Tuesday, 20 October 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2020-2021, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Second Reading
What a time in the history of this proud nation that we are living through and what a budget the most recent budget was. These are quite exceptional times, and in exceptional times exceptional things have to be done. The hallmark of this budget is that it is a budget for the time. The world has been thrown into a recession as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you like it or not, we have done very well compared to the rest of the world. We came into this budget and this pandemic in a good fiscal situation and we have acted in a manner that will support the economy, which is currently in the throes of travelling out of the pandemic induced recession. First of all, we softened the blow and now we are thinking all about recovery.
We have brought forward the personal tax cuts that were promised for the forward years. We have brought them forward so that now over 11 million taxpayers in Australia will be better off by paying less tax and keeping more of what they earn. In my electorate of Lyne that amounts to 51,500 taxpayers. The maximum benefit they will get will be $2,745 this financial year. There is also support for 15,900 businesses in the Lyne electorate, with the instant asset write-off ramped up so that any eligible capital expenditure can be written off in this financial year. It will allow businesses to purchase equipment to grow their industrial or business capacity, it will improve their cash flow, and it will hopefully trigger a lot more economic output and activity. There is also JobKeeper, JobSeeker and all those other COVID-related responses that are being supported by this budget. Around 9,905 individuals received the coronavirus supplement. Some 4,200 small and medium businesses have accessed the improving cash flow initiative, which was the first cash adjustment made early in the pandemic response. In the Lyne electorate, 30,576 age pensioners received $750 cash payments in April and July, and this budget is offering them another $250 cash payment in December and a further $250 cash stimulus in March next year. Because Lyne has such an ageing demographic, we have many carers—3,312 carers. As I mentioned, there are 30,576 pensioners, and we have a large cohort of veterans as well, so it's no surprise that we have so many carers. They have received extra support payments of $750.
As I mentioned, there are so many things in this budget that are designed to get our economy back on its feet and up and running. We have kept control of the health situation, which means that, even though our economy has gone into recession, we're so much better off in a financial sense than other nations who haven't controlled the pandemic as well as Australia has. One of the most tangible and immediate stimulus packages in the infrastructure space is the local roads and community infrastructure spending that was announced. We brought forward $500 million before the budget, and another billion dollars has gone into that. For people listening in my electorate, that means that Dungog council is getting and extra $1.2 million that they would not have budgeted for a year ago; MidCoast—$8.1 million; Maitland council—$3.7 million extra this year; Port Stephens—$3.2 million extra this year; and Port Macquarie-Hastings Council—$5.25 million. That's on top of financial assistance grants: Dungog—$2.7 million; MidCoast Council—$18.25 million; Maitland—$7.1 million; Port Stephens—$6.75 million; and Port Macquarie-Hastings Council—$9½ million. That is very tangible and very immediate support. The initiatives that have been announced are really coming home. Just last week I was in Wingham. They're bringing forward a whole revitalisation of the Wingham CBD. It is going to be a game-changer for Wingham.
As I mentioned, we've got a large cohort of elderly in the Lyne electorate, and aged care is a huge part of our economy. When I first entered parliament representing the Lyne electorate, spending in the Lyne electorate was $90 million per year. Due to incremental increases in the intervening years and in this budget, it's now up to $180 million per year. We are all familiar with the aged-care crisis, but there is good news. The latest figures show that the home-care shortage has finally peaked and that the number of people waiting for home-care packages has dropped. Aged-care funding overall has similarly grown from $13 billion in 2013 up to $24 billion. That's a massive increase in such a short time.
You probably recall, Mr Deputy Speaker Wilson, that before the budget there was an announcement released about another 6,000 homecare packages. Well, this budget brings on another 23,000 packages. The cost of this is quite exceptional—$1.9 billion. It is making a huge difference. The figures in the homecare national prioritisation system reveal that there has been a 20 per cent decrease year on year to March 2020, and that's before these extra homecare places are released.
Of course, there are all the COVID support measures for mental health and for general health in the budget, including in the aged-care space. The COVID-19 aged-care response now totals $1.6 billion. Whether it is increased cash payments for staffing costs or COVID PPE, it covers all sorts of things. There is also extra funding for aged care and training in dementia support. Unfortunately, we have a very high incidence of dementia because of our demographic. We also get extra funds to help young people who have ended up in aged care. Where there has been nowhere to care for them, in a chronic sense, if they've had physical or brain injuries, they've often ended up in aged care. But in this budget there is a plan to move younger people out of aged care and into more appropriate settings.
As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I practised medicine for 33 years before I was given the honour of standing in this room and in this building. The general health budget funding is quite staggering, is quite exceptional. It's $467 billion over the forward estimates. That's $32 billion more. These figures are staggering, but the important thing is what they are delivering. They're not just delivering more money, they are delivering significant changes.
We have got the Medicare guarantee in place. Every year there is a requirement to find and fund new medicines, and there is a new initiative in this budget. There is an extra $700 million in the pharmaceutical budget to allow for this exponential growth in complex personalised medicine, biological drugs et cetera. Just to give you some examples of some of the news things being funded, there are new biological drugs for ovarian cancer, liver cancer, a rare eye disease—it's actually not that rare; about 500 people each year lose their vision because of a development of new vessels in the back of their eye, but this new treatment will give them hope. There is also stuff for small chronic lymphocytic lymphoma, and for a nasty variety of lung cancer there is a second line biological treatment. It is really exciting for people in the health space to be able to offer people with these unfortunate diagnoses chances of longer survival, better quality of life and, in some cases, a cure. We all know how many diabetics there are in the country. There is another new medicine, semaglutide, for diabetes.
We've put record funding into supporting public hospitals and into intergovernmental agreements. We are reforming private health insurance. A really notable improvement is that dependents can stay on the family insurance policy up to the age of 31. Hitherto, it was up to age 24. Once you struck that age, you had to fend for yourself. It is also great that people with a disability can stay under the health insurance provided by their parents. There are many people with major disabilities who do stay dependant on their parents, and this will give them another level of support.
Obviously the mental health problem around the country has been exacerbated by COVID and the isolation forced on people by lockdown. There is a massive $5.7 billion to be spent on mental health alone in this financial year. Of note is an expansion of the headspace network around the country. Currently there are 124 services, and that's growing to 153 by 2022. And, over the next four years, that's $630 million into the headspace network. That's really important because in Taree, in the centre of the Manning Valley, there was a commitment to deliver a headspace centre and the funding for that will come out of this appropriation.
I could go on just on all the other things in preventative health. There's a life-saving medical research initiative where there'll be regionally-funded research trials—that's $125 million. In rural medical and nursing and allied health training, there's another $50.3 million to start another university department of rural health. The list goes on. There's funding for vaccines. There's funding for more research. The Medical Research Future Fund is now delivering all the dividends that were promised when it was set up. We are also funding extra into the aged-care system for development and research. It is really staggering.
There are many more things that will benefit everyone in regional Australia, including in telecommunications. There's another extra round of funding for the Regional Connectivity Program. There was over $50 million put into this in the 2019-20 budget, and there's another $30.3 million. In the budget, for regionalisation and decentralisation there's $41 million of new funding to bring forward our decentralisation agenda—that's not necessarily public service or public government bodies decentralising but private decentralisation. And that's really become turbo charged because people have found with the COVID pandemic the wonders of living in regional Australia. People are buying into regional centres up and down the north coast, and over the Blue Mountains they're just going absolutely ballistic. It's like people have had the sleep taken from their eyes and they've realised how great regional Australia is.
We have got extra road funding all over the country, including for road safety. Unfortunately, a lot of the deaths and major injuries around road safety happen in regional Australia, so it's really great that we've got a special fund set aside to improve road safety around the nation. That's what you get when you have regional members fighting the good fight in this building to get a fair deal for regional Australia.
I could go on and on. There is so much in this budget. As I've said, exceptional times require exceptional responses, and there's no shortage of funding for all those other areas. We're familiar with the defence budget—that's massive. We've got a manufacturing recovery plan. We're supporting apprentices. We're getting extra training places in TAFE. We're subsidising over 100,000 apprentices because we know they are vulnerable in this situation. We're building our skills. There's a huge spend on education, health—you name it. But, when it comes to managing things, we've had the books balanced before, so we'll get there again, but it's going to be—
One of the things I was really disappointed about in this budget was that it didn't address an issue that has been a gaping wound in my electorate for many, many years, and that's a piece of Commonwealth owned property which is a former Red Cross hall at Greenslopes, right across the road from the Greenslopes Private Hospital. This is Commonwealth owned property. It's a hall. It's an asbestos risk. There are fences up and there is shade cloth around the fences. It's been like this for years, and I've been lobbying the government over that entire time to get it fixed. There are signs up saying, 'Asbestos' and, 'Brittle roof'. It's a really dangerous thing and it ought to have been fixed years ago.
On top of the asbestos risk, the other problem with this hall is of course that it's just a waste. This is a piece of Commonwealth property that could be a really great community facility. It could be being used to assist the veterans community. Of course, the Gallipoli foundation across the road at Greenslopes Private will be well-known to many people in this building. This is a precinct where you could have some really good services for veterans. Legacy is interested in negotiating with the government for the use of the hall, so I call on the government to actually take the step of dealing with this. It needs to be remediated and then it needs to be made available for community use, and I'm sure there'll be no shortage of community organisations interested in using it. But, for the local residents and for the hospital and for all of us who are in and around Greenslopes, I do expect this to be fixed. It has been going on literally for years. I've written many letters about it to a succession of Commonwealth government ministers while I've been a member of parliament, and there's still no action. This needs to be fixed.
The other issue that I was disappointed—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17:50 to 17:59
Another issue I've been really concerned about is the absence of any support in the budget for the Cavendish Road level crossing. The Lytton Road level crossing was funded by the federal government last year and there is some funding in this year's budget for the Beams Road level crossing, but still nothing for the Cavendish Road level crossing. I certainly don't begrudge the Lytton Road funding from last year—there was a terrible fatality at the Lytton Road level crossing; I know the member for Bonner was very upset and devastated by that, and of course he advocated for that funding. But, similarly, the Cavendish Road level crossing is something that is crying out for fixing up. It shouldn't ever take a fatality for funding for that particular level crossing to be addressed. This is something that people have been talking to me about for the entire time that I've been a member of the federal parliament—and before—and it's something that really needs to be resolved.
Obviously the most salient issue on the minds of my constituents right now is the COVID pandemic and the consequent issues that people are facing when it comes to their health. Of course, the twin issue is the current recession that we're facing at the moment as a nation. One of the really key issues for my constituents, when they look at this budget, is thinking about whether or not the decisions taken by the Morrison government in this budget are going to potentially make the recession longer and deeper than it otherwise would have been. What do I mean by that? Of course, I'm talking about decisions that might lead to support being withdrawn from the economy too early. We would all be aware in this place that if support is withdrawn too early that can lead to a deeper and longer recession.
It's expected that more than 27,000 workers in my local area could be worse off and more than $24 million could be taken out of the local economy because of the cuts to JobKeeper. As you would know, Deputy Speaker Rick Wilson, withdrawal of that sort of support just makes no sense if there's no comprehensive jobs plan to replace it; that's certainly been the case with this budget. In addition, we're very concerned that, under the Prime Minister's changes, Australians on the minimum wage—that includes people in my electorate—could also lose up to $300 a week from their pay packets, even if their employer has recovered enough to come off JobKeeper. The wage subsidy is really important. It's crucial for keeping people connected to the labour market. Anything that can be done to make sure that people remain in work should be considered. On the new wage subsidy and the hiring credit that was announced: I am disappointed that almost one million Australians who are unemployed are excluded from the eligibility for that new hiring credit as well. That is, I think, very disappointing for Australians who are looking to the government for support during these very difficult times.
The coronavirus pandemic has seen the number of locals relying on unemployment payments in my electorate increase from 3,947 in December last year to more than 9,800 as at August this year; that's up by more than 5,800 people, or up by around 249 per cent. Across the country, the number of unemployed people looking for work has skyrocketed; it has doubled since the start of the pandemic. My community is being hit really hard by these things. We saw, when lockdown started, massive queues at the Centrelinks. I've given a shout-out to my Centrelink frontline workers before, but let me give them another shout-out and say: thank you, again, for all the work that you've done to look after people during these terrible times. Heading into Christmas, a lot of people are incredibly anxious about what the future might hold. So let me just say once more, to be clear: the Prime Minister must make sure that support is not withdrawn too quickly or too early. If he does allow support to be withdrawn too quickly or too early, that will deepen the recession and make it longer.
The other issue that's of key importance to my local area is child care. Our local suburbs' families have seen costs rise by 4.6 per cent in a year. In that time, CPI has gone up by only 2.2 per cent. With childcare subsidies indexed to CPI, you can see the trouble that we have. People are being left more and more out of pocket because of the increasing costs of child care. As you would know, Deputy Speaker Rick Wilson, nationally childcare fees have increased by 35.9 per cent since the Liberal-National government was first elected.
Last sitting week, in the budget reply, the Leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, announced Labor's working family childcare boost, which would bring immediate fee relief to 97 per cent of families. We will also task the ACCC to design a price regulation mechanism to shed some light on costs and fees and drive them down for good, and get the Productivity Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the sector with the aim of implementing a universal 90 per cent subsidy for all families—incredibly important. Child care, and the absence of accessible child care, is a key impediment to people returning to work after they've had kids. Of course, we also know that child care is incredibly important for early learning—early childhood development being crucial to people's outcomes throughout their life.
I also wanted to mention another issue that's of importance to my constituents, and that is aircraft noise. Throughout my time as a federal MP, I've been calling on the government, on BAC and on Airservices to mitigate noise for people living under the flightpath. Those people, I should say, include me. I've lived under the flightpath for a long time, and this is an issue that I, therefore, know very well. So many of our locals who live under the flightpath have been calling for a decrease to noise.
What's happened very recently is that the second runway has been opened—a really big milestone in the life of Brisbane Airport Corporation. The second runway was opened in July this year. So there's now a second cohort of people in my electorate who are affected by aircraft noise. They have been very concerned about that aircraft noise. In fact, the local state member, the Hon. Di Farmer MP, the local councillor, Councillor Kara Cook and I have been getting so many inquiries that we have started a petition to call on the Deputy Prime Minister, as the minister responsible, to explain in really clear language, in a consolidated way, what the options might be for decreasing that noise. More than 1,600 people have signed that petition already, and, of those, more than 1,000 are actually constituents of ours in our collective electorates. So I will be calling on the Deputy Prime Minister to assist with that. Of course, the area being what it is, there are actually quite a few people who live there who've got aviation expertise. I don't claim to have any aviation expertise, but pilots and people who've got air traffic control experience have all been coming forward with lots of suggestions and ideas. So we are compiling those for the Deputy Prime Minister to consider.
Another issue of crucial importance across my electorate is jobs and job creation. In his budget reply speech, the Leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, flagged a number of proposals that could assist with jobs, including through supporting construction, maintenance and manufacturing jobs. The government should actually adopt Labor's proposals. One of the early ones that they could adopt would be Anthony's suggestion in relation to funding repairs to social housing. Labor would invest $500 million to fast-track urgent repairs to social housing and call on the states to match the funding. Repairs could start almost immediately—pretty much right away. That would mean jobs for chippies, for sparkies and for plumbers. It would mean jobs for manufacturers of components of building supplies and materials. This is a no-brainer. It's something that needs to be done, and it could be done right away.
Of course, the other issue that Anthony talked about that is absolutely fundamental to jobs creation, because it's fundamental to backing in Australian industry, was energy policy. Labor would modernise and rebuild our electricity grid to drive more jobs, drive cheaper power prices and provide the reliable energy that our country needs to drive industry. We should actually be a renewable energy superpower, but our transmission system isn't up to scratch—and that needs to be fixed. Meanwhile, the Liberal-National government have had 22 different energy policies in the time that they've been in power. So, clearly, they can't be counted on to deliver on this. But it's a really important issue and it needs a resolution.
Another issue of great frustration for my constituents is the NBN. The Liberals never should have trashed Labor's NBN plans. It was obviously—and it was obvious at the time—silly to replace the fibre plans with a copper rollout. They finally admitted it, but only after seven years of waste. The fibre-to-the-premises model was the right model. But now the government's going to spend $4.5 billion in public money cleaning up this ridiculous mistake. Of course, this needs to happen as promptly as possible. Whenever there are internet problems at my house, there's always a bit of muttering about the Liberal government and what they did to the NBN. I'm sure that that is being replicated across household after household on the south side.
I wanted to make some brief remarks about my portfolio. In Environment, we are now seeing the ramifications of the fact that the Liberals cut 40 per cent of the funding to the environment department since they were elected. Those ramifications are playing out in delays in project approvals under the EPBC Act. A couple of months ago, the Auditor-General's report came out and said that there are extensive delays to approvals. There's been a 510 per cent increase in delays for approval decisions under this government. What do you expect? If you cut funding to the environment department, the consequence is a delay on jobs and a delay on investments, because of the delay on project approvals.
Of course, we shouldn't be rushing project approvals through. They absolutely must be done properly. This is not about cutting corners or waving things through that would have environmental impacts. This is actually just about meeting statutory time frames by resourcing the department properly. I was pleased to see that the government has issued a bit of a mea culpa on this by admitting its cuts are at the root of these problems, the admission taking the form of some additional money for the EPBC decision-making by the department. But the government never should have cut the funding in the first place, and every delayed project that was delayed because of workload problems or mismanagement in the department, rather than for genuine environmental reasons, is a consequence of this government's mismanagement and cuts.
On the environment more broadly, the hallmark of this government has been that it is a government of announcements but without delivery. We've seen that in a number of places. For example, there was the remarkable situation recently with the statutory review of the EPBC legislation, where the government announced that they would not bring forward legislation without at the same time bringing forward some proposed national environmental standards. What happened? They brought forward legislation in the August sittings but no national environmental standards. So we are looking very much forward to seeing what they do in relation to the recommendations from the review for national environmental standards as well as a range of other recommendations from that review process.
Turning to threatened species: this is absolutely crucial. Less than 40 per cent of listed threatened species have a recovery plan. Environment officials have told Senate estimates that there are 172 species and habitats that required a plan, and most of those plans are overdue. In fact, they haven't made a new plan since June 2019. Quite a bit has happened in the intervening period, including a national bushfire crisis that saw three billion animals killed or displaced. It is absolutely crucial that this government gets its act together, gets a plan for addressing the backlog and works hard on considering all those species that the Threatened Species Scientific Committee is saying need to be considered for listing or uplisting as a consequence of the bushfires. They just need to get their act together. The world is facing an extinction crisis, and Australia leads the world in mammal extinctions. It's not good enough to not be doing a good job when it comes to threatened species in this country.
Let me say something about water. I visited Emu Swamp Dam site last week. This is actually the only dam that the government have been able to point to. Before they got elected, they said they were going to build 100 dams. They have built zero dams. They're now in their eighth year. Finally there's a dam that they can point to. Finally there's some federal funding going into a dam. They've been having a go at us, I noticed, about their theory that Labor are somehow not properly supportive of this dam. What we found out in Stanthorpe last week was that actually they only sent the paperwork to the Queensland government in September this year. It took them more than a year to get their act together to send the paperwork through. Thankfully the Queensland government have turned it around, and I congratulate them for doing it. (Time expired)
I think I might continue where the former speaker left off and say that the Labor Party are absolutely hopeless at dams. The first thing that I did when I got back to New England was to do with the extension of Chaffey Dam, which was completely bogged down in environmental tape. We had to have offsets for the booroolong frog. I always thought that frogs live in water, and a bigger dam would make a happier frog, but apparently not. We couldn't get anywhere with it. They didn't have enough money, and, by their own forms of regulation, they had stopped the dam. And that's precisely what they want to do. So we moved the regulations to the side, got further money, put another 40,000 megalitres of capacity into that damn and, by our so doing, the city of Tamworth did not run out of water in the last drought. Otherwise, it would have.
This is the difference between the Labor Party and the coalition, where so many of us have actually been in business. I still have a business—I was harvesting on the weekend. I was an accountant. I had my own practice, and therefore not only did I have my own business but my job was oversight of so many others. With the Labor Party, I always think their economics is a bit like dada-surrealism. It's disorder and obscurity. It's a sort of enigmatic working of the subconscious, a dictation by thought and an absence of any control exercised by reason. I always think it's pure psychic automatism. That's what you get with the Labor Party. You can see it now: the juxtaposition of a tirade about new environmental requirements and a subsequent statement of, 'We still believe in dams.' I listened to the budget-in-reply speech. They didn't mention one. I don't know which dam they're going to build. We're having a crack at building Rookwood. They don't want to do that. Paradise Dam—they're going to reduce it by a third. It's hardly a case of them falling over themselves.
We have a great instance at the moment, where the LNP have actually done something I'm so happy about. They've taken the first steps towards the Bradfield Scheme. The only way we're going to fix the water situation in the southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin is to find a new source of water. It doesn't matter how many times you cut and dice it: you can't make water appear from nowhere. You have to find a new source and bring it in. This move by the LNP in Queensland should be at the front line of their political joust as they go into this election, and they should challenge the Labor Party on exactly what they are going to do to match it.
As I've said before, currently the Labor Party have Ross Garnaut on their committee. Well, good luck with that one! I don't think he's going to be recommending a dam. Then they have, I think, Professor Dale from James Cook University. Remember him? James Cook University is the one that kicked out Peter Ridd because he dared to dissent from their zeitgeist, so I don't think you're going to get a recommendation for a dam out of them.
To go back to the coalition, I'm very happy that Frasers transport—you see their trucks moving around—gets a 100 per cent write-off. New trucks means new truck drivers. Nolan's—new trucks, new truck drivers. There will be new prime movers for Carey's, McDonald's and even single operators like Dugald Geddes in my area. A new truck means a new operator. It means a new driver. It means an expansion in the economy. Whether scrapers or dozers or cranes, this 100 per cent write-off is going to be instrumental in driving an economy forward by finding the people—because you can only get a tax write-off if you're making a profit. The business that is making a profit is the one you want to stimulate to grow so that they employ more people.
In terms of infrastructure, what we have on both sides is a form of Keynesian stimulus—an attempt to increase aggregate demand. Yes, it works, but it's best if it works with a legacy component and the highest possible multiplier that you can get. Infrastructure is good at that, because you've got the initial stimulus of the people working on it and you've got the legacy of what's left after it. One of the great things that drives economies forward are roads. Cities don't build roads; roads build cities. Roads are instrumental in the growth of the economy. Dams are absolutely fundamental. Water is wealth, and a dam is a bank. If you don't have proper water infrastructure, the capacity of an economy to grow has a ceiling on it. If you are involved in industry—and I have been—the first questions people ask about is the price of power, access to labour and access to water. If you don't have access to water, you just can't do it, because it's a fundamental input into business.
I want to talk about some local infrastructure that I think is vitally important in my area. Dungowan Dam—the federal government has now placed a quarter of a billion dollars towards Dungowan Dam. That's a huge, huge win. Once more, it underpins the economic growth of the blue-collar workforce, which is very strong in the city of Tamworth. Taminda, Glen Artney, the intermodal—these are all parts of the expansion of the blue-collar workforce in Tamworth, and they're a key part of my constituency and probably one of the reasons I have maybe a different perspective on the way I approach politics to others. It's because it is a blue-collar workforce, and we're well-supported by them. We have also started towards Mole River dam in the north, and it's vitally important that that goes ahead. A major piece of infrastructure, which the Commonwealth has put a million dollars towards for its feasibility study, is the Oven Mountain pumped hydro. This would be a $1.2 billion or $1.3 billion project. I support pumped hydro because, to be quite frank, I have concerns about wind and solar, which are not dispatchable power. To shore it up into dispatchable power, you must be honest and find the mechanism that turns it into dispatchable power, and pump hydro does that.
On the other side, of course, once you add pump hydro to a windmill, the cost of that power is beyond that of coal. Apparently this is one of the things that both sides can't talk about. It is the truth that established coal infrastructure is a cheaper form of power. It is overwhelmingly still our power. We should be developing the most efficient form of coal-fired power delivery in the world because we still stand behind the fact that our nation's biggest export is fossil fuels. It just is. It's denying the simple economics of how our nation works to say, 'We won't live with gas and we won't live with coal, but we somehow will magically live with all the services that we want at this current point.' You've got to pay for them; therefore, you have to understand the basic economics of how your nation works.
We have other issues. Inland Rail is going to be vitally important. Did you know that the pipes for the Inland Rail are made in Tamworth by Humes? Therefore, the economic stimulus of that project goes way beyond the rail corridor. One of the proudest moments was when I got the money for the Inland Rail. I remember conversations with then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and finance minister Mathias Cormann, because it was a key component of the coalition agreement. For years before the leaders on our side spoke about it, tilted towards it and promised it, but they just never got it. That was the point. We had to drive a deal, and we got it. Now they're building it. I and my colleagues in the National Party will take that as one of our greatest achievements. I'm happy about that.
I have some concerns about where our debt is. I understand the Labor Party's attack saying, 'Liberal debt,' but the problem though is that the Labor Party want more debt. They want universal child care, an extension of JobKeeper, an extension of JobSeeker and more money for public housing. These are all noble causes, but you have to borrow further for it, and we're at $1.7 trillion. There's this myth that you never have to repay money. People don't give it to you and say: 'Don't worry about this, Charlie Chaplin. We never want it back.' They actually do want it back, and you have to have the capacity to pay it back. Any mother who has run a budget and any person who has seen a credit card understands the concerns I have with debt.
There are some suggestions of quantitative easing. Let's just go through that. It has been a fascination of mine. Did you know that at the start of the hyperinflation period in Germany there were 170 marks to the dollar? At the end it was—and wait for this—87 trillion marks to the dollar. You might just think that that's a peculiarity of the time, but, no, Argentina had similar circumstances, but not to that extent. Even back in Roman times, in antiquity, near the collapse of the Roman Empire the denarius was about one-fiftieth of its value at the start. You have to be careful. Your fiat currency is sacred. It's merely paper. There has to be strength in the economy behind that. You can't glibly say that it's not important.
In this appropriation debate I want to state that you have to understand the fundamentals of your economy. Fossil fuels are your biggest export. Then it's iron ore. Then there is daylight, daylight, daylight and more daylight, then education and then agriculture. If you lose your big ones and think that it's politically incorrect to talk about your big ones, then you're not going to have an economy and you're going to have very little to manage. Everything around here is imported—the clothes you wear, these glasses, the phone, the electronics and the lights. Find me something nowadays that's not imported. Therefore, if you're living with everything that is imported—and they're not sending it to you out of charity—you have to be putting something on the boat and sending it in the other direction, otherwise you just don't get it. What do we put on a boat and send in the other direction? Gas, coal, iron ore, rare earths, bauxite, beef, horticultural products and cotton. Yet, according to the previous member, so many of these things have become politically incorrect, which means that you are naive to the economics of how your own economy works.
In closing, I'd like to go through a couple of the things that I think are really important. I'd like to see, in the future, some further vision. We only have two sealed roads across our nation. I reckon that's pretty poor after about 250 years. We should be sealing the third one. We've started. We got $100 million years ago to start the Laverton-Boulia Road. We should be finishing that off and getting it sealed because that opens up the gold precincts around Laverton and gives us more access to money. The Toowoomba-to-Gladstone rail corridor should be built so it attaches to the inland rail. We should be building new power stations, new coal-fired power stations—the most efficient in the world. We should be changing tack and looking at nuclear. We just seem to have bogged down in the 1980s. We should be brave enough to say, 'We've moved on.' If they've got pebble-bed reactors from new energy in the United States that basically are unable to melt down because of the mechanism from which they're constructed, we should be looking at it.
What I am supportive of in our budget is the new money for mobile phone black spots. That is incredibly important in regional areas. There's the move towards decentralisation, with $41 million towards that, but we should be nominating the sections of the departments that are going to go, and the inspiration for that should always be at the federal level and having the bravery to say, 'This section of this department is going to go to this regional town,' like we did with APVMA to Armidale, AFMA to Coffs Harbour, part of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority down to Wodonga and part of the GRDC to Toowoomba. So many of these things are vitally important. With Stronger Communities, we get $150,000 per electorate. It works so well. There are so many small organisations that benefit, such as Men's Sheds; even fixing the roofs on local community churches—things that would never get done without the money that we have from that $150,000 allocation from Stronger Communities. It is so important.
This budget is obviously a Keynesian stimulus budget. I hope it does that job. Ultimately, we're going to have to have an honest discussion about how we bring the debt into a position where we can start to repay it or at least hold it where it is, and that's whether we're in government or whether the other side is in government. It's going to be your problem if it's not ours, and we should have a discussion about it.
I'll close with this. The bushfires were caused by fuel load. I know; I was fighting them. Yes, of course, you have issues pertinent to the climate, but to say that somehow our actions in Australia caused the bushfires is ridiculous and a bit of an insult. The bushfires were caused by an excessive fuel load, by lack of access with regard to fighting fires and a lack of capacity to get access to such things as water. They're the things that caused the bushfires. I know because we had one at our place.
I acknowledge the member for New England's contribution. They're never boring! I'll move on. The budget funds the National Disability Insurance Scheme for another year. Mind you, it does so after ripping $4.6 billion out of the scheme last year and calling it an 'underspend'. Last year, the government ripped $4.6 billion out of the NDIS to prop up a budget surplus that never eventuated. In this year's budget, they've kindly returned only $1.5 billion of what they took. But I acknowledge the scheme is funded for another year, and this is a good thing for Australians with disability and those who love and care for them. That the NDIS is funded for the year is a small mercy that we have to celebrate, with a seven-year Liberal government. Despite what the Liberal government's comments are publicly, I think that, corporately, they are ambivalent about the national disability safety net and, at worst, many of them have a secret view that it is too expensive. You always have to wonder with the current government. When they seek to change something about the NDIS, you wonder: 'Who are they changing it for? What's really driving the agenda?'
This is why I want to talk about the government's most recent changes to the way that Australians with disability will now get onto the national scheme.
The Morrison government has recently moved to introduce a process called 'independent assessments' to the National Disability Insurance Scheme from 2021. This is a change from the system where a person with profound disability would seek to prove their eligibility for funding under the NDIS using expert reports from their treating doctors and the allied health professionals that they and their families have been dealing with. And where successful, based upon the evidence of treating medical experts and the people who work around them, the NDIA would approve their entry to the scheme. And there are 430,000 people now on this remarkable scheme. It would be a change though, this government's proposing, whereby they now seek to use a private national panel commissioned by the government that would see all existing participants and all applicants on the scheme and this independent panel would assess them.
According to the government, the basis for this change—moving from the participant providing reports and evidence to an independent assessment process—is that it is a response to the 2019 review into the operation of the NDIS by David Tune, the former secretary of Finance, a respected public servant. Mr Tune's review is now known as the Tune review. The Tune review made a single carefully qualified recommendation regarding independent assessments. It said that we should have independent assessments following the completion of pilot programs to be introduced through amendments to the NDIS legislation. However, of the two pilot programs which were scheduled, the first one was limited to a small number of people; it didn't consider all disability types; and it didn't sufficiently consider culturally and linguistically diverse people, people from Indigenous communities or people with highly complex needs. And this pilot program was discontinued halfway through this year. This is right. So the process upon which the move to independent assessments was to be justified hasn't been completed. We don't know one way or the other whether or not the two pilot programs in their entirety were a raging success, an unmitigated failure or, indeed, just insufficient. But the government in the meantime, even though it hasn't completed the two pilot programs, has announced the new direction. We presumed that when Mr Tune said there would be a pilot program before the full change was brought in nationally that was what was meant to be the case. We presumed that he meant it would be a completed pilot, not an abandoned one. The government's response to the Tune review cited independent assessments as a solution to no less than four of the Tune recommendations—he made several recommendations. It has announced that independent assessments become mandatory for all disability types at both access decisions and plan reviews.
The government has claimed that the original Productivity Commission report supports the introduction of this new system of independent assessments. However, they have been unable to adequately explain why the government has waited seven years from the Productivity Commission report or why assessments were not included back then. The absence of proper evidence to support the introduction of these significant changes to over 400,000 participants and their families on the NDIS is unacceptable. It has infuriated the Australian disability community.
Labor, over recent weeks and months, has heard from many people—many people with disabilities and their carers, and from service providers and their representative organisations—that the government hasn't adequately consulted them before it's decided to introduce the independent assessment process. We believe in Labor that this contravenes the principle of the NDIS Participant Service Guarantee that the NDIS be transparent, which the NDIA has said has been in place since July this year. You can't be transparent if you don't provide all the information or complete the pilot process.
Many NDIS participants are fearful that independent assessments are yet another standardisation scheme from the government that inflicted the unlawful robodebt program on more than 700,000 unsuspecting, innocent Australians. Labor shares concern that independent assessments are another way for the Liberals to simply take support away from disabled Australians by unfairly restricting access to the scheme and to limit plan funding. I say to the government, having spoken with people with disability, having spoken to their representatives and their carers, that the independent assessment process is causing more fear and more concern than should be the case if the government simply adhered to better implementation processes.
Labor supports the Tune review recommendations and agrees that there needs to be an approach that delivers more consistency and fairness in the NDIS. It is unfair that people who are unable to afford reports for an occupational therapist or an allied health professional should have to wait years on public waiting lists. We accept the principle that there needs to be equity in outcomes for NDIS participants. In other words, people with identical physical conditions shouldn't receive radically different funding packages without proper investigation. Consistency is a principle of equity. But the potential for the solution to these problems is being undermined by the way that the minister and the government are implementing independent assessments without proper process. We don't think that they shouldn't empanel a system of independent assessments, but they shouldn't do so until they've overcome the grave concerns of the disability community.
This is why Labor won't support the policy changes until the government has met at least the following conditions: (1) the government should listen to participants and immediately pause the rollout of the current independent assessments program. Do the process right the first time and you won't need to come back and keep doing it again and again and again. And it will not cause anxiety in the manner in which it's now doing. Two, there needs to be a genuine transparent consultation process to confirm what the issues are and trial different options. Not all people with disabilities come in the same size and shape. Three, they need to co-design a solution best supported by evidence with participants, families, carers and the sector. And (4) as a minimum they should make public all modelling, all actuarial advice and evaluation reports used to support the chosen process.
Unfortunately, the government have ignored the Tune recommendations to put the changes which they're introducing into legislation, so there's no opportunity for the parliament to properly scrutinise and, indeed, amend or improve the independent assessment process. This undermines the role of the parliament, and I know there are many individual Liberal and National MPs who are equally motivated to make sure that people with disability get a fair go, but I put them on notice: I spent 10 years working with people with disabilities on creating the NDIS and it would be far better to respect the role of government backbenches and the opposition as legislators as opposed to rubber stamps. The government won't put the changes through parliament, through legislation, so it becomes incumbent to have a public debate, denying the role of legislators of all political stripe to have their say and reflect the views of the community. I've written to the minister for the NDIS, Mr Stuart Robert, outlining Labor's opposition to the independent assessments in the current process. I will continue to draw attention to the matter.
The NDIS is a vital national scheme, but under this seven-year-old government it's been implemented in an ad hoc manner, which is jeopardising the scheme's aims of providing greater independence and quality of life for Australians with disability. There are many success stories with the NDIS, but there are many people complaining about the NDIS. We hear cases every day. I'll just share a couple. NDIS participant Wendy waited five years for home modifications that left her unsafe and tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket because the NDIS picked a dodgy builder, the lowest-cost builder. There's Indiana, who is eight. She's intellectually delayed, and she has aggressive epilepsy. Her single mum, Meghan, wants NDIS funding for an assistance animal, an animal that can help predict and work with Indi's seizures. It's a cheaper option than 24-hour, seven-days-a-week monitoring care and more accurate than any other available technology, according to the family, but the NDIA refuses to look at the assistance animal. Now, mum, Meghan, is forced to fight the decision at the AAT, while Indiana is in hospital for brain surgery. There is Kim, who, due to having shortfalls in her supported independent living funding, is having her insulin injected by a support worker, not a registered nurse, and who has ended up in hospital due to complications with her diabetes. There's Matthew, who's been waiting for over a year for custom-built specialist disability accommodation housing. At the last minute, the NDIA have withdrawn his approved supported independent living package and tried to force a lower care model on him, despite his high-support needs. If he doesn't accept, he won't be able to move in and he'll have nowhere to go.
I think we're at an important moment in this country for disability. I think there is political consensus about the role of the NDIS, which is a significant development in our social safety net. It's about empowering individuals living with profound or severe disability and giving them choice and control over their lives. It is a significant accomplishment. Without the outbreak of COVID related Keynesian of the born-again big government champions of social security, other Labor achievements are always at risk from our conservative governments. But the NDIS I think is one which doesn't need to be changed at an election. I think it is one that can be worked on with goodwill between the government and opposition now.
I genuinely believe that the government would be well advised to put a pause on the independent assessments process, not because the principle is all bad, because it's not. Equity and consistency in decision-making are important. But, when people with a disability have got a glimpse of home with an NDIS package, there's genuine fear and anxiety the independent assessment will override or trump the reports of treating allied health professionals. How in an hour or two can someone make an assessment about someone's adult child with autism and not as a starting point accept the reports of the treating allied health professionals and understand the family and the organisations providing care?
This is a situation where people are now nervous, people are scared, people are anxious. There are 430,000 participants. Many of them are asking themselves, as they become aware of the changes to the independent assessment process: 'Is this just an attempt to reduce my funding?' In the case of some people, their funding may go up. But there is no doubt that there will be losers out of this scheme. The government agency has said as much—there will be losers in this scheme. The point about it is that the government has already said that some people will go backwards. But, to go backwards on a process where people with disabilities voices haven't been heard, is an avoidable mistake.
Sometimes in politics there are some arguments that aren't avoidable. You can have arguments about industrial relations, you can have arguments about refugees and you can have arguments about the climate. But, on the NDIS, the government is making an avoidable decision to have an argument with participants in the scheme. There is nothing—there is no electoral stop clock—that says that independent assessments have to be resolved by a certain day and rolled out. Many other things in the NDIS have taken a lot longer. All I advise the government is hasten slowly. Put the evidence out there, complete the pilot programs and consult people with disability. Let the joint select committee, made up of Liberal, National and Labor MPs, do their job as legislators. It is time to say to the executive of government: respect the legislators, respect the everyday experience of MPs from all sides of the people they see in their office. Let's put people with disabilities, their carers and the people who support them every day first. Let's put them first and let's not cause needless anxiety.
My electorate of Mallee has had a unique experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the only electorate in Victoria that borders two states. Not only has Mallee endured some of the strictest lockdowns seen anywhere in the world, we have also been barred from our two neighbouring states, despite our extremely low case numbers. Taken together, these two elements have caused huge strains on families, businesses, communities and our economy and we'll have untold impacts for years to come.
The Morrison-McCormack government's economic response to the pandemic has kept hope and businesses alive. The JobKeeper payment has supported 4,300 businesses in Mallee. The cash flow boost has assisted around 6,300 small and medium businesses. Over 10,000 individuals in Mallee have received the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement, and 23,700 aged pensioners in Mallee received support payments of $750 in April and July, and will receive two further $250 payments in December and again in March. This has provided the people of Mallee with hope.
The 2020 Commonwealth budget is a way forward out of this crisis and a return to life as we once knew. Whether it's by putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Australians, encouraging investment and growth in small and medium to large businesses, supporting businesses to bring on new employees and apprentices, or providing for the health and wellbeing of our nation, this budget is working for all Australians as we look towards economic recovery.
Tax relief measures for individuals will provide confidence for families and much-needed stimulus for local businesses and the economy. Around 61,100 taxpayers in Mallee, or over 40 per cent of Mallee's entire population, will benefit from tax relief of up to $2,745 this year. This measure will put money into people's pockets at a time when it's desperately needed. I encourage those who can afford it to spend a little more in the coming months and to shop local. Local businesses need our support now more than ever before, and this government understands that. That's why the tax relief measures for business in this budget are so important. I know that many small and large businesses in my electorate have taken advantage of the instant asset write-off scheme. Rod Stuart from the Dunolly Bakery told me that he was able to use the write-off scheme to purchase new mixers, ovens and a bread slicer. The purchase of the new equipment helped to dispel the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus, giving his staff a huge morale boost. It showed staff and customers that things were still moving in the right direction. The new equipment has led to greater efficiencies for the business, leading to huge takings in September despite the lack of travellers from Melbourne.
Now that the scheme has been expanded to include over 99 per cent of businesses and the full value of any eligible asset, small and large businesses will continue to benefit and grow. The instant asset write-off provisions will unlock investment, expand the productive capacity of the nation and create tens of thousands of jobs across the country. Purchasing new equipment helps businesses increase efficiency and productivity. Small businesses will buy, sell, deliver, install, and service these purchases, stimulating the economy. It will also be hugely helpful for farmers in Mallee, who will be able to purchase new equipment, whether it's a new truck, tractor or harvester.
I recently spoke to Damien Matthews of GTS Freight, a trucking and transport company based in Mildura that has grown into one of the largest wine and beverage distributors nationwide. GTS Freight is backed by an ever-growing fleet of vehicles and has long-term plans for expansion. Damien told me that he plans to bring forward five years worth of purchases and upgrades of trucks and trailers in the next two years to take advantage of the instant asset write-off scheme. This will mean millions of dollars of accelerated investment and associated economic activity, and it will mean job creation in industries up and down the supply chain. This is just one business.
Growing local industry is instrumental to our nation's economic recovery, and this government knows that apprentices are vital to industry. Giving Australians the skills they need and getting them into a job will lift us out of this recession. Businesses in Mallee who take on apprentices are now eligible for a 50 per cent wage subsidy to help bring on new employees and free up money to cover other costs or make new investments. This measure supports local tradies looking to bring on a new apprentice, and it will also assist bigger businesses like True Foods in Maryborough and Entegra Signature Structures in Swan Hill. Overall, it supports Australian businesses to employ 100,000 new apprentices and trainees. Apprenticeships and traineeships for young people ensure that there are skills in the pipeline to meet the future needs of employers.
The $1.2 billion Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy will feed into other planks of the government's economic recovery plan, including the Modern Manufacturing Strategy and the Technology Investment Roadmap for our energy sector. After having visited many manufacturing businesses across Mallee, including Polymaster, Pumpa Engineering, Global Rotomoulding, Nu-Edge Solutions and many more, I am very excited about the Modern Manufacturing Strategy and for Mallee's prospects to become a leader in 21st-century manufacturing and innovation. I know the $52.8 million for round 2 of the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund is also welcomed by businesses in Mallee. This is an important opportunity for Kooka's Country Cookies, in Donald, to apply for funding for their new factory and production line, which will help meet demand for their products.
The 2020 Commonwealth budget has displayed the Morrison-McCormack government's commitment to regional infrastructure and, in turn, job creation and economic development in regional Australia. Local councils in my electorate were elated by the initial Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program funding announced at the height of the pandemic. The $1 billion extension of the program announced in this budget will help councils to prioritise key projects while creating jobs and stimulating economic activity. The 12 local government areas in Mallee received almost $19 million in the first round and will receive another $17 million in the extension. Northern Grampians shire is using part of its money to fund a streetscape and town centre rehabilitation project in St Arnaud, while Gannawarra Shire Council will allocate some of its funding to the Murrabit Stormwater Project. These are shovel-ready projects that will assist the economic recovery of our region and create jobs for locals.
Since coming to office I've made a point of keeping in close contact with the leaders of each of the 12 shires in my electorate. The CEOs and mayors of each shire have made it plain to me just how important the Roads to Recovery and Financial Assistance Grant programs are to their running. For many of the small regional councils, maintaining and upgrading roads is a major expense. That's why I'm glad this budget includes an additional $400 million to support the extension of the Roads to Recovery Program by an additional year.
Of course, I'm also excited for round 5 of the Building Better Regions Fund, which has been hugely successful for key projects in Mallee. In round 4 of the program Mallee secured funding for Woodbine's specialised disability support accommodation, the Birchip streetscape project, upgrades to the Ouyen Livestock Exchange and many other important projects. With half of the $200 million of round 5 allocated for tourism related projects, I hope to see the Mildura Rural City Council reapply for their additional riverfront development project along the Murray River. Infrastructure remains hugely important to the Morrison-McCormack government, and I'm ecstatic that the Albacutya Bridge was funded through the Bridges Renewal Program this year. I will now be directing my efforts to secure funding for the Davis Park grandstand in Nhill for the people of the Hindmarsh shire.
In my very first speech to parliament in August 2019 I spoke of the need for greater access to quality health care. I said a person's postcode should not determine their health status. Since then I have been fighting for health in Mallee, and the 2020 Commonwealth budget has delivered with an $18.6 million program for border oncology research which funds the Mildura Base Public Hospital as a new site for the regional trials network in Victoria. This project will help bridge the metro regional clinical trials gaps by 2025, with the bonus of attracting more specialists into our region. Having research done in clinical trials means people gain access to better treatments. This funding will help put local researchers and doctors at the forefront of global research and will lead to more treatment options for regional patients.
Out of this year's budget, the Mildura Base Public Hospital will also benefit from the coalition government's commitment of $133.6 billion over five years to fund public hospitals in Australia. This is an increase of $33.6 billion on the previous agreement with states and territories, and it's a huge win for hospitals. My expectation is that the state government will allocate funding for the Swan Hill hospital and the Mildura hospital to address the needs of these communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to weigh on the mental health of our communities. That's why I'm so glad that mental health and suicide prevention continues to be a national priority. Medicare funded psychological services through the Better Access initiative have been doubled, meaning that patients can now access 20 sessions instead of just 10 under this budget. And more funding is being provided for Lifeline, headspace, Beyond Blue and Kids Helpline. These and other initiatives bring the coalition government's commitment to mental health support to $5.7 billion this year.
The Mallee has had a unique experience of the pandemic, and I have firsthand knowledge about how the restrictions on the people in the Mallee have affected the wellbeing of our communities. I recently sent an electorate-wide email to check in on Mallee locals and request their feedback, to which I received over 700 responses, which I read and responded to individually. Only 14 per cent of people supported the restrictions, while 53 per cent opposed them. Almost 200 responses expressed significant concerns about the economy, and the mental health and wellbeing of their community. There were also 129 responses that mentioned words like depression, suicide and anxiety.
I heard from Lisa from Mildura, whose daughter's partner tragically lost his life in a motorbike accident in June in Brisbane. Lisa was not able to travel to Queensland to be with her daughter, despite her willingness to quarantine. She said the ongoing mental and emotional impact is something that will haunt her forever. Allaya from Amphitheatre told me she feels isolated. She feels that she and her family are not important, and that people who have lost everything and who can't see their loved ones have been forgotten. I've also heard from David from Murrayville, who has been running the Cobb & Co Cafe for the past 10 years. His business is nearing closure because of the 80 per cent downturn due to border closures and hospitality restrictions. He supported the South Australian economy by purchasing produce for his store from that state for the past 10 years, but has now been locked out by the South Australian government. On top of this, David can't get to Adelaide for medical appointments. These are just a few of the hundreds of heart-wrenching stories I've heard in the past few months. Some I have had the privilege to assist, but certainly have created no miracles.
The 2020 Commonwealth budget has outlined a path to recovery for Australia through job creation, infrastructure expenditure and tax relief. But Victoria's social and economic recovery cannot truly begin until freedom of movement across state borders is entirely free, and coronavirus restrictions reflect the reality of case numbers in regional areas. The budget contains many important measures that will continue to support individuals and businesses across the country, but the federal government can't provide everything that Victorians need right now. What they need is their freedom back, and they need that urgently.
This is Australia's first recession in 30 years. The Morrison recession is the second recession in my life time. Nearly one million Australians are unemployed, and the government expects another 160,000 Australians to be unemployed by Christmas. In September alone, 30,000 jobs were lost. The unemployment rate is rising to 6.9 per cent, and we don't know how far it will go. There are some 2.5 million Australians who are looking for work or looking for more work, and a new report from Deloitte Access Economics expects Australia's unemployment rate to get as high as 8.6 per cent in the June quarter of 2021. And yet many unemployed Australians face, at the end of this year, the Christmas present of their JobSeeker payments snapping back to just $40 a day.
We know that the Morrison recession has hurt those in insecure work the most, particularly women and young people. Think about what young Australians have already lost, and what they face in 2021. Under this government, 140,000 trainee and apprenticeship positions have already been lost. Now they're making university education unaffordable for an entire generation. The cost of studying commerce and law degrees is going to increase by 28 per cent next year. From one year to the next, this government is increasing those degrees by 28 per cent. But it doesn't stop there. When it comes to humanities degrees, they are increasing in cost, in one year alone, by 113 per cent—costing as much as $14,500 a year or $60,000 over the course of a degree. This is on top of the fact that young people were forced to raid their tiny superannuation accounts—many of them going down to zero—just to survive through this pandemic. We're a rich country and we're a country that's taken on a lot of debt, and we have treated young people appallingly during this pandemic. It's estimated that some $40 billion in superannuation has already been withdrawn during COVID. While we're saying to everyone, 'Go and take money out of your superannuation,' this government has managed to increase gross Commonwealth debt to $1 trillion. We've got record youth unemployment and huge dents in superannuation accounts, and young people will be saddled with paying back $1 trillion of Morrison Liberal debt.
At the same time, the thankyou gift that we gave young people in this place this week was to increase their HECS debts massively, through one piece of legislation. Last week I met with year 12 students in my electorate to discuss the government's knowledge tax, to get their feedback. These were year 12s who were in the middle of studying for their exams, but they thought it was important to meet with me and tell me what they thought. Elizabeth told me that she felt the government were trying to coerce students into what they said were the job-ready disciplines. She has decided to ignore the government's financial coercion and instead study what it is that she's passionate about: humanities, history and anthropology. But she's worried that many students that she's studied alongside may not follow their passions.
If that's how we've treated arts degrees, let's talk about how we've treated the arts industry. This government has continued to punish those who have pursued a career in the arts. The arts, entertainment and events industry was one of the first to be shut down by COVID and will be one of the last to reopen. But somehow, despite the Liberal Party advocating for a deregulated labour market and advocating for more casual employment—the Liberal Party sometimes tell us they believe in the free contract and movement of labour—if you swapped jobs in the last 12 months, they punished you. If you'd worked as a casual, you were punished by this government. The 600,000 Australians who work in the arts and creative industries—some 4,663 in my electorate alone—were forgotten, and they have had to pay the financial consequences of being ignored by this government. The feedback I've received from organisations and individuals working in the arts and entertainment industry is that they do feel that this government has let them down and left them behind. They've been saying now for six months that we need a tailored package for the arts. We've seen small amounts. Very little of that money has actually gone out the door, and it has been a terrible way to treat our artists, who have actually helped enrich our souls in the hardest of years. They have started capturing the stories of Australia, in the middle of a recession, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a health crisis. They've been capturing these stories and sharing them. They've been putting on free concerts and entertaining us in many ways, many of them giving away their craft for free. I will never accept that in this year, of all years, we are treating our artists and our creative industries worse than we have in any other year since Federation.
Politics is about choices and it's about the alternative visions for this country. With the budget and the opposition's budget reply, we have started to see a choice for Australians. I believe that this government has left too many people behind, but at the same time it has managed to rack up $1 trillion of debt. It's a unique set of skills the Prime Minister has that he can forget so many people—so many women, so many young people—and still rack up that much debt. But you've got to be optimistic in the business of politics. There are ups and downs. I think we're an optimistic country, and I'm pleased that Labor has an optimistic vision for the future. Rehire our workers. Give people new jobs, supporting industries old and new. Rewire our economy. Make sure that we can actually transmit power, at the lowest possible cost, to all Australians. Recharge the workforce participation of women by doing something serious about child care. Any family you talk to about this system knows it does not work when you get to certain income points. Rebuild our nation.
Child care should be one of the great economic drivers of our country. It should be the thing that allows our economy to succeed well above and beyond. It not only invests in the minds of young people; it also means that those people that we've invested in training can actually get out there and work, whether it be for four or five days. But, again, how did we treat workers in the childcare sector?
The first and only sector to be kicked off JobKeeper was the childcare sector—an industry that, by some coincidence, is made up of 97 per cent women. To have kicked the entire sector off JobKeeper after the incredibly difficult work they did, particularly in the middle of the pandemic, at the same time as ripping way free child care from millions of Australian families, was seriously one of the great policy missteps of this government. We know that affordable child care is a key driver of women's participation in the economy. The Prime Minister used to lecture us about this himself when he was responsible for this policy area in a previous portfolio. And Australia still, despite all the reforms, has some of the most expensive childcare costs in the world. Fees have gone up 35 per cent under this government alone, and in the north-east of my electorate, at Bayswater to Bassendean, some 48.6 per cent of services are charging over the cap. That is, many of the families reached the services cap by September and received no subsidy for the remainder of the year. This means that they are paying thousands of dollars more as they head to Christmas—indeed, now. Families in Bayswater and Bassendean are paying more for child care now than they were at the start of the year, because the Prime Minister and his government refused to do anything about the caps that they have imposed.
I received a bit of correspondence from a constituent in the member for Canning's electorate. Lana wrote to me, and this is the story of hundreds of thousands of families across Australia. Lana said, 'My young family with two kids can't afford to go to work either. Between childcare costs and train fares from Mandurah to Perth, the future looks grim for a professional young mum who may end up unemployable if she is forced to exit the workforce and stay at home. Her income doesn't even cover the costs.' Her income doesn't even cover the costs—this is why we've got to fix the childcare subsidy. We need to increase the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent, remove the disincentive to work additional hours and help 97 per cent of families by between $600 and $2,900 a year.
If you'll indulge me, Deputy Speaker, I want to give a shout-out to all of the people who work in childcare centres in my electorate. This is a huge employing industry. I sit through question time. We heard the story of one employer who's employed two or so people, in some pre-prepared, formulaic answer from the government. I want to say a huge thankyou to all of the childcare workers and early childhood educators in the Perth electorate. I'm going to name their workplaces because I think it's important that we recognise all of these small but significant centres of early learning across each of our electorates. I'm lucky—I've got 62 of them in my electorate of Perth. There is MercyCare Early Learning in Bassendean; Wind in the Willows in Ashfield, Buggles Childcare Brookfield Place and Buggles Childcare in Cherry Court; Citiplace Child Care; Little Peoples Place in Forrest Street; Goodstart Early Learning in East Perth; Community Kids Morley Early Education Centre; Italian Australian Child Care Centre; Great Beginnings in Bayswater; Care for Kids School of Early Learning in Morley; Jellybeans Child Care Centre in Morley; Kidz Galore in Kyilla; Little Peoples Place in Monmouth Street; Amare Child Care; Leederville Early Childhood Centre; Marjorie Mann Lawley Day Care Centre; YMCA Maylands Early Learning Centre; Meela Child Care Centre; Mercy Child Day Care Bedford; Mount Lawley Child Care Centre Inc.; Mulberry Tree Mount Hawthorn; Indigo Montessori in both North Perth and Mount Hawthorn; Indigo Outside School Hours Care in North Perth; Noranda Child Care Centre; OrganiKids Childcare Centre; Perth College Kindergarten; Rossi Child Care Centre in Embleton and Morley; Ruth Landau Harp Early Learning; Salisbury Child Care Centre; Silverwood Child Care Centre; 10th Avenue Childcare in Inglewood; Sparx Early Learning Centre in Eden Hill; Eden Hill Outside School Hours Care; Wind in the Willows in Bassendean; YMCA Morley Child Care; Thriving Threes and Fun for Fours; Murdock Early Education Schools;. City West Kidz Early Learning Centre; Buttercups Childcare; Inglewood Station; Helping Hands at Hillcrest; Learning Sanctuary in Kings Square; Helping Hands in Inglewood and Helping Hands in Bayswater; Derrick Ernst Neighbourhood Centre; Smart Start in West Perth; Mama Moose; KinderPark Early Learning; Kiddies Learning Hub; Inglewood Station on Beaufort Street; The Akidamy School of Early Learning; Leaps & Bounds Preschool; Bilingual By Five in the CBD; Nido Early School at QV1; North Perth School of Early Learning; Global Village Family Day Care; Kids on Beaufort; Rightway Learning Family Day Care. That's a long list, but that's just for my electorate alone. There are 62 centres in the Perth electorate alone: This is a huge sector. It employs thousands and thousands of people, predominantly women, in my electorate alone. They are incredibly qualified and educated, and some of the most compassionate and hardworking people you'll meet in any electorate across the country. I want to say to everyone who works at every single one of those centres: thank you for everything you did in 2020. It was one of the toughest years that you've ever had to work in early childhood education, and many people here in parliament and, indeed, across the country, owe you a great debt of gratitude.
I'll finish on something important to the people of the City of Perth, which comprises just one small part of my electorate: finally, the City of Perth has an elected council again. The City of Perth has been through an incredibly rough time. I want to particularly congratulate the new lord mayor, Basil Zempilas, who is well known to people in this place. It is great to have a new lord mayor for the City of Perth. I look forward to working with Basil. I know that he is a guy who is passionate and driven. He has a vision for the city and will be pushing many things that he and I care deeply about, including a national centre of Indigenous culture and history, which is something I strongly believe should be located within the City of Perth. I also congratulate: Deputy Mayor Sandy Anghie, and councillors Di Bain, Rebecca Gordon, Catherine Lezer, Clyde Bevan, Brent Fleeton, Liam Gobbert and Viktor Ko. This is a fresh start for our city. It is an incredibly exciting time for Perth. Again, I congratulate the entire new council, and I wish them and their professional staff well.
It would be trite to say that this has been a tough year for all Australians, but it's been particularly so for those in my electorate of Cowper. They've copped a triple whammy: they had the end of the very long drought, then severe, devastating bushfires and then the irony of devastating floods—and then coronavirus—all in the space of four months. On behalf of the federal government, we were handing out federal support packages for all four situations: drought, fires, floods and coronavirus. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank all the people in Cowper and, in fact, all the people across Australia, for what they have done for each other. During the drought, we saw Australians donate to get hay and water out. Then, during the fires, volunteer firefighters were putting their lives on the line and, indeed, losing their lives. Then, with the floods, we had the SES, and people were stepping up and volunteering and donating. I'd like to thank all the people in Cowper for what you have done.
Such extraordinary times call for an extraordinary budget, and I'm proud of this coalition's budget. This is a once-in-a-century shock that requires an unprecedented level of support across the economy. The government's initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic provided $299 billion in support. It was exactly what the Australian people needed, because it has helped us get to this point, and the budget will help to get us through. This budget is a strong economic plan to enable local businesses to get through the triple crises of COVID-19, bushfires and drought—and, in some places, floods—and provide them with the confidence and the hope to continue. That's what we do as politicians: we provide hope to people of the land. We may not agree on everything, but our intent is there. We want the Australian people to succeed, and we want Australian businesses to succeed.
One of the biggest successes of this budget has to be the extension of the instant asset write-off scheme, and you would only understand that if you have run a business. It might escape you if you've worked in the public service all your life, and I'm not suggesting that's a bad thing. What I'm suggesting is if you've worked in business you understand how important this instant asset write-off is. It means you are not carrying the debt, the millstone around your neck, of a substantial purchase for the whole of the year. What you're doing is writing it off instantly, and what that does is put the money back in the coffers. And because the money is there and it's accessible, what happens? The business can grow. You can put more people on or, God forbid, put some money in your back pocket for your hard work, for the slog of the day. This instant asset write-off has been extremely well-received.
I received an email from Rodney Mole. He is the manager of RM Diesel in Kempsey, and he said, 'The instant asset write-off has allowed us to purchase a new test bench and surface grinder to recondition and overhaul diesel engines. It has allowed us to fast-track the upgrade of essential business capital. The new equipment really helps the turnaround time in our busy workshop. We mainly serve transport and agriculture, so better efficiency from us gets them back on the job faster. It's a win-win.' That's a real person saying that we've just bought this, we've implemented it into our business and people who are coming to us are getting their machinery back quicker for them to work, because we've been able to do that because of this instant asset write-off. This is huge. So it's not only assisting businesses, but it will—and can—create jobs.
Treasury estimates that the $4 billion JobMaker Hiring Credit scheme on top of the instant asset write-off will support 450,000 jobs by giving employers incentives for each new job they create over the next 12 months for someone who's been on JobSeeker or youth allowance or a parenting payment. And I'll concede: there are plenty of people on JobSeeker, youth allowance and parenting payments in my electorate. We've been hit hard. The predominant industries in my electorate are tourism and hospitality—the first ones to get hit and the last ones to come out of it. So this plan to create 450,000 new jobs by contributing $200 a week to employees for somebody under 30 and $100 a week for somebody under 35 will create incentive for employers. And I know that, because I talk to them and they've told me so. I've spoken to many business owners over the past two weeks. The principal from PRD Real Estate was one. He said he's going to put on three new young people to support his senior staff in his real estate office. The director of Hopkins Consultants in Port Macquarie said that the job-hiring credit will give him confidence to hire a young civil drafting and design trainee. And of course we can't forget that the wages for new apprentices and trainees have been subsidised too, and that's in any size business in any industry. We're not targeting anyone. We're just allowing that to happen, allowing businesses and industry to get on with the job and employ young people as apprentices and trainees. That's a $1.2 billion measure where employers will be eligible for 50 per cent of the wages for a new or recommencing apprentice or trainee up to $7,000 a quarter. That's substantial. When you're an employer, that is a substantial amount of money if you're considering whether or not to put someone on. That $28,000 a year will make the difference. It has made the difference. People are already putting apprentices and trainees on.
And of course there are the tax cuts. Australians work hard. They deserve to have more money in their back pocket. There is no point taxing the Australian worker to get out of debt. It has never worked in the past. Why would it work in the future? That's why we haven't done that. We're giving them tax cuts. Low- and middle-income earners will receive up to $2,745 of relief compared with 2017-18 and high-income earners will receive $2,565 of relief compared with financial year 2017-18.
We cannot forget the record infrastructure investment. This infrastructure investment will make a huge difference in my electorate. Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, I know how concerned you are about the road toll. I know your advocacy for reducing the road toll. That's why in the election there was an additional $490.6 million for the Coffs Harbour bypass. This is effectively the last link in the M1, with the exception of the Heatherbrae bypass.
Over the years there have been thousands of deaths on this road. This will address that very issue, and I'll address the social and economic benefits. This will create safe passage for residents of Coffs Harbour, Cowper and Australia and those visiting our shores when we finally open the borders. This will create 12,000 new jobs over the life of the build, and 80 per cent will be local builders, local tradies and local labourers. For five years there will be an additional 12,000 jobs. Every single day it will take over 12,000 vehicles off the road going through Coffs Harbour. It will improve the amenity, the safety and all of Coffs Harbour for the benefit of those living in Coffs Harbour.
In addition, there was the much smaller and quieter investment of $1.5 million to seal a five-kilometre stretch of The Hatch Road near Port Macquarie. During my campaign—and you know that this is my first time in this place—I became aware that that road had been ripped up about 10 years ago by the local council. In the past 12 months that road had been resealed with crushed concrete containing crystalline silica. Many may not be aware that crystalline silica is the new asbestos.
Along this five-kilometre stretch of road there are 80 residents on small farm allotments. Kids live there. The school bus goes down there every day. There is an equestrian centre where kids go to learn how to ride. Every time it was dry—and it was dry for a very long time—and a car or a truck drove down there, plumes of this crystalline silica would be sent into the air, across the fields, into the water catchments and onto the roofs of the homes. They're not on town water there and that crystalline silica would wash into the water tanks when it rained.
I was very pleased to see in this budget $1.5 million to seal that road, because the little things are so important. I think the saying is, 'The smallest fish are the sweetest.' The little things, this $1.5 million, means more to the community of The Hatch Road than the $491 million for the bypass, because it's about their health, their safety and their amenity.
There are numerous benefits in this budget. But one that I'm very, very pleased about is the $5.7 billion towards mental health. Because this has been tough. This has been tough for all Australians, particularly young Australians. We have seen a tragic spike in youth suicide all over Australia. It doesn't discriminate. It doesn't discriminate between cultures. It doesn't discriminate between economic classes. I was really pleased that this government has recognised that and has ensured that we're going to be there for those who are having mental health challenges, particularly the youth. I was very happy to be at the groundbreaking of the new headspace in Kempsey. They have been getting by with an outreach centre, but now they're going to get their own youth centre. One in four young people who walk through that door will be Indigenous.
So this is a good budget. It's providing for all Australians, and it's providing for those Australians who are less fortunate. I certainly am proud to get out there and tell people that I'm proud of my government.
In the short time we have left this evening I'll start my contribution and continue it tomorrow. Obviously throughout this year Australians have faced their first pandemic in a century and their first recession in 30 years. The COVID crisis has tested us in ways we never expected. We've had to spend long periods of time without seeing our friends, families and colleagues. Many in our communities have lost their jobs as Australians have selflessly put the health of the broader community above their own material interests. It's not been easy, but we are getting through it.
This year's federal budget was a chance to address the twin crises that Australia is facing: the COVID pandemic and the recession that has been exacerbated, lengthened and deepened by the weaknesses in the economy because of the decisions that the Morrison government has made in the past six years. But it also had the opportunity to rebuild in a way that left a legacy, that reformed many of the structural problems we've got within our economy and society, and that built in resilience into our communities.
Unfortunately, that is not what the government did in this budget. This year's budget leaves us with a trillion dollars in Liberal debt, but it leaves behind no long-term, lasting legacy. A trillion dollars of Liberal debt, but millions of Australians are still left behind, denied the support they need and forgotten by the government when they need it most.
In my own community of Ballarat we've faced our fair share of challenges over the past month. Whilst we have escaped the extended hard lockdown endured by Melburnians, our businesses again were forced to close and our community again closed down as the virus unfortunately re-emerged across our state and, at times, in our own community. Our community has borne these challenges well. We know why we were doing it, and we're proud, in regional Victoria particularly, of our success. But that doesn't mean that it has been at all easy. Many in our community are still out of work. Many businesses are closed and many are still struggling to get by.
Rather than providing extra support through the budget, the Morrison government is continuing to cut the JobKeeper payments, leaving around 20,000 people in my community worse off. With nearly one million Australians unemployed and unemployment expected to increase, it frankly makes no sense for the Morrison government to be withdrawing support, not just from Victorians, but from those industries that are going to take quite some time to recover, such as aviation and tourism. Without a comprehensive jobs plan to actually replace it, it is a very, very blunt mechanism. Our community is just coming out of lockdown and businesses are just beginning to reopen—not all of them yet. Now is not the time to be withdrawing that support, just when we're literally getting up onto our knees.
It being 7.30, the debate is interrupted. The debate is adjourned and resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed on a future day.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:30