people's lives and livelihoods in an unprecedented situation. The Morrison government knew that this global health crisis would instigate an economic crisis, and we took decisive action to cushion the blow and protect Australians by providing an unprecedented level of economic support totalling $314 billion. That economic support is making sure that everyday Australians survive one of the worst recessions in 30 years.
This week the Morrison government extended the temporary JobKeeper program, which has allowed businesses and not-for-profits to keep more Australians in jobs and connected to their employees. I'll repeat that: we've extended the JobKeeper program. The program has been extended until 28 March 2021, targeting support to businesses and not-for-profits who continue to be impacted significantly by the coronavirus pandemic. JobKeeper was designed to be temporary, targeted and scaled back over time. This will mean payments are gradually reduced so that the program is sustainable in the long term.
In my electorate of Reid, the Children's Tumour Foundation in Five Dock has five people accessing JobKeeper. This is a not-for-profit organisation that supports children and families living with neurofibromatosis. Ruth said, 'It's a complete lifeline for us; it's been able to keep us going in these very turbulent times when we have more people being impacted and needing our services than ever before.' Over in Abbotsford, Con, the owner of Watergrill Restaurant, said: 'The Morrison government's JobKeeper scheme is world-class and has undeniably allowed us to stay connected to our teams and to navigate through these most onerous times. It is greatly appreciated and an amazing economic stimulus.' It has meant that Con could keep on about 25 staff members. That means those 25 people can remain connected to their employer at a time of great uncertainty. It's allowing businesses to remain open and keeping people in jobs. The Watergrill Restaurant in Abbotsford is just one example amongst thousands in Reid—about 8,800 organisations in fact—which are receiving JobKeeper. This program has provided cash flow support to more than 900,000 businesses and income support to around 3.5 million workers to date.
As a psychologist, what I've known from the start of this crisis is the impact that coronavirus will have on people's mental health. This is a time of heightened anxiety and stress; a time of isolation and disruption to routine. It has undeniably and understandably affected the mental health of all Australians. Since March 2020, the government has announced a number of emergency response measures to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australians through the COVID-19 pandemic. We introduced the $669 million telehealth initiative so that people could access mental health care in a flexible and COVID-safe way. This step was taken in addition to the significant funding boost to mental health services across Australia during the coronavirus pandemic. Forty-eight million dollars has been dedicated to the pandemic mental health response plan so that we can provide a targeted response, and a further $74 million has been dedicated to bolstering existing services, including beyondblue, Lifeline, the Kids Helpline and headspace.
The Morrison government's COVID support has put everyday Australians front and centre. We are listening to what they need and we are acting. The Morrison government will continue to listen to the needs of the Australian people and will work to support them through an unprecedented crisis in Australia's history.
This government has failed to provide a comprehensive plan for jobs. At the same time as we have one million Australians unemployed, the government tells us that there will be another 400,000 Australians unemployed by Christmas. We have 345,000 young people unemployed and no plan for jobs from this government.
We have 323,000 Western Australians relying on JobKeeper and 216,000 people in aged care feeling vulnerable and left behind by this government and the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians. There are 195,000 early childhood workers in Australia, with thousands and thousands of them booted off JobKeeper before anyone else. We have 103,000 people in Australia who are waiting for home-care packages, and this government won't do anything about them. There are 23,000 Australians stranded overseas. In my electorate of Perth, there are 10,119 people on JobSeeker. What's this government doing? They're not developing a plan for jobs. Minister Colbeck, after the last two weeks, is still Minister Colbeck. The member for Hughes—I'm honoured that he is here—is still supported by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health. I'll say that again: the member for Hughes is supported by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health. The Deputy Prime Minister has survived another fortnight of undermining by his own side and absolute chaos in the National Party.
When you think about where we started this parliamentary year, talking about sports rorts—and I'll have something to say about sports rorts in my electorate in a moment—at least Bridget McKenzie had the decency to resign. Senator McKenzie acted appropriately. Senator Colbeck should go and have a very long, detailed chat to her about what you do when you comprehensively fail in your portfolio and fail to do your job as a minister of the Commonwealth.
While I'm talking about Senator McKenzie and sports rorts, I note that Senator Dean Smith, a Western Australian who 100 per cent supports Clive Palmer's and Scott Morrison's efforts to tear down the WA hard border, has been running around claiming credit for work that the City of Bayswater, in fact, did. Senator Smith's endorsement letter wasn't enough to get funding for the Noranda Netball Association—which was one of the highest rated applications for sports funding—because they were affected by the sports rorts scandal; he is now claiming that he funded it, when, in fact, it was the City of Bayswater. It's stealing other people's homework, stealing credit for the great work of people like Mayor Dan Bull and the council at the City of Bayswater. I wanted to get that on the record because I think it is a disgraceful and dishonest activity that Senator Smith is currently engaging in.
We talk about having no plan for jobs. Let's talk about some of the jobs that the government have been happy to see walk out the door on their watch. We understand there could be up to 20,000 people lose their jobs in our universities because this government refused to provide JobKeeper to them. I'm thinking of businesses in my electorate, like Matrix Productions in Bayswater. Darryl Edwards worked in the events industry for decades. He is worried about the wind back of JobKeeper, because we still see so many businesses in the events industry completely ignored by this government. As I said before, 86 childcare centres in my electorate had JobKeeper ripped away from them in some sort of sick social experiment. The government said, 'Oh, we'll take JobKeeper off some of the hardest working, lowest paid workers in Australia and see what happens, and then we'll see what we do with the rest of Australia.' We're about to find out what happens to the rest of Australia, when they wind back JobKeeper later this month.
Again, for my electorate of Perth, there's no Perth City Deal. Prime Minister Turnbull—that's how long we've been waiting for the Perth City Deal—promised that back in 2017, when he was Prime Minister. He said it was going to be done in about 12 months. We're still waiting. Pretty much every other state in the country has a city deal, but not Western Australia. This government turns its back on Western Australians.
I've got proof of that again when it comes to the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. Under this deposit scheme there are 10,000 loans. How many of them are in regional Western Australia? I can count them—16; just 16 loans out of 10,000. That's how you treat Western Australia. It is disgraceful. (Time expired)
I welcome the opportunity to speak. I've only been in this place for a mere 15 months, but, during that time, my electorate's seen not one but four severe challenges. It's been a remarkable time in our country since 18 May. But it's fair to say that this is a strong coalition government, and it has managed to chart a very steady course through these disasters.
My area of Cowper, particularly the Macleay and Nambucca regions, was gripped by a long-term drought from about 2016 to 2020. We then had devastating bushfires and heavy smoke, which took its toll, from August 2019 to February 2020. Australia proved itself to be, as the poem says, a land 'of droughts and flooding rains', as we saw isolated severe storms and flash flooding in Port Macquarie on 2 February and in Coffs Harbour and the hinterland on 11 February. And then, of course, the one-in-100-year global health pandemic started in February.
Whilst I wish none of this had occurred, I've seen it bring out the best in my community. Cowper residents dug deep for their farmers by buying drought-relief bales, they banded together to fight bushfires and now they've rallied to adhere to social-distancing restrictions. Indeed, we haven't seen a case of community transmission in Cowper for about four months.
I'm proud to be a member of this good Liberal-National government because we have taken responsibility for these significant challenges confronting the Australian people. We have introduced an unprecedented level of temporary support to help the residents and businesses most in need in my electorate. In terms of bushfire assistance, there were the disaster recovery payments of $1,000 for individuals and $400 for children. I know that a total of $29 million had been given out to approximately 25,000 applicants as at June this year. Our government, out of compassion, doubled those disaster recovery payments, from $400 to $800, which was an additional $34 million. For primary producers who had lost stock, fences, sheds, machinery and crops, more than $10 million has been handed out, in grants of up to $75,000, to about 175 producers. I know that producers and businesses have benefited greatly from the government's concessional loans. In New South Wales alone, the grants have totalled over $15 million to June this year.
For the drought affected farmers in the Kempsey local government area, Minister Littleproud enabled their access to the $57 million extension of the Drought Communities Program in January this year. Through the Drought Community Support Initiative administered by St Vincent de Paul, a total of 266 farmers, farm workers and rural supply businesses have been assisted. The Drought Community Support Initiative, with its $3,000 grants, is still open for applications—and I encourage farmers, farm workers and suppliers not to self-assess but to give Vinnies a call to see if they're eligible.
And, of course, there's the assistance our coalition government has provided throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Our government heeded the advice of the Chief Medical Officer early and declared a pandemic. Because of the swift, decisive action of the Prime Minister and health minister, our country saw far fewer deaths from coronavirus than many of our overseas allies.
So much has been said in this House over the past two weeks about the historic wage-subsidy scheme JobKeeper. I won't go into any detail other than to say I know that there are 5,300 very grateful businesses, organisations and sole traders receiving it in Cowper. Businesses have also welcomed the $1.5 billion expansion of the apprentice and trainee wage subsidy scheme, as it keeps our young people in training, and in a job in businesses with up to 199 employees now. Our government is also supporting construction jobs and businesses across the Mid North Coast by investing $44.1 million in local shovel-ready infrastructure projects and road safety upgrades.
Our coalition government has worked hard to provide timely economic, social and health support through not one but three major natural disasters, and one global pandemic during my time as a parliamentarian. I condemn this MPI before the House today.
The government's failure to take responsibility is hurting the Australian people: the worst recession in our lifetime, with an economy that was already in the pits late last year; one million Australians that don't have a job, 400,000 Australians likely to join them by Christmas, thousands more with hours cut and thousands of businesses teetering on the edge; an aged-care sector in desperate need of action and support now, not in three months time, not in six months time; a Public Service cut by 18,000 jobs, with expertise hollowed out; a superannuation system being eroded by forcing Australians to raid their retirement incomes; a university sector facing billions of dollars in lost revenue yet the government choosing this time to make it harder for younger people to go to university; a research sector facing thousands of job losses, with its funding sources drying up; an environment facing the challenges of climate change, poor regulation and poor protection; a school system slipping down the global ratings, while we lose thousands of apprentices out of our VET system; a nation deeply in need of reconciliation with our First Peoples. This is a time when the government should be prepared to stand up to the challenges we face rather than trying to shirk them.
So just how are we going to navigate these challenges? When are we going to see something meaningful from this Liberal-National government? What we are seeing is plenty of deflection—willing to compare us to other countries rather than owning our own responsibilities. We're seeing lots of reheating and recycling of initiatives of the government that were in place before the pandemic arrived to see if they can fool people with smoke and mirrors. We're seeing a fair bit of self-praise for a wage subsidy that this government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to; that was an idea from the Labor movement, not those opposite. Of course, when it suits, we are seeing plenty of blame-shifting to states and territories and to Labor in government and opposition—no responsibility, just rhetoric; just the latest talking points; millions unemployed, and still crickets.
Instead of driving productivity and building our knowledge capital through increased investment in higher education, backing our local scientists and building a world's best R&D sector, we see a job-ready package that will actually cut funding to our universities and make it harder to get a degree and a job. Instead of action in our aged-care sector, looking after our loved ones and supporting the staff who work so hard, we see over $1 billion cut from the system, an absence of proper regulation and oversight, a minister clearly out of his depth and a government buck-passing to states and territories. Instead of building the capacity of our Public Service through removing ideological staffing caps and limiting the contracting of labour hire, we see thousands of jobs lost, the outsourcing of day-to-day Public Service tasks, an explosion in consultancies and attacks on the integrity of public servants.
Critically, instead of a jobs plan to meet the challenges of the deepest recession of our lifetime, when Australians need support, we see them cutting back JobKeeper, cutting back JobSeeker and cutting back super, about to welsh on an election promise, and attempting to cut back pay and conditions for those who can least afford it.
This is a government that's big on sizzle but short on sausage. I tell you, this is a government you do not want at your barbecue. They won't bring the meat or salad. They won't hold the tongs. They won't do the dishes. If they burn the sausages, it will be someone else's fault. If they cook the steaks badly, they will still be self-congratulatory; it'll be 'well done, Angus'! They'll probably have a beer. Unfortunately, it'll probably be your beer.
Whatever the questions raised by the current circumstances, Richard Colbeck cannot be the answer to any of them. Whenever anyone says they're 'doing a Colbeck', we know that means they're walking out on their responsibilities. Earlier today in the Federation Chamber, when I was talking about meeting with aged-care workers and about the 3.7 million Australians struggling with pain management during the necessary restrictions due to the pandemic, what did members of the government do? They walked out. They did a Colbeck. They walked out on our aged-care workforce. They walked out on those Australians struggling with serious and persistent pain. It's time for this government to stop doing a Colbeck and take responsibility for their work.
I rise with pride that this government has actually been extremely accountable for the actions that we have taken. In fact, I believe that everybody in this House can feel proud of what they are doing in their own local constituency. I know that because I know so many members on the other side of this House are reaching out to ministers, to people in our government, to seek assistance for members of their electorates. That's because in this country we have a very fine democracy, and that democracy means we have accountability and we deliver for the people of Australia.
I don't think anyone could really question that the Morrison government has delivered an incredible outcome with regard to our health response to the COVID pandemic. If you look at the actual facts, when you talk about responsibility and being accountable, let's look at the deaths from COVID. The death rate per 100,000 in Australia is 1.2. What is the death rate in Canada? It is a similar sized country, it is a similar public-private balanced country. It is not 1.2 per 100,000, it is 23.8 per 100,000. What about the UK? It is 69 per 100,000. Ours is just one. That is because Australia has had a firm pair of capable hands, a strong executive and a wonderful government that has delivered on a health outcome that has dodged an incredible bullet, which is the COVID pandemic. There are some people who might say that that was just a matter of luck. The government was just sitting on its hands and watching this pandemic unfold in front of its very eyes. But, in fact, I'm really sorry to tell the members on the other side that actions speak louder than words.
Let's start with what we have done. We closed our international borders on 1 February. We then swiftly implemented social distancing and engaged in rapid testing. We have actually supplied more than 5.5 million tests to the states and territories to deliver. We built the COVIDSafe app, which is being used very well in New South Wales. In fact, it has had a higher uptake than in every other country that has had a similar program—seven million Australians. This is the first time something like this has ever been piloted. It works because the way that you do manual tracking is to identify who it is that you've been in contact with. The technology of the COVIDSafe app allows your phone to know, in a de-identified way, when you have been in contact with someone else. It is the first time it's been piloted here in Australia, and seven million Australians have taken it up.
We've also rapidly increased our intensive care capacity from 2,200 beds to 7,500 beds. So a lot of work has been going on, including improved communication to ensure that our culturally and linguistically diverse communities are getting the message about how to act safely in a COVID pandemic.
We have also invested incredibly in telehealth, which has been very important to ensuring that our frontline workers are kept safer and that people in the community can get access to health care without having to go to see their doctor in person. That is saving lives, as we speak.
Lastly, from the health perspective, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars—more than $300 million—into vaccine development. There are three current trials here in Australia and we are also in negotiations with trials overseas. That's very important, because what the vaccine offers is hope to the Australian people.
But in my fair state of Victoria, unfortunately, we can see evidence where delivery of services has not occurred to the standard that we require here in Australia—the quarantining fiasco, the track and trace fiasco and, unfortunately, we have that very serious community transmission outbreak. But the federal government isn't about laying blame; it's about doing something to serve the people of Victoria and that includes a significant number of Victorian targeted outcomes.
But she hadn't moved anything. I checked. Nothing had been moved. The MPI was still before the House. The MPI is no longer before the House, because of time. There's no question before the House, and I'm standing to move a suspension of the standing orders.
We were still in the MPI. The minister sought the call. The minister did not move anything, but the minister did ask—and this is my best recollection of a quotation, in case it's wrong—that the business of the day be brought on. I then stood up and asked whether the MPI was still before the House or whether there was a motion now before the House. I was told that there was no motion before the House because no motion had been moved. While this was happening, the MPI ran out of time. So I'm not sure now whether we're still in the MPI or whether we're not. If we're not, because of the effluxion of time, I'm seeking the call.
Certainly, whatever delays the MPI during that one hour, the clock keeps going. I've experienced the perils of being the last speaker on the MPI and had to condense my five minute speech to about five seconds, on one occasion. The MPI began at 3.18 and 30 seconds, so the time allotted for the MPI has now expired.
I think what's happened is that the minister has asked, as I saw, but not moved, and while this debate has been going on the time for the MPI has concluded. Even if the minister now wanted to move that motion, she couldn't, because we're passed the MPI.